When B.C.’s mayors and councillors gather for their annual convention this month, their top issue is keeping a seat at the table as the province remakes its land use consultation with Indigenous people.
The B.C. NDP government is expected to move ahead as soon as this fall with legislation to enact the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The doctrine of “free, prior and informed consent” on land use has been controversial since the UN declaration was passed a decade ago, with Canada removing its objection to its language in 2016.
The issue emerged this spring as communities found out about the B.C. government’s development of new restrictions on industrial development in caribou habitat. Premier John Horgan appointed Dawson Creek councillor and former B.C. cabinet minister Blair Lekstrom to consult with communities who were left out, after public meetings around the province were filled with people protesting the closed-door talks and effect on local economies.
The province negotiated a deal with two northern Indigenous communities, the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations, for large areas of caribou habitat in northeast B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson also announced steps toward restrictions on a larger land area, to satisfy demands from Ottawa to avoid an emergency caribou protection order under federal species at risk legislation.
In June, the province accepted Lekstrom’s recommendation to place a two-year moratorium on new forest and mining development in the northeast region and consult with communities on the impact of the plan.
The Union of B.C. Municipalities executive has made the issue its top resolution for the convention. Their resolution calls for “principles of mutual respect, consultation and cooperation” as specified in the Community Charter to be maintained in future.
The UBCM convention runs Sept. 23-27, meeting this year at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre. It’s local governments’ annual opportunity to meet with B.C. cabinet ministers and debate their needs.