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'Time outs' urged to help focus treaty talks

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    Time outs urged to help focus treaty talks Vaughn Palmer Vancouver Sun Tuesday, September 10, 2002
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 10, 2002
      'Time outs' urged to help focus treaty talks
      Vaughn Palmer
      Vancouver Sun
      Tuesday, September 10, 2002
      http://www.canada.com/vancouver/vancouversun/columnists/story.asp?id={32F5B80A-4BF8-4263-9B49-94BC0553EDBF}


      VICTORIA - Federal, provincial and native officials are proposing to
      wring better results from the treaty negotiation process by putting most
      sets of talks on hold and pushing harder at a handful of remaining
      tables.

      The all-eggs-in-fewer-baskets approach is set out in some confidential
      memos, now being circulated among all three parties to the complex and
      frustrating process.

      The memos arose from so-called "blue-sky discussions" on the future of
      the treaty process following a report last year in which the B.C. Treaty
      Commission lamented the lack of progress The process has been unfolding
      at about 50 bargaining tables, each with representatives from the
      federal and provincial governments and a First Nation or tribal council,
      working their way through a six-step treaty process.

      To date, the results are nine years of negotiation, half a billion
      spent, no treaties.

      Moreover, as one of the memos concedes, "it does not seem likely that
      many First Nations will have concluded treaties by 2006," the year when
      they have to start paying back the money loaned them by the federal
      government to finance negotiations.

      Hence the need for a new approach.

      As the officials envision it, the parties at the various tables would
      engage in "frank discussions" about the state of their particular set of
      talks.

      What progress has been made to date? Where do the gaps remain? What are
      the chances of closing those gaps within a reasonable time, given the
      positions taken by the three sides and the resources available?

      "The purpose is not assign blame," cautions a passage in one of the
      memos, mindful that the assignment of blame has given rise to a whole
      cottage industry around these talks.

      Rather, the object would be a candid assessment of the chances for
      success within a reasonable time frame -- I'm guessing 18 months to two
      years, through the memo doesn't specify.

      Most tables will be rated as doubtful in any fair and frank assessment.
      In most instances the parties have made little progress, in some
      instances they do not even share the same vision for settlement, and a
      significant number of First Nations (through no fault of their own) lack
      the capacity to reach a comprehensive treaty.

      For those tables, the new approach calls for the parties to consider a
      "time out."

      The proposal for "time outs" is a controversial one with some First
      Nations, perhaps because it sounds like punishment for having failed to
      adopt a more realistic position ("Do you want to go sit in your room? Is
      that what you want?")

      But the officials who proposed it say: "A time out is not the same as
      suspension of treaty negotiations." Rather, First Nations would be urged
      to devote their efforts to developing bargaining positions and exploring
      incremental agreements to manage programs and share resources.

      As an incentive for native leaders to consider a time out, the new
      approach would offer relief from the looming problem of indebtedness.

      First Nations have borrowed almost $200 million to finance their share
      of negotiations. Absent treaties, those loans start to come due in 2006.
      And most bands will be in no position to pay interest, never mind
      principle.

      The debt burden is being "exacerbated," officials warn, by the emerging
      view that agreements should be negotiated on an incremental basis,
      meaning the final treaty will take longer to conclude.

      Governments have the power to extend the due date on those loans to 2010
      and they are urged to consider doing so in the memos from their
      officials.

      But the time outs would not be open ended, and each would include a
      specific timetable for restarting the clock on both negotiations and the
      loan repayment schedule.

      In return, by relating most sets of talks to the status of "time outs,"
      governments would be able to concentrate their efforts on the remaining
      negotiating tables.

      For those talks, there would need to be a "work plan," focusing on
      "deliverables," meaning specific items to be settled and a timetable for
      a final agreement.

      The work plans, like the schedules for time outs, would be registered
      with the treaty commission, allowing to monitor progress and push the
      parties to keep their commitments.

      The officials don't say how many realistic work plans they are
      expecting.

      But the initial drive would probably concentrate on about half a dozen
      tables, probably including the few that were approaching settlement
      under the previous New Democratic Party government.

      The goal, the officials say, "is to add to the credibility of the
      process in the eyes of the public."

      The public will know, at least, that a revised treaty negotiation
      process cannot underperform the one it replaces.

      vpalmer@...

      © Copyright 2002 Vancouver Sun
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