A Municipal Perspective

There are many challenges that come along with providing services to communities. While each community is unique, there are some challenges that are shared across First Nations in the province and even the country. In delivering services, First Nation governments use and share different types of resources that help them accomplish community goals. You may use resources from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) to prepare your Comprehensive Community Plan, or the resources on this website to prepare your MTSA.

Like many First Nation governments in BC, you may work with your municipal neighbours to deliver services or for other goals, such as economic development. Your partner municipalities also use different types of support and resources to do their work. This blog post provides a quick overview of three organizations that advocate for and support municipalities in their work: Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM), Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), and CivicInfo BC. These organizations provide forums for municipalities to discuss governance and service delivery challenges and solutions. They also provide resources to help municipalities accomplish their goals.


UBCM is the voice of municipalities in BC. This organization advocates on behalf of municipalities to the Province, administers senior government funding for different projects, and provides research on challenges facing municipalities.

UBCM spearheads the Community to Community (C2C) Forum, an annual program bringing together First Nations and local governments from across BC. Through the C2C Forum, partners can discuss actions that they can take together on common goals. In addition to the C2C Forum, UBCM offers other opportunities to its member to support the goals of reconciliation. These include Reconciliation Dialogue Workshops and Indigenous Cultural Safety Training. More information can be found here.


FCM advocates for municipalities at the national scale. It also administers funding for a variety of municipal projects, such as asset management, sustainability planning, and action on climate change. FCM offers resources to support municipalities in their work, such as research, guidebooks, and webinars.

FCM also offers funding for partnerships between First Nations and municipalities on infrastructure and economic development.

CivicInfo BC

CivicInfo BC is an information hub for BC local governments to find out about news, events and training opportunities, bids and tenders, and resources. It also provides a directory of government contacts, including First Nations, municipalities, and regional districts.

If you and your municipal neighbour have a shared goal and need resources or funding support, it is helpful to look to the different organizations that support both First Nations and municipalities.

A Memorandum of Understanding to Get You Started

In a previous post, we talked about the importance of the Communication Clause in your MTSA. It helps make sure you and your service partners are communicating regularly during the life of your MTSA. However, in some cases, you may need a communications protocol before you get started on your MTSA. This is where a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) can be useful.

What is an MOU?

An MOU lays out how you and your service partner will communicate while you are in the process of developing an MTSA. An MOU doesn’t have to be long or complicated. It can be a simple, one-page document. The most important thing is that it outlines how you and your service partner want to work together to develop your MTSA or accomplish some other MTSA-related goal.

Do we need an MOU?

It may be good for you and your service partner to have an MOU if any of the following apply to your situation:

  • You are starting a new MTSA with a service partner you’ve never worked with before.
  • You are starting a major update to an MTSA.
  • You are negotiating a capital contribution from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC).
  • You and your service partner are planning a major upgrade to infrastructure.
  • You and your service partner have a history of poor communication or misunderstanding.
  • Either you or your service partner has recently had major staff turnover and the working relationship between representatives is new.

What should we include in our MOU?

Parties Involved

  • Who is the point person at each organization who will be driving the project to completion?
  • Are there other parties involved? For example, representatives from the Government of Canada or consultants.
  • When should lawyers get involved?


  • What are our general principles for working together? For example, mutual respect, transparency, good will, seeking to understand, etc.
  • When and how often are we going to communication or meet?
  • How are we going to share information with each other?

Plan for Developing the MTSA

  • How are we managing the pre-work? For example, how are we providing information for a study needed to develop an MTSA? How are we sharing work or studies that are completed by consultants hired by one party?
  • When do we need to share information at the political level? What information needs to be shared with our Chief and Council and their Mayor and Council?
  • What is the timeline for negotiating the MTSA?
  • What resources are we using to develop our MTSA? For example, are we using a template or guide?

Taking the time to prepare an MOU before you get started can help you make sure that the process starts on the right foot and that both parties are on the same page.

Ins and Outs of Legal Review

MTSAs are legal documents. A lawyer is very helpful in the MTSA process. Their role is to ensure that what is in the MTSA is legally sound—meaning that it is consistent and clearly lays out the roles and responsibilities of each service partner, and the specifics of the service to be received.

It is important to get a lawyer involved at the right time. Too early and you may spend time and resources spinning your wheels on legal details when you haven’t even set policy directions with your service partner. Too late and you may find problems with your MTSA after everyone has already agreed to the terms.

This blog post will explore a couple of scenarios to help shed some light on when to involve a lawyer.

Scenario 1

Your MTSA has been in place for a long time and you have a great relationship with your service partner. The groundwork was done a long time ago. You’re happy with your agreement, but it’s time to renew it. You and your service partner only want minor changes—for example, changes to the meeting schedule, or an update to rates that everyone agrees upon.

In this case, bringing a lawyer into the process earlier may be a good idea. A lawyer’s job will be to go through the final wording with a fine-toothed comb before both parties sign the document. They are doing a final check and updating any provisions if legal best practice has changed.

Scenario 2

You have a lot of ground work to do. Maybe one of the following applies to your situation:

  • Starting a new MTSA
  • Making major changes to an existing MTSA
  • Planning large capital investments
  • Changing how the service is provided
  • Changing the service itself

Pathways Guide

Pathways to Service Delivery Guide

If one of these applies to your situation, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered before you involve a lawyer. A lawyer’s role is not usually to get into deeper policy questions, or to help with setting a vision. These types of activities happen before a lawyer is consulted. If you get a lawyer involved too early, you may spend a lot of time (and money) negotiating the details when the broader goals have not even been set.

We recommend figuring out those important service delivery questions first by working with your service partner. The resources on this website were created to help you navigate the world of MTSAs. The Pathways to Service Delivery Guide is a great place to start.

Once you have a broad idea of the MTSA process (after reading the guide), you can use the MTSA Handbooks and Checklists to answer the major service delivery questions that you and your service partner need to agree on. It may be helpful to complete a checklist based on your community needs before meeting with your service partner so that you know what your goals are.

Once you’ve agreed on the components of your MTSA, a lawyer can help you draft your MTSA. They will also take care of the standard details such as the following:

  • Schedules
  • Assignment
  • Acknowledgement of Rights
  • Headings
  • Liability and Insurance
  • Governing Laws
  • Indemnity

Developing a Communication Clause

A strong MTSA has a solid communications clause. But, what does this look like? What are the benefits? What are the potential pitfalls? This blog post will help answer these questions.

What is a communication clause and why do you need one?

A communication clause states how the parties of the MTSA will formally communicate with one another over the lifetime of the agreement. It is important to have a communications clause because it means you are proactively planning to meet with your service partner. Regular communication between you and your MTSA partner helps you fulfill your MTSA in a number of ways:

  • Stay up to date on service delivery
  • Discuss and resolve issues early, before they become problems
  • Share information, especially if there are staff changes
  • Build rapport and establish trust

What does a communication clause look like?

Over the lifetime of an MTSA, service partners will have a number of reasons to contact each other: for example, to review their MTSA, to bill for services, to pay for services, and to access information about service provision. A communication clause sets out in one place the following key pieces of information:

  • Which representatives should be meeting (primary contacts)
  • How often meetings should occur
  • What topics need to be discussed regularly
  • Whether a formal committee is required and, if so, the mandate of the committee
  • Contact information

What are the benefits?

A communication clause keeps key information in one place and helps avoid confusion later on. Having a good communication protocol helps avoid the stress of trying to figure out how to contact your service partner when there is important business to discuss. It also provides for regular touch points so you don’t go too long without communicating with your service partner. Even when things are going smoothly, going too long without communicating can make it difficult to get on the same page later on.

What are the potential pitfalls?

Some communication clauses are vague or don’t provide the right information. In these cases, they are no better than not having a communication clause at all! When you are preparing or renewing your MTSA, taking the time to agree on how communication will occur over the lifetime of an MTSA can prevent a headache later on.

For more information on communication protocols, and other aspects of MTSAs, make sure to review the the handbooks below.

Municipal Type Service Agreement (MTSA) Checklists

We’re excited to share our newest resource: MTSA Checklists.

The Pathways to Service Delivery Guide and MTSA Handbooks were created to provide accessible information on negotiating and preparing effective MTSAs. The new MTSA Checklists will help you and your service provider make sure all your bases are covered when you’re ready to build your service agreement.

The three MTSA Handbooks cover four of the most common types of MTSAs:

The new MTSA Checklists are a direct complement to these Handbooks. They allow you and your service provider to cover each section of a service agreement step-by-step. If you get stuck or have questions about a section, the Pathways to Service Delivery Guide and MTSA Handbooks provide additional details.

Each section of the MTSA Checklist corresponds to the same section in the MTSA Handbook, making it easy to flip back and forth when you need more information. For example, Section 5.0 Roles and Responsibilities corresponds to the same section in the Handbooks. Making decisions about roles and responsibilities is simplified by the checklist, which provides a series of options that you and your partner can consider and check.

Your Service Provider’s Perspective: Five Things Municipalities Think About Before Signing MTSAs

In February, we shared the story of Dr. Rosalin Miles and her experience as a new Band Administrator negotiating the MTSA process. She gave some great insights into what First Nation Band Administrators should know before reviewing their service agreements. This month, we take a different approach: thinking from your service provider’s perspective. We did some digging and found five things municipalities think about when considering service agreements. Knowing what your service partner’s needs and concerns are can help frame a more positive conversation about services, and clarify some common misunderstandings around service agreements.

Long range planning is key to sharing services

  1. Long range planning is key to sharing services. Can a municipality provide services beyond their boundary? Most likely, it depends on whether or not they planned for it. Municipalities develop long-range planning documents called Official Community Plans (OCPs) which outline how land will be used and where growth will occur. Supporting the OCP are master plans for each of their main services. These documents can cover decades but are usually updated every five years or so. If a municipality has not anticipated providing services beyond its boundaries in the OCP or servicing master plans, it is unlikely that they have the capacity to add neighbouring communities to their system.

What does this mean for First Nation partners? If your First Nation is thinking about services and the needs of your community are changing, talk to your service partner or potential service partner! This is especially true if you know that your service partner is in the process of updating their OCP or servicing master plans. Starting these conversations early can ensure that the service provider can anticipate your Nation’s need as they plan their systems.

On the other side of things, if your First Nation is working on its own land use planning, make sure to think about what services will be needed to meet the needs of growth on reserve. Engaging your service partner during the land use planning process can help ensure that growth in your community is met with adequate services.

  1. Current versus future capacity. Sometimes it looks like a municipality has capacity in their system for additional users but new service agreements still require infrastructure upgrades. This is because that capacity may have been built to service growth within the municipal boundary. The community has invested in and built infrastructure to service development that may not come for years. Even though there may be capacity in the short-term, adding too many additional users while growth is expected can put the system at risk over the long term.
  1. Partnership is about more than just service agreements. You don’t need a service agreement to work with local government neighbours or benefit from knowledge sharing. Most municipalities have full-time staff with a ton of knowledge and expertise in operating infrastructure. If your First Nation needs support, there may be opportunities to collaborate on operations and maintenance even if service agreements are not in place. This could help provide valuable training and knowledge sharing between municipal and First Nation staff. It can also lay the groundwork for future collaboration and service agreements.
  1. Recovering costs is important to municipalities. Costs for providing utilities such as water and sewer are paid for through user fees and other cost recovery mechanisms. Prudent municipalities will aim to recover the full cost of the service through these fees, or through Recovering costs is important to municipalitiesmechanisms for recovering costs from growth. For example, if a developer is building a new subdivision, there will be a need to build expensive infrastructure to provide services to new homes. Municipalities can use a type of fee called Development Cost Charges (DCCs) to fund the new infrastructure. However, in the case of extending services beyond the municipal boundary, a municipality cannot use these familiar tools for recovering costs. If infrastructure upgrades are required to extend services to a First Nation, the service partners will have to negotiate how these costs are paid for.
  1. First Nation control over land use. Service agreements can sometimes seem strict. Some First Nations may feel that their service partner is trying to control where and how fast they grow. However, the primary issue for municipalities is the need to have certainty over where services are being delivered. Connected to our first point, municipalities plan land use and services far in advance. They don’t like surprises! Unpredictable development and growth can make your service partner nervous because they have to ensure their infrastructure has the capacity to take on each new connection. These concerns show how necessary it is to have regular conversations about growth and development. If a new development may impact service infrastructure, share this information early on. If your First Nation is uncertain about growth, or finds it hard to plan or predict land uses, consider this uncertainty in your service agreement. Being upfront about these concerns can go a long way in coming to an agreement that works for both service partners.

MTSAs are complex and require significant collaboration between First Nation and municipal partners. In this blog post, we consider five things that municipalities are thinking about. Are there other things you’d like to know about your service partner’s perspective in MTSAs? Ask us through Facebook or Twitter!

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Stories of Collaboration: Our Favourites

Over the past year, we’ve shared weekly stories of First Nations collaboration with local governments. While focused on MTSAs, these stories cover a broad range of topics related to work between First Nations and municipalities. Cooperation and partnerships can bring many rewards, but also come with challenges. We’ve rounded up four of our favourite stories of the past year.

  1. Westbank First Nation and West Kelowna

Service agreements can support strong partnerships. This is definitely true in the case of Westbank First Nation and West Kelowna. In 2016, the two governments renewed their fire agreement for another 15 years. Long-term agreements provide benefits to both parties, including peace-of-mind that a service will be provided over the long term, sharing costs, building trust, and offering mutual support.

Fires are unpredictable and can spread quickly. A strong fire agreement is about more than service delivery. As Mayor Findlater said, “West Kelowna’s fire protection is enhanced through planning, training, and coordination with WFN [Westbank First Nation], particularly on forest fires, which don’t recognize boundaries.”.

  1. Tla’amin First Nation and City of Powell River

In 2016, Tla’amin First Nation became a self-governing nation. The provisions of the new treaty included a larger land base, funding, and a number of economic development opportunities. The First Nation’s long-term goals are closely tied to its collaboration with its closest neighbour, the City of Powell River.

Tla’amin First Nation and the City of Powell River have a strong working relationship, but it wasn’t always this way. More than 15 years ago, a dispute arose after the City work on a sea walk damaged Tla’amin heritage sites. However, rather than pushing the two apart, this conflict prompted the two governments to starting talking and begin working together as partners in developing the sea walk. In 2003, Tla’amin First Nation and the City of Powell River signed a community accord. They have been working together every since.

  1. Urban Reserves

Urban reserves have been in the news frequently over the past year. Stories of First Nations working towards developing urban reserves popped up all over Canada, including Rolling River First Nation in Headingley, Manitoba and Kawacatoose First Nation in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. In Western Canada, Enoch First Nation recently reached a milestone, signing an agreement with the City of Edmonton to work together over the long term. The agreement is a commitment of leadership within Enoch First Nation and the City of Edmonton to meet at least once a year and collaborate on a joint working group. This brings the First Nation closer to achieving its goal of purchasing City land for to develop an urban reserve.

  1. Local Governments Working Towards Reconciliation

2017 has been declared a year of reconciliation. Municipalities across the country are making efforts to build bridges with their neighbouring First Nations. Recently, the City of Markham signed a partnership accord with Eabametoong First Nation. The agreement promotes social, cultural, and economic collaboration between the First Nation and local government.

Collaboration between First Nations and local governments takes many forms. The stories highlighted in this blog show just a glimpse into the many ways that communities can work together.

Do you have a story of First Nation-local government collaboration? Please share it with us through Facebook or Twitter!

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MTSAs in Action: A Conversation with Dr. Rosalin Miles on Lytton First Nations’ Service Agreement Reviews

Developing and reviewing municipal type service agreements can be an overwhelming experience and the process can raise many important questions, such as:

  • How are services delivered?
  • What are my community’s obligations?
  • What are the obligations of our partner municipality?
  • Are the rates we pay fair?
  • What is the service area?


Dr. Rosalin Miles

Just to name a few! The goal of Pathways to Service Delivery is to make the process of developing and reviewing municipal type service agreements more manageable and effective. As part of this goal, we are always looking for stories from communities across BC and Canada about MTSAs and the process of developing them.

Recently, we had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Rosalin Miles who jumped into the role of First Nation Administrator for Lytton First Nation in 2016. Shortly after starting her new role, Rosalin initiated a review of her community’s MTSAs. As part of our conversation, she shared some of her insights into the process and provided a few words of advice to new (and long-standing) First Nation Administrators undergoing the process of reviewing or developing MTSAs.

First of all, we wanted to know, what motivated Rosalin to review Lytton First Nation’s service agreements with their neighbour, the Village of Lytton? Every community has a unique set of circumstances and Lytton First Nation is no different. Rosalin reported that several interconnected events prompted Lytton First Nation to consider reviewing their existing service agreements:

  • Potential capital investment: The Village of Lytton is planning on building a new water treatment centre and Lytton First Nation is considering providing a capital contribution. This opened the door to reviewing the existing water service agreement in light of possible investment by the First Nation.
  • Expiring agreements: Lytton First Nation’s previous MTSAs used relatively short terms. This meant that the First Nation and Village had to renegotiate every year or two to ensure that the agreements were up to date.
  • New First Nation Administrator: Stepping into the role in 2016, Rosalin wanted to learn as much as she could about service delivery to the First Nation’s reserves. Reviewing the service agreements gave her the opportunity to delve deeply and ensure she knew the ins and outs of how things were done.

As part of the process, Rosalin and the Urban Systems team used the MTSA Assessment Tool to review each service agreement. We wanted to know if the tool was helpful and how she used it during the review process.

Rosalin told us she loved having a step-by-step framework to evaluate her community’s service agreements. The tool helped identify what kind of information needed to be collected to help with the negotiation and decision-making process. It also helped her set service levels based on community needs rather than just repeating past service agreements.

Going into the process, Rosalin worried that there was a “right” and “wrong” answer to each part of a service agreement. Instead, the Tool helped her understand that each component of a service agreement was unique to the First Nation and municipal partner, based on the needs and resources of the two communities. The Assessment Tool offered examples for a range of goals that were helpful in establishing priorities in the new service agreements. Two examples were really important for Lytton First Nation:

  • Previous service agreements didn’t include a termination clause. Using the Tool prompted questions about what the First Nation would do if service level targets weren’t met, what they would do if they wanted a change in the way services were delivered, and how long they would need to find a new service provider if an agreement was cancelled.
  • Service areas were identified but clear expectations were undefined in previous agreements. The Tool provided suggestions for how an agreement could be structured to achieve the desired level of service in a well-defined service area.

Discussing the process of reviewing service agreements, Rosalin had some insights into what First Nation Administrators should think about when starting their own reviews:

Get ready for some prep work:

  • Before starting the process, take time to gather all the relevant service agreements.
  • Review your partner municipality’s bylaws that lay out relevant information such as user rates, service levels, and regulations.
  • Communicate to your partner municipality that your community would like to review service agreements. From the start, let them know that this is a learning experience and that the goal is collaboration, not criticism.

Understand benefits:

  • First Nations have unique capacity challenges. To make the most of the agreements, get to know what your partner municipality is able to offer and the level of service received by off-reserve households.


  • Know that rates are negotiable. Be prepared to review and compare the rate charged to the level of service provided and the rate paid by non-reserve households.

Managing expectations:

  • Be prepared for each community to have expectations, whether around costs, level of investment, or service levels.
  • Expectations on both the First Nation and municipal side must be managed.

Think about the future:

  • Ultimately, the First Nation and municipality are partners in a larger community. Consider how agreements support the sustainability of both communities.
  • Recognize that the First Nation is its own government—benefits and resources should be distributed equally between members of both communities.
  • Think about what you want your relationship to be in the future and lay the groundwork.
  • Connect service agreements with goals in your Comprehensive Community Plan for long-term community development.
  • Identify ways that your First Nation can help your partner municipality—for example, through capital cost contributions.

Thanks Rosalin for your insights!

Using The Cost Calculator

Preparing to negotiate a service agreement with your neighbouring community can seem like an intimidating task for any First Nation. You may have read in a previous blog post, ‘Knowing Your Municipal Service Needs…And What’s Possible’, that the best place to start is by identifying exactly what it is your community needs.

Once you’ve determined your needs, the next step is understanding what it might cost to provide the service you need before sitting down with your neighbouring municipality. Preparing yourself with this information will create a more open and informed negotiation process. The Pathways to Service Delivery website contains various resource tools to assist First Nations and municipalities through the negotiating process, including a cost calculator.

The cost calculator is an interactive Excel based tool developed to highlight information about the costs of services, such as water and sewer. While the cost calculator will not provide you with the exact rate, it acts more like a tool for discussion purposes with your neighbouring municipality, to better understand what goes into determining the rate.

excel-logoExcel Cost Calculator


The cost calculator is not only a great tool for First Nations preparing to negotiate a service agreement for the first time but also those First Nations with existing service agreement that are nearing their expiration date.

How exactly does it work?

The cost calculator supports the user in thinking about what a fair rate might be for providing a service to their location. It assists in estimating how much the First Nation might pay annually for services and based on the annual estimated cost, how much of that cost is eligible to receive funding from INAC and how much would need to be funded through other sources of revenue. To determine these costs, the cost calculator relies on information about rates in the neighboring community and helps the user compare rates and levels of service.

The cost calculator includes three services, all which are eligible for funding through INAC. These include water, sewer, and fire protection. Because fire protection varies so much from community to community, the calculator provides a range of average rates per household. This can be used to give people an idea of how their rate compares with rates in other communities. Also, from time to time, service agreements might cover a full bundle of services. Some of these services may already be provided by the First Nation, in which case it may be fair to apply a credit of up to 100% for that service. The cost calculator helps the user review different services that are often included in a service bundle and consider which ones might receive a credit and why.

For the cost calculator to work, you’ll first need to identify and provide some basic information including, the municipal rate for the service, the number of member homes, and the number or non-member homes who will receive service. For water and sewer, you can identify municipal water rates by looking at the Water and Sewer Bylaw of your neighbouring municipality. This bylaw is publically available information and should be accessible through the municipality’s website.

By inputting these values, the pre-formatted Excel sheet will display estimated rate for how much your First Nation might pay annually for services, how much of that cost is eligible to receive funding from INAC and how much would need to be funded by your community through other sources of revenue.

Now – let’s go through an example, looking at what BC First Nation, a fictional community, might pay for water through their neighbouring municipality, BC Town.

The Administrator from BC First Nation has already gone onto BC Town’s website to find their municipal water rate.

Pathways-4-Service- FeesAndCharges


Looking at BC Town’s water user fees, the Administrator can see the Town charges a fixed rate only and has no volume rate. This varies from community to community with some municipalities only charging a fixed rate, while others use a combination of a fixed rate and volume rate.

The Administrator has taken the municipal water rate and the number of member and non-member homes and entered it into the cost calculator. Because a service agreement is not yet in place, simply enter the same rate you entered for the municipal water rate and the calculator will provide an initial estimate based on the rates in BC Town.


From there, the Administrator is able to better understand what it might cost to provide water to their members through a service agreement with BC Town annually ($81,316.44) if rates were the same as in BC Town, as well as how much of that annual cost would be covered through INAC funding ($60,211.01) and how much the First Nation would need to pay for themselves through other sources of revenues ($21,105.43).

The Administrator of BC First Nation knows that the service agreement with BC Town will not include operations and maintenance of infrastructure on reserve, so the rate that is paid for on-reserve service through the service agreement may be less than what is paid by customers of BC Town off-reserve.

The Administrator can now go into discussions with BC Town with a baseline of costs that can be discussed with BC Town, to get a better understanding of what will be included in the rate and how it will compare to the rate being paid in the Town.