Public Affairs Update Header
July 2, 2014
In This Issue
BC Chamber analysis of Williams decision
Province urges Ottawa to keep foreign worker program
Minister responds to mayors’ transportation vision
The Public Affairs Update is your weekly insight, perspective and analysis on politics in British Columbia and Canada.  This newsletter is brought to you by the largest, and most broadly-based business organization in the province, the BC Chamber of Commerce – the Voice of Business in B.C.

BC Chamber analysis of Williams decision
Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada granted a declaration of aboriginal title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in B.C.’s central interior to the Tsilhqot’in First Nation.


While the BC Chamber of Commerce is still in the process of reviewing the full implications of the decision, our initial assessment is that this decision, while important, will not result in significant change to the way in which decisions around resource projects are made.


The two aspects of this decision that are of particular relevance and importance are aboriginal title and the implications this will have on how decisions are made regarding the use of the land base.


Aboriginal Title


The significance of this decision is that it is the first time that the Supreme Court of Canada has formally declared aboriginal title to exist in a specified area of British Columbia. It should be noted, the Supreme Court recognised that the concept of aboriginal title exists under Canadian law, being defined as exclusive occupancy at the time of sovereignty. The decision provides clarification as to what constitutes occupancy.


It is important to note that the decision actually establishes a high threshold for title. The decision confirms that title can go beyond permanent village sites and cover relatively broad areas of land. However, the decision also says that these sites require regular and exclusive use by the aboriginal group.


Other first nations may have an even harder time establishing titles given all their overlaps and the fact that they do not have the same history of repelling invaders which they can prove and rely upon.


Decision Making


In the absence of title, decision-making where title is claimed will continue as it does today. Projects that impact land under claim of title will, under the auspices of a Crown requirement, continue to consult and accommodate where appropriate.


Where title has been established, important to note that this is the only case where actual title has been recognised, the decision makes it very clear that the provincial government can continue to regulate and apply its laws to aboriginal title lands, subject of course to meeting the test of “justification.” This means either obtaining consent of aboriginal groups for areas in which title has been proven, or being able to justify infringements of those rights in the absence of aboriginal consent. Justification requires a compelling, and substantial, governmental objective that ensures impairments no further than necessary, and that the benefits must outweigh the adverse effects on the aboriginal interests.


Given the relatively small amount of title established in B.C., and the timely and expensive process required to establish title, we do not anticipate a rush by aboriginal groups to litigate for title.


BC Chamber Analysis


Our initial analysis of this decision is that there are significant positives to much of the Supreme Court’s decision. We know that title must now be well-defined and that many of the claims advanced in B.C. would struggle to meet these conditions. We now also know that the provincial government can continue to govern on land where title has been established.


Province urges Ottawa to keep foreign worker program
As the federal government considers changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) program, the Province is urging the federal government to keep the doors open for foreign workers.


Minister of Natural Gas Rich Coleman stated that major projects in B.C. will fail if companies cannot hire foreign workers. Projects risk going over budget, which may hinder final investment decisions. Further, the Province anticipates a demand for approximately 100,000 workers, which B.C. cannot meet currently.


Minister responds to mayors’ transportation vision
On June 12, Translink’s Mayors Council – a body of 21 Metro Vancouver mayors – put forward a $7.5 billion 30-year transportation and infrastructure vision.


A major point of contention in the plan has been the $250 million in provincial funding that would be redirected from B.C.’s carbon tax. At the time, Minister of Transportation Todd Stone responded by stating that the Province would not fund the transit expansion through its provincial carbon-tax revenue.


Last week, Minister Stone offered his formal response to the plan. He commended the mayors for highlighting the region’s transportation needs and priorities, but confirmed the Province’s opposition to sharing proceeds of the existing carbon tax. He encouraged the mayors to consider different funding arrangements, including a new regional carbon tax – which would require a referendum, or raising property taxes – which would not require a referendum. At this point, the mayors indicated no intention to overhaul the plan.


2014 BCCC Policy & Positions Manual (Coming Soon)
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This weekly report produced for the BC Chamber of Commerce by Fleishman-Hillard.  While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information included in this publication as of the date of issue, events and government policies are subject to frequent change.  Therefore, the BC Chamber of Commerce and Fleishman-Hillard cannot assume any responsibility for actions taken solely or principally on the basis on the information contained herein.