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LETTER: Housing targets undermine relationships with Vancouver Island First Nations

(Black Press Media file photo)

As a duly elected Saanich councillor, I am adding my name to the growing list of mayors and councils requesting a comprehensive value-for-money audit on the government’s Bill 44, known as the Housing Statutes (Residential Development) Amendment.

Particularly concerning, is the absence of First Nations consultation and engagement from the wider public. The District of Saanich is located on the unceded lands/territories of the WSANEC and LEKWUNGEN-speaking peoples of the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations.

These housing targets were established without the consultation of the First Nations and without engagement with the public. Vancouver Island, unlike the rest of B.C., is unceded and without treaties. Our duty to consult is a legal obligation; part of TRC and the 94 calls to Action. Not only has the province not consulted and is overriding municipal authority with the forced housing targets, it is also undermining our relationships with the First Nations. We have worked hard on these relationships. These are built on trust and mutual respect. Now we have lost control of the ability to consult with the First Nations about development on their territory and are forcing development. This seems like a repetition of colonial land practices. Not only are these lands part of the imperiled coastal Douglas fir biogeoclimatic zone and subset Garry oak ecosystems, they are culturally significant.

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The lack of transparency regarding the origins of these housing targets in addition to there having been no input from the First Nations, or the public deserves a full investigation that should be made public.

The Housing Needs Report for Saanich constituted a wide body of work. It outlined those with critical housing needs. The Homes for People strategy does not align with the Housing Needs Report

Saanich, once provincially renowned for its environmental policy and bylaw-protected trees, is without sensitive ecosystems protection and an urban forest strategy. All trees bylaw protected or not, can be cut down if they are in the building envelope. We are underprepared for this rapid development. Once this ecologically crucial zone is gone, it will be gone forever.

An investigation into the environmental, social and taxation implications is necessary, if we are to truly do our due diligence.

Legislating against public input at public hearings about local issues and the reduction of public participation is alarming. We must practise good governance and democracy at all levels of government.

Climate change, the environment and future generations warrant this investigation.

Nathalie Chambers

Saanich Councillor