One of the biggest surprises in the recent cabinet shuffle was the apparent demotion of Stan Hagen, who moved to Human Resources from Sustainable Resource Management (SRM). SRM is planning to announce two new land-use plans this spring (Lillooet and Central Coast) both of which face formidable challenges in reconciling First Nations concerns. SRM was already walking a tightrope trying to navigate the complex relationships with industrial interests, First Nations community leaders and NGOs.
New leadership in SRM may threaten some of the commitments the Ministry is attempting to build with First Nations. The new Minister, George Abbott, who was expected to be the Forest Minister in 2001, must get up to speed on the complexities of both the substance and politics of the Lillooet and Central Coast land use planning processes. There is not much time. In Lillooet, SRM is attempting to announce the land use plan by the end of February. Currently, they are in negotiation with the St’at’imc Nation about a process to reconcile the Crown plan with the plan being developed by the St’at’imc. Dogwood Initiative and West Coast Environmental Law are working with the St’at’imc to help them implement their plan and ensure no development occurs that contravenes their vision.
On the Central Coast, a complex process is also well under way. The BC government is committed to making its decision soon, and SRM is proceeding as if the process is nearing completion; however, the stated timelines seem unrealistic. The government planning table has put forward its recommendation, and “government-to-government” negotiations are beginning now to reconcile the table recommendations with the plans developed by each First Nation on the central coast. Negotiating these land and resource agreementsalmost mini treatiesraises many jurisdictional, legal and financial issues that have reduced the past decade’s treaty talks to a snail’s pace.
These challenges are no easy task for someone familiar with the history and details of this complex process. For a neophyte minister, they may be overwhelming.
Reports are that Campbell and various rural backbenchers have become frustrated by the slow pace of the planning process. Changing the Minister midstream may unintentionally delay the process further. The timelines are short, the issues complex and patience is thin. Is Abbott up to the task?