Canadian Press
Saturday, October 21, 2000

A Canadian Alliance victory in the upcoming federal election could trigger Burnt Church-like confrontations with First Nations across the country, says B.C. Aboriginal Affairs Minister Dale Lovick.

Lovick, attending an aboriginal business summit Thursday, said neither the Alliance nor the provincial Liberal opposition had any commitment to the B.C. treaty process.

But if the Alliance wins the federal election, expected to be called tomorrow, or there is even a minority government, then "we have a problem with First Nations across the country," he said.

Lovick noted even the current Liberal government, ostensibly committed to resolving land claims and signing treaties, has been locked in a bitter, often violent confrontation with the Mi'kmaq of Burnt Church, N.B., over fishing rights.

"Put Stockwell Day in charge and you'll have Burnt Church everywhere in the country, God help us," Lovick said in an interview.

The Alliance election platform says it would respect existing aboriginal and treaty rights but reject any special measures, such as native-only fishing quotas or resource set-asides.

The party believes First Nations should be given powers similar to municipal governments, including the right to collect taxes. Land claims should be resolved, but with participation from all interested parties.

Grand Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit, who revealed yesterday he'd been approached to run for the federal Liberals in the coming vote, condemned the Alliance's aboriginal policies as regressive.

"The politics of exclusion of the Alliance is mostly based on fear," said John.

The respected B.C. aboriginal leader said he's decided not to run - he was being considered for the Alliance-held seat of Skeena - because the timing was wrong and he suffered a heart attack two years ago.

But he said he plans to work to get more aboriginals involved in federal and provincial politics and to get out to vote.

In a speech to the conference, Lovick attacked B.C. Liberal Leader Gordon Campbell, saying he was in denial about the need to make treaties. The provincial Liberals say they would consult British Columbians to develop a negotiating mandate applicable to all treaty talks.

"I think the notion of saying we should put the issue of treaties to a referendum is lunatic," said Lovick.

But the Liberals' aboriginal affairs critic said the minister has it wrong.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Lovick and the NDP are locked into this mindset that anyone who wants to consult directly with British Columbians is using that as a mechanism to frustrate the settlement of negotiations," said Mike de Jong. Such a consultation could in fact speed negotiations by giving everyone a voice, he said.

The treaty process, which includes land claims covering practically all of B.C., is expected to be a top issue in the B.C. federal campaign, said Daniel Watts, co-chairman of the B.C. First Nations Summit.

The summit represents the 51 First Nations currently involved in treaty talks, covering more than 70% of the B.C. aboriginal population.