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British Columbia NDP Leader Adrian Dix speaks to the media in Vancouver on Jan. 14, 2013.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

B.C. Opposition Leader Adrian Dix says working to resolve outstanding first nations treaty issues would be his top priority in dealing with the federal government if he is elected premier later this year.

"It would be the first issue that I would be raising with the Prime Minister because it's so central, first of all for addressing equality, [and] it's central to economic development," Mr. Dix said in Ottawa, where he participated in an NDP leaders' summit on Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Dix stopped by the Toronto Stock Exchange to help ring the bell signalling the return of B.C. company Catalyst Paper Corp. as a publicly traded company.

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"[Treaties are] central to the life of the province, and [an issue] that both the federal and provincial governments have, obviously, a role in," Mr. Dix said in Ottawa.

His comments came as first nations protesters prepared for Wednesday's "day of action" to express their frustration with the level of attention the government has paid to native issues. Demonstrators have outlined plans to slow down traffic at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., and block a highway near the southern edge of the oil sands, among other actions.

Mr. Dix said many first nations in B.C. have been in a treaty process for as long as 20 years without seeing real progress. "That process cannot in that case continue indefinitely without some route to resolution, and that requires resources and effort. And unfortunately we haven't seen that."

Asked about the Idle No More movement, federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair voiced a similar opinion on the importance of settling first nations issues. "You can't have sustainable development in Canada unless you come to grips with the challenge of a proper settlement of outstanding issues with first nations. It's part of the job," Mr. Mulcair said. "So, we think that that should be made a priority."

Mr. Dix joined Mr. Mulcair and other provincial NDP leaders, including Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, for the leaders' summit on Tuesday afternoon. Mr. Dix said the leaders are all focused on economic issues, "as you'd expect these days."

He said that he would like to see greater investment in skills training as a means to improving productivity. "We have a major skills shortage in virtually every sector in British Columbia," he said, adding that he believes other NDP leaders share his concerns.

Mr. Dix brushed aside questions on whether the provincial NDP faces a balancing act in managing its social and environmental priorities with economic development, noting that his concerns with the Northern Gateway pipeline are focused on one particular project.

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"It's not that first nations or B.C. are against economic development, but this application, we don't think is in the provincial interest," he said. "I think the overwhelming majority of British Columbians are pro-economic development, and I think the overwhelming majority of British Columbians are against Enbridge Northern Gateway."

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