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Treaty vote to put rebel politician's loyalty to test

Blair Lekstrom is seen in this January 17, 2009 file photo in Victoria.

Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press

Maverick politician Blair Lekstrom, who was only returned to the B.C. cabinet in April after almost 10 months in political exile, is risking his cabinet post by threatening to vote against a first nations treaty on Thursday.

Two weeks ago, Premier Christy Clark helped young members of the Yale First Nation load a time capsule to mark the introduction of the legislation that will ratify the treaty.

On Wednesday, Mr. Lekstrom said he is considering breaking with cabinet solidarity over that bill, which is set to go to a final vote on Thursday afternoon as a centrepiece of the legislative session.

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"I do have concerns with it," the Transportation Minister told reporters. As a B.C. Liberal backbench MLA, he voted against the two other modern-day treaties brought before the B.C. legislature, saying the treaties create preferential treatment for natives.

Mr. Lekstrom acknowledged the rules are different for cabinet ministers, who by convention cannot break with government legislation. "That's the parliamentary process we are in, certainly," he said, but added: "I can't change my principles, whether I am a private member or a cabinet member."

Mr. Lekstrom quit cabinet last July over his government's introduction of the HST. It was Ms. Clark, who was sworn in as Premier in April, who brought him back.

Now, Mr. Lekstrom may be the first to test the new Premier's discipline. Ms. Clark would not comment on what she would do if Mr. Lekstrom does vote against the treaty. "We'll see what happens when we get closer to that vote. We'll follow it up."

Mr. Lekstrom said he is still reviewing the fine print before he decides if the Yale treaty contains the same elements as the Maa-nulth and Tsawwassen treaties that he previously opposed.

When he voted against the Tsawwassen treaty in 2007, he said he opposed self-government and tore apart the treaty, point by point. Although it was a free vote in the House, it was thought then that he'd ensured he would never make it into cabinet. A year later, the Peace River South MLA was named minister of community development.

Mr. Lekstrom indicated his fundamental position on treaties – that they must not give first nations rights that are not available to other British Columbians – has not changed.

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"Obviously it is very important for British Columbia to reach these treaties and I've certainly made my views known in the past, based on my belief that I want to build a stronger province for everybody combined," he said.

Mr. Lekstrom would not say if he intends to stand up and vote against the bill, or if he would simply absent himself when the bill is presented for final reading.

Government whip Ben Stewart has given Mr. Lekstrom the option of avoiding a confrontation. The Transportation Minister has been granted leave from House duties on Thursday to take part in meetings, Mr. Stewart said. "I'd like to have everyone here for the vote," he said. "But he may have to miss it."

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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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