Nov 21/98: NDP spin doctoring doesn't make Nisga'a deal fly


The New Democrats hoped their pricey TIP would make the Nisga'a treaty the top public issue this fall. It didn't.

The Vancouver Sun
November 21, 1998
Vaughn Palmer

[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 - After three months' work and the expenditure of $5 million, the New Democrats are wrapping up the treaty-implementation project, their taxpayer-financed effort to promote the Nisga'a deal.

Almost 50 people worked for TIP, many of them on secondment from other ministries and agencies. The operation purchased about $2.5 million worth of advertising and spent that amount again printing and producing information for television, radio, print and the schools.

But now that most of the ads have run and the other material has been shipped out, most members of the team will be moving back to their old jobs before the end of the month.

The New Democrats regard TIP as a success, not that Premier Glen Clark and his ministers are inclined to admit the failure of even their most disastrous exercises, such as the millions spent trying to promote last year's bogus jobs and timber accord.

As evidence of success, the New Democrats cite their own internal polling, which reputedly shows that many more people support the treaty now than when the promotional effort began back in September.

Not all independently-commissioned polling supports that claim, but TIP has commissioned its own series of tracking polls from the Angus Reid Group. Why haven't the New Democrats released the numbers that could substantiate claims of growing public support from the treaty? "Because you wouldn't believe it," was the reply from one treaty supporter.

Still the government has not realized the initial goal of the treaty implementation project, which was to create a big enough issue that voters would be distracted from concerns about the economy.

TIP's $5 million worth of spin didn't persuade anyone that the treaty was the No. 1 issue of the fall.

As evidence, look no further than a recent internal missive from the ministry of finance, which admitted that recent events "have raised the profile of the economy as an issue of public debate to the point where "jobs and the economy is now ranked as the most important issue by the public, well ahead of other topics as health care, education or the environment." The treaty does not show up among the top four or five issues.

The New Democrats believe that Premier Clark's push for the treaty will help pull together their own supporters. They also think it widened a rift in Opposition ranks between supporters of the federal Liberals (who are as keen on the treaty as many New Democrats) and those more inclined to vote Reform than for any party that calls itself "Liberal."

They are also betting that Premier Clark will be able to show up the weaknesses in the Liberal position during debate in the provincial legislature, which is likely to resume Nov. 30.

Mr. Clark may have another forum to dramatize his strengths vis-a-vis Liberal leader Gordon Campbell. The CBC is hoping to put together a televised debate on the Nisga'a treaty for the evening of Nov. 30. Mr. Campbell, Mr. Clark, Gordon Wilson of the Progressive Democratic Alliance and Bill Vander Zalm of B.C. Reform are being invited to participate.

As of Friday afternoon, the premier had already accepted. I'm guessing he can hardly wait.

The Clark government has quietly shuffled two deputy ministers who had a role in the controversy over the handling of the treaty.

The biggest change involves Jack Ebbels, the deputy minister of aboriginal affairs the province's chief negotiator on the Nisga'a deal.

Mr. Ebbels was looking for a change after a long stint on treaty matters, but I understand he was also unhappy that the government chose to adopt such a hard sell on behalf of the treaty, believing that the advertising campaign, in particular, was wrong-headed.

Still, Premier Clark had a high opinion of Mr. Ebbels' skills as a negotiator and rewarded him with the post of deputy minister of energy and mines, under deputy premier Dan Miller.

Also moving to a new post, but not by way of a promotion, is Don Avison, who was deputy minister of education until last week. Mr. Avison was unlucky enough to be caught up in the controversy over the government's attempt to foist that one-sided Nisga'a video on to the province's schools. I believe Mr. Avison tried to resist that effort. And though the government has now decided not to send out the video, it nevertheless seems that the premier wanted to punish Mr. Avison.

He becomes deputy minister for the Crown corporations secretariat, a relatively minor agency compared to the education ministry.

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