July 17, 1998
Dear Mr. Premier:
Congratulations on your contribution to making the Nisgaa Agreement a reality!
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. We, as many other British Columbia citizens, recognize the outstanding work by the negotiators, the good faith shown by all sides, and the genuine pursuit of just relations. The Agreement is testimony to the fact that aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians can, given a right process, negotiate a creative and pragmatic new reality.
The July 15, 1998 Agreement now awaits the critical implementation stage. The Aboriginal Rights Coalition (Victoria) believes that successful implementation depends on the conditions described below.
First, successful implementation depends on public debate which is both well-informed and respectful of diverse opinions. The Agreement deserves public debate and public education. Many sectors of society, including critics of the Agreement, are preparing to enter the debate. We will also enter this debate and speak procedural and substantive aspects of the Agreement. At the same time, government has a special role in this debate. As we wrote to the Liberals today, we express our hope that all political parties will take special care to engage in a constructive debate on whether the Nisgaa Agreement should be implemented. Your government in particular should, as soon as possible, publish documents which set out the Agreement and surrounding circumstances in a non-partisan and readable way.
A second ingredient for successful implementation is that the provincial and federal decisions to implement the Agreement should be cast as "everything or nothing". There should be no after-the-fact conditions placed on the Agreement. Negotiations reflect complex tradeoffs, and it would be contrary to principles of good faith negotiations if the provincial or federal governments would now revisit the specific terms and conditions. Revisiting specific provisions of honourably-reached agreements would send a very negative signal to the many other First Nations which are investing in the treaty process.
Thirdly, a province-wide referendum should have no place in the implementation stage. We have long argued that a province-wide referendum would be perverse and unfair. We agree with your partys stated position that a province-wide referendum would not be constructive.
As I wrote to Gordon Campbell today, the political debate on the Agreement should be elevated beyond the customary NDP v. Liberal sniping. The Nisgaa Agreement debate, if not conducted responsibly with reason, intelligence and respect, may result in a major casualty aggravated and irreparable damage between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities.
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.