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Aboriginal Rights Coalition Survey - Background

In mid October, the Aboriginal Rights Coalition sent surveys to all MLAs in British Columbia as well as all federal Members of Parliament. The survey contained six questions. The first asked whether respondents believed a provincial referendum was necessary to ratify the Nisga’a treaty. The second and third asked provincial and federal respondents how they would vote in a free vote on whether to ratify the Nisga’a treaty.

Respondents were also asked to say what they thought were the best and worst parts of the treaty; whether the Nisga’a Agreement should serve as a template for other treaty negotiations; and whether the federal government should enact legislation limiting the scope of the historic Supreme Court of Canada Delgamuukw decision.

A total of 35 NDP MLAs responded to the survey. None of the respondents said they supported a referendum, and almost all of them said they would vote in favour of the treaty. Only a few NDP respondents refused to say outright that they supported the treaty, saying they had to consult further with constituents. However, even those respondents indicated through their written comments that they were likely to vote in favour of the agreement.

The current composition of the provincial legislature is as follows: 39 NDP MLAs, 33 Liberal MLAs, 1 Progressive Democratic Alliance MLA, 1 Independent, and 1 vacancy. Predictably, one of the four NDP MLAs not responding to the survey was the House Speaker, who is required to maintain her neutrality.

Only one survey was returned by a Liberal MLA. The letter written on behalf of Liberal MLAs by Mike de Jong stated in part:

"My colleagues believe that the Provincial Government should obtain a clear negotiating mandate from the people of BC" by way of a referendum. The letter went on to note that the Liberal party did not believe the upcoming vote would be a free vote. "Unfortunately, the Premier’s assertion that he is staking his political fortunes upon the passage of the proposed treaty reveals the hollowness of his original promise to hold a truly free vote."

De Jong went on to note that the Liberal Party has asked the BC Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the proposed agreement, and that the Liberals hope a decision is rendered by the court before the upcoming vote.

PDA leader Gordon Wilson is opposed to a provincial referendum and would vote in support of the treaty. Independent Jack Weisgerber takes the opposite views. Jeremy Dalton, the sole Liberal MLA to return a survey, opposes the treaty and says a "court decision is needed to decide the constitutionality of the powers granted under the treaty."