BY BILL PHILLIPS
If something is petrified it usually means it’s dead.
At the very least, it’s not very active.
Petrified is how Peter Ewart describes the province’s forest policy. Speaking at a Stand Up For the North Committee public meeting on forest issues, Ewart listed several ‘petrified policies,’ starting with the 2004 Forest Act changes which, among other things, removed appurtenancy in forest policy … the mandate that trees harvested in a particular area should be processed in that area as well.
“(The province claimed policy) could not be revised or reviewed but had to be eliminated completely,” he told about 60 people gathered for the meeting Monday. “Since then dozens of mills have been closed, logs shipped out, and workers in communities in the Interior, the North, and the Island have been hit hard.”
He said the cancellation of appurtenancy wasn’t the only reason for mill closures, but they played a part.
Another example of “petrified” forest policy is what he calls the “squeezed lemon syndrome.” He explained that large B.C. forest companies have been taking profits earned from B.C.’s Crown resource and investing that money in operations south of the border.
“Squeeze the juice out of B.C. forests, invest this juice in some other country and then throw the lemon away,” he said. “Resource-based communities not only have little or no control over the wealth generated in their regions by the big corporations, they have little or no control over the stumpage, royalties and taxes that are scooped up the provincial and federal governments … The petrified thinking is so bad at the provincial and federal levels that it is simply accepted that the U.S. has the right to interfere in, and even dictate, our forest policy.”
Changes to the Forest Act have also hit the value-added industry hard, he said, and is another example of ‘petrified policy.’
“In 2002 the Independent Wood Processor of B.C. had over 100 companies as members,” he said. “Since then 54 have gone out of business or quit processing.”
Ewart said the province needs to take a different direction and rather than accepting the closure of mills, the province should be looking at getting more value out of the wood.
“The nature of our times is that scientific research and new technology are opening up the potentially of wood to creating thousands of new products,” he said. “All of these from a wonderful, renewable resource.”
Ewart said there are two opposing trends have emerged in the globalized forest sector. One one hand, he said, there is a trend for more and more corporate concentration resulting in “forestry decisions being made in faraway corporate boardrooms and distance government offices.”
Often, he said, the people in those boardrooms have nothing to do with wood.
“They’re international financiers who have no loyalty to community, region, province or even country,” he said. “Nonetheless they have the power to make major decisions about our jobs, our forests and our communities.”
The other trend, he said, there is an emerging movement of workers, contractors, and municipalities who want more control over the resources.
“Strong, economically diversified, and all-sided resource communities are essential in a globalized world,” he said. “This is not a right versus left issue. Rather, it is about workers and communities, both indigenous and and non-indigenous, having a say and having the power to make decisions about their forests and other resources. It is an issue of empowerment and democratic renewal.”
Regulatory capture is not a common term, but it is prevalent throughout the provincial government, Professional Employees Association Labour Relations Officer Al Gallupe told the crowd.
“Regulatory capture is when the enforcement of regulations has been taken over the people who are supposed to be regulated,” he said.
In government it’s a “results-based” system that relies on “qualified experts,” hired by resource companies, rather than inspectors to keep an eye on development.
“You can rely on companies and their experts as long as everything else is working properly,” he said. “Things are not in place.”
The most obvious example of how this can manifest itself, he said, is the Mount Polley tailings pond breach in 2014. A more recent example, he said, is in Lake Cowichan where a discharge permit was suspended after it was discovered material was being discharged upstream from the city’s water supply.
Gallupe said the company’s “qualified expert” gave the green light to the project and it was only after the community complained that things were changed.
He said that independent watchdogs such as the Auditor General, the Ombudsperson, and the Forest Practices Board have all been critical of the demise of government inspections in favour relying on experts hired by the companies.
When it comes to the forest industry, he said government doesn’t really know what’s happening on the ground.
“There’s very little monitoring,” he said. “What’s out of sight, is out of mind. The Forest Practices Board said we need what is going on in the land base.”