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BC throws a wrench into treaty work.


The last minute decision by British Columbia's cabinet to not confirm George Abbott as the new chief treaty commissioner has brought into question the province's motivations.

"If (Premier Christy Clark) was trying to pull the legs out from underneath the Treaty Commission, that's not going to happen, because (the Treaty Commission) continues to operate with full authority to do the work that needs to be done," said Cheryl Casimer, political executive with the First? Nations Summit task group. "They have a mandate, they can still carry out that mandate regardless of whether BC supports it or not."

According to the process established when the treaty commission was formed in 1992, the chief treaty commissioner must first be approved by the Summit, which represents the First Nations in modern treaty negotiations. Next the provincial government gives the nod, and finally the federal government. Both the province and Ottawa must pass orders in council to approve the new appointee. Appointment of the new chief commissioner takes about six months.

Casimer says all three parties got together late last year and presented their choices to replace Sophie Pierre, whose position as chief treaty commissioner had been extended. Casimer says three or four names were common among the three groups, with Abbott, the former provincial minister of Aboriginal relations and reconciliation, top of the list.

In October 2014, the Summit passed a resolution during the Chiefs Assembly appointing Abbott. When it was BC's turn, the process dragged to the point that Casimer contacted Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Rustad to find out if there was a reason to be concerned.

She was reassured there was nothing to report. She learned later, that Abbott's appointment had been challenged at the Cabinet level as early as January, when there would have been time to pick a new chief treaty commissioner.

On March 18, less than two weeks before the end of Pierre's term, Casimer heard from an unnamed source that Abbott would not be confirmed by the BC government. She contacted Rustad again at which time he confirmed Abbott would not be approved.

"We were deeply disappointed just given how everything unfolded," said Casimer. "We had full agreement amongst three principals that this was the individual we were going to move with and then all of a sudden have BC unilaterally just put a stall into that entire process is really frustrating."

In an interview with CBC Radio on March 25, Pierre also expressed her disappointment with the province. She added that matters were even more complicated with a looming federal election.

"If there was a time when BC could really just mess up the whole process, I suppose this was it and for whatever reason they chose to do so and that does really question their commitment in continuing in this legal obligation that they have entered into with First Nations," said Pierre.

Cabinet decisions are confidential so no reason was given for BC's last minute lack of support for Abbott. However, in a statement released by Rustad, he said, "I have also heard from many First Nations that the treaty process, mandates and negotiations take far too long and they are looking for a better way."

Pierre says criticism of the system has been there since the beginning and shouldn't be the reason why the process has been held up now by the province.

Celeste Haldane, a present member of the commission, has been appointed by her fellow treaty commission members as acting chief commissioner.

By Shari Narine

Windspeaker Contributor
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Title Annotation:news; British Columbia; nonconfirmation of George Abbott as treaty commissioner
Author:Narine, Shari
Geographic Code:1CBRI
Date:May 1, 2015
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