VICTORIA One of the more memorable episodes of the classic TV show Happy Days was the one where the Fonz tries to apologize and admit he was wrong. “I’m s-s-s
” he says, unable to force the words out.
The scene came to mind as Premier Gordon Campbell took his turn to speak in support of the Tsawwassen treaty, the main item of business as the legislature resumed debate last week. Like the Fonz, the premier doesn’t like to say he was wrong, or has reversed himself as he has done on the subject of treaties. Up until last week, he insisted his views have remained consistent since the days he led opposition to the Nisga’a treaty, and held a referendum to define treaty terms.
“Believe me, I have learned a lot since my days as opposition leader when the Nisga’a treaty was brought into this chamber,” Campbell said. “I have not always been correct in my views, but I have always been, and will continue to be, willing to learn and to listen to the voices of goodwill that drive a better British Columbia.”
Not correct, or as the Fonz might say, not “correctamundo.” Specifically, Campbell has abandoned his 2002 position that treaties should create municipal-style governments, a policy endorsed by more than 80 per cent of referendum voters that year.
In last week’s column, I neglected to mention another B.C. Liberal besides Bulkley Valley-Stikine MLA Dennis MacKay who remains opposed to the modern model of treaties. Peace River South MLA Blair Lekstrom cited the overwhelming public support for municipal-style government in his speech explaining why he also intends to vote against the Tsawwassen treaty.
Lekstrom noted that the new Tsawwassen government will have authority equal to or greater than federal and provincial governments in child protection, adoption, health services, education, child care services, wildlife management, forest resources and environmental management.
He also pointed to the clause giving Tsawwassen “veto power” over federal and provincial projects.
“That’s something we actually, as a government, recently took away from our local governments, in a sense,” Lekstrom said.
Like the premier, Aboriginal Relations Minister Mike de Jong completed his own delicate climb-down from his days of harsh opposition to the Nisga’a treaty, specifically on the subject of race-based voting.
“There are provisions that deal with non-member representation in situations where decisions are made that affect people who are not members of the Tsawwassen First Nation,” de Jong said in his speech to launch the debate. “They will be consulted. They will have an opportunity to have representation on Tsawwassen organizations .”
That’s another switch. Now it’s the non-natives who must settle for being “consulted.”
And with the Maa-Nulth treaty ratified on Vancouver Island over the weekend and nearly 50 more in the works, a lot more settlers could find themselves without a vote.
Speaking of flip-flops, for many years I argued the same case as Lekstrom, that there should be only one set of rules for Canadian citizens. But the courts have repeatedly ruled aboriginal people’s rights to fish and other resources are greater than those who arrived later. Today that’s not a problem to be solved, it’s a reality to be faced.
Long-time readers of Black Press publications including the Prince George Free Press may also recall the controversy over owner David Black’s opposition to the Nisga’a treaty, articulated in a series of articles by the late Mel Smith, a former constitutional adviser to the B.C. government.
Smith’s passion was to see the lights go out forever in the federal department of Indian Affairs. These new treaties bring that goal closer, and that in itself is worth celebrating.
Tom Fletcher, Black Press