Budget Estimates: Engaging Minister Cullen on docks in the Southern Gulf Islands

Apr 9, 2024 | 42-5, Blog, Estimates, Governance, Legislature, Video | 2 comments

Navigating dock management complexities on British Columbia’s coast is a multidimensional challenge for the provincial government. In the Southern Gulf Islands, balancing the post-moratorium backlog of pending dock applications, environmental concerns, and fostering collaborative relationships with First Nations is critically important.

Where there are multiple First Nations with rights and interests an inclusive process must be a priority. Hon. Nathan Cullen (Water, Lands, and Resource Stewardship) acknowledged the complex situation during our discussion at budget estimates.

I hope the Ministry will lead a collaborative effort to convene community stakeholders to ensure a balanced approach that respects environmental integrity and advances the vital work of reconciliation.


A. Olsen:

I just have three issues that I’d like to canvass. They are all three issues that I’ve spoken with the minister at.

One is in regards to the application of the Pender Harbour dock management plan, specifically in my riding, in Saanich North and the Islands. It’s kind of a long history on this, since before it was with Water, Lands and when it was in Forests.

In 2021, a moratorium was placed on new dock applications “within the southern Gulf Islands and southeastern shoreline of Vancouver Island,” identified as the moorage no application zone. It was extended to 2025.

The Ministry of Forests, where this file resided, stated that exceptions included applications that replaced or assigned existing permission, lease or licensing for private moorage where road access to the associated upland property does not exist. That was in the order-in-council that established the original moratorium. Like I said, there’s a long record of my office advocating to the government to address this issue.

Prior to the moratorium, there were 80 pending dock applications from one company. Some of those applications backed all the way up in the administrative queue for more than seven years. There are over 1,000 docks tenured or in trespass currently in our region.

The current system is actually frustrating law-abiding citizens. They’ve followed the government process and received no decision. Frankly, as I’ve been kind of assessing the situation in our riding, it’s penalizing good behaviour and rewarding bad behaviour in rule breakers. And it’s not that there are no docks going out because there’s been a moratorium; there are just no legal ones.

At first, the ministry explained that the moratorium was the result of the ministry’s inability to process the volume of applications. Some months later the ministry blamed the delay on consultations with First Nations.

I’ve learned that the province is engaged with my relatives in Quw’utsun’. When I asked the ministry officials, in a briefing, about the process of consultations with the other well-known First Nations who have rights and interests in the territory, it was clear that there were no consultations currently underway with the W̱SÁNEĆ, the W̱JOȽEȽP, SȾÁUTW̱, W̱SIḴEM, BOḰEĆEN, MÁLEXEŁ, or our relatives in Lyackson, Stz’uminus, Halalt, or

We’re on track for a very messy situation in the southern Gulf Islands and in the Salish Sea. I don’t think the government can afford another Pender Harbour multiplied exponentially.

This process is not helping the credibility of the province. It’s not honouring the relationship that we have with the public, specifically with the applicants. They don’t necessarily have the right to a tenure or a dock, but they have applied through the legal process, and we expect them to receive a decision within a reasonable time.

It’s not helping First Nations or the overall project of reconciliation. In fact, the process is dragging it backward, making First Nations actually the source of the frustration, when the source is a failed bureaucratic process.

I have two questions. I’m going to ask them together.

What is the ministry doing to fulfil its commitment to those who have legally applied for a dock, including the ones that were excluded from the original order-in-council, to make decisions on those applications in a timely manner?

And two, I recently met with a newly formed group called the Southern Gulf Islanders for Collaborative Partnerships and Reconciliation. They’ve already got 700 members. What steps is the government taking, what steps is the minister taking, to learn from the Pender Harbour experience to create a collaborative, multi-stakeholder table, including rights holders and property owners together to build relationships and address this in a good way?

[11:15 a.m.]

Hon. N. Cullen:

Thanks to my friend for the question. Some important parts in here, and maybe a part that wasn’t necessarily addressed in the question, which is the origin of the concerns around dock management, broadly.
The Quw’utsun’ Nation has long-standing concerns — as he knows, as a number of other nations do — with the historical impacts, ecological impacts of docks within the territories. That’s the origin of a desire to do something new.

There are two areas that we’re talking about, of course. One is Pender Harbour, which he asked for a bit of an update on and reflections on that process, as well as an update on what’s happening within the Quw’utsun area.

So we have an MOU with Quw’utsun, and in that agreement, there is an understanding that other nations can be brought into the process, as is proper. Quw’utsun’s aware of that and agrees with that.

We are meeting with the Southern Gulf Islanders for Collaborative Partnerships and Reconciliation . I was checking to see if the acronym made something. I don’t think it does. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but good…. A new group, and we’re meeting with them this week.

We are also have made Quw’utsun aware, and they have had conversations. I think the fellow’s name is Rob Botterell, perhaps, that is one of the lead voices from that group. He is engaged directly with Quw’utsun, which we think is appropriate. It’s good that all the parties are talking.

[11:20 a.m.]

Stepping over to Pender Harbour for a moment. Some difficult lessons learned there with respect to how we’re talking to community, how frequently we’re talking to community, what is our relationship in there with the nation directly, and how are we able to implicate dock owners and the concerns that they were raising? And the blowback that can happen, particularly towards First Nations, in that regard, and that is something that my friend knows I’m very keen and aware to as we make efforts around reconciliation and co-management strategies, stock management plans, etc.

When there is push-back, it can come towards government, which is appropriate. It also and too often goes towards the local First Nations, who are sometimes implicated, sometimes not. But because it’s local and these are often small communities that we’re talking about, it can be very painful and intimate, if I could use those terms properly.

We just met with one of the local government groups this morning to find out…. We established a revised dock management plan, which we did with the nation, with shíshálh.We both co-signed on that and released that a number of weeks ago. That has, from some perspectives, and I think many perspectives, greatly helped diminish the temperature that had gotten quite elevated.

We also, in that dock management plan, revised the number of the conditions that were originally proposed. We also established an advisory group and invited local government and interested parties — there are a number of coalition groups — to come to the table. I believe we’ve had three advisory group meetings so far, another at least one or two this week — two this week. And early reports are positive.

We wanted to do some ground setting, a little historical piece of how we got here and the interests of shíshálh, particularly, and allow them to have that voice in the advisory group, level everybody up to the same understanding and then start to walk forward on what co-management looks like and begin to alleviate the concerns that were raised. We are taking those lessons over to the southern Gulf Islands, absolutely.
The question about illegally applied tenures that were excluded under the original OIC, we’re going to have to get back to the member about that specifically. I’m not as familiar with that part of the OIC and which docks are in there. I’m just seeing if there’s anything else….

The eventual goal, of course, is where I started: to address those long-standing concerns and impacts about how docks were managed or not managed within British Columbia. When we look to other jurisdictions, and we canvassed this a bit with the official opposition in a previous estimates meeting, and in Alberta, Saskatchewan and south of the border, there are much more rigorous dock management regimes than we’ve had in B.C. There are stipulations that are put on docks in other parts of the world that maybe weren’t brought into Pender Harbour, in particular. So we need to level up.

I hope what is a commonly shared interest between all parties is to not impact the environment in negative ways, to have respectful and decent rules and also good decision-making processes that respect the government’s obligations on reconciliation.

The shíshálh, we have a very profound agreement with them, and we need to manifest that. How can we go through co-management, co-decision-making in a good way and an expeditious way so that it isn’t so long to get to these tenures and that we reward good behaviour, to my friend’s point, as opposed to maybe what has been done in the distant past with respect to this issue and a number of other land use issues.

A. Olsen:

I recognize it by introducing the shíshálh example in here. I invited the minister to focus on that.
Where I’d like the focus to be is on the next situation that’s evolving. From the perspective of the riding that I represent, there is a very complex issue evolving in the southern Gulf Islands.

I think that there would be a dramatically different description of the relationships between our families, in Straits Salish and Coast Salish families, interests and rights in the southern Gulf Islands than the way that the minister described it.

There is absolutely no doubt, and with no disrespect to Quw’utsun’ — they have a long relationship right next to us, the W̱SÁNEĆ people. My dad’s name is the name of a leader that comes from the Mayne Island community, S,KTAK. That’s where our family’s root is. Neighbouring Galiano Island, which is where our relatives from the north are….

The complexity of this situation cannot be overstated in this situation.

[11:25 a.m.]

The government always leans on shared territories. But in here the suggestion is that there’s a table with Cowichan and others are willing to join. Has the minister reached out to the other First Nations that are well known? The list of the First Nations that the Islands Trust, for example, has to consult with I think is an exhaustive list that is very well known and has provided challenges, frankly, for the Islands Trust, just as an example. But there are 14 or so First Nations that have interests and rights, rights and interests, in the southern Gulf Islands area.

To frame it that we’re sitting with the Cowichan and the others can join us…. Like, have we reached out to the others to say: are you going to join this table with Cowichan? Do you want your own table? If so, are we going to have 14 tables? If that’s the case, why are we down the road on Cowichan and not bringing the others along? This is the challenge that is specific to….

And the main difference between this issue and shíshálh is that there was a community, and there was shíshálh, and they have every right in that space. The space that we’re talking about is much more muddy than that in terms of the lines and the definitions. Who’s where? Who’s what?

It is a common theme when dealing with consultation with First Nations in the southern Gulf Islands. I raised this with the ministry months ago — weeks ago, maybe, to be fair. There are Chiefs in our riding that are interested in when they’re going to be engaged in this conversation. Is it going to be at the beginning? Partway through? Is it going to be after there’s been an agreement with Cowichan?

If so, they’re working together on a bunch of other initiatives that…. There are already tables. I gave that information to the ministry. There are already tables that could be leveraged by the ministry to…. Because the relationships are evolving in federal government issues and in other issues. So we are….

Now, there’s a group of 700 people that have got together. It is a very complex and a very challenging situation. I’m fearful of the track that we’re on. So what I’m hoping is to get an understanding from the minister as to whether or not the other First Nations that aren’t Cowichan have already been engaged, have already been invited, or have maybe already indicated that they would like their own table.

[11:30 a.m.]

Hon. N. Cullen:

I thank the member. One question that…. And it doesn’t have to be in this exchange, but I’d be curious as to what other tables he referenced where the southern Gulf Island nations are right now participating. I’d be very keen. He may have referenced that to me or my office, and I apologize if I don’t have that here.

The historical reason why Quw’utsun’ has the agreement…. We’ve just begun. Conversations with them only began a couple of weeks ago. So to his question about other nations coming in, beginning, middle, this is just starting. We will reach out to the other nations that are implicated in the southern Gulf Islands and make that invitation in an appropriate way.

I don’t want to say anything about the process. The process has to be what it is, and that’ll be a negotiation. But the notion of 14 tables or…. My concerns around capacity come up immediately. Quw’utsun’ was…. The five nations within that group were the ones that were most vociferous in terms of raising concerns around docks. That is why that was the initial point of contact with respect to the MOU. No other reason. Other nations had different perspectives or had less to say, perhaps. But not casting aspersions. That’s just why things happen sometimes. That’s why this happened. It’s not by any desire to be exclusive. We will reach out to them.

I don’t know if there’s anything else. No, I don’t…. Lessons learned out of shíshálh, but I know it’s a different context. The complexity going into the southern Gulf Islands is more. Yet there may be some important things with respect to the advisory groups and what happens when community groups get initiated and how do we make sure that we’re providing as much information as we can to them so that we’re dealing with the same set of facts. I think one of the challenges we ran into and still continue in some ways with shíshálh, although much less, is that when people start getting their own set of facts and that runs through social media and whatnot –– much more challenging to have conversations about the actual implications.

All of this, though, goes back to the original point that there have been long-standing concerns around the environmental impacts upon archaeology, around clam beds. I don’t need to read the list to my friend. He knows them better than I ever will. But that’s where this starts. We need to find a better management strategy when it comes to docks. And I hope that’s common ground between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, that protecting the place, caring for the place better than we have in the past is shared. How we do that and how we do that under a DRIPA lens with co-management as a goal that has got some complexity in the southern Gulf Islands. There’s no doubt.

A. Olsen:

Thank you. And I’ll just say this before handing it over to my friend here from Parksville-Qualicum. It’s common ground between myself and the minister for sure in that we need to find a better way to manage docks and that there are absolutely environmental concerns that have been brought up and been raised completely, totally. And clearly, the process, as I’ve understood it over the last seven years, is that the First Nations who stick their hands up in these notification processes are the ones that the engagement starts. So to me, I understand how the government got to where it was.

My concern is…. I’ve raised this issue previously, and I just fear that we don’t lose more ground. That’s the reason why it came to this forum here, because there is a level of organization that’s happening now for people who have got their applications in. And, frankly, I think that we can do better than what happened the first time around and come to an outcome earlier than that. So I’ll just leave it at that.

I did have a question about fallow deer, which you’re probably not surprised at, except I’m not going to ask it here. I’m going to send it to you, and hopefully I can get a written response to it. But I want to turn it over to my friend who’s got some time. Thank you for your responses.


  1. Andy Pearson

    A number of comments:
    1. Having taken at least 7 years to address some of the applications for docks by residents and still not having received a reply except to say that the moratorium is being continued for another 2 years would, for a normal administration, be considered as crass bureaucratic incompetence and heads would roll.

    Unfortunately, in the case of the British Columbia governmental administration, it is taken as de rigour that rather than deciding on a policy using transparent processes, the decision has already been made to delay and obfuscate addressing this issue, the result of which is to achieve what the government actually wants (removal of all privately held docks, legal or illegal, and prevent new ones being built) to allay the concerns of first nations. The above governmental conversation is as clear a demonstration of this than I have ever heard actually described.

    Clearly, the Government, by its past and ongoing behavior on these issues, doesn’t give a damn about the rights of residents who…..aaah I notice that we aren’t even allowed to fully express our thoughts on this issue……why should I be surprised; just gag them ?????

  2. Denis Paquette

    there is an elephant in the room that no one has yet addressed and that is Boat houses on Crown land.
    I bought my property 40 years ago because it has a historic boat house built in 1930. The boat house was part of the original Deep Cove Marina and a boat building company.
    I’ve restored 2 boats, my first one won first prize at the Victoria Boat Festival. I’ve just finished ( sure) my second restoration, a 1965 Monk. I’ve also spent almost 40 years maintaining the boat house and dock. Hopefully I can retire and enjoy it .
    The boat house is now almost 100 years old.
    The Crown has decided to no longer charge money for docks, instead now focusing on boat houses on Crown land.
    My property tax on 10 thousand sq ft , small lot on a cliff, is roughly $ 5400.00/ year. ( seniors rate)
    The Crown has decided that they want money for the portion of the boat house that sits on Crown land so they made up a very strange formula! They take 50% of the property value x 4.5 % and include the square footage of the boat house. In my case the initial calculation came out at roughly $ 7000.00 tax per year.
    My property costs me roughly .54/ sq ft .
    The boat house estimated Crown cost are $ 8.15/ sq ft for 800 sq ft.
    How can that be, the Crown only charges $ 3.15 for the Coast Guard rent on Crown Land.
    Is this discrimination?
    How can the goal posts be moved so indiscriminately without and consultation to property owners.
    How can the Crown raise property taxes by 140% and get away with?

    We need to start another arm of a coalition to deal with water front crown land.

    If I rented a boat house in a marina I could give it back when I was finished boating.
    This new tax will be permanently attached to my property , will never go away and if the main property taxes go up then so does the boat house tax.
    My kids well never be able to take over the property , they will have to sell, but to whom? Who would by a piece of land that would have Crown taxes that exceed the value of the property?

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