Forestry agreements expose Premier Horgan’s rhetoric inconsistent with actions

Jun 21, 2021 | Blog, Environment, Indigenous | 5 comments

When it comes to Indigenous relations and forestry, Premier Horgan’s words contradict the actions of his government.

An exchange with my colleague Sonia Furstenau in budget estimates, exposed Premier Horgan’s willingness to leverage the principle of free, prior and informed consent, an important component of reconciliation that we committed to when we passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA) in 2019, even while his government continues to use Forest & Range Consultation and Revenue Sharing (FCRS) agreements.

The FCRS were developed by the BC Liberals a decade ago and are Aboriginal rights-denying agreements. The current BC NDP Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, Hon. Murray Rankin, is advancing FCRS agreements on behalf of the province. The objective outlined in the agreement is to “assist in achieving stability and greater certainty for forest and range resource development on Crown lands within the Traditional Territory.”

These agreements are about securing the Crown interests, not a model of shared decision making as Premier Horgan claims is the goal of his government. If his goal was shared decision making on the land base why has the government signed dozens of FCRS agreements this year alone?

When Sonia asked Premier Horgan about a clause that limits vocal opposition to the agreement, he said, “This is not about: “Sign here and forever hold your peace.” But when you enter into an agreement – again, these are contractual arrangements – party A and party B agree to certain things. Certainly, it’s not the intention to muzzle. It’s not the intention to not speak out. I would assume, and I would expect and demand, that agreements are entered into freely and fairly. Free, prior and informed consent is a component part of that. The member is shaking his head in disagreement.”

It’s true, I was shaking my head. Not because I disagree with free, prior and informed consent, but because as the Premier knows this is hardly a fair representation of the negotiating table when the provincial government offers the FCRS. These agreements show that while Premier Horgan’s government is saying one thing about embracing Aboriginal rights, title and sovereignty, they are doing another.

In this excerpt from an article published in the Globe & Mail, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip (President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs) offers a straight-forward description of what John Horgan’s BC NDP is doing with respect to these forestry agreements.

“It puts a brown face on accelerated old-growth logging and I totally reject that. I find this so offensive, preying on the poverty of First Nations people,” he said.

Instead of advancing options for conservation of old growth as Grand Chief Phillip is asking, the BC NDP continues to use FCRS agreements, also known as benefits agreements. They were designed by the BC Liberals to root the status quo Crown forestry policy. They offer just a fraction of the value of the timber resources extracted from the territory in exchange for silence. As Premier Horgan noted for Indigenous leaders who are considering contradicting him, “these are contractual agreements.” Regardless of how the Premier chooses to characterize the agreements in budget estimates, the threat of a lawsuit or the money drying up always looms.

Premier Horgan’s former Minister of Forests, Doug Donaldson, called the benefit agreements “take it or leave it agreements.” Take the money that is offered, and all the conditions in the agreement or leave the money on the table, which few Indigenous Nations can afford to do after governing within the restrictions of the Indian Act for decades.

The Premier knows full well that the conditions under which these agreements are signed are far from “free and prior” consent. For him to suggest anything else is insulting.

The Premier’s rhetoric is dangerous, yet he presses ahead anyway because it provides him cover for his total failure of leadership on forestry reform and his promises to protect old growth.

Even as Premier Horgan talks about how his administration embraces Indigenous rights, title and sovereignty, the big machine of the provincial government, which he controls, continues to grind away. As a result, many Indigenous leaders are left frustrated and exasperated – a long way from the shiny picture painted by the Premier and his Ministers.

Photo credit: “Recognizing and Protecting the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” by “Province of British Columbia” is licensed under “CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

5 Comments

  1. Jill Tarswell

    Thanks Adam for continuing to expose John Horgan’s NDP lies. It is astounding that in 2009 he and other BC NDP MLAs introduced petitions to protect old-growth forests and ban raw log exports? Since 2009, the NDP introduced at least 12 separate Old Growth petitions, yet have done nothing about it since they came to power. I am so sad for the First Nations who have to deal with these greedy colonial governments who refuse to grasp what UNDRIP or Truth and Reconciliation entails.

    Reply
  2. Catherine Korven

    Huge disappointment in John Horgan and the NDP Government. Broken promises to all British Columbians and our indigenous peoples. Absolutely disgusted to see how dishonest and money hungry they really are.

    Reply
  3. Delbert Good

    The current deforestation is not acceptable, I live in the northern region and it is not uncommon to see 26-30 logging trucks go by our community each day.

    Reply
  4. Rosemary Baxter

    In a conversation this morning with a friend in Victoria she made a very interesting comment. She feels the only way the provincial NDP can survive is to get rid of John Horgan! We’re both very long time supporters of the NDP at both levels, but not anymore. I strongly agree with her comment. And continue to wonder how his MLA’s can face themselves in the morning, knowing they are selling their souls – for what?

    Bryan Adams is right. In the next election Mr. Horgan has to go. For the sake of our old growth forests I feel he should leave now.

    Reply
  5. John Mullane

    The of worst part of BC timber management is that there is an incentive to transfer raw logs out of the province for sawmilling. Multinational forest corporations can void paying full stumpage and income tax in BC by selling at below market prices to their American affiliates. BC gets neither the full revenue from their timber nor the jobs.

    The real profits from our timber ends up in the Cayman Islands untaxed. I know because I did the accounting for a multinational forest corporation.

    Reply

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