August 2018

Strengthening relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians is important to municipal governments and their residents across Ontario. Working together, municipal and Indigenous governments can advance mutual interests, address shared concerns and enhance neighbourly relations. As service providers, municipal governments must be responsive to the needs of Indigenous residents. Municipal governments also support Indigenous service-users from nearby communities who travel to hub municipalities to access services.  

Many municipal governments have taken actions to improve and deepen relationships with neighbouring First Nation and Métis governments. They are also taking action to improve relations with Indigenous residents living within the municipality. Indigenous advisory councils, joint council meetings, ‘urban’ Indigenous action plans and other municipal reconciliatory activities are increasingly common. The Federal and Provincial Crowns can facilitate municipal-Indigenous relationship building on the ground.

Land Claims and Treaty Implementation
Municipal governments also need greater inclusion in land claims negotiations and in treaty implementation. Although many aspects of these negotiations are out of scope for municipal governments, municipalities should be involved when negotiations touch on matters within municipal jurisdiction. As part of the Algonquin Land Claim negotiations, a forum for impacted municipal governments was created to engage municipalities in discussions affecting their communities. This forum allowed for timely information sharing and provided a learning opportunity for all involved parties. Municipal, Indigenous, provincial and federal governments must work together to establish similar protocols to engage municipal representatives in land claim negotiations and treaty implementation processes affecting local communities. Doing so will lead to greater clarity and information sharing for all.

The Duty to Consult
An emerging municipal issue is the provincial delegation of the Duty to Consult and the Duty to Accommodate to municipal governments. These ‘duties’ are not the same as regular municipal consultations or engagement with Indigenous peoples. They are specific constitutional processes related to Aboriginal and Treaty rights. The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) has ruled that these duties are ultimately the responsibility of the provincial and federal Crowns. Although municipal governments are not the Crown, the SCC has ruled that municipal governments can be delegated ‘procedural aspects’ of the Duty to Consult. In these cases, municipal governments participate in the Duty to Consult process by providing information on projects and holding discussions with impacted First Nations. The previous Ontario government also asserted that municipalities have an ‘independent Duty to Consult.’ This assertion by the past government occurred without supports, guidance, funding or adequate consultation.  

Ontario’s municipal governments do not have the knowledge, capacity, funding and resources to fulfill these duties on behalf of the provincial government. Shifting the cost of the Duty to Consult onto the property tax base is not a viable alternative to provincial action. Municipal governments do not have the necessary tools or resources to respectfully fulfill the Duty in the same manner as a Crown. This is especially true for small, rural and northern municipal governments. The Alberta, BC and Nova Scotia Crowns recognize these limitations and do not download the Duty to Consult onto their municipal governments.

AMO has asked the Province for a ‘tool kit’ to build municipal cultural competency and capacity on Indigenous relations. Municipal governments also need co-developed guidance materials from the Province. Moving forward, municipal, Indigenous, provincial and federal governments should work together to establish a clear, consistent, Canada-wide approach to the Duty to Consult that reflects municipal resource and capacity constraints.