NDP re­views use of hired guns to study en­vi­ron­men­tal risks

The Province - - NEWS - Lind­say Kines

The NDP gov­ern­ment has or­dered a re­view of B.C.’s con­tro­ver­sial “pro­fes­sional re­liance” sys­tem, which uses ex­perts hired by in­dus­try to as­sess the en­vi­ron­men­tal risks as­so­ci­ated with log­ging, min­ing and other projects.

En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Ge­orge Hey­man said in an in­ter­view that the prov­ince pre­vi­ously re­lied on its own pro­fes­sion­als to pro­tect the pub­lic in­ter­est. But the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment shifted much of that re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­fes­sion­als hired by project pro­po­nents — a change that crit­ics say cre­ates con­flicts of in­ter­est and un­der­mines pub­lic trust.

Hey­man said that re­view­ing the sys­tem is a top pri­or­ity for the NDP gov­ern­ment, but he gave no in­di­ca­tion of how long it will take or when it will be com­pleted.

The NDP and the B.C. Green party com­mit­ted to the study in their deal to over­throw the B.C. Lib­eral gov­ern­ment. Premier John Hor­gan, in his man­date let­ters to min­is­ters, di­rected Hey­man to un­der­take the re­view “to en­sure the le­gal rights of First Na­tions are re­spected, and the pub­lic’s ex­pec­ta­tion of a strong, trans­par­ent process is met.”

The Lib­er­als de­fended the use of in­dus­try-paid pro­fes­sion­als while in of­fice, but in its fi­nal throne speech be­fore los­ing power pledged “to pro­tect the health and safety of B.C.’s unique en­vi­ron­ment by re­view­ing our sys­tem of pro­fes­sional re­liance to en­sure pub­lic con­fi­dence is main­tained.”

Cowichan Val­ley Green MLA So­nia Furste­nau said the re­view is needed to re­store trust in the gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to reg­u­late in­dus­try and pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment.

She said, how­ever, that the cur­rent sys­tem isn’t just a prob­lem for the en­vi­ron­ment.

“It un­der­mines the in­ter­ests of in­dus­try be­cause com­mu­ni­ties stop trust­ing gov­ern­ment and they stop trust­ing in­dus­try and in­dus­trial projects, be­cause of the grow­ing per­cep­tion of the fox-is-watch­ingthe-hen­house sit­u­a­tion that we have.”

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Law Cen­tre at the Uni­ver­sity of Vic­to­ria con­cluded in a 2015 re­port that “much of B.C.’s dereg­u­la­tion goes too far in hand­ing over what are es­sen­tially mat­ters of pub­lic in­ter­est to those em­ployed by in­dus­try.”

Calvin Sand­born, the cen­tre’s le­gal di­rec­tor, noted that the shift was ac­com­pa­nied by cuts to the civil ser­vice. “They re­placed gov­ern­ment en­force­ment of the law with al­low­ing com­pa­nies to hire their own ex­perts to make gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions, ba­si­cally,” he said.

Sand­born said any re­view should ex­am­ine all the pro­fes­sional re­liance schemes across nat­u­ral re­source sec­tors. “It’s go­ing to take some time be­cause (the Lib­er­als) fun­da­men­tally trans­formed the sys­tem of del­e­gat­ing gov­ern­ment au­thor­ity to hired par­ties work­ing for com­pa­nies.”

B.C.’s au­di­tor gen­eral con­cluded in a 2016 re­port on the min­ing sec­tor that B.C. lacked poli­cies and pro­ce­dures to over­see its “in­creased de­pen­dence on qual­i­fied pro­fes­sion­als em­ployed by in­dus­try to do the work needed to meet gov­ern­ment’s var­i­ous man­dates.”

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