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New B.C. minister to tackle industry permits, Indigenous cooperation

‘No easy decisions left’ for land, water, resource stewardship
Former Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen (left) speaks in 2019 at blockade on the Morice River Road near Houston B.C. attempting to stop Coastal GasLink pipeline project. Now B.C. MLA for Stikine, Cullen was appointed Feb. 25, 2022 as municipal affairs minister, with Mid-Island Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne moving to a newly created ministry of land, water and resource stewardship. (Facebook photo)

B.C.’s latest reorganization of its vast land and resource ministry hands the task of speeding up permits for mines and other industrial projects to Mid-Island Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne, who is also assigned to make sure Indigenous people are partners in decision-making.

Premier John Horgan signalled the creation of the new Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship after the 2020 B.C. election, appointing Stikine MLA Nathan Cullen as parliamentary secretary while a year-long job of reorganizing government was completed. Cullen moves to municipal affairs, the post held by Osborne since the election. Horgan appointed Coquitlam-Burke Mountain MLA Fin Donnelly as parliamentary secretary for the new ministry.

While Cullen was involved in consultation for the new ministry, decisions on permitting will often involve constituents in the vast northwest Stikine region, which could be potential conflicts for him, Horgan said Feb. 25.

The stand-alone forests ministry hands off a network of forest recreation sites and roads to the environment and parks ministry, leaving it to focus on managing a decline in logging as it transfers more decision-making to Indigenous title holders. The new ministry will be responsible for 940,000 square km of Crown land, including watershed and flood control, as well as fresh-water fisheries.

Its biggest challenge is likely to be untangling a natural resource permit process that the mining industry says has meant an average 13 years to get a new mine approved. The NDP government’s commitment to greater electrification of the economy means copper and other metals are urgently needed.

“What we need is not faster decisions but better decisions,” Horgan said in announcing the cabinet change.

The B.C. government’s efforts to complete the Coastal GasLink pipeline across northern B.C. have been hampered by conflicts within Indigenous communities, and outside protesters assisting opponents of development. RCMP are currently searching for as many as 40 people who staged an attack on the Coastal GasLink work site on the Morice River in Northwest B.C. last week.

“There are no easy decisions left on the land base,” the ministry said in a briefing document Feb. 25. “The sector is missing a framework where trade-off decisions are made at the right level within an overarching government policy context.

RELATED: B.C.’s low-carbon plan depends on faster resource permits

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