Budget Estimates: Forests, Lands, Natural Resources & Rural Development

Budget Estimates: Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development

The B.C. Green Caucus had one hour in budget estimates with Minister Doug Donaldson (Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development).

It is a massive Ministry with responsibility for many aspects of our province. My colleague Sonia Furstenau and I have spent a lot of time over the past few years asking about the BC NDP's plans for protecting productive, high value old growth forests.

I start my questions seeking some clarification on the definition and some confusion on the statistics for the last remaining old growth forests before venturing into a few other topics that I have not asked about until now.

There are two issues in Saanich North and the Islands and in other communities on our coast that continue to be really problematic. First I ask about the proliferation, lack of regulation and enforcement of mooring buoys in our bays and inlets. Those questions are followed up by another multi-jurisdictional quagmire that no level of government has the ability to regulate or enforce and that is tree-cutting on the Gulf Islands in the Islands Trust area.

There is a lot of work to do on these particular issues but I am certainly going to follow up with Minister Donaldson on both issues as he suggested in his responses because British Columbians on the coast and Gulf Islands deserve to have responsive and accountable governance that is not constantly deflecting responsibility to another jurisdiction.


[Transcript]

A. Olsen:

It was part of a preamble in one of the questions that I asked recently in question period that we're getting to a situation in British Columbia — especially to the minister's final piece of his response, which was around protecting forestry-dependent communities — where the transition needs to happen and needs to happen very quickly, because we will either do that transition now or we'll get to a situation where we'll get to the edge of the cliff and fall off.

So I ask the question. An independent report on the state of B.C.'s old-growth forest was released earlier this year, in anticipation of the government's own old-growth task force that the minister referenced. This report was called B.C.'s Old Growth Forest: A Last Stand for Biodiversity, and it was by Price, Holt and Daust.

It included a number of extremely concerning facts about the state of our old forests in B.C. It found that a vast majority of B.C.'s old growth, 80 percent, consists of low-timber-value small trees and that the majority of productive forest sites have less than 30 percent of their natural old trees, with nearly half having 1 percent of their old growth.

Given that this report used publicly available provincial data, can the minister confirm the accuracy of the report's findings?

[11:20 a.m.]

Hon. D. Donaldson:

To the interim leader of the Green Party, I appreciate the question. We appreciate that the independent scientists' report — independent in that they don't work for the provincial government — included the ministry data, and it's great they were using a consistent data set. That's been pretty important. What I've discovered over the number of years being the minister is that there are varying data sets out there, so I'm appreciative that they used the ministry data set.

We've been focusing our analysis on the independent panel's report, the one that we commissioned on old growth, completed by Al Gorley and Garry Merkel. We've not verified the findings with the Price, Holt and Daust report. I have met with two of the three authors of the report. As well, the senior management team leading our old forest review has met — just last week, I believe it was, or late July — with the Price, Holt and Daust authors.

We're happy and pleased to meet with the three authors again during the engagement process following the public release of the panel's report. At this point, we're committed to engaging on a panel report after the public release.

A. Olsen:

What analysis has the forest analysis and inventory branch of the ministry undertaken to validate the findings of the report? And if there is any, when will it be done, and will it be made public?

Hon. D. Donaldson:

To the member, the forest analysis and inventory branch hasn't yet undertaken analysis of the Price, Holt and Daust report. The forest analysis and inventory branch, as part of our team, is focused on analyzing the independent panel's report on old growth completed by Al Gorley and Garry Merkel.

[11:25 a.m.]

As I said already, we and the senior management team put together for the analysis of the independent panel report has met with Price, Holt and Daust to better understand their findings. When we do the public release of the panel's report, as part of the engagement process, we'll be pleased to meet with the three authors that I have mentioned. Of course, before and as part of the public release of the panelists' report, we'll be first and foremost engaging with government-to-government relationship with First Nations to formulate any policy changes that may occur as a result of the panel report.

The final part of the member's question was: once forest analysis and inventory branch work is completed on the Price, Holt and Daust report — once we're finished with the panel report — will it be released publicly? And, yes, we commit to that.

I also make note that when I met with…. It was actually with Price and Daust, when I met with them, I asked about the report and whether it had been submitted to the independent panel that we convened, because the report final version came out in May, I believe. The panel's submissions were due by the end of March or earlier. I was told by the authors that they had put a draft of the report into the independent panel and was assured by them and confirmed by the panel that they received the report and took it into consideration in creating their recommendations.

A. Olsen:

In budget estimates and in question period, I and my caucus colleagues have been asking a lot of questions around old growth. We've asked questions about the definitions of old growth for three years now. I want to just….
Before I move on to a different subject, I just want to reiterate the comments that the minister made with respect to public confidence and the definitions of old growth, how much is left, what's high value, low value. All of this is very confusing for many people. I think that it is important for this government and for future governments, if they are going to have the confidence of the public on this issue that they get those definitions and those numbers very clear and they make them public. And they be defensible. Because this has been a frustrating exercise over the past three-and-a-bit years. Unless those numbers get clarified, it will continue to be a frustration for British Columbians.

I'm going to switch gears here now to tenures and the increasing number of boats in bays and inlets. The minister knows that this is an issue that's been in front of me for quite some time. It's been actually an issue that's been growing on the coastal communities for the past decade, for maybe even a generation. It was an issue that I was introduced to when I first got elected to the district of Central Saanich, and that is the regulation of mooring buoys in the sheltered bays and inlets. In my riding, I can just name four: Brentwood Bay, Tsehum Harbour, Ganges Harbour and Burgoyne Bay. They've all got a proliferation of boats, and it's been exponential growth.

In some cases it's making actually boating very difficult to get in and out of established marinas, because there is very little regulation and very little coordination that I can see between the federal and the provincial government. There are currently few or maybe no tools in place for communities to address the social and environmental issues that come as a result of this. Bays and inlets are clogged, barely passable. Each winters boats sink, and rarely do the owners take the responsibility of the cost. It then just gets borne by the taxpayer.

With no enforcement comes other challenges. The federal and provincial governments have basically had a staring contest on this one. That's what's happened in Central Saanich, Salt Spring Island and other places up and down the coast of the province. The district of Central Saanich was finally successful in getting a licence of occupation for Brentwood Bay. However, the province essentially said our problem is now your problem. They basically downloaded it to the district.

[11:30 a.m.]

No small community, whether it be Central Saanich, North Saanich or Sidney can accept all of the liability that is carried by having the licence of occupation. Essentially, what the district has been asking the province is whether or not they will share in the cost of the liability, that they'll share in the cost if a boat sinks, in disposing of that, as an example. But this government has done what past governments have done, and there has not really been much difference in this.

To the minister, Central Saanich is approaching the capital regional district to help with the problem. If the CRD steps in to help with the management, will this provincial government step up to share in the liability of this issue?

[11:35 a.m.]

Hon. D. Donaldson:

Apologies for the delay in answering. It is a complex topic, because of so many jurisdictional overlaps. I appreciate the member bringing this issue to my attention almost immediately after I became the minister. I have learned a lot more about this issue from him. I have had lengthy discussions with staff around the topics that he brings to me on this.

So he's correct. There are many players involved — Transport Canada federally; the Coast Guard federally; local government, as he's already outlined; ourselves as the specific regulator when it comes to moorage, because the ocean floor is considered provincial jurisdiction and under the ministry I represent.

So specifically to the Brentwood Bay situation, there were meetings just as recently as February with all the players that I just discussed as well and the district, of course, this local government and the specific responsibility we have, as regulators, with respect to the licence. We will continually be involved with those who we issue tenures to and, in this case, the licence of occupation.

The suggestion on the district pursuing cost-sharing on the liability, with the CRD is something that we would like to learn more about, and we're willing to meet more on that front. The legal opinion that we have, from our legal staff, is that the liability with respect to these kind of tenure allocations is the responsibility of the tenure holder.

However, as I said, I'm not shutting doors. I've asked staff to…. And please, the member could encourage the district to share information around the cost-sharing initiative that they've proposed with the CRD, and we're willing to meet with the district more on that.

A. Olsen:

So I've heard for years — I've heard for basically a political generation — that this is a complex issue. The multi-jurisdictional issue makes it complex.

I guess one of the challenges that I have with that is that if we recognize that it's complex…. One of the things that we learned in Brentwood Bay, as an example, is that when those parties got around the table, we could sort it out.

I understand that it's a complex, multi-jurisdictional issue, and I understand that as a response, but I don't think that that is, frankly, acceptable when we've had a situation that has been persisting for a very long time and is not being resolved.

Basically, what's happening in Brentwood Bay now is we've got mooring buoys with chunks of dock attached to them, multiple boats. There is basically a party float out there. None of this is legal, from what I understand the situation to be, and no level of government is taking responsibility for it. So it just proliferates. It just continues.

That's not to say that there isn't potential housing solutions for people living on-board boats. That's all aside on this. But what is right square, centre that we should be looking at, is that if we're going to have a responsibility, then we have to have the enforcement. Otherwise, what's the point?

[11:40 a.m.]

So if I'm correct in hearing the minister, if the district did not accept that licence of occupation, then the tenure holder would be the provincial government, and it would be the responsibility of the provincial government to actually enforce this situation. If that's the case, why is the provincial government not doing that and creating incredible headaches and social challenges in these communities up and down the coast and then basically looking to local governments to lean on property taxpayers to foot the bill of what is essentially a provincial responsibility?

[11:45 a.m.]

Hon. D. Donaldson:

I can hear the frustration in his voice. It is a situation that when you have a number of jurisdictions and you see the problem, as he's described, proliferating and yet there doesn't seem to be a coordinated response, it can be absolutely frustrating to the people who live in that area and see this going on.
The member asked about compliance and enforcement and accountability. Part of the solution we heard from local government was tenuring. That's why we, at the request of local government, pursued a form of tenuring, the licence of occupation. Part of the reason I believe the local government wanted to achieve certain amount of control was to, for instance, have the ability to prevent vessels coming in to use the moorage — prevent those ones that were in imminent danger of sinking or for safety concerns or those kind of things.

When a vessel does sink, that's Transport Canada's responsibility, federally. The majority of the enforcement and regulations, once the moorage is attained, are a federal government responsibility. However, as I described before, we're willing — our staff is more than willing — to sit down with the district around their pursuit of more support from the CRD around liability. We're very willing to keep the discussion going on trying to solve this issue, because it is an ongoing and difficult one.

A. Olsen:

Just one final question here. I recognize I'm getting to the end of my time. But I do want to highlight another issue that's relevant in my riding. It's also an issue that highlights some of the lack of coordination between the various levels of government and the multiple jurisdictions. This is with respect to the forests on the southern Gulf Islands.

You would think that the Islands Trust with their mandate of preserve and protect would do that — would preserve and protect the southern Gulf Islands — especially considering that there's a trust called the Islands Trust that was set up to preserve and protect the Gulf Islands on behalf of all British Columbians. It is a great idea, and generally, it's worked, except it has not preserved and protected, for example, some of the last remaining of the coastal Douglas fir on the coast.

I began receiving messages that entire properties were being clearcut, and residents asked that I step in to stop it. I learned that there was nothing that I could do. When I talked to the Islands Trust trustees, I learned that they also had no powers to stop it granted to them through the Islands Trust Act. When the Islands Trust was created, they were not given the same powers as municipal governments to regulate tree cutting. This power is granted through the Community Charter to the Local Government Act. So it's a result that both the provincial and local elected representatives have their hands in the air with no ability to actually preserve and protect the last remaining stands of Douglas fir on the British Columbia coast.

The provincial government has had, in the past, the Douglas fir and associated ecosystems conservation partnership. The goal was to provide sound science, conduct education outreach, cultivate effective partnerships, facilitate securement of additional protected ecosystems and support active ecosystem management.

[11:50 a.m.]

From what I can see, this has been ineffective on the southern Gulf Islands. While the politicians have been obfuscating, the chainsaws have been roaring. To the minister, a difficult and complex policy area but a simple question: does he support amending the Islands Trust Act to grant the local trust council similar powers to a municipal elected council to have the ability to regulate tree cutting?

Hon. D. Donaldson:

I want to describe the situation around whether, in the instance where harvesting is happening on private managed forest land, we have conducted a review of the Private Managed Forest Land Act and the Private Forest Managed Land Council, and we'll be coming up with recommendations from that to address that particular situation. But that's not the situation that he is describing. He's describing amending the Islands Trust Act to enable the regulation of tree cutting on private property under that act.

It's our understanding that that act falls under the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. I will tell the member that I will pursue his request with the minister responsible for that act, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, I can't presume to talk to an act, specifically, that this ministry isn't responsible for. But I will pursue it with the responsible minister.


Photo credit: TJ Watt


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