April 21, 2022

“To do with what they want” – The Cambie Report’s Idea of Reconciliation

If you have a more-than-average interest in municipal and regional politics, I’d recommend Cambie Report – the podcast in particular – for background, insight and interviews on local issues and their partisans.  The co-hosts, Matthew Naylor, Ian Bushfield and Patrick Meehan, are informed, well-researched and, while occasionally snarky, have experience and contacts in the front and back rooms of local and provincial government.

Ian, in particular, is known for the charts he produces that reorient the many players and parties beyond the simplistic right-left spectrum we usually default to.  Here’s a recent one (right).

While I do support CR through Patreon, I’m often in disagreement about some of their analyses and positions.  But that’s why I listen: to get their perspective and maybe even shift a little of my own.

However, last week I heard Ian and Matthew articulate a position that left me dumbfounded – not so much because I disagreed with it but because I couldn’t get why they missed a stunningly obvious flaw that, if taken seriously, would have some serious and ugly consequences.

They were discussing an article in The Tyee by Patrick Condon and Scot Hein – The Jericho Lands Need a Human-Scaled Rethink – critiquing the proposal for the lands by its owners, MST Development  Corporation (owned by the local First Nations) and the federal Crown corporation Canada Lands Company.


Here’s the transcript:

Ian: Condon & Hein piece … what really gets me is how much in  the article and their propaganda they are downplaying the Indigenous involvement in this project.  Condon & Hein call it like a partnership between the Nations and the City of Vancouver, but that the City of Vancouver should really put its foot down.  It really just undermines the idea of Reconciliation … Technically the land is owned by the Canada Land Corporation.  But if we’re going to start every meeting with ‘This is unceded Coast Salish territory, we should let the Coast Salish Nations do with what they want on their lands when they run it.

Matthew: It’s not a question for us to be micro-managing their developments.  That is part of what Reconciliation means.  And some of Reconciliation will be difficult because it means giving up White Supremacy basically.

Ian: Or you can just reassert it and tell them what they should do with the land and have colonial governments stomp on them.

Leave aside the Godwin’s Law equivalent for local wokery (whenever ‘White Supremacy’ and ‘colonialism’ enter the argument) and consider what Ian is advocating (emphasis added above).  Jericho is not reserve land like that owned by the Squamish for the Senákw project, where the Nation can in theory do pretty much what they want.  Jericho was purchased (with a federal loan) by MST Development and has essentially the same status as any other parcel of land purchased by a developer.  It comes under the City’s development and zoning bylaws, and is obliged to go through a similar process for approval, including public consultation, of which there has been much and will be more.  Eventually, Council will have to vote on the result.

Let’s say Ian and  Matthew’s interpretation of Reconciliation was correct: Unceded lands (presumably almost all of Vancouver, many times over) will either be returned to First Nations or can be bought by them through something like an MST partnership, at which point the City is out of the picture with respect to ‘micromanagement’ – i.e. zoning and development.  They do what they want.  And we have some idea of what that might look like:

Tsawwassen Mills, a partnership of Tsawwassen First Nation and Ivanhoé Cambridge:

And Senákw, a partnership of Squamish First Nation’s Nch’kay Development Corporation and Ian Gillespie’s Westbank Projects Corp.


This is where Reconciliation meets Capitalism – taken one very big step further.

To repeat, Bushfield believes whatever lands First Nations buy or are given as a return of unceded (or stolen) territory, it effectively becomes theirs “to do with what they want” – a prospect that every developer, real estate company, investor and speculator could hardly imagine much less dream of, so long as they partner, as several already have, with a First Nation.  In fact, there would be no other way to do business, as MST and equivalents become the only entities able to do what City Hall no longer could: shape the growth and development of the city. At least there would be no shortage of capital, given the prospect of Vancouver literally being sold to developers.

In this scenario, Condon and Hein, the neighbours and their representatives, should remain respectfully quiet, recognizing their white supremist and colonial status.

But in this scenario, unfortunately, Reconciliation would have no chance of survival.  No government would survive if they acceded to it.  No citizen would accept their future community being determined by unelected entities with no democratic accountability.  And regardless of court rulings, the dangers of populist backlash would result in rewritten laws and reinterpreted statutes.

And yet … smart and informed and generationally attuned commentators like Ian and Matthew seem to think this is where social justice lies.  Perhaps they are just widening the Overton Window a tad to let in a brisk breeze of outrageousness.  Or maybe they just didn’t think it through, as many off-the-cuff commentators (me guilty!) sometimes do.


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  1. Agree, Gordon. First Nations should control their own lands but must be good community partners if they want to retain support of everyone, including elected governments. And the idea that, with an aggressive push from big developers (Westbank), that they might be able to trample all over public spaces, like Vanier Park, that First Nations sold in a modern transaction, will definitely torpedo any meaningful reconciliation future.

  2. My interpretation is more or less with Mr. Price.

    The lands’ owners (MST Partnership and Canada Lands), through two lengthy rounds of consultation, have been diligent to solicit opinion from a wide cross-section of people, while making very clear how their vision and values (as owners) will inform and influence Jericho’s eventual future. I believe that MST and CL are very aware of the snake pit that would result if they attempted to impose draconian design measures unilaterally.

    To be clear, Jericho Lands is two parcels. One (the larger – 52 acres) is owned 50-50 by MST Partnership and Canada Lands. The other is owned outright by MST Partnership. By agreement, the two parcels are being planned as if they are one.

    As final tidbits — MST Corp is “MST Development Corporation”, formed to oversee land owned by the MST Partnership, and Canada Lands Corporation is the real estate arm of the Federal Gov’t. The CEO of MST Corp is David Negrin, formerly senior exec at Aquilini Development and Concorde Pacific Developments. I’m guessing he can spot a potential snake pit at 200 paces.


  3. If the buildings at Jericho or the Heather Lands were to be OCCUPIED by members of the three First Nations, you could make the case that it’s their right to do what they want with the land, but that isn’t what’s about to happen, it seems.

  4. I agree more with Ian. It’s strange there’s so much agitas over this. We took damn near everything First Nations communities have ever had or held dear. We rolled over 12,000 years of history like it wasn’t even there. And now they want to take some control over the scant few acres of profitable land we’ve allowed them to have and there’s moral panic that their choices might be different than ours. I don’t buy it. Reconciliation will eventually be a two way street, hopefully, but we’re still feeling our way around it. If for the first few decades that means our neighbours fail to conform to our refined sensibilities of appropriate urban form, then we buck up and deal. At least they’re allowing us to complain. It’s far more consideration than we ever gave them.

  5. Hey Michael, really curious, why is it different if they occupy the land with their people or use the land for economic benefit?

    Why is that different?

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