Future Land Act amendments demand more consultation and greater transparency from the government

The BC government deserves credit for responding to concerns about the planned changes, but it must properly engage all of BC when it re-opens the issue. 


The NDP government made a significant and unexpected pivot by halting the proposed amendments to the Land Act, which might have had far-reaching implications for British Columbia's land management. Those amendments have been paused, at least for the time being.

This episode has plainly reflected the need for transparency and proper consultation with all parties when it comes to making such great decisions about the future of our province. 

Such public pullbacks have been rare for this government since it won a majority in the 2020 provincial election. The NDP's last significant retreat occurred in 2022 over the proposed $789 million rebuilding of the Royal BC Museum, which was subsequently cancelled.

If the backlash to an unpopular museum rebuild was enough to alter the government's course, one can only speculate about the scale of push-back that led to the withdrawal of the Land Act amendments. While there haven't been public surveys released on the Land Act issue, any internal polling conducted by the government towards the matter likely painted a grim picture.

Private industry also expressed concerns about the uncertainty brought forth by the amendments, but similar warnings from BC’s business associations in the past have not easily swayed this government. However, there is a vast gulf between what makes private industry wince and what makes the general public roil. 

The government deserves credit for responding to the backlash, whether it was from the public or the private sector. The withdrawal indicates that the government can still be willing to acknowledge when it oversteps with its policies.

The Land Act lies at the core of BC’s governance of public land. It is a legislative cornerstone crafted to oversee the management of land that is not privately held in the province, encompassing aspects like land 

If enacted, the proposed amendments to the Land Act would have granted authority to the Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship to negotiate agreements with Indigenous governments, facilitating joint management and consent over land use within their traditional territories. For context, 95 percent of all land in BC is Crown land, and all of it is the traditional territory of one or more First Nations. 

These amendments would align with the principles outlined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which the legislative assembly unanimously implemented when it passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA), in 2019. 

Nonetheless, questions raised among the wider public that did not receive satisfactory answers. Would BC residents still have the same privileges to camp or conduct business on Crown land?

One of the more contentious questions raised was whether First Nations would be empowered as the ultimate decision-makers regarding economic activities in BC. 

An article from the Vancouver law firm McMillan LLP, co-written by lawyer Robert Junger and critic of UNDRIP’s implementation, warned that the amendments would grant them an effective veto over a wide range of enterprises and daily activities.

“Make no mistake – the subject matter of the consultation is unprecedented and of profound importance to any company that requires authorization to use Crown land in BC,” reads the article. “These include things like grazing leases, mining leases, licenses of occupation, dock permits, rights of way, etc.”

Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer, cited the McMillan article while questioning the length of the public consultation period for the amendments. That process, although technically accessible, remained obscure to the average BC resident until Palmer brought it to light. 

Even then, the consultation period spanned a mere 12 weeks, hosted solely on a government website. Palmer astutely pointed out the brevity of this window, given the monumental implications of the proposed amendments for public land use across BC. 

The appearance of secrecy during the crafting of the amendments, and the short window for public consultation on what would fundamentally alter land use in BC did the government no favours in terms of the public’s perception of the process. 

Within just 30 days, the government ultimately yielded and paused the amendments amidst a wave of outcry, industry critique, and relentless opposition attacks in the legislature. It was the second time in a year that questions and debates over land use have arisen in BC. 

In August of last year, the Lil'wat and N'Quatqua First Nations announced the closure of the popular Joffre Lakes provincial park. The reason given was to harvest natural resources from their traditional lands where the park is located. 

That decision made by the two First Nations was controversial, but the provincial government assented to the closure. In this case, the NDP were merely responding to decisions made by two First Nations, not enacting legislation for people and industry across BC. 

However, the intersection of land use and Indigenous rights has emerged as a contentious issue that the provincial government is cautious not to aggravate. Miscues or mistakes in managing public relations have ended political careers in this province. 

The public relations fiasco surrounding the introduction of the HST in 2009 was enough to push then-Premier Gordon Campbell to resign. Campbell's misjudgment regarding public reaction to the new tax highlighted the repercussions of inadequate public consultation.

Reconciliation with BC First Nations is essential for the province's future. The government has shown it is determined to establish a framework to accomplish that. 

Indigenous participation in the province’s economy is an established fact, and it is not going away. Neither is the need to respond to the public mood in a democratic system. 

Credit is due to the NDP government for taking both of these into account. 

This episode serves as a reminder of the delicate balance between governance, public opinion, and Indigenous sovereignty. As discussions on the future of the Land Act persist, it is crucial for the government to prioritize transparency, engagement, and sensitivity to all stakeholders' concerns. 

The path forward depends on fostering a collaborative approach that respects both the rights of Indigenous communities, as well as the interests of all British Columbians.

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