Christy Clark's Treaty Debacle

Everything was set for the transition of Chief Commissioner from Sophie Pierre to George Abbott on April 1st.  As per the agreement between the parties, all three parties agreed that George Abbot was to be the new Chief Commissioner. The First Nations Summit Chiefs had passed a resolution confirming that fact. BC needed an Order in Council to confirm the appointment and that matter was before the cabinet on March 18th. The cabinet refused to issue the OIC.  Citing cabinet confidentiality, the reason given was BC wanted the treaty process to go in a different direction and that they didn’t want to invest in the status quo.  Christy Clark has been Premier for 4 years and has done nothing to change the status quo.  Very interesting.

Shana Manson, a negotiator for Lyackson just pointed out to me that Tom Happynook was just appointed as BC's commissioner in early March.  Surely, if what Christy Clark was saying is true about not supporting the status quo, they would not have appointed their Commissioner. (each party has 1 Commssioner, FNS has 2 and they collectively appoint by concensus the Chief Commissioner)

The withdrawal of the appointment was shocking news to many including the First Nations Summit and the Federal government, two of the signatories to the BC Treaty Commission Agreement. It was also a major embarrassment to George Abbott to be denied the appointment so publicly at the last minute.  Frankly, I think it should be Christy Clark and her cabinet who should wear the embarrassment in this announcement in the way they did it.

Well, Christy Clark, your pettiness is showing.  You can hide behind cabinet confidentiality or say it was the decision of the First Nations working group but everyone knows that George Abbot ran against you for the party leadership. Your explanation to explain this action is weak. Saying they made a principled decision is the total opposite of what really happened.

There are two other parties to the BC Treaty process and they certainly weren’t made aware of this decision or this sudden need to change direction. BC cannot dictate terms to the other parties.  The treaty process agreement that was been signed by the 3 parties and was given life by legislation that BC is bound by.

This decision and proclamation by BC could be considered bad faith negotiations by First Nations, something a government never wants to be accused of.  The treaty process is now on very precarious grounds and whether it will survive is yet to be determined.

I do agree the treaty process needs to be changed drastically.  With only been 4 completed treaties over the past twenty plus years signals that there is something flawed. One huge flaw is governments need to extinguish rights and title.  Modern treaties in effect had to give up aboriginal title for fee simple lands, and they gave up their aboriginal rights for defined treaty rights, both of which are extinguishment.  Also the fiscal financial components proposed by governments puts First Nations in a position worse off than they are now. The common table was put in place to deal with the difficult issues and that table isn’t finding a lot of success.  The Federal government is looking at amending the comprehensive claims process that does insist on extinguishment. 

Most importantly, treaty mandates needs to change and follow the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Tsilhqot’in that recognizes title and defines what title means-that is to use, occupy and manage the territory and make use of the land economically as long as rights for future generations are kept intact. 9 months later there has been no change at the tables.. When Delgamuukw was decided in 1997, we all thought the treaty process would change.  It didn’t.  But now, the highest court of the land has found aboriginal title.  This is a monumental shift!  It cannot be ignored and First Nations will not ignore it. Nor can the provincial and federal governments.

On March 20th, Minister Rustad trying to do damage control let out a press release that says that they will continue to work with First Nations at the treaty tables and work with the parties to appoint a Chief Commissioner.  Who would want to be the Chief Commissioner now that BC has shown the appointment can be ruthlessly pulled away in a such a public manner?

The Agreement between the parties says that if a Chief Commissioner is removed, dies or resigns, a new one must be appointed within 60 days.  If BC is serious about remaining in the process and negotiating in good faith, they will have to work to work with the other parties to appoint a new Commissioner by May 30th, 2015, and as Les Layne said, “those of Faint heart need not apply.” 

What was wrong with Christy Clark and her cabinet making this decision so late in the process?  They chose to act unilaterally and kibosh that agreement between the parties. If the treaty process needs changes and it does, Christy Clark should have called a meeting of the principals and tabled their proposed new direction, engaged in dialogue, and come to an agreement based on all three party input.  That would have been respectful.  That would have follow protocol.  That would have followed the spirit and intent of the BC Treaty Process. Interestingly enough the last time the treaty process almost fell apart was because the BC Government carried out a treaty referendum that caused great mistrust and a public fight. 

Having the BC government withdraw the appointment of George Abbott and to say its because the process needs revamping, is totally unacceptable.  The revamping could have taken place with Abbott in place.  This way of doing business reflects the attitude of the BC Government towards First Nations and it not one of reconciliation. Their main interest in agreements is to get First Nations on side so the LNG dream is realized.  They don’t mind spending money on those kinds of agreements but not on the treaty process that isn’t going anywhere fast.

The Premier better beware of the next Chiefs meetings in September on the Tsilhqot’in case as this action will be a source of contention and suspicion.

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