Since last fall, we have witnessed the determination of many in the forestry sector defending our industry with direct actions such as respectful and truthful local protests that reflect our collective values in forestry, responding to distorted articles and editorials, and lobbying local and provincial government. These democratic actions are a testament to all the workers in our sector and communities we live in.
On three occasions, those who have been determined to bring their concerns via a rally directly to the legislature have been forced to cancel it for the unfortunate reasons of respecting health orders, flood victims, and the broader impacts of the unrelated trucker ‘freedom’ protest. Now, planning will be underway for the next attempt.
Why the effort? Because the provincial government is making decisions that are simply wrong. Other than being one of a few hundred government spin doctors or a member of an entitled environmental corporation, all involved in our business know these decisions are wrong and that much better options exist to protect workers, communities, and the environment.
On behalf of the TLA, I was going to have the honour of speaking at the rally. Well, no need to waste a speech, so here’s the essence of what I planned to say.
Frankly, I would rather be doing more productive things than be here at this rally, like moving our forest sector progressively forward, making life better for those working in the forest sector, helping grow our economy through innovative forestry and tackling head on the changes we can make to meet ever changing expectation from society, bring the very best new products and technologies to BC and our manufactures, make our communities stronger, and supporting our natural resource sector, which provides over 50 per cent of BC’s wealth with forestry leading the way.
Instead, we’re fighting international environmental corporations creating a false crisis for their own selfish benefits, trying to counter false narratives about the state of BC’s forests, trying to persuade a government to take a better path forward than their obvious capitulation to special interest groups, fighting government decisions affecting thousands of good people and forest workers, and fighting to counter decisions based primarily on political factors versus science and people.
So, is there a better path forward? Of course, there is.
First and foremost, BC’s forest industry have repeatedly demonstrated our ability to innovate and manage change. We’ve built a forest industry that is the best in the world and independently certified as such hundreds of times each year.
Secondly, the government, in their capitulation to the environmental corporations, made the wrong decision for old-growth protection. AT one end, they let the Technical Advisory Panel—one that almost everyone perceives as absolutely biased—add millions of hectares to BC’s already world leading network of protected areas, all without any idea of the social, economic, and employment consequences of those decisions. And all of this even though 75 per cent of BC’s old growth is already protected in one form or another.
Let me remind you, we collectively harvest about .1 per cent of BC’s forest land base each year that is old growth. I’ll repeat that— point1 per cent. Do the math a collective vision supported by common sense and a reasonable transition over the next 10-20 years would see only 1-2 per cent more of BC’s old growth harvested. Surely there is a better solution in there somewhere that doesn’t affect the livelihoods of tens of thousands of jobs, decimate our resource communities, and reduce the AAC by 15-20 per cent.
Lastly, start to engage with those of us that will determine whether the many options available will work and move our forest sector and the people working in it forward. We’re not afraid of the frank discussions needed to move all of us towards even better forests in BC. Government, you need to realize your mistake and press the reset button on the process. To not do so is disrespectful to all the hard-working people and communities dependent on our forests and certainly is not the right choice for the common good.
Regardless of whether this speech happens at a future rally, the fundamental question is what will happen next? Will the forest sector be able to collectively sustain their displeasure with these decisions? Will government succeed by dividing and conquering the diverse viewpoints always present in BC’s forest industry? Will government start to meaningfully engage with all of us or simply wait us out? Will the right solutions be sought and worked on?
Mystifying all of us further is the recent provincial budget. Government forecasts about a $1 billion tax revenue loss from their proposed changes to our forest sector. If correct (and it could end up a lot higher), this translates to somewhere around a $3-4 billion reduction in our provincial GDP. With about 65 per cent of this as wages in one form or another, the result works out to $2-3 billion in lost income for dependent workers and communities.
Government is proclaiming the virtues of a short-term $185 million fund to aid in the transition to their new forestry world in BC. In other words, some short-term pennies tossed our way with zero effective long-term plans beyond this short-term miniscule cash infusion. We want jobs, certainty, and a government supporting the best forest industry in the world, which supports the best climate change solutions—not pennies for a few days of lost work.
Based on this, the TLA will continue to advocate for real solutions, people, communities, the environment, and a vibrant forestry sector. And we know we are not alone in trying to correct this wrong.
Bob Brash is Executive Director of the Truck Loggers Association.