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How Campbell changed his view Add to ...

Mr. Phillip's remarks stand in deep contrast to the enthusiastic approval he offered the Premier less than a year ago.

"Premier Campbell has proven himself to be an exceptional, extraordinary, visionary leader in this province," Mr. Phillip told the Liberals' annual convention last November, where he earned a standing ovation.

It was a stunning endorsement, given the Premier's past rocky relationship with the province's aboriginal community.

Ten years ago, as leader of the opposition, Mr. Campbell mounted a fierce campaign against the Nisga'a treaty, calling it an "untried, impractical, bureaucratic nightmare" that would entrench "inequality based on race."

(The Tsawwassen treaty he will defend in debate next week is, in essence, no different than the Nisga'a deal.)

In his first term as Premier, Mr. Campbell pressed ahead with a province-wide referendum on land claims, an act widely denounced as racist and divisive.

So it came as a surprise when, after winning a second term in 2005, Mr. Campbell revealed that he had reached the New Relationship accord with aboriginal leaders.

Mr. Campbell said this week that his attacks on the Nisga'a treaty were wrong.

"A lot of the things I was concerned about in 1998, the observations about the Nisga'a treaty, were not correct. ... Frankly the Nisga'a treaty has done quite well for the Nisga'a people and I think it's done well for British Columbians."

The Premier championed the Kelowna accord, a national plan brought in by the federal Liberal government to spend $5.1-billion to improve the lives of Canada's aboriginal peoples.

He denounced the federal Conservative government when it failed to deliver on the accord.

And then, two years ago, he promised to deliver real, measurable change to native people's lives: "In 10 years, the education gap's closed. In 10 years, the health gap is closed. In 10 years, first nations people are part of the economic future of the province," he vowed.

The commitments won him a string of accolades. Mr. Fontaine called him one of the "most effective voices in the country" for aboriginal people. And in the poverty-stricken native community of Ahousaht, the Premier was given an aboriginal name, Chamatook, meaning one who is able to do the right thing and bring harmony.

But Chief Kelly of the Sto:Lo Nation believes the Premier has moved on to other issues.

"I think the Premier, Gordon Campbell, suffers from attention deficit disorder," he said. "He gets a new project in his mind and it might last to the end of the week or it might last to the end of the day. And that's what the New Relationship is suffering from. The Premier is good at making speeches but it doesn't move into action. So there's incredible frustration."

When he set out his targets two years ago, the Premier acknowledged there would be pressure to produce results: "I'm going to be upset in two years if there's not progress."

Last week, his government provided a list of initiatives that have flowed from the New Relationship, such as $51-million this year for aboriginal language and culture programs, and postsecondary, housing and health initiatives.

But are aboriginal children healthier, better educated, facing better economic circumstances?

"You are not going to have the entire world transformed in two years," Mr. Campbell said. "But any objective observer watching what is taking place in British Columbia will say we are acting in good faith with first nations, we are acting constructively to try and build the kind of foundation that is essential for us to succeed in closing the gaps."

For the 372 members of the Tsawwassen band, the $120-million treaty, if ratified by the federal and provincial governments, will provide some of the tools for a better life: Cash, a share of the salmon fishery and 724 hectares of territory - some of it prime agricultural lands expected to be converted for port-related development.

Chief Phillip said that may help in Tsawwassen, but most other native communities are being left behind.

"Situations in our communities are worsening," he said.

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