Tsawwassen First Nation

Located on the Strait of Georgia, 25 km south of Vancouver, the Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN) has 450 members. A little more than half live within the boundaries of their community with the remaining population divided between Washington State and the BC Interior.

TFN is unique in several ways. One distinction is its urban setting, with 1,800 acres of oceanfront property located in one of British Columbia’s most prized real estate markets. TFN land is close to major international and regional transportation routes, next to BC Ferries’ Tsawwassen terminal (providing access to Vancouver Island) and adjacent to the Roberts Bank port facility, with access to Asia-Pacific.

In 2009, TFN signed the first urban treaty in the history of British Columbia and the first modern treaty negotiated under the British Columbia Treaty Commission process. TFN has leveraged this achievement into numerous exciting new economic opportunities, including a housing development, shopping centres, industrial land development and partnerships that are providing members with opportunities to access skills training and education.

BC’s first urban treaty

In 2002, following 10 years of consultation with municipalities, regional governments, TFN members and a wide range of stakeholders on a wide range of subjects, TFN began negotiating with the Government of Canada and Government of British Columbia as part of BC’s six-stage treaty process. The talks covered a wide range of issues related to jurisdiction over land and resources, including land ownership, governance, fisheries, wildlife, forestry, environmental management, financial benefits and dispute resolution.

A key part of the treaty negotiations was the debate within the TFN community about future economic development and governance issues. After a Final Agreement was signed in 2007 and approved by TFN members (69.5 per cent in favour), it was then approved by the BC Legislature, and given Royal Assent by Government of Canada at the end of 2008 (Bill C-34).

When it took effect in April 2009, the treaty changed TFN’s governance structure, as well as its economic and political relationships with Canada, BC, neighbouring municipalities and its members. It guaranteed self-government for TFN and the right and responsibility to make their own decisions about matters regarding health, education, child welfare, economic development and taxation.

Kim Baird was Chief of TFN from March 1999 to September 2012, and currently serves as its Strategic Initiatives Director. She described TFN’s business approach to BC Business magazine in 2012.

“We think that a key to economic sustainability is going to be to build an economy, and as such we need to welcome investment; we need to parallel systems that investors trust,” Said Chief Kim Baird. “So everything we’ve designed, from our legislation to how we are trying to be very transparent, to structuring of our regulatory regime . . . all of that has been with the view of using tools that are familiar to investors to instill confidence investing in Tsawwassen.”

The treaty brought with it significant changes that have helped TFN develop new economic development opportunities. Specifically:

  • It abolished TFN’s reserve status and made it no longer subject to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and the Indian Act.
  • TFN members can now own land as individuals and communally with other members in a modified form of fee simple, a form of freehold ownership. Under the Indian Act, members could not own their land or sell it, and could only lease it under strict guidelines. Now, TFN members can sell their land to other members or lease it for up to 99 years to non-members individuals and businesses.
  • TFN is now a member of Metro Vancouver, the political and corporate body that operates as a regional district and delivers regional services to Lower Mainland municipalities. As a member, TFN is now entitled to the same regional services and utilities other Lower Mainland municipalities. One of the benefits is that TFN now has bus service to its community. TFN also joined the Board of Metro Vancouver and TransLink’s Mayors’ Council.
  • From a revenue point of view, the treaty provided TFN with payments, settlements and other funds to help build Tsawwassen’s future, including a capital transfer and other one-time cash payments of $33.6 million and self-government funding of $2.9 million annually over the first five years of the treaty. It also gave TFN the power to levy direct taxes on its members within TFN lands, providing future revenue capacity. As a result, the community’s Indian Act tax exemption will be phased out after eight years for transaction taxes (GST and PST) and 12 years for other taxes, including income tax.

Tsawwassen Economic Development Corporation

The TFN treaty laid the groundwork for new economic development opportunities by creating a clear separation between TFN business and politics. It did this by creating the Tsawwassen Economic Development Corporation (TEDC), whose purpose is “to transact business of a commercial nature in a responsible manner with the goal of creating long term wealth for the benefit of Tsawwassen First Nation and Tsawwassen members.”

TEDC provides the Tsawwassen community with a business organization specifically dedicated to generating long term wealth and an enhanced quality of life for generations to come. For BC’s business community, because TEDC is a corporation and not a government-body, it provides them with certainty and confidence in doing business with TFN.

The sole shareholder of TEDC is TFN’s governing body, a five-member Executive Council, whose appointed members are the Chief and the four highest vote getters in TFN’s elected Legislature. TEDC is governed by a 5-member board of directors, appointed by Executive Council, and staffed by an executive director, community outreach manager and a financial controller. While the TEDC Board directs and manages its affairs, it is ultimately responsible to the community which is represented by the Executive Council.

Among the other checks and balances in place are:

  • Annually, TEDC must present and receive approval for an annual plan that sets out TEDC’s planned activities, investments, and expenditures for the coming year. (TEDC must remain within those expenditure guidelines or seek further approval from Executive Council.)
  • Executive Council must approve a feasibility or due diligence plan for any joint venture TEDC is contemplating.
  • While the Chief is on the Board, s/he cannot sit as Chair of the Board.
  • The board must include two respected business persons who are not TFN Members
  • TFN Executive Council retains the ability to issue policy directives when required.

Despite its freedom to conduct business on behalf of TFN, TEDC is still very much responsible to the community, not just through its reporting to the Executive Council, but through a community land use plan that was created during the treaty negotiations. The plan identified, among other things, the community’s vision for land development and gave TEDC a mandate to pursue certain types of development.

According to TEDC’s Chief Executive Officer, Chris Hartman, who joined the corporation in 2010, having a plan that reflects the community’s goals and values means TFN is less likely to react to every proposal that comes its way. It also means developers are more likely to propose initiatives that are consistent with the plan and reflect where the community wants to go.

“We recognize that the investment community can take their money anywhere,” said Hartman. “Our goal is to create an investment climate that encourages people to put their money into our community and our people.”

After the treaty was adopted, Hartman and TEDC set about making the business and development community aware of the changes at TFN and how the community was actively seeking partners to create developments that would generate land lease and partnerships revenues. In talks with investors, developers and homebuilders, they promoted TFN’s land assets, strategic location and business friendly governance model.

Land Development

Tsawwassen Mills

One example of how that approach is paying off for TFN is the projects it has with partners to develop 180 acres of TFN lands along the busy highway that connects the Lower Mainland to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal.

The first project is Tsawwassen Mills, a massive new retail/commercial complex that TFN and partners Ivanhoe Cambridge hope will become one of BC’s premier shopping locations. The 1.2-million square foot development on Tsawwassen lands will feature major retailers, restaurants, movie theatres and a resort hotel. With partners Property Development Group, TFN is also developing an additional 600,000 square feet of retail and office space.

Together, the projects are expected to generate more than 1,200 person years of employment during construction, along with an additional 4,500 full-time and part-time retail-related positions once completed. Leasehold and tax revenues from the projects are expected to be in the millions of dollars per year, providing TFN with revenue to invest into a wide range of community programs and services.

In addition to the jobs and revenue, another benefit is that TFN’s reputation in the development and investment community has been greatly enhanced through its successful partnership with two leading BC development firms in Ivanhoe Cambridge and Property Development Group.

Tsawwassen Gateway Logistics Park

On the other side of Highway 17, TFN owns a 330-acre parcel of industrial lands next to Deltaport, Canada’s largest west coast container/port complex and bulk/commodities terminal. Known as Tsawwassen Gateway Logistics Park, TFN has invested $3 million and is using $3 million in federal and $3 million in provincial infrastructure stimulus funding to complete roadwork and upgrade infrastructure on an initial 100 acres at the site.

Those infrastructure improvements will be leveraged to attract tenants and joint venture opportunities to the Logistics Park. Construction, goods-handling, light manufacturing, warehousing and distribution services are expected to generate 1,000 construction-related jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs in the supply chain sector.

Residential Development

Through its TFN Land Use Plan and TFN Neighbourhood Plan, TFN is creating a master-planned sustainable community that it says will be “the best new seaside community in Canada.”

Built on a 250-acre parcel, the new development will include 1,600-1,800 attractive and affordable townhomes and apartments, with a new town centre, parks and green space that will give members an opportunity to live, work, shop and play in their community. Services such as flood management, roads, parks and recreation, police, library, animal control and others will be provided through arrangements with Metro Vancouver and the adjacent Corporation of Delta.

Residential development is expected to generate 5,000 person years of construction employment associated with the build out over the next 10 years.

A noteworthy aspect of these development projects is that the community has consistently voted more than 90 per cent in favour of them. That’s because, long before these development deals were signed, TFN leadership secured community approval to address these lands, the vision for them, and the required legislation in the treaty negotiation process.

TFN’s land development strategies have the potential to provide economic benefits for its members for generations to come. Collectively, the Tsawwassen Mills, Property Development Group, Logistics Park and residential projects are expected to create thousands of jobs in the construction, retail and services sectors along with 1,800 new homes.

Capacity Building

To ensure as many of those workers as possible are TFN members, TEDC has made capacity building and skills training a key priority. In fact, each TFN project is carried out with the goal of developing economic benefits for members in ways that also build the capacity of TFN members and the community.

To that end, TEDC has an outreach manager that is charged with ensuring members benefit from the activities of TEDC. This includes providing employment opportunities, as well as workshops on entrepreneurial skills training. By focusing on capacity building, TFN will be able to provide employers with a trained workforce that lives within walking distance of their job sites and businesses.

TFN Construction ? Matcon Civil Joint Venture

With thousands of constructions and civil engineering positions needing to be filled for TFN projects in the near future, the band created the TFN Construction ? Matcon Civil Joint Venture (TMJV) with Matcon Civil Constructors in 2008. Matcon specializes in large scale excavations, land remediation, heavy road construction and underground utility installations.

TEDC is the majority owner of TMJV. Matcon Civil Constructors provides employment and on-the-job training for band members in civil construction and heavy equipment operation. Through this partnership, Matcon Civil is gaining an understanding of and respect for Tsawwassen First Nation cultural heritage and territory, while TEDC gains access to Matcon’s expertise and reputation as a leading civil construction firm.

A measure of this venture’s success is that it has successfully bid on First Nation projects and is generating revenues. It also won the 2011 Joint Venture of the Year Award at the BC Aboriginal Business Awards and the 2012 Leadership, Enterprise & Partnership Award from the Industry Council of Aboriginal Business.

Indigena Solutions

TEDC created Indigena Solutions in partnership with the management consulting firm Accenture and the CAPE Fund, a $50 million private-sector investment fund.

Indigena Solutions provides technology support services, such as software development and maintenance, contact centre services, IT Service Desk/Help Desk and back office business processing services. Through Indigena Solutions, band members are leveraging Accenture’s multi-industry experience and expertise, and receiving education and skills development that will make them preferred employment candidates when retailers are ready to staff their new businesses on TFN land. With skills and training that are increasingly in demand, more band members will be able to pursue their careers and raise families without having to leave their community.

As Christ Hartman puts it, “we’re putting people in a better position to get a job, and if they invest in training, they will get the jobs.”

With new housing developments, shopping centres, industrial land development and employment opportunities on the way, the self-governing Tsawwassen First Nation is using its adapted organizational structure to capitalize on the community’s land assets, geographic location and post-treaty partnerships.