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

UPDATE: ‘Spontaneous combustion’ likely cause of fire at mushroom composting facility on Lougheed Highway

First responders were at the blaze near the Skawahlook First Nation Tuesday

Approval for AirBnB-style rentals in Kent delayed after public hearing

Staff will be taking the bylaw amendments back for a closer look before final adoption

Kent Harrison Emergency Support team honoured for work during 2017 wildfire season

The volunteer group was activated for 254 days in a row to help evacuees

Trial dates set for three men accused of 2017 killing near Hope

Lawyers for the accused appeared in Kelowna at B.C. Supreme Court on Monday

Wildfire threatens weekend campers at Chehalis Lake

The fire started on the north side of Chehalis Lake Saturday

VIDEO: Reading splashes into Agassiz’s Ferny Coombe Pool

The Agassiz Library held its annual Reading in the Pool event Friday, June 14

VIDEO: Killer whale steals fisherman’s catch off North Coast

Fishing duel results in eager orca snagging salmon in Prince Rupert

40 cats surrendered in apparent hoarding at B.C. home

Officers found the cats living among piles of garbage and feces, suffering from fleas

Tsilhqot’in Nation urges Taseko Mines to stop drilling plans before conflict grows

Nation said Teztan Biny area is of ‘profound cultural and spiritual importance’

Vancouver Aquarium drops cetacean ban lawsuit in new lease agreement

Ocean Wise CEO Lasse Gustavsson called the updated lease an exciting new chapter for the aquarium

Plane veers off runway, into ditch at Langley Airport

Fire, ambulance, and police are on scene

Okanagan RCMP bike patrol rolls up on alleged stolen vehicle from Burnaby

The driver, a 30-year-old Kelowna man, has been held in custody and is facing possible charges of possession of stolen property and obstructing a police officer

Man arrested after pimping investigation in Whistler

A 44-year-old man has been charged with procuring and benefiting from sexual services

Thieves steal two $40K chairs featuring gold serpents from B.C. furniture store

Chairs believed to be the only two of its kind in Canada, police said

Most Read