Capital Daily

How the New NDP Policy Intentions for Forestry Impact Old-Growth

Episode Summary

We speak to Grand Chief Stewart Phillip from the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and Torrance Coste, the National Campaign Director of Wilderness Committee to get reaction on the B.C. government’s new forestry policy intentions and how they impact old growth.

Episode Notes

We speak to Grand Chief Stewart Phillip from the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and Torrance Coste, the National Campaign Director of Wilderness Committee to get reaction on the B.C. government’s new forestry policy intentions and how they impact old growth.  

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Episode Transcription

Disclaimer: These interviews have been edited for clarity and length. 

Jackie: Hi, my name is Jackie Lamport. Today is Wednesday, June 2. Welcome to the Capital Daily Podcast. The BC NDP government released a new set of intentions for the forestry industry in BC. Today, we analyze those intentions and what they mean for the mass protests in Fairy Creek and the surrounding areas. On Tuesday, the BC NDP government held a press conference where they announced a new set of intentions for modern forestry policy in the province. The intentions had a few key points, the main ones being that the government wants to have more consultation with Indigenous communities over logging on their territory in the future. The government wants to break up and better distribute ten years so smaller and more local companies can have more of the share of logging in the province and increase the available annual limits for Indigenous communities. And also, the government wants to shift the industry to prioritize value over volume. To meet these goals, the government set out a list of policy intentions. The plan to meet those includes more consultation with industry and communities. The intentions themselves have generally been well received. There is even some overlap and advice from a conversation we had with a resource policy expert. In that recent conversation, policy expert Ben Parfitt noted that a lot of the lumber exported in this province is exported raw, which is a major factor in the loss of industry jobs. The NDP government spoke about adding a fee for exporting raw lumber to curb this. Another overlap was the priority shift to value over volume. While the policies themselves haven't had much criticism, the timeline has. Critics argue that with this timeline, by the time we get to when these things will be implemented. There will be major losses along the way. The government also did not announce any deferrals for the logging of old-growth in the areas where protesters are currently occupying‚ÄĒthis upset environmentalists and activists. The tensions in the province so far have seen two, if anything, been heightened by the announcement and the timeline. When asked about deferrals on the land, this was Premier John Horgan's response.

John Horgan (audio recording): And the critical recommendation that's at play at Fairy Creek is consulting with the title holders, the people whose land these forests are growing on, and that in this instance, is the Pacheedaht and further into TFL 46 and TFL 44, the Ditidaht and the Huu-ay-aht, and those consultations have to take place. If we were to arbitrarily put deferrals in place, that would be returned to the colonialism that we have so graphically been brought back to as a result of issues in Kamloops this week. I'm not prepared to do that. And I think most British Columbians understand that we need to preserve these forests. We need to do it in a way that's mindful of the titleholders that the traditional territories of the Indigenous peoples who have been there for millennia, and we have to build out a plan that has buy-in from everybody. 

Jackie: Horgan was also asked about the RCMP enforcement against protesters. Here's what he had to say on that. 

John Horgan (audio recording): The government does not direct law enforcement. A company sought an injunction, the courts granted that injunction, and then the courts expect that their injunctions will be upheld by law enforcement. The government really has no direct role in that, and I appreciate people at home saying, "Come on, Horgan, how can that be so?" Well, that's just the world that we live in. And I would suggest, as I have in the past as my time in this job, that I wouldn't want to live in a society where politicians are directing law enforcement to do their bidding. That's not the world any of us want to live in.

Jackie: To respond to the intentions to further include indigenous leaders in forestry on their lands. We'll speak to Grand Chief Stewart Philip from the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. But first, we speak to Torrance Coste, the National Campaign Director for the Wilderness Committee, to react to the list of intentions for forestry practices and to find out how that impacts the current movement with the Fairy Creek blockades. Torrance, welcome back. 

Torrance: Thanks so much for having me on again.

Jackie: Okay, let's just start with what the big takeaways are from Tuesday's announcement. 

Torrance: It's a pretty clear indication that this government just has no ability or willingness to read the room. There's a generational spike in activism and public outcry about old growth, fueled in part by the fact that this government in the last election made a whole bunch of promises that people want to be kept and then have done nothing on it. We were expecting something, but we weren't expecting them to keep all their promises. We were expecting something to lower the temperature around what's happening at Caycuse and Fairy Creek, and other areas. We didn't see that, in fact, the opposite. I think this is just going to make people angrier, more frustrated. The government is claiming that we have two and a half more years to put together a plan for old-growth while status quo logging continues in the meantime. I mean, no one buys that anymore.

Jackie: What did they promise today? 

Torrance: So they promised to look at a fulsome new vision for how to manage forests on a whole host of different issues far beyond old growth. Implementing the old-growth recommendations was one of them, I think, but there were 20 of what they call policy intentions. And here's the thing, most of them are pretty good. Obviously, they just came out at 2 PM a couple of hours ago, and I haven't had the chance to dive into all of them. But on the surface, things like tenure reform, breaking up the fact that most logging rates in BC are held by just a handful of companies, more involvement for First Nations, looking at BC timber sales, looking at compliance and enforcement for when companies break laws and companies break the rules. All these things are good. But all of them are in jeopardy without any action in the meantime. The ability to implement the panel's recommendations is not static. If we don't take enough action, in the meantime, most of those recommendations are undoable because the values are being lost as we speak. And then the other piece is a social licence to get any of the twenty policy intentions done, and this government is going to need some goodwill, some social licence from the public. And that's what's being that's what they're hemorrhaging as people get dragged into paddy wagons out on the back roads.

Jackie: And, I mean, these are policy intentions. Does that mean that we might not even see them come to fruition? 

Torrance: Their track record is poor. They said, "We're gonna do all fourteen old-growth panel recommendations," and they've missed every deadline that the panel set. And so now they're saying," Oh, there's 20 more policy intentions." Yeah. I mean, the government needs to rebuild some trust. And we were looking for a measure or two in today's announcement. There are some hints that some more deferrals are coming, whether they're going to be even close to what's needed. And the big question is when I saw one timeline in the document released today, but it was around consultation and saying, "Oh, from this period later in the year, we're going to do more consultations." That's classic, laying out when you're going to talk and not when you're going to make any actual changes on the ground. That's really the framework. It's the foundation of the conflict that we see right now, and there's just no indication that Horgan and his cabinet get that and want to change that. 

Jackie: One of the things that they kind of hammered was the fact that we are going to be implementing all of the old-growth strategic review recommendations. Is that true, given that they haven't put a moratorium on old-growth logging?

Torrance: Yeah. I mean, that's just it. The panel's sixth recommendation was to defer logging of the most at-risk old-growth forests within six months. It's now been thirteen months since they handed that report to the panel to the government. And not only has the government not done that, but they haven't even said they will for sure. An independent group of scientists map that out for governments. It includes areas according to the panel's criteria, areas like Caycuse, Eden Grove, and Fairy Creek, all the places where there are blockades and governments not committing to doing that. They're saying, "Oh, it's complicated. We can't just flip a switch or wave a wand." And so yeah, there's just there's no certainty that they're going to get this done, and before they make any new commitments, they need to start keeping some of the ones that they've made already.

Jackie: There were some things that I found interesting, and these are kind of more into the actual forestry industry. On the podcast, we recently spoke to a resources policy expert who said that a major factor in job losses in the forestry industry is, in fact, the closure of mills. And in jobs leaving the province, we do export a lot of unprocessed lumber, which is resulting in the loss of jobs. The government said they would implement a pay in lieu incentive to keep those jobs within the province hopefully. Do you think that that would be good for the industry as a whole? And then also, for both the loggers and the people who are pro-old-growth forests to get on the same page?

Torrance: Raw log exports, so cutting down a tree cutting off its branches and then sending it overseas; I wholeheartedly oppose that practice. So does the wilderness committee where I work, so do most environmental organizations and most people in the movement. It's a dumb policy, right? The less value we get out of trees that we're cutting down, the more we got to cut down. And that's what the industry is built on. It's built on value over volume overvalue. And again, the NDP has talked a lot about reversing that or at least balancing it. Raw exports are one of many issues that the NDP has gone from lion to lamb on, and it's transitioned from opposition to the government. In that, I used to go to rallies against log raw log exports, organized by mill workers unions, that I would go and say, "If we ever get into government, we're gonna end this practice, or we're going to curtail it." They haven't really; they're talking about making it more expensive. I think we ought to talk about an outright ban. If the point of the forest industry is creating jobs here, and not just the accumulation of as much wealth as possible for for for companies, then yeah, we should be turning trees, cutting down fewer trees and turning them into more valuable things. It's a huge piece on the jobs front because it's a major criticism of and kind of a rationale for continued growth logging, is, "We need the jobs." We have good relationships with certain parts of the sector regarding millworkers, and almost three-quarters of all forest industry jobs aren't in the forests; they're in mills. So when we talk about how do we reduce the amount of logging and when it comes to old-growth, eliminate, eliminate logging, that's how we make sure that communities are supported. That's how we make sure there's still a robust sector moving forward, which is something I want, and I think as most people want, no one wants logging to be gone, or forestry to be gone and, and not be a part of the economy, we just want to change what it looks like. So again, they've been in power for coming up on four years, and to say, "Oh, they're gonna look at some disincentives to raw log exports," that's a lot different tune than they're saying in opposition.

Jackie: There was also, as you mentioned, one of the shifts that activists and scientists want to see in the industry is a shift to high value over high volume. And John Horgan did mention that a lot today. Do you think if they were actually to implement the intentions they set, that would help protect old-growth and areas at risk?

Torrance: Maybe so that's the thing, that piece and the tenure reform piece. I don't know if you're gonna ask about that next. Those are both good things on the surface. Still, we can't just change the rules in terms of who's logging, right and switch from big companies to small companies, or more involvement from from from communities or switch from what we're doing with those trees if we're not addressing what's being logged. And that's what kind of the current moment. There are, of course, concerns with what we're doing with forests and who's benefiting from them. But the big concern is about what we're doing out there and that we're cutting into the last of some of these ecosystems and the kind of public anguish around that. So on their own in isolation, no, they don't deal with that. But they have the potential certainly to be part of a better future. And a more sustainable future coupled with more protection for old-growth. 

Jackie: When it comes to Fairy Creek specifically, and the protests that are going on there and in the area surrounding John Horgan said that they would not be deferring any logging that is being protested because it would be an act of colonialism to go against the wishes of the First Nation councils. What do you make of that? 

Torrance: It's tough. So first of all, like the government's framing, any solutions on this need to be set in stone permanent land-use changes; that's not what's being called for. That's not what the wilderness committee is calling for, the blockaders are calling for, or what the panel is calling for. The panel called for two-year deferrals. We challenged the government to go further and replace any resource revenues for First Nations, like the Pacheedaht and others in other parts of the island and BC, that make money logging old-growth. Put things on hold, eliminate the costs of communities Indigenous or otherwise for doing that, and then sit down for those nation-to-nation discussions. The logging that's happening out there was set up and planned and approved under the colonial system that Horgan now says he's against. These logging plans, these tree farm licenses, these companies have this tenure and don't require consent. The choice for nations isn't whether the logging goes ahead. It's whether they derive benefit from it or not. And that's a really tough position that they've been put in for more than 150 years. And so the kind of simplistic grabbing at, we can't do this or that because of reconciliation, it's extremely frustrating. At the end of the day, the goal should be to return land to First Nations. But to say that any interim action to ensure that ecosystems are being protected in the meantime. I mean, from my perspective, as a settler, the hugest injustice of colonialism is that it's taken away options and opportunities from sovereign peoples. It's taken away options to practice culture, language, and governance. And it's taken away options about what to do with the land. And without interim measures, the last pockets of old-growth and a lot of nations' territories are going to be logged, and that's going to eliminate their choice five years from now to either log it or protect it. Frankly, neither of those two options will be available to them.

Jackie: The Pacheedaht released a statement saying that they would not like the protesters to come to their land, and in fact, that they would like them to go home. There hasn't been a similar statement that I know of from the Ditidaht Nation which a large part of the protests are taking place and a lot of the arrests at the Caycuse camp, which is on their territory. So this idea that you can't make deferrals because the Pacheedaht said to leave, and they don't agree with this movement. Does that apply?

Torrance: I think it's an easy way out, frankly, for for the leader of an entity that's responsible for this whole mess on that Pacheedaht territory. As far as I know, on Pacheedaht territory, there are members of the community from Ditidaht that are involved in the blockades and supportive of them. But as far as I know, the nation hasn't made a specific statement one way or another. And yeah, that's a crucial piece. I mean, the kind of moniker of the Fairy Creek blockades is caught on in the public imagination. It's where the first blockades were, and it's, of course, iconic in its status as this fully intact watershed. But I believe still this might be changing like today. But I believe up until pretty recently, the last couple of days, more than half the arrests in the last couple of weeks have been over on the Caycuse side, where there are again some of the biggest trees in BC being logged. Yeah, there are 50 First Nations territories on Vancouver Island and 203 or more across BC, and the government needs to get to work and start reaching out to nations because some are straight-up calling for moratoriums on all growth logging. There are nations on the north end of the island that have called for years for the companies to stop logging old-growth on their territory. So again, it's frustrating when Horgan selectivity says, "Oh, we can't do this because the nation doesn't want to see it," go ahead when it comes to conservation, and not when it comes to logging; let alone other issues like Site C.    

Jackie: One of the things that actually struck me just reading through the whole thing was they mentioned that the government had been around since 2017. They've had so many conversations, and now their next step is to have more conversations and just set more intentions and consult on them. Is this kind of indicative of the fact that we're never actually going to see any firm results? 

Torrance: I got a kick out of I can't remember; it's like three or four pages, maybe a little more into the paper released today. But there's this piece about these intentions based on what we've heard, including four processes, consultation processes that they've done since they formed government in 2017. One of which is the Old-Growth Strategic Review. And to me, if you're laying out four separate consultation processes, that's going to be to inform what action you're taking, not what further consultation you're taking. So it's extremely disheartening. And yeah, there's absolutely no assurance and confidence that this government understands that actions needed. And the term "talking log" applies perfectly. I think that term was coined in BC in the 90s when the NDP was in power. And that phenomenon of saying, "Look, this is a problem, we got to do something," and then not, it's not the sole reason for the conflict that we see around old-growth and forestry issues today. Many of these problems were because of previous and subsequent governments, to those NDP governments of the 90s. A lot of them are 150 years old. But a lot of them are because of that talking log phenomenon and to see the government kind of double or triple or quadruple down on that, and in the same breath, talking about wanting to move away from the conflict and division's just not based in reality. I think more talk without any on-the-ground changes is just a recipe. It's throwing fuel on the fire, and it's a recipe for more conflict.

Jackie: This is kind of a speculative question. But given the timing of this announcement that they made, in the fact that they were silent on the old-growth review for a while. Do you think that today's announcement was maybe optics or politics trying to put out a political fire? 

Torrance: I mean, and the timing. First of all, I'm 99% sure that Horgan is the first Premier in BC history to have logging blockaders arrested in his own writing. Just by virtue of the fact that most premiums have been from cities, not from districts with forest in writing. But there's been about eight arrests by the sound of it and climbing at Fairy Creek and surrounding areas today, and there's a real good chance that someone was getting arrested in the hour of this press conference right down the road in Horgan's writing. And, and they kind of I think they are responding to the pressure, but they're doing it in a funny way, instead of directly stepping up and facing it, which I would argue is, is the honourable thing to do. They're kind of trying to divert and dodge a little bit right and place old growth as one of 100 different or, in this case, one of 20 different pieces. And again, the strength of this argument is that the 20, the 19 other policy intentions, again, are all worthy, but I don't think any of them are accomplishable if they keep losing the social licence, and if they keep fueling the fury that you see around old growth that's it's such a threat to them, and they don't seem to be aware of that.

Jackie: Torrance, thank you so much again. 

Torrance: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it. 

Jackie: Hi, Grand Chief. This is Jackie from the Capital Daily Podcast. 

Grand Chief Phillip: I'm here. 

Jackie: Today, the large focus from the forestry announcement seems to be that the government wanted to better involve First Nations communities in decision making going forward. Does this feel like an important moment?

Grand Chief Phillip: No, absolutely not quite the contrary. We've said many times, and it's not an issue of who's doing the logging. It's an issue that there's logging taking place and old-growth forestry stands. That's contrary to the promises that premier Horgan made during the last election. That's contrary to the expert panel's recommendations that the Horgan government continues to promise to implement, but their policy has been talking log. And we want the logging stopped.

Jackie: They also mentioned that they were going to increase the amount of First Nations from 10% of the provincial annual allowable cut to 20%. I guess that also something that you're not so happy with? 

Grand Chief Phillip: No, absolutely not. That's not the issue; the issue is saving and preserving old-growth forests. And obviously, the vast majority of British Columbians support that. 

Jackie: one of the large reasons this has been prompted is because of the protests on the third creek on Paachedaht territory. And the Paachedaht council said that they support the logging, or at least they didn't want the protesters to continue protesting. And they already have a revenue-sharing agreement. What would you say to nations who have agreements and wish to honour them? 

Grand Chief Phillip: I personally reject that. I don't think that First Nations have the right to all the rest of society hostage in regard to our collective efforts to preserve the environment to preserve the old-growth forests, to provide those strong measures of environmental stewardship to the land is some fundamental part of our teachings, that we have the sacred duty to protect the land and all living things. Our teachings don't speak to cutting deals in the backroom to destroy and devastate old-growth forests.

Jackie: There is also a large divide between the council that represents the nation and some of their members, including Hereditary Chief Bill Jones. Bill Jones says the council that is being recognized by the government is a result of colonialism. How do you look at that from both perspectives?

Grand Chief Phillip: Well, my heart is with Hereditary leadership that is aware of what our teachings are that takes into consideration protecting old-growth forests. I've heard some say the biggest infringement on our average home title and rights are the First Nations themselves. Those First Nations practice economic opportunism, greed and have little regard for the environment or the ecosystems and just cut the deal and go out and start logging.

Jackie: I want to ask you about something that John Horgan said today when asked about deferrals in the Fairy Creek area as well as Caycuse. He said that that would be against the wishes of the councils in the area, and therefore, it would be an act of colonialism. He went as far as to relate that to residential schools and the recent tragic discovery of just more evidence of the atrocities that Canada has committed with the 215 indigenous children's bodies that were found under a residential school in Kamloops. What would you say about that?

Grand Chief Phillip: Well, I think that's a very crass political statement seeking to exploit the horrific tragedy in Kamloops for political purposes and uphold the logging in Fairy Creek. I'm really disturbed by that kind of politics. 

Jackie: For a lot of people, this is an issue about sovereignty. So what would you say to the people who believe that the councils of the land get to make the final call? 

Grand Chief Phillip: I would say it's up to the people of British Columbia to mobilize, organize and do what's necessary to protect the environment. Protect the water and our quality of life as a collective responsibility that applies to all British Columbians. Take great pride in living in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. That's what I would say.

Jackie: Alright, thank you so much. I really appreciate it, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your day. 

Grand Chief Phillip: Okay, bye now. 

Jackie: For more coverage on this topic, you can head to capitaldaily.ca for numerous articles and background information and also look back at our past podcast episodes, including the recent one we mentioned earlier, where we analyzed forestry policy and looked at practical solutions.