B.C. Treaty Commission federal representative Jerry Lampert and Chief Commissioner Sophie Pierre have struggled with slow movement from Ottawa in moving negotiations forward.

B.C. treaty trouble has deep roots

Why did Premier Christy Clark's cabinet axe the appointment of George Abbott to treaty commission? It's not what you may have heard

VICTORIA – Why did the B.C. government suddenly slam the door on their old friend George Abbott, after spending months recruiting him to head up the B.C. Treaty Commission?

The instant media narrative, embraced by a shocked Abbott and then by NDP leader John Horgan, was that this was payback for grievances nursed by Premier Christy Clark from the 2012 B.C. Liberal leadership contest.

Done on a whim, Horgan said after a week grilling Clark and Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad. Clark is suddenly a sore winner, lashing out, wrecking two decades of careful and costly treaty-making.

Like many instant media narratives, this one makes no sense and is almost certainly wrong.

If Clark was resentful about the roasting she received from leadership rivals Abbott and Kevin Falcon, she had an odd way of showing it. She appointed Falcon as finance minister to drive a stake into the harmonized sales tax, and Abbott as education minister to fashion a pre-election truce with the ever-hostile teachers’ union. Both completed their unlikely tasks and retired as heroes of the party in 2013.

Outgoing chief treaty commissioner Sophie Pierre was as dismayed as anyone at the news of Abbott’s demise. While the two were in transition meetings, Pierre learned that she was not being replaced, leaving the federal-provincial-First Nations Summit partnership of 22 years in a shambles.

Clark went further when questioned by reporters about the sudden reversal. The future of aboriginal relations in B.C. may or may not include the B.C. Treaty Commission.

“There have been some results, but four treaties in 22 years for $600 million is not enough result,” Clark said. “We have to be able to move faster, and we have to find a way to include more First Nations in the process.”

That $600 million is mostly loans, from the federal government to First Nations to finance treaty talks. Of every $100 spent trying to honour the century-old duty to sign treaties across B.C., $80 is a loan from Ottawa, $12 is a grant from Ottawa and $8 is a grant from B.C.

The plan was for First Nations to repay their loans out of cash settlements made to them for 100-odd years of uncompensated resource extraction, which is now accepted as being contrary to British and Canadian law.

It was the blunt-spoken Pierre who first acknowledged this hasn’t worked. Some of the 50 First Nations stuck at the treaty table have borrowed too much to go on, she said last year, calling for an “exit strategy” that forgives debt.

The probability of the B.C. government making this decision without talking to the federal paymaster is exactly zero. I’m told the province’s clumsy timing had something to do with Ottawa’s demands.

I asked Clark if her plan to settle land claims faster was anything like the 2009 attempt by Gordon Campbell’s deputy minister Jessica McDonald to negotiate a province-wide deal declaring aboriginal title. Clark sidestepped the question, saying only that the 150 B.C. First Nations not at the treaty table need a say and a solution too.

(McDonald now faces a similar legal gridlock as the Clark-appointed CEO of BC Hydro, trying to build the Site C dam.)

Pierre, a veteran administrator from the Ktunaxa Tribal Council in the Kootenays, made a prophetic statement when her term as chief commissioner was extended three years ago. She said if Ottawa isn’t prepared to give federal negotiators a realistic mandate on compensation and sharing of salmon rights, they should “shut ’er down.”

Her advice may have been heard after all.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

Passport services expanded to 300 locations across Canada

At Service Canada outlets officers can review applications, validate supporting documents, collect fees and forward applications

Two Vanderhoof students awarded scholarships for post-secondary education

Indigenous students awarded to further their studies

Vanderhoof launches new municipal website

Mayor says feedback so far has been positive on new modern design

Coastal GasLink gets interim injunction against Unist’ot’en

The LNG pipeline company can start work Monday with enforcement approved by court.

Omineca Medical Clinic donates $500 to Community Foundation

The funds were raised through the Jeans Day campaign

Ryan Reynolds to narrate movie about B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest

Vancouver-born actor known for Deadpool movies will voice film to be released Feb. 15, 2019

10-lane George Massey bridge too big, B.C. study says

Consultants say replacement tunnel cost similar to new bridge

Canada’s robust credit rating should calm unease about federal deficits: Trudeau

Trudeau says Canada’s long-running triple-A rating means experts have confidence in his government’s approach to the economy

CIBC shrinks event after Whistler mayor irks oil producers

After Whistler sent a letter to a Calgary-based oilsands giant, several energy firms said they would back out of the CIBC event.

Couple caught up in B.C. Legislature bomb plot to learn their fate

John Nuttall and Amanda Korody were arrested as part of an undercover RCMP sting on Canada Day 2013

Trial rights of accused spy for China at risk, lawyer tells Supreme Court

The lawyer for a man accused of trying to spy for China says federal foot-dragging over secrecy is endangering his client’s right to timely justice.

‘Recall fatigue’: Canadians may avoid certain foods over holidays

In the winter, Canada’s supply of fresh fruit and vegetables tends to come from very specific areas.

Airline passengers could get up to $2,400 for delays, damaged bags: Canadian agency

Canadian Transportation Agency is releasing draft regulations for public feedback

Top of mind: ‘Justice’ is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year

Merriam-Webster has chosen “justice” as its 2018 word of the year, driven by the churning news cycle and President Trump’s Twitter feed.

Most Read