Mar 3/98: Politicians, natives discuss Delgamuukw impact


Vancouver Sun
March 3, 1998, p. A01
Justine Hunter -- Sun Legislature Bureau

[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.]

VICTORIA -- Representatives of B.C.'s native Indians will meet today in Vancouver with federal and provincial bureaucrats to identify key policy questions that flow from the 10-week-old Supreme Court of Canada decision on native land claims.

As today's agenda suggests, the legions of Crown lawyers, policy advisers and politicians whose realms are touched by this historic judgment on aboriginal land claims are only just starting to absorb the implications of the Delgamuukw decision.

Premier Glen Clark broke his silence on the issue last week, promising to show unflinching leadership on the question of aboriginal title.

He was short on details, but he does want a new deal with the federal government -- one that would saddle Ottawa with a greater share of the costs of settling land claims in B.C.

But after two years of feuding with Ottawa over the Pacific salmon treaty, transfer payments and welfare obligations, to name a few, there's no sign Clark and Prime Minister Jean Chretien have buried the hatchet to work in concert in this new era of treaty negotiations.

"They concentrate on Quebec more than anything else so they can't understand my determination to talk about other issues than Quebec," Clark said in a recent interview. "So I think there is a bit of frustration there, with British Columbia and with me mostly because they don't understand. We've been trying to get issues dealt with and we haven't satisfactorily done that."

Jerry Lampert at the Business Council of B.C. says the status quo on land claims is unacceptable. Both the federal and provincial government are going to have to come up with a game plan in the face of the court judgment, which appears to give First Nations a much stronger bargaining position.

"Our concern at the moment is nothing is being said by the feds or the province to give anyone out there comfort that the issue is being addressed -- and time is passing," Lampert said Monday. "From a business point of view, the signal that has gone out -- once again -- through the business investment community is very negative."

Lampert says there is too much at stake for the two leaders to continue personal vendettas or nurse grudges -- most of which can be traced back to Clark's tenacious intervention in the Canada-U.S. salmon war.

From Ottawa's perspective, Clark is considered unpredictable and although he is trusted to keep his word once a deal is reached, getting to that point is a challenge.

"Relations were very good up until last summer. But then we get to the fish thing and he decides to grandstand on it," said a senior federal official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

When he wasn't attacking the U.S. -- Canada's biggest trading partner -- Clark was bashing Ottawa for not taking a more aggressive stance on the issue.

Chretien was "very upset. He found it irresponsible," the official said. "He said 'Look, we have a $400 billion trading relationship with the United States, I have a duty to maintain that'." And Chretien, he noted, "has a long memory."

Now, the two leaders are scrapping over B.C.'s role in a new round of talks over Pacific salmon. Ottawa has offered B.C. only a staff position on the Canadian team, Clark is gearing up to fight for a seat at the table as a partner.

Given a chance, Clark will leave the salmon issue at centre stage: He knows where his support lies and he believes he has popular support for taking on Ottawa.

But that may change as third party interests, such as the resource sector, find their rights in conflict with the new level of consultation with native bands that the Supreme Court has dictated in Delgamuukw.

In the meantime, the federal government is side-stepping the province to some degree, dealing directly with business groups like Lampert's to see how to keep a lid on what could be a long, hot summer of frustration expressed on both sides of the debate.

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