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

VIDEO: Firefighters on scene at Castlegar house fire

The fire has since spread to an adjacent property

Zoning hearing scheduled for major Castlegar housing development

Phase two of Twin Rivers Estates needs a zoning change before moving forward

Pay guarantee removed for some Kootenay on-call paramedics

Guarantee phased out as BCEHS introduces a new “scheduled on call” model

No active confirmed COVID-19 cases in Interior Health: BCCDC

Numbers from the BCCDC’s dashboard show 193 of the 195 COVID-19 cases in the region have recovered

MAP: Dr. Henry reveals which B.C. regions have seen most COVID-19 cases

B.C. health officials release a first look at how the novel coronavirus has reached all corners of the province

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

‘I’m pissed, I’m outraged’: Federal minister calls out police violence against Indigenous people

Indigenous Minister Marc Miller spoke on recent incidents, including fatal shooting of a B.C. woman

Plan in place for BC Ferries to start increasing service levels

Ferry corporation reaches temporary service level agreement with province

B.C. starts to see employment return under COVID-19 rules

Jobless rate for young people still over 20% in May

Kelowna Mountie on desk duty following ‘aggressive’ arrest

The officer involved in an arrest that took place on May 30 in Kelowna has been placed on administrative duties

Protests shift to memorializing George Floyd amid push for change

‘There is something better on the other side of this,’ says Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom

Columbia Basin Trust expands programming to support businesses

The revised programs will help local businesses to reopen and modify operations

Limit gun capacity to five bullets, victims group urges Trudeau government

Current limits are generally five bullets for hunting rifles and shotguns and 10 for handguns.

Most Read