Review Likely to Kill Forest Renewal BC

The handwriting appears to be on the wall for Forest Renewal BC following government’s announcement to review the Crown Corporation by this fall.

Review likely means end of FRBC

You don’t have to be clairvoyant to predict the results of the Liberal government’s Forest Renewal BC review announced last week. A government out to reduce bureaucracy and cut costs of government; FRBC’s revenues in decline; the stumpage system up for a major overhaul; and the legitimate question why we need two agencies to deal with forestry; all pretty much put the handwriting on the wall for four floors of the big green building on Fisgard Street.

Little public ceremony was spent on severing FRBC Chair Roger Stanyer last week along with dissolving the board of directors. Novice Forest Minister Mike de Jong has found himself in charge of the corporation during what must feel like a blizzard of briefings on forest issues. And Deputy Minister Don Wright has been charged to complete the review by September. This government does take its agenda commitments seriously.

The wisest course to follow is to take the shops within Forest Renewal that are doing the kind of work this government thinks is important and fold them into other ministries. A good example is the workforce strategy initiative now being undertaken by FRBC staff. There is a clear and imminent danger looming in the demographics of B.C.’s forest workforce. In a few years will lose the majority of our skilled tradespeople. There a too few replacements in the ranks and we could wind up without anyone to run our industry—literally. There is no coherent strategy in place to deal with this matter at the moment. This initiative should go over to the ministry of skills development and labour and allowed to blossom under Minister Graham Bruce’s purview.

The worst thing that could happen is for vital forestry funding to fall through the cracks as FRBC is dismantled. The Crown Corporation has become the financial source for programs like enhanced forestry, watershed restoration, and a related range of research, strategic, and inventory activities. In FRBC’s conspicuous absence a publically funded model to pay for forestry activities will have to emerge; perhaps a trust or an array of trusts borrowing from the models found in the U.S. and Alberta.

Already good progress has been made in this direction with the ministry of forest’s enhanced forestry strategy. It is now nearing completion across the province. Under FRBC we had the money but no clear strategy. Now we have an emerging strategy that will ensure wise and strategic enhanced investments. But it is overshadowed by the possibility of no money to implement it. Meanwhile government has promised to keep this year’s FRBC fiscal budget in place.

The WSCA is focussing its lobbying efforts to ensure there is an adequate enhanced program operating in the province after FRBC. Last week we met with the new minister of forests to make this and a few other points. Later this month we will meet with Deputy Minister Wright.