Election special, part 1: Are unchecked corporate behemoths or community control part of BC's future?

[Part of a set of four bulletins about land reform and the 2005 BCelection. Shorter versions of these articles appear in the April issueof Lands & People.]

Nothing defines British Columbia morethan our magnificent forests. The folklore describing the creation ofBC’s unique cultures (native and non-native) is rich with references toforest-dependent species like salmon, grizzlies, wolves and, yes,loggers. Regrettably, all these icons will slowly disappear unless wequickly change our approach to logging.

Over the years numerousblue-ribbon panels have identified the fundamental changes needed tomake the BC timber industry more competitive and more sustainable. Thebroad-based Coalition for Sustainable Forest Solutions(forestsolutions.ca) took the recommendations from past blue-ribbonpanels and input from people who attended over twenty public sessions.The coalition’s leaders, including Dogwood Initiative, then craftedalternative legislation to put BC’s forests under local democraticcontrol within a framework of sustainability and respect for Aboriginaltitle and rights. The six principles underlying the proposedlegislation are:

  • Reconciling Aboriginal and Crown title;
  • Creating, implementing, and enforcing forest management standards that promote the long-term health of BC’s forest ecosystems;
  • Enhancing public control and oversight of our forest resources, including rebuilding the public service;
  • Redistributinga majority of tenure, at the lowest taxpayer cost, to create a newsocial contract in BC’s forests and to provide greater opportunitiesfor First Nations, communities and local jobs;
  • Ensuring thepublic gets full value for forest resources through transparent logmarkets and related timber pricing reforms; and
  • Ensuringbroad access to the timber supply and banning raw log exports for thedevelopment of a strong, diverse, value-added industry.

Unfortunately,despite wide public support, recent governments in BC have not had thecourage to make the fundamental changes necessary to modernize BC’stimber industry.

In the 2001 election, the NDP offered few newpromises on forestry, running instead on their record of park creation.The Liberals pledged to eliminate subsidies, de-regulate, increaseannual cut levels, and reform the stumpage system. Not surprisingly,the Green Party offered the strongest forest platform, endorsing manyof the recommendations of the Coalition for Sustainable ForestSolutions.

Platforms aside, what are the records of the lasttwo governing parties? Back in 1991, the NDP came to power withpromises of stopping the war in the woods, improving logging practicesand balancing competing interests through land use planning. Whileadvances in practices and planning occurred, the party didn’t have thenerve to make the necessary fundamental changes. Soon, pressure fromindustry and resistance from the bureaucracy prompted legislativerollbacks, unimplemented policies on biodiversity and endangeredspecies, and a failure to reduce the unsustainable cut level. Thesefailings undermined the NDP’s later years, despite the creation of afew community forests.

In the four years since the Liberalgovernment took office, the plight of forests, forest-dependent speciesand forest workers has worsened. The Campbell government has madedrastic changes to virtually every aspect of forest law and policy.They have begun privatizing forests and their so-called ForestryRevitalization Plan has brought increased corporate control of publicand Aboriginal lands at the expense of the long-term well-being of ourenvironment and communities. While government did re-allocate 20% oftenure to communities, First Nations and small business, the Liberalsbungled implementation (catering entirely to companies’ preferences)and agreed to $200 million in unnecessary compensation to companies.That compensation is rather redundant when you consider that 36% of allthe trees cut by the major licensees have cost no more than 25 centsper cubic metre (that’s a quarter per telephone pole worth of wood).

Andthe Liberals’ other changes have all been gifts to industry. Under theguise of cutting red tape, the government passed laws that gutenvironmental protection and remove government oversight of thegranting, replacement and transfer of logging tenures, land-useplanning, and setting annual cut levels. Some of the immediate resultshave been an increase in corporate consolidation, mill closures, andcommunity dislocation.

The election of 2005 comes as loggingcompanies are reporting record profits, despite the 3rd year of 27%softwood tariffs. Why the profits? The government has raised cut rates,already 58% above sustainable levels, by almost 13% to 80.7 millioncubic metres. All for short-term revenue, the future be damned.

Althoughthe official party platforms have yet to be released at the time ofwriting, they are becoming apparent. The Liberals are expected to offermore corporation-friendly, trickle-down schemes in their upcomingplatform. The NDP is rumoured to be considering stronger raw log exportrules, a transition fund for communities impacted by beetle logging,and promises of tougher enforcement.

It remains to be seenwhether the NDP have the courage to roll back the Liberals’ ForestryRevitalization Plan, wrestle more tenure away from big companies,toughen protections for streams, wildlife and old-growth, or removesubsidies by setting stumpage based on genuine prices derived fromregional log markets. For its part, the Green Party once again has thebest forest platform, agreeing to make all these changes and more. Theypromise to enact species-at-risk legislation, prohibit logging indrinking watersheds, ban pesticides and synthetic chemical fertilizers,and launch a host of initiatives to set sustainable cut levels andpromote the transition to a value-added industry.

As theelection period gets under way, we suggest that these are some of thequestions you might want to ask your local candidates for MLA:

  • How do you propose to settle the ongoing softwood lumber dispute?
  • How will you ensure that local communities are given a say in rate of cut and tenure decisions?
  • How will you ensure that the right to log public forests is tied to keeping wealth and jobs in the affected community?
  • Do you support the draft legislation proposed by the Coalition for Sustainable Forest Solutions?
  • Will you take steps to revoke forestry laws and policies that violate the constitutional duties set out in the Haida judgement?
  • Whatwill you do to ensure that the last remaining intact watersheds on thecoast and in the boreal forest, along with the remnants of locally rarepatches of old-growth are not logged to make 2x4s and tissue paper?

To read more, visit our website at www.dogwoodinitiative.org for bulletins on these subjects.

Good luck. We’ll see you at the polling booth.

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