Former Liberal Blair Lekstrom quits post as Premier Horgan's caribou liaison

VICTORIA — Premier John Horgan says the man he appointed to help in the recovery of threatened caribou in British Columbia's northeast has resigned.

In a statement issued Friday, Horgan thanks former Liberal cabinet minister Blair Lekstrom for his important work on the difficult issue of protecting the animals.

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Government figures from 2019 reveal the Dawson Creek area has six caribou herds, but their numbers have declined from 800 to about 220 over two decades.

Horgan appointed Lekstrom last year to bridge tensions between local groups, including backcountry enthusiasts and Indigenous nations, over government plans to save threatened herds.

The province implemented an interim moratorium on the recovery program when Lekstrom produced a report calling for more local government involvement.

However, Horgan says the province cannot unilaterally change the program's partnership agreement, which requires the consent of all parties involved in the recovery program. Those parties are the provincial and federal governments and the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations.

Lekstrom told CHNL radio in Kamloops that the government implemented only one of 14 of his recommendations.

"It's unfortunate it came to this point, but it became very clear recently with a letter the premier had sent to the Peace River Regional District in my area stating they had no intention to change any text within the partnership agreement."

Lekstrom said industry, business and the local government all wanted to be part of the planning process in working towards protecting the caribou.

Chetwynd Mayor Allen Courtoreille said last July that Lekstrom's appointment by Horgan gave the communities an unofficial seat at the negotiating table after their requests had been ignored by the provincial government.

The Peace River Regional District issued a statement Friday and released a letter from Horgan saying the province would allow input from local governments without changing partnership agreements.

"More than two years have elapsed since the federal government ordered the creation of a caribou recovery plan," Horgan's letter says, adding he heard directly from federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson in a recent meeting that the matter was urgent.

The district said it advised Horgan it would no longer participate in two caribou-related working group meetings. (Canadian Press, CHNL)

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2020.

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