OHSWEKEN – The Municipality of the County of Brant is tired of being treated like Brantford’s quaint country cousin, and has stood up to the political pressure of City Hall by insisting that Six Nations be included in the conversation.
Brantford’s letter of intent, which they are seeking the Municipality of the County of Brant to improve, would see 5,000 acres of the 7,000-acre Johnson Settlement Tract signed over to the city from the country for $16.3 million in compensation.
The city wants more housing and industrial development along highway #403 so as to grow the city to compete with other large urban centres, like Mississauga or Kitchener-Waterloo.
The County wants to ensure that farming remains an important part of its rural mandate and way of life.
As far as the city is concerned, Six Nations has little, if any, say in the matter. However, the county insists it hear from Six Nations, which feels it holds the underlying title to the land, as part of the 7,000 acre Johnson Tract, which is under a registered land claim. They made it clear that this must take place before it formally answers Brantford’s request.
That meeting took place Monday morning at the Six Nations Elected Council Chambers. The County Council will either accept or reject Brantford’s letter of intent during a special meeting of their council, this Thursday night at 7 pm.
Mayors Ron Eddy of Brant and Chris Friel of Brantford have been like two dogs wrestling over the same bone for several years, with no mutually acceptable resolution to date.
Six Nations former Elected Chief Bill Montour, on behalf of the Elected Band Council, made it clear in a letter to both Brant and Brantford Councils, that Six Nations must be a part of any deal regarding Johnson Tract lands. New elected Chief, Ava Hill was a part of that council and agreed.
Some Brant County Councillors oppose the transfer on those grounds and of preserving some of southwestern Ontario’s best remaining farmlands, while others on council dicker over whether they are getting proper market value for the land in question.
Before Monday’s meeting in Ohsweken, only one county councillor, Brian Coleman, said he would approve the transfer as recommended by the city, albeit reluctantly. But all seem to be equally put off by Mayor Friel and his council’s strong-arm tactics.
Unlike Brantford, Brant has been listening to its citizens, many of whom reject the proposal outright.
Mayor Friel and his council have unanimously approved their letter of intent drafted and sent to the County with the details they would like to see as part of their proposal. Six Nations has not been a part of Brantford’s deliberations.
Until Monday, the county wasn’t meeting with Six Nations either. But Brant Mayor Eddy and councillors John Wheat and Rob Chambers explained why that was.
“It was the Province that said that the municipality must consult with Six Nations,” said Eddy. “It was on those principles that we went into these negotiations.”
Councillor Wheat was a part of the team chosen to enter into talks with Brantford, and with what he expected to be, Six Nations.
“I was a part of that task force,” said Wheat. “At the start of it, it was requested by the County of Brant that Six Nations would be sitting the table. It was the provincial facilitator Paula Dill who said no, and that they, the province, would be consulting with Six Nations. That was the impression that was given to me.
“Then two meetings in, things changed and suddenly it was up to us to consult with Six Nations,” Wheat recalls. “But it was our opinion, right from the start, that Six Nations was to be included. We also wanted to go to our people to consult, but she would not allow it.”
Brant Councillor Ron Chambers also recalls the about face from Dill.
“Right from the get-go it was the position of the council that we wanted to include Six Nations in terms of consultation and accommodation,” he said. “But the actual negotiation process with the facilitator was delayed for some time, a couple of weeks, where they were to consult with Six Nations. As it turned out, they didn’t do that and when we finally got to meet, it was now our responsibility. At that point, we were in with the negotiations, which were in camera, and so we could not. That is what we are trying to do today, to catch up on something we wanted to do right from the get-go.”
It was also asked by Six Nations council, what the big rush to get this done is all about.
Eddy revealed that by law, there can be no land transfers in an election year. Since municipal elections are in 2014, if no agreement is reached by Dec. 30th, they may have to wait a full year to get back at it. But Eddy warns that the province also has the right to change that law should they choose to.
There were many other discussions and questions asked regarding the pending transfer, but as the meeting closed down, Brant County again referred to this coming Thursday’s Brant Council Meeting where the final word on acceptance of the Brantford letter of intent will get the thumbs up or down in open session.
A Two Row Times reporter was barred from a similar meeting in Brantford, while local Brantford news reporters were invited in. Assurances were given that this time, on Brant County turf, Two Row Times will be welcome.