Earlier this week I spoke with a long-time Shuswap resident whose large property was severely damaged by fire. He made some strong comments about the disconnect between city folks, government officials and residents of rural BC when it comes to understanding what actually happens on the ground during a wildfire.
Although in a different context, I thought the same thing after listening to several outfitters, fishing guides and other adventure tourism operators talk about running a business on crown land in areas of the province that many of us have never seen or even heard of. The product, operating environment, challenges, regulations, and even clientele are decidedly different than in BC’s larger communities.
The forum for the latter discussion was two consultation meetings hosted by Lands, Water and Resource Stewardship Minister Nathan Cullen on the proposed amendments to the Land Act that is causing great angst amongst adventure tourism operators, most of whom live in rural BC. While somewhat familiar with the issues, there were many concerns expressed that I hadn’t necessarily dealt with before. Moreover, Land Act amendments weren’t even on the radar as a priority advocacy file for TIABC and many of our sector partners until two weeks ago when the province quietly announced its public engagement process.
Since then, I’ve heard and learned more about the nuances of the Land Act and what any proposed changes would mean for tourism operators that rely on crown land tenures and permits to conduct their business. As I continue to learn and gather perspectives, I asked one of my respected sector association colleagues, who has been immersed in crown land issues for years, to provide a summary of the concerns expressed by his members and other adventure tourism operators during meetings with Minister Cullen this week.
The following is courtesy of Scott Ellis, CEO of Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia and co-chair of the Adventure Tourism Coalition:
I believe that most of us support reconciliation with Indigenous peoples of BC. My concern is not with the intent of reconciliation but rather in how it’s being executed by our provincial and federal governments. Without a much better implementation plan, I fear that this will get much worse before it gets better. Reconciliation should mean healing for both Indigenous and non-indigenous communities.
Case in point, the consultation on the Land Act opened in January and the Province wants it completed so it can be made into law by May 16th. What’s the rush? Fast-tracking Land Act legislation will have many consequences…even more unintended that we’re not even aware of yet.
As we heard in two meetings with Minister Cullen attended by close to 300 tourism operators, many tenure holders were upset by the lack of engagement and the response from government on the initial consultation. “Don’t worry. Trust us. This is just enabling legislation.” Business owners have stated that after many years of broken promises, these words ring hollow. We need to see the regulations and understand the impact so that it’s clear and fair for all.
Minister Cullen made a point of saying that Section 7 agreements (province and First Nations joint decision-making per DRIPA) will not impact the 40,000 tenures on the land. If so, his assurances must be written in the legislation. He has also said that government still has final say but it’s not what operators have experienced on the ground.
Land-based decisions, shorter tenure terms, harmful regulations, longer renewals, and other decisions made under the auspices of the duty to consult have huge impacts to small businesses. Without the support of the local First Nation, operating on the land has become more complex. When the economic impacts cannot be mitigated, reconciliation-based compensation must be paid and also must be written into the Land Act.
Again, this proposed legislation should not be rushed. The regulations need to be developed first so that everyone can understand the magnitude of the changes. It’s worth the time and effort to get it right. Reconciliation is difficult and when not done well, can have catastrophic impacts to small businesses, the provincial economy, and local communities – both Indigenous and non-indigenous alike.
Scott Ellis, CEO, Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia
Throughout this past week, I’ve undertaken extensive consultation with members, business sector associations (e.g. Business Council of BC, Mining Association of BC, Greater Van Board of Trade, UBCM), and other stakeholders on the proposed Land Act amendments with more to come in the days ahead.
In the meantime, TIABC, as part of the Adventure Tourism Coalition, will work toward advancing several recommendations to the province prior to the conclusion of the public engagement process (March 31st), starting with a request to delay the legislation until such time sufficient consultation has been completed with the tourism industry and all other sectors likely to be impacted.
In the meetings this week, many tourism operators took shots at government. To his credit, Minister Cullen wasn’t defensive, listened intently, took responsibility for some mis-steps in the consultation process, and also acknowledged the many concerns expressed by folks who believe their life savings and livelihood are at stake. He also agreed to a third session with tourism operators who either missed the other two meetings or weren’t able to share their thoughts and recommendations with the minister and his staff. We’ll keep you posted on further opportunities to engage and with any more developments as this process unfolds. Next week’s topic picks up on my conversation with the Shuswap resident and what needs to happen to mitigate the impact of wildfires.