OTTAWA — A source close to the negotiations for Kapyong Barracks says Ottawa has offered Treaty 1 First Nations as much as half the land to finally settle the long-standing dispute.
The federal government would not confirm Wednesday a deal is imminent or comment on any details of an alleged settlement offer. Neither would legal representatives for some of the First Nations.
However, the source said in the last year negotiations between Ottawa and the First Nations have become far more fruitful and the First Nations are seriously considering the offer.
Sagkeeng Chief Donavan Fontaine said Tuesday he expects there will be a deal announced before the end of this week, but would or could not say what that deal is. Sagkeeng, however, is no longer part of the negotiations, having withdrawn from the lawsuit along with Swan Lake. There are now five First Nations left challenging the federal government’s ability to sell the 90 hectares of land at Kapyong without offering at least some of it to Treaty 1 First Nations.
Some First Nations leaders involved want to take the settlement, but others think they can get the entire thing if they go to court, the source said. There is also a risk they will get nothing.
The military abandoned the Kapyong site at Kenaston Boulevard and Grant Avenue in 2004 when the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry was moved west to the CFB base at Shilo. The government in 2007 made the move to sell the land to the Canada Lands Co., the Crown corporation that redevelops excess federal land. However, the seven Treaty One First Nations believed they had a right to be offered that land first as part of treaty entitlements and took Ottawa to court.
In 2009, a Federal Court judge sided with the First Nations, halting the sale of the land until Brokenhead and Peguis First Nations could be properly consulted. However, in 2011, an Appeals Court sent the case back to the lower court for another hearing.
That hearing is scheduled to take place Dec. 4 and 5 in Winnipeg.
However, it may become unnecessary if the two sides can agree to a deal before then.
Ottawa has spent about $2 million a year maintaining the vacant site and its 41 buildings since 2004. The buildings have nonetheless fallen into disrepair and the site has become an ugly duckling on one of the most desirable stretches of land in Winnipeg for developers.
The government initially put a price tag on it of about $8.5 million five years ago.
The two sides have attempted to negotiate on and off since 2007, but those negotiations never amounted to much until about a year ago, said the source. The two sides have been meeting almost monthly in the last 12 months and have made progress.
The Department of Defence was not willing to discuss the issue Wednesday.
Winnipeg South MP Rod Bruinooge, who has been close to the negotiations, said he didn’t want to jeopardize anything. "I can’t and shouldn’t comment on ongoing negotiations," said Bruinooge. "This is a very important file. I would not want to damage the negotiations that are underway."
Norman Boudreau, the lawyer representing Sandy Bay and Long Plain First Nations in the discussions, also said he could not comment.
Mayor Sam Katz said he hopes a deal is close.
The City of Winnipeg cannot move forward with its plan to widen Kenaston to six lanes between Ness and Taylor avenues without negotiating for a portion of the Kapyong land. The city’s transportation master plan calls for Kenaston to be widened by 2016 at an estimated cost of $129 million.
"If they can resolve the issue outside of court, it’s very positive," said Katz. "We know there’s millions of dollars flushed down the toilet that no one is benefiting from as a result of the land just sitting vacant."
— with files from Jen Skerritt