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Bill 4 – The Park Amendment Act – What Next?

Tens of thousands of people in BC have voiced their opposition to the recent passing of Bill 4 – the Park Amendment Act. They are demanding its repeal because of fears around industrial development taking priority over the protection of our most significant areas of ecological diversity and natural beauty. I share many of their concerns.

The Problem with Bill 4 – the Park Amendment Act.

The Park Amendment Act is a controversial piece of legislation that now allows the BC Government to issue park use permits for activities that are not necessarily related to the mandate and purpose of our BC parks. The Act allows for permits to be issued for two general categories: film production and research.

Previously, for a park use permit to be granted the applicant had to prove that the activity, for which they required the permit, was necessary for the preservation or maintenance of the recreational values of the park involved. Bill 4 changes this.

Now, the Minister of the Environment has the ability to issue permits that fall under the vague and undefined term “research” for any type of “feasibility study” for any kind of “prescribed project”.

Without any limitations on what these studies or projects might entail, without any guidelines for how the studies or projects are to be assessed, and without defining the term “research”, the Act, in essence, can allow for a park use permit to be issued for virtually any type of activity. The language is so vague as to be utterly meaningless. In theory, I could sip a beer while watching Hockey Night in Canada and qualify and call this research as part of a ‘feasibility study’ under this Act. Conversely, exploratory drilling could also fall into this category.

To be fair, there are regulations within the Ministry that do define the term research, and there are guidelines over assessing what kind of activities are to be allowed in BC parks. However, they are not law – they are regulations, and they can be changed by the ministry without any public consultation, public debate, or public scrutiny. The passing of Bill 4 means that the law protecting our Parks has been weakened, while the ministry has increased its power and adopted a “trust us” approach.

It is also important to acknowledge that, under the existing Park Act, no major industrial project can actually occur within a protected area. If a major project wants to cross a park, the general practice in BC allows for proponents to propose a boundary adjustment to a park in order to accommodate their project. This proposal then is reviewed by the ministry and if a park boundary is to be changed it must be passed in the Legislative Assembly.

Bill 4 doesn’t change that. It simply allows research permits to be issued to conduct a “feasibility study” on a “prescribed project” (a pipeline or a road for example). This doesn’t mean the project will go through, and it doesn’t mean the research will be benign, but it does signify that industry might be able to get an earlier foot in the door towards applying for a boundary adjustment change, and may invest significant capital in doing so.

Adding to the uncertainty surrounding the underlying motivation for this Bill is the fact that a number of BC parks are facing possible boundary adjustments in order to accommodate major industrial projects. Under a Freedom of Information request submitted last year, the Ministry of Environment released which parks stand to be affected by certain projects. For example, the proposed Kinder Morgan Pipeline Expansion alone is expected to affect nine provincial parks and will require significant boundary adjustments to at least three of these parks. Furthermore, given the BC Liberals push for natural resource development, it’s no surprise that so many people are suspicious of this Act, and are worried that its purpose is merely to expedite industries application process.

Holding the Government to Account

When it was introduced, Bill 4, the Park Amendment Act, clearly did not have the social license to proceed. The proposed changes caught most people by surprise, major environmental groups condemned it, and the Bill was strongly opposed in the Legislature.

Working with the official opposition, I spoke against the Bill, highlighting the concerning and vague language used as well as the lack of public consultation and support for instituting these changes. I proposed that before passing in the House, the Bill should at least go to a committee review stage, in order to give the government time to build up the social license needed for this bill and to address the many concerns voiced. I also proposed amendments to the Bill, including adding a definition for “research”, as a way of trying to ensure that the Bill did not undermine the mandate and purpose of our Parks. Unfortunately, these were defeated by the government.

What Happened in the House 

Despite being given opportunities to engage the public, and despite the public outcry, Bill 4 – the Park Amendment Act, received royal assent on March 24, 2014. In defending the bill, Honourable Mary Polak, the Minister for the Environment stated that “the intention of this amendment is to provide the legal statutory certainty for the granting of research permits, commercial filming permits, that we have granting but have been advised that we do not have sufficient legal certainty in order to proceed as we have.” She assured the house that the 30-page Park Act still “contains all the guidance necessary to ensure that we don’t have mining in our parks, that we don’t have drilling for oil in our parks, that we don’t have major industrial activities taking place in our parks”. As British Columbian, our job is now to ensure the minister is true to her words.

Should we be concerned?

At roughly 14 million hectares, British Columbia has the third largest park system in North America (second only to the federal parks system of Canada and the US). Over 14.4% of the province is protected under the Parks system, and over 90% of British Columbians have visited a provincial park at some point in their lives and 60% regularly visit at least one park each year.

Over the last 10 years our parks have undergone 44 boundary changes totaling roughly 811 hectares of lost park land. Although only 8 of these changes were for proponent-based projects (industrial projects), the rest being largely administrative in nature, this number accounted for almost 70% of the total area removed from our parks. Clearly, although they only account for a small number of total adjustments, the proponent-based industrial projects are the ones that have the biggest impact to our Parks.

Equally important however is that this is a relatively small amount of land when it is taken in the context of 14 million hectares that are protected. In addition, just a few weeks ago that number was increased by 55,000 hectares.

The good news is that even though this Bill does allow for research permits to be granted, possibly for major industrial projects, the park boundary would have to be changed before the project itself could be approved. For our provincial parks, any boundary change has to come through the legislative assembly. And here, at least, there is an avenue for public attention and debate to occur over a park boundary change. You can be assured that I will be closely monitoring any future park boundary changes.

Bill 4 is a piece of legislation that is far too vague and gives too much power to the ministry. It clearly did not have the social license needed and continues to face strong opposition. If used inappropriately the Bill has the potential to undermine the legislated protection of our Parks. For these reasons I opposed its passage in the house, and will do whatever I can to ensure it is not used to abuse the underlying purpose of our Parks (as detailed in the BC Parks Mission Statement):

BC Parks is committed to serving British Columbians and their visitors by protecting and managing for future generations a wide variety of outstanding park lands which represent the best natural features and diverse wilderness environments of the province. 

The Next Steps

I’ve tried to lay out a balanced and fact-based approach to this legislation. You can read why I opposed the Bill here and what I said in a subsequent post here.

I hope that this post helps people to understand this issue, its complexity, and the importance that will now be placed on ensuring that every boundary adjustment is transparent and fully understood so that our park system remains protected and continues to serve the interests of British Columbians.

If you are concerned about this Act, here are some options available to you:

1 – Sign a Petition

Some groups have called for an appeal to this Bill. It can be found here.

2 – Write a Letter

The minister has explained that this was essentially a housekeeping Bill — one that gave the ministry the legal authority to do what it had already been doing. However, my main criticism of this Bill, aside from the use of incredibly vague language, is that it clearly did not have the required social license to move forward. If you share this concern I would encourage you to write to the minister about your views on the process, and how in the future the government needs to first engage in public consultation, before imposing such a controversial bill. Please provide me with a cc of your letter so that I can speak to your concerns in the future.

Greens and NDP support further Public Consultation on Parks Amendment Act

Media Statement: March 6, 2014
Greens and NDP support further Public Consultation on Parks Amendment Act
For Immediate Release

Victoria BC – Today Andrew Weaver, for the second day in a row, worked with the official opposition to provide the government the ability to build the social license needed for the Park Amendment Act to move forward. The Park Amendment Act has received considerable opposition from numerous stakeholders across the province and it is clear that further engagement with British Columbians is warranted before the government makes these substantial changes to the legislation governing BC parks.

Yesterday, the NDP tabled a motion that would have delayed the passing of this Bill for a further six months giving the government an opportunity to engage British Columbians and address their concerns. Andrew supported the motion, arguing that the lack of “Public trust” was “a critical component of why [he was] supporting this amendment”.

Weaver argued in the house:

“Good governance requires outreach and consultation on controversial topics, and I encourage the government to actively engage the citizens of British Columbia in public forums before enacting this bill. The time proposed in the amendment is critical to allow for successful public buy-in of this bill.”

MLA Weaver gave his full support to the NDP motion; unfortunately, the motion was defeated.

Today, the Green Party MLA noted that “the government did not feel that the delay of this bill was in their interest” and he reiterated his view that “the Park Amendment Act does not have the social license to move forward.”  He then introduced a different amendment on the Park Amendment Act: to send the Bill to a committee.

Weaver argued that “Moving the Bill to a committee would allow for the multi-partisan engagement of stakeholders, it would show that the government is listening to the concerns of British Columbians, and it would ensure that the development of the language of this Bill satisfies the concerns of its many critics.”

In another notable show of multi-partisan cooperation, many members in the caucus of the official opposition spoke and voted in support of Weaver’s amendment. The motion to amend was voted down by the Government.

Media Contact
Mat Wright – Press Secretary, Andrew Weaver MLA
mat.wright@leg.bc.ca
1 250 216 3382

Opposing Bill 4 – Public Trust Needed for Parks Act

Earlier this session the government introduced Bill 4 – the Park Amendment Act. This act essentially allows the government to issue park permits for two activities that are unrelated to the mandate and purpose of our parks. The first is that park-use permits can now be issued for film production. Generally I support this development, and think that it could provide a boost to our film industry. The second is that park-use permits can now be issued for “research” activities.

Prior to this legislation, park-use permits could not be issued unless, in the opinion of the minster, they were necessary for the preservation or maintenance of the recreational values of the park. This Bill now allows park-use permits for film production and for ‘research’.

Research can mean different things to different people. Research can mean a study on an endangered species, or it can mean exploratory drilling. Some types of research seem appropriate for our parks and fall within the purpose and mandate of our parks, others do not. Leaving out a definition of research without any parameters around what will and will not be allowed under a ‘feasibility study’ is leaving our parks open to possible industrial development in the future.

Current regulations and policy does define and constrain research activities that will be undertaken in our parks. However, regulations and policy can change without any public input and without public announcement. Legislation, on the other hand, is openly debated in parliament.

There is a lack of public trust on this issue. There is a lack of public trust that government has the best interests of our parks in mind, particularly given the strong opposition to pipelines going through our province. Instead of unilaterally weakening the laws that protect our Parks, the government should instead undertake an extensive public consultation in order to obtain the social license that is critical for this type of change to the Parks Act.

Today in the house I stated that:

“Public trust is a key component of why I am opposing this Bill. The public does not know why this Bill is being brought forward, and does not necessarily trust government to ensure that this Bill will not undermine our parks. Although the policies and regulations around the issuance of research permits do have specific constraints, these policies can be easily changed without going through the legislature. Today the public is concerned about pipelines and large industrial projects going through our province, and it is not surprising, therefore, that this legislation which weakens the requirements for the issuance park permits, has faced considerable backlash. Indeed, of the legislation introduced thus far this session, this Bill has gained the most significant and controversial media attention that I have seen in quite some time.”

I also stated that “Our parks are world-renowned and are a huge part of our tourism industry, they are enjoyed by thousands of British Columbians every year, and in many ways, represent the best that “Beautiful British Columbia” has to offer. This legislation weakens the current legislation of the Parks Act, and there are many who fear that it paves the way for industrial projects through our parks.”

Understanding the concerns around this Bill my staff and I were prepared to call for an amendment to delay the enactment of the Bill, allowing for public engagement and clarification of the Act. However, before I spoke to the Bill the official opposition, sharing many of my concerns, introduced an amendment calling for a delay of 6 months on the enactment of Bill 4. This is a move I fully support.

My Views towards the Bill in Full

The Park Amendment Act, introduced earlier this session, has some elements to it that I believe warrant support. In particular I was happy to see the inclusion of a more streamlined and accessible park permit issue process for activities related to film production. This legislation will likely attract additional filming business to the province, and I applaud the government for its foresight in including film production components in this Bill.

However, I have considerable concerns around how the concept of “research” is being proposed in this Bill. Good research is an integral part of forming good policy and I am a firm believer in the principle of evidenced-based decision making. The problem with how this legislation uses the term ‘research’ is that it does not define the term, it does not give any limiting parameters around what types of research would or would not be allowed, and it provides no guidelines on how the research activity is to be conducted. I am aware that there is a definition for research as well as guidelines around how research permits can be issued within the parks policy, but herein lies the problem. Policy and regulations can be changed and modified without public input or awareness, in contrast, modifying legislation has a clear accountability process.

The reason why we have parks in this province is to preserve and protect the most outstanding natural environments and ecologically diverse areas of British Columbia. Our parks exist for the use and enjoyment of British Columbians today and for the future generations of tomorrow. Indeed, the mission of BC parks is to “protect representative and special natural places within the provinces Protected Areas System for world class conservation, outdoor recreation, and education.” Furthermore, in its mandate BC Parks outlines its commitment to British Columbians through:

  • protecting and managing for future generations a wide variety of outstanding park lands which represent the best natural features and diverse wilderness environments of the province.
  • providing province-wide opportunities for a diversity of high quality and safe outdoor recreation that is compatible with protecting the natural environment.
  • Maintaining British Columbia’s ecological diversity through the preservation of representative, and special natural ecosystems, plant and animal species, features and phenomena.

Operating on this understanding of the purpose of our parks, this Bill fails to define research in a way that ensures that the mandate and underlying purpose of why our Parks exist, is not undermined. One definition of research that I would argue is compatible with the mandate of our parks is one used by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This organization defines research as “experimental or theoretical work undertaken primarily to acquire new knowledge of the underlying foundations of phenomena and observable facts, without any particular application or use in view.”[1] I would like to draw attention to that last section of this definition and highlight that research in this sense is done, and I quote, “without any particular application or use in view”. Being a scientist by trade, I believe this definition encompasses the spirit of what good research in our Parks should entail.

For example, research that is focused on understanding the endangered Vancouver Island Marmot within the Haley Lake Ecological Reserve is, in my opinion, entirely acceptable as the underlying motivation of the research is to acquire new knowledge of this species. This type of research is also directly compatible with the mandate and purpose of our Parks.  In comparison, exploratory drilling ‘research’ or widespread ore-sampling ‘research’ in the same type of protected area is not acceptable, as the motivation behind this type of research is likely for an industrial project which would directly contradict the mandate and purpose of our Parks. In my view, this latter type of research that supports a specific application or project within our parks, and which also inherently works against the purpose and mandate of our Parks, is problematic to say the least.

The proposed legislation will overrule previous clauses of the Park Act which ensure park use permits are not be granted unless it is clear that the permits “will not be detrimental to the recreational value of the park”. Current legislation also states that permits “must not be issued unless, in the opinion of the minister, it is necessary for the preservation or maintenance of the recreational values of the park involved”. By allowing park use permits to be issued around this vague concept of ‘research’, particularly research focused on undertaking a “feasibility study” for virtually any type of “prescribed project”, we are opening our Parks to special interests whose intentions may not align with the interests of British Columbians.  It seems to me that this legislation is, intentionally or not, prioritizing industrial proposals over the preservation and protection of the parks of British Columbia. Given that we are discussing protected crown lands meant to preserve and protect places of ecological sensitivity, the habitats of endangered species, or places of historical and natural significance, should there not at least be some basic guidelines imbedded in the legislation around what type of research can be conducted and how it must take place?

Public trust is a key component of why I am opposing this Bill. The public does not know why this Bill is being brought forward, and does not necessarily trust government to ensure that this Bill will not undermine our parks. Although the policies and regulations around the issuance of research permits do have specific constraints, these policies can be easily changed without going through the legislature. Today the public is concerned about pipelines and large industrial projects going through our province, and it is not surprising, therefore, that this legislation which weakens the requirements for the issuance park permits, has faced considerable backlash. Indeed, of the legislation introduced thus far this session, this Bill has gained the most significant and controversial media attention. Six of the leading environmental organizations that are active in this province and which have memberships representing many tens of thousands of British Columbians, have condemned this Bill. Good governance requires outreach and consultation on controversial topics and I encourage the government to actively engage the citizens of British Columbia in public forums before enacting Bill 4

Our parks are world-renowned and are a huge part of our tourism industry, they are enjoyed by thousands of British Columbians every year, and in many ways, represent the best that “Beautiful British Columbia” has to offer. This legislation weakens the current legislation of the Parks Act, and there are many who fear that it paves the way for industrial projects through our parks.

As the Bill does not define the term research, and does not outline what constitutes a valid research activity within the protected areas of British Columbia, I cannot support this Bill. Before this legislation is passed I ask the government to explicitly define the term research, to produce research guidelines that would ensure any research activity done within our Parks would follow specific rules, and to amend the definition of a “feasibility study” to contain specific limitations and parameters which would ensure that these feasibility studies are compatible with the mandate of our Parks. Furthermore, as this research will take place on public lands, I believe that the Bill should clarify that any research activity which receives a park-use permit must be done in a manner that is consistent with the long-term health and purpose of the park. I ask that all of these requests be enshrined within legislation.

I think that in BC right now, there is a general lack of public trust at this juncture for changes to the way parks are administered, particularly with the uncertainty around major pipeline projects. Despite some positive aspects to the legislation, the fact that the public does not trust the reasons why government is making amendments to the Park Act is a serious concern.

I question whether the government has obtained the necessary social licence to make changes that could contribute to streamlining the development of industrial projects in our parks – projects which in some cases, a majority of British Columbians are opposed to.

I am opposed to the nature and direction that this legislation currently takes, and I urge the government to carefully consider the long-term consequences of passing this bill as it stands today.


 

Grizzlies in the Great Bear Rainforest

I posed a question to the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations today asking how many Grizzly Bears he believes reside in the Great Bear Rainforest. I further asked the Minister if his government supports an immediate moratorium to trophy killing in the Great Bear Rainforest.  Below is the excerpt from Hansard. His response will not give heart to those who are working so diligently to protect this iconic species.


TROPHY KILLING AND POPULATION  STATUS OF GRIZZLY BEARS

A. Weaver: I just wish to change topic for a second and give the Minister of Finance a break. My question is posed to the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

British Columbia is blessed to be home of the world’s largest pristine coastal temperate forest, the Great Bear rainforest. Tourists flock there every year from around the world to watch grizzly bears in their natural habitat.

Unfortunately, this iconic species is also subject to trophy killing. Twice a year a few wealthy foreigners, predominantly from the U.S., fly into the forest to shoot bears, cut off their heads and leave the bodies to rot. This so-called sport has been banned by nine coastal First Nations and is opposed by nearly 90 percent of British Columbians and, importantly, 95 percent of hunters.

Can the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations please tell the House precisely how many grizzly bears there are left in the Great Bear rainforest?

Hon. S. Thomson: I acknowledge that the member opposite comes from a different place on this particular issue than we do on this side of the House. Our approach to wildlife management, to hunting in British Columbia, is based on a long history of best available science, based on an approach that hunting is an important part of population management and conservation in British Columbia.

The decisions are based on best available science, are based on conservative estimates of human mortality, are based on conservative estimates — deliberately conservative estimates — of regular mortality for species. That’s not just for grizzly bears. That’s for all species in the province.

Madame Speaker, 58 percent of the territory of the coastal First Nations is closed to grizzly bear hunting. There are about 2,000 bears in the Great Bear rainforest, of which less than 1 percent, 13, are hunted.


Madame Speaker: Member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head on a supplemental.

A. Weaver: I would argue, as clearly indicated, that we actually have no idea how many grizzly bears there are in the Great Bear rainforest, let alone elsewhere in British Columbia. Fortunately, however, in the case of the former, a coalition of nine First Nations, scientists and environmental groups have been undertaking fieldwork on bear populations, breeding habits and the impacts of trophy killing.

Here’s what we do know. In the Great Bear rainforest bear viewing generates 12 times more in visitor spending than bear killing — over 11 times the direct revenue for British Columbia’s provincial government. Bear viewing also generates 50 times the number of jobs as trophy killing. And forest companies and environmental groups have reached a historic agreement on the preservation of the Great Bear rainforest.

In light of the evidence I’ve provided, would the government support an immediate moratorium on trophy killing of grizzly bears in the Great Bear rainforest?

Hon. S. Thomson: Firstly, I want to acknowledge the member opposite’s reference to the agreement that’s been reached between environmental organizations and the forest industry in the Great Bear rainforest. I think that’s something that we can all celebrate — that very, very important step. We look forward to continuing to work with both the industry, those organizations and First Nations in the implementation of that very, very historic, important agreement.

I think the important point to make here is that this is not about either-or. This is about the important contribution that bear viewing and tourism make. It’s also about the important contribution that hunting makes to this province — $360 million annually.

This is not about one or the other. This is about making sure that we manage populations based on science, as I pointed out, based on conservation principles, to ensure that we create that appropriate balance, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.

In our population units for grizzly bears, wherever those populations are at risk, we don’t allow hunting. That’s the case in many of the population units in British Columbia currently. If the populations are at risk, we will not allow hunting in those population units.

Trophy Killing of Grizzly Bears

Today I attended a rally on the lawn of the legislature in support of a province wide ban on trophy killing of an iconic species: The Grizzly Bear. For more information on the Save BC Bears campaign, please visit their Facebook page. Below is the text of my speech at the rally.


Speech at the Save BC Bears Demonstration

on the Lawn of the Legislature

February 15, 2014

Thank you all for coming to this very important event.

The Orca is an iconic species in British Columbia. And so too are Grizzly bears.

Would we condone the trophy killing of an Orca — just for the heck of it? Obviously not. Yet we allow the trophy killing of Grizzly bears — just for the heck of it.

The Coastal First Nation Great Bear initiative recently conducted a province-wide survey. Almost 90% of British Columbians believe that trophy killing of grizzly bears should be banned.

And this number is also important: 95% of hunters agree that people should not be hunting if they are not prepared to eat what they kill.

91% of hunters agree that fellow hunters should respect First Nations laws and customs when on First Nation territory.

In the case of the Great Bear Rainforest, bear viewing generated 12 times more in visitor spending than bear killing and over 11 times in direct revenue for BC’s provincial government.

Bear viewing generated 50 times the jobs of trophy killing.

When we think about habitat, climate and the impacts we are having on iconic species like Grizzlies look no further than what has happened this winter in Europe.

Due to an incredibly mild winter, bears in Finland have come out early from hibernation into an environment with little food. The climate in BC is rapidly changing as well. We have had one of the driest winters on record, with low snow pack – how will this affect food supply for BC Grizzlies, and their population? We have simply no idea.

We have no idea how many Grizzly bears there are in BC. We have no idea how they are responding to climate change.

But here’s what I know: I know what I want — I know what you want — I know what BC hunters want — and I know what the people of BC want.

A province wide ban on trophy killing.

And I reiterate again, we’re not taking today about the majority of hunters in BC harvesting deer and other species for food.

This is all about a government protecting a small lobby of well-heeled jet setters looking to tick one more item off their bucket list.

We have an opportunity right now in the Great Bear Rainforest. A coalition of 9 First Nations, scientists and environmental groups have been undertaking field work on bear populations, breeding habits, and the impacts of trophy killing. They’ve done extensive analysis. At the same time, forest companies and environmental groups have reached an agreement on the preservation of the Great Bear rainforest.

That region must be immediately declared a sanctuary

Thank you