George Abbott says he was shocked and disappointed by cabinet’s last-minute refusal to appoint him to the B.C. Treaty Commission.
Six months ago, the former Shuswap MLA was invited by John Rustad, aboriginal relations minister, to become chief commissioner of the commission upon the retirement of Sophie Pierre. He accepted the request and began preparing for the job start of April 1, but last week, Abbott received a call from Rustad informing him he had been unable to secure cabinet approval for the appointment.
“It’s not what I expected to hear,” he said, explaining First Nations ratified his appointment in October and the federal government was ready to add its approval, pending a nod from the province.
“I checked with the minister (Rustad) on a number of occasions, obviously concerned when I didn’t hear anything after a couple of months.”
But Abbott, who ran against Premier Christy Clark in the 2011 leadership race, says he was continually reassured his appointment was in process and the delay was not about him personally.
“Now I think it probably was about me; that would be my best guess,” he said.
“No one has said that, but I have to assume it.”
With a passion for First Nations issues and expertise garnered as aboriginal affairs minister and through doctoral level studies, Abbott says the appointment would have been more than a job.
“Once one understands the aboriginal history in Canada, it is difficult not to agree governments and society have some responsibility for remediating the impact of historical destructive policies,” he says, noting his great grandparents acquired land on the Prairies through the process of preemption, while First Nations got reservations and were excluded from politics and law until 1960.
“I, at least, recognize I have to do whatever I can, whenever I can, to remediate those destructive policies.”
Abbott has received a wave of support – including from the province’s NDP, which called for his immediate reinstatement.
Grateful for the outpouring of support, Abbott says he is sad rather than angry and more concerned about how the treaty process will play out.
“This is not for me a personal loss; this for me is a great disappointment,” he said.
“This is something I very much wanted to do, on a file I feel very passionate about and one I won’t be assisting in moving forward.”
Abbott has left the door open, saying if the province reconsiders, he would accept.
Clark says she doesn’t know yet if the organization will continue. She emphasized that having only 50 out of 200 B.C. First Nations involved, and painfully slow progress with those, is not enough.
“There have been some results, but four treaties in 22 years for $600 million is not enough result,” Clark said.
“We have to be able to move faster, and we have to find a way to include more First Nations in the the process.”
— with files from Tom Fletcher, Black Press