bc-091028-bc-treaty-tsawwassen

Premier Gordon Campbell and Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird celebrate the first modern treaty negotiated under the British Columbia Treaty Commission process, in April. ((B.C. government))

The head of the B.C. Treaty Commission is blaming the federal government for "frittering" away billions in economic opportunity by not giving its treaty negotiators a proper mandate.

Chief Sophie Pierre was in Ottawa on Wednesday to tell the Commons finance committee the latest study done for the commission showed finishing just two treaties a year would create $2 billion in provincial benefits and $7 billion in added wage income.

But after 16 years of three-way negotiations, Pierre says, federal government negotiators don't have any real authority to negotiate issues, resulting in costly delays for First Nations.

Pierre says the treaties themselves could be a stimulus package for northern and rural B.C., which are hurting from a downturn in forestry and the salmon fishery.

Only 2 treaties so far

Unlike the rest of Canada, British Columbia's colonial governments did not sign land treaties with most First Nations and some modern treaties have been under negotiation for decades.

There are about 200 First Nations in the province, but only 60 are involved in negotiations in the province, and just two — the Tsawwassen and Maa-nulth — have reached final agreements.  

For many First Nations, a key sticking point in the negotiations are aboriginal fishing rights. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is conducting a review of the West Coast fishery, and federal negotiators won't discuss fish at the treaty table until the review is complete.

Some federal Conservative MPs, including B.C.'s Delta-Richmond East MP John Cummins, have long opposed aboriginal fisheries.