VICTORIA — The British Columbia government announced the creation of a new ministry Friday that will focus on reconciliation with Indigenous people, economic growth and environmental sustainability.

Premier John Horgan appointed Josie Osborne as the new minister of land, water and resource stewardship. She will also be the minister responsible for fisheries.

The new ministry reorganizes several of the government’s natural resource ministries and is the result of a more than a year of talks with municipal and First Nations leaders, business, environmental and labour groups, and land-use experts, Horgan said.

“The fundamental part of being British Columbians, with our abundant natural resources, is ensuring that we’re stewarding those effectively,” Horgan said at a news conference at Government House.

“For too long the development of our resources have not focused on the people who own them, British Columbians.” 

The Opposition B.C. Liberals criticized the new ministry, saying the government is building more bureaucracy when people in resource industries, especially forestry, are concerned about their futures.

“At a time when communities, loggers, contractors, employers, workers and First Nations are all looking for stability, John Horgan and the NDP have decided that adding uncertainty and more bureaucracy is the way to go,” John Rustad, the Liberal forests, lands and natural resources critic, said in a statement.

Nathan Cullen, who represents the Stikine riding in the legislature, will take over for Osborne as minister of municipal affairs. Nanaimo-North Cowichan legislature member Doug Routley will be the parliamentary secretary for forests.

A government statement said the natural resource sector ministries, including forests, environment, agriculture and energy, were not set up to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, which aims to advance reconciliation and share decision-making with First Nations. 

“The government’s goals of reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, economic stability and environmental sustainability are best achieved through restructuring and a new Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship,” said the statement.

Among the responsibilities of the new ministry are working with First Nations on co-managed land and resource issues, developing land-use policy that ensures certainty for investors, and co-ordinating strategies to protect drinking water. The new ministry will also be responsible for provincial species at risk, and fish and ecosystem management.

Horgan said the ministry restructuring and the creation of a stewardship branch of government is a concept he’s been supporting “for many years. This is an exciting time,” he said.

Earlier this month, the New Democrat government highlighted the launch of the new ministry in its throne speech, saying stewardship and management of B.C.’s lands and resources are two of the government’s greatest responsibilities. This week’s budget included funding for the department.

Osborne, who represents the riding of Mid-Island-Pacific Rim, was the mayor of Tofino and is a biologist who holds a master’s degree in natural resource management.

“Josie comes from Tofino, which is a place that has been the centre of many land-use discussions,” said Horgan, citing the Clayoquot Sound forestry protests during the 1990s that led to hundreds of arrests. “It puts her in a good position to understand the consequences of land-use planning.”

Horgan said Cullen has vast experience with local government and First Nations as a former New Democrat MP in the Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding. Cullen’s provincial Stikine riding in northwest B.C. covers some of the same territory, he said.

“Nathan is a superior communicator, which means, in my mind, he listens, he synthesizes complex issues and he’s able to communicate those back in a way the public can understand,” Horgan said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2022.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press