Capital Daily

What Candidates Would Do On Fairy Creek

Episode Summary

We give you a summary of each of the four major parties’ proposed policies related to old-growth logging and Fairy Creek. We also bring you a previous conversation we had with a policy expert about old-growth policy that would benefit both the environment and industry.

Episode Notes

We give you a summary of each of the four major parties’ proposed policies related to old-growth logging and Fairy Creek. We also bring you a previous conversation we had with a policy expert about old-growth policy that would benefit both the environment and industry.   

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Episode Transcription

Disclaimer: This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Jackie: Hi, my name is Jackie Lamport. Today is Tuesday, August 31. Welcome to the Capital Daily Podcast. Today on the show, as the federal election nears, we bring you information from the proposed policy from each of the four major parties regarding one of Vancouver Island's most passionate issues, Fairy Creek. 

Back in May, we made an episode where we spoke to a policy expert analyzing policy practices in the best interest of Canadians when it comes to old-growth logging. The issue has been top of mind not only for BC voters but across Canada as the Fairy Creek blockades continue to receive national and even international attention. It was late spring when we spoke to Ben Parfit, a resource policy analyst at the BC office for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Today, we wanted to replay that conversation as we look nationally at the federal parties in this snap election. But first, we wanted to explain where the four major parties stand on old-growth logging and the policies related to what's currently happening at FairyCreek. When I say four major parties for obvious reasons, I do not mean the Bloc Quebecois. I mean the four major parties for BC voters: the Liberals, the Conservatives, the NDP, and the Greens. 

We'll begin with the Liberals. The federal Liberals have pledged a chunk of cash that would specifically go toward protecting old-growth ecosystems in BC. On August 21, the Liberal Party of Canada pledged to put $50 million to establish a BC old-growth nature fund and work with partners to attract additional funding to support the protection of important old-growth forests further. In a written statement, Jonathan Wilkinson, the Liberal candidate for North Vancouver, said, "Old-growth forests are a source of wonder and pride for British Columbians and all Canadians, but they're increasingly under threat. We will support the province of British Columbia First Nations and local communities as they work together to better protect important old-growth forests for future generations." 

Wilkinson also took a shot at Jagmeet Singh for not specifically mentioning old-growth in the NDP nature protection platform, in addition to the monetary investment. Other promises include reaching a nature agreement with the province of British Columbia to protect more of the province's old-growth forests and expand protected areas, and ensuring that First Nations local communities and workers are partners in shaping the path forward on nature protection. 

However, it bears mentioning that the Liberals have been in power throughout the ongoing escalation of the Faerie Creek crisis. They have earmarked $2.3 billion as part of a nature fund that would finance the creation of new protected areas. However, it is yet to be seen where that money will go. Justin Trudeau had also met with protests in front of his hotel room on the campaign trail when he arrived in Vancouver on August 24. 

Moving on to the Conservatives, the Conservative platform does not mention old-growth logging. However, their proposed policy around forestry includes investing in technology to detect forest fires earlier and increasing funding in pest control in our forests. They also say that they want to "Develop a vision for the future of forestry that includes pathways to helping fight climate change, and the development of new wood technology and bioproducts." Their climate change policy does not mention deforestation or old-growth forests at all. They do, however, mention the resource extraction sector and their policy under the headline, ending the mistreatment of Western Canada. The subsection about supporting Western Canadian jobs has a commitment to "Encourage Indigenous communities and resource development companies to work together to promote mutually beneficial conversations between Indigenous communities and resource project proponents. We will provide $10 million per year to organizations that foster collaboration and encourage partnerships between these two groups." 

It's also worth noting that in March of 2020, the Conservative Party members voted down a resolution to recognize climate change officially. That being said, in reading through their platform, climate change and conservative policies to tackle climate change are very present. Another piece of policy related to Fairy Creek is its stance on protesting key infrastructure projects. Leader Aaron O'Toole has proposed an amendment to Canada's criminal code to stop protests that disrupt projects such as pipelines or railways. The proposal reads, "Peaceful protest is a fundamental right in Canada, but respect for the rule of law means that illegal blockades that shut down critical infrastructure, threaten access to vital supplies or endanger lives cannot be tolerated." The plan doesn't give any further details about what this would mean and what would qualify as an illegal blockade. 

The federal NDP is in a tight spot on this issue. The Fairy Creek blockades, which are currently driving the issue to receive international tension, are happening under an NDP government. BC Premier John Horgan has stood by his stance that he is following the wishes of the First Nations communities whose land the logging is taking place on. Federal leader Jagmeet Singh has stayed quiet while speaking a lot about climate change and Indigenous issues. He has done so while avoiding taking a stance on the blockades. But if we look closer at other releases from the party, we can get an idea of their action. 

In an announcement from August 23 denouncing the Liberals' climate action, the Federal NDP is said to be committed to eliminating big oil subsidies. In that announcement, they also pledged $500 million in "Funding to support Indigenous-led stewardship programs to advance reconciliation and protect the land, water and forests including old-growth." When Capital Daily asked local NDP candidate Alastair McGregor about Fairy Creek, he told us. "From my federal lane, forestry policy does fall under the provincial jurisdiction. There is very clear room for the federal government to get involved with Indigenous-led stewardship." He went on to say that when it comes to Fairy Creek, he wants to be very respectful of the wishes of the Pacheedaht. "I'm trying to be respectful of that but also the limited jurisdiction." When it comes to RCMP violence ongoing at the protests, Alastair says he has told his constituency staff to help people access the RCMP Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. That's about all we can gather; old-growth protection isn't mentioned in the platform. 

Lastly, we have the Green Party. Safe to say, this is a very important issue for the Greens. The Federal Green Party has been actively outspoken about protecting old-growth forests. It's a key campaign issue for them, and it's part of an active petition-style campaign on their website. They make a strong connection between old-growth logging and the climate crisis, saying that these forests are one of our best defences against climate change and their petition. They acknowledge that forestry is a provincial issue but say that the provincial NDP isn't doing enough and that the urgency of the climate crisis means the federal government needs to step in. Green Party Leader Anamie Paul tweeted on August 24, "The logging and extraction of old-growth both threaten the future of our planet and undermine Indigenous claims to their traditional lands. The RCMP must respect the right to peaceful protest. The BC NDP government must also intervene to protect Fairy Creek." Former Green Party leader Elizabeth may have spoken at fairy Creek protests here in Victoria. The Greens have also spoken up against RCMP actions after the Fairy Creek blockades. 

In a release also on August 24, leader Anamie Paul specifically called for RCMP to respect the rights of protesters, pause their enforcement and for the BC NDP government to intervene and protect the watershed. Green Party justice critic Dyanoosh Youssefi said, "The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental tenet of our democracy, a charter right and must be protected by the government and respected by its agencies, including the RCMP. This right is particularly salient anytime when continued logging and extraction both threaten the future of our planet and undermine Indigenous claims to their traditional lands." Nanaimo/Ladysmith MP Paul Manley also introduced a private member's Motion 71, which is the protection of old-growth forests, into the House of Commons in February of this year. The motion cites the importance of old-growth forests in the fight against climate change and calls for the federal government to work with provinces and First Nations to protect old-growth, prioritize and fund the long term protection of old-growth forest ecosystems, support a value-added forestry industry in partnership with First Nations and banned the export of raw logs. 

That wraps up the parties' policies on both growth logging and related issues. But now we move back in time to just before the summer began when we spoke to Ben Parfitt, a resource policy analyst at the BC Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Here's that interview.  

Ben, thank you so much for joining the podcast.

Ben: Thank you very much for having me. 

Jackie: This issue has a ticking clock on it for a number of reasons. One, there is very little old-growth left, and the longer the government waits on it, the less there are. Two, we have the economic consequences of a pandemic that we're currently dealing with. So when it comes to jobs, that's incredibly important, as well. There's a lot of pressure on the government to act fast, and to their credit, they have commissioned the strategic old-growth review. However, they haven't acted on anything in both situations. As I said, there's a ticking clock. Is it normal for a government to have this much pressure over policy? Or are they kind of in a unique situation that's hard to act on? 

Ben: No, they're far from in a unique situation. If you look at the arc of history in this province, there have been very, very protracted, much more high-profile protests on the loss of old-growth forests that have happened in this province. So this issue has come up again and again over the decades. So the government of the day is not in a unique position. The other thing that I think is very important to point out is that at this particular point in time, we're seeing among the highest prices for lumber recorded in provincial history. There is an incredible demand for lumber; record-high prices are being paid, and that is resulting in tremendous pressure to log more and more for us, but there's a price to be paid for that. The price to be paid is, there's only so much for us to go around. All one has to do is look at satellite imagery, whether it be on the coast, which is a very distinct region as compared in the interior, to see that there are huge areas for us that have been logged and not very much old-growth or primary forest remaining to be logged. So there is tremendous economic pressure that is being applied to continue the status quo essentially. 

Every day that we do that, we have less old-growth forests left up. So I think what that means is that if we want to get serious about having, you know, a good ecologically diverse and healthy forest system, we clearly have to conserve more for ourselves than we currently have. The second thing that we have to acknowledge is that in many rural regions, the province's resource industry activities remain a very important part of the economy. And the question is, "Do we continue the status quo? Or do we move in a different direction?" And in the work that I do, and I do this with the support of both conservation organizations and forest industry unions, is to say that there is a different way than we can go about doing things. 

The government of the day has essentially acknowledged that the general direction that I think we should be going in ought to be pursued. I think what ends up happening is the government becomes captured by economic interests, that the state can keep them the way they are. So I would say that if you want to look at ways to do two things that I think the general public would support, which are to increase forest conservation and protection and have healthier, more stable, more diverse jobs in the forest industry. What you have to end up doing is find ways to do more with a limited amount of raw material, that bottom line. So let's think about the coast for a minute. In recent years, with the notable exception of last year, which was a very unusual year, because of COVID, we have had log export levels. So this is the exportation of unprocessed raw logs from the coast of British Columbia. We've seen those export levels, averaging about 6 million cubic meters of logs per year. Bear in mind that a cubic meter of wood is equivalent to about one telephone pole worth of what 6 million telephone poles per year, leaving the province unprocessed. 

My estimate is that if you simply match the current job production from the wood that is processed in the province, just the act of exporting those 6 million cubic meters of raw logs per year is equivalent to giving up about 3600 manufacturing jobs in the province. That's a lot of jobs. 

My proposition would be what would happen if the government required both the provincial and federal governments to get serious on this; what would happen if they were to institute a complete ban on raw log exports? What I think would happen is that with the cut, companies would step into the fray to say that they could actually do something with that wood. My belief is that it is entirely possible that we could be conserving more old-growth forests on the coast of British Columbia. We could have, at the very least, a wash in terms of the number of jobs because if we, for example, protected enough old-growth forests to equal, let's say, half of those log exports, but it required the industry to get super serious about processing the other half, we would have at least as many jobs as we've got today, if not more. And that's the thing that I think that we need to be focused on. We need to be focused on adding more value here at home. The reason I say that is let's think for a minute about the number of jobs in the forest industry in this province that has been lost in the last ten years alone. So if you go back ten years, approximately 91,000 people were working in the forest industry in British Columbia. Today, numbers 49,000, we have seen a huge decrease in the number of people working in the forest industry. At the same time, we have seen significant increases in the amount of raw logs that are being exported from the province. 

That's just the first example so let's look at another one. In the remote northeast of the province, there is now a proposal in the Fort Nelson region, one of the largest forest regions in the entire province and has the most remaining intact old-growth or primary forest in British Columbia. There is a proposal in the works that this government is going to have to decide on that would essentially result in about 1.2 to 1.5 million cubic meters of trees per year being logged and turned into a very, very low-value product called wood pellets. So the proposal is essentially to take up to one and a half million cubic meters of logs per year, grind them into chips, and turn them into a product that is then going to be burned. I don't believe that that is value-added. I know that the three forest industry unions in the province that I worked with on this particular story most certainly do not think it is value-added. I know that many conservation organizations are opposed to this kind of proposal, which essentially takes whole forests and turns them into what I would call the second-lowest value product you could create in British Columbia, short of cutting down trees on exporting them in unprocessed form.

Jackie: I want to interrupt because I want to ask about that. So there are many reasons why jobs decrease in an industry. One of the things that we see every day in every industry is that there's automation, and there are efficiencies made so that you can lower the workforce and increase revenue. Is that something that is impacting the loss of jobs? Is this something that can be countered by changing the way you export or process or use the lumber that we're extracting? 

Ben: Very good question. There is no doubt, and there will always be improvements that will continue to be made in the efficient processing, particularly of commodity products. That's a reality everywhere in the world. You can't run a business without running it efficiently. Many of the milling enterprises that we have in the province are highly automated. The number of people working in those mills is a fraction of what it used to be because of those technological changes. So there is no doubt that the number of jobs per unit of wood process in the province has been affected to a significant degree by technological advances and changes. However, a very, very large number of the jobs that have been lost in this province result from the direct closure of sawmills. Approximately 100 milling operations in the province have closed their doors in the last 20 years. And why has that happened? A good part of the reason that has happened is that many of those mills were designed to process larger diameter, old-growth blocks and those old-growth logs are nowhere near as readily available as they once were. So there is a correlation between the rapid decline in the amount of available old-growth logs and the closure of many mills, and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.  

Jackie: I think some people are going to hear that, and they're going to think, okay, that means that we need to continue to log old growth to keep those sawmills open.

Ben: So let's look at what has happened on the coast because I think that that is important, especially when we're talking about log exports. More than half of the logs are exported from the province every year, so more than half of those 6 million cubic meters of logs are not old-growth logs. They are second-growth logs and what I and others have advocated for is to let us get serious about protecting the last remnant patches of overall forests we have, particularly on the coast of British Columbia. Let's work to make up the difference in terms of jobs that could be impacted by instituting policies that will result in increased investments in second-growth manufacturing. If you look at the bulk of the logs that are being exported, and I have, again, the majority of them are second-world logs; they're being exported to China, Japan, and Korea; those are the three big destination points. And all of that second-growth log volume is turned into finished products there, some of which we buyback. So if we were to institute policies, and I'll speak of one of those policies in a minute that would encourage people to get into the business of second growth, manufacturing, I think that could happen. 

To give us an example, there is an independent milling company in Vancouver by the name of the SAM Group. They are the first company in almost 20 years in the province that has invested substantially in new milling technology in the community of Port Alberni. They are going to be working exclusively with second-growth. So, in the work that I've done, I have received strong support for policy recommendations both from the woodworking unions in the province and from major conservation organizations, saying, "We need to protect more old-growth, we need to halt the exportation of logs from the province. We need to be encouraged at every step of the way and focus on the manufacturing of second-growth logs."

Jackie: From what I've been able to gather as somebody who's not a researcher in the industry, old-growth logging results in more immediate money. But second-growth logging is more sustainable. When we shift away from old-growth logging, is there a financial hit that's going to come in as we adjust? Is it going to be a fast profit and then nothing or a quick decline and then a slow rise?

Ben: I think the bottom line is that if businesses are prepared to make the investment, second-growth logs can be manufactured profitably. We have examples of companies that have made those investments and a new second-growth processing facility on the coast. And as I mentioned, the SAM Group has recently done the same thing. So if you're prepared to make investments in new mills, you can profitably process second growth with new technology. And you can do so and get products into international markets. To give us an example of why I believe that is the case. You only have to look at what's happened in the interior of the province where we have major companies like Canadian Forest Products, which is the biggest company operating in British Columbia and West Fraser and Interfor. All three of those companies in recent years have made investments in new mills and forest acquisitions in the US south; the US South has no growth forests left of any kind. You're talking third, fourth, in some cases, fifth-generation trees that are being processed. Those companies are making money with those investment decisions. There's no reason why we couldn't be doing the same thing in British Columbia. 

Now, one thing that I think is very important is that, in my opinion, if you're going to process second-growth wood in the province of British Columbia, you're better off if you can let those second-growth trees get older and bigger before you log and process them. A tree that has more mature wood on it, if you do that, then you're able to get a higher value from it. So, second growth is not all the same. A 120-year-old Douglas Fir tree is a lot more valuable than a 60-year-old Douglas fir tree. So it's about thinking about value. Bear in mind, too, that what I am talking about when I talk about foregone jobs is the current employment situation as per unit of wood processed in British Columbia. So think about this for a minute. On average, each job in the forest industry in British Columbia today requires about 1000 cubic meters of trees to be harvested. That's what it takes, on average, to generate one full-time equivalent job in British Columbia. So if you think about that, then think about higher value products and lower value products. 

If you take logs and turn them directly into chips, to make a low-value product, like a wood pellet, you need 24,000 cubic meters of wood to sustain one full-time job. That's at the very low end of the spectrum in terms of job generation. So I think what we need, and this is why the Forest Minister has been instructed to do so in her mandate, we need policies in this province that are going to encourage investment in higher-value mills so that we can move up the value chain, which is what the Minister has been instructed to do. 

If we move up the value chain, we close off opportunities to export raw, unprocessed logs. We discourage the manufacturing of really low-end products like wood pallets. There's every reason to believe that we could protect moral growth for us, substantially protect more for us, and we could have more jobs. 

Jackie: Because everything's under capitalism, the industry is going to run under or how much revenue they can take, and that's how it's going to be. So when they're thinking about their investments for the long term into making second growth, maybe their number one source, are they going to be looking for that initial investment? You said Teal-Jones is one of the companies that has made major investments into second-growth. They're the company right now at the center of this argument over old-growth logging in Fairy Creek. Is that so? Is that something for them? They're thinking, "Yeah, the second-growth looks like a great opportunity. To fund that, let's get these quick earnings and then turn that money into our investment." How do you turn people away from that with policy?

Ben: Well, I think it's very clear from the government's perspective, the way you turn them away from it is to simply say, we're serious about our commitment to old-growth protection, and we're going to increase the amount of old-growth that is protected dramatically. And when I say that, I want to be very clear, and most people in the province view old growth as the very large, iconic trees that are situated in the valley bottoms. There's very, very, very little of that wood left or forests left. It is incumbent upon the government, which has jurisdiction over crown lands in this province, to make the decisions that are required around increasing forest protection and that is required. We need to set parameters around how much more forest we're going to protect. That provides the baseline from which decisions can be made about investments. 

It's very clear to me that if we continue down the road that we are on, we end up eradicating the one-time old-growth resource that we have, which will never be replaced, and we impoverish our future in terms of making needed investments in second-growth. So I think we need to think very carefully about how it's going to proceed. I think that one of the ways out of this mess is to do the brave and necessary thing and fully commit to substantial increases in old-growth protection while at the same time instituting those policies that are going to result in investments being made. Second growth, I think it's very clear that second growth, processing can be done, is being done, and could be done more in the future years and decades to come.

Jackie: I hate to put environmental policy behind revenue or income for companies because, unfortunately, that's where we are. I feel like when you're trying to convince the people who are making money, the people who own those companies who are doing logging, you have to entice them with numbers, right? That's, unfortunately, where we're at. However, the government, as of now, doesn't seem like that's happening either.

Ben: I think that the one thing that sometimes gets lost in all of this is that, with the notable exception, and it is it isn't notable exception of the southern portion of Vancouver Island 94% of the province of British Columbia is Crown Land, it's public land that we share with First Nations in this province. And the provincial government has responsibility over those lands. So these are public policy decisions. We need to look beyond the economic value of old-growth to the many, many other values that old-growth forests have. They are our largest natural stores of carbon, and they are critically important to the healthy flow and functioning of water in our province, which is coming under increasing stress due to climate change. They harbour the greatest biological diversity of any force in Canada, among any force in the world. So the government has a responsibility that goes well beyond just ensuring that there is quote, unquote, fibre supply. For the forest companies, it has a duty to protect those forests and, frankly, to provide meaningful economic opportunities; it has the responsibility to do both of those things.

I think that anybody if asked to look at recent satellite imagery, of pretty much any corner of British Columbia, if they look at that satellite imagery, and they've asked if the glass is half empty, or half full, they're going to say it's not only half empty. It's way closer to being empty altogether in many parts of the province. So the government has a responsibility here to ensure that adequate amounts of forest are protected. And I think; clearly, there's a considerable amount of public opinion, including opinion within the more progressive elements of the forest industry unions in this province, that ought to be bringing an end to all growth logging. From a jobs perspective, the way to go clearly is to move towards the second world because that's where the largest supply of fibre is going to be. The government should be leading on this file, and, unfortunately, we've seen the right words being expressed about the need to protect more old-growth and move up the value chain. We don't have any compelling evidence that the government is prepared to pull the policy levers that it needs to pull to make those two things happen.

Jackie: I don't want to make excuses for the government, but I think this is a fair thing to bring up. We are in a pandemic, so this argument about old-growth is historical in the province, but where we're at is quite new because this is an industry that is still creating lots of revenue for the government. They are hemorrhaging money from other industries to try and keep them afloat. Is there more at play right now for the government? They're thinking about immediate income and not making investments and letting things stay the status quo because they feel like they need to right now.

Ben: What I can tell you for sure with revenues from natural resources are the ebb and flow. Right now, there is the increased revenue that is coming in for each unit of wood that is logged in the provinces for us because of the incredible run-up in lumber prices. But that's not the end. I think we need to take the longer view here, which is that a very significant amount of forest has been locked, logged at a rate that even the provincial government in the various documents that people can look at. They want to even at rates that the government itself, as acknowledged on paper, are not sustainable. It's in nobody's interest to keep going. 

Jackie: I want to ask you one more question. One of the overlaps of resource extraction is the relationships with the Indigenous communities. Most of all, resource extractions happen on Indigenous lands. In the situation with Fairy Creek specifically, on the one hand, we have the council asking for protesters to leave the land. And on the other side of things, we have a Hereditary Chief who's welcoming people and is at the forefront of these protests. Is there something that the government can do policy-wise to get people to be on the same page about this or make their interactions with the First Nations communities less divisive? It seems like they're, as it stands right now, they're putting a wedge between people within that community? 

Ben: I don't think there's any doubt that there are people in government and in the industry who are only too happy to see those wedges and ensure that people are identified within individual First Nations communities that will be on board with resource development proposals. I think the government's actions on resource policy and deals involving resource industries and First Nations and it's very clear that when those deals are struck government is quick to point out its commitments to First Nations rights and reconciliation and to point to those agreements as proof that they're taking their responsibilities seriously when it comes to rights and reconciliation. What you will also notice, though, is that in those cases where First Nations have spoken up forcefully to attempt to protect lands and resources, you don't see the same kind of language from the provincial government or industries. 

A good example of that would be around some of the recent pronouncements that the government has made around First Nations and Site-C. Many praise and acknowledgement those First Nations that have essentially thrown their lot in with the proposed development and are reaping economic rewards. There hasn't been much acknowledgement on the government's part about the ongoing opposition to that project from other First Nations in the area who are before the courts, as a Western member of the First Nations. So I think it's a mistake to characterize any resource policy as necessarily having the complete backing of a First Nation within First Nations communities. Like within our own communities, there are no firmly held and often opposing views on how we should. 

Jackie: If you want to read more of our election coverage, you can check out our profiles for each writing in our area at Capitol and watch out for our podcasts where we do the same. And if you want to learn more about Fairy Creek, you can visit for our written pieces and go back into our podcast history for our very extensive coverage on the issue. 

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Thanks so much for joining the show today. If you enjoyed the podcast, please leave a rating and review and also subscribe so that you don't miss any episodes going forward. We post new shows every Monday to Friday. My name is Jackie Lamort. This is the Capital Daily Podcast. We'll talk to you tomorrow.