Resource management with pendulum politics

In 2001 the liberal government introduced Professional Reliance to reduce red tape

In 2001 the Liberal government introduced Professional Reliance (PR) to reduce red tape along with the civil service.

For 15 years it was embraced by the forest industry but drew increasing criticism from competing forest resource users. As expected with a change in government in 2017 there would be a change of some programs introduced by the previous government.

Many of the reversals are due to election promises, for example, the removal of the toll on the Port Mann bridge and recent changes in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The toll removal was easy (a poor decision since I believe in the user pay concept) but some reversals are much more difficult, like the decision to support the Site C dam.

Read More: Petition to stop Site C dam falls short

The last professional reliance report that came out in the summer of 2018, was a much more detailed document than the first three reports on Professional Reliance and was requested because of concerns raised by a number of independent agencies.

While the last report looked at a number of professional organizations I focused on the forestry issues. Some groups have expressed a concern about the recommendations which I presume is fear of a return to the more strict government control approach prior to the adoption of Professional Reliance.

Read More: Industry groups pan B.C.’s ‘professional reliance’ review

My impression from the reports is that while recommendations are around some of the problems pointed out by Ombudsperson, Forest Practices Board and Auditor General and others there does not appear to be a push for a return to the old level of government control.

While there are many recommendations I think the following section summarizes the intent.

“There ought to be an impartial decision-maker or arbiter, who can independently weigh and balance all of the priorities, risks and benefits of proceeding with the forest management activities. Such an independent decision-maker would increase public confidence and provide transparency of process and decision rationale.

In the board’s view, professional advice cannot totally replace the power of an impartial decision-maker, either in reality or perception.

Where objectives are not clear, or where competing interests and values are in play, it is not realistic to expect professionals working for licensees to define the public interest.”

It was suggested that the district manager could be delegated this authority but even some managers did not agree.

One way to reduce the influence of the licensee is the use of independent professional contractors especially on issues requiring expertise outside of licensee staff.

While this independence should encourage impartial outcomes, examples were provided that the independent contractors are still influenced to some extent by allegiance to their temporary employer and pressure can be exerted before final contract payment is made.

In order to counteract these shortcomings, the following recommendation was made so all professionals had access to an impartial arbiter.

“That government establish an Office of Professional Regulation and Oversight that would have authority similar to that found in the Health Professions Act. The Office would be an agent of the government, independent from the natural resource sector ministries, and focused on professional governance issues.”

While you may not agree with all of the recommendations, I think the lead author Mark Haddock and his support team of nine assistant law students did a good job of soliciting public input.

They got input from a steering committee, two working groups, targeted interviews, First Nations as well as submissions from professional associations, government employees and the public with over 4,600 submissions received (including 1,800 from professionals) as part of government’s public engagement on professional reliance.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

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