Indigenous Relations minister's choice for modern treaty talks draws fire for Trans Mountain links

A former B.C. chief chosen by Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett to participate in sensitive talks on revamping key policies on modern treaties and self-government is drawing fire over past connections to the Trans Mountain pipeline project.

Assembly of First Nations says Ottawa 'unilaterally' developed engagement process for changing policies

Kim Baird, former chief of Tsawwassen, was chosen by Crown-Indigenous Minister Carolyn Bennett for talks with First Nations on changing modern treaty, self-government policies. (Simon Fraser University - University Communications/Flckr)

A former B.C. chief chosen by Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett to participate in sensitive talks on revamping key policies on modern treaties and self-government is drawing fire over past connections to the Trans Mountain pipeline project.

Bennett recently appointed Kim Baird, a consultant and former chief of the Tsawwassen First Nation, as one of two representatives that will be involved in talks with First Nations to revamp policies on comprehensive claims, also known as modern treaties, and self-government.

The Crown-Indigenous Relations (CIRNA) department began rolling out its engagement process for revamping these new policies in January. CIRNA documents, obtained by CBC News, show the department is aiming to have the new policies announced by June 2019.

The effort is part of the Liberal government's attempts to salvage part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's promise to refashion Canada's relationship with Indigenous Peoples through a legislated framework on Indigenous rights that has been shelved.

CIRNA is also moving on changing policies on how lands are added to reserves and the settling of historical grievances over lost lands and mishandled trust money — known as specific claims.

Bennett appointed Baird alongside Tom Isaac, a prominent Vancouver lawyer with an expertise in Indigenous law who acted as a former B.C. government treaty negotiator and has been a federal ministerial representative on various Indigenous files.

Baird's role in modern treaty settlement raises concern

Neskonlith Indian Band Chief Judy Wilson said concerns with Baird date back to her 2016 appointment by the Liberal government to a three-member National Energy Board environmental review panel for the Trans Mountain pipeline project. 

"To me there was a perceived conflict of interest at that time," said Wilson. "Somehow, the government keeps hiring her."

Baird was involved in a leadership exchange program in 2010 with Ian Anderson, the current CEO of Trans Mountain and the former president of Kinder Morgan Canada.

Baird also lobbied the federal government for Woodfibre LNG in 2015, according to the federal lobbyist registry. Woodfibre LNG is a $1.6 billion LNG export project in B.C. Woodfibre recently signed a $224 million, 40-year deal with the Squamish First Nation. 

Wilson said the controversy over her 2016 NEB review panel appointment should have disqualified her from involvement in talks to change modern treaty policy which is about Aboriginal title and lands — two central factors fuelling opposition to the Trans Mountain project.

"Kim Baird is a non-starter," said Wilson, whose First Nation sits in B.C.

Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson, whose First Nation is in B.C, raised concerns with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett's choice to have Kim Baird involved in talks to change modern treaty, self-government policies. (CBC)

Wilson said Baird's leadership role with her First Nation when it signed B.C.'s first urban modern treaty in 2009 is also problematic. Wilson said Baird has been appointed to help lead talks to significantly change to the very policy behind the modern treaty signed by her community

"A lot of our communities are non-treaty and some would feel they are being railroaded into some sort of treaty process that is a narrow process because you have a [modern] treaty person rolling out these … policies," said Wilson, who is also secretary-treasurer for the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

"The issue we have with [the treaties] is this narrow process of extinguishment, or modified extinguishment...all of the issues are still the same."

'Work speaks for itself'

Baird said she was chosen for her experience in the field and she wouldn't be pushing any particular view on any of the First Nations she meets.

"All my work has been in relationship building, helping enable that," said Baird, who is a personal friend of Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former justice minister currently embroiled in the SNC-Lavalin affair.

"I think it's not my personal style to shove a personal model on any community. I can share the perspective of how it works for Tsawwassen and other models...again, I really believe it's up to First Nations."

Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde has called for a First Nations-led process on changing modern treaty, self-government policies. (CBC)

Baird said her past experience has given her the necessary tools to do the work the minister has appointed her to accomplish.

"I have lots of experience in engaging with First Nations in controversial issues," said Baird. "My work speaks for itself and through my long career I developed lots of relationships with lots of people."

AFN says process developed 'unilaterally' 

Baird's role is to engage with First Nations in B.C., Ontario, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.

Isaac was mandated to engage with First Nations in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Quebec and the East Coast.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde has called on Ottawa to change its modern treaty and self-government policies, but has stressed it needs to be First Nation-led. The AFN has also passed resolutions to this effect.

The AFN said in a statement  that the process unveiled by CIRNA was "unilaterally developed." The statement said that the AFN was only provided the plan for comment in January.

The AFN statement said that CIRNA's timelines may be too tight. The department wants the engagement process completed by May 2019.

"The AFN will not support a process that is not First Nations led, and that has predetermined outcomes," said the statement.

Bennett's office said that department officials requested a proposal on the engagement process from the AFN on Dec. 6, 2018, but only received a response on Feb. 8.

"We are currently working with the AFN to implement their proposal," said the statement.


Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's investigative unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him