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Response to Survey on Upcoming Nisga’a Treaty Vote Suggests Individual Liberal MLAs Won’t Get to Vote Their Conscience

VICTORIA - An independent survey of how provincial MLAs plan to vote in an upcoming free vote on the proposed Nisga’a treaty shows overwhelming support from almost all NDP members and stony silence from individual members of the Liberal party.

While 35 NDP MLAs personally responded to the survey, giving their reasons for supporting the treaty, only one Liberal said how he planned to vote (against). The Liberal leadership chose, instead, to have MLA and aboriginal affairs critic, Mike de Jong, speak for all other MLAs.

De Jong’s letter outlined several objections to the treaty and reiterated the Liberal’s call for a province-wide referendum on the proposed agreement which would settle the Nisga’a’s longstanding claims.

"It’s hard to believe that all Liberals sing off the same song sheet on this historic matter," says Waldemar Braul, president of the Aboriginal Rights Coalition (ARC), which distributed the survey. "It appears they are being browbeaten into submission rather than allowed to vote their conscience on an agreement that federal, provincial and Nisga’a negotiators all support."

ARC is particularly troubled by the lack of Liberal response to the survey given the party’s shifts in position on the treaty. Only five months ago, de Jong stated that "it would be unfair at this point to inject the referendum card into the [Nisga’a treaty] ratification process." Just last year, Liberal Leader Gordon Campbell said that it made no sense to put the future of the Nisga’a treaty in the hands of 1.8 million Lower Mainland residents during a province-wide referendum.

"Mr. Campbell and Mr. de Jong have done serious flip-flops on this issue. Have all of their colleagues done the same? We don’t think so. We believe that if Liberals vote their conscience on this issue individual MLA’s will support the treaty," Braul said. "We don’t believe that all members of the party are prepared to vote against this treaty at the 11th hour and 59th minute, particularly when they have no clearly articulated alternative to the negotiated settlement."

De Jong says that the Liberals have asked the BC Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the Nisga’a treaty. Only after that ruling, would individual Liberal MLAs be prepared to vote in a "truly free vote." The NDP have received advice from several constutitional experts saying the proposed treaty does not require a constitutional amendment.

"It’s indefensible that Liberal MLAs are hiding behind the court challenge," Braul says. "They should be responsible and disclose to their constituents whether they are in favour or opposed to the treaty."

Many of the surveys returned by NDP MLA’s gave similar reasons in support of the treaty. But there are important individual differences. For example, party members differed over whether or to what degree the Nisga’a treaty should serve as a template for negotiations with the province’s other First Nations.

"We were heartened to see the strong response to the survey by the governing party," Braul says.

ARC is a partnership of community and social justice groups, churches and First Nations and is primarily concerned with achieving just and negotiated solutions to unresolved aboriginal issues in Canada. For more information on the survey, please see the attached background sheet.

For further information contact Waldemar Braul at: (250) 388-4232.