[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]
OTTAWA -- The federal government must legislate an end to land-claim uncertainty in B.C. that has the potential to cause economic paralysis, massive taxpayer liabilities, and a potential unity crisis, Opposition leader Preston Manning said Monday.
The Reform leader wants Parliament to pass legislation to pare down native rights won in the historic Delgamuukw decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in December.
"The decision has created a potential taxpayer liability of literally tens of billions of dollars," Manning told the Commons.
"These impacts alone are big enough to literally cripple the British Columbia economy."
In a press conference, Manning said Delgamuukw creates a potential federal-provincial "crisis" over resource jurisdiction that is "a serious threat to national unity."
Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart angrily rejected Manning's call for legislative solution, arguing instead that the B.C. and federal governments will help the B.C. economy by sticking with the current process of negotiating new treaties.
Reform's proposal is "preposterous," Stewart told the Commons. "It is a recipe for confrontation which is not what we need in British Columbia."
Chief Edward John of the B.C. First Nations Summit said Parliament would be unable to use legislation to deny Constitutional rights.
He compared Reform's proposal to previous federal government actions that have brought shame to Canadians. He included the ban against potlatch ceremonies and, in 1927, Parliament's passage of a law denying aboriginal people the right to hire lawyers to fight their claims in court.
"This is 1927 all over again," John said.
He also called it "pretty low" to blame B.C.'s current economic difficulties on native communities, most of which face high unemployment and poverty.
The Supreme Court of Canada defined aboriginal title for the first time in December when it ruled on Delgamuukw, a case that began in 1984 when 51 Gitxan and Wet'suwet'en chiefs claimed control over 58,000 square kilometres in northwestern B.C.
The court ordered the case to be re-tried and offered guidance that was immediately described by First Nations lawyers as a major victory. The Supreme Court defined title as the right to exclusive use and occupation of land where aboriginal title was proved to exist.
The Supreme Court also ordered judges to accept oral histories as evidence in determining title.
Manning wouldn't spell out how he thinks a new law should define title.
"Obviously the type of title that we're talking about is one that's more restrictive than the blanket one that the Delgamuukw decision has given," he said.
Reform Indian Affairs critic Mike Scott (Skeena) said Reform would also require that claims would be settled with cash, not land.
He also rejected Stewart's suggestion that Reform's solution will lead to a return to the confrontation-filled atmosphere that dominated B.C. in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
"I think the big danger of unrest in British Columbia would not be created by a legislative solution," Manning told reporters.
"It's by driving these expectations sky-high and then people finding out there's no way these expectations can be met."
Manning said the Delgamuukw decision will lead to control over a significant portion of B.C.'s natural resources shifting from the province to Ottawa once claims are settled.
"This decision has inadvertently or deliberately completely undermined the constitutional assertion that control of natural resources rests with the provinces.
"And if you want to wave a red flag in front of a bull, pick on natural resources in western Canada."
Federal officials said Manning has erred in suggesting Parliament would be able to ignore the direction of the Supreme Court of Canada. And they said there will be no major swing in jurisdictional control over natural resources once claims are settled.
There are currently 51 first nations groups representing 125 of B.C.'s 198 bands involved in the treaty-making process. Just over 30 groups are negotiating agreements-in-principle.
The only agreement-in-principle was agreed to in March, 1996, when the Nisga'a tribal council agreed with Victoria and Ottawa on a package that would include 1,930 square kilometres of land and $190 million in cash for 6,000 Nisga'a people. But the controversial deal still hasn't been finalized.