Minister John Duncan released a statement saying that “Negotiations continue to be Canada's first choice for resolving specific claims and we are working with First Nations to that end.” He added “However, First Nations can now opt to refer their claims to the Tribunal for a binding decision if three years of negotiations do not result in a final settlement.”
It’s that last statement that’s troublesome. One can hardly call going to the tribunal an option when the feds have walked away from the table. I’m wondering how many of the 60 plus claims are over the Tribunal’s $150 million dollar limit. Of course there is still the option to go to court. At least the lawyers will be happy.
Liberal Indian Affairs Critic Carolyn Bennett has called on the government to negotiate in good faith with First Nations, proving that moral clarity comes easier to those in opposition.
When in power under Chretien, the Liberals pulled the rug out from under the Assembly of First Nations on specific claims. INAC and the AFN had a joint working group and agreed to set up an independent tribunal, which could evaluate the value of a claim and compel the government to pay within specific deadlines. However, the bill the Liberals put forward held to none of these principles. The legislation let the Minister of Indian Affairs appoint and remove commissioners, had no timelines (meaning claims could be delayed indefinitely) and capped compensation at $7 million. The legislation passed, despite outcries from First Nations citizens across Canada.
To give Paul Martin his due, he never enabled the legislation. Of course he never fixed it either. That was left to Jim Prentice.
Politics are full of fickle friends and shifting (or shifty) ethics.