City, Mi'kmaq squabble over Crown land
The fate of a large green space in the centre of Charlottetown is a source of growing tension between the city and the Mi'kmaq Confederacy.
The 35-hectare experimental farm is held by Agriculture Canada. It declared the land surplus in 2002, but then withdrew that designation. That has not, however, stopped rival groups from developing plans to turn the farm into a park.
There are two plans on the table: one from Friends of the Farm, a local group that came together specifically to ensure the farm remains a green space; the other from the Mi'kmaq Confederacy, an umbrella group representing P.E.I.'s natives.
On Thursday, the City of Charlottetown came out in support of the Friends' plan. Mayor Clifford Lee appeared convinced that the land would soon be declared surplus again, and was clear about what the process would be if it is.
"The land, once declared by the Government of Canada to be surplus, will be offered to the province of P.E.I. If they refuse the land, then it will be offered to the municipal government," said Lee.
"That's the way it's worked for a number of years in this country."
Jeff Brant, director of socio-economic development for the Mi'kmaq Confederacy, said Lee's understanding of the process is wrong. When a piece of federal land is deemed surplus, he said, First Nations people have to be consulted before the land is unloaded, and he doesn't mean simply a token consultation.
"It's really about the spirit of what that means," said Brant.
"It's sitting down and trying to come up with a way that really works out to the best interests of all parties, to create a win-win for everybody."
Brant said the Confederacy is disappointed the city is backing a rival proposal from the Friends of the Farm, and the city needs to pay more attention to the Confederacy's proposals for the land.
"Just because things have been done a certain way in the past doesn't mean that we should be doing them the same way going forward," he said.
Brant remains optimistic the two sides can still work together when, or if, the experimental farmland becomes available.