British Columbia

George Abbott ousting from B.C. Treaty Commission shocks chief commissioner

Sophie Pierre, B.C.'s chief treaty commissioner, says she is shocked the B.C. government pulled her replacement George Abbott less than two weeks before he was set to take over the job.

'That just looks like the same mistake that was made 150 years ago,' says chief commissioner Sophie Pierre

Former Liberal MLA George Abbott was set to take over as chief commissioner of the B.C. Treaty Commission on April 1. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Sophie Pierre, B.C.'s chief treaty commissioner, says she is shocked the B.C. government suddenly pulled George Abbott, who had been groomed to replace her, less than two weeks before he was set to take over the job.

Abbott was supposed to replace Pierre on April 1 to head up the B.C. Treaty Commission, the independent facilitator for treaty negotiations between Canada, B.C. and First Nations in B.C. - but was dropped last week.

"When I asked very specifically why this decision [to drop him] had been made, I was told it was a cabinet decision and those of course are confidential," said Sophie Pierre.

"I appreciate that, that cabinet decisions are confidential, however I think that we all deserve a reason why such a competent and man of credibility that was all prepared to take over, why he was suddenly pulled."

Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad presents a BC Aboriginal Business Award to Chief Commissioner Sophie Pierre at the 2013 Award Gala on Dec. 5. (DaveRoels.com/Province of British Columbia/Flickr)

Abbott, who is the former provincial Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, was appointed to the role of chief treaty commissioner in November by the B.C. First Nations Summit and the provincial and federal governments.

Last week, B.C. Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Rustad announced the B.C. government would be vetoing the appointment.

"It really came as totally out of the blue, as a total shock for us," said Pierre.

"We were in Kelowna at the time just starting our transition discussions and we were starting to talk about the work of the commission in the next year, when George [Abbott] … received the phone call that kind of upset things."

Pierre skeptical of new direction for treaties

In a statement, Rustad said the B.C. government will be looking at new ways to move forward with treaty negotiations.

"I have also heard from many First Nations that the treaty process, mandates and negotiations take far too long and they are looking for a better way," it read.

B.C. Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad said the B.C. government will be looking at new ways to move forward with treaty negotiations. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

"Now is the appropriate time to reflect with the Principals in the treaty process on what lies ahead for the B.C. Treaty Commission, so that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities alike can prosper."

Pierre said legally, the provincial government can't scrap the current treaty process without the approval of the B.C. First Nations Summit and the federal government, but she is worried the province is trying to cut corners by using its veto.

"The best form of reconciliation is through a fairly negotiated and an honourably implemented treaty.

"But now we have governments that are saying, 'Well, it would be a lot faster for us if we just entered into a couple of agreements with those First Nations where we want to develop their resources,'" she said.

"That just looks like the same mistake that was made 150 years ago."

Pierre said when her terms ends on April 1, an acting chief commissioner will be chosen from among the other remaining commissioners.

To hear the full interview with Sophie Pierre, click the audio labelled: Sophie Pierre shocked over decision to scrap George Abbott's appointment to B.C. Treaty Commission.

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