Wrong man, wrong job

ational Post
Thursday, September 14, 2000

Not so long ago, Herb Dhaliwal, the federal Fisheries Minister, said Ottawa would not negotiate with the Burnt Church natives to end the lobster standoff unless native fishermen removed their traps from Miramichi Bay. Yet on Sunday, with illegal traps still in the water, Mr. Dhaliwal appointed Bob Rae, former Ontario premier, to mediate. This was an odd choice, unless you believe that the best person to mediate a dispute between the government and people who have broken the law for the benefit of natives is someone who has both been in government and disregarded the law for the benefit of natives.

In 1989, Mr. Rae was arrested for taking part in an illegal blockade to protest for native rights in northern Ontario. He also has a weighty track record of favouring the most extreme expansions of native "rights" and a history of elevating native rights above those of other Canadians. Shortly after becoming premier in 1990, Mr. Rae told delighted chiefs that one day they could control their own schools, natural resources (including the fisheries), social services, health care, policing and other areas of provincial jurisdiction. In the summer of 1991, his government signed a Statement of Political Relationship and became the first province to acknowledge natives' right to govern themselves. The agreement stated that all future negotiations between the province and native representatives would be conducted on a government-to-government basis. A year later, Mr. Rae began giving native bands the power to set hunting quotas, which is not far from what Burnt Church natives are demanding today in their seabed trapping. And during the Charlottetown Accord negotiations in 1992, Mr. Rae talked of "de-colonizing our relationship with aboriginal peoples." This is not an impartial broker.

But Mr Rae's unsuitablity is not the main point. Most important is the fact that the task he is to undertake should not be undertaken. There is no reason for Ottawa to negotiate with the native fishermen. The Supreme Court ruled last year that natives have the right to earn a modest living from fishing, and clarified this decision by confirming Ottawa's right to regulate the fisheries. Any person who drops a trap without a federal licence is breaking the law. To negotiate with law-breakers is foolhardy; to appoint Mr. Rae to do the negotiating is frivolous.