Abbott questions scrapping Treaty Commissioner job

Canadian Press, March 27, 2015

VANCOUVER — The man whose job was pulled from under him as the head of the B.C. Treaty Commission says if Premier Christy Clark thinks the treaty process is broken, he’d jump at the chance to help fix it.


George Abbott, a former Liberal cabinet minister, was earmarked to succeed Sophie Pierre on April 1, but Clark and her cabinet cancelled the appointment saying she wanted the treaty process to go in a different direction.


Abbott agreed that the treaty process needs improvement, and said making it work better was one of the main efforts he was looking forward to once he started working as chief commissioner.


“Revitalization of the process is hugely important,” he said in an interview Friday, adding that he had hoped to work with the province, the federal government and First Nations to figure out what wasn't working and provide solutions.


“I’m still of the view that there can be a reconciliation between short-term economic agreements and long-term treaty agreements,” he said. “I don't think the two are incompatible at all.”


British Columbia is the only province that didn’t sign agreements with its First Nations in the 1800s, and in 1992 the commission was established to facilitate the process of negotiating aboriginal land rights.


Pierre said she has been trying to get the province to fix the commission for her entire six years as chief commissioner without success. She said Clark’s suggestion that the treaty process must to be changed is “a smoke-screen” to mask the real problem — short-term fixes at the expense of long-term constitutional responsibilities.


Asked if she thought Clark had a plan for changing the treaty process, Pierre said, “I haven't seen any evidence of it, so I sure as hell hope she’s got something up her sleeve.”


Clark’s office did not immediately comment, but in an interview earlier this week the premier said the government had decided not to appoint anyone chief commissioner, while acknowledging that her communication with Abbott about that had been “terrible.”


Abbott said when he was offered the job last fall, all the provincial parties agreed on the choice, B.C.’s First Nations supported the decision too, and that he was honoured.


But he said something had changed in government since then, although he did not know what changed or how the decision to cancel his appointment was made.


“The treaty process offers one of the only opportunities for First Nations to move beyond the Indian Act and hopefully unlock the economic and social potential of their communities,” Abbott said.


NDP Leader John Horgan said the decision throws the treaty negotiation process into chaos on a whim when people are waiting for certainty on land and resources rights.