“It’s one of the most amateurish, one-sided attempts to gauge the public will that I have seen in my professional career” says pollster Angus Reid. He’s talking about B.C. Liberal’s referendum on native treaty negotiating principles.
Ah, Angus, did you think that weird politics was gone from B.C. just because the Liberals are in power? Gordon Campbell may not be as flamboyant as former premier Vander Zalm was, but the Liberal’s referendum is a sign of bizarre behaviour.
Consider the musings of our Attorney General Geoff Plant in what he apparently thinks will pass as reasonable statements. “If only three people vote in the referendum,” says Plant, “and two of them vote in favour, then the results will be binding on the government.” If two vote against, it won’t. Doesn’t that have an Alice in Wonderland ring to it?
As chief legal counsel to the government, Plant has these words of advice, “the referendum won’t necessarily be legally binding.” Talk about stating the obvious.
Not even political allies of the Liberals think the results will be legally binding. “For starters the referendum cannot affect minority rights,” says Gordon Gibson, senior fellow at the Fraser Institute in Canadian Studies. “And Indian rights are doubly protected by two extra clauses in the Charter being sections 25 and 35.”
Pollster Reid and Gibson agree that the referendum questions are flawed. Reid calls them “amateurish” and Gibson calls them “somewhat confusing.”
Take the first question, for example. It breaks one of the basic rules for writing referendum questions — it states the question in the negative. Voters must vote yes if they think that private property should not be expropriated.
Properly worded, the question should read “Private property should be expropriated for treaty settlements.” In which case, nervous British Columbians would reasonably answer “no.”
Never mind that the question itself suggests the improbable (natives are not looking to expropriate private land). “What private lands are we talking about? It’s hypothetical,” says Sabina Singh, political scientist at the University College of the Cariboo.
The referendum will set native back land claims at a time that B.C. could use the billions of dollars lost in potential land development. So why are the Liberals purposely making enemies out of a growing number of British Columbians through this referendum?
Although Campbell is critical of special interest groups, it’s a right-wing special interest group that is guiding the Liberals. They honestly think that a yes vote in this referendum will give them power to override native constitutional rights.
Any lawyer, including Attorney General Plant knows how flawed that reasoning is. So does lawyer Louise Mandell, Q.C., in her study of the subject. “The Province has no power to legislate in relation to Indians and lands reserved for Indians, because this power is assigned exclusively to Canada.”
Under the Delgamuukw decision (1997), provinces are required to bargain native land disputes in good faith. Can premier Campbell claim, without a smirk on his face, that a yes vote to his referendum amounts to a gesture of good faith?
Campbell’s small group of right-wing advisors are deluded into thinking that natives will give up everything because a minority of British Columbians vote “yes” in a flawed referendum. And in return, natives will get what – – government assurance that they will bargain in good faith? We might as well insult native intelligence by offering beads and firewater for land.
This referendum will go down as a curiosity in the history of B.C. politics. “Five years from now it will seem a very minor footnote in history,” says the Fraser Institute’s Gordon Gibson.
The government slips from weirdness to fantasy as it alienates a growing number of British Columbians. Campbell can no longer claim that it’s just his former political enemies lining up against him. Not when it’s lawyers, judges, doctors, mining exploration companies and church leaders.
As Premier Campbell dismisses more and more British Colombians, he becomes isolated behind walls of his own construction. Soon he will rattle around in the near empty halls of his government, listening to the echo of his own voice. It’s very reminiscent of ex-premier Vander Zalm when he lived in theme castle in Fantasy Garden World.
Welcome back to wacky B.C. politics.