How bad forest policies hurt communities like Port Alice

Over the last few months British Columbians have been inundated by slick television commercials combining beautiful scenery with happy faces espousing platitudes about BC’s investment climate, job growth, and recreational potential.

These Disney-esque commercials, paid for with taxpayers’ money and created by the Liberal party’s spin doctors, are designed to brainwash voters into forgetting about the hardships of the past four years. They are designed to re-enforce the expected Liberal campaign theme: “We’ve led you through the difficult times (created by the big bad labour-dominated NDP) and together we are now on the road to prosperity”.

While the smiling happy faces that dominate the TV commercials are the image that the Liberal government wants us to remember, the grim story of Port Alice may paint a more realistic picture of the true impact of the government’s policies on rural communities dependent on forestry.

Let’s recap. Port Alice is a small community of 1,200 residents on northern Vancouver Island. It is about 45km south of Port Hardy on the beautiful Neroutsos Inlet.

Port Alice is a company town. Doman/Western Forest Products was the main employer, providing pay cheques for most of the town’s workforce–that is until recently.

The last few years have been hard on Port Alice. Doman’s bankruptcy, the downturn in the coastal logging industry, softwood tariffs, an antiquated mill and an unsustainable logging rate proved to be a nearly fatal combination. The combination shut the mill down numerous times over the last few years.

Yet until recently there were grounds for optimism:

  • New owners, LaPointe Partners, took over as a part of Doman’s restructuring;
  • A study in 2003 showed there is demand for a huge range of products made from the high-quality pulp that the mill produces.

That optimism is fast disappearing with revelations that LaPointe Partners, who paid Doman’s main creditor $1 for the mill, sucked $13,000,000 in assets out of the mill.

This couldn’t have happened but for the new laws and policies enacted as a part of the euphemistically named Forest Revitalization Act.

You may say, “surely the government’s attempts to make the BC logging industry more competitive can’t be blamed for Port Alice’s fate.”

Yes, they can. And here’s why.

Until the Liberals gutted the legislation and policies (putting protection of the environment, communities and workers in the hands of corporations and the free market) two things would have happened before vultures like LaPointe could have gotten control of Port Alice’s assets:

1. A public hearing at which Doman/Brascan and LaPointe Partners would have had to describe the proposed deal and discuss potential implications for Port Alice and the regional economy.

2. The Minister of Forests would have had to approve the transfer of tenure which supplied the mill.

AIt is not far-fetched to believe that, faced with a room full of self-interested employees and their families asking pointed questions about their future, LaPointe’s true intention to make a fast buck gutting the mill would have become apparent.

Secondly, the Ministry of Forests would have undoubtedly done some due diligence on LaPointe Partners before agreeing to transfer tenure in public forests from Doman to new actors.

Both of these earlier requirements would have protected Port Alice from the scavengers like LaPointe that used the Liberal’s new laissez-faire policies to pick the mill clean. Instead, this government sacrificed Port Alice (and so many other small resource-dependent towns) to the altar of free-market ideology and corporate greed.

This debacle could have been easily prevented with a little research. A quick investigation would have revealed that LaPointe had little history–no known officers and directors. In fact, Dogwood Initiative’s investigation into LaPointe turned up less solid, credible information than we’ve found on any company we have ever looked into.

Don Cayo’s recent column on Port Alice bemoans the situation the town is in and encourages the BC government to play an active but minor role in keeping Port Alice afloat. He suggests that Victoria could provide a small bit of cash to pay for feasibility studies and “a few hundred thousand dollars for the next several months to maintain heat and security, monitor and run the effluent treatment facilities, and so on.”

That’s the least the government could do given their role in facilitating the vultures that stripped the Port Alice mill.

While they are at it they should also amend their laws and policies to give communities a role in the process of who gets control of logging and mill operations supported by publicly-owned timber. That would go a lot further than subsidizing towns once they’ve been raided.

Comments are closed.

Send this to a friend