Forest Statutes Amendment Act changes and Indigenous consultation

Oct 26, 2021 | 42-2, Bills, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Video | 0 comments

I welcome many of the much needed changes in the Forest Statutes Amendment Act.

It was a mistake to turn forest planning over to the industry twenty years ago, so it is important that they no longer are responsible for the forestry operations and landscape plans.

In this speech at second reading I recognize these much needed changes away from the “results-based” approach of the BC Liberals but note the proposed changes to Indigenous consultation and engagement falls well short of the promises of shared decision-making and revenue sharing over land and forests in British Columbia that is enshrined in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

The conflict between Crown and Indigenous people has always been, and continues to be, about land. While Premier John Horgan has been willing to talk about rights and title-holders, when given the opportunity to have that relationship enshrined in the statutes, his Minister of Forests’ work falls well short.

I look forward to the opportunity to canvass these issues in much greater detail in the Committee stage of debate.

[Transcript]

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to the Forests Statutes Amendment Act. I have a number of comments on this bill.

I want to start my comments today with raising my hands in gratitude and acknowledgement of the speaker two speakers back, the member for Prince George–Mackenzie. Those that were paying attention will know a lot more about the history of forestry in this province. For those that were not, I encourage you to go call the video. I think that it would be a great teaching tool for kids and for adults alike in learning how we got to where we’re at today. A very honest and open approach to informing us in this House and I think for all British Columbians. So I thank the member from Prince George–Mackenzie.

Anybody who has been paying attention to the dialogue here in this House would know that I and my colleague, the member for Cowichan Valley have been talking a lot about forestry and forestry practices in this province. So it has been with anticipation that we see finally the amendments to the forest statutes.

It was, I think, two years ago or maybe even three years ago now that many of these changes were put in front of us but never brought forward in legislation. So it’s not like many of these changes that we’re seeing in the legislation in front of us right now are new. They were things that the government was considering and then for some reason or another decided to hold off until now to bring these changes.

[3:35 p.m.]
Certainly, the changes around road building and the regulations and rules around where roads can be built and how they can be built were something that was being considered quite a while ago.

As has been mentioned by the previous speaker, this act replaces forest stewardship plans with ten-year forest landscape plans. It requires the government and the chief forester to engage with and consult with Indigenous nations. It requires industry-developed site-level plans to detail specific harvesting and building activities. They must align with the forest landscape plans that have been put in place. It allows the chief forester to set stocking standards and focus reforestation in high-priority areas. It provides broad regulation-making authority regarding all aspects of the legislation. And for much of what’s in this legislation, it is welcomed. The changes are welcomed.

However, I think, to the points that have been made by previous speakers, the question is: does this legislation go far enough fast enough? As has been mentioned by my colleague and by other members, the fact that this transition that’s being proposed here is going to happen over the next eight to ten years is really an indication of the type of urgency that this government is putting behind this — certainly not to the level that I think British Columbians want and certainly not to the level of urgency that I think is necessary in order to protect these really incredible and important biodiverse forests that are more than just a resource for us to extract.

They are home to many, many — countless — species that British Columbians hold dear. I think one of the comments that I saw made when the government was announcing this was that this was about putting people at the centre of forestry policy. I think that actually what we need is to put the forest at the centre of forestry policy. For so long, people and the values that people extract from forests have been at the centre of the decision-making.

That’s part of the reason why we have got to where we’re at, the bleak picture that the member for Prince George–Mackenzie painted with respect to basically an unregulated industry that has clear-cut most of the timber value off the landscape and replaced very little of it. Unfortunately, that is what the result of having people at the centre of forestry policy is about. What we actually need is a government that is going to put those values of the forest, the biodiversity, at the centre of the decision-making.

I think one of the things that was mentioned in the comments earlier was the clause “without unduly reducing the supply of timber” as being one of the main policies that I think has the decision-makers deciding that entire forests will be clear-cut. I take a look at this piece of legislation and note…. I think it’s in section 2.22. We’ll get into that in the committee stage, but it’s that in preparing a forest landscape plan, the chief forester “must consider the following objectives: (a) supporting the production and supply of timber in the forest landscape area.”

As much as has been made about the monumental changes that this government is making in the approach to forests, “without unduly reducing the supply of timber” and “supporting the production and supply of timber in the forest landscape area” is very, very similar language, still having the value of the dead tree at the centre of our decision-making.

I think that it means that as much as is being made of this and the monumental changes that this is going to have eight to ten years from now, the reality at the centre of it is the supply of timber, dead trees. That’s what British Columbia has valued most in the history of this province, dead stuff. Dead fish. Dead trees.

[3:40 p.m.]
I think that what we need to put at the centre of this is living things. You know, one of the things that I’ve talked about often is the W̱SÁNEĆ fishing method, SX̱OLE, the reef net fishery. It’s really based around the number of fish that escape and make it back to their creeks to spawn, because our ancestors knew the value of the renewable resource, those fish that come back.

So our SX̱OLE, our reef nets, were built, manufactured with holes in them. The culture was built around leaving those fish, the first fish at the return of the salmon season, to head upstream ten, 15 days before we would start fishing, meaning a whole pile of life is preserved as it heads back up, so our relatives up the streams could harvest those fish.

One of the biggest changes in world view here in British Columbia 160 years ago was where we placed our value. This government places the value in dead stuff. I think we’ve seen in the history of our province that a far more renewable and a far better balanced relationship with nature was when we valued living things. I think we can do that, and it wasn’t that the Indigenous nation, my ancestors, didn’t develop resources. We were incredible resource developers. We just had our value set and our world view different than the one that’s here now — a far more resilient and renewable resource when you shift that world view.

I do want to talk about the Indigenous consultation piece to this. I heard the minister earlier talking about Indigenous consultation and how one of the, I think, hallmarks of this piece of legislation is that we’re changing…. The minister is proposing to change the rules that the chief forester must follow in consulting and developing a consultation plan in cooperation with Indigenous peoples.

My colleague the member for Cowichan Valley mentioned this earlier — that while the government is giving themselves eight to ten years to transition from the current situation that we have in our forests to the future of forests in this province…. The same minister that is celebrating this is giving Indigenous nations exactly 60 days to respond to requests from the chief forester.

So on one hand, the government is taking eight to ten years, and on the other hand, they’re giving Indigenous nations just a mere two months. Each 60-day period isn’t created equally, of course, because for those of us who grew up in Indigenous communities and understand Indigenous communities across the province, we know that if that consultation happens in the summertime, as an example, it is a much different time to consult with Indigenous nations than if the consultation was to happen in the fall, winter or even early spring.

Indeed, if you were to be paying attention to the work of the First Nations Forestry Council, one of the things they said in a letter that they wrote to the Premier back in September, admonishing this government for it’s flawed engagement process…. The engagement process that was being undertaken by this ministry, this ministry that’s claiming success in Indigenous consultation, was being expedited “during a time of crisis due to wildfires.”

Right in the middle of summer, this government was rushing consultation on the implementation of the intention paper for modernizing forest policy in B.C., rolling out Indigenous consultation right in the busiest time of year and not only the busiest time of year traditionally but also the busiest time of year due to the fact that many Indigenous nations’ entire territories were on fire.

At the same time, they were expected to engage with this government on modernizing forestry, a process which, I should point out, has been really frustrating, considering the fact that the intention paper and the consultation that this government has been undertaking “does not mention or reflect many actions and priority areas of work outlined in the B.C. First Nations forest strategy. The ministry has ignored the input First Nations provided for over a decade regarding changes needed to inform and guide the implementation of the Declaration Act to reflect our rights, legislate joint decision-making, including the current forest revenue-sharing model.”

[3:45 p.m.]
September 8 this letter was sent in. On October 26, we have the minister standing in this House, claiming success in consultation and that this legislation was drafted in cooperation and consultation with Indigenous nations and Indigenous leadership groups. So, quite clearly, the definition of engagement and consultation for this government is different than the expectations with Indigenous leadership. The groups that have been given the job of negotiating on behalf and working on behalf of Indigenous nations…. This letter was signed by 22 or 25, or something, Indigenous nations that have forestry interests in this province.

As I mentioned, this legislation is going to give 60 days for Indigenous nations to respond to consultation, a letter of engagement sent by the chief forester. “The chief forester must (a) offer to meet with an Indigenous governing body that provides notice of its lack of consent…and attempt to achieve consensus….” The chief forester can appoint a facilitator for dispute resolution. The report of the facilitator does not limit the power of the chief forester in respect of…. So even if the facilitator says: “You know what? We land on the side of the Indigenous nation on this one,” the chief forester can still utilize their power to proceed.

In taking a look at the measures that are being put in place, certainly, there are more than are there now. I think that if we were going to celebrate anything, let’s celebrate the fact that there is something there and there wasn’t anything there previously. I guess incrementalism, an incremental step forward, is better than nothing.

In the news release of October 20, last week, it says: “Through the development of forest landscape plans, the amendments will create new opportunities for shared decision-making between the government and First Nations. This is in align with the government commitments to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act passed in 2019.”

This is not. The model that has been put in this act is not shared decision-making. It’s the same colonial approach, just now it’s enshrined in law and not something that the government does on its own accord in order to ensure that Fairy Creek doesn’t happen. Even with the process in the past, Fairy Creek did happen.

So the reality of it is that this government is trying to pass off, in its news releases and in all the rhetoric and when the Premier stands up and the minister stands up and the people celebrate it, that this is shared decision-making. It’s not shared decision-making. This is a notification from the government.

In fact, the minister is quoted in a Business in Vancouver article as saying that the government describes it as a framework for “repositioning government as land manager.” Which I think is a remarkably different approach than one which is a shared decision-making model.

In fact, I think that if I read this to my chief and said look, you know, the government is moving this shared decision-making model ahead and it is repositioning government as land manager, I think there would be confusion as to how that can be the case. How do you have a shared decision-making model where the provincial government is acting as land manager?

Now it is true that the process that has been in place up until this legislation is that we basically shopped out the work to industry. So maybe we’re bringing it back into government, but certainly, you can’t stand and say that this is a remarkable step forward in shared decision-making when, if you actually read the clauses in this act, it’s not. There is nothing in this act that talks about revenue-sharing. It’s completely void of that.

Basically, what it says, is look: that consultation model, which many Indigenous nations have complained about for decades, we’re going to enshrine that into law. After passing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, we’re going to enshrine the thing that we didn’t like into this new law. It says here: “It primarily gives Indigenous voices back to managing the forests on their traditional territory.” It gives Indigenous people and Indigenous leadership the right to comment early on in a process. I guess that could be construed as being “voices back to managing their forests.”

[3:50 p.m.]
However, it’s not a collaborative process. Nowhere this in this legislation does it outline where an Indigenous nation can come forward with their own operational landscape plan, how the interests of the nation can be put together in landscape management planning, how that work is going to be resourced or how it is that the provincial government is working with Indigenous nations within their territory.

In fact, the Premier has stood so often recently and talked about Indigenous rights and title, the titleholders, the owners of the land. That’s not what’s reflected in this legislation that the Premier’s Minister of Forests is bringing forward. That’s convenient language that the Premier can use in order to befuddle and confuse the public. That’s not the framework that this legislation is putting forward. In fact, this legislation is, indeed, doing exactly what the minister says, which is bringing the control back into the provincial government.

Now, perhaps that’s one step closer for Indigenous nations, but it certainly does not reflect the rhetoric of our Premier. And you know, he takes cover with that rhetoric, but I think that it’s important to acknowledge that a framework that reflects the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act is one that is collaborative, that allows Indigenous people to take the leadership at the front end, to approach the chief….

There is nowhere in this that encourages the chief forester to do anything but bring forward the Crown forestry policy to Indigenous nations. It gives them 60 days in order to respond to it. If they don’t…. You know, you want to proceed with caution. But it still puts the power right in the hands of the provincial government.

I think that it’s in stark contrast to, actually, what we passed when we passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. We often refer to it in this place, but it’s not very often that we actually refer to the articles of the Declaration Act to remind the members of government what we passed when we made the commitment to Indigenous nations.

Article 3, the right to self-determination. Article 4, exercise the right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs. This would give Indigenous nations the ability to generate their own forestry plans. Nowhere in this act…. I look forward to talking to the minister about how the actual Declaration Act comes to life, where life is being breathed into that, in this legislation.

Article 8: “States shall provide mechanisms for the prevention of and redress for…(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of lands, territories or resources.” Government at the centre of the decision-making around forests? I’m wondering how that applies.

Article 18: “Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own Indigenous decision-making institutions.”

What’s being outlined in this is a framework that the government is establishing and not taking into consideration the numerous nations in this province and their own decision-making processes. And I recognize that that’s challenging, but that’s the commitment that this government made, and that’s the commitment that progressive governments in this country are making. It’s a commitment to Indigenous nations to sit down and create a process that works for them, based on the fact that the entire lens with which we view the relationship with Indigenous people has changed, and rightfully so.

Article 19: “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the Indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.” This legislation gives the chief forester the ability to proceed even if there is not the consent, from my reading of it. So I think, again, it’s important that we reflect on what it is that we’ve committed to.

Article 26: “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.” This government has been using forest and range consultation and revenue sharing agreements pretty liberally. I think there are 140 of them in this province.

[3:55 p.m.]
Certainly, they have been signed by Indigenous nations. I understand that. However, the fact remains that the members of this government’s caucus, or former members of the government caucus, have rightfully called these agreements “take it or leave it agreements.” In other words, the framework with which we have been operating is that we’re going to cut those trees. “You can either be with us and get something, or you can be against us and take us to court. And by the time that you’re ready to go, the trees will be gone.”

It’s an incredibly difficult and challenging scenario for communities that want to have decision-making and access to resources to be able to work in those parameters — certainly challenging the idea of free, prior and informed consent, considering the fact that basically it’s Crown forestry policy. And in those agreements, it enshrines Crown forestry policy.

What happens to those agreements when this bill is passed? It’ll be a question that I’m hoping to get an answer for, because so many of the laws and policies that we have in place now are in direct contradiction to the commitments that we’ve made. I think that what’s really important to recognize here is that there is a change being made, and the change is a step forward.

However, what’s being proposed in this legislation is still, in my assessment, far, far from what we have committed to when we committed to a different relationship with Indigenous people in this province — a relationship in which Indigenous nations have the ability to determine their own futures. Not in 60 days. Not when the chief forester has it in their mind to advance a cutblock or a forest licence and gives a nation 60 days to respond. That’s a very, very colonial approach to decision-making. That’s not shared decision-making.

Nowhere does it say where the chief forester must engage and work with Indigenous nations that are bringing forward their own management plans over their territories. We’ve seen that. In fact, we heard from the Squamish. We heard from the Kwakiutl. We’ve seen now the Gitanyow create an Indigenous protected area. Where was the province? Talking to their neighbours — that’s where the province was.

In the article that was published, the province didn’t show up to the announcement of the Indigenous protected area. Instead they were meeting with the neighbours. Wonder why they were doing that. That’s a tactic that they’ve always been playing.

You know the Saik’uz have laid out clearly: “You can’t log in our territory unless you are following these values.” And they’ve outlined their values. Where in this legislation is there accommodation for these nations that are standing up and saying we truly…? The government, the Premier himself and…. In fact, I think it was the Saik’uz who said: “We heard what the Premier said in the press conferences around the conflict that’s happening in Fairy Creek, and we realized that there’s an opportunity for us to stand up.”

He talked about rights and title holders, the owners of the land, sovereignty. That’s what they’ve said: “Look, we are now exercising that.” Where in this legislation, this reformation, this celebrated — “We’re engaging with Indigenous nations unlike we’ve ever done before” — does it accommodate for Indigenous nations that are stepping up to do that? I’m very interested in asking the minister about that.

All in all, I think that there is an important update to these laws. I think it is important that we take control and get control over the road construction that’s happening on the landscape. We know that that’s having devastating impact for wildlife. With no regulation of roads, well, you can just imagine what happens on the landscape. Our friend the member for Prince George–Mackenzie talked a lot about that.

[4:00 p.m.]
With that, Mr. Speaker, I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to speak to this legislation. I look forward to the debate in committee stage. And with that, I’ll take my seat. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.

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