Depending on who’s doing the talking, British Columbians have either given a strong vote of confidence in their provincial government’s referendum on treatymaking, or overwhelmingly disowned Victoria’s divide-and-conquer tactics.

BC Premier Gordon Campbell trumpeted the results, despite a low 35 per cent response rate to the mail-in ballot. “The government is pleased that British Columbians have provided clear and positive support for all the principles set out in the referendum,” said Campbell. “An affirmative response to the eight questions ranged from 84 to 95 per cent of validly cast votes.” But according to the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, the combined total of boycotted ballots and No votes meant that 75 per cent of eligible BC voters rejected the Campbell referendum’s propositions. “We are not the least bit surprised at the outcome of this so-called referendum on treaty-making,” said Chief Stewart Phillip. “This ill-conceived referendum was widely criticized by the federal government, the business community and the general public at large and the results bear out the fact that this referendum is neither recognized nor supported by the electorate of BC.” BC is determined to push on, however. The government intends to meet with First Nations leaders, the federal government and third parties to the treaty process in the next month to discuss the results.

“We will take some time to review the results in detail and then formulate an approach to negotiations with Canada and First Nations,” said Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Treaty Negotiations Geoff Plant. “The results will help revitalize the treaty process by establishing a publicly supported mandate for negotiations.” Phillip said the province won no mandate whatsoever – that the referendum questions were deliberately designed to generate a biased response. “The referendum questions reflected recycled positions of the province that have either been rejected by the Courts or have proven to be non-starters at the negotiating table over the last ten-year period,” he said.

And Chief Phillip warned that continued provincial refusal to accommodate aboriginal title and rights will come with a price: more serious conflict on the land and more litigation.