2011 Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 39th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Volume 27, Number 3
Orders of the Day
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 6 — Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2011 (continued)
Hon. S. Thomson
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TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 2011
The House met at 10:02 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Orders of the Day
Hon. M. Polak: I call continued committee stage debate on Bill 6, intituled the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2011.
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 6 — Forests, Lands and Natural
Resource Operations Statutes
Amendment Act, 2011
The House in Committee of the Whole on Bill 6; D. Black in the chair.
The committee met at 10:06 a.m.
On section 4 (continued).
B. Routley: Does the minister have an idea as to how many B.C. jobs are created per 1,000 cubic metres of harvest from woodlots?
Hon. S. Thomson: I'm pleased to continue the committee stage on Bill 6. I want to apologize to the Chair for being behind her all day. I understand that last night she was complaining a little bit about a stiff neck, having to turn around to see when I get up. That's what I get for being in the corner here. I apologize for that.
We don't have a specific conversion factor for jobs per cubic metre or per 1,000 cubic metres. The woodlots are all of varying sizes and varying types of operations in terms of family operations and things. So some would have additional staff and additional jobs during peak harvest periods, when they're harvesting, and others will do it with family labour, which may not necessarily show up as a specific job.
In terms of the specific conversion, we would not have a number other than to say that we know that woodlots provide for good family employment, provide for additional jobs in communities. They're an important part of creating economic activity in rural areas of British Columbia.
B. Routley: We had a commitment yesterday that there would be some additional information forthcoming as part of this debate, so I was wondering if the minister could prepare a response to the questions that were asked yesterday. Rather than getting it in written form, I remember I asked whether I could be cc'd. Could I now ask the minister to respond in full to the questions that we asked yesterday?
Hon. S. Thomson: Yes, I've got some additional information in response to the questions. If I can just make sure, I'll rephrase the question that was being asked so that I am clear that I'm responding to what was requested.
My understanding of the question is it's around the successful phase 2 bioenergy proponents — how many, where they were located. The question, I think, was in terms of how much volume capacity might be needed or is being contemplated to support those particular projects.
As you know, there are four successful proponents. The areas are Chetwynd, Fraser Lake, Merritt and Fort St. James. The capacity of those projects is different: two smaller projects with a 12-megawatt capacity and two larger projects with a 40-megawatt capacity.
So as the member opposite knows, we're in the process now of negotiations with respect to those projects in terms of the volume supply, and obviously, it will be within a range, depending on the capacity of the project. The smaller capacity projects would require — and this is still in negotiations, so to be able to say exactly what volume is contemplated is…. You can't say particularly at this point, because it will depend on a combination of how much volume may be provided, how much they may be able to provide in terms of some of their own business-to-business relationships and things.
Two of the projects are contemplating a non-replaceable forest licence that would meet their requirements. Two of them, as part of their proposals, don't require that because they've made the arrangements within their own business-to-business relationships. It will be a range. I think somewhere between, at the bottom end in terms of the smaller projects, something in the range of 50,000 cubic metres and the larger projects, which would make something over 350,000 cubic metres or something like that.
Again, to be clear, those processes continue, the negotiations continue, in order to provide the volumes. Once those negotiations complete and there's a process for First Nations consultation, the specific volume requests would then become known. But at this point, as you know, facilities have to be built. We're a couple of years away from those specific numbers being known, but that will provide the members opposite with the range and provide them with the information on where those projects are located.
B. Routley: Okay. Thank you, Minister, for that response.
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The government has become very, very proficient and certainly is exporting a lot of raw logs and raw materials that create jobs in British Columbia to overseas.
Could the minister break out the information on how much timber is exported as raw logs in the last couple of years from woodlot licences? Is there any way to break that information out?
Hon. S. Thomson: The specific number of that would take some research in order to be able to provide that information. It would be true to say that there will be some from woodlot operations, but we would have to do some specific analysis, and research would be fairly detailed in terms of work that would have to be done in order to provide that number.
We can undertake to do that as quickly as possible, but in terms of being able to provide that specific number now, we would not have that number with a degree of accuracy that I would like to state at this point.
B. Routley: Well, I have to say that I'm really quite surprised that woodlots throughout British Columbia have, as a core purpose, set out to establish community stability. So the thought that they're creating community stability seems to be out the window, but we're now ramping up log exports all over the province, not only on our Crown land but on woodlot licences or some portion.
The number has become so great it's clearly hard for the minister to keep track of specific items such as woodlot licences. I think that's a tragic story that we've ended up in such a place that what used to be a manufacturing mecca for people all over the world to come to British Columbia and manufacture logs and, certainly, create value-added wood supply…. Now it's simply lost, like it's so much spare change to have log exports rush out of the province and even from our woodlot licences that were once there to create community sustainability and community stability.
Getting to the next item, does the minister have any idea or has he done any research on the potential fibre supply loss or the job loss as a result of this contemplated legislative change?
Hon. S. Thomson: I think we addressed this question yesterday in our responses. What I said at that point was that the total, if — and this is a significant "if" — all the current private land that was in woodlots was removed, which clearly is not going to be the case, is less than 0.16 percent of the AAC.
B. Routley: Okay. Thank you for that response.
The issue of public interest or community interest was canvassed a little bit yesterday, but I want to dive a little deeper. My partner talked about the pod concept, and I think that we need to go deep on some of these issues. Given the Auditor General's position on the last removal of private land, one of the things that I'm sure the minister would want to consider is public interest and community interest.
So my question is: which specific items of community interest were clearly considered as part of the decision-making to bring forward this bill?
Hon. S. Thomson: This carries on the discussion that we had yesterday on this — you know, the public interest consideration, the community interest consideration. Clearly, one is ensuring that we have continued viable woodlot operations.
The ability to remove a portion or some of the private land, in order to make sure that you can continue to maintain the balance of the woodlot operation without having to surrender that operation, contributes to the ongoing viability of the operations, the ongoing commitment of that woodlot to the community — particularly as many of the woodlots are dealing with the economics relating to mountain pine beetle impact in their operations — to provide for intergenerational transfer of the operations.
Again, as I stated yesterday, it's part of our policy, a provision around public notice for any proposed applications that would come forward for partial removal of private land. That will ensure that the community interests are known and taken into consideration when applications are being considered.
B. Routley: This one, section 4 — clearly, one of the community interests is the issue of land that was once set aside for woodlots and now is going to change. I can see that if I was a woodlot owner and had put my private land in…. I'm aware of one particular case where someone has private land as part of a woodlot licence, apparently, in Ladysmith, yet they have the Crown portion, actually, on one of the islands.
It sounds like under this bill the regulations are not clear yet. It sounds like a person could literally come to the minister and say, "I want the option to take all of my land out of the community forest licence," and as I understand it, you would have the ability to have a lower tax. When your private land is included as part of a woodlot licence, you're going to be taxed on a lower tax basis than if you were part of a community plan and part of a municipality.
I'm aware of all kinds of lands, for example, in the Cowichan Valley, where people have taken land out of F-1 forest land use and put it into other kinds of uses, and of course, there's a major change in the tax but also in the value of that land. It goes up dramatically.
In some cases, I'm sure, if you were a woodlot owner and you had the opportunity to take a huge chunk of
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land and maybe develop it into 20 or 30 lots or whatever — if that's what's on your mind — I can see the attraction of coming to the government and saying that you think it's a real good idea to have the option to do that, to take that land out and do those kinds of things.
If you simply had the special interest of the individual woodlot owner on your mind, I can understand, again, why someone might think that way, because things change in terms of values. You put land, maybe in the 1950s or '60s or even '70s, into a woodlot licence, and at today's values, you find yourself bumping up against a thriving community. The values have changed dramatically.
You know, if I can think of this, I'm sure that the minister's staff — he's got all these capable staff — could come up with these options when you're looking at something. People are clearly saying: "I want to be able to take this land out for a different use."
So my question to the minister is: has the government even considered the option of any kind of compensation or some kind of substitute land being provided to the Crown in return for providing what is a very profitable option to remove private land from the current woodlot owner's land base? Is there any thought at all, whatsoever, to some compensation to the Crown or some benefit to the Crown?
Really, I think that's your job: to be concerned about the Crown and the public interest rather than just someone else's interest. One of the ways to do that would be substitute land. So any consideration to that?
Hon. S. Thomson: I think what we've said here is we've got 700 different woodlot operators — 700 different individual situations, individual families, different circumstances — and the process would be that applications would be made, and there would be core policy around how those applications might be considered.
By the fact that we have public disclosure in the process and community opportunity to provide comment — or public notification for community opportunity to provide comment — it is conceivable that, depending on the circumstances, that might be something that would need to be considered in approving an application.
So not saying: "No, it would not ever happen." What we can say is that there may be circumstances, depending on the individual application, depending on the area, where there may need to be some of that consideration, but that would be considered on a case-by-case basis, depending on the nature of the application.
B. Routley: I have to say that I'm not at all comforted by the words "may" this and "may" that and "could be." The words in the bill give the minister ministerial discretion, and all he really needs to do is to decide, "Well, I've got nothing else to do this afternoon. I'm going to agree with Bob here," or whoever comes to the door and says they want to take their private land out.
There's no requirement, any process, in this bill contemplated whatsoever. It's all at the minister's discretion and the government's decision to bring in regulations. It's not a comforting situation at all for the community and for the public at large. There are no protections for the community or public interest, much like what we went through with the last major land withdrawal.
In preparation for dealing with this private land withdrawal from what was clearly focused on primarily forest land use, has the minister reviewed any or all of the recommendations of the Auditor General with regard to the similar issue about removing private land from tree farm licence in preparation for dealing with woodlot licence? It's a straightforward question. Have you reviewed the Auditor General's recommendation?
Hon. S. Thomson: The answer is, yes, I have. That is why we've said that there will be a number of policy criteria under which applications would be considered. I think that you have to recognize in this situation that we have everything, from very small applications that would have a very minimal impact in terms of…. You know, small ones. We have situations where forestry land has been combined with agricultural land, and they may want to be separating that. We will, potentially, have some larger applications.
But that's why we've said that there will be some criteria to measure it against and that there would be public notification around any applications. So we've discussed a number of those with the woodlot association. There will be continued discussion around refining that policy under which applications would be considered.
B. Routley: Could the minister, just for the record, be clear that the public have no say in this bill whatsoever? I don't read any rights for the public or for the public interest in here. Does the minister suggest that there is some public review or public process in this bill? I can't find it. So for greater certainty, are there any rights whatsoever for the public?
Hon. S. Thomson: The bill is designed to provide the discretion for the minister to keep the basic policy — being able to do it — within the bill. What we've said clearly is that there would be a set of policies that would be put in place in order to guide the decision-making process around that, and it includes public notification.
But again, we've said that because of the great diversity in the number of operations, the size of operations and the individual circumstances and things, those provisions would be provided for in policy. The intent of the legislation is to provide for the basic ability for removals of part or all of the private land to be done.
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B. Routley: That answer just reminds me of the fact that, effectively, this government has taken a sledgehammer to community interests. They've been squashed. There are no rights whatsoever.
I'm happy to learn that the minister has thoroughly reviewed the Auditor General's recommendations. One of them that stood out for me…. I'm sure the minister will have a thoughtful response on this one. What the Auditor talked about is that there needed to be monitoring. So what impacts of the previous private land removal decision has this government monitored — which was specifically one of his recommendations — and what were the results of any of those monitoring reviews or reports?
Hon. S. Thomson: With respect to the woodlot removals and the proposed approach to it, what we said clearly is that there would be public notification on those as part of our assessment and consideration of applications when they are made. If they are approved under the policy that will be in place, we will be continuing a process of monitoring the removals and the potential impact of those removals, although as I've stated previously, given the fact that in our view this maintains viable woodlot operations, we don't see those impacts to be significant.
I think, clearly, as we move forward with the policy of considering these applications…. As I stated previously, the ability to do this was there previously, a number of years ago, before we went into a process where we generally didn't do it. Now we're recognizing the concerns of woodlot operators, and we will monitor the process as we move forward. We'll make adjustments to the policy if necessary, and that's, again, why we're recognizing the diversity of the nature and range of woodlot operations. That's why we are taking the approach that we would develop that through policy.
B. Routley: I'm not sure that I heard an answer about any monitoring that was done or any reports or reviews.
However, given the amount of time that we've now had since the development of this bill…. I'm sure the minister would acknowledge that with 700 owners that have private land in there…. They would be interfacing with communities throughout British Columbia. So one of my questions is: were there any potential stakeholders that were missed in the consultation process by this government prior to making this decision to bring forward this bill?
Hon. S. Thomson: This process and this proposal within this bill was brought forward based on discussions with the broad community of the federation of woodlots, and as I said previously, over a period of time in terms of discussion with them over successive years as we looked at the policy. During those discussions there were other interests as part of some of those meetings in terms of community forests and those kinds of groups. There's some crossover there. I know that some local associations would have referenced their discussions with some local interests in those areas as this policy is being discussed, but the specific consultation was directly with the Federation of B.C. Woodlot Associations.
B. Routley: This is a pretty straightforward question that really deserves a thoughtful and reasoned response. That is: what are the government's reasons for agreeing to these changes?
Hon. S. Thomson: I'll state, as I've stated previously, that the basis for the decisions is to recognize the unique circumstances of woodlot operations, to be able to provide for the removal of a portion or a part of the private land in order to address specific circumstances that may be related to intergenerational transfer, may be related to ensuring continued viability of their woodlot operations; to be able to address economic impacts related to mountain pine beetle impacts in terms of the ongoing viability of their operations; and to be able to restore a policy that was previously in place in terms of the social contract with woodlot operators.
When they brought private land in before this, they previously had the ability to have consideration for removal of it. So what we've done is brought back the clarity in the bill that we can do that, and then we will continue to develop criteria under which the applications would be considered and adjudicated.
B. Routley: Were there any other considerations that were reviewed, or were there any well-thought-out options provided to government? I'm sure the ministerial staff would review the bill and give options. Were there any other options prior to the government making this decision, and if so, what were they?
Hon. S. Thomson: There were basically two options considered — to amend the act to be able to provide for the ability to deal with applications for private land removal or not to do it. Given that the option not to do it meant that the only way to do it would be to have a complete surrender of the woodlot licence, which was the only option currently that woodlot owners would have, the decision was made that recognizing the legitimate requests of the federation woodlots…. The option was made to be able to provide the ability for applications to be made and to continue to work with the Federation of B.C. Woodlot Associations to develop the criteria and policy under which that would be considered and adjudicated.
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So two options — yes or no. Our decision was that we would provide the option for private land applications, removal, to be made.
B. Routley: They say the devil is in the details. The word "discretion" is found in relation to the minister having discretionary authority. I would like to drill down a bit and understand what would be some of the kinds of minister's discretionary considerations. I'm sure that it wouldn't just be political considerations. I'm sure there would be other considerations. Could the minister describe for us what kinds of discretionary considerations would be included in the meaning of the word "discretion" as drafted? Or what's the real intent of the word "discretion"?
Hon. S. Thomson: The wording of the legislation simply provides for the ability for the policy to be in place that would allow for decisions to be made. The legislation clearly says: "In accordance with the regulations, if any…." That process is there specifically to say there can be, potentially, regulations that would be in place that would help guide that. It would also provide for policy.
We favour the policy approach, given the unique 700 different families and different circumstances and things like that, as I said. In order to have a less prescriptive approach to it, it would be in policy.
Some of the policies that we've considered and would be in place…. For example, the private land would have had to have been held in that woodlot for a minimum number of years. The person would have to have all the obligations to the Crown current, so that whatever their obligations may be in place. There would be public notification. A number of conditions like that would all be part of it. The policy will clearly guide the decision-making process for the minister.
B. Routley: Regarding the intent of the word again, this discretionary authority…. When I contemplated that and thought about the future and potential issues that could arise, one of the potential future outcomes could be…. Just let me think ahead for a moment. Because he has discretionary power, he can determine yes or no in every circumstance. Could the minister, under the use of discretionary authority, refuse to grant the removal of a woodlot owner's private land removal even if the circumstances in the request were relatively equal to the requests that had already been approved?
So you've got two different woodlot owners. You've got this vast area of the province. Could the minister, because of community interest or public interest or some other outside influence…? Could that affect his discretionary authority? Even though some woodlot owners may be granted the authority, there is no obligation for the minister, when he has this discretion, in every case to grant authority.
I'm assuming that's correct. Could I just get greater certainty and clarity on that? Is that the case?
Hon. S. Thomson: In consideration of the applications, you're obviously guided by the overall principles of administrative law and fairness. You would be guided by the policy criteria that is in place. Under the majority of those situations, given the similar circumstances — the policy considerations being the same — you would not end up in the situation where you would refuse one and not the other, all other things being equal and all the circumstances being equal.
There may be cases where there are unique circumstances that might mean you would, for those circumstances, not approve an application. But those circumstances would be taken into consideration as part of the decision-making process, referencing policy, administrative law and fairness. So theoretically, you may have two applications that look similar. One may be approved; one may not. But there will be circumstances that have to be taken into consideration.
Generally, if the policy framework is there, and if the administrative processes are followed, then similar applications should get the similar consideration.
B. Routley: My discomfort in one person having such vast discretionary authority with no checks and balances…. I'm used to processes where there are either appeals or a person in a labour relations context can put forward a grievance or take the matter to arbitration or appeal a decision if they feel that it's wrongly made. I know the minister may have been contemplating a lot of yeses and not any noes in his…. I know that I'm far-reaching in assuming here. But in the event that there was a no, has the minister contemplated any rights for the person who's being denied, to in any way appeal? Or is there another process?
Notionally, I guess, you could cover things off with regulation, but shouldn't the bill be thought out far enough ahead to have drafted some language to include the ability to appeal the decision of a discretionary authority of this kind to cabinet or to some tribunal or some public process? Certainly, when we're concerned about the public process, I would think that there should be some concern for community needs, and the community ought to have the option to appeal or whatever.
So again: what is the perceived or real need for the ministers to have such vast discretionary powers only in the minister's hand?
Hon. S. Thomson: Again, the applications and the process of exercising the ministerial responsibility here
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will be judged against the policy, judged against the rules of administrative fairness of things. That would provide all those opportunities for the applicant to be heard, for the decision — to be able to give fair notice, and in terms of the reasons for your decisions — and the opportunity, as we talked about, for public notification, public input into that process.
In the end, if the applicant doesn't agree or accept the decision that has been made in the judging of all the policy in the circumstances, then the option would be a judicial review.
B. Routley: We're down to my last question in this section. At least I think we are. The last question deals with the…. I'm glad the minister had reviewed the Auditor General's statements. Clearly, he reported about decades of various legislation dealing with the public interest.
Let's just zero in on the issue of public interest in the minister having the single authority and power in the ministry. What was the ministry's thinking on why the minister should have these discretionary powers, and how do they fit in with the concept or notion of public interest in removal of private lands? I know it's somewhat similar to the earlier question, but I'm seeking an understanding of specifically what the thinking was on how this met the public interest.
Hon. S. Thomson: Again, I think that as the member opposite has said, this question has been canvassed a number of times. But just to restate: the reason for providing the provision within the bill to be able to do it and to have it based on regulations, if any, or policy, is to be able to recognize the unique circumstances of a very diverse sector in terms of over 700 different types of operations of varying sizes and regions and to be able to address the criteria and the process under which you would make those decisions in policy so that we can deal with all of the unique circumstances.
Again, we've talked about the public interest and the overall interest in doing this in terms of maintaining viable woodlot operations, being able to recognize unique family circumstances, to be able to address specific needs of individuals. I think that's in the public interest and ensures that we can continue to have a viable and ongoing woodlot sector in British Columbia.
There is continued interest in the woodlot sector. There's continued interest in applications in terms of expanding the overall number of woodlots.
We feel that by having this policy — knowing that in terms of bringing private lands into woodlot management, after a number of years you would have the option of being able to remove some of that or a portion of it — it will actually enhance and assist in bringing forward new woodlot operations, because there won't be that hesitation.
Currently it's not a requirement to have to bring private land in, but certainly it is one, when you're considering applications, that helps benefit those applications and gives them favourable consideration. We think this will enhances the overall woodlot program.
B. Simpson: I'll apologize to the minister in advance, because I do need to circle back to some of the questions, but hopefully in a tighter manner, just to clarify for the public record. As the opposition critic has pointed out, I think this is all occurring against the backdrop of tree farm licence releases. That's really what the issue is here.
As has already been pointed out, the Auditor General gave a pretty scathing indictment of how that process was undertaken. For the public record, I want to be crystal clear that the Auditor General…. I mean, his report was entitled Protecting the Public Interest?
His overall conclusions indicated that the removal of private lands from tree farm licences "was approved without sufficient regard for the public interest…. The decision was not adequately informed." The whole process was in the interest of the licensees — hence, some of the questions that are being asked here — with too little consideration given to the impacts on other key stakeholders.
Consultation was not effective, communication with the stakeholders was not effective and not transparent, and "the impacts of previous land removal decisions were not monitored to help inform future decisions."
Regardless of some of the claims around the removal of private lands from woodlots, it is against that context that it is being measured. I have spoken with the woodlot federation. This is: "If the big guys got their private lands out, we want to have the right to have our private lands out too."
[L. Reid in the chair.]
In listening to the minister last night and today, what the government is saying is that they inadvertently, in a previous amendment, removed the discretionary authority of the minister in exigent circumstances to remove private lands. The minister indicated that in case of divorce or various other things, there were exigent circumstances where there was some flexibility to remove private lands. We now have, in the minister's own words, a deliberate policy to enable the removal of private lands for what is effectively a private benefit.
I agree with the opposition members that all of the words that the minister has used to explain what's going on are exactly what the Auditor General pointed out — that this is a private benefit.
I have a proposed amendment to this bill that the minister is aware of. It's on the order paper, and I will call that at some point in the next few minutes.
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I wonder if the minister, for the public record, could state why people apply for woodlots in the first place and why they encumber private land in a woodlot. What is the point of somebody applying for a woodlot in the first place?
Hon. S. Thomson: Thank you for the question. The whole concept or the approach to woodlots is the desire of individuals to enter the industry. It's one of the few entry points for an individual to be able to enter the industry. It allows them the opportunity to manage private land along with Crown land for those economic opportunities. It provides the access to timber on our Crown land. It provides them the opportunity with a stewardship approach to managing those lands.
The interest is as a result of individual interest, wanting to be able to be part of a very important industry and to be able to manage Crown and private land together. That's why, in many cases, they bring private land into the equation — although, as we've pointed out, it's not a requirement.
B. Simpson: To be fair to the minister, I know he's got a job in the House today, and this is a decision of government to release these private lands. There are individuals — foresters and others — that love the idea of getting access to a little bit of Crown land to manage it properly. There were also educational reasons that some woodlots were issued — so that schools could get access to a piece of Crown land, etc.
At the end of the day, don't these individuals want to make money off of Crown land? Part of the reason for putting cash up, or private land in lieu of cash, is because over the term of owning that woodlot there's an intention they are going to make money off of the Crown asset. Is that not one of the desirable outcomes that people have in putting cash and private land on the table — to get access to Crown land for timber?
Hon. S. Thomson: I think the short answer to the member opposite's question or assertion is yes. Obviously, people enter the woodlot opportunities as a business, looking forward to making a return for that if things go well. That helps contribute to economic activity and, as the member from Cowichan pointed out, to jobs in those operations. So it helps to create activity in the areas in rural British Columbia.
Clearly, people entering the operations or entering into it do so with the hope of making a return that supports their families.
B. Simpson: That shouldn't be shocking. I mean, it's part of what's going on. But the principle, again, at play here is that an individual encumbers their private land and puts cash on the table with the view towards making money as a result of that encumbrance.
What's happening now is that they're saying: "We don't want that encumbrance there, but we still want to continue to enjoy the financial benefits of having sole rights over a portion of the Crown land." That's what the issue is. That's what the issue is with private land removals from tree farm licences. This may be a smaller scale, but the issue is the same.
To the minister: when land was taken into account in the obtaining of a woodlot, was that land not regarded in lieu of cash? If they went straight to cash and it was cash only, then the cash had to be bigger to get a woodlot, to be successful on the bid, than if you had cash and land. The cash was reduced if the land was brought into the equation. Is that a fair statement?
Hon. S. Thomson: There is an evaluation formula when applications are made based on contribution of land, based on contribution of cash and residency that go into the evaluation framework. You can shift within that evaluation between more cash and less land or more land and less cash, so there's an overall evaluation framework.
Again, though, in terms of making the application, there's not a requirement to have to put private land in. I think the other important point in considering this — and it's recognized that there is a benefit to being in the program in terms of being able to have an economic model that works and things….
That's why one of the criteria we are having in place, in terms of consideration for removal of that land when it's put in, is to hold it for a significant number of years before any application can be made, so that it isn't a process of being able to get the access to the benefit of Crown timber and then being able to turn around and take it out.
Clearly, one of the policies in the consideration will be to have that land as part of the contribution to be made into the program within the woodlot for a significant number of years.
B. Simpson: I appreciate that the minister keeps referring to policy, and we'll get to that in a second. That, I think, is the issue, whether it's policy regulation or legislation — that the criteria and the core criteria are transparent.
A couple other questions just to set the context for that. I just want to be clear that the minister indicated in a previous question that the only consultation the government has had or the minister has had is with the B.C. woodlot federation on this matter. Is that the only group that they've had the direct consultation with, with regard to removal of private lands from woodlots?
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Hon. S. Thomson: Yeah, as I think I stated in response to the previous questions from the member from Cowichan, the consultation process was with the federation of B.C. woodlots. It had taken place over a number of years. So the direct consultation process was with the federation.
B. Simpson: The reason for raising that is because, again, there's an inherent conflict in that relationship on two fronts. One, that federation, acting in the interests of its members, is actually facilitating the interests of only its members by asking the private land to be released. So I find it intriguing that the government hasn't gone broader to ask — especially in light of the Auditor General's report and the release of private lands from tree farm licences, that the government didn't learn from that and go a little bit broader and inform their decision by talking to other stakeholders. It's an explicit recommendation from the Auditor General as a result of the private land removal in the tree farm licence case.
Secondly, the woodlot federation of British Columbia has donated directly to the political party of British Columbia, B.C. Liberal Party, in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011. Throughout that time that federation, whom the government has admitted is the only entity they're talking to, is donating to the Liberal party, asking for the release of the private lands. It's one of the reasons I think we need election finance reform, so that kind of potential conflict doesn't occur and, also, that the perception that money buys policy changes does not occur.
The minister indicated that a rationale the government has under questions about the public good…. The only answer that I heard from the minister, and he can correct me if I'm wrong, is that if they force the woodlot licence to be surrendered in order to release the private lands, which is what the minister has the right to do…. If a woodlot owner wants to get his private land out to divvy it up for his kids in estate planning, or get the private land out on the coast, to jump into the development game in the urban interface in many of the communities that are expanding and get direct and substantial financial benefit from that higher and better use….
The minister's only response to questions about "what is the public interest?" had to do…. Well, if we force surrender, then we diminish the woodlot program. We take Crown land that's currently in the woodlot program out of that program, and that's a diminishment of the overall program.
My question to the minister is this: if you simply say, "No, we are not going to allow the removal of private lands; you're just going to have to surrender," couldn't the Crown land under licence just simply be rebundled and put out for more woodlots? Isn't that an option for the government to keep that land in the woodlot licence and, therefore, meet the only public good that the minister has indicated is a reason for allowing these removals?
Hon. S. Thomson: You know, I think that the question here is…. That was, as I stated earlier, the options that were considered in terms of looking to bring this amendment forward, to provide the ability to do it or to not. On balance, given the wish to be able to recognize unique circumstances in many of the operators, it's not to have to force them into a position to surrender the woodlot.
What it may mean…. By being able to remove a portion of their private land, it means they can stay in the woodlot business to continue to provide that sound management and stewardship of the resource, to be able to recognize those circumstances, to not provide total disruption within those operations, to be able to provide that option.
That's, again, why we'll have the process of a number of policies that will have to be considered in doing that and why we have public notification to make sure that the consultation process occurs at the community level when applications are made.
So there was a choice. The choice was, since the option to be able to do it was removed, to be able to put that option back in place or not. The decision of the ministry and of the government was to be able to put the ability back into the legislation to be able to do that and to be able to deal with those circumstances for — in total — over 700 different operations and families in British Columbia.
Again, as I said, we're not expecting at all that we're going to get 700 applications. There are many individual circumstances, and we will address those under the policy as they come forward.
B. Simpson: I know that the minister has a huge file under Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. This is a very small portion of that. I am not suggesting that he was necessarily aware of that direct conflict with respect to donations to the party he represents. But the issue remains — even in the minister's answer — that we are going to allow individuals to continue to benefit from a Crown asset while they get their private asset, which allowed them to get that Crown asset, released in order to get further benefit from that private asset that they wouldn't have gotten if they stayed with the original contract.
Secondly, the government does have the ability to just simply say, "Surrender the licence," and take the woodlot Crown land and allow somebody else to manage it sustainably — for benefits and so on — who is willing to put money on the table, and so on.
Thirdly, I think the minister is indicating, again, that this is a correction of a previous amendment. But as
[ Page 8557 ]
I've indicated already, that correction of that previous amendment was really for exigent circumstances. That's how it was used. It didn't come with a comprehensive policy of: this is how you come to us and deal with your succession planning and all of the other stuff that the minister is indicating needs to be done.
So this is a substantive change. I don't think that it should be diminished. Government is making a choice to address the woodlot federation's issue about the quid pro quo with the tree farm licences. They want a mechanism that they'd get their private lands out too.
So I'd like to move the amendment that I have on the order paper in my name on section 4 and speak to that now.
[ SECTION 4 is amended
(a) in subsection 47.1 (1) by adding "providing criteria in subsection (3) have been met." after "licence"
(b) by adding the following subsection:
(3) In order to remove private land from a woodlot licence area
(a) the woodlot licence must have been operative for a minimum of 10 years;
(b) the cut under the woodlot licence must be in balance and all regulatory requirements must have been met, or compensation has been received by government for any non-compliance;
(c) notice has been given to the public of the application to remove the land and a period of not less than 90 days has been provided to the public to give feedback to the Minister on the potential removal;
(d) notice has been given to local governments of the application for removal; and
(e) compensation to the Crown has been negotiated commensurate with the relative value of the private land’s contribution to the original licence.
(c) by adding the following subsection:
(4) Following a removal of private land under section (2), the Minister must notify the public of the change in boundaries. ]
On the amendment.
B. Simpson: The minister has spoken at length in previous questions about this policy that he's got for the removal of these private lands. I wonder if the minister could point to where that policy currently exists — a web page, a policy paper — something that we could actually go to and look at to address, to compare that policy against what I've got in front of me by way of amendment.
Hon. S. Thomson: The policy is under development, has had discussion with the federation in terms of significant elements of the policy, although it is not complete. It has not been posted, so there is not a website or a process where I can point you to, to find at that point, because it isn't complete. The step here is to get the ability within the provisions in this bill and then to continue to work to finalize the policy considerations under which the applications would be considered.
There are some significant elements of those policies, but it's also fair to say that there may be continued refinement of that and adjustment to it as we implement the policy. Anticipating the upcoming questions, that is one of the reasons why we're proposing that this be in policy as opposed to regulation.
That's why we will not be supporting the amendment that is being proposed — because the amendment provides some of the policies in the form of regulation, which provides for that prescriptive approach to it. We feel that it is better to have those criteria and things in policy. It allows us to deal with those unique circumstances, allows us to adjust the policy.
Also, as I've said previously, the bill does provide for key elements to potentially be put into regulation at some point. That would be after due consideration and finalizing the policy.
But at this point it's our position that we would deal with this in policy, potential regulation. Bringing the specific criteria into regulation at this point does not provide us that longer-term flexibility to deal with the unique circumstances of over 700 different families and operations and scale of operations across the province.
B. Simpson: I know the minister must feel he's repeating himself over and over again. That's how these debates go. But the reason for putting this amendment forward is that the government has an option when it brings forward legislation, particularly legislation in which there may be some questions about how the government is going to operate in the case of ministerial discretion, where the minister has the discretion to do something.
This language in this bill says by regulation "if any." The government has the opportunity to do things by legislation. As the minister has indicated, there's a loss of flexibility in that, but it's clear and explicit, and if there are going to be any changes to it, it has to come back into this chamber to be changed.
Most governments don't like that these days. Most of the legislation we get here is enabling legislation, because the government will argue it doesn't give them flexibility. But in the case that we have here, the minister has indicated a number of times some core or key requirements, and he has indicated them a number of times in the debate.
I've heard him say, for example — and I've got it in this amendment — that in order to remove the private land from the woodlot area, the woodlot licence must have been in operation for ten years; the cut and the obligations under the licence must be met, or the government has sought due compensation; and notice to the public has been given. The minister has indicated that would be one of what he is saying are core criteria. And notice to local government is given. That addresses
[ Page 8558 ]
the issue that the Auditor General has indicated needs to be addressed.
Then the final part. Under questioning the minister admitted that in some cases this dialogue must occur — that the Crown indicates that some compensation back to the Crown would be required, given the original circumstances for giving the woodlot licence in the first place. Then it adds another section that states clearly that once private lands have been removed, notice is given to the public of that removal so nobody gets caught by surprise.
I move that this amendment to put this in legislation be put forward now, to call the vote.
Sorry, my apologies. A member wanted to speak to it.
N. Macdonald: These amendments have been on the order paper for a number of days. We've had an opportunity to look at it. In terms of the thrust of the argument that's being made, the measures that are talked about are measures that the minister has referred to as things that would likely be in policy, although the minister has also indicated that policy is still being put together and may be flexible from one discussion to the next.
I would agree with the member who put forward the amendment that there are problems with that. Stronger than policy is regulation — right? At least, as an opposition, it's easier to find out regulatory changes. Stronger still would be legislation. So in terms of watching what's going on, this is something that would make sense.
However, the opposition is not going to support this section. We will not be supporting it. We don't think the case has been made that this is in the public interest. Therefore, it would not make sense to support anything that tried to improve it. With that, we will be voting against the amendment, and we will be voting against the section as well.
Hon. S. Thomson: To be clear, our position on this will be not to support the amendment to bring these policies into legislation. Clearly, some of the policies that have been articulated in the proposed amendment are ones that are under consideration as part of policy or regulation, but we're not prepared to have the prescriptive approach by having it in legislation that won't allow us to make the adjustments in as timely a manner as we may wish to do So we will be opposing this amendment for different reasons than the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke and the opposition.
I do want to again state for the record that a number of the criteria listed in here are criteria and policy that will be part of our consideration in developing the policy. These are approaches that we have discussed with the federation of B.C. woodlots and will continue to do so.
B. Simpson: Madam Chair, I do wish to have this amendment voted on now.
B. Simpson: I forgot to even vote on my own amendment. That shows you how little faith I had that it would be accepted by the minister.
Really, that amendment was put forward to try and make the case…. I understand the minister's contention that it doesn't give flexibility, but I wanted to put on the public record what I think are reasonable core expectations.
I have given an alternate amendment to the Table on section 4, and I've got another copy here.
[ SECTION 4 by deleting the text shown as struck out:
47.1 (1) In accordance with the regulations, if any, and with the consent]
On the amendment.
B. Simpson: It's to get to what the opposition critic has pointed out. Legislation does bind a government. It is an onerous process to change. As I indicated, that amendment went forward to simply say: "Here's what I think are the core requirements." It gives the minister the flexibility he wants in order to go out and deal with the 700 potential cases.
But there's another way of doing this. The minister has indicated that at some point the government may move to regulation. All this amendment does is on section 47.1(1) — a removal of the language "if any." The way it stands now, it says: "In accordance with the regulations, if any…." Then the minister has discretion.
I'm suggesting that this is too important to be done by way of policy. Because policy is at the discretion of the minister and his staff, policy does not have to be put out in the public domain. In fact, the minister has indicated the policy that's being discussed is policy being discussed with the federation, which represents the members who benefit from the decision.
So by removing "if any," it says that the government will, in good faith, post the core regulations. What happens for the general public then…. If the minister does it by regulation, then an order-in-council must be passed. The regulations for the core criteria that would determine whether the minister is going to allow release — it still gives the minister flexibility — is decided by cabinet, not the minister. It's public for everybody to see, and if there are changes to be made to it in order to deviate from that core, the minister is protected because he's got to come back in to his cabinet colleagues, have the discussion, make the case and get it changed.
I think this is a reasonable intermediate between policy with too much flexibility and too little transparency, and legislation with too little flexibility — to go by regulation. I'm just asking if the minister would consider
[ Page 8559 ]
just simply removing "if any" and committing today that this will be done by regulation, at least on the core criteria for removing private lands.
Hon. S. Thomson: I want to speak in opposition to the proposed amendment, simply for the reason that we are dealing with a great diversity — a wide range of types of operations, scales of operations, 700 different families. We need to continue to have the ability for policy to be part of having a flexible approach to dealing with this.
We have said, and I have said on the record, that a number of core principles could be included in regulation. But I think if we don't maintain the flexibility to have some policy considerations around it, we'll find ourselves not being able to deal with the process and the unique circumstances and will be very constrained by being only able to judge applications with specific reference to the regulation.
This provision of the bill contemplates some regulations, but it also contemplates having a policy framework that would allow you to make decisions based on unique circumstances. So I'd speak in opposition to the amendment.
N. Macdonald: Once again, it's an improvement on what's there. The advantage to regulation, of course…. This change would not mean that everything had to be in regulation, but it does say that there needs to be some regulation, that some has to be put in a form that's easier for the opposition to see what's actually happening in policy. It's very difficult to follow.
The idea is an improvement, but as I said with the other amendments that were put forward, in section 4 the case has not been made to the satisfaction of the opposition that this is in the public interest. Whether it's improved or not improved, the fact remains that it's not a direction that's going to be supported by the opposition. So on the opposition side, as well, we're going to be voting against the amendment.
B. Simpson: I find this quite unfortunate. It actually ends up forcing me to vote against this section because I don't understand why the minister would not want to be protected from the clear charge that I think is going to be made when you look at Elections B.C., and somebody goes on there and finds out that the federation is donating to the party the minister represents.
When you understand that the minister has indicated on the public record that the only group that is being consulted on this is the group that represents people who will benefit from the release, and when you look at what the Auditor General has indicated about what was wrong with the tree farm licences, this shows that government is not learning from that.
I think even for the minister, whether it's this minister or another minister, to simply have the protection of a course of regulations that still gives…. You can still design policy around the regulations. If the core is simple and straightforward, you can still have flexibility around it. So I think that's unfortunate, and it certainly forces my hand in terms of the overall section.
I move that the amendment vote be taken now.
Section 4 approved on division.
On section 5.
N. Macdonald: Section 5, as we understand it, is a section that we've seen before. It's one that was rendered inoperative. This whole section, which deals with overlapping tenure, is something that was first brought in with the Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Emissions Standards) Statutes Amendment Act in 2008. That's my understanding. I guess the first question is: what was the mechanism that rendered this section inoperative?
Hon. S. Thomson: The amendments to this section, as was pointed out by the member opposite, restore amendments that were made by Bill 31 previously, which were rendered inoperative by the Forests and Range (First Nations Woodland Licence) Statutes Amendment Act in 2010. My understanding is that inadvertently, with the passage of that statutes amendment, we rendered sections inoperative. This process here is simply to correct that and bring those provisions back in through these amendments.
It gets a bit complicated when you go between different pieces of legislation, but we made an inadvertent change that now we need to correct.
N. Macdonald: There's a tremendous amount of complexity with this. Not only was there the accidental removal of this, which we are now putting back in, but this has been problematic. Since changes that go back maybe to 2003, there have been waste issues that the government has struggled to deal with. I mean, this is part of the background.
There was a study done by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that indicated that in a five-year period, the amount of waste that was left on the forest floor — this is good merchantable timber that was left out — if you put them on logging trucks, would stretch from Vancouver to Halifax and half the way back. This is at a time when we also knew there were opportunities for some of that fibre, if it was brought in and available for use in bioenergy.
[ Page 8560 ]
For the past three years my understanding is that there's been an attempt to work with this legislation and get it to where it's actually functioning. Even though, inadvertently in 2010, it was removed, there still was a struggle and continues to be a struggle with these overlapping tenures. Is that the case? Is the minister still in a place where, three years on, the details on how this would work have not really been figured out?
Hon. S. Thomson: Thank you for the question and the comment. I think it is fair to say that with the complexity of the legislation and some of the inadvertent adjustment that was made, we're diligently working to get the overall tenure options and tools in place to be able to deal with this. This is an important piece of it in dealing with that overlapping tenure.
This fix here allows us to complete that process and make this tool available as one of the tools in addressing the concerns and the issue that the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke raised.
N. Macdonald: In terms of what we're trying to accomplish here, I think it's a worthwhile objective. Nobody wants to see the resource wasted. I understand that the government has been working on it and that this is part of it. Maybe for the public's interest and for my interest, could the minister explain how far along we are to being able to describe exactly how these overlapping tenures would work?
I know, and the minister has told us, in 2010 this section was removed. But between 2008 and 2010 the government was not able to put it in place because there were portions that still needed to be figured out. I can understand the complexity too. Whenever you have the overlapping tenures, you have existing roads, and you have wildfire obligations. You have a whole host of obligations that an initial tenure holder may have. Then how do you put another tenure over top? Who is responsible for what? Things like that.
So can the minister explain? Are they at a place where they can explain exactly what this type of tenure would look like?
Hon. S. Thomson: This change in legislation, referencing back to the 2008 bill, provides the overall framework. As the member opposite referenced, it is complex in terms of dealing with a situation where we have overlapping tenures. But what I can advise is that with this change and having the legislative framework now fixed in terms of being able to deal with it, the regulatory and the implementation process for this tool is well underway and is, as I'm advised by my staff, very close to completion. We should have the regulation and the implementation to be able to do this in the very near future.
B. Routley: It is an important issue, and I just want to comment for a moment on this. First of all, the fact that we're putting something back in. I guess when you get the chainsaw out and start cutting up pieces of legislation…. We cut a little too deep, and now it's one of those things that we've got to patch back in. But we're supportive of the concept of putting back in something that for years should have been dealt with.
I've got to tell this story. Years ago I actually protested…. I know you might find it hard to believe that I was involved in a protest about so much waste wood — mountainsides of wasted wood. In the early travels that our Forests critic and myself took around Vancouver Island, we visited a site where there were huge volumes of waste wood today yet again.
The supervisor of that operation said to us that he wanted to provide a small pellet operator with the option to take that wood waste and use it. He just thought: "Well, it's better to have one or two jobs in town than to just have this stuff sit here and waste." In some cases, we're hearing of huge volumes of wood all over the province just being burnt up. Again, I've seen this far too long — mountains of wood waste, wood being burnt or left on the side of the road — and it really is completely unacceptable.
The notion for years that we talked about out in the woods is that there should be some kind of "use it or lose it" option. If a company that owns a licence to our valuable public asset, our timber, goes out there and has their way with the forest and takes what they see as value…. There's been far too much cherry-picking, by the way, taking out the best timber because the market was such that they could leave it by the side of the road — not severe enough penalty. Then to have that wood just wasted to the community and no plan whatsoever to deal with it….
The notion of having some kind of a licence definitely appeals to me. I would encourage the minister to really push back on the industry stakeholders who I know for years have talked about insurance issues. They're concerned about that but also the fact that they pay for the roads and the bridges and all the rest of it. I heard that ad nauseam about all of their costs. While it's all true, the truth is that if you're going to waste it….
I'm sure the minister and others would agree that some kind of use for a product that's otherwise just going to be burnt up or wasted…. Notionally, that's totally unacceptable to the people of British Columbia. So I want to know how close the minister is to a solution. Has the minister found a way to deal with the major licensees that appeases their issue? Is it more or less a "use it or lose it" type of clause, or how will this work? How will the licence work?
[ Page 8561 ]
Hon. S. Thomson: First of all, let me say I agree with the member opposite in terms of this is a very important issue to address. We need to make sure we get the regulatory framework in place. I think we need to be careful about the connotation of the "use it or lose it" approach. It has implications for other key policy issues particularly related to some softwood lumber considerations and things like that.
I think what is clear with this provision, with this type of licence, is that we will have the ability to put the licensee on notice that we're prepared to issue the licence and make it available to people who want to utilize it for those bioenergy purposes. That's the intent. It will be another one of the tools in the suite of policies we will have to be able to address the issue that the member opposite talked about.
Noting the hour, I rise to report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 11:57 a.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
The Committee of the Whole, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. M. Polak moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 this afternoon.
The House adjourned at 11:58 a.m.
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