$100 million Watershed Security Fund begins a new legacy for nature and biodiversity

Mar 7, 2023 | 42-4, Blog, Environment, Estimates, Governance, Legislature, Video | 0 comments

And, the BC NDP year-end spending spree continues.

In a contrast to the billion dollars of one-time funding for local governments, Hon. Nathan Cullen, Water, Land, and Resource Stewardship Minister is using the funds allocated to his Ministry to create a legacy. The Watershed Security Fund, to be managed in a partnership between the provincial government and British Columbia First Nations leaders, is a long-term investment that can be added to by government and other interests to ensure there is money available to watershed stewardship in perpetuity.

I don’t have much to say on this one because I believe it is the correct approach and a powerful start to reversing ecosystem decline and restoring nature and biodiversity.


A. Olsen: 

I’m just wondering if the minister can…. The reference has been made a few times now with respect to the B.C.-First Nations Water Table. Excellent name, by the way. How was the water table established? How were the members of that water table picked, or how was it populated?

[3:20 p.m.]

Hon. N. Cullen: 

Thank you, my friend. Welcome to this part of the conversation.

I kind of like the First Nations B.C. Water Table. But anyways, we inherited the structure that we have — the B.C. First Nations Water Table. The creation of this actually originated out of a motion from the FNLC, the First Nations Leadership Council, to direct the FNFC, the Fisheries Council, to develop a terms of reference and approach to this. That was back in September of ’21. Initial meetings happened in June of ’22.

I have the membership list, if it would be of interest to my friend, of who actually sits on the table. I’ve mentioned Chief Hwitsum earlier, who’s the co-chair; Hugh Braker, who my friend would know very well; Peter Erikson from the Necosli; Cheryl Casimer, very high-standing. All of these folks — I’m just looking through the list — Rod Peters, Iris Wallace, Raynaud Star, Robin Loveman, Dina Machin, Julian Yates.

Then there was the First Nations Fisheries Council support. Jordan Point, who I think I see around today, and Jacquelyne Fitchell were on that. That’s on the First Nations side.

We just couldn’t have asked for a better group of folks in terms of developing that approach and the terms of reference, which we established back in June of 2022 to see if the approach that we got to yesterday in the announcement was correct. And that’s been the partnership since then

A. Olsen: 

Just of interest, how is it that the water table and the participation of First Nations, all people who are very busy doing a lot of other things…. How is their participation supported? In order to be able to implement what the priority of this government’s $100 million dollars funding…. It’s all of our priority, of course, but we’ve created this fund now. How are the folks that are participating in this ensuring that they’re able to be able to pay attention to the work that’s needed and being compensated for their efforts?

Hon. N. Cullen:

Thank you for the question. It’s an important one as government — well, everybody — industry, non-profits…. There’s a lot of engagement going on right now.

[3:25 p.m.]

We made a budget. FNFC requested a budget from us, just in terms of covering honorariums, travel costs. We made those moneys available to FNFC. In terms of how that money was dispersed within the First Nations side of the B.C. First Nations Water Table, that was their business.

I would also point out that, although it was not my friend’s question, anticipating the future use of the fund, the larger fund and what grows from it, eligibility of things like capacity building within nations is anticipated. So it’s not simply the work of working in the watershed streams, the biology. One also imagines the participation…. We saw this through some different work, but I think it’s instructive.

The healthy watersheds initiative — one of the things that stood out for me in talking to the leadership within that group, Chief Hwitsum was part of that, was the inclusion of protocol and ceremony in budget lines in all of the projects that were initiated. Maybe that’s a common practice, but I had not seen that before. It stood out to me that, in her reflection, many of the projects that were initiated through that, some of which were from First Nations exclusively, didn’t include costs for ceremonial, and they were sent back and said, “No, you need to add that part in if you’re doing this kind of work,” which is very innovative from my perspective. Certainly not from many others.

But just to return back to the beginning. FNFC requested a budget of us. We made that available so that they could support the membership that, as my friend said, could properly engage and pay attention to the important work that was in front of us all.

A. Olsen: 

I appreciate the response. I appreciate, I think, the different approach that’s being taken here, I think, because of Indigenous engagement and the involvement of it in the decision around where this fund is being created and the information that’s gathered.

I think what’s important is that that’s not just a one-time thing. That there’s going to be ongoing engagement, and to think about maybe part of the money that’s in the fund can sustain the ongoing engagement and participation so that we don’t get into a situation. I’ve raised this in another one of these supplementary estimates where a lot of that technical work, a lot of that legal work, is for the First Nations people to volunteer. I don’t think that’s appropriate, and I don’t sense or believe that that’s what’s happening here.

With respect to…. I’m going to jump around a little bit because then I’m going to hand it back. I only have a few minutes here. My colleague from Cariboo-Chilcotin was asking about the funds and the growth of the funds. Has the ministry considered — perhaps when there are fines levied against industry, or that there’s money being collected because a company has kind of wronged the regulation, or whatever — that that money could then go in and be a part of the sustaining of this fund over the long term?

[3:30 p.m.]

Hon. N. Cullen: 

Thanks to my friend for the question. The decision of making that possible so that for somebody in a violation or through a rental arrangement, the money would go directly into the fund, is an across-the-government policy change that, frankly, is a good contemplation. So one could imagine a future state, but that’s not a decision we can put into this criteria, because it goes beyond our capacity as our ministry. It’s a Finance decision. But it’s a more than interesting notion of user-pay going into the contribution and the restitution of what damage was done.

[The bells were rung.]

The Chair: 

Members, since the bell has run for a big House vote, I will put this meeting into recess. See you back here when we’re done.

The committee recessed from 3:31 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.

[R. Leonard in the chair.]

The Chair: 

Okay, I call the Committee of Supply, Section A, back to order. We’re currently considering the supplementary budget estimates of the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship.

A. Olsen: 

I appreciate the minister’s response prior to the recess. I think that there’s a wide variety of different options for the provincial government to consider going forward. I recognize that we’re not talking about the future; we’re talking about this right now. I think fines is one of them. Fees might be another source of revenue, to ensure that we’re making all of the activity around watersheds, all the activity around water, contributing to water, to the protection of water and to the restoration of water. I think that’s the spirit of this fund, to do that.

I only have a couple of minutes left here, so I just have a question. We’re putting, with this vote, $100 million aside to create a fund for watershed security. The question is around the siloing of the provincial government and the relationship that the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship has with the Ministry of Forests, the Ministry of Mines, the Ministry of Environment. To ensure that work that’s being done…. There is a promise here. The promise is that by including First Nations into this, that the work, the outcomes, will be that watersheds will be secure, that they will be improved and that, hopefully, nature will return to what it once was.

What is the interaction between WLRS, or Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, and Forests, say, or Mines to ensure that what’s going on down here in the watershed is not being distracted by what’s going on up there in the watershed?

Hon. N. Cullen: 

I thank my colleague for the question. He’s of course right, in thinking about watersheds, and that’s the sound advice that we’ve gotten, through the consultation process, with the B.C.–First Nations Water Table.

I read the list of membership. I won’t read the entire list of membership on the B.C. side, but he can rest assured that it not only had representation from my ministry. It also had representation from the Ministry of Forests; Ministry of Indigenous Reconciliation; Ministry of Health — because, of course, drinking water is a hugely important component of this; along with other ministries that were representative and supportive of the B.C. water table, which continues.

So that’s the table, which was engaged in setting up — what we’re creating with the entity that will receive the funds.

The ultimate goal of the fund and the strategy is to think and plan at watershed levels. This is the ultimate cross-sectoral effort that is essentially the genesis of this ministry itself. When we were creating…. I know this is a little bit outside of estimates, but it’s pertinent to the question.

[3:50 p.m.]

In creating this ministry, we spent a great deal of time and consultation to ask First Nations, industry, local government: what’s working, what’s not, when dealing with the provincial government with respect to land use planning or the absence of? How do we build an entity within government, by its design, to do better, to do a more holistic approach in thinking about maritime planning at scale, watershed level at scale and, at the highest level, which is modernized land use planning?

Hopefully, within the next number of weeks and months, we’ll be standing up phases of projects across the province with First Nations. Implicit in them will be the capacity to do exactly this: within a modernized land use plan, the watershed-level specific recovery restoration and then, hopefully, implicating some of those tools that my friend referred to.

So when we set up the water table, it was a cross-ministry. When we do modernized land use planning — as we’re doing and initiating in Treaty 8, Blueberry River, Tahltan and others — it’s cross-ministry by design, and it has to be. The siloing ,I would argue, has been one of the main ways we have failed the ecological imperative that we have as a province because of one not talking to the other. From a local perspective of someone living in the northwest, that was always frustrating and very confusing, and the outcomes were what they were.

A. Olsen: 

I’m actually going to just end my questions there because I have been tracking what my colleague from Cariboo-Chilcotin has been talking and asking about, and I’m confident that the questions are being asked and responded to.

There’s a lot that’s going to happen with this over the next few years that we’ll be involved with. I just want to say that I think that of the initiatives that we are investing in, in these supplementary estimates, this is one of the most exciting areas for me.

As someone who came in here working on salmon policy in the earliest times, 2017, 2018, I was thrilled when the BCSRIF brought $143 million. It seems like these supplemental estimates are…. The $143 million is nothing compared to what we’ve been talking about this past week. We’ve been talking about over billions of dollars, and I think that $100 million is a great start.

I look forward to seeing this fund grow. More than that, I look forward to seeing the coordinated decision-making that the minister was just talking about so that the investments that we’re making in this fund — to improve the watersheds and improve their function and the outcomes for them — are not being diminished by other decisions that are being made in government, which is often what we see.

I thank the minister for the answer, I thank the member for a few minutes here, and I’ll just take my seat.


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