B.C.’s premier and attorney-general are basking in the glow of an overwhelming yes’ response to the eight principals in their mail-in referendum on aboriginal treaty negotiations. But local First Nations say the results aren’t surprising because the questions were fixed to make for a yes vote and, for the most part, meaningless.
Elections B.C. released the results of the count of the 760,000 eight-question referendum ballots mailed out early this spring on Wednesday. It was followed quickly by a press conference by Gordon Campbell and Geoff Plant, with Campbell hailing the results as a “tribute to democracy” and saying the questions will give provincial treaty negotiators a “clear mandate.”
“I think we’ve done a great thing for stimulating public awareness of the treaty process,” said Plant in a conference call with the media. “This will assist the treaty process in B.C.”
The eight principals will be given to provincial negotiators to use as guidelines at the treaty tables around the province, said Plant. But he admitted that in some cases negotiators may need to be flexible with those principals.
The average percentage of yes’ votes varied on each of the eight questions, dropping to a low of 84.5 per cent on the first question Private property should not be expropriated for treaty settlements.’ The highest yes’ vote, 94.5 per cent, came on question four Parks and protected areas should be maintained for the use and benefit of all British Columbians.’
The number of yes’ votes in Prince George’s three ridings were above the provincial average in every one of the eight questions. Approximately 23,000 of the 65,433 registered voters in the three ridings mailed in their ballots.
Rick Krehbiel director of treaty policy for the PG-based Lheidli T’enneh First Nation said the results aren’t surprising, since he would have said yes’ himself to many of the eight questions.
“Six of these questions have never been issues to the Lheidli in negotiations. They’re irrelevant,” said Krehbiel. “I don’t find the results surprising. They were never in question the question is whether or not they matter, and I don’t think they do.”
Krehbiel said that only two questions ‘Existing tax exemptions for aboriginal people should be phased out’ and Aboriginal self-government should have the characteristics of local government, with powers delegated from Canada and British Columbia’ are issues for the Lheidli.
Of those two, he said tax exemptions are under federal control, so the results of the referendum don’t matter. On the issue of self-government, Krehbiel said how provincial negotiators interpret the question at the treaty table will determine the fate of negotiations.
“That is a make-or-break issue,” he said. “There is a constitutionally-protected right of self-governance and nothing can undo it… they (provincial negotiators) should come to the table and tell us exactly what that question means.”
Krehbiel warned that strict adherence to that principal by provincial negotiators could lead to First Nations dropping out of the treaty process and turning to the courts to settle claims.