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Minister George Abbott and Tribal Chief Liz Logan shake hands during a Treaty 8 First Nations agreement signing at B.C. Legislature in Victoria.GEOFF HOWE/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's commitment to the treaty process is being questioned after it unceremoniously cut ties with the B.C. Treaty Commission's incoming head just two weeks before he was set to start.

Former cabinet minister George Abbott – who was tapped for the position by the provincial and federal government and the First Nations Summit (FNS) six months ago – said Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad informed him of the 11th-hour decision this week.

"The sole reason that was offered was that he was unable to secure the support of cabinet for my Order-in-Council," Mr. Abbott said in an interview on Friday.

"Beyond that, he couldn't discuss what had gone on in cabinet."

Mr. Abbott had just been sitting down for meetings with outgoing chief commissioner Sophie Pierre to plan for next year's activities and ensure a seamless transition on April 2. He said the news came as a complete surprise and left him feeling sad and disappointed.

"I was looking forward to the challenge," he said. "To me, it was not a job; it was a kind of moral and historical mission to take on to try and see what can be done in terms of the treaty process."

Mr. Abbott had twice held the aboriginal relations file while in cabinet.

The reversal has drawn sharp criticism from the other principals. Ms. Pierre, the outgoing chief, called the move "irresponsible" and said it makes her question B.C.'s commitment to the treaty process.

"You hear a lot of discussion about wanting to enter into bilateral economic agreements, but it's not either or," she said. "This particular decision makes one think that [the province] is saying, 'We're not going to do the treaty negotiations, we're not going to take that seriously any more, we're going to go serious with economic development. The point of treaty for First Nations is that there is a very clear relationship between First Nations and the province in terms of economic prosperity that is available in this province."

The FNS said it was "disturbing" that the late decision comes after the First Nations Summit Chiefs' resolution formally appointing Mr. Abbott as chief commissioner.

"The province's blatant disregard for agreement among the principals and processes already undertaken is unacceptable," the FNS said in a statement. "This situation raises questions about our ability to rely on agreements made among the principals and the provincial government's commitment to treaty negotiations in B.C. and to achieving reconciliation with First Nations."

There is speculation that Premier Christy Clark, whose positions Mr. Abbott has been critical of, may have had a role in the decision. Asked about this, Mr. Abbott said he knows "so little that everything I say is speculative at best." The Premier's office would not provide details on government deliberations but said it was a matter of process and not personnel.

The Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation declined to make Mr. Rustad available for an interview, instead issuing a statement that mentioned neither Mr. Abbott nor the reasons for the about-face.

"I have … heard from many First Nations that the treaty process, mandates and negotiations take far too long and they are looking for a better way," read the statement, which was attributed to Mr. Rustad.

Mr. Abbott, who had turned down other offers of employment since being selected for the chief commissioner role six months ago, said he would now focus on his dissertation and return to work at a consulting busines.

"I return disappointed that I won't have an opportunity that, personally, is something of a dream for me," he said. "That said, one doesn't always get to pursue every personal dream."

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