Building Relationships and Understanding Perspectives

Lake Babine Nation website  -

Lake Babine Nation website

Lake Babine First Nation and the Village of Burns Lake have shown a strong commitment to building understanding between their communities, having negotiated four service agreement over the past few decades. Both communities agree they now have a strong relationship that has strengthened since signing their latest 5-year agreement in April, 2013.

“Even the year leading up to signing the agreement,” recalls Burns Lake CAO Sheryl Worthing. “We had lots of good and respectful discussions around what the service agreement would look like.”

The current service agreement includes many of the services that are eligible for subsidy funding from Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAC), with a few added extras according to Lake Babine Housing and Infrastructure Director, Bernard Patrick. (more…)

Using the Community to Community (C2C) Forum to Build Relationships

Strong relationships are built on trust and understanding. Something as simple as a conversation, face-to-face dialogue, is often the most impactful way to begin building trust and understanding. For First Nations and local governments in BC, finding the time and resources to sit down and build a relationship between communities can be challenging.

Since 1999, the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) has worked to enable relationship building between First Nations and local governments through their Regional Community to Community Forum program (C2C). The program is designed specifically to help community leaders connect by offering a small grant, used to help cover the costs involved in hosting a forum event. Since the program began, approximately 520 forums have been hosted by First Nations and local governments across BC. The success of the program is due in part to First Nations and local governments recognizing the need to engage across their respective boundaries.

Peter Ronald - UBCM Programs Officer

Peter Ronald – UBCM Programs Officer

Peter Ronald, Programs Officer with UBCM, has been involved in administering the C2C program since 2011. He notes that while the program doesn’t direct the communities involved towards a specific outcome, everyone wants healthier and more economically successful communities.

“Wherever you are is where you should start – which may mean gathering to break the ice with newly elected councils,” Ronald explains. “Other communities have advanced well beyond the ‘let’s get to know you’ stage to establishing MOU’s (Memorandums of Understanding) or protocol agreements and then turning their attention to tourism or economic development strategies”.

Ronald notes that while it is not always easy to bring people together – especially in more remote areas of our Province – it does time take to build a relationship, build the trust and then start working together.

For the Town of Ladysmith, having the opportunity to be involved with numerous forums over the years has had a powerful impact on their relationship with their neighbours, Stz’uminus First Nation.

Ruth Malli, Ladysmith City Manager

Ruth Malli – Ladysmith City Manager

City Manager, Ruth Malli, describes their first experience with the C2C Forum program as an opportunity to open the door and begin to build the foundations of a strong relationship.

Since then, the Town and Stz’uminus First Nations have been involved in upwards of seven forums through the UBCM program. As the relationship between these two communities strengthened, they have been more strategic in the topics they select to focus and work together on.

“Probably the most powerful (forum) I would say was the one we did with a facilitator – David Gouthro – that was brought in to talk specifically about building relationships, building capacity, and understanding each other,” recalls Malli.

In order to better understand each community’s perspective, participants from both communities worked through an exercise called ‘We think you think (blank) about us – the truth is (blank)’. Malli describes feeling a bit hesitant going into the exercise, but quickly realized there are just as many myths that they had about Stz’uminus as Stz’uminus had about them.

“We killed ourselves laughing about what each other thought, but didn’t really want to say. It was just so good and to this day we still joke about it.”

Relationships are powerful things, and as Ronald attests “today is the best time to turn a page and start to improve those relationships and build towards a more prosperous future together.”

About the Community to Community Forum

The goal of a Regional Community to Community Forum is increased understanding and improved overall relations between First Nations and local governments. The forum events are intended to provide a time and place for dialogue to build on opportunities, resolve issues of common responsibility or interest and to advance tangible outcomes.

To qualify for funding, a Community to Community Forum must include direct dialogue between elected officials of neighbouring First Nations and local governments, and work to advance specific deliverables, such as agreements, products and tools, related to outcomes from the dialogue.

In addition, events must work toward one or more of the following objectives:

  • Educating and informing the participating governments about current issues in relationships between the First Nations and local governments
  • Strengthening relationships and fostering future co-operative action by building stronger links between First Nation and local government elected officials and staff
  • Advancing local governments and First Nations to more formal relationships through protocols, MOUs, service agreements and/or collaboration on plans or projects

Grants under the Regional C2C Forum program are modest: the maximum grant is $5,000 and the applicant is required to provide fifty percent (50%) of the total eligible costs for the forum in cash or in-kind contributions.

Eligibility Criteria

  • Events must include direct participation by elected officials from both First Nation(s) and local government(s)
  • The date of the event(s) must be set and provided to UBCM
  • Willingness of the elected officials of the partnering community to participate in the event must be confirmed and provided in writing to UBCM
  • The communities engaging in dialogue must be neighbouring. However, “neighbouring” may mean in the vicinity of, but not necessarily immediately adjacent to.

The Community to Community Forum program is administered over the course of the fiscal year
(April 1 to March 31) and two calls for applications are generally announced each year – in the
spring and fall.

The application deadline for the fall intake of the 2015/16 program is Friday, October 16, 2015. Applicants will be notified of the status of their application by November 6, 2015. Information on subsequent application deadlines will be available on UBCM’s website.

Knowing Your Municipal Service Needs…And What’s Possible

Understanding exactly what it is your community needs is the first step in negotiating a service agreement. However knowing the “what” only scratches the surface as to your community’s complete needs. For example, you may know that you need more housing for members but can you answer the rest of the ‘Wh’ questions? – the who, where, when, why, and how?

Comprehensive Community Plan Handbook

Comprehensive Community Plan Handbook

You might start by looking at your community’s Comprehensive Community Plan (CCP), reviewing the vision and action items identified. Though as Dale Komanchuk, Director of Public Works with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, notes, CCP’s cast a broad visionary net requiring additional follow-up to further understand what it will take to achieve the community vision.

“CCP’s look at things from 50,000 to 100,000 feet,” Komanchuk explains. “They are really the first chance that some communities have to sit down and think about the big picture in terms of culture and where they’re going – that type of thing.”

After reviewing your CCP, the question now becomes what do you need in order to achieve those visionary goals?

For example, your CCP may highlight economic development as a priority. Consider what this looks like by asking the following:

  1. What kind of development is desired?
  2. In what area/location will this development happen?
  3. What services are needed to support the development?

Your CCP may also identify a need for member housing, in which case you’ll want to dive deeper by asking:

  1. How much housing is needed?
  2. Where will this development happen and when?
  3. What services are available and what will be needed?

Aside from your CCP, other considerations should be made when determining your needs. For example:

  1. What land do you have? Do you need more? How much more?
  2. What services do you need for the land that you have and/or need?
  3. What quantity of services will you need? When will you need them?

Pathways to Service Delivery, a First Nation’s guide to developing and re-negotiating municipal service agreements, recommends conducting a feasibility review to better understand what it would take to deliver the services you want.

The purpose of a feasibility review is to figure out if a vision or idea can be made real, and what it will take. A feasibility review would look to answer questions like:

  1. What level of service is required for ‘x’ amount of people? When will it be needed?
  2. Is the infrastructure in place? Is infrastructure capacity available?
  3. Is there additional infrastructure needed?
  4. What operations and maintenance support is needed? Is it available?
  5. What are the possible ways of providing this level of service, and what are the costs associated?

After knowing what services are needed and what is possible, you can make an informed decision about whether a service agreement is needed, or if your community is in a position to build, operate, and maintain infrastructure to provide services.

For Tsleil-Waututh Nation, their approach to further identifying exactly what they needed came through a Future Development Plan. The Future Development Plan evaluated land use and development scenarios based on future population projections and what the community wanted to see for economic development.
“Based on our experience with CCP’s we turned the process upside down. We decided to start with the land to see what it could handle,” Komanchuk says “And then looked at the infrastructure and what it would take for the land to handle the infrastructure.”

The Future Development Plan was an invaluable resource for Tsleil-Waututh Nation during their recent service agreement re-negotiations. The Plan helped them to identify what was feasible, given their circumstances of being surrounded by urban development.

There are various avenues you can take when looking to better understand what it is your community needs and what it would take to achieve those needs. Whichever way you go, having those answers is essential to the municipal services negotiation process.

Top 10 Tips for Negotiating a Service Agreement

Life is in essence a series of negotiations. A daily activity that many of us don’t even realize we are doing. And yet, when formally labelled as a “negotiation”, the act can still incite anxiety and discomfort. Negotiation is essentially a dialogue between two parties (sometimes more) that is focussed on reaching a mutually beneficial outcome or resolving different points of views. It is a process through which we attempt to influence others to help us achieve our needs – while at the same time taking their needs into account.

Below are 10 tips to negotiate municipal service agreements more effectively.

1. Put your best foot forward.

View the negotiation as a catalyst to build understanding and trust between partners, instead of an adversarial process. Service agreements can bring significant benefits for the region as a whole. Begin with the intent of reaching a service agreement that is mutually beneficial and strengthens the relationship. After all, you will be living together as neighbours long after the agreement is reached.

2. Establish a government-to-government relationship from the top down.

Relationships are at the foundation of any service agreement. Establishing a government-to-government relationship will make it clear that the communities are committed to working together in good faith. This will not only be beneficial throughout the negotiation but during the life of the agreement itself. Begin by establishing the relationship at a political level and documenting the commitment in a protocol or memorandum. Staff on both sides of the table can work out the details.

3. Take the time to understand each other’s business.

It is important for both sides to understand the environment in which the other party is working in. One of the main barriers during service agreement negotiations is both sides not having a good understanding of the other parties business. Speaking openly and honestly will go a long way to build the trust and understanding needed to reaching an agreement that works for both governments.

4. Know your priorities before taking a seat at the table.

What are the service needs of your community? What plans are in place for growth and development in your community? Understanding the needs of your community can be done through a needs assessment, where you review your community vision and identify what services you need to achieve your community plan. You should also think about your needs for level of service, operations, maintenance, invoicing or payment terms, and training. If you are providing a service, know what the cost of providing the service is that will need to be recovered. Make a list of your needs, and identify which ones are your top priorities. The clearer you are on your interests and goals, the more successful your service agreement will be.

5. Know what you can offer.

Just as you should understand what you need, you should understand what it is that you can offer to the other party. Are there services, or components of the service that your community is able to provide? Make a list of the things your community can offer during negotiations, along with the things your community needs.

6. Ensure the right people are involved throughout the process.

First and foremost, the process of negotiating a service agreement is a business deal between two partners. Throughout the process you need to have the right people, at a variety of levels involved to collaborate and reach a deal that works for both sides. On the political level, elected officials should be engaged in setting direction for the government-to-government agreement and establishing or strengthening the relationship on a political level. Staff, such as the Band Manager and Administrator, should use the direction set out by elected officials to guide the development of the agreement. Finally, if necessary, lawyers can review the drafted contract prior to signing.

7. Strive for a service agreement that is “evergreen”.

The process of negotiating or re-negotiating a service agreement takes time. Whether it is a year or two, it is important to ensure the services will be in place no matter how long the re-negotiating process takes. This can be achieved by establishing a service agreement that is “evergreen”. An evergreen service agreement does not have an expiry date. Though rates in these agreements may be updated regularly to reflect changes in costs, but the terms are not revisited at a pre-defined date. Either party can still choose to terminate evergreen agreements within the terms of the agreement.

8. Actively listen to the other side.

Listening can be difficult – especially during emotional discussions. It is also one of the most powerful negotiation skills in your “toolkit”. Active listening happens when you pay attention to not only the speaker’s words but also nonverbal cues, allowing you (the listener) to focus on not only the words the other person is saying but, more importantly, understand the complete message being sent.
When listening, our own personal filters, judgements, and belief may distort the complete message we “hear”. For effective active listening, it is important to feed back what you have heard to the speaker. This can be done by paraphrasing what you believe the person has said or asking questions for confirmation.

9. Take time to reflect before responding.

Silence can feel uncomfortable or like a sign of weakness during negotiations. However, taking a few moments to reflect before responding will allow you the time necessary to process what you have heard and decide what to say next. Often when we don’t allow time for reflection, the response is likely to be driven by emotions. Reflecting before responding allows the message to be digested, while connecting us to our values without the emotions.

10. Make sure you understand the agreement.

Terms should be clear to the people using the agreement. Make sure definitions of uncommon terms are included. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, clarifying exactly what your party is getting from the agreement and what your party will be responsible for.