Fraser Forum

B.C. government should properly consult British Columbians about changes to Land Act

Printer-friendly version
B.C. government should properly consult British Columbians about changes to Land Act

It recently came to light via a column by Vaughn Palmer, a longtime commentator on politics in British Columbia, that the B.C. government plans to enact “sweeping changes to managing public lands,” which cover roughly 95 per cent of the province. Specifically, the government wants First Nations to comanage all government-owned land, which includes waterways, agricultural land, recreational properties, grazing fields, telecommunications and energy infrastructure.

The proposed changes, which the Eby government plans to table as legislation this spring, are unprecedented and will damage the province’s investment climate by giving more than 200 First Nations veto power over land-use decisions. If enacted, this might be the most significant legislative change in B.C. history, and one the Eby government hoped to rush through the legislature without full transparency or meaningful public input, and without disclosing any analysis of its economic impacts.

Contrast that approach with how the province dealt with electoral reform in 2004-05.

In the 2001 provincial election, the BC Liberal Party committed to creating a bottoms-up process to assess potential changes in how British Columbians elect their political representatives. In 2004, the government created the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, which included 160 British Columbians from across the province selected through a non-partisan process.

From January to May of 2004, assembly members participated in a 12-week educational process, which included expert presentations, group discussions and reviewing research. From May to June, the assembly conducted more than 50 public hearings and received more than 1,600 submissions from the public. The assembly then deliberated over six weekends in the fall to reach a consensus and issued its final report in December 2004 recommending a new voting system. Then in May 2005, because the issue was considered so fundamentally important to British Columbians, it was subject to a referendum, which required a super-majority of 60 per cent of voters in the province and simple majorities in 60 per cent of the 79 districts (48) to pass.

Simply put, the provincial government took a deliberative approach with abundant time for public consultations and input, and then presented the change to the people for democratic approval. It’s hard to imagine a more stark contrast with the Eby government’s approach to fundamentally change how we manage roughly 95 per cent of the province’s land and water.

The Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, for instance, quietly posted a call for public submissions in January. But as Palmer noted the “ministry did not publicize the invitation with a news release, suggesting the government is not all that keen to attract attention to the exercise.” Submissions will only be accepted to the end of March and are limited to five pages.

In addition, submission guidelines suggest the focus should be on how these changes create opportunities for Indigenous peoples and the province as a whole, potential costs in administration, and accountability and transparency in future land allocation decisions. In other words, the government’s guidelines exclude some of the most important questions about this profound change in public land management. For instance, what are the potential economic and investment implications of this change? Do First Nations have the administrative capacity and expertise to perform these oversight functions? How will this change affect provincial revenues from public lands?

Finally, the government has created a truncated timeline for the introduction and approval of this sweeping legislation. According to the government’s website, it aims to enact this change—that is, establish joint “decision-making” agreements with First Nations—by the spring of this year, meaning within the next few months. This timeline means there will be no broad consultations or engagement with the public before the government tables the proposal in the legislature.

If the Eby government wants to fundamentally change the way 95 per cent of B.C.’s land and water is managed, then it should do so in a more thoughtful, deliberative and public manner so British Columbians have the opportunity and time to educate themselves, engage if they so wish, and reach a consensual democratic decision.

Blog Category: 

Subscribe to the Fraser Institute

Get the latest news from the Fraser Institute on the latest research studies, news and events.