British Columbia is 948,596 square kilometres of land and water, 9.5 per cent of all of Canada, as the country currently stands. The number of people who want a piece of that land is increasing.
During the last provincial election the NDP campaigned on a promise to end valley-by-valley conflicts and bring some order to land use issues. Since the election, the provincial government has announced it wants to double the amount of "protected" land in B.C. — creating parks and preserving wilderness areas — from 6 to 12 per cent of the province by the turn of the century. It is doing this through CORE, the Protected Areas Strategy and other initiatives, such as last week's announcement of the Lower Mainland Nature Legacy.
At the same time the province and the federal government have started treaty negotiations with more than 40 First Nations. It's a process that has only recently gained public attention, but it began in 1991, when a task force of seven people, appointed by the federal and provincial governments and the First Nations was struck. In 1992 the task force produced a report which presented a framework to resolve native land claims. Among the task force's recommendations was that any party could introduce anything to the negotiations.
The treaty negotiation process may not be quite as outrageous as it first appeared. While the Vancouver Sun estimated First Nations are claiming 111 per cent of the province, the treaty process requires each First Nation to outline its traditional territories when it files a statement of intent to negotiate. The overlaps add up to more than 100 per cent of the province. However, First Nations are required to resolve overlaps prior to beginning negotiations with the governments.
Private land is not part of the negotiations. Linda Jolsen, the province's treaty negotiator responsible for the Lower Mainland region (which includes Whistler), says most parks will not be on the negotiating table either.
However, where the whole process breaks down is in co-ordinating information. Municipalities, regional districts and the public generally have had little input or feedback on the treaty process to date. Moreover, with the province unilaterally declaring parks and protected areas, as it did in Indian Arm last week, the First Nations feel they too are being left out of the loop.
The provincial government owes all British Columbians some explanation as to how it plans to co-ordinate all the various claims to the 948,596 square kilometres that make up the province. Sceptics could be forgiven if it seems an impossible task to resolve the issue before the next provincial election.