• Sun
  • Apr 20, 2014
  • Updated: 4:06am

Golf idyll claimed by native group puts premier on tightrope

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 July, 2007, 12:00am

Vancouver


In one of the city's classiest neighbourhoods, Point Grey, green space is not a rare commodity.


The neighbourhood is home to the University of British Columbia and Pacific Spirit Park, an urban forest of 763 hectares, so big that its trails are popular with equestrians.


For golfers, there is the University Golf Club, one of the premier courses in the province.


The elite status of the area is boosted by its provincial representative in government, who is none other than the premier himself, Gordon Campbell. Voters have stuck with him from the time he was in opposition to his second term now as leader.


But contented Point Grey locals are being shaken out of their complacency by the Musqueam Indian Band, the first-nation group that lays claim to the golf course. That claim is now being put to the test in discussions between the government and the Musqueam.


The origins of the dispute go back four years, when the Musqueam went to court to oppose the government's decision to sell the land on which the golf course sits to the university, for a paltry C$11 million (HK$80.9 million).


There is no doubt that the course is a lovely place to spend an afternoon. But there is also no doubt that the asking price could have been much higher had the 19-hectare site been sold off as a residential development.


The 1,200-member Musqueam band, which lays land-title claims to much of Vancouver, sued the province in an attempt to get the sale halted, but the provincial Supreme Court ruled against them. Undaunted, the band took the case all the way to the province's highest court and got a favourable ruling in 2005. The Court of Appeal found that British Columbia had a flawed consultation process with the Musqueam band and suspended the sale. A deadline of two years was given by the court for both sides to come up with a solution.


'It was wrong the way we dealt with the golf course,' Mr Campbell told reporters during the settlement negotiations between the government and the Musqueam.


A decision is expected by the autumn, with Chief Ernest Campbell, who is not related to the premier, issuing a statement saying the Musqueam and the province were in the final stages of reaching an agreement.


'If we do get the golf course,' said Chief Campbell, 'we would keep it as a golf course until 2033.'


But that timeline does not satisfy some residents. One of the premier's biggest backers, who helped raise funds for his political career for decades, is now backing the Save the Course Group. The group hopes to gather 2,000 signatures demanding the government consider alternatives to ceding the golf course to the Musqueam.


The group hopes that other lands nearer to the Musqueam's residences on the other side of the university campus would be more suitable than the golf course.


What is not in dispute is that the Musqueam band needs some form of compensation and land to build much-needed housing and fund programmes for youths and seniors.


With that issue hanging over it, the provincial government was keen to celebrate the historic signing of a treaty with another native band. The Tsawwassen First Nation, a neighbouring band south of the Musqueam, this week signed the province's first modern urban treaty.


By a vote of almost three-to-one in favour, the 372 band members approved the treaty, which will cost more than C$120 million in cash, salmon fishery shares and prime agricultural land. Those lands, bordering on water, are likely to be converted by the Tsawwassen into cash-generating port developments.


The agreement was a confidence boost for the provincial government, which has in the past been accused of spending far too much money on treaty negotiations and getting little in return.


With that success on the books, the premier has the momentum to come up with an amicable solution to the golf course problem that earns him points with other native leaders while keeping his constituents happy.


It is a tricky game with the potential for big disappointments, but no one ever said golf was an easy game either.


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