Giving royal assent to B.C.’s latest batch of laws this week, Lt. Governor Janet Austin singled out one for special mention – the world’s first official adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
That’s unusual, and it is for good reason, Premier John Horgan told reporters after the fall session of the B.C. legislature adjourned.
“It will transform how we do business in B.C. for the better,” Horgan said. “Unanimous support in the legislature, business interests around the province, in fact around the country, looking to B.C. as a leader in how we better make all of the people of British Columbia benefit from the extraordinary bounty we have here.”
Work begins in January to start amending B.C. laws to meet the dozens of objectives of UNDRIP, and the first set of changes is expected in the spring session that begins in February, Horgan said.
“I think the patience of Indigenous communities has been well demonstrated over the 200 years of colonial activity here in B.C. and across Canada,” Horgan said. “I’ve been invited to speak to the Assembly of First Nations in Ottawa next week about what we’ve been able to accomplish here, and I’m sure I’ll get some advice from elders and others about how we proceed in the new year.”
Horgan praised the B.C. Liberal and Green Parties for joining his government’s support for the change, after detailed questioning of its implications over the past two weeks.
“I want to ensure that the public understand that this is not just the NDP who’s doing this,” Horgan said.
B.C. Liberal MLA Mike de Jong, a former minister of finance, Indigenous relations and justice, led the opposition questioning on Bill 41, described as a “framework” bill committing the province to dozens of clauses in the UN document.
De Jong asked about UNDRIP Article 39, which states: “Indigenous peoples have the right to have access to financial and technical assistance from states and through international cooperation, for the enjoyment of rights contained in this declaration.”
Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser said UNDRIP “does not create a positive obligation on the part of the state, but there will be conversations about funding from the provincial government.”
B.C. has already signed an agreement to share seven per cent of B.C. Lottery Corporation net income, which the province estimates will amount to $100 million over the 23-year term of the deal.
Environment Minister George Heyman has completed a rewrite of B.C.’s Environment Assessment Act, after a consultation tour including mining, forest industry and union representatives.