Hundreds of rural hectares have changed hands for millions of dollars over the past seven years along the country roads where Ottawa's fourth suburb will spring up, and the Algonquins of Ontario (AOO) group wasn't the only one buying.
Now that the map setting out the future Tewin community is public, and set to be included in the new official plan at the end of the month, CBC News has analyzed land parcels and found the AOO Realty Corporation is not the biggest landowner on the block.
That's raising questions, given the AOO was front and centre last winter during a critical debate at city council.
The group's vision for a sustainable community built on Algonquin values wasn't near transit or pipes, and had not been studied carefully by city staff. Yet, city councillors decided, through a series of motions, that Ottawa's urban boundary should expand southeast, so the AOO could pursue its bid to develop a whole new urban area from scratch.
Chiefs from Quebec-based First Nations decried council's move as "wreck-on-ciliation" because they view the AOO as an illegitimate body negotiating a treaty on their ancestral lands. Developers in South March, whose lands were taken off the table in favour of Tewin, also made a rare public statement saying politics had taken over the agreed scoring process.
In his concluding remarks to council on Feb. 10, Mayor Jim Watson said the AOO had made the city a proposal and sought a chance to create wealth for its people. He said there was no dispute the group owned the land — the AOO bought surplus provincial lands at market value and outside of treaty negotiations.
Our partnership with Taggart Group is a shining example of ... the call to ensure that Indigenous communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects. - Lynn Clouthier, negotiation representative, Algonquins of Ontario
"The land is worth no more than what the AOO paid for it unless we give it the green light to be uplifted and developed," he said, telling reporters afterward the pitch would have been a "harder sell" had it come from any other developer.
Eight months later, however, an analysis shows land owned by the AOO Realty Corp. represents less than a third of what's being admitted for urban development in the city's rural southeast end. Included are approximately 250 hectares of the 1,624 it bought from the Ontario government in January 2020 with the goal of creating "one of Canada's most sustainable, future-oriented new communities."
Most of what the AOO purchased will remain outside of Ottawa's urban boundary — about half the hectares fall within a "natural heritage system" that cannot be developed.
Tewin land mostly privately owned
Records show the AOO's partner at Tewin, the Taggart family, owns the most land on the identified area set out for Tewin: approximately 390 hectares bought between November 2014 and February 2020, plus more than 240 hectares just beyond what's currently allocated for the Tewin community.
The parcels of land don't fall under the Taggart name in a database of property titles and sales histories run by the company that operates Ontario's land registry, however.
They're owned by Anderson Fairlawn Inc. and 2595469 Ontario Inc. Corporate reports show a single lawyer each as director, although Michelle Taggart, Taggart's vice-president of land development, confirmed both are their companies.
Taggart declined an interview, as did Lynn Clouthier, AOO Realty Corp.'s president and Ottawa's AOO negotiating representative, but both answered emailed questions. Chief Wendy Jocko of Pikwakanagan First Nation, listed as the realty corporation's secretary, was not available for comment.
Despite owning a minority of the land, Clouthier said a profit-sharing agreement would ensure the AOO directly benefits from Taggart lands too. She did not specify what proportion of the profit the AOO would receive.
The partners met with city staff over recent months to help determine where the Tewin development should begin. An area between Leitrim and Thunder roads was selected, and the city's director of long-term planning knew the development would include a "blend" of AOO and Taggart lands.
Ultimately, only the precise 445.35 hectares approved by city council will be developed, not the block's creeks, wetlands, and hydro corridors.
Taggart and AOO a 'true partnership'
The AOO says it approached the Taggart family in 2017 to be its development partner.
The family was "honoured" to be asked and was a "logical partner" because it already owned land in the area, Michelle Taggart told CBC News in an email.
The Taggart Group is listed as the AOO's partner on the Tewin website and it has been known to take part in meetings with city staff and councillors. The AOO says it has made clear it was in a partnership with Taggart in all materials provided to city staff and council.
But until now, even though the partnership has always been public, the split in land ownership between AOO and Tewin wasn't known.
At the end of the day, are there really any legitimate Algonquin people that are going to benefit from this? - Claudette Commanda, Algonquin elder
On Jan. 25, when the AOO pitched its vision publicly and urged councillors to let Tewin lands inside the urban boundary — a request that would be granted later that same meeting by members of the planning and rural affairs committees — the AOO did not mention the name Taggart, nor its extensive land ownership.
"Our time is now," Clouthier told councillors at the time, as she, along with executive director Janet Stavinga, and an Urban Strategies consultant, urged councillors to let in the Tewin lands.
When asked by CBC why they did not have Taggart at the table or make clear whose land was involved, Clouthier wrote: "Our partnership with Taggart Group is a shining example of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Call to Action No. 92, which is the call to ensure that Indigenous communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.
"It is paternalistic and colonial to position this partnership as anything other than reconciliation and a true partnership."
For her part, Taggart rejects the premise her company might have had lands admitted inside the urban boundary that likely would not have been without the AOO.
"What I find frustrating is that some people do not understand the opportunity we have before us to build a unique, first-of-its-kind, sustainable community founded on Algonquin values and place-keeping principles," she wrote.
"Whose development really is this?"
Many Algonquin leaders, however, allege Taggart and the City of Ottawa are dealing with an illegitimate group that does not represent the Algonquin people.
"I don't buy it as reconciliation, and I don't buy it as an economic development venture for the Algonquin nation or the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan," said Algonquin elder Claudette Commanda, upon seeing the map.
Commanda said she has serious doubts about how profits from a major land development will flow.
Tewin has been "shrouded in mystery," Commanda said, and she said every answer raises more questions. She wondered how a treaty-negotiating group had nearly $17 million to buy land from the Ontario government. The AOO has told CBC it entered into an agreement with its financial partner, Taggart Group.
"The next question is, 'Who owns the land then? Whose development really is this? Is this the AOO as the veil and the true owner is Taggart?'" Commanda asked, adding the land remains unceded Algonquin territory.
"Taggart is going to develop it, and Taggart is going to make all the money out of this," she claimed. "And, at the end of the day, are there really any legitimate Algonquin people that are going to benefit from this?"
Commanda wondered whether the people of Pikwakanagan, or other federally recognized First Nations communities, will receive housing or financial benefit from Tewin.
"I say no, they will not."
CBC News asked Clouthier how individual Algonquins in the province would know and see how they benefit, but she did not directly answer.
"This project is an important recognition of the unique role that Indigenous communities can have in land use planning and development," she wrote in an email. "We are excited about what this development means for Algonquins in Ontario, both in terms of the opportunity to be able to call Tewin home as well as to participate in the socioeconomic life of this new community."
Tewin will also create training and job opportunities, she wrote.
'Real Algonquins' upset about Tewin
Dylan Whiteduck, chief of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation near Maniwaki, Que., said "the real Algonquins are still upset about this."
Whiteduck, along with other Algonquin chiefs, called on council last February to postpone adding the Tewin development inside the city's urban boundary. Council did not, but promised a meeting with local chiefs and to inform First Nations communities when future steps for Tewin arise.
Whiteduck told CBC he's had neither meetings nor emails on Tewin, only on renaming the William Commanda Bridge.
He wants city councillors who voted for Tewin to "look in the mirror" and understand they are dealing with a group that has members whose Indigenous ancestry is being increasingly challenged, including by the leadership of Pikwakanagan itself, according to a recent CBC investigation.
"Taggart is guilty in this, as well," said Whiteduck. "They're the ones on the sidelines nobody wants to talk about because they're just the developers working on this. [They] too, they have to realize this is wrong."
"I don't think this is over by a long shot," he said.