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Good morning.

Wendy Cox in Vancouver today.

Some 95 million hectares of British Columbia land are currently controlled by the Crown – 94 per cent of the land base in the province.

Relying on that land are about 40,000 tenure holders who use it for infrastructure, forestry, building transmission towers and other operations. Some 2,500 people or corporations apply every year for access to Crown land. All of them must take into consideration the interests of Indigenous groups that lay claim to all of that land, a process that often lands in court.

So it isn’t unreasonable to expect that, among the 70-plus government news releases that have landed in my inbox since the beginning of the year, one of them might have mentioned the provincial NDP government’s plan to change the way land-use decisions are made.

There was no such announcement.

Instead, on Jan. 5, on the government’s govTogetherBC page, the province offered British Columbians the chance to comment on “a legislative amendment to enable agreements with Indigenous governing bodies to share decision-making about public land use.”

Anyone interested in having a say has until March 31 to get their thoughts in. The spring legislative session starts Feb. 20 and is expected to sit until the middle of May.

This amounts to 12 weeks for public consultation on changes that will result in legislation introduced and passed within 19 weeks.

That’s a ferociously quick timeline for a piece of legislation that could affect thousands of people.

Talks have been under way with Indigenous groups over the development of the legislative amendments, but Hugh Braker, a member of the First Nations Summit political executive, declined to comment on details, saying those involved in the talks have signed non-disclosure agreements.

But Robin Junger, partner, Indigenous law and environment with McMillan LLP, and a former head of B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office, told reporter Justine Hunter in an interview the legislation could be seismic.

“This is a radical change,” said Mr. Junger.

“With these proposed amendments, they are moving to give actual rights of First Nations governance over non-First Nations parties. That’s different than Indigenous self-government and, to my knowledge, it’s the first time it has been contemplated anywhere in Canada.”

Nathan Cullen, Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, played down the significance of the changes, noting they are a logical outcome of the unanimous passage in the B.C. Legislature in 2019 of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

“The notion of co-management is in the DNA of the Declaration Act,” Mr. Cullen said in an interview with Justine.

He said he does not expect the amendments to the Land Act will apply to existing tenures or renewals. He declined to answer when Justine sought specifics on how current Crown land users could be affected in the event there is a conflict between newly empowered Indigenous groups and long-standing non-Indigenous users of the land.

Such a conflict is playing out on the Sunshine Coast, where the ministry and the shíshálh Nation have spent more than two decades establishing a joint management plan over docks within the nation’s traditional territory.

In 2022, the province issued a cabinet order that formalized the joint decision-making process with the First Nation – a precursor to the broader amendments now being proposed.

Sean McAllister, director of the Pender Harbour and Area Residents Association, said the hundreds of dock owners in his community have been shut out of the process, and are being told they’ll need to bring their docks into conformity with new rules that they believe are unworkable.

Cullen acknowledged his government could do a better job of communicating and agreed that without better communication, backlash within the non-Indigenous community could be a danger.

Later Friday, Cullen and Chief Lenora Joe of the shíshálh Nation issued a joint statement condemning vandalism, death threats and racist statements directed toward the First Nations community.

“Our job as government is to be very open and transparent, provide lots of space for people to influence the process and make us understand the implications,” Cullen said in the interview.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief Mark Iype. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.

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