Liberal’s treaty deal with Snuneymuxw sounds very familiar

B.C.’s Attorney General Geoff Plant would feel a whole lot better if he didn’t have to explain new treaties in light of last year’s controversial referendum.

The latest draft treaty with the Snuneymuxw people looks like a winner.  Until you compare it with results of the referendum that cost taxpayers $9 million dollars and angered first nations, that is.

The Snuneymuxw treaty is a first.  If ratified, the B.C. Liberals will have negotiated the first treaty through the B.C. Treaty process – – which cost $500 million over 10 years spent with nothing to show.  The former NDP government couldn’t get anywhere with it.  They negotiated the Nisga’a treaty outside the process.

Even the Chief of the Snuneymuxw has been won over. Here’s what Chief John Wesley Jr. had to say two years ago.  His motion to the  Assembly of First Nations stated that “the Government of British Columbia’s proposed referendum will incite racism and only serve to create a divisive and poisoned environment for treaty negotiations (July 17, 2001).”

Here’s what Chief Wesley has to say now. “There are breakthroughs. We’re glad of them. We worked really hard to get to where we are today,” he recently said.

So why aren’t the Liberals more vocal about this success?  Until a few weeks ago, Attorney General Plant seemed reluctant to even talk about it.  It wasn’t until CBC’s reporter Justine Hunter started to investigate that Plant even commented publicly.  When asked about the proposed treaty, Plant said:

“We had committed to a certain degree of flexibility around some issues. That I think has sent a message that we’re serious about concluding treaties (April 8).”

Ah, flexibility.  I would call it a compromise on the referendum principle of self government.  Question 6 of the referendum,  which asked  “Aboriginal self-government should have the characteristics of local government, with powers delegated from Canada and British Columbia.  Agree or disagree?”

More than 80 per cent of those who returned ballots agreed with the concept of municipal governments for first nations treaties.  Premier Campbell thought that the results of referendum were significant.

“After many years of being shut out of the treaty process, the people have finally had their say – and their message to first nations and to all Canadians is unmistakable,” Campbell said on July 3, 2002.

The unmistakable message to B.C.’s first nations was that they could expect tough bargaining.  They could forget about powers of self government like those in the Nisga’a treaty which was negotiated by NDP government.

The Nisga’a treaty proposed substantial powers of self-government–including an autonomous legislature with lawmaking powers over adoption, citizenship and land management.  It transferred 1,992 square kilometers land and $165.7 million to the 5,500-member Nisga’a band in northern B.C.

As opposition leader in 1998, Campbell disliked the proposed treaty so much that he filed a suit against the provincial and federal governments. He argued that the self-government provisions of the treaty amount to an amendment to the Canadian constitution and the NDP didn’t have a mandate to negotiate the treaty.  “People should make those changes, not politicians.”

So, now that the Liberals have the voice of the people, what does draft treaty recommend?   It looks quite familiar.

The Snuneymuxw treaty proposes substantial powers of self-government–including an elected government with lawmaking powers over citizenship, post secondary education, adoption, and land management.  It will transfer 47 square kilometers land and $75  million to the 1,300-member Snuneymuxw band in on Victoria Island northern B.C.  The Snuneymuxw treaty looks very much like the Nisga’a treaty on a smaller scale, including the self governing powers of a nation-state.  If Gordon Campbell were still in opposition,  would he take the government to court for failing to follow the referendum principle of self government?  Maybe that’s why the Liberal’s are reluctant to talk about it.

Not that Attorney General Plant was willing to admit it. “What we think we’ve achieved in Snuneymuxw is a form of self-government that is consistent with what the people of British Columbia asked us to try to achieve in the referendum campaign. . .,” said Plant (April 16 The Daily News).

The Attorney General should just forget the results of the confrontational referendum that was no more than a political exercise.  Treaties will go a lot smoother without it.