The residents of Port Alice must be wondering what has happened to democracy. The future of their town will not be determined in a municipal election, but by corporate lawyers fighting over the remnants of Doman, the town’s main employer.
Doman’s unsecured bondholders, led by Brascan a large realtor and a power company, are seeking control of the company. They plan to permanently close the mills in Port Alice.
Doman executives are scrambling to develop an alternative restructuring plan that would leave them in charge of the company and keep the mills open.
Both factions act as if the rights to log public forests near the village are theirs, and theirs alone, with no public role. Unfortunately, because of recent changes to forestry legislation, they are right.
Left unquestioned in the storm of corporate proposals and counter-proposals is this question: why should the residents of Port Alice be pawns in a corporate struggle? Or, put another way, why do people who live in the forest have no role in determining what happens to the timber extracted from that forest?
The residents of Port Alice are joining their colleagues in Youbou, Gold River, Eburne and Barriere. They are feeling the hard reality of life under government policies that leave the allocation of public resources in corporate hands, that toss the future of communities to the whims of corporate shareholders.
The historic “social contract” that tied the right to operate (tenure) to local mills that provided local jobs did need to be fixed. It was promoting inefficiency, over-cutting and disincentives to producing more value (and more jobs) from BC’s precious forests.
That said, allowing corporate plunderers like Brascan to retain control over logging while abandoning their commitment to communities like Port Alice is nothing short of the biggest privatization scheme in the history of BC.
What options will Port Alice and other communities have if this plunder is allowed to continue? They will have an economy tied to the logging industry, but the rights to log in neighboring forests will be under the exclusive control of a company that plans to continue logging, but to process the resulting wood somewhere else. Rights that were granted for virtually nothing, in exchange for producing jobs, will now be freely traded amongst companies to increase profits for distant shareholders.
Port Alice will be left with an over-cut forest, toxic pollution and a devastated economy. There will be little opportunity for innovative members of the Port Alice community to build a new economy from the forest that surrounds them.
This is the current BC government’s vision for the future. A vision crafted on Bay Street, Howe Street and Wall Street, and paid for with massive corporate donations. It is not the vision shared by the majority of British Columbians. An alternative vision for communities exists.
But this vision will not become reality without people from communities like Port Alice, joining with others who are working for a just, equitable and sustainable future for BC. It’s up to us, folks. Lets work together and make our vision a reality.