[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.]
WHISTLER, B.C. -- Opponents of the Nisga'a deal are the "forces of political darkness," B.C. pollster Angus Reid told the annual convention for members of the federal Liberal party here this weekend. And Reid was also critical of provincial Liberal party leader Gordon Campbell's decision to ask for a court ruling on whether the province is legally obliged to hold a referendum.
Reid, who was applauded loudly for his comments, was speaking as a panel member discussing changes in the millennium. Reid is a Vancouver resident who belongs to neither the federal nor provincial Liberal parties. The two parties are not related, and have different policies -- including opposite positions on the Nisga'a deal. That poses a problem for liberals who are members of both the provincial and federal parties.
Campbell says the treaty will create race-based governments and fisheries, and deny non-Nisga'a living on the almost 2,000 square kilometres of Nass Valley lands to be ceded to the Nisga'a the right to vote for their local governments. He's not alone in his concerns. Reid's comments came only one day after a group of plaintiffs, including the B.C. Fisheries Survival Coalition and Reform MP John Cummins, asked the B.C. Supreme Court to rule on whether the Nisga'a agreement is a change to the constitution. This is the same reference Campbell says his party will ask the court to rule on next week.
If the court says the deal -- estimated to cost almost $500 million -- is a constitutional amendment, B.C. must hold a referendum on it, under its own constitutional law. That's something Premier Glen Clark has vowed he will not do, though the Nisga'a themselves will hold a referendum on the treaty Nov. 6 and 7.
Campbell plans to file his reference to the court on the same question this week.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jane Stewart appeared sanguine about the latest developments after delivering an emotional speech to the conference on doing "the right thing" by supporting the treaty process. The "most eminent" constitutional experts agree the Nisga'a deal does not constitute a change in the constitution, she said, though one of her own caucus members, Vancouver constitutional expert Ted McWhinney, has gone on the record arguing it does.
Stewart came under criticism for the federal government's seeming low-profile commitment to the deal. Reid was one of the critics, saying: "The challenge will be whether the federal government invests some of its political capital in this question."
The criticism comes on the tail of a trip by Clark to Ottawa last week to beg for federal support for the deal, and his government's announcement that it will spend at least $5 million to promote the deal -- up from an original estimate of $2.3 million -- including spending $700,000 on a five-part television commercial series. The government is also spending money to devise a curriculum on the agreement for Grades 4, 9, 10 and 11.
Stewart would not commit to spending more money to sell the deal. Asked if she would put her money where her mouth was on the deal, she only answered: "We're here for the long time, not a flash in the pan."