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 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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Pixabay photo)
Emergency repairs underway on Phillips Road in Sooke

Sewage may have entered DeMamiel Creek and Sooke River

Victoria police are seeking public assistance in identifying a suspect and witness of a Dec. 4 sexual assault in Esquimalt. (Black Press Media file photo)
Police seeking suspect, witness of sexual assault of Esquimalt teen

Teen sexually assaulted Dec. 4 after departing number 15 bus

Patrick MacMullan won $28,000 playing Toto. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Greater Victoria man wins $28,000 while watching football

Winning ticket purchased at Colwood convenience store

Forty-two residential properties in Oak Bay were assessed the speculation and vacancy tax in 2019 for a total of $693,000. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
74 Oak Bay property owners paid $693,000 in spec tax

42 properties were assessed with the SVT in 2019

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
536 COVID cases, 7 deaths reported as B.C. finds its first case of South African variant

Henry said 69,746 people have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Forestry companies in B.C. agree to abide by the cedar protocols based on traditional laws of the First Nation members of the Nanwakolas Council. (Photo courtesy, Nanwakolas Council)
Landmark deal sees B.C. forest firms treat big cedars like a First Nation would

Western Forest Products, Interfor among companies to adapt declaration drafted by Nanwakolas Council

A northern resident killer whale shows injuries sustained by a collision with a vessel in B.C. waters. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Coast Guard ramps up protections for B.C. whales

First-ever Marine Mammal Desk will enhance cetacean reporting and enforcement

Two toucans sit on tree at an unidentified zoo. (Pixabay.com)
BC SPCA calls for ban on exotic animal trade after 50 parrots, toucans pass through YVR

One toucan was found dead and several others were without food

Smaller egg farmers find themselves in a David and Goliath situation when it comes to major producers and chain-grocery store shelf space. (Citizen file)
Vancouver Island egg producer cries foul over ‘Island’ label

Egg farmer frustrated with regulations allowing mainland-laid eggs to be labelled ‘Island’

Police and fire crews at work at a fire scene at Mount Prevost School (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Classes cancelled by fire at a Duncan-area school for the second time this week

Fire this morning at Duncan area middle school follows Monday blaze at nearby elementary

Nanaimo RCMP seek public assistance after numerous tire slashings between Jan. 12-14. (News Bulletin file)
Police seek public’s help after ‘tire slashing spree’ in central Nanaimo

Ten reports of slashed tires in the last three days, say Nanaimo RCMP

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Most Read