No ‘one size fits all’ approach to implementing Declaration Act

By Shannon Waters January 12, 2021

How will B.C.’s Declaration Act — over a year old and not yet fully implemented — affect the NDP government’s approach to legislation in the coming years?

It could mean more time is needed in the lead-up to drafting new bills, according to Premier John Horgan, who told BC Today the law commits the province to “discussing our legislation in some detail beyond what we have done in the past with the First Nations Leadership Council and others who are affected.”

Along with prepping Budget 2021, Horgan said the two-month span before the next session begins will be spent ensuring forthcoming spring bills comply with the act’s commitments.

But not every piece of legislation will have to be hashed out with an eye to the United Nations declaration, according to Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Murray Rankin.

“Many bills just simply will not,” Rankin said, citing legislation related to “financing and finance authorities” as examples of legislation that may not require much consultation with Indigenous stakeholders.

The issue came up during the December session when Liberal Attorney General critic Mike de Jong asked Finance Minister Selina Robinson whether her ministry consulted with Indigenous peoples on the Finance Statutes Amendment Act, which enabled the delay of the 2021 budget. No consultations were done, Robinson said, because “changing a date for the budget, with no interruptions of funding and services, does not have an impact on Indigenous rights and title.”

Indigenous relations minister wants to simplify process with pre-approved template
Rankin — whose task list for this year includes crafting a dedicated secretariat to ensure provincial policies and legislation are consistent with the United Nations declaration — suggested “certain categories” of bills and regulations could be crafted via an approved template that ensures their compliance with the declaration (although, during the December interview, Rankin said he had yet to run the idea by Indigenous stakeholders).

Rankin views the full implementation of the Declaration Act as “a machinery of government issue” — building efficient and effective processes will be key to ensuring the legislation process can be conducted smoothly.

“[Some bills] we’ll need to really drill down on depending on the nature of the bill in question,” he told BC Today. “If that’s the case — and we have a clear process, which everybody has signed off on — it may not be as difficult as people have suggested it might be.”

“In other words, one size fits all will not work in this field,” he added.

The Declaration Act also requires all of the province’s existing laws and regulations comply with the UN declaration. Asked which undertaking will be more complicated — drafting new laws or reviewing old ones — Rankin suggested that ensuring retroactive compliance may be arduous but could be less complex.

The former federal representative harkened back to the introduction of the Canadian Charter in the 1980s, which required a “massive review” of legislation for issues related to discrimination.

“I don’t remember it being that complicated — it just was time consuming,” Rankin said. “So I don’t know that going back in time will be all that difficult — if we start off on the right tone, and we have a good framework in which to do the work going forward.”