B.C. Premier John Horgan’s criticism of the federal government’s handling the Discovery Islands fish farm consultation is ironic, says Chris Roberts, chief of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation.
Especially because three of the consulted First Nations had urged the provincial government to table a Broughton-like-process for them before the federal government got involved in the Discovery Islands. But the province did not heed their request, claims Roberts.
Last week Horgan said that the federal government made the decision to phase out 19 Discovery Islands fish farms by 2022 without consulting B.C. or industry members.
The premier contrasted the “unilateral” decision made by fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan with his own provincial government’s handling of the fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago on the B.C. south coast.
The premier also told the media last week that the federal government failed in its reconciliation process under the principles of UNDRIP which the province adopted as legislation in 2019, with its Declaration and Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA).
In 2018, through the “Broughton process,” the province tabled a consultation with Indigenous communities and the aquaculture industry before arriving at a plan to gradually phase out 17 open-net pens in the Broughton Archipelago by 2023.
The plan allowed seven of the 17 sites to continue operations if the operators could reach agreement with the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis, ‘Namgis and Mamalilikulla First Nations, after scientific monitoring of the impact of parasite and disease transmission between farms and migrating salmon.
According to Roberts, Wei Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum and Kwiakah First Nations had courted the provincial government two years ago to conduct a Broughton-like process for them even before the federal government turned the spotlight on Discovery Islands.
The three nations wanted to table a process with the province that could resonate with the Broughton Process and also the freshly adopted DRIPA legislation in 2019.
“We told them we’ll sit down in a process and start with finfish aquaculture since it aligned with their license renewal conditions,” he said and added that the nations thought that the particular subject would resonate with the province since they already worked on the Broughton model.
And it was not just about the fish farms at that time, but a whole bunch of different decisions with regards to their territories that the three First Nations wanted to discuss with the province.
They were “excited” and looking forward to this “novel idea” of establishing a collaborative governance and shared decision making framework with B.C.
But according to Roberts, the “door was shut without an explanation to us as to why.” He calls this the province’s “missed opportunity.”
“So, I don’t know what the premier is trying to achieve with the statement that they (feds) got it (Discovery Islands decision) wrong. Why didn’t they take us up on this offer we put together to solve this problem like the Broughton model?”
Moving forward with the federal decision, there’s still work left to be done , said Roberts. He is hoping that the province – true to its commitment to DRIPA – will invest in the work that the First Nation is doing with habitat restoration and salmon enhancement projects in the future.
In an email statement, the premier’s office told the Mirror that while siting and stocking of aquaculture operations falls under federal jurisdiction, the province stepped up in the face of growing tensions in the Broughton Archipelago to initiate a process to bring the federal government to the table with Indigenous leadership, industry operators and others to find solutions that work for all parties.
“This process created a pathway for federal government to replicate, given their lead responsibility for aquaculture, to deal with other issues, like the concerns in the Discovery Islands,” read the statement.
The premier’s office also said that through the Broughton process, the provincial government has shown that better outcomes are found when “we’re all at the table working together.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include a response from B.C. Premier John Horgan’s office