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OPINION: NDP Land Act changes must be stopped, BC United says

‘BC United cannot and will not support veto power over Public Land’
FILE – BC United Leader Kevin Falcon speaks after the former B.C. Liberal Party unveiled their new name and branding, in Surrey, B.C., on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

By Kevin Falcon, Ellis Ross

Public Land makes up 95 percent of our province. It belongs to all British Columbians. Whether it’s for recreational access like hiking, camping, fishing, sledding, or hunting, for dock permits, or activities related to mining, forestry, agriculture or ranching, decisions about Public Land impact all five million of us — First Nations and non-First Nations alike.

When the NDP introduced UNDRIP legislation in 2019, it promised the Legislature 17 times that it would not amount to a veto. Instead, they said it would align with the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling that, while government has a duty to consult and — where required — accommodate First Nations, our Constitution does not provide First Nations with veto power over Public Land.

The NDP’s proposed Land Act amendments show that the NDP misled the Legislature and thereby all British Columbians.

Their plans only emerged after a rushed and secretive so-called consultation process was brought to light. The NDP’s own materials revealed their intent to draft the legislation before the consultation had even concluded. Worse, they plan to implement these massive changes quickly with little opportunity to properly debate them in the upcoming spring session of the Legislature.

The NDP hoped nobody would notice.

Well, we noticed — and BC United has been advocating relentlessly against these ill-conceived Land Act changes since the day they were first exposed.

This week, we put forward our own commitments to ensure decisions about Public Land are made in the public interest.

BC United’s plans include renaming ‘Crown Land’ to ‘Public Land’ to emphasize the crucial relationship between that land and the public interest, from the economy to recreation and much more.

We’ll also ensure that all land management decisions are made by provincial representatives elected by the people acting in the public interest.

Finally, a BC United government will require transparency and timeliness in decision-making and full consultation about Public Land and end the NDP’s pattern of secrecy and non-disclosure agreements on land use matters.

The NDP’s plans to provide veto power for five percent of the population over Public Land, which represents 95 percent of our province, has real implications for everyone.

We all recall when Joffre Lakes Provincial Park was unilaterally shut down for over two months with no notice last summer. The current outrage around dock management in Pender Harbour is another example of the problems that arise when decisions about Public Land are not made in a transparent way that is accountable to the public.

In both of these cases, BC United sounded the alarm — and in both of these cases, it is clear that rather than contributing to reconciliation, providing veto power over Public Land will only fuel division and create more uncertainty for everyone.

We want to be clear: the blame for all of this lies with David Eby and the NDP, not First Nations who are simply doing the important work of acting in the best interests of their communities. BC United is committed to reconciliation and true partnerships that will create more economic opportunities for First Nations, but the current path the NDP is on will have the opposite effect.

We are proud of the work the previous BC Liberal (now BC United) government did to help unlock enormous economic potential for First Nations. It was our government that first recognized the 2004 Haida court case had to be implemented which is exactly what we did as a win-win for B.C. and First Nations.

It was also the previous BC Liberal government that signed over 400 economic agreements and launched an ambitious expansion of Independent Power Projects mostly partnered with First Nations. We intend to re-embrace this cooperative relationship in contrast to the divisive tactics the NDP are currently employing.

We plan to continue that work with innovative new programs like the Indigenous Loan Guarantee Program, which we will implement should BC United form government in October.

But BC United cannot and will not support veto power over Public Land. Because Public Land belongs to us all.

ALSO READ: B.C. NDP minister says land act changes don’t give First Nations veto power

Kevin Falcon is the Leader of BC United, B.C.’s Official Opposition. Ellis Ross is the BC United MLA for Skeena and Shadow Minister for Energy and LNG.