Putting all the permits, licences and authorities to use B.C.’s Crown-owned land in a single ministry is not all about allowing more efficient economic development of the resource, says Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson.
“This is about approving the right projects, not just any project,” says the Okanagan-Mission MLA about the new ministry he was asked to head up last October.
“Our Crown land is a resource for the future. We need to make careful, balanced decisions about its use,” he says.
In an interview with the Capital News this week, Thomson admits he’s very aware that people are watching the new ‘super ministry’ to see how it works—and whether it works. But, he’s confident that it can work.
By collectively working together with a number of the natural resource ministries, he says it will be possible to better address the challenges of both reduced staffing levels and reduced budgets in individual ministries.
I would hope this will result in improved communication between ministries where otherwise there could be conflict, he said.
While policy is still set by the ‘line ministries,’ the new ministry carries it out in terms of administering licensing and regulation, under their direction, he explained.
What makes it all work is the Environment and Land Use Committee of the B.C. cabinet, which includes the ministers of energy (also Thomson at the moment), forests (Pat Bell, who chairs it), mines (Randy Hawes), aboriginal relations (Barry Penner), environment (Murray Coell) and agriculture (Ben Stewart), as well as the parliamentary secretary for water stewardship (John Slater).
Deputy ministers also attend those meetings, and sit on the Natural Resource Management Board.
At ELUC all those ministers work together to resolve issues. “It only works if we all work collectively. We’re a support ministry for the line ministries. We ensure strategic policy is carried out,” he explains.
“Hopefully we resolve issues and find a balance with a collaborative approach. There’s only one land base and it has many pressures from many uses,” he said.
At the same time, he admits it’s a work in progress, getting a new ministry—made up of key staff from many different ministries—up and running smoothly.
Adjustments are still being made, and he would like to see some flexibility where there are bits that aren’t working.
The idea is to get away from ministries becoming silos, working quite apart from each other, even when they are discussing permitting activities on the same plot of land. Sometimes those activities could be conflicting ones, such as motorized use of trails in domestic watersheds and this new initiative, this new ministry, is a vehicle for resolving such issues even before they become issues, he explained.
And, although the list of general responsibilities in the new ministry is a page long, Thomson hastens to point out that only part of the responsibility for each lies in the NRO. Only the permitting portion is, while policy is still set in the line ministry.
Asked about the importance of recreation sites and trails, once in the forests ministry, but then slashed completely some years ago, then gradually re-instated as a government responsibility but in the tourism ministry, Thomson said he feels there are an important part of the B.C. experience.
They are now in his ministry, and he said he will have to ensure the policy is there to support them.