Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad voiced sharp criticism for the creation of the new B.C. Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship in a statement to the press on Feb 25.
The criticism came after B.C. Premier John Horgan appointed Josie Osborne to head the new ministry. Horgan also named MLA Doug Routley as Parliamentary Secretary for Forests to support Minister Katrine Conroy’s efforts to “modernize forestry” in British Columbia.
“The new ministry for land stewardship reflects the fact that natural resources are foundational to our province and they are the backbone of many local economies,” Horgan said.
“Minister Josie Osborne’s experience and skill will help government bring more predictability to the land base, while protecting B.C.’s natural heritage and ensuring the benefits are shared more widely now and in the future.”
Rustad begged to differ. The Opposition Critic for Forests, Lands and Natural Resources said British Columbians want a government that “works for them” by supporting residents trying to make ends meet.
He said Horgan and the NDP are “failing that test” by making changes that “simply create more instability.”
“At a time when communities, loggers, contractors, employers, workers and First Nations are all looking for stability, John Horgan and the NDP have decided that adding uncertainty and more bureaucracy is the way to go,” Rustad said.
He said the province’s “unilateral decision” to declare some areas off-limits to logging is already causing far-reaching damage.
Rustad blamed NDP policy decisions for making British Columbia the “highest-cost jurisdiction in North America” as investments “flee the province at an alarming rate.”
“We’ve already lost 10,000 forestry jobs under Horgan’s NDP and estimates are another 18,000 could be lost,” Rustad said.
“The NDP’s decision to increase the size of government is not going to turn that tide but will instead accelerate it, and force more workers into early retirement.”
A Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship spokesperson said in a written response to The Express that the context in which natural resource ministries work has “changed significantly” over the past 25 years.
The ministry said its new mandate will bring “focussed effort” and “new capacity” to “effectively manage” natural resources going forward.
“We’ve seen unprecedented climate-related flood and wildfire events, key court decisions such as Tsilquot’in and Yahey, and government’s commitment in 2019 to support the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act,” the ministry said.
The ministry said it was established to address issues that were heard during consultation with First Nations, industry, environmental organizations and local governments.
There is an absence of effective land use policy, the ministry said, adding that rising demands on the land base points to a need to “better understand and address cumulative impacts” of land use.
“Complex decisions today are being made on a permit by permit basis rather than at the landscape level by appropriate decision makers,” the ministry said.
The ministry argued its new approach will create greater predictability for Indigenous Nations, industry — and communities in B.C.
“In this way we will create more certainty and stability for all British Columbians — not less.”