August 2019
Backgrounder

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 and those travelling from nearby communities to access services in the municipality.

Many municipal governments have taken actions to improve and deepen relationships with both neighbouring First Nation and Métis governments as well as 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 have a role to play in facilitating this municipal-Indigenous relationship building on the ground.

In Fall 2017, AMO created an Indigenous Relations Task Force to advise the AMO board on municipal-Indigenous relationship building on the Duty to Consult. More recently, AMO has begun working with the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres towards the co-development and signing of a Friendship Declaration. AMO is also looking to strengthen the relationship between our two organizations with a focus on information-sharing and ongoing collaboration.

The Duty to Consult
A longstanding challenge for municipal governments is the provincial delegation of the Duty to Consult and the Duty to Accommodate without provincial guidance, financial resources or supports. AMO released “Municipal Governments and the Crown’s Duty to Consult: Towards a Process that Works for Local Communities” in April 2019. This discussion paper highlights the various challenges faced by municipal governments when delegated the Duty without these provincial supports and provides recommendations to address these issues.

The Crown’s Duty to Consult and Duty to Accommodate 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 and that a clear process must be in place.

AMO recognizes that Ontario’s municipal governments do not have the knowledge, capacity, funding and resources to fulfill Crown duties in the same manner as the provincial and federal governments.  Shifting the cost of the Duty to Consult onto the property tax base is not a viable alternative to provincial action. This is especially true for small, rural and northern municipal governments. Other provinces are aware of municipal limitations and do not impose the Duty to Consult on their municipal governments. It is AMO’s position that Ontario should follow their example.

AMO continues to advocate for a clear, all-of-government approach to the Duty to Consult that reflects municipal capacity constraints while also respecting rights-bearing First Nations.

Land Claims and Treaty Implementation
In the discussion paper, AMO also advocates for greater municipal inclusion in land claim negotiations and treaty implementation scenarios when there is a municipal impact. 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. The municipal table created as part of the Algonquin Land Claim discussion is a positive model.