British Columbia

B.C. premier appoints Josie Osborne as Minister of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship

British Columbia Premier John Horgan has appointed Vancouver Island MLA Josie Osborne as Minister of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship and Minister Responsible for Fisheries.

Newly created portfolio will include working with First Nations and federal Fisheries Ministry

Josie Osborne, pictured during her time as mayor of Tofino, B.C. The MLA for Mid Island-Pacific Rim has been appointed to lead the newly created Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship. (Simon Charland/CBC)

British Columbia Premier John Horgan has named Vancouver Island MLA Josie Osborne as Minister of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship and Minister Responsible for Fisheries.

Osborne, the representative from Mid Island-Pacific Rim and former mayor of Tofino, was appointed to the newly created role at Government House in Victoria on Friday.

The B.C. government says the new ministry will help address its natural resource sector goals of Indigenous reconciliation, economic stability and environmental sustainability.

Portfolio responsibilities will include building a co-managed land and resource management system with First Nations, leading the co-ordination of a clean drinking water strategy, overseeing ecosystem health including the species-at-risk program, and bringing more certainty to the resource sector for investors and communities.

The fisheries, aquaculture and wild salmon files will also be moved under the new ministry. 

Osborne was previously minister of municipal affairs. That role has now been given to Stikine MLA Nathan Cullen.

Nathan Cullen, pictured here in Ottawa in 2017, is taking over for MLA Josie Osborne as the province's minister of municipal affairs. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"The new Ministry for Land Stewardship reflects the fact that natural resources are foundational to our province and they are the backbone of many local economies," said Horgan in a prepared statement.

"Minister Josie Osborne's experience and skill will help government bring more predictability to the land base, while protecting B.C.'s natural heritage and ensuring the benefits are shared more widely now and in the future."

Earlier this month, the NDP government said in its throne speech that management of B.C.'s land and resources are two of the government's greatest responsibilities.

It said the government has spent more than a year planning a new ministry to support those goals.

'It certainly is welcomed'

Terry Teegee, the regional chief for the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, said First Nations were involved in the lead-up to the creation of the new ministry.

"If this supports and helps the implementation of the alignment of laws and supports implementing this reconciliation strategy from the provincial government, then it certainly is welcomed," he said.

The Opposition Liberals criticized the new ministry, saying the government is building more bureaucracy when people in resource industries, especially forestry, are concerned about their futures.

"At a time when communities, loggers, contractors, employers, workers and First Nations are all looking for stability, John Horgan and the NDP have decided that adding uncertainty and more bureaucracy is the way to go,'' John Rustad, the Liberal forests, lands and natural resources critic, said in a statement.

Protesters march during a demonstration against old-growth logging at Teal-Jones Group sawmill in Surrey, B.C., on Sun. May 30, 2021. The provincial government has been criticized for its decisions around logging and land use. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

According to background information from the province, the other natural resource sector ministries in B.C. are not set up to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and advance reconciliation in a meaningful way.

Specifically, the province says it is seeking a new vision for land co-management with First Nations that embraces shared decision making.

In 2019, the province passed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) Act into law. It sets out a framework for reconciliation in B.C. and seeks to ensure the human rights of Indigenous peoples are respected.

The 2022 budget announced Tuesday provides $12 million over the next three years to support that work through a new Declaration Act Secretariat. It will guide provincial legislation and engagement with First Nations to implement goals set out in the act.

First Nations leadership council representatives hold up printed copies of the UN Declaration bill when it was first tabled in the B.C. Legislature in 2019. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC )

The new stewardship ministry will have a budget of $92 million for the 2022/23 fiscal year and a staff of over 1,200. Its creation also means the restructuring of other resource ministries.

Heather Castleden, a professor and chair with the school of public administration's transformative governance for planetary health at the University of Victoria, has been working with the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, including the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, for the past 15 years on environmental, health and treaty issues.

She said the province has so far not provided enough clarity about how the new ministry will engage, employ and achieve consent from First Nations.

"I couldn't help but wonder will the staff be at least 50 per cent Indigenous people from this province who are the best-known land stewards available to us for operationalizing a new ministry?" she said. "And will those people be in positions of decision-making power? Or will they be junior staffers in a tokenistic kind of manner?"

The former ministry of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development contacts has now become the streamlined Ministry of Forests, focused on modernizing forest policy and forest sector renewal.

It will also oversee the B.C. Wildfire Service, flood and dike management and the River Forecast Centre.

Forestry Minister Katrine Conroy will no longer be responsible for recreation sites and trails, rural development, or mountain resorts, which have been shuffled to the environment, jobs and tourism ministries, respectively.

Horgan has also named Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley as parliamentary secretary for forests to support Conroy's work.

With files from Chad Pawson and the Canadian Press.

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