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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Legislating British Columbia : a history of B. C. land law, 1858-1978 Begg, Michael


Almost all of British Columbia, 95%, is public land, managed by the B.C. government. This "95/5 split" is unique in the industrialized world. Public land, in its use for forestry, oil and gas, mining, tourism, and agriculture, remains the foundation of the B.C. economy. It has also come to define how the people of British Columbia see themselves as a society. But when did land become so much a part of British Columbia's identity? How is it that so much of British Columbia remains public? What does the high proportion of public land tell us about the role of the government? Why does land continue to have such an important role in this modern society? And what role does law play in the relationship among society, the economy, land, and government? With these questions as its starting point, this thesis offers a history of British Columbia through the lens of legislation for the allocation of land. The period covered, 1858-1978, enables the study of the two major periods of transition in land law, and of the continuity between them. Those periods are the establishment of colonial land legislation, from 1858- 1871, and the upheaval of those laws, from 1965-1978, ending just before the era of provincial land-use planning. A close study of these two periods, and of the themes apparent in the changes to the legal regime between 1871-1965, allows the thesis to ask questions about the role of law itself: Is law merely a tool of economic and political actors, or does it play an instrumental role of its own in structuring society? This thesis argues that, in the context of B.C. land legislation, law does play such a role, and considers the implications of this conclusion for those, such as environmentalists, seeking to change society.

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