Social Licence in British Columbia: Some Implications for Energy Development


  • Fred Bunnell University of British Columbia



British Columbia, Crown land, energy development, social licence


Crown land is unique to the Commonwealth and better represented in British Columbia than anywhere else in the Commonwealth (95% of the land base). Through tradition and common law, British Columbians have come to define Crown lands as publicly owned lands that belong to all residents and to expect governments to shepherd them for the benefit of all. Social licence to operate on this land requires approval from the local community and other stakeholders. The concept of Crown land makes every British Columbian a potential stakeholder and has led to more drama and noise around social licence than occurs elsewhere. The four main reasons for failure in past applications for social licence have been a lack of respect, assuming economics is a sufficient framework, appearing to bully, and hiding or obscuring information deemed relevant. Recent events in the province suggest the provincial and federal governments, and some companies, have learned little from past failures. Energy development faces particular challenges because location counts and impacts are both intrusive and extensive, but the errors described here are avoidable. W. Edwards Deming reputedly observed, “Learning is not compulsory… neither is survival.” Some companies have learned.

The topic is addressed under six headings: (1) Whose land is it?; (2) What the public has said; (3) Defining social licence; (4) Lessons from exploring social licence; (5) Lessons and energy development; and (6) What’s next?