Our budget estimates exchange with Minister Katrine Conroy was frustrating.
Sonia Furstenau and I have been questioning Minister Conroy in Question Period for months now and attempted to use the time in estimates to dig into the issues a little deeper. Unfortunately, the pace was dreadfully slow.
During our time we asked the Minister about her approach to old growth protection, the use of Forest and Range Consultation and Revenue Sharing agreements, and deferrals for old growth harvesting in Squamish.
It is clear that Minister Conroy is comfortable deflecting, obstructing and obfuscating at every opportunity. While she holds this space, BC Timber Sales is auctioning old growth cut blocks for clearcutting.
No wonder British Columbians are exasperated by Minister Conroy and Premier John Horgan’s forestry “talk and log” policy.
(Note: I have added the previous question from my colleague Sonia Furstenau, as well as the response from Minister Conroy to provide context.)
I don’t even know where to start with that, but I suggest that maybe the minister have another meeting with Karen Price, Dave Daust and Rachel Holt, and they can explain the difference between the very rare, high-productive old growth…. Not to diminish in any way the other old growth in this province, but there is a significant difference between sub-alpine forest and the valley bottoms of old growth that are astonishingly rare and not afforded the care that they should be.
I’m going to just leave it on one last question, and then and I’ll hand it over to my colleague from Saanich North and the Islands. The minister just mentioned engaging with nations. I’m just going to read into the record a statement that came out from Squamish Nation today. The Squamish Nation formally gave notice to the province of B.C. to defer old-growth logging for two years in the nation’s 690,000 hectares while the nation develops long-term sustainability plans.
So 78,000 hectares of the nation’s old-growth forest are at risk unless the province immediately halts new clearcuts. These forests belong to the Squamish People and were never ceded. The B.C. government has failed to take immediate steps to implement the urgent recommendations of the old growth strategic review panel, and the Squamish Nation calls on the province to act on its comments and concerns.
The minister likes to speak about the recommendations from the old growth strategic review panel. That’s the point of the first one, which is to engage with First Nations. Squamish is not the only nation that has publicly come out and said that that engagement has not been happening to the extent that they need it to be happening. That very much explains the statement that came out today.
Kwakiutl need it to be happening. It very much explains the statement that came out today. Kwakiutl First Nation has also indicated just this last week that their calls for deferrals on old growth in their territories have not happened and that the province has not engaged.
What the minister doesn’t tend to point to, when she speaks about the recommendations, is recommendation 6, which was the immediate deferral on logging while those conversations were happening. It’s abundantly clear that, while the minister wants to overlook that particular recommendation, more and more First Nations are asserting the need to have those deferrals put into place so that the talking and logging does not continue.
My question is: will she respect and respond to the Squamish First Nation’s request and immediately acknowledge the deferral and the assertion of their rights to put deferrals on those old growth forests in their territories?
Hon. K. Conroy:
I just want to say it’s inaccurate to say that we are overlooking any of the recommendations. We’re not. We’re committed to implementing all 14 recommendations.
They were prioritized. The prioritization was recommended by the independent panel. She said that I refer to recommendation 1 all the time, but that is because it was the No. 1 recommendation under the old growth strategic review. The panel recommended that we engage in those important government-to-government discussions with Indigenous nations before we can even think about deferring any land, because we have to make sure that we have those discussions.
That was critically important. I just want to make sure the member understands why I’m very committed to that.
We also are committed to working with nations. Any nation that has reached out to government we have responded to. We know that work is very critical. In fact, with respect to the Squamish Nation, the ministry has a fairly good working relationship with them, and we continue to work with them. In December of 2020, we reached agreement on a really culturally important area called the Dakota Bowl, and we were able to temporarily defer that area to protect it, as they had asked. We worked with them on that.
Since then, ministry staff have continued to work with the Squamish Nation. I know our district staff have been involved quite a bit on a number of meetings, and they actually have future meetings scheduled to look at deferrals down the road. So we have been working with the Squamish Nation, and I really appreciate their passion, as well, and was really happy that the ministry could be involved in that protection of Dakota Bowl.
I’m looking forward to moving forward on future deferrals as well.
The minister knows the prioritization in the report was recommendation No. 6, the immediate deferral of those sensitive ecosystems. The minister knows that. So to suggest that it’s hierarchical…. There is a commitment that this government has made to always be engaging Indigenous nations. You don’t do that first, to the detriment of all other recommendations, especially the one recommendation that says “the immediate deferral.”
It took the minister ten minutes to come up with an answer for a question. For the last number of weeks, the minister and the Premier have been saying that they’re listening to and will follow the recommendations of Indigenous nations. Squamish has been explicitly clear that they want control. If the minister was committed to the rhetoric that’s been used around recommendation No. 1 and that, and following the wishes of Indigenous nations, the answer to the question would be: “Yes, of course we will defer.”
But that’s not what this has been all about, because over the last number of months, what’s been happening is, while the minister has been answering questions to us in question period about the old growth review panel and the recommendations, saying that you’re working with Indigenous nations to protect old growth, what you’ve been doing is working with nations to sign forestry cutting agreements, the forest and range consultation and revenue-sharing agreements — 40 of them signed in 2021 alone.
So the actual act that this government has been doing is entrenching the exact same agreements that the minister’s former colleagues were criticizing — the B.C. Liberal agreements of the past, the forest and range consultation and revenue-sharing agreements. In those agreements are explicitly, basically, racist clauses that tie Indigenous nations to have to identify what their priorities are and write a report against those priorities.
This is entrenching the stereotype that I’ve lived with my entire life. The minister can think it’s funny….
Well, you’re smiling at me. The minister can think it’s funny, but I’ve been dealing with these stereotypes for my whole life: “You can’t trust Indigenous People with land and money.” That’s what’s in this contract. You have to report. The government can audit an Indigenous nation on their priorities and whether they’ve spent the money that comes with this agreement.
So if we were actually following through on the commitments that the Premier and the minister have been saying around Indigenous rights and title, then the answer to the question about Squamish would be yes. We wouldn’t be signing these old agreements that the B.C. Liberals have brought to the table. We’d be engaging on a completely different path under the UNDRIP, in recognizing self-determination.
Can the minister please answer the question for me around the sections in this agreement that reflect the hierarchy of rights that the Crown…?
Same as the Attorney General. Is it the minister’s perspective that it’s Crown lands, that there’s Indigenous traditional territories and that there’s a hierarchy of rights where we are, in these agreements, entrenching the Crown’s ability to continue with the status quo — timber harvesting in these territories?
Hon. K. Conroy:
I apologize to the member. I’ll try to get to the questions faster, or maybe they can make answers faster. It would be great. There’s a lot here to be able to share with the member.
The member is referring to the forest consultation and revenue-sharing agreements. I just want to say to the member that these are existing tools that are in place. In 2021, there were 120 First Nations that held these revenue-sharing agreements, and there was $60 million in revenue that was shared with these nations. This year, already, it’s estimated $56 million has been in sharing. That’s just to date, and we’re only halfway through the year, so it means further dollars will be shared.
One of the issues that the member is raising is exactly why we introduced the intentions paper last week — because we need a new vision for forestry. We need to modernize our forestry policies. When we’re looking at opportunities for First Nations, reconciliation is all about moving forward towards a better vision, listening to what nations are asking for, working with nations, and bringing the tools in so that we can do that. We’ve been hearing from First Nations all across the province that they want to be more involved in the forest industry and land use management planning in their traditional territories. We have to have the tools to be able to do that.
I want to tell the member I recently made an apportionment decision for Prince George. Our goal is to double the amount of tenure that First Nations have, if they’re involved in it and want it. I made this apportionment decision and substantially increased the tenure for the Carrier-Sekani. When we sat and talked about the decision I had made, he was fairly emotional. He said he’d never thought that in his lifetime he would see a government that had the courage to acknowledge that Indigenous nations had the right to manage the forest industry on their land.
For me, it made me realize we were moving in the right direction with the intentions paper, because we have to ensure that Indigenous nations have that right. We need to have the tools to ensure that they have that right, that they have the ability to manage their land, their tenure, as they see fit. That’s what the intentions paper is all about.
I know the member has referred to these agreements, and I agree. We need to change the way we do business. We need to change the way that First Nations are involved in their own territory, having a voice on what they want to do. That’s why we’re moving forward. That’s why we’re modernizing the industry. The priority for us is ensuring, as we move forward on reconciliation, that that happens.
I find it challenging to hear just the paternalism in the frame of the minister’s answers. The government is saying: “Indigenous sovereignty.” The minister has talked about Indigenous sovereignty. The Premier has talked about Indigenous sovereignty. The minister has talked about title and rights to land. The Premier has talked about Indigenous title to land, yet there’s this contradiction.
Maybe the government can’t hear it, but there’s a contradiction in that. The government is expanding the allowable cut from 10 percent to 20 percent. So on one hand, the government is saying, “We agree. The Premier said in question period, ‘In my opinion, it’s sovereignty. They own the land,’ yet we’re sharing with you. We’re determining the amount that you’re going to get.” Because $60 million, as the share, is a fraction compared to what actually is realized off the land from corporate interests, from the provincial interests, it’s still framed in the Crown’s perspective. All of the minister’s answers are still framed….
This is the grand contradiction that this government is facing right now. On one hand, you say, “You have sovereignty over land, Indigenous People of British Columbia,” and then on the other hand, you say: “We’re giving you an extra 10 percent, to a grand total now of a whole, grand, whopping total of 20 percent of your territory, which we just agreed was yours.”
Then, on the same side of it, the Attorney General will say: “Hold on a sec. The only way that you achieve title is through treaty or through litigation. While that’s going on, government will extend to you an interim agreement that then ties for three years.” The minister can point to the intentions paper, but in the process, the government has signed 120 — there’s about 136 on the website, I think — of these revenue and consultation agreements that go over a period of time.
Forty percent of those have been signed since we unanimously passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. The ministry has been moving very quickly to renew these agreements that require the First Nation to share all of its priorities. How is it the provincial government’s business…? If you actually believe in sovereignty and if you actually believe the title is theirs, how is it the minister’s business to audit an Indigenous nation for whether or not they’re spending the money that is the share that the provincial government is offering?
How is it any of their business as to whether or not they’re spending it to those priorities? Why does it matter? If, actually, the minister believes in title and if, actually, the minister and the Premier believe in sovereignty, why is it necessary to have clauses like clause 11? These are exactly the same tactics that we’ve been trying to move away from, which is to say: “You sign this agreement with us. You can’t speak out publicly against it.”
And not only that. Completely not understanding what it’s like to live in community, to say: “And if a member stands up and speaks out against it, it’s up to the elected leadership or the leadership that we signed this with to pull their community into order.” How does this government not see how inappropriate that is when on CBC, the morning the minister is saying it….
[The bells were rung.]
Member, given the provisions of the sessional order, I will ask the minister to move the motion.
Hon. K. Conroy:
I move that the committee rise and report progress and ask leave to sit again.
Just for clarification purposes, it was my understanding that our estimates were finished at the end of today. Just for clarification.
Please, one second, while I confer with the staff.
Hon. K. Conroy:
So the member knows, I will ensure that he has an answer to his question in writing. Also, if he has any other questions he’d like to put on record, I will ensure to make sure that we answer all of his questions in writing or meet at a future time to make sure we have the opportunity to continue this discussion.