Setting priorities for amendments to forestry policy

Nov 20, 2021 | 42-2, Bills, Blog, Environment, Governance, Legislature, Video | 1 comment

This Fall sitting of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly Minister of Forests, Hon. Katrine Conroy, has tabled more than 150 pages of amendments to forestry policy.

We have long awaited changes to forestry policy, however, tabling these Bills with only a few days to debate them is disrespectful to our democratic process on such important legislation.

In my second reading debate you will hear I spend most of my time responding to the speech of the Official Opposition critic who argued that we should be keeping the forestry industry the way it is. An absurd suggestion.

[Transcript]

I rise today to speak to Bill 28. I’ll do my best to speak to Bill 28 and not just directly to the comments that were just put on the record, although it will be a bit challenging for me.

I think that what’s important to acknowledge here is…. Well, I share the frustration with the member for Nechako Lakes that 150 or 160 pages of legislation were put in front of us to debate with less than six days to do it. That is particularly challenging because the changes that are being proposed in the legislation that’s been put on the table for us are important.

While I disagree fundamentally with some of the items that have been raised and the way that they’ve been raised, I think that it’s the exchange of ideas and the exchange of different opinions that help us, in this place, to better understand what’s being proposed, and it’s the exchange of ideas that will help government in terms of understanding the impact that the changes are going to have. And that everything that we do in this place, necessarily, will have some impact. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing it.

It is particularly challenging to give the full due, care and attention to 160 pages of legislation — highly technical changes that are being made — and to be able to pay full respect to how those proposed changes will impact the people, the sector, the economy of the province of British Columbia, revenue, all of those important aspects that we need to be having, definitely, in front of us as we are debating and doing this work. It becomes very, very difficult when we are not given the benefit of time that is necessary in order to give a full account, I think, to the changes that are needed to be made.

There are changes that need to be made in the forestry industry in this province. I think that what I…. The aspects that I find most troubling with what has just been put on the record is that we, apparently — from the critic from the B.C. Liberals — can continue to operate in exactly the way that we’ve been operating, pretending like we have an endless supply of timber, pretending like the only value that we need to be putting on our forests is the value of timber. And that we can have that debate in a way that is…. Well, that we can have that debate in the context of what’s going on around us.

I find that to be shocking. You know, there seemed to be a part in the debate that I just heard where there is some kind of…. There seems to be some kind of ongoing struggle between the opposing sides of this place about who has done more damage to the forestry industry — which government, the B.C. NDP or the Liberals, has caused the most job losses in the industry.

The notion that we can continue to do what we have done, the notion that we can continue to capture forestry as is captured in this rotunda, in perpetuity in this province, is just a fallacy. We don’t have the benefit of those grand ancient forests that previous generations did, because those were logged. They are in the desks of this place and on the walls of this place and many, many places around the world.

So I don’t share the same opinion of the previous member who spoke in my attachment to the way things were. But that should not be misconstrued that I have any less fear for the impacts of a declining forestry industry or the decisions that are being made on the people that are in the forestry industry. I think those two are often misconstrued.

Simply because I don’t think that the forestry industry can continue to exist as it has in the past does not mean I lack compassion for the people that are working in the industry. In fact, we’ve been long advocating, first as partners in a confidence and supply agreement and now as members of the opposition, for fundamental changes to the forestry industry in this province. At the centre of that is the recognition that the forestry industry has changed, and tens of thousands of British Columbians have lost their livelihoods and neither side of this House has really done much about it.

The mechanization of the forestry industry has probably cost more jobs than anything else. I’ve talked to people who worked in the forest industry and say that two individuals in machines can do what 40 individuals used to do in the same amount of time. There just in and of itself…. While both sides of this House debate who’s been worse for forestry, neither seem to be willing to talk about the impact of mechanization and the support for the families that lost those jobs.

[S. Chandra Herbert in the chair.]

While we have watched vast, huge parts of or forestry sector be literally put on the backs of boats and shipped away so that other jurisdictions around the world can process that fibre, nobody seems, in this place, to want to talk about the impact that that has had on the number of jobs in the forestry sector, because it happened, you know, in the big bad days of the 1990s, when the B.C. NDP were in power, and it happened in the big bad days of the 2000s, when the B.C. Liberals were in power.

I have no patience nor much time for this debate that goes on in this House about who’s been worse for forestry, because while that debate has been going on in this House, the forestry industry that we should have — a sustainable industry that provides high-quality fibre to markets locally, regionally, nationally, internationally — has been cut down, has been clearcut off the sides of the mountains, making us more vulnerable to wildfire. Then wildfire makes us more vulnerable to landslides. The landscape management, the lack of proper landscape management in this province, over decades, frankly, is embarrassing. We need to call it what it is.

The reality of it is that our own actions have been contributing to climate change, and the fact that we plant tree farms in this province and not forests. Anybody who’s spent any time out there can immediately tell the difference between a tree farm and a forest — old-growth forest or naturally occurring forest. There are massive differences. All you have to do is look at the undergrowth. It’ll be the first indication that you’re standing in what is a fibre farm, a tree farm.

We’re still one of the only jurisdictions around that just clearcuts, that just draws a box on a map and then goes out and just obliterates the entire hillside. You can get in your car and drive around the logging roads on Vancouver Island and you can see the impact that it’s had on creeks and streams, driving over bridges of former creeks that no longer exist anymore, because, well, if you just look up the hillside, all you see is just a barren landscape, devastated.

[4:35 p.m.]

Here we are advocating in this place for funding to protect salmon streams at the same time as we are devastating the hillsides right above where those salmon need to return home to. They leave an ecosystem that can support their health and wellbeing, and they return to a wasteland. Sure, it’s not deforestation, because we’ll plant a tree farm in the place of it. That tree farm will resemble nothing of the biodiversity that was there.

The current government has promised to protect biodiversity. We even were close to doing it, from what I understand. But yet we’re still much further away than I think many in this province would like to see. So, for me, I don’t think that we need to be lamenting the days of old, because the days of old have got us to exactly where we are today, and that’s a pretty troubling situation in many landscapes.

As the member from Prince George–Mackenzie said, just take a tour on Google Maps. Just take a tour on the time machine on Google Maps and you can see for yourself. All the flowery words that were just said by the previous member who spoke…. You can see it for your own eyes if you take a visit on Google Maps and watch as British Columbia’s landscape has been chopped into blocks and cut down.

Then we have to deal with the economic, social and environmental devastation that we are going to be debating in this place tomorrow: the impact of floods, the impact of climate change, the impact of a climate crisis, a climate emergency — all of those things. It is one thing to stand in this place and say that this forestry industry is perfect and that we should preserve it like it was — that we should make it a fossil and just keep it the way that it was forever.

I just encourage anybody who has the means and the ability to go out and to look at it for yourself, because it doesn’t take you long standing at the bottom of a cut block to feel a really empty feeling in your stomach about what it is that we’ve been doing to the landscape of this province — not this government, not last government, not the previous incarnation of the previous government or the former incarnation of a party that doesn’t exist anymore. Over decades in this province, we have undermined and eroded the very ecosystems that we rely on to keep us healthy and to protect us.

So I don’t have much attachment to the way that things are currently operating or the way that things have operated. We absolutely have to operate differently. Anybody who is impacted by that — we in this chamber have a responsibility to help them through. We have made commitments to Indigenous nations in this province. This bill is creating mechanisms for us to be able to deal with a fundamental conflict over land that has existed since before we cut the first tree and since before this was a province.

In fact, we are dealing with those issues now because when those boats of Europeans first showed up on the coast of British Columbia, they looked and they said: “Look at the timber. We can build the Royal Navy out of that. By the doctrine of discovery and the doctrine of terra nullius, we can grant ourselves the authority to do it.” Frankly, that’s how we have been operating every incarnation of every government from that day forward to this day — today — that we’re looking at legislation that will look at special purpose areas.

[4:40 p.m.]

There’s a reason why special purpose areas, as I understand them, are area-based and not volume-based –– because Indigenous nations’ territories are not volume-based; they’re area-based. We can complain about the fact that we’ve been looking at the forest on volume all we want. It has no connection to the fact that we have a fundamental responsibility to ensure that we’re looking after the primary conflict that has existed in this province and in this country. But we’re responsible for this province, and that’s the conflict over land.

It’s the statements that we’ve made about sovereignty and title and ownership of land over vast swaths of this province that the courts in our province and our country have been saying to us for decades: “You need to sort this out.” And so that’s the reason why this bill, this forest act, in concert with another forest act that is currently before this place, and in an intentions paper that I’ve got all sorts of issues with, is being moved forward. It’s the debate in this place that I think will, hopefully, improve those so that we are not, you know, talking over top of one another and talking at cross purposes, and that we understand what it is that we’re talking about.

There’s a lot of language that’s being used here and, you know, I think a lot of rhetoric that has been used around forestry. But the reality comes back down to the reality that we have to sort these fundamental problems that we face with our landscape out. Indigenous nations have to be a part of it, and we have to create mechanisms.

The Tsilhqot’in decision in 2014 should have been a flag for anybody in this province who has been paying attention to forestry, the forestry industry and the issues that have been related to title, rights, sovereignty, decisions that are being made. The Blueberry River First Nations decision that came down this summer should be another flag for people that we cannot continue to undermine every single aspect of Indigenous nations by having one conversation at this time and another conversation and another conversation and another conversation, and never talking about the cumulative impacts of cutblock after cutblock after cutblock. We’re not talking about the 15 cutblocks that came before. We’re only talking about the cutblock that we’re talking about today.

What is the result of that? The result of that is exactly what you see when you get in your car and you drive the logging roads of Vancouver Island or the Okanagan. I drove those roads in the Okanagan as a kid growing up. I was sick to my stomach when I flew up there two years ago, because the forests that I remembered being there were lying horizontal, or they were already gone. And we’re wondering why it is that entire hillsides are washing down into rivers and creeks and streams, destroying infrastructure in this province at the cost of billions of dollars. Somehow, arguments are going to be made to muster a defence for that kind of behaviour. It’s mind-boggling.

So while I will stand up and debate aspects of the way the government is doing this work, this work needs to be done. While the work that’s being proposed in this legislation may not be how I would have done it, or how it’s being articulated, and it may not be how I articulated it or how I would articulate it…. I might, you know, have a different opinion about how we should be engaging with Indigenous nations as partners.

I’m going to do my best to try to separate the two pieces of legislation that are in front of us and do my best to try to speak to the one that is here in front of us today and not get carried away on another piece of legislation or on an intentions paper that is apparently providing the overall framework.

[4:45 p.m.]

The reality of it is, is that our industry is consolidated into a handful of companies that have an incredible amount of power and an incredible amount of information about our landscape. That’s exactly the way it’s always been, really. I mean, there was a point in time when there were a lot of small companies — community companies, family companies — but the reality of it is, is that I think that it is important for us to go back and to be reminded of the fact that big multinational corporations have had their hands on these resources at the very beginning.

We talked about it — Louis Riel Day yesterday and the Hudson’s Bay Company selling land to the Dominion of Canada. Was at the heart of the Red River Rebellion and the creation of Manitoba. So the reality of it is, is that we have been operating in this province for decades, pretending like Indigenous nations don’t have more of a say than they actually do. I think that I got that right. I made the point, anyway. Now we have to do something about that, because we can only lose so many court cases.

If the events of the last few days have not been enough of an indication, I can’t believe that we’re going to stand in this place and hear arguments to support the landscape management regime that we’ve had over decades in this province and then tomorrow stand up and have an emergency debate on the impact of massive floods, the impact of climate change and the impact that our own decisions over decades in this place have had on the landscape of this province. I mean, I guess we might, but that would I think indicate a level of cognitive dissonance that is truly shocking.

I think that it is important to acknowledge, as I have done here in the opening comments, that the current state of affairs in this province have been serving interests that are not necessarily those interests of the people of British Columbia. They certainly have not been serving the interests of the flora and fauna of this province. I think that it is important that, in concert with what is being proposed in the other forestry bill, we change our approach to landscape management in this province. In order to do that, there are going to have to be some changes to how the business of forestry operates in this province as well.

That doesn’t mean that there will not be forestry in this province. I don’t want anything that I am saying here today to be misconstrued as not supporting a sustainable forestry industry in this province. The wild west forestry industry, I don’t support. But a sustainable, selective forestry industry that recognizes that we have a responsibility and a duty to ensure that we are not undercutting our ability to continue to survive on this landscape as well, and that we have a duty to future generations, must be reflected in our forestry policy, and it has not been. What has been reflected in our forestry policy is the rights of major multinational corporations.

[4:50 p.m.]

I think the important aspect of this bill is that the government has made a decision that they’re going to at some point need to or will buy back tenure, and they’re putting in place in this bill the mechanisms to be able to do that. Complex formulas. Pages and pages on end of complex formulas about how to compensate for tenure and AAC in this bill.

The commitment that we made to Indigenous nations was not the kind of commitment that has been achieved — was not what is achieved through the forest and range consultation and revenue-sharing agreements. We’ve made a commitment to share decision-making over their territory and a revenue-sharing that goes over and above a small fraction of the money that is generated from the forestry operations, and we have a responsibility to put in place a framework that achieves that.

Now, we’ve heard consistently throughout these processes that the provincial government — and I’ll get into this in the other bill, but it needs to be mentioned here — has fallen short on what the expectations of consultation, engagement and relationship-building are. I think what’s important is that we recognize that there are considerable steps being taken here to advance us towards the kinds of relationships, and to give the government the tools to be able to understand what inventory is on the landscape and how to secure that inventory or those landscapes to be able to have the negotiations to ensure that Indigenous people can make decisions over their territory.

This isn’t, necessarily — this is where I think, from the environmentalists’ perspective — to say that logging isn’t going to exist. It’s going to say: who benefits from the logging, and how does the provincial government benefit from those logging operations? That’s the relationship with Indigenous nations.

Mr. Chair, I’m going to leave it at that for now. I think it’s important to just reiterate that we cannot — we do not have the benefit to — continue to operate the forestry industry as it’s been operated for decades, no matter who’s been operating. We have to fundamentally change. The courts have told us we have to change our relationship with the landscape and our relationship with Indigenous people at the centre of that conflict.

Anybody who’s been on the landscape knows that the kinds of debates that we’re having in here are not reflected in the past work of trees and forests that are out there. We’ve done considerable damage.

Unfortunately, we are paying the consequences of the damage that’s been done on our landscape — this week, this summer, next week and in the years to come. We cannot continue to have the same kind of debate in this place that we’ve had, pretending like the impact of that debate isn’t translating on the landscape. It is. They need to be connected.

There will be change in how the forest management happens in this province, so it is incumbent upon this provincial government and future provincial governments, when making those decisions about managing forests and managing resource extraction, to support the people who are impacted by those changes and to support them well in advance of the impact that’s happening. I think this is part of the challenge that this and future governments will have in this: being able to plan well enough in advance not to support those people as the job is going away but to support those people in a transition over a period of time that makes sense. It is the abrupt changes, the abrupt shifts, that are really challenging for people and families who live in communities across the province, so a transition requires that investment early on.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I’ll take my seat and thank you for the opportunity to speak to Bill 28.

1 Comment

  1. Joni Miller

    Very well spoken Mr. Olsen. I for one read your entire speech and agree with all your points. Thank you for continuing to press the issue. I don’t understand why the NDP, who used to be on the green end of the political spectrum, why they now seem to be dragging their feet.

    Maybe for Christmas they each need to receive Suzanne Simard’s book “Finding the Mother Tree” or Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax”. Actually I find it hard to believe they don’t understand already the damage of clear cutting, the damaged relationships with First Nations, climate change dangers etc. Of course they do. Is the money really so much more important that they’ll exchange these things for profits?

    So again, thank you for your unwavering fight to keep these issues on the forefront and hopefully to propose some better options.

    Reply

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