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Open Letter to all British Columbia MLAs

BC Wildlife Federation
Unit 101 – 3060 Norland Avenue

Burnaby, BC V5B 3A6

February 19, 2010

Open Letter to all British Columbia MLAs:

Recently representatives for BC Wildlife Federation (BCWF) met collectively with Ministers George Abbott, Barry Penner and Bill Bennett. BCWF had submitted a brief for their review which highlighted our members’ concerns with regard to the direction this government is taking generally in resolving many First Nations issues. This letter is a summary of those concerns and expresses the need for more balance in adjusting First Nations’ demands to the needs of all other citizens of the province.

We also appeal to you personally to become informed of matters that are now of critical importance to many British Columbians.

The courts, in a general fashion, usually accompanied by directions to negotiate balanced solutions, are defining aboriginal rights. These decisions are then loosely interpreted by the government and increasingly being applied to Crown Lands across the province. We should note, however, that these decisions are usually applied away from the eyes of the urban media.

It appears to BC Wildlife Federation that aboriginal rights only come from court decisions which may be the explanation why First Nations are constantly using the litigation option. Our government, on the other hand, seems to shun initiating this course of action. We fail to understand this apprehension on the part of government in light of the fact that most court decisions clarify First Nations rights and also for the most part, recognize and provide protection for the rights of all Canadians.

Access to lands and resources is becoming increasingly difficult for industry and the citizens of the province. For industry, it appears a patchwork has emerged of putting investment into resources where First Nations are favoured at a price. There is no faith in policies seen as constantly evolving and applied on a piecemeal basis. For the average citizen, there are no options. They have no input to the negotiations so that government understands their values; they have no funds to compensate First Nations for access to recreate and they have no ability

to suggest compatible solutions to complex issues of land and resource use.

In all of these scenarios, the average citizen of the province is excluded and, because of the “Lets Make a Deal” mindset, solutions are imposed that have no chance of benefiting the province or, sadly, First Nations.

We would remind all that the premise government put on the requirement for treaty negotiations was to develop and create “certainty.” The facts are that certainty on aboriginal rights comes only from court decisions. The current government course provides no certainty for either party and promotes a never-ending negotiations process even after final agreements are signed.

For government, reconciliation agreements are being struck that transfer shared decision making and revenues directly to First Nations. These revenues are part and parcel of the social fabric of the province. They pay for health programs, educational programs, highway building and other functions of government. We urge you to understand and determine the increasing long-term impacts that the loss of these revenues will have on the maintenance and support of the programs on which all British Columbians depend sustainability is critical for the future of our province. To what extent is the authority of the Crown being compromised in shared decision making agreements? Does “shared decision making” now confer a high level of recognition which invites conflict if not clarification in a high level legal challenge? Our legal advice is that the “shared decision” process in fact provides a veto for First Nations on any proposal to utilize public natural resources.

Indeed, is the province not avoiding resolution of provincial jurisdiction over public lands and resources by failing to get on with its appeal of the William decision?

Ultimately, as an elected MLA, you are part of government, accountable to your constituents and their questions and must be answerable not just to those constituents but to future generations of British Columbians.

In terms of the direction this government is taking regarding dialogue with First Nations for protocols, agreements and treaties, any opportunity for public involvement has been scrapped subsequent to the 2002 referendum. The development of government to government negotiations has unfortunately distanced the public who pay for all this process. We urge you to question the wisdom of supporting this exercise in alienation, not just in terms of individual political ends, but rather as a matter of conscience in being responsible for the social landscape

and future opportunities for all British Columbians.

We request you consider and appreciate that all sectors and citizens of this province deserve the same level of consultation as is currently given to First Nations surrounding land use decisions. We further request you actively bring suggestions forward with your colleagues in government that can include the public in some meaningful way in the development of agreements with First Nations.

Specifically, with respect to land use, BCWF is keenly interested in the decision making process that impacts our members’ access to fish and wildlife resources. The management of these resources has been traditionally based on science. Increasingly, it appears decisions are being made on political grounds that would give in to demands by First Nations for exclusive opportunities. Complaints by First Nations of infringement, not of any right but on an ability to harvest, seemingly need no basis in data or fact. Evidence of not harvesting sufficient to their

(First Nations’) needs doesn’t appear necessary for our Ministry to propose restrictions on residents completely devoid of conservation reasoning. We urge you to consider the risks to our fish and wildlife resource if management decisions are made for reasons of appeasing groups rather than on a scientific basis. We respectfully request your support when we bring these inconsistencies forward to our appropriate Ministers.

In closing, we wish to remind you that BC Wildlife Federation currently represents and enjoys the support of over 37,000 members throughout the province. These members are citizens who are outdoors people who recreate, hunt and fish often as family units. We draw to your attention that recreational fishing in this province generates in excess of $1.5 Billion for our economy each year. Angling also generates 17,400 jobs in this province every year. Hunting generates something in the order of another $500 Million and upwards of another 2,000 jobs.

Recreational angling in this province generates annually $115 Million to the provincial treasury and a further $170 Million to the federal treasury. Hunting contributes an additional $40 Million provincially and $50+ Million federally.

Access to lands and our fish and wildlife resources is important to these citizens as are all public resources to other British Columbians.

We respectfully urge you to consider the points we have raised here. The future of all British Columbians is very much a vision that must be analyzed by you personally in terms of a balance that assures ample opportunities for all.

Yours in conservation,

Mel Arnold, President

BC Wildlife Federation

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