Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Forest Appeals Commission – Natural resources – Forestry – Stumpage fees – Judicial review – Witnesses – Evidence – Admissibility – Standard of review – Reasonableness simpliciter
British Columbia (Minister of Forests and Range) v. Forest Appeals Commission,  B.C.J. No. 1616, 2009 BCCA 354, B.C. Court of Appeal, August 13, 2009, M.V. Newbury, R.T.A. Low, and K.J. Smith JJ.A.
The Appellant, Western Forest Products (“WFP”), appealed a decision of a chambers judge, allowing an appeal brought by British Columbia against a decision of the Forest Appeals Commission. The Commission had determined that, in assessing stumpage to be paid to the Province by WFP pursuant to the Coast Appraisal Manual, it was appropriate to rely on averages rather than actual amounts. The chambers judge had overturned this decision.
The Court of Appeal held that the chambers judge erred in failing to apply a standard of reasonableness to the Commission’s decision. Deference to the Commission was required because the case turned on an exercise of discretion in a technical area by a tribunal with greater expertise in the workings of the appraisal system than the courts.
The Court of Appeal further agreed with both the Chambers judge and the Commission’s determination that policy statements and explanatory documents issued by the Ministry that authored the manual were admissible as they are part of the context in which the Manual operates. However, the Court held that the chambers judge erred when he found that the evidence admitted by two of WFP’s experts was not admissible. The evidence given by the experts was factual in nature, and thus was not an argument but rather a technical explanation of the applicable method of assessment.
Finally, the Court of Appeal held that the chambers judge erred when he engaged in an interpretation of the Coast Appraisal Manual rather than analyzing whether the Commission’s determination was reasonable. The Court of Appeal held that the Commission’s decision to rely on averages for the purposes of stumpage calculations was reasonable; the Manual is largely devoted to determining average costs incurred by average operators and is not site specific. The Court thus allowed the appeal.
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