Manitoba's senior federal cabinet minister would like to see the Kapyong Barracks land stalemate end soon, but he's prepared to be patient "to ensure the right decision is made."
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Monday Ottawa is weighing whether to appeal a Federal Court decision last week compelling it to consult meaningfully with four southern Manitoba First Nations before selling the 64.7-hectare parcel of surplus military land. The First Nations insist they should have first dibs on the property to fulfil unresolved treaty land claims.
Asked if he expected the land dispute would be settled in 2013, Toews said he wouldn't make any predictions.
"The whole area is very important for the development of the city and the province of Manitoba," he told reporters at a housing announcement in Winnipeg.
He noted a slice of the Kapyong Barracks property is needed for the proposed widening of Kenaston Boulevard. The city is looking to expand Route 90 to six lanes between Taylor and Ness avenues. The land-claims dispute has held up any purchase by the city.
"I hope that the consultations, if they go ahead, are fruitful and that this matter is concluded as quickly as possible," Toews said, referring to discussions between aboriginal leaders and the Ottawa. "But I think it's important to ensure that the right decision is made there."
He said it's not simply a question of placing a price on the property, but weighing its "social and environmental purpose." So "if it takes a little longer to resolve that issue, then it will take a little longer."
As for the housing announcement, the federal and provincial governments are investing $14.7 million in a building renovation at Isabel Street and Pacific Avenue that will see 60 large apartment units created for newcomers to Manitoba. The project, sponsored by the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM), is expected to be complete by this time next year.
As Treasury Board minister in 2007, Toews ordered the Kapyong land sold to the Canada Lands Co. for development. Aboriginal leaders from seven Treaty 1 First Nations filed a lawsuit shortly thereafter to halt the sale.
A federal source, who asked not to be named, told the Free Press Friday Ottawa was prepared to negotiate with First Nations on the future of the Kapyong land, but the government did not want to see it become an urban reserve.
Asked Monday if he opposed the creation of an urban reserve at the Kapyong site, Toews said: "All I can say is that those consultations will take place. The Canada Lands (Co.) has indicated that they welcomed input from First Nations communities, and that's all I have to say about the matter."
Glenn Hudson, chief of Peguis First Nation, one of the aboriginal communities the court determined must be consulted on the Kapyong sale, said Friday he foresees a mix of commercial and residential development at the site, including highrise apartment buildings. He said the housing could be for both aboriginals and non-aboriginals.