Island Tides: Intergovernmental Relations

Originally published on December 8, 2016 in the Island Tides.

On November 2, 2016 Andrew Weaver appointed me the Advocate for Intergovernmental Relations for the BC Green Party. I am looking forward to the role. Since my tenure on Central Saanich Council I have struggled with the challenge of how to bring the relationships between the federal, provincial, First Nations, and local governments together.

Currently in British Columbia, there is an Intergovernmental Relations Secretariat within the Premier’s Office, which focuses on national and international issues. First Nations are the responsibility of the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation and local governments are the responsibility of the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development. We also have a Minister of International Trade and a Minister of State for Rural Economic Development.

Interactions between the governments are complex, but solutions are often found when they work closely together for the benefit of everyone. In the past two decades in British Columbia, Supreme Court decisions have been clarifying the murky jurisdictional issues between the province and First Nations.

The Tsilhqot’in decision was the first to establish aboriginal title and the federal government has adopted the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). These decisions deeply impact British Columbians and how the provincial government responds to change is a concern for all of us.

The question is; does the province ignore these realities until each dispute has been drawn through endless expensive court cases? Or do we establish a flexible, integrated and conciliatory provincial approach that will benefit all British Columbians?

“Indian Reserves” are legislated by the federal Indian Act, while regional and local governments’ authority comes from the province. They share thousands of kilometers of borders that need to be respectfully managed and all levels of government must be full participants in the relationship.

While Canadians prepare to celebrate our 150th birthday, in many respects these complex discussions have just begun and the legal questions about land and title are far from resolved.

Local and regional governments are the engines for our society and economy. They legislate land use, develop and fund important services and build and maintain the associated infrastructure that our citizens need to participate in the economy. Local government officials are responsible for peace and order in our communities and make thousands of important decisions each week about the environment, and economic and social development.

Federal government policy decisions have always been deeply felt in British Columbia. Aboriginal relations, international trade agreements, equalization transfers and healthcare to name a few, all impact the well-being and prosperity of our province.

Recently, the federal government has supported the Pacific Northwest LNG and Woodfibre LNG proposals. The pending decision on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion may transform BC’s south coast forever and potential future decisions about Malahat LNG and the associate gas pipeline, raises the stakes for the relationship between the provincial and federal governments.

Perhaps a single Minister, responsible for Intergovernmental Relations who is supported and informed by “Ministers of State” leading the Aboriginal, Local and Federal government portfolio’s may be able to coordinate and negotiate the complex maze of provincial and federal Ministries, while addressing the challenges and nurturing the opportunities for partnerships between the multiple jurisdictions.

Bringing these discussions, debates and negotiations together, within one Ministry I believe we will be better able to advance a more coordinated intergovernmental relations for the benefit of all British Columbians.

Adam Olsen

Stellys Cross Road, Brentwood Bay, BC, V8M 1J7