Environmentalists fear new legislation will usher in Working Forest Legislation without debate
The B.C. government passed the controversial Bill 46, called the Land Amendments Act, through its third and final reading in the legislature on Tuesday, effectively giving the provincial Cabinet the ability to make land use designations by an order-in-council.
According to Bill 46, the Lieutenant Governor in Council can, by order, designate Crown land for conserving or managing natural resources; balancing multiple natural resource uses; implementing a plan for a specified use of Crown land; resolving land use conflicts; or for use in "specified economic development opportunities." Bill 46 would also allow the government to grant licenses and leases to private interests on Crown land.
Conservation groups are concerned that Bill 46 will keep controversial issues in Cabinet and out of the legislature, effectively circumventing any debate in the legislature. The media is also left out of the process.
"Bill 46 is like giving the B.C. government an endorsed book of blank cheques, with the recipients and the amounts to be filled in at any future time, in secret," said Ken Wu, the executive director of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.
Chief among the conservationists fears is the controversial Working Forest Legislation, which was created to give provincial land tenure holders mostly forestry companies more certainty over the land. Slightly less than half of the land mass of British Columbia would be covered by this legislation.
"For a designation as vast and significant at the Working Forest, spanning 45 million hectares, or all of our unprotected public forests, its highly undemocratic to circumvent legislative debate and public scrutiny by using this all-encompassing, enabling legislation," said Wu.
Although it is still illegal to sell off Crown land for forestry purposes, the WCWC and other conservation groups believe that the Working Forest Legislation will open the door to some form of actual or de facto privatization in the future.
The B.C. Liberals still plan to enact some form of Working Forest legislation by June of 2004.
In an open call for public feedback on the issue, 97 per cent of 2,692 submissions made to the government were opposed to the legislation.