A NORTHWEST native leader is already forecasting a dramatic shift in the political landscape arising from next spring’s provincial election.
Gitxsan land claims negotiator Elmer Derrick believes BC Conservative party leader John Cummins is going to be the next leader of the opposition.
That prediction, which then means the NDP will form the government and the provincial Liberals will be reduced to a handful of seats, has Derrick worried about how aboriginal people will fit into economic development.
Derrick’s worry is that Cummins will build on a reputation he developed as a Reform and then Conservative MP of fierce resistance to the idea of aboriginal title and rights.
“He wants to pick a fight with us when there really is no need to,” said Derrick.
“I think it’s time that we really have to move ahead as a country which is to follow the advice of the courts so that we can all make progress,” he added.
Derrick said the path forward is for governments to acknowledge that aboriginal people do have rights, including rights to resources, and to then create certainty for development around those rights.
Having Cummins promote an agenda of opposition to aboriginal rights would only fog the issue, he said.
“I don’t see any real need for a political battle over title,” said Derrick.
“If he’s trying to get in by fighting Indians, it’s not going to get him anywhere,” he said of Cummins.
“What we really have to do is move to the next level and that’s creating certainty for us and for the Crown,” Derrick continued.
Once that’s accomplished, secure development deals with corporations can then follow, Derrick said.
“Development proponents will then realize there’s stability,” said Derrick. “Money needs a safe place to go.”
At the most, Derrick added, a government has two years after being elected to pursue major policy decisions. After that, it focusses on the next election.
In the northwest, Derrick said corporations such as Northern Gateway Pipelines proponent Enbridge and Seabridge, which has a promising gold property north of Terrace, are setting examples by developing close connections with aboriginal people.
“Enbridge will talk with aboriginal people and wants to develop an economic partnership,” said Derrick. “I’m not defending Enbridge, I’m just saying that’s what their approach is.”
Derrick was harshly criticized last December when he signed an economics benefits deal between Gitxsan chiefs and Enbridge tied to its Northern Gateway pipeline plan.