B.C. referendum is conning the public
By Boyce Richardson

The B.C. treaty referendum is a shoddy procedure, unworthy of Canadian politics.

Years ago, when I was living in England, a satirical television show conducted a poll of public opinion which exploded the myth of the objectivity of polls. By cunningly phrasing the questions to obtain the results they wanted, they managed to get a huge majority of people to agree with the proposition that they were opposed to post-marital sex. You got that? Most people, according to this poll, oppose sex after marriage!

The idiots who framed the questions for the British Columbia referendum on treaty negotiations have evidently studied this U.K. experiment, because the eight questions they have sent out for voters to respond to are framed in exactly this way -- to produce inevitable answers. As even the Globe and Mail's editorial suggests, "Who could possibly object to maintaining parks and protected areas for all British Columbians?" For that matter, everybody is in favour of hunting, fishing and recreational activities, and your average unthinking guy, uninformed about history, will certainly favour abolishing tax exemptions for Indians. So will he probably favour restriction of Aboriginal-style governments to having municipal powers exercizing delegated authority from the province.

But what about Aboriginal rights, guaranteed under the Canadian Constitution? What about Aboriginal title, a concept that has been many times upheld by the courts? And what about justice? As the British Columbia bishops have pointed out, it is an injustice to subject the rights of a minority to the opinions of a majority.

The government certainly doesn't seem to reall know what it is doing. B.C.'s attorney-general Geoff Plant said earlier in the week that the results of the referendum won't necessarily be binding on the provincial government. But the Globe and Mail reports that the B.C. government will treat the results as binding: They said that B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, in a meeting with their editorial board, "argued forcefully that having a strong mandate will improve the negotiating climate."

In a pig's eye, it will.

Most of the positions the public will be conned into approving are non-starters with B.C.'s Aboriginal people, especially the invitation to restrict Aboriginal governments to municipal-style powers. In fact, if the policy implications of these eight questions were put into action, that would be the end of Aboriginal rights in B.C.

Why is it that the rights of Aboriginal people can be violated in this way, wile those of other minorities are never subjected to such indignities? B.C.'s history in relation to the rights of Aboriginals, has been abysmal; and Gordon Campbell is bidding fair to become the worst B.C. leader of all in this regard. How this guy can call himself liberal beggars belief.

Already Native people have begun to burn the ballots ceremonially, and one hopes that everyone in the province will follow their lead.

This is a shoddy procedure, unworthy of Canadian politics.

The B.C. Referendum

Whereas the Government of British Columbia is committed to negotiating workable, affordable treaty settlements that will provide certainty, finality and equality; do you agree that the Provincial Government should adopt the following principles to guide its participation in treaty negotiations?

  1. Private property should not be expropriated for treaty settlements.
  2. The terms and conditions of leases and licences should be respected; fair compensation for unavoidable disruption of commercial interests should be ensured.
  3. Hunting, fishing and recreational opportunities on Crown land should be ensured for all British Columbians.
  4. Parks and protected areas should be maintained for the use and benefit of all British Columbians.
  5. Province-wide standards of resource management and environmental protection should continue to apply.
  6. Aboriginal self-government should have the characteristics of local government, with powers delegated from Canada and British Columbia.
  7. Treaties should include mechanisms for harmonizing land use planning between Aboriginal governments and neighbouring local governments.
  8. The existing tax exemptions for Aboriginal people should be phased out.
Boyce Richardson is a freelance journalist, filmmaker, and author of the 1990 book on global challenges, Time to Change. He lives in Ottawa.