After Question Period yesterday the premier participated in a media scrum. There she announced that the government made “a principled policy decision” regarding the direction that First Nations treaty negotiations would take. Today I rose in Question Period to ask the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation about building trust and respect within the Treaty process. I noted that this wasn’t consistent, in my view, with an apparent “principled policy decision” being announced in a media scrum after question period much to the surprise of key stakeholders.
As you will see from the exchange, I simply cannot fathom how Minister Rustad, a man known for his integrity, can continue to head up his portfolio when his ability to build trust and respect with First Nations has been undermined.
Most regrettably, the key message that this whole fiasco has sent to First Nations is that you cannot trust the word of the government. Sadly, this is a message that they have heard loud and clear for far too many decades. And here I thought that we were taking serious steps toward reconciliation.
A. Weaver: Yesterday the Premier claimed that the government made “a principled policy decision” regarding the direction that First Nations treaty negotiations will take. I must admit that this is the first time I’ve heard of a principled policy decision being announced in a media scrum after question period.
Last month cabinet appointed Tom Happynook, the highly respected hereditary whaling chief of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, to the Treaty Commission. As the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation will know, trust and respect are two essential characteristics of relationship-building.
My question is this. Did the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation inform Mr. Happynook, prior to his appointment, that the government’s new direction would include no longer appointing George Abbott or anyone else as chief commissioner and potentially dismantling the entire Treaty Commission?
Hon. J. Rustad: Thank you to the member opposite for the question, although I really appreciate the note that you sent me. You’ve broken from your tradition of sending written questions to us. But that’s fine. I get how that can go.
I do want to thank the member, because Tom Happynook is an excellent individual, and we’re very honoured that he has accepted the appointment to the B.C. Treaty Commission office.
The B.C. Treaty Commission office is structured in that there needs to be four commissioners — two appointed by the summit, one by the federal government and one by the government of British Columbia — in order to be able to function.
Without those four people being in place, the Treaty Commission office cannot continue forward with the work. So I had discussions with Mr. Happynook about the appointment. I talked about the fact that we are thinking about the treaty process, and we’re excited about being able to work with nations and being able to find ways to be able to do things better. Mr. Happynook said that he would be excited to be part of the B.C. Treaty Commission process and the work that they will be undertaking.
A. Weaver: I would suggest that the minister call up Mr. Happynook, as I did yesterday, and ask the same question of him.
I’ve heard that the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation is a man of integrity. I’ve heard this not only from his constituents but also from First Nations. However, in order for a minister to be able to do his job, he must have the trust of the cabinet and the Premier. This is especially true for the portfolio of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, which comes with the added burden of historical B.C. governments dealing in bad faith with First Nations and with the complexity of navigating an intricate treaty process.
The events of the past few weeks have thrown into doubt whether this minister can speak with authority to First Nations, given the fact that the Premier is making major decisions that affect the foundation of his work, apparently without his knowledge.
To the minister: an honourable man of integrity as he is, how can he continue to head up this portfolio when his ability to build trust and respect with First Nations is being undermined by the Premier?
Thank you to the member opposite for the question. I have spent the last two years travelling around the province building relations with First Nations, nations that are in the treaty process, nations that are outside of the treaty process, nations that we already have treaties with. We continue to find ways to work with all nations on progressing with our relationship with First Nations.
I find it interesting that both nations that are in treaty and not in treaty have all said the same, similar things to me: “The process needs to be reviewed. We need to find ways to be able to improve things.” So I’ve been working very closely with all nations. We’ve been listening to them. We’ve had the All Chiefs meeting. We heard this message come forward.
Even with the wide range of groups that we have, there is one thing that is consistent. That is that First Nations want to see good things for their people. They want to see healthy and wealthy communities. They want to work with the province and the federal government on the relationships, and they want to be able to build a prosperous future. We plan to work with them as partners in doing that.
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