Stephen Harper was in British Columbia over the weekend, "negotiating" with British Columbia's native peoples on the Northern Gateway file. Michael Harris writes that Mr. Harper has a constitutional duty to consult with first nations. But Harper doesn't negotiate:
That approach would violate the Harper government’s preferred tactic when dealing with opponents: blunt declarations of how it’s going to be, followed by a rabbit punch or two. Think of Jim Flaherty’s negotiating technique with provincial health ministers in Victoria. Not a lot of back-and-forth, right?
If the prime minister had really wanted to talk to native leaders, he wouldn’t have sent Enbridge executives to assume Ottawa’s constitutional role of consulting about pipelines — a company’s whose reputation for stewardship of the environment is well known.
The prime minister, who is supposed to be a bright guy, has finally realised that Northern Gateway is in deep trouble:
It has suddenly dawned on the PM that native reservations about Northern Gateway are headed to court. And since Ottawa has a constitutional obligation to consult, accommodate and compensate First Nations for developments that touch their lands, Harper is belatedly touching all the bases before the legal briefs are filed.
Harper's charm offensive is totally insincere. When it comes to Canada's First Nations, what Harper does is diametrically opposed to what he says. Consider the record:
Harper is the prime minister who killed the Kelowna Accord, replacing Paul Martin’s commitment to change things with a commitment to something less than the status quo.
It was the Harper government that gutted environmental protections in a spate of anti-democratic omnibus legislation, forcing natives to protect the land on their own.
The Harper promise of a new relationship between First Nations and Ottawa has fizzled. After a florid apology with all the trappings of state, the PM merely replaced the mistakes of the past with the mistakes of the present, including a sneaky change to band funding agreements that critics believe would allow government policy to trump native treaty rights.
During the Idle No More protests in Ottawa, PM Harper was as aloof as Louis the 14th, refusing to meet certain native leaders who were tired of the federal runaround on land claims and treaty rights. They learned that Stephen Harper doesn’t make time for nobodies.
Harper has now decided that a promise to do something on the environment file might help sell Keystone to the Americans, and that playing nice with Canada's native peoples might sell Northern Gateway to them. Mr. Harper is a slow learner.
And it should be evident to all parties that you can't take him at his word.