On April 15, Premier John Horgan appointed former BC Liberal MLA Blair Lekstrom as a Community Liaison tasked with engaging residents of the Peace Region and reviewing a pre-negotiated Partnership Agreement on caribou recovery.
Up until this point, the NDPs caribou recovery plan was in serious trouble.
Negotiations had been held behind closed doors exclusively between the federal and provincial governments, and the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations. The broader community quickly discovered that that Horgan’s so-called consultation process amounted to little more than a public- relations campaign designed as an after-thought.
This enraged people all the way from the Peace Region right down to the Kootenays. Rather than build a consensus-based solution, the caribou recovery plan outlined by NDP Forests Minister Doug Donaldson deeply divided communities along racial lines.
It was then Horgan reached out to Lekstrom to try and resolve serious concerns. By the end of May, the former MLA and now Dawson Creek Councillor crafted a 10-page report that pulled no punches.
Lekstrom’s forthright and blunt assessment indicated that the draft agreement excluded 97 percent of the people who live, work and recreate in the region, and as such was doomed to fail.
The 14 recommendations contained in Lekstrom’s report insisted that the government must not move the Partnership Agreement forward without broader engagement to achieve public support. This should include the McLeod Lake Indian Band and the Lheidli-T’enneh First Nation in particular, and local governments, industry and backcountry user groups in general.
Unfortunately, none of this appears to be in the cards.
There is no indication of a willingness to change the Partnership Agreement in any substantial way.
Earlier this month Horgan confirmed that he had appointed a second envoy, former aboriginal relations deputy minister Lorne Brownsey, which pretty much confirms the NDP need a back-up plan if Lekstrom decides to walk away from the process.
The real danger here is the simmering racial tensions left in the wake of the Partnership Agreement.
The First Nations themselves negotiated in good faith and cannot be held responsible for a botched and deeply flawed recovery plan.
Sole responsibility for this mess lies with the premier’s office and NDP Forests Minister, Doug Donaldson.