NCES opposes bills permitting industrial research in provincial parks and changes to public ownership of certain lakes

Editor’s Note:

The following is a letter that the North Columbia Environmental Society sent to Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald on Monday, March 24, regarding the provincial government’s Bill 4 and Bill 5.

Hon. Norm Macdonald
Columbia River – Revelstoke
PO Box 2052
Golden, BC  V0A 1H0

Re:  Conservation Concerns Regarding Bills 4 and 5            

We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for voting against the second reading of Bill 4 on March 6, 2014.  As you are no doubt aware, if passed on third reading, Bill 4 will allow damaging kinds of film-making and research in BC parks while Bill 5 would jeopardize public ownership of certain BC lakes.

The North Columbia Environmental Society (NCES) feels that the proposed changes to legislation discussed below would be detrimental to the protection and conservation of parks and public lands in BC.  We therefore hope that you will continue to oppose these changes and bring these concerns forward in the Legislative Assembly.

Bill 4 – Park Amendment Act, 2014

The BC park system recognizes the importance of preserving certain areas of land as they are, in their natural condition and free of human development and exploitation. We understand that Bill 4 would exempt industrial feasibility studies and film-making from key parts of ss. 8 and 9 of the Park Act. These are the very parts of the Park Act that restrict the issuing of Park Use Permits in cases where the activity would result in the sale, removal, damage, or destruction of park land and resources. The act of allowing feasibility studies in and of itself is in conflict with the goal to preserve these areas because of the negative impacts of the infrastructure involved and the access it provides to other users.

Furthermore, despite the Government’s assertions that the changes proposed in Bill 4 would not enable industrial or commercial development of parks, it seems short-sighted to think that, after undertaking feasibility studies, companies would not apply for a park boundary amendment to remove the proposed development site from the park.  Our fear is that Bill 4 would enable the feasibility studies, and the results of the studies would then enable corporations to apply for a boundary adjustment so that development can ensue.  If Bill 4 is passed, it will link up with the Park Boundary Amendment Act in a way that leaves no real protection for any of our parks.

Exempting any activity in BC parks from the protection currently provided by the Park Act is simply unacceptable and the protection of BC parks is not a matter that should be left to ministerial discretion.  The proposed changes threaten the wilderness and wildlife values that British Columbians have worked so hard to protect in past decades.  The NCES and our membership want to ensure BC’s parks are protected from industrial development and we support certain and unequivocal protection for our parks both for their intrinsic value and for the benefit of future generations.

Bill 5 – Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2014

We would also like to draw attention to a concerning part of Bill 5 that has also passed second reading and has now been referred to a Committee of the Whole for consideration.  Specifically, s. 7 of this Bill would amend s. 108 of the Land Title Act by adding a provision that would allow the BC Cabinet to make formerly private, but now public, lands private again.

Section 108(2) of the Land Title Act currently says that if a plan is filed with the Land Title Office that includes private lands covered by water adjacent to Crown lands, those private lands are transferred to the Crown (unless the Minister of Lands orders otherwise).  If Bill 5 is passed, Cabinet will have the power to make such land private again if Cabinet feels that:

  • there is “uncertainty about the operation of subsection (2)” in relation to that land; or
  • it would be “inappropriate or unfair” for those lands to be owned by the Crown because a person had believed that the land was privately owned and had incurred costs or could incur future costs as a result of that belief.

Our concern lies with the imbalance of the above provisions and that there is no requirement to consider the public’s belief that a water body is publicly owned, only the private owner’s belief.  We would therefore urge the BC government to not support this amendment as it would undermine public ownership of BC lakes that are located on private lands and could serve to remove bodies of water from the public trust.

Yours in Conservation,

Jody Lownds                                                                                                Jennifer Greenwood

Vice-President                                                                                    Director of Conservation