Western Forest Products and the Association of British Columbia Landowners have won a legal challenge against regional bylaws limiting their activities on private land.
The court case is connected to a decision in January, 2007 by former forest and range minister Rich Coleman to allow the removal of huge swaths of private land from tree-farm licences. His brother Stan Coleman worked for the applicant, Western Forest Products, when Coleman made the decision.
Last July in a hard-hitting report, B.C. auditor general John Doyle concluded that Coleman allowed the land to be removed from tree farm licences “without sufficient regard for the public interest”.
The Capital Regional District responded to Coleman's decision by passing bylaws to prevent the company and other private landowners from making land-use decisions incompatible with community objectives.
In a decision posted on the B.C. Supreme Court Web site on Christmas Eve (December 24), Justice Robert Metzger upheld the plaintiffs’ arguments that the Capital Regional District’s bylaws should be struck down because the regional district did not follow proper procedure under the Local Government Act.
“If a local government fails to abide by a procedural provision of the Act when adopting a bylaw, or if a bylaw is itself contrary to a provision of the Act, then the bylaw in question is illegal,” Metzger ruled.
On April 23, the CRD passed six bylaws to curb the impact of the highly controversial B.C. Liberal government decision to remove 28,000 hectares from three coastal tree farm licences in the Juan de Fuca Electoral District.
“There is no dispute that the purpose of the bylaws was to block the development of certain lands that were removed from the TFLs and held by WFP until the CRD had sufficient time to undertake appropriate land use planning,” Metzger wrote.
Central Saanich and Metchosin had cost-sharing agreements with the CRD under which they paid $100 for a vote on land-use decisions in the Juan de Fuca Electoral District. The only directors who voted on first and second reading of the bylaws were the directors for the Juan de Fuca Electoral District, Central Saanich, and Metchosin.
Metzger concluded that these terms were not sufficient to create an actual cost-sharing arrangement under the Local Government Act. As a result, he ruled that the CRD vote was not in accordance with the act, and the bylaws are invalid.
Metzger's written reasons for judgment made no mention of Doyle's report, which found that Coleman's ministry gave “too little regard given for potential impacts” on stakeholders other than the applicant, and that consultation was not effective and transparent. Doyle also noted that as a result of Coleman's decision, the population of deer and ungulates in the area will decline.
Doyle’s report noted that Western Forest Products contributed $60,470 to the B.C. Liberal party between 2005 and 2007. Its major shareholder, Brookfield Asset Management, contributed $50,000 to the B.C. Liberal party in 2007, Doyle reported.
The B.C. government estimated that the private land was worth $150 million, according to Doyle’s report.
The auditor general’s office requested a meeting with Coleman to understand the decision-making process. Coleman refused, and would only answer questions presented to him in writing.
On June 23--less than a month before Doyle's report was released--Premier Gordon Campbell shuffled Coleman out of the forest and range portfolio. Coleman is now the minister responsible for housing and social development.