Province gets pledge on Kelowna deal

 

Jeff Rud and Lindsay Kines

Times Colonist


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

 

B.C.'s minister responsible for aboriginal relations says he will meet with his federal counterpart next month to discuss the state of the Kelowna Accord.

Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Minister Tom Christensen said he had a "good discussion" with federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice on Thursday, soon after Premier Gordon Campbell's strong statement in the legislature demanding that Ottawa fund the Kelowna Accord.

Last week's federal budget included no mention of the accord, an agreement between the federal and provincial governments and aboriginals reached last year in an effort to improve the lives of First Nations people across Canada.

"Minister Prentice assured me that the federal government is committed to meeting the objectives that all premiers and national aboriginal leaders came to agreement on last fall. He's assured me that they want to work with British Columbia to do that,'' Christensen said Tuesday.

The Kelowna Accord included a $5.1-billion commitment by the former federal Liberal government. Christensen said last week's first Conservative budget includes about $1 billion for aboriginal concerns over the next two years, but a long-term financial commitment to Kelowna is missing.

Christensen said Prentice has offered verbal support for the principles of Kelowna but he wants to see some "definition" added to that support.

Campbell, who was a driving force behind the Kelowna Accord, said the Conservatives may choose to rebrand the initiative, and that's fine with him.

"I don't frankly care about the name,'' Campbell said Tuesday.

"What I care about is the substance of the agreement. ... Everyone in Kelowna agreed it would take time to close this gap, but everyone was committed to close it, everyone was committed to resources to closing it over the long term, and I think we need to have the federal government there as well."

NDP Leader Carole James said Campbell has shown a "lack of leadership" on the Kelowna Accord since prior to the federal budget, when he should have been lobbying Ottawa aggressively to ensure the money would be there.

James said she is happy to see that the Saskatchewan government has passed a resolution calling for the federal government to live up to the agreement.

"I think the other provinces are stepping up to the plate,'' she said. "[But] we've had no [formal] response from the federal government.''

jrud@tc.canwest.com

 Times Colonist (Victoria) 2006