Secret privatizations benefit Liberal donors

The BC Liberal government is a good investment for corporate donors.

One can’t help but wonder what influence the almost $1 million dollars donated to the Liberal party by companies benefiting from the privatization had on the Campbell government’s decision to remove 90,000 hectares of lands from various tree farm licenses (TFL).

Forest Minister de Jong’s decision to approve the privatizations is worth tens (if not hundreds) of millions of dollars to Weyerhaeuser, TimberWest, West Fraser and Western Forest Products, who just happen to be major Liberal Party donors (see chart). Weyerhaeuser (#2-combined with MacMillan Bloedel), West Fraser (#3), and TimberWest (#11) rank among the top corporate donors to Campbel’s party between 1996-2003.

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This privatization is just the latest example of the windfall gains corporate tenure holders have received as a result of the so-called Forest Revitalization Plan. These lands are now free from provincial forestry laws, and these companies will be able to export raw logs, and subdivide and sell off these lands, making millions.

This privatization is especially galling given the overwhelming opposition expressed by the public when Weyerhaeuser last proposed this scheme in 1999. At that time, Weyerhaeuser’s proposal to remove lands from their TFL’s was opposed by over 97% of the 2500 British Columbians that made submissions on the issue.

This overwhelming public opposition–resulting from the Campaign to Save BC Public Lands of which Dogwood Initiative was a driving force-convinced the NDP government of the day to back away from the privatization.

Now, without any consultation with local communities, First Nations or the public, the government has once again undermined the social contract that once bound companies to operate for a larger social good.

Remember these companies paid virtually nothing for these tree farm licenses. In exchange for agreeing to manage their private land under provincial forestry laws, and for operating local mills that would build regional economies and employ workers, logging companies like Weyerhaeuser were granted tree farm licenses to log vast tracts of public lands. And they made millions doing so.

Yet in less than a year Campbell’s Liberals have removed the two main obligations to communities and the environment undertaken by the companies in order to get the privilege to log public forests.

If that is not bad enough, the Liberal government has committed to paying these very same corporations, who are benefitting from virtually every forest policy change, an extra and unnecessary $200 million. Talk about windfall profits.

As shown with the Coquihalla, privatization schemes are not popular with British Columbians. Concerned citizens can voice their opposition and outrage through the Action Centre on the Coalition for Sustainable Forest Solutions website.

These privatizations will negatively affect many communities. Company’s obligations to consult with communities about the use of these lands will disappear, along with their obligations to protect streams, habitat and drinking water.

Ironically, two days after the announcement of this privatization scheme, First Nations began blockading the BC Rail tracks today to protest the privatization of the publicly owned railroad. Lawsuits are also expected.

By approving removals from TFL’s without consulting with affected First Nations, the provincial Crown is directly flaunting recent BC court decisions. I have already been on the phone with First Nations who will be challenging this in court.

Campbell’s Liberals may think that they have unilateral power to enrich their friendly donors and undermine control of communal resources. But only time will tell.

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