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Carole James on the Tsawwassen Treaty

Despite farm land concerns, it's a vital next step.

Carole James 10 Sep 2007TheTyee.ca

Carole James is Leader of the B.C. NDP.

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One of my proudest moments as a New Democrat came the day the New Democrat government ratified the Nisga'a Treaty, moving our relationship with First Nations into the modern era of treaty making that will resolve long standing issues of self determination, land ownership, and economic independence.

New Democrats stood alone that day. Gordon Campbell and the BC Liberals joined with the Reform Party to oppose that historic treaty. In fact, Premier Campbell wasn't content to instruct his party to vote against the treaty; he subsequently launched a court action to overturn it and initiated a referendum to undermine the entire treaty process.

New Democrats were right to stand with the Nisga'a people and Gordon Campbell was wrong to oppose them. He played political games and damaged the treaty process. Eight years later, I'm pleased that the Campbell government is finally ready to admit it was wrong and will bring forward for ratification a treaty with the Tsawwassen Nation signed under the treaty process initiated by the NDP, First Nations, and the federal government in the early 1990s.

The new treaty is an historic step forward with enormous implications for the Tsawwassen people, the surrounding community and the future of treaty making. And it is one that I support.

Tough choice

But it is not without controversy. The removal of farmland from the Agricultural Land Reserve as part of the treaty puts two important values and policy objectives in conflict: settling First Nation treaties and preserving B.C.'s food producing lands. As the party that established both the ALR and the treaty process, the NDP caucus had an obligation to fully asses its implications.

My caucus took that responsibility very seriously. And we consulted widely with British Columbians and listened to a wide range of views and opinions. We remain very concerned about the diminution of farmland and my caucus will continue to raise this issue and offer positive solutions that will protect and enhance the ALR.

At the same time New Democrats strongly believe that to stall the treaty process now would take B.C. backwards on the journey towards reconciliation with First Nations. For that reason the Tsawwassen Treaty will have the support of our caucus.

Continuing the journey New Democrats began, and achieving future settlements is, in my view, one of the most important issues facing our province. Working with First Nations in Northern B.C., I learned first hand about the legacy that was wrought by over a hundred years of injustice, and about their struggle for a better future in the face of bitter opposition by opponents of the treaty process, including, at one time, Gordon Campbell.

ALR commitment

The Tsawwassen Treaty will now come to the B.C. legislature for a ratification vote. In that debate New Democrats will say -- as we have throughout this process -- that protecting agricultural land and settling treaties can not be mutually exclusive goals. To build on the momentum the Tsawwassen Treaty offers, a commitment to preserve farmland should be integral to future settlements.

Only New Democrats have made that commitment. We will use the legislative forum to present a range of options to meet it. We will also use that forum to question the premier's commitment to the Agricultural Land Reserve and to future treaties given his record of political game playing and shifting positions on land-claim settlements.

Treaty settlements with First Nations are both a moral and economic imperative for British Columbia. The process towards reconciliation and settlement of outstanding claims is hard work, requiring compromise, patience and goodwill. No treaty will be perfect and success requires an honest debate about lessons each treaty holds for future negotiations. Like the Nisga'a Treaty, the Tsawwassen Treaty holds those lessons and builds momentum towards a just future for all British Columbians. As leader of the party that helped start B.C. down the road to reconciliation, I will stand proudly with my caucus and the Tsawwassen people to support its ratification.

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