Minister de Jong's mis-statements, distortions and lies

SCRUM MAY 20, 2004 [in progress]

Mike de Jong, Minister of Forestry

Mike de Jong: Well, just a couple of things. We haven’t spoken since I got back from Ottawa, and if anyone wants to talk about the softwood lumber situation, we can talk about that.

But I think the first thing I wanted to alert everyone to, because I’m told we’re going to have some guests here today, some first nations arriving…. I want everyone to be aware that despite what some people are trying to say, we have signed agreements with over 50 first nations. In fact, there’s another one today with the Bonaparte First Nation for upwards of nine million cubic metres of timber, over $50 million in revenue sharing.

I have heard from representatives, like Chief Phillip Stewart, who are suggesting, somehow, that the government is unprepared to deal in good faith with first nations. Well, 50 first nations have concluded otherwise, and those agreements have been signed. The benefits are flowing, and I think it’s sad that there are people who seem more content to continue to engage in inflammatory statements, than actually getting down to the tough work involved in moving forward, and that’s what 50 first nations have actually done.

Reporter: How many first nations are there in B.C.?

de Jong: Well, almost 150.

Reporter: So you’ve signed agreements with a third; so two-thirds don’t have agreements, obviously. They have grievances with the government.

de Jong: Well, there are more agreements to come. I mean: we’re closing in on halfway, still, in the last six months.

I mean, these are the agreements that have been signed with first nations. They provide for timber. They provide for revenue sharing, upwards of $53 million so far.

They don’t, as some have suggested – and you may hear this afternoon – in any way ask first nations to surrender any rights. They are five-year agreements. They respect the fact that there rights being asserted and being negotiated at treaty tables.

As I say, it takes courage on the part of first nations who have over the last six months negotiated these agreements, and others seem comfortable lobbying criticisms and accusations. What they should be doing, in my view, is: sitting down, if they’re sincere in wanting to improve the lives of their people, and taking advantage of agreements that many first nations – very soon it will be a majority of first nations – believe are in the best interests of their people.

Reporter: This is a pretty broad coalition, though, because of the first nations that are coming down here. You’re sort of dismissing them in terms of…. But it’s a pretty coalition, isn’t it, of people who are saying there’s a problem with how you guys are doing things?

de Jong: I don’t know. We’ll see later.

It seems to be the same old crew. It seems to be a group who have always found it more attractive to yell and scream and shout instead of doing what is, admittedly, difficult work: sitting down and negotiating agreements.

I can go through band after band who have said to me: You know, in two and a half years we’ve gotten further with this government in terms of genuinely creating economic opportunities for our people and getting genuinely involved in forestry than with any government in the past.

To suggest, as some people are, that the government isn’t interested in effecting that economic involvement on the part of first nations and forestry is just BS.

Reporter: Can you name some of these bands so maybe we can talk to them and see…

de Jong: Well, I’ll give you a list. It’s on the document here that’s…

Reporter: How many more agreements are pending?

de Jong: Well, we…

Reporter: You said that soon it’s going to be a majority, so I’m just wondering how many are pending?

de Jong: Well, we have about another dozen that are in the process of being finalized, and we’re working from there. It’s…. In fact, we’re going much quicker than even we hoped for. When we started this exercise six months ago, we hoped there would be take-up on the part of first nations who wanted to take advantage of the tenure opportunities and the revenue dollars, and in fact, as I say, as of today 50 of them have.

Reporter: Minister, I see more communications people in your office today that I usually see at this kind of thing, and we don’t often see you take that first-out-of- the block seat. It seems that you’re here in advance of a large first nations rally on the steps of the Legislature. Why are you doing this? This is a change for your government.

de Jong: Well, maybe. I’ll tell you this: I find it curious that people would be making fundamentally inaccurate accusations.

One of the things that I have heard from Chief Phillip Stewart is that by signing one of these agreements, as 50 first nations already have, that they surrendering aboriginal rights. Wrong. Dead wrong.

Read the agreement. You don’t have to sign the agreement. If you don’t want to do the agreement; don’t do the agreement. That’s fine.

But if you’re going to criticize, if you’re going to be critical, at least be accurate. Get away from this rhetoric. There’s been enough rhetoric. For a hundred years there’s been rhetoric. People are allowed to protest, and they’re allowed to voice their opposition of their concerns, but they should do it from an informed basis.

I think what you’re seeing and hearing today is my frustration that that expression of opposition isn’t based on fact.

Reporter: Is it also a reflection that’s pre-emptive…? This strike this morning – is it reflective of how worried you are that these voices are being heard?

de Jong: I am thrilled actually with the progress that we’re making. It’s beyond my wildest dreams that we would have this many agreements this quickly.

And I don’t think people should get away with disseminating false information. I think people need to have the facts, and then they can decide.

You know what? If a first nation takes the approach that these agreements are insufficient or not to their liking, fine. I guess we’ll go to court. This is our attempt to demonstrate that we genuinely want to accommodate, consult, accommodate, and share revenue and resources with first nations. If some people think it is insufficient, fine, we’ll go to court. We feel pretty confident that what we’ve done – the first government in the country to actually adopt this path – that it will withstand any kind of scrutiny.

But the criticism should be factual, not fanciful, not based in rhetoric around accusations of bad faith. To do so, suggests that 50 first nations somehow don’t have the intelligence to properly negotiate, and they do; they have negotiated hard.

I mean, talk to…. The question was: who should we talk to? Talk to Art [inaudible] from the [inaudible] First Nation up north – a tough negotiator. What he said – and I thought it was agreement – was that these agreements are like buying a new suit. Try it on; see if it fits. If it doesn’t fit, take it off. It’s a five-year agreement.

That, I think, is a much healthier attitude, than to simply say: it’s all BC, and the government’s trying to screw us again – which, unfortunately, is what you tend to hear from people who don’t have, apparently, the inter
est or the leadership required to sit down and negotiate.

Reporter: Do you think there’s some first nations who just don’t want to come to the table?

de Jong: Yeah, I think for some first nations it’s much easier just to fight and hurl words of abuse. It’s just an easier way to lead. It’s easier to pick an external enemy and say, “Those guys don’t care about this,” when the evidence is very much to the contrary. Yeah, I think there are some first nations and some first nations leaders, unfortunately, who are mired in the old ways of confrontation.

Happily, there are in increasing numbers first nations and leaders who are saying no, let’s find a new way; let’s actually work together to try and find a better way and employment for our people. That’s reflected in 50 signed agreements over the last six months.

Reporter: But does that indicate those 50 first nations support your government or their concerns over rights and title have been fully addressed?

I mean, we were just talking about forest revenue sharing deals.

de Jong: Yeah. No. I think it is less a case of supporting one government or one party. I think those are first nations who have concluded, rightly, that it is to the advantage of their peoples, to be involved directly in economic activity, and these are agreements that facilitate that. So I don’t think it’s a question of supporting politicians or supporting governments. It’s a matter of doing what’s right for the people that they represent and for people who want to be involved in forestry.

What we tend to be seeing from another group is, I think, concern, concern that, in increasing numbers, first nations are moving away from confrontation. For those who embrace confrontation, that’s very troublesome.

Reporter: Minister, could you describe for me what are those agreements and to which extent they relate or do not relate to the treaties?

de Jong: I will. They are agreements that embody four key points. First, they are limited-term agreements; they are for five years. They include a licence to harvest timber, for the first nation, of various amounts. They include a revenue-share component, money that the first nations get to spend as they wish. They include, as well, a protocol for ongoing consultation on operational and administrative decisions. And what we ask for from the first nations is acknowledgement that their asserted interest in the traditional territory has been accommodated for the duration of the agreements.

Reporter: So they don’t relate or they relate [inaudible] to the treaty negotiations?

de Jong: They are not treaties. They do not…. Where’s my…? There’s the clause. It’s not a treaty. It does not define, amend, affirm, deny or limit aboriginal rights. It doesn’t require first nations to surrender any asserted aboriginal rights.

What I find frustrating is that there are people out there suggesting exactly the opposite when it’s just not true.

Reporter: But can a treaty be signed within that five years?

de Jong: Oh, yes. And there is…. For those bands that are within the treaty process, that’s obviously the hope. These agreements are available to bands who are not in the treaty process. These are economic agreements.

Reporter: Minister, I’d like to know: with the timber that is allocated to the first nation, is it in excess of what is already available in the province, or is it part of what the province is [inaudible], able to produce every year?

de Jong: It’s the latter, and I think, more to your point, it is, in part, why we are engaged in the timber reallocation process, the 20 per cent take-back. That’s where these volumes ultimately come from, because you’re right; it has to be contained within the overall sustainable cut.

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