[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 -- Premier Glen Clark asked Prime Minister Jean Chretien Wednesday to become directly involved in helping him convince British Columbians to support the Nisga'a land-claims agreement.
Clark said Chretien has always supported the deal but neither the prime minister nor the federal government have been sufficiently vocal. "He feels strongly about it and I just encouraged him to speak out a little more aggressively on the subject," said Clark, who met the prime minister before promoting the Nisga'a agreement at a speech to the Ottawa Rotary Club.
Clark said he needs an ally to help him against anti-treaty players such as weekly newspaper publisher David Black, who has ordered his 60 newspapers to oppose the $500-million deal.
The B.C. premier suggested Ottawa may need a wake-up call on the issue, although federal officials have indicated their refusal to hard-sell Nisga'a is deliberate. Chretien "hasn't been to B.C. very much and it's not an issue for you folks in Ottawa, and so it doesn't get that much attention," Clark told reporters. "But given that the provincial Liberal party and the federal Reform party are campaigning almost full-time against the Nisga'a treaty, and these publishers and editorial writers and the like [are opposing it], I would like to see the federal working with the province to support this issue."
Clark said Chretien was "very positive" but that "we didn't get into specifics" about how the prime minister could help him sell the deal.
Clark and federal Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart signed the treaty in August, providing the Nisga'a people of northwestern B.C. about 2,000 square kilometres of land, a $190-million cash settlement, and another $100 million in transfer of services. The federal government is picking up 70 to 80 per cent of the costs.
The Nisga'a people will vote on the deal Nov. 6-7, but there is no indication when the B.C. legislature and the Commons will vote on the package. B.C. Liberal leader Gordon Campbell and the federal Reform party want a province-wide referendum.
While the federal and B.C. governments are strategic allies on settling claims in B.C., Clark's plea for help reflects divergent tactics. Clark's government is taking out advertisements and he is staking his political reputation on the deal, even hinting that he may call an election on the issue. Stewart and officials such as chief treaty negotiator Tom Malloy have focused on explaining rather than selling the deal. Stewart will speak about native issues at the annual meeting of federal Liberals in B.C. in Whistler on Saturday.