British Columbia halts proposed Land Act amendments

Banks Island, British Columbia, is one example of mining claims granted to a private entity without the nation’s knowledge or consent. Credit: Gitxaala Territorial Management Agency.

British Columbia’s Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship announced on Wednesday that it will not be proceeding with the proposed amendments to the province’s Land Act.

In January, the Ministry posted on its website a Land Act legislative amendment to consult with Indigenous governing bodies to share decision-making about public land use, and said public engagement was open until March 31.

The amendment was in accordance with 2019 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA), the provincial framework for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

It was posted without a media advisory, but Vancouver-based law firm McMillan commented on its significance – changes to the way land use decisions are made in the province could have a big impact on the resource sector and potentially the granting of mining licences.

The province has 16 proposed critical mineral mines worth C$36 billion in near-term investment, 300,000 person-years of employment and C$11 billion in tax revenues, an independent economic impact analysis conducted for the Mining Association of British Columbia found last month.

“The subject matter of the consultation is unprecedented and of profound importance to any company that requires authorization to use Crown land in BC,” the firm stated at the time.

The Association of Mineral Exploration (AME) also expressed concerns about the way the BC government was undertaking reforms, intended to bring the Land Act into conformity with DRIPA.

“AME was not included in any previous outreach by the BC government on this process. We were made aware in the same way as many of our membership: through public media,” it said last month.

Groups respond representing “tens of thousands”

Nathan Cullen, BC’s Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, said the Ministry had discussed the proposed amendments with over 650 representatives of stakeholder groups representing tens of thousands of British Columbians, from mining, ranching, forestry, oil and gas, clean energy and tourism.

“From the very beginning of this process, I promised that we would listen and take the time to get any changes right. That our focus was to make it easier to work together with First Nations and provide more opportunities for better jobs and a stronger future,” Cullen said in the statement.

“In conversations with these groups, many were surprised to learn that the claims being made about the proposed legislation by some were not true and that there would be no impacts to tenures, renewals, private properties or access to Crown land.”

While Cullen said during conversations, the vast majority said they want reconciliation to work and partner to create opportunity for First Nations, businesses and all communities, he also said “some figures have gone to extremes to knowingly mislead the public about what the proposed legislation would do.”

“They have sought to divide communities and spread hurt and distrust. They wish to cling to an approach that leads only to the division, court battles and uncertainty that have held us back,” the Minister said.

“I’ve also heard that we need to take the time to further engage with people and demonstrate the real benefits of shared decision-making in action. We want to get this right and move forward together,” Cullen said. “For that reason, our government has decided not to proceed with proposed amendments to the Land Act.”

AME president Keerit Jutla also issued a statement Wednesday in response.

“The AME supports the government’s commitment to the implementation of DRIPA,” Jutla said. “We know that our members also support this goal, but the way the changes were introduced fostered an environment of distrust and uncertainty. This is not an environment that is conducive to building partnerships and economic reconciliation.”

“We look forward to further discussions with Minister Cullen and the BC government to ensure that BC remains a competitive, predictable and stable environment for mineral exploration.”