The current session of the BC Legislature has kept us quite busy. While we’ve had occasion to discuss several bills in our Environmental Law Alert, we haven’t even mentioned a host of others that we are following with interest. This session, the BC government has introduced a whole series of amendments and new statutes with environmental implications – some good, some not good – and many of them with little or no public consultation.
Here is a list of the several bills dealing with environmental, resource management and public process issues that we’re currently tracking. For each we’ve indicated whether the bill has been passed and received royal assent, or whether it’s at some other stage in the law making process (each bill needs to receive 1st, 2nd and 3rd reading and then receive royal assent to be enacted):
- Park Amendment Act, 2014, (Bill 4, passed) – We’ve written about the Park Amendment Act, which provides for industrial research activities in BC parks and, in conjunction with the Park Boundary Adjustment Policy, paves the way for lands to be removed from parks for industrial purposes.
- Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2014 (Bill 5, passed) – Bill 5 makes a series of amendments to the Forest Act,Lands Act and various other statutes. Among other things, the bill expands the ability of the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources to authorize the export of wood chips from British Columbia, a change which NDP MLA Katrine Conroy has suggested will cost BC jobs. We’ve also mentioned previously that another of the amendments may relate to a court case about ownership of the bed of a lake.
- Protected Areas of British Columbia Amendment Act, 2014 (Bill 11, passed) – A current example of how the government goes about amending park boundaries (see our comment on Bill 4 and the Park Boundary Adjustment Policy). So far as we know this Bill doesn’t contain a lot of contentious changes, although the removal of land from Indian Arm Provincial Park to “correct an error” has raised journalistic eyebrows. If anyone has further information on the history of this “error,” feel free to post it in the comments section below.
- Natural Gas Development Statutes Amendment Act, 2014 (Bill 12, received 3rd reading) – The Bill makes a series of very technical changes to the Oil and Gas Activities Act and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Act. Most of the changes do not seem to represent major changes to either act, although we are concerned about provisions which may reduce the right of landowners to be notified of decisions affecting their land in some cases and other provisions which allow for smaller units of land to be made available to the oil and gas industry (which might lead to even denser oil and gas development in the Peace River region). On a positive note, the Bill increases penalties available under the Petroleum and Natural Gas Act (although still only to a maximum of $100,000), and expands the ability of government to pursue the former owners of abandoned well sites for environmental remediation. For more information, the Hansard discussion of the Bill is a good place to start.
- Offroad Vehicle Act (Bill 13, passed) - We generally support the Offroad Vehicle Act which is the result of years of work and consultation, and will allow better regulation of ORV use.
- Water Sustainability Act (Bill 18, received 2nd reading) – As we’ve written previously, the Water Sustainability Act contains many improvements – as well as some significant concerns – over the current Water Act.
- Animal Health Act (Bill 19, received 1st reading) – Readers of the Environmental Law Alert may recall that we successfully opposed an earlier version of this Act, which we feared would have the effect of unconstitutionally silencing those concerned about health on farms. We are pleased that Bill 19 no longer has these troubling provisions. The Bill does, however, still assume that the best way to encourage farmers to report diseases is by keeping the information that they provide confidential, and therefore in most cases overrides the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act in respect of such information. Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has criticized this aspect of the Bill.
- Local Government Elections Campaign Financing Act (Bill 20, received 2nd reading) – Bill 20 puts in place rules related to communications made in the context of a local government election, modeled on controversial and possibly unconstitutional rules that exist at a provincial level. Our Environmental Law Alert reviews the concerns with these proposed changes when they were first proposed last year.
- Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act, 2014 (Bill 24, received 1st reading) – Bill 24 reduces legal protection for agricultural land for much of the province. For more information read our Environmental Law Alert on the Bill. You can also voice your concern by telling the government to keep its hands off our food security.
That’s a lot to absorb in this summary form, but we hope it gives a sense of the wide range of environmental and democracy issues that the Legislature has had before it so far this legislative session. For the more major changes we try to give a more comprehensive analysis and either applaud or criticize the changes being made.
We clearly have significant concerns about a number of these bills. We wish that the government would take the time to consult the general public, First Nations and stakeholders when making these types of changes. We believe that such consultations do result in better laws.
By Andrew Gage, Staff Lawyer
Photo by Brandon Godfrey, under a Creative Commons Licence.