5 Top-down governance no way to help caribou

Praiseworthy project takes public consent for granted On June 20, the provincial

government announced a moratorium on new resource development within the boundaries of the proposed

Viewpoint by Tom Walker

Southern Mountain Caribou Bilateral Conservation Agreement in the vicinity of MacKenzie, Tumbler Ridge and Chetwynd. At the same time, it accepted Blair Lekstrom’s report, The Path Forward to Recover the Caribou Plan in Northern British Columbia. (Note the title reads “Recover the Caribou Plan,” and not “Recover the Caribou.”) The moratorium is only one

of 14 recommendations in the report. The government has made no mention of the other recommendations. Premier John Horgan appointed Lekstrom, a former BC Liberal cabinet minister from the Peace region, as a community liaison after the community backlash that occurred when the government went across the province shopping for approval of its plan in April. The pushback was

tremendous. Community meetings across the province attracted 400 to 800 people. The Concerned Citizens for Caribou Recovery delivered a 30,000-signature petition to the legislature calling for a more inclusive engagement process. Horgan responded by extending the deadline for feedback from April 30 to May 31, and called on Lekstrom.

“A mistake” Throughout his 16-page

report, Lekstrom recognizes the universal endorsement of caribou recovery he has heard across the province. The methods are another matter. He calls them “a mistake.” The report points out

where the government went wrong, charts an inclusive path forward, calls for an economic impact study to address the fears of job losses, makes specific recommendations to improve the clarity and detail of the agreement, endorses recovery methods and requires mitigation for forestry losses. Lekstrom is quick to point out the government’s failure. “The main issue was how could a draft agreement on such an important issue have been developed over the previous 18 months, behind closed doors, at the exclusion of the 97% of residents who

reside in the region but are not members of either West Moberly or Saulteau First Nations,” the report says. The outcome has been a distrust of the agreements and racist comments against the two First Nations that signed the plan, the report notes. Speaking at

the moratorium announcement, Horgan failed to acknowledge that this was his doing, while admonishing residents for their reaction. “Regrettably, this issue has divided communities and provoked sentiments that have no place in British Columbia,” Horgan says. “The only way we will make progress is by working together.” Too bad he hadn’t thought

of working together earlier. Giving special status to a

particular group at the exclusion of others can lead to problems. The West Moberly and Saulteau are the largest First Nations in the area. The two nations are known for their leadership in caribou conservation, including maternity penning, a practice that gives new- born caribou protection until they are able to fend for themselves. However, the McLeod Lake Indian Band, and the Lheidli-T’enneh First Nation also claim traditional territory within the Section 11

area and they were excluded from the “government-to- government” talks that developed the plan. Indeed, they find the tone of the draft “offensive,” and have threatened a court challenge if this non-inclusive agreement goes through. Local municipal

governments, despite repeatedly asking to be included, were completely shut out of the process, prevented from bringing their ideas or those of the people they represent.

And it seems no one thought to talk to the residents of the province, including ranchers and farmers, until they were looking for approval. Lekstrom’s first

recommendation to “rebalance the agreement” states that, “Government must not move the partnership agreement forward until full and proper engagement has occurred … in a manner that is inclusive, transparent and been given the time to achieve public support.” His second point is to

ensure proper consultation with McLeod Lake Indian Band and the Lheidli-T’enneh First Nation. Lekstrom also criticized

government’s failure to determine or quantify any of the economic impacts on industry, including ranching and outfitters, from the closures of the agreement

area. He calls for a comprehensive socio- economic impact analysis to be completed before the agreement is finalized. The fourth

recommendation called for a temporary moratorium until a comprehensive engagement process is complete and all possible options are considered. Lekstrom recommends the

development of a “lead table” strategy directed by regional districts to ensure inclusiveness in future agreements. “This may be an option

that government wishes to pursue in other regions as well, which could help alleviate ending up in a similar position to what we find ourselves in with regard to the caribou agreements.”

It is expected that this first

agreement will serve as a template for other regions where the province hopes to develop future caribou recovery plans. Let’s hope Horgan takes

the full report to heart. So far he has only committed to the moratorium “while public engagement, Indigenous consultation and negotiations on a long-term management strategy are underway.” But he does not say that this will change anything. “The government will continue to engage with communities and stakeholders and expects to sign the partnership agreement following that engagement.” Tom Walker is a regular

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