British Columbia is one of the only coastal regions in North America without a strategic, united plan and law to protect it. The Atlantic provinces and neighbouring Pacific coast states have had comprehensive coastal plans in place for years. But the BC coast is overseen by a hodge-podge of provincial laws, regulations, ministries and departments and that puts the coast we love at risk.
Blueprint for the Coast is a collaboration, founded by Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society BC and West Coast Environmental Law, working toward a coastal strategy and law for BC.
A successful blueprint for the coast will mean:
The province is better prepared for the impacts of climate change
Local, provincial and Indigenous governments can manage our coast more efficiently and effectively
Industries that work on the water will have more certainty around project planning and development
Working with local, provincial and Indigenous governments, we’re developing a vision for the coast’s future that ensures marine life and coastal communities can thrive in an increasingly crowded ocean.
Intensifying climate change impacts, record low salmon runs, and increasing demands over resources are just a few of the unprecedented challenges facing coastal communities and ecosystems. Despite its extensive responsibilities and the sheer importance of the coast and ocean to all who live here, the provincial government has no comprehensive strategy to guide coastal decision-making.
Establishing a blueprint will ensure there is a coordinated effort that protects shoreline habitat, works with Indigenous governments to legally implement marine plans, and manages commercial and recreational uses of the coast. The blueprint’s goal is to make sure coastal areas in BC and the communities that depend on them are able to thrive now and in the future.
All orders of government (Indigenous, federal, provincial and local) have jurisdiction in coastal and marine areas, and each has an important role to play in coastal and marine planning, protection management, and enforcement. Indigenous peoples also have sovereign powers over their territories and Indigenous laws apply to those territories as well as Canadian laws.
However, BC’s provincial government does not have a plan or law for the coast that sets the vision for the future of this area or to coordinate decision-making with other orders of government.
The waters between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland have been interpreted to be “inland waters” within the Province of BC by the Supreme Court of Canada, following a reference case brought by the Province that was decided in 1984. This includes the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Strait of Georgia, Johnstone Strait and Queen Charlotte Strait. Subject to unextinguished Aboriginal title, this gives the province the power to legislate over the seabed and waters in these areas, on subject matters within its jurisdiction. Crown title of the seabed further north along the coast of BC remains unresolved. In practice, the provincial and federal governments effectively share jurisdiction over the waters of Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound subject to unextinguished Aboriginal title. In these regions, the province has designated marine protected areas adjacent to terrestrial parks. On the North and Central Coast, joint federal-provincial-Indigenous ocean management and protected area planning processes are underway.
The long list of provincially regulated activities includes: environmental assessments, tourism and recreation, aquaculture (marine plants, shellfish and finfish), marinas and yacht clubs, log handling, renewable energy projects, conservation and scientific research, commercial harvest of vegetation, ferries and heritage conservation.
West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL) and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS-BC) collaborated to launch Blueprint for the Coast. We’re calling for the creation of a new provincial coastal strategy and law, to be co-developed with Indigenous governments and coordinated with federal and local governments, that will ensure that the right tools are in place to protect the coast and keep our ocean healthy.
The best thing you can do to help is to send an email to your local MLA. We need to send the message to our provincial leaders that a comprehensive plan for the coast is vital to the future of coastal communities and MLAs listen to you, their constituents! For more ways you can help, follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our email newsletter.
West Coast Environmental Law is a non-profit group of lawyers and strategists working to transform environmental decision-making and strengthen legal protection for the environment, in BC and across Canada.