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Land title legislation will help Squamish Nation develop real estate

First Nation also seeking its own Property Transfer Tax

Squamish Nation leaders are rejoicing at federal legislation that will allow development of some major real estate on reserves, but they still think it needs a little tweaking.

The Government of Canada introduced the First Nations Certainty of Land Title Act on Dec. 10. It aims to permit registration of on-reserve real estate developments in a manner similar to the way provincial land titles are registered.

The Squamish Nation requested this change in order to develop a major condo project in West Vancouver and a townhouse complex on a reserve in Gibsons.

But Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob wrote in a letter the same day the bill was introduced that the legislation falls a little short of what's needed.

"Federal legislation introduced in the House of Commons today, while a first step for the Squamish Nation to undertake large-scale, commercial development of their Vancouver properties, still falls short of allowing them to compete on a level playing field in the growing Vancouver real estate market," he wrote.

Jacob asked the federal government, whose legislation would amend the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act (FNCIDA), to allow the Squamish Nation to enact a Property Transfer Tax, which would be similar to the province's rates.

Land- and homeowners pay a Property Transfer Tax when they purchase property. It must be paid when you make changes to a certificate of title with the Land Title Office, which oversees B.C.'s registry of land titles.

The amount of tax depends on the value of the property being transferred. In British Columbia, the tax is one per cent on the first $200,000. It is two per cent on any portion of the value greater than $200,000.

The Squamish Nation, acting on the advice of Tom Flanagan, a former right-hand man to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is seeking a similar tax.

In early November Flanagan delivered a report to the Squamish Nation titled Unlocking the Value: The Squamish Nation's Land Development Plans that suggested the First Nation obtain its own Property Transfer Tax.

Speaking in a brief interview with Pique , Flanagan, now a political science professor at the University of Calgary, said the tax would create a level playing field in the market.

"I mean this in kind of an ironic way," Flanagan said. "If they (the Squamish Nation) can't charge it they become a tax haven, they would have the ability to offer housing on the market without the Property Transfer Tax, thereby undercutting housing in other jurisdictions, which would create rancour among neighbouring governments."

He added the Squamish could use it as revenue for infrastructure, whether physical or legal.

Chief Jacob, speaking in an interview, said the federal government hasn't given any indication whether it will or won't receive the tax but added the First Nation will keep pushing for it.

"Our ancestors talked about (how) we've got to prepare for the future," he said. "Well the future's today for our nation. We have 3,600 people and that'll double in the next 20 years to 25 years, so we have no choice but to start looking at developing and creating a Squamish Nation economy."