The B.C. cabinet has refused to appoint George Abbott as the next Chief Commissioner of the B.C. Treaty Commission, leaving the position vacant as of April 1.
Cabinet ministers were tight-lipped about the reason for the sudden reversal on appointing Abbott, who was approached about the job six months ago by Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad.
Rustad issued a statement saying only that a search will begin for a new appointee, emphasizing the “critical importance” of the Treaty Commission’s work towards dozens of unresolved land claims negotiations.
Health Minister Terry Lake told Kamloops This Week that he and his colleagues are bound by cabinet confidentiality on the reasons for the last-minute decision. Abbott’s appointment had already been approved by the federal government and the First Nations Summit, who share jurisdiction over the Treaty Commission with the province.
Outgoing Chief Commissioner Sophie Pierre, who agreed to a three-year extension of her term to keep the 20-year-old treaty talks moving ahead, praised Abbott as “a man of integrity, intelligence and extensive experience” who was prepared to make progress.
“This retraction of the Chief Commissioner selection after months of agreement, expectation and reliance by other parties, raises questions about B.C.’s commitment to the treaty negotiation process,” Pierre said.
In recent years, Pierre criticized the B.C. government’s emphasis on interim resource agreements to push mining and gas development. Fellow commissioner Dave Haggard has warned that abandoning the slow and costly treaty talks with Ottawa means going back to court on unresolved treaties.
The official silence over the sudden reversal has fuelled speculation by Abbott and others that it was due to Premier Christy Clark’s bitterness from the 2012 B.C. Liberal leadership contest, where Abbott finished third behind Clark and Kevin Falcon. Both Falcon and Abbott left politics after clashing repeatedly with Clark about the handling of the harmonized sales tax referendum and other issues.
Nearly all MLAs from former premier Gordon Campbell’s government endorsed either Falcon or Abbott in the leadership contest.