Palmer: BC minister says he’s ‘interested’ in discussing Land Bill plans. Actually?

Opinion: The government wants to be able to conclude these agreements without having to go through the legislative process each time

Get the latest from Vaughn Palmer delivered right to your inbox

Article content

VICTORIA — Lands Minister Nathan Cullen now admits he should have informed the public in advance about NDP legislation to establish joint management of Crown lands with Indigenous nations on a consent basis.

“I would have liked to have been proactive in terms of bringing it to broader public attention,” Cullen told me in an interview Wednesday, after admitting that his failure to do so “has raised some fears.”

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

The New Democrats informed selected stakeholders earlier this year of their intentions to amend the Land Act to allow co-governance with First Nations of the 95 per cent of the province that is currently Crown land.

A post on Engage BC on the Cullen Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Management government website invited “written submissions” on the proposal from those in the know. “The province wants to know your opinion on sharing decision-making regarding the use of public lands.”

But Cullen did not make any kind of public announcement (press release or otherwise) to solicit public comment.

The mistake sparked a backlash when The Vancouver Sun and other news organizations reported on the government’s intentions and its little-noticed call for public presentations.

Cullen initially defended the lack of publicity of the consultations.

“I’m happy to be involved,” he told Simi Sara on CKNW on Tuesday.

“I think there’s a narrative or a sense that there’s something defensive about the government or something that’s not being forthright about it,” Cullen admitted this week. “But it is quite the opposite. We are interested. “We really want to talk about this.”

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Never mind that the only reason he was talking about it was the backlash for not directly informing the public about a decision with far-reaching implications for virtually the entire province.

On Wednesday, Cullen came down and admitted – “humbly,” as he put it in our interview – that he had made a bad decision.

He described criticism from Green MP Adam Olsen, leader of the House of Greens and a member of the Tsartlip First Nation on Vancouver Island, as “fair comment.”

“To leave this without a press release, without information, without explaining to people exactly what is happening, without reminding people that this was part of a process that we started in 2019, I think the government has made some missteps. ”Olsen said. in an interview with CHEK TV. “And I think they owe it to Indigenous leaders to clean that up.”

The minister agreed that the Green MLA’s last point, about the impact on indigenous leaders, was particularly apt.

If a proposed agreement between the government and the indigenous community fails, “most of the backlash will affect the First Nations,” Cullen acknowledged.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Even when the government is to blame, some members of the public “will take it out on the local First Nation.”

Take the current discussion over a wharf management plan on the Sunshine Coast, for example. The province and local First Nation issued a statement Friday deploring “racist” attacks and threats against Indigenous people.

“We have to get our process right,” Cullen said, adding that if there were any consequences for Indigenous leaders for the failed consultations on the Land Act, “I take full responsibility for that.”

Still, that leaves controversy over the NDP’s intentions with the legislation.

The government’s own engagement survey clearly states that the goal is to give “legal effect” to agreements between the province and First Nations on the joint management of Crown lands on a “consent” basis.

The new law will guarantee that these agreements “shall have the force of law.” Additionally, it will provide the NDP cabinet “with the ability to establish processes to implement agreements in a timely and repeatable manner.”

“Repeatable” note. The government wants to be able to conclude these agreements without having to go through the legislative process each time.

Advertisement 5

Article content

I asked Cullen whether the commitment to “consent”-based agreements effectively gives an exclusive “veto” to First Nations.

“No,” he insisted. The government’s interpretation of the law and the courts is that First Nations are subject to the same principles as the province, no less and no more.

I would wait to see what the legislation actually says about those and other points of concern.

Cullen also backed away from the plan, outlined on the government website, to start drafting the rewrite of the Land Act in early February, weeks before the consultation process concludes on March 31.

“We’re not going to start writing until the consultation is complete,” he told me. “Doing it well is very important to me.” He considers that the delay is essential to establish “public confidence” in the process.

Still, he insists that the government can continue with the plan of drafting the amendments and introducing them in the chamber at the end of April, and then signing them into law before the legislature adjourns on May 16.

“We can do it this spring,” he assured me.

There is no doubt that the New Democrats have the votes to make it so. But I doubt the spectacle will restore public confidence in a process already tainted by secrecy and government missteps.

[email protected]

Article content

Leave a Comment