July 17, 1998
Dear Mr. Campbell:
Re: Nisgaa Agreement of July 15, 1998
We are writing in anticipation of the debate on implementation of the Nisgaa Agreement of July 15, 1998. As we wrote today to Premier Clark, it is our hope that all parties will engage in a constructive debate on the whether the Nisgaa Agreement should be implemented.
Our position on the Nisgaa negotiations has always been that they should be conducted fairly and comprehensively. We are satisfied that the Agreement in Principle and the July 15 Agreement meet these criteria.
The Agreement deserves public scrutiny, but in a climate of civil debate. We firmly believe that reasonable people can disagree on matters such as the Agreement, but we hope that the debate takes place in full recognition of the historical circumstances and the need for complex trade-offs. The Liberal Party can make a very useful contribution to the debate. In our view, the Liberal contribution to the Nisgaa debate should deal with two fundamental questions:
Addressing these questions would enable the general public to understand whether there is another distinct option which could have been pursued. The public expects the opposition to offer tangible alternatives. With all respect, however, the Liberals have been silent on these fundamental questions. Your answers, even at this late stage, would be a positive contribution to the public debate.
We certainly hope that the Liberal contribution to the Nisgaa Agreement debate does not resort to the "one law for all" sloganeering invoked by groups such as the so-called Citizens Voice on Native Claims. Citizens who are truly concerned about creating a positive future in British Columbia with room for our First Nations know that simplistic and negative "one law for all" sloganeering will only lead to greater divisiveness between aboriginal and non-aboriginal neighbours.
As I wrote to Premier Clark today, the political debate on the Agreement should be elevated beyond the customary NDP v. Liberal sniping. The Nisgaa debate, if not conducted responsibly with reason, intelligence and respect, may cause a major casualty aggravated and irreparable damage between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities.
We also advise that the Aboriginal Rights Coalition is strongly opposed to the use of a province-wide referendum as a means of ratifying the Agreement; a free vote in the legislative assembly is an acceptable option. A province-wide referendum, in our view, would produce unfair and perverse results.
You can expect us to continue to work closely with the Nisgaa, with whom we have enjoyed a very positive 25-year friendship, and closely monitor the views of all provincial and federal British Columbia politicians in the upcoming implementation phase.
We would be pleased to provide our views to your caucus on the Nisgaa Agreement with the hope that they will be helpful in forming your contribution to the public debate.