B.C. government’s new land-use law threatens viability of province’s mining industry

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Appeared in Business in Vancouver, June 3, 2024
B.C. government’s new land-use law threatens viability of province’s mining industry

Last month, the Eby government’s Bill 25, which recognizes the Haida Nation's Aboriginal title over the Haida Gwaii archipelago, received royal assent and became law in British Columbia. According to the Supreme Court of Canada, Aboriginal title is a unique type of property right that “encompasses the right to choose to what uses land can be put.” In other words, the Haida Nation now has veto power over all land-use decisions in the Haida Gwaii.

If, as Premier David Eby suggests, Bill 25 becomes a template for the whole province, the resulting uncertainty over land ownership rights could deter investment in many industries including mining.

And based on results from the latest survey of mining executives, that’s the last thing B.C.’s mining industry needs right now. Broadly speaking, the survey measures the attractiveness of jurisdictions based on their mineral potential and government policies. While B.C. ranks as the 17th-most attractive jurisdiction in the world for mineral endowment, the province ranks 32nd out of 86 jurisdictions in terms of government policy, making it the second-worst performing province (only Nova Scotia fares worse).

Indeed, according to the survey (which was conducted before Bill 25 became law), 68 per cent of respondents pointed to uncertainty around protected lands as a deterrent to investment. Similarly, 64 per cent said that uncertainty concerning disputed Aboriginal land claims deters mining investment in the province.

Not surprisingly, investment in B.C.'s mining sector has waned since 2012 when it peaked at $2.8 billion. In 2024, nominal investment is expected to reach $2.4 billion, 15 per cent less than 12 years ago.

Simply put, by introducing more uncertainty to the mining sector, the Eby government will help further deter investment and hurt British Columbians. Consider the significance of the mining industry in the province. In 2022 (the latest year of available data), the mining industry injected $3.7 billion into local economies across 200 municipalities and First Nations communities through economic activity including the purchase of goods and services. And generated export earnings of $22 billion, representing 34.1 per cent of B.C.’s exports. The industry also provided income for more than 15,000 families, paid wages/salaries well above the average, and directly contributed $3 billion in revenues to municipal, provincial and federal levels of government. Less mining investment means fewer jobs, less economic activity and less government revenue for a province already in the red.

Clearly, before using Bill 25 as a template for future legislation and agreements with First Nations, the Eby government should recognize the damage that increased uncertainty around access to Crown land and ambiguity about private property rights will impose on the province. The government should also not finalize any additional agreements that follow the Haida model and instead undertake extensive consultations with non-Aboriginal groups and communities before proceeding with its ambitious reconciliation agenda.

In an attempt to make amends for the past, the Eby government may compromise the future of the province’s economic development and prosperity of British Columbians. No one should underestimate the potential economic harm of such legislation.