PERTH - The chief negotiator for the Algonquins of Ontario is reiterating that the land claims agreement-in-principle (AIP) will not expropriate private property.
“No private property will be expropriated,” said Potts last week. “They (the Algonquins) are not going to run roughshod over people.”
For him, when it comes to looking at the land in question, “the math is very simple.”
Of the nine million acres of land in eastern Ontario, six million acres are already privately held. A further two million acres are dedicated parklands, of which 1.2 million acres is Algonquin Park.
“The rest is well picked over,” said Potts during a telephone interview from Kingston, where he was attending the latest in a series of public meetings across the province about the AIP. So, the challenge for Potts and his fellow negotiators from the province of Ontario, and the federal government, was to find available land that was “spiritually or culturally significant to them,” and/or that could be used for future residential and/or economic opportunities for the Algonquins.
The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) has gone to great lengths to stress at several meetings it has co-hosted on the agreement, including a recent one in Bancroft, that private property will not be expropriated.
However, an OFAH fact sheet distributed at their information session in Perth on Feb. 22, stated that “public land will become private land,” and that “access to remaining public lands will become restricted.”
“That’s not necessarily true,” said Potts, speaking to the latter point above. “There are a host of interested parties on that land,” pointing to private hunt camps, rights-of-way, and even snowmobile trails.
“That will require solutions,” and negotiations, he said. “We will not deprive people of access to these lands.”
The OFAH’s fact sheet also stated that “public lakes will become private lakes.”
Potts said that of the thousands of lakes in eastern Ontario, the deal does not touch “navigable waters. The lake bed becomes part of the Algonquin land base,” since, for between 40 and 60 lakes, “some of which are miniscule in size…we have direct access and control to those lakes.”
For other lakes though, the land surrounding a lake may be claimed by the Algonquins, but, “we made the decision to keyhole that (lake), exclude that,” lake from the process. He added that “other private property owners have lakes that they (their property) will surround.”
Potts expressed his frustration at groups that “make a broad public statement. That is fear mongering.” He asked that “instead of destructive solutions, come up with constructive solutions.”
The OFAH fact sheet also seems to have given Potts and the negotiators a back-handed compliment of sorts.
The sheet states that “many of the lands to be transferred to the Algonquins are in high quality locations,” adding that “many are prime real estate with significant values for recreational users.”
“It is gratifying to us to know that they think that,” said Potts. “I am glad that the OFAH thinks we’ve done a good job.”
He admitted that finding land that was suitable to the Algonquins, that also did not step on non-native toes, “was a challenge,” especially in an area with a million plus residents, and hundreds of thousands of recreational/seasonal visitors.
There were even those within the Algonquin community, many “would regard the number of acres we took as miniscule.”
“Reconciling involves accommodation,” said Potts. “They are not talking to aliens, some other-earthly beings. They are their neighbours. We are trying to make the best of a difficult situation.”
The OFAH and other groups were also frustrated at not being able to be kept abreast of the situation during negotiations, but Potts noted that even the Algonquins themselves, outside of the negotiating team, were not aware of what was going on at the negotiating table.
He pointed to 9,000 adults who have been added to the Algonquin voters list in anticipation of a possible referendum on a future deal, “who were not apprised of what was going on,” and who found out about the AIP in mid-December at the same time as the non-native population.
“If everything I said in a (negotiation) meeting was to be reported on next week, I couldn’t negotiate,” said Potts. “(Otherwise that) would have been a public negotiation and you can’t do that (negotiate) in a public forum.”
Some groups have also complained that while they were members of an external advisors group, they complained that they felt like a committee of external listeners.
To this, Potts stated that “there is no value achieved through creating controversy for the sake of it.”