Vaughn Palmer: NDP faces major task of selling Land Law changes

An opinion poll finds little support (18 per cent) for First Nations having an absolute veto over land use decisions.

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VICTORIA – BC’s New Democrats face an uphill sales task with the public judging by an opinion poll on their plan to allow co-management of Crown Lands with First Nations.

Almost half of those surveyed said they had “heard nothing” about the government’s plan to amend the Land Act until they were contacted by the Angus Reid Institute, an independent polling agency.

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Another 40 percent said they had heard of it but “didn’t know much about it.”

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Only 13 per cent considered themselves “familiar” with the proposed changes to the proposal to allow co-management of Crown lands with Indigenous nations on a consent basis.

Once informed of the basic outline of the NDP plan, almost everyone (94 per cent) considered it a major change from the more than 90 per cent of the province that is Crown land.

There was little support (18 per cent) for First Nations to have an absolute veto over land use decisions. However, only 23 percent expressed the hard line that indigenous governments should have “no special status” at all.

Nearly 60 per cent argued there should be “meaningful consultation” with First Nations on public lands. Or even “shared decision making” as long as the government has “final authority.”

The pollster found support for “reconciliation” with First Nations, but heard concerns that the changes could “damage the economy” and “discourage investment.”

Almost three-quarters of those surveyed supported a provincial referendum on the issue. A divisive prospect, judging by the bitter aftermath of Australia’s recent referendum on Aboriginal rights. The pollster also warned New Democrats about the political risks of staying the course.

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“When asked how they would vote if this were a key election issue, just over half (57 per cent) of 2020 BC NDP supporters say the party would be their choice again. “Many fall into an undecided camp (20 percent) who are likely to seek more information from the government in the coming weeks about the implications of these proposed changes.”

The poll also pointed to a way out for the New Democrats. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said the government’s timetable (consultations end on March 31 and changes will be enacted before the legislature ends on May 16) seemed “rushed.” A significant minority (27 percent) suggested the process should be scrapped entirely.

But about half suggested the government should extend the timeline until the fall or end of the year. That would take the debate beyond the October 19 elections.

The New Democrats say they will stay the course and pass the legislation this spring. But after admitting that they should have been more proactive in informing the public, they have issued some clarifications on where they are heading with the changes to the Land Act.

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“We are taking the time to get this right and will not move forward on legislation until the compromise is concluded and we have considered the comments,” reads one of the reviews posted on Engage BC’s website.

The government further insists that “the changes will have no effect on tenures, renewals, private ownership or access to Crown lands.”

We’ll see.

The amendments will also not “provide a veto” to First Nations, according to the government. “This has been recognized by First Nations and legal experts.”

First Nations and some legal experts maintain the proposed changes are no big deal. Others disagree: “The magnitude of this potential change to British Columbia’s regulatory and governance regime over Crown lands is unprecedented and could result in an unsustainable Crown lands regulatory and governance regime.” and unviable,” says an opinion published this week by Thomas Isaacs and his associates. in the Aboriginal Law Group of Cassels LLP.

“It is unclear how this shared decision-making would be tracked and communicated to the general public, including what type of record would be available for such agreements and how their geographic application would be clarified. Furthermore, it is also unclear how such Land Act agreements would address overlapping land claims and other competing Indigenous interests.”

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The company hedged its opinion by pointing out that the government has not yet introduced the amendments.

According to Nathan Cullen, Minister for Land, Water and Resource Management, the government will not start drafting the amendments until the consultation ends on March 31.

“We haven’t drafted them,” Cullen told CBC Daybreak North’s Carolina de Ryk this week. “Yesterday I consulted with my officials. The pen has not turned to paper.”

If it is true that pen has not been put to paper, then it is too early to say what the legislation will and will not do.

And if the New Democrats persist in their plan to ram unwritten legislation through the House in the final weeks of the session, it’s also too early to say whether the public will support it.


The Angus Reid Institute conducted its online survey Feb. 6-9 among a representative random sample of 802 British Columbians who are members of the Angus Reid Forum. The margin of error is said to be plus or minus three percentage points, 19 out of 20 times. Details in angusreid.org.

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