Even though the Environment Minister tried to deflect responsibility, let’s be clear, the lack of species-at-risk and biodiversity protections in British Columbia is not the fault of First Nations. It was a decision by the BC NDP to scrap the process they started more than five years ago.
Even if they want to blame a requirement to consult Indigenous people as the reason the BC NDP were not able to deliver legislated protections for countless species at risk of extinction, they have had ample time to engage and deliver, especially considering Indigenous leaders have been advocating publicly for biodiversity protections all along.
Premier David Eby has made important policy changes that will protect important ecosystems in future land use plans. The problem is that there are hundreds of agreements already signed with First Nations, that will not be impacted by this policy change.
The provincial government needs to provide funds to enable the deferrals the government has targeted, I asked if this was a priority and if Premier Eby will sit down with Hereditary Chiefs who have requested to meet government-to-government and not just the community leaders who agree with them.
Yesterday, my colleague asked the government who stopped the development of species-at-risk legislation. The environment minister stood and blamed First Nations, but that was 2018.
Groan if you want. That’s what he said. So 2018 was when that….
I did. That was before the Declaration Act, and that was also before section 3 in the interim approach. The minister knows, and the minister knows that I know, that First Nations are not the reason that this government is not protecting species at risk or biodiversity. It was terrible and infuriating to sit in this place yesterday and hear First Nations be the scapegoat for this government’s inactions.
While this B.C. NDP government talks, trees die. While they promise a new policy, trees die, because of the agreements made under the old policy. The old agreements paid First Nations for dead trees. Now, the province is proposing to defer logging on 2.6 million hectares, and once again, the agreements that they have in place with First Nations under the old policy is being blamed for the inability to defer the death of these critical forests. To the Premier, are these forests doomed to the death economics and scapegoating of this colonial institution, or will he provide immediate funding for First Nations to defer old-growth logging in their territories?
Hon. B. Ralston:
British Columbians care very deeply about our forests and the many social, environmental and cultural benefits they provide. Forestry is the foundation of British Columbia’s economy. To deal specifically with the question that the member has raised, indeed, following the Merkel report, the future of forests in British Columbia, we have embarked as a government upon a process of deferral of old growth.
That process is a very inclusive one. It includes every First Nation. The responses from various First Nations have been different, but nonetheless, they are all included in that process.
So far 2.1 million hectares has been deferred. We’ve made a commitment, recently, to establish what are called forest landscape tables. Where, in the past, the companies would provide a logging plan, this process will include First Nations, communities, companies, unions and develop an enduring plan that will have community support and provide a new path forward for forestry in British Columbia.
House Leader, Third Party, supplemental.
I’m glad the minister states that his government is working with all First Nations. This should be a fairly easy question for the Premier to answer.
Yesterday I sat in the Mungo Martin big house with Hereditary Chief Walas Namugwis; David Mungo Knox, the head chief of the Kwakiutl; Ma’amtagila Chief Makwala; Rande Cooke; Tom Child and others around the fire. Those chiefs carry the powerful names of their ancestors, names that they looked after and honoured in a good way.
These are the leaders this government has always overlooked and ignored, and that continues. The provincial and federal governments are willfully undermining and eroding the governance structures that have existed on this landscape since time immemorial and elevating people who will, frankly, sign their agreements.
This government promises to protect old growth, but they are clearcutting the territory that the chiefs of Kwakiutl and the Ma’amtagila must protect. The Chiefs have sent multiple letters to the former Premier, the former Ministers of Forests and now the new Premier seeking to meet in a good way, at the fire, to discuss the sacred responsibility that their ancestors left for them.
My question is to the Premier. Will he sit with the chiefs as they have requested?
Hon. M. Rankin:
Thank you to the member for the question. Our government has concluded that we must work with First Nations. Whether that leadership is hereditary, elected or fused, we will work on the ground with them to meet their needs both in forestry and other areas.
Since the Declaration Act was enacted, that Indigenous governing body we take from the nations themselves and work in consultation and cooperation with those nations on issues such as the one that my colleague has raised.