Manitoba

Winnipeggers could get option to donate to 'reconciliation fund' on property taxes

If a city councillors proposal is accepted, Winnipeggers could have the option to extra money on to their property taxes, which would be used for reconciliation efforts with Indigenous communities in the city.

City councillor's proposal would ask people to make voluntary contribution for reconciliation initiatives

Thousands of people marched from The Forks through the downtown area for the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in September 2021. A City of Winnipeg councillor wants to create a way for Winnipeggers to make a financial contribution to reconciliation efforts. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Winnipeggers could have the option to tack extra money on to their property taxes that would be used for reconciliation efforts with Indigenous communities, if a city councillor's proposal is accepted.

There are few details so far about the proposed "reconciliation fund," but Coun. Shawn Nason (Transcona) hopes to build on the idea through conversations with his colleagues and Indigenous leaders in Winnipeg.

"It could be to support some of the activities that we're already doing to offset the civic budget," said Nason. "It could also be to help seed some programs to further reconciliation. The sky's the limit at this point."

Nason will put forward the idea at Monday's East Kildonan-Transcona community committee meeting. His motion asks city staff to research how the voluntary fund could work, and how the money could be used "to foster a journey of reconciliation in Winnipeg."

Nason said he was inspired by the City of Victoria. Council there voted earlier this month to give homeowners the option to voluntarily add five to 10 per cent to their property tax bill to a fund for specific local Indigenous communities.

Nason said he's already received feedback from constituents who are concerned about an extra tax during a time of rising costs.

"Voluntary — that seems to be something people struggle with," said Nason, adding his motion only asks for a report about how this could work in Winnipeg.

"Any time you talk about taxes or anything to do with taxes, it's immediately viewed as negative," but the proposal should be viewed as an opportunity, he said. 

"What I'm hearing is that people don't understand that we all have a role to play in reconciliation — right down to the individual."

He says the voluntary donation could be something donors would get a tax receipt for, but that will hopefully be explored in the report phase.

Advocates want more details

The executive director of Wa-Say Healing Centre says before he can support the idea, he needs more information on how it will roll out.

"There's no details about how it's going to be used. How is it going to be raised?" said Wayne Mason, whose group helps residential school survivors in Manitoba.

"They want to work toward reconciliation, but I don't think anybody can really afford to pay more taxes already than they are."

Nason's motion doesn't include details about how much the property owner could pay, policies that would guide how the money would be spent, or Indigenous communities the city would collaborate with to spend it.

Wayne Mason, executive director of Wa-Say Healing Centre, says he's not sure about adding a reconciliation contribution onto property taxes, even if it's voluntary. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Wa-Say's Mason said he's not so sure about the idea of adding something like this onto property taxes.

"If you start taxing for the sake of reconciliation … you're probably going to get a lot of negative feedback," he said.

If the city is serious about making a financial contribution to reconciliation efforts, that should be built into the annual civic budget, Mason said. He also said he's concerned if Indigenous groups get the money, the city would tell them how to use it.

Others are apprehensive about who will decide how the money will be used, and for what.

The staff at Circles for Reconciliation — an organization that facilitates conversations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people — say they want the city to be explicit.

"I want to know exactly why it's being done, specifically taxes in my own community," said Grace Schedler, the Indigenous ambassador to Circles for Reconciliation. 

"Sometimes they just tax without explanation, or they send you this long-form email telling you why they're doing it. But most people throw that in the garbage. So it needs to go out so people understand."

Schedler suggested the city not only consult with Indigenous communities, but Winnipeggers in general to see how they'd feel about the option. If it's done right, it could be a step forward for the land back movement, she said.

"It is well known that the land was was taken from the Indigenous people, and this is just a small contribution, I think, on the part of Winnipeg since they are sitting on Treaty 1 land," she said.

The committee will discuss the idea Monday, but council would have the final call should it move forward.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Samson

Journalist

Sam Samson is a multimedia journalist who has worked for CBC in Manitoba and Ontario as a reporter and associate producer. Before working for CBC, she studied journalism and communications in Winnipeg. You can get in touch on Twitter @CBCSamSamson or email samantha.samson@cbc.ca.

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