During the snap election last fall Premier John Horgan promised to implement all the recommendations from his Old Growth Review Panel and a paradigm shift in landscape and ecosystem management.
I expected to see these promises reflected in budget 2021. So, it came as a surprise when reviewing the budget that the situation was worse. Not only was there no new money for old-growth protection or conservation financing to support economic development for Indigenous people, but we see the budget for Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations has been cut.
It is difficult to see how the BC NDP government is going to be able to deliver on their commitments and I asked the Minister of Finance to provide clarity.
The Premier promised, during the recent snap election, to implement all the old growth review panel’s recommendations, including immediate protections for at-risk old growth, and a paradigm shift with fully funded transition plans for communities.
As the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and conservation groups have made extremely clear, a shift away from old growth logging simply will not happen without adequate funding, including conservation financing and funding for Indigenous-led protected areas. Yet, there is nothing in this budget. The Wilderness Committee called this lack of funding “A recipe to increase division and conflict over old growth forests in this province.”
My question is to the Minister of Finance, who ultimately is responsible for what is and what is not in the budget. Where is the funding needed to support the promises made to protect old growth and support communities through a shift in our forestry sector?
Hon. S. Robinson:
Our government is committed and dedicated to implementing the recommendations of the independent panel on old growth. You will see in the budget that we have increased forestry’s budget by $44 million this year, over the previous budget.
Again, I want to say that this important work has already begun. The important work of engaging with all interested parties is absolutely critical. We want to have a solution that works for everybody and making sure that we engage with Indigenous governments across the regions are absolutely critical to making sure that we can do this important work.
Member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
The Minister of Finance, when pressed by the media on how they would fund enhanced old growth protection, said it would come from within FLNRO’s budget. This morning, the Finance Minister on CBC said the forestry budget was increased, which is not highlighted. The Finance Minister knows that the FLNRO budget is actually decreasing, $41 million this year, $30 million next year.
As Andrea Inness from the Ancient Forest Alliance said: “Despite promising a complete paradigm shift in the way B.C. forests are managed, the NDP Government’s 2021 budget is bereft of meaningful solutions to make it happen.” This budget confirms what many have been worried about: that the B.C. NDP’s promises to do things differently on land use, on forestry, and on old growth protection are just empty words.
My question is actually Andrea’s question from their press release yesterday. Again to the Minister of Finance, who is responsible for these decisions: “How does the province expect to protect ancient forest ecosystems, support communities, and overhaul its forest management regime with less funding than it had before?”
Hon. S. Robinson:
Again, I want to point out just how important that work is, and that the work has already begun. The forest minister’s diligently engaging with all interested parties. We have increased forestry budget by $44 million this year, over last year. It is in the budget.
I also want to point out that we did provide — and perhaps this might be helpful to the discussion — we did provide emergency funding for an additional $85 million last year in the midst of the pandemic, because it was a pandemic. I do want to point out that we do have a significant pandemic and recovery contingency, should we need to continue to support the forestry sector as part of the pandemic and as part of our recovery.