Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rural input into land use

Management of natural resources has disproportionately fallen into the hands of experts (the civil servants and people within larger businesses) that have no direct connection with the land or the natural resources. The people making the decisions live in urban BC and are divorced from the natural world. They do not need to consider the implications to the communities in which the decisions they make play out.

Contrast this to someone that operates a small one town mill operation. They have defacto a social license with the community. Put glibly - “I can not screw up because everyone can find me and lynch me”. There is a stronger interest/incentive to keep the jobs going because the personal and social investment the small owner has in the town.

No where in the way civil servants make decisions is there a point at which anyone realistically raises “Oh don’t make the decision because you are going to have a negative impact on the small town”. Where is the social licence of the government to be allowed to extract the tax value from the land if they are nto considering the communities?

The engagement of the community in a meaningful manner in how the decisions are made in relation to natural resources is crucial to good land management. You have to get the people that have the real decision making power – forest industry and mining industry executives in downtown Vancouver and the civil servants to engage with the communities, they have to be in the small rural towns, they have to engage with the First Nations. There has to be a serious effort to get out of the board rooms and onto the land. Given our technology today, there is no earthly reason to base any of the resource companies in Vancouver (if you think capital markets are the reason, then you have to remember the money people are in Calgary now as part of that flight of big money and investors during the NDP era)

There is no relevant reason for a company like Alcan not to be based out of Kitimat. In the case of Lillooet, there is no earthly reason why Ainsworth could not be based there instead of downtown Vancouver. There was a time when Ainsworth was much more closely connected to the interior. The company started in the 1950s with a couple of Ainsworth brother’s being gypo loggers in the Cariboo.

Most people see First Nations as having had significant input into land use decisions over the last years and yes it has improved, but it is not because industry or government wanted to do First Naitons any favours - it is because the First Nations have fought tooth and nail to get something - anything. This has meant going to the courts to get the decisions that give them the rights to make government pay attention.

Every small town across this province should be sending letters of thanks and letters to support to the First Nations leaders that have taken the risk and pushed the issue against all the government and corporate might. These decisions on consultation with First Nations will eventually apply to the rest of the rural residents of the province. The First Nations legal decisions set the stage for a new era in consultation for all rural residents.

Consultation is more than just letting people know what you are doing, it is process of getting your information out in manner that is understandable for those you are consulting with and then taking their comments and making use of them or justifying why you would not use them. It is an iterative process that promotes an interest based approach and not a positional one.

Unfortunately government has rarely had any interest in consultation because it operates from a positional basis and is not really willing to consider how to use input in a meaningful way. A classic line is "We have our statuary decision maker" or "We can not fetter the minister" and bullshit like that. Coming in from outside and saying "we have all the power" creates a feudal like relationship between all rural residents and the government. We have become feudal like serfs on our own land. The message is not a new one, it is one that the First Nations have been trying to tell people for 100 years. In the last few years rural communities are beginning to learn the harsh truth themselves.

The plight of First Nations is the same plight of rural communities – there is a common cause of disempowerment and disenfranchisement from any meaningful input into land use. We need to have the rural communities and First Nations go out and reclaim the land so as to ulitmately create a fundamentally respectful and two way process when it comes to land use.

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