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Proposed National Marine Conservation Area Reserve – Strait of Georgia (2016)

The beauty of British Columbia is intrinsically tied to tourism, external investment, and the health of our communities. In 2003, the Government of Canada and British Columbia signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA) Reserve in the Southern Strait of Georgia. The proposed boundary is within a heavily populated area with high levels of private, commercial and public activities. Vancouver Island’s coastal communities stand to be greatly affected by the proposed NMCA Reserve, namely their real estate prices, their businesses, as well as their way of life.

BUSINESS ISSUE

The Chamber believes the proposed establishment of a NMCA Reserve in the Southern Strait of Georgia can contribute to our economy, attract investment, create household-sustaining jobs, and support local business.

The area of consideration is home to hundreds of thousands of people, is a major international trade route, has a considerable amount of foreshore title land, and has a maze of jurisdictional players.

The Chamber believes the biggest risk to commercial and recreational activities is any stakeholder confusion or uncertainty leading up to and after the Strait of Georgia NMCA Reserve is established.

BACKGROUND

The conservation of marine environments is taking on global significance. In response to this, the Government of Canada began a NMCA program in 1994. In 2003, Canada and British Columbia signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a National Marine Conservation Area Reserve (NMCA) Reserve in the southern Strait of Georgia.

A “Reserve” is established when there are First Nations land claims in an area. Given the number of unresolved First Nations claims in the Southern Strait of Georgia area, an NMCA Reserve would be established pending resolution of the claims. Once all claims are resolved, the area would become a NMCA.

The Strait of Georgia marine region is the smallest of five marine regions found on Canada's Pacific coast, yet it is also one of the most productive. It is also a region intensively enjoyed by British Columbians and visitors each year. For example, the rich sub-tidal communities provide some of the best scuba diving in North America and pleasure cruising is world-class, whether it be in a yacht or a kayak.

Impact on Commerce and Residents

If the Southern Strait of Georgia NMCA Reserve is established, ownership of provincial lands - including the seabed - would be transferred to the federal government. For waterfront residential and commercial properties, that means the submerged lands below the high-tide watermark would be transferred from the Province of B.C. to the Government of Canada.

Beyond the transfer of submerged lands ownership, there is a complex jurisdictional maze that includes First Nations, regional districts, municipalities, transportation authorities, and island trusts. This area also has more than 100,000 residents and countless visitors who have relied on easy and free access to waters for decades. Such a delicate operating environment has a direct impact on residents’ quality of life as well as on businesses.

One of the frequently discussed business impacts surrounding the navigable waters within the 2011 proposed boundaries is marine transportation; it is BC Ferries “backyard” and a transit route for thousands of cargo shipments per year.

There are many practical questions that still need to be answered, such as how will the NMCA Reserve operations - including enforcement - be funded? Who makes the decision to halt or alter commercial vessel traffic patterns if zones need to be established or amended? How will the success of the NMCA Reserve be measured? Who will manage affected land use, e.g. issue permits for private infrastructure that extends below the high-tide watermark? These are questions that need to be answered before the NMCA Reserve is implemented to ensure a welcoming business environment and public support.

Decision-Making Environment

The Government of Canada and the Province of B.C. will have numerous challenges facing the proposed Strait of Georgia NMCA Reserve, including:

  • continuing to allow high concentration of commercial and recreational marine traffic in the area,
  • the potential for a variety of inter-departmental jurisdictional issues, e.g. fishing and marine transportation falling under both Fisheries and Oceans and Transport Canada and in collaboration with Parks Canada, and
  • the proposed NMCA Reserve is expected to fall under the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act, and as such, would not address specific conditions relating to the Southern Strait of Georgia’s unique environment.

Commercial activities within the Southern Strait of Georgia are critical to our economy. Vancouver Island’s coastal communities stand to be greatly affected by the proposed NMCA Reserve, namely their real estate prices, their businesses, as well as their way of life. This leads to a highly charged and politicized environment that can interfere with sound policy decisions, consequently making the region vulnerable to complex change driven by vocal minorities instead of sound principles.

Progress to Date

Parks Canada has hired a full-time employee to manage the specific file, and is working on a number of studies to develop a comprehensive understanding of the region and to reach a determination of the feasibility of the proposed NMCA Reserve. The Chamber expects this research to include a thorough analysis of current and forecasted commercial and recreational activity, as well as how such activity may be affected by the establishment of an NMCA Reserve - before the reserve is created.

The proposed Southern Strait of Georgia NMCA Reserve should balance the needs of the economy with the environment. Issues should be anticipated and questions answered prior to implementation. Critical points need to be incorporated into separate legislation to ensure a stable and transparent decision-making environment for all stakeholders.

SUMMARY

The Chamber appreciates the need to balance the conservation of our environment. The Chamber recognizes that the beauty of British Columbia is intrinsically tied to tourism, external investment, and the health of our communities.

The Chamber is supportive of continued dialogue regarding the proposed NMCA Reserves in the Strait of Georgia, provided Strait of Georgia’s unique environment and its importance to the health and prosperity of the regional economy is clearly recognized.

To that end, The Chamber expects a specific piece of legislation be enacted to address unique nature of the Strait of Georgia NMCA Reserve, such as was done with Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park. Such legislation would mitigate any confusion or uncertainly, allowing businesses, residents and visitors a stable and transparent decision-making platform.

RECOMMENDATION

In recogition of the Strait of Georgia as one of North America’s most important trading corridors, moving billions of dollars in trade good, The Chamber recommends that the federal government:
  1. establish a predictable and transparent decision-making for the consultation process leading up to establishment of the proposed Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and
  2. ensure continued access to existing and future marine trade corridors in the Strait of Georgia.

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