Hanging on the Hinge of History

The culmination of numerous core reviews this month will give a clearer picture of where the B.C. government is taking the province.

10 January 2002 WSCA Rumour Round Up and Rant From John Betts

It might be a little grand to say we are hanging on a hinge of history this month in B.C. But with the anticipated culmination of key core reviews and cutbacks in the next few weeks we’re certainly going to be getting a clearer idea of where the government is taking us over the next while. Already the Liberals have distinguished themselves from the previous government on momentum alone. Where the NDP busied themselves with defining turf for their constituents—this for working families, this for the unions, this for environmentalists etc.—the Liberals are all about getting on with their agenda. Their program has been defined in terms of time: the first 90 days; what they will do by next year. As you may have noticed this active approach makes for considerable disruption. Reckless or not we’re on with it. For some, life will be miserable over the next while. For others the Liberals represent a relief from being held hostage to the NDP’s static agenda.

There is little point now in trying to predict what all this means to the practice of forestry in British Columbia. Speculation has been rampant and different each week. Following it is fatiguing. By February when we hold our conference we can begin some better informed prognostication based on what the various ministers we have invited say. They will be commenting, we expect, fresh from their various reviews.

Some things though are clear. Preoccupied with the softwood lumber file much of the ministry of forests talent has been distracted by the Americans. This has created some possible strategic vacuums which bureaucracies naturally fill with middle management and their generally conservative notions. The more ossified elements in the forest industry will also use this gap to maintain the status quo even though its killing the sector. Now, among his many obligations, the minister of forests will have to show he doesn’t intend to backslide on the ambitious forest sector revolution he proposed last fall.

In the meantime here’s a sampling of observations from the last few weeks of meetings and rumours around Victoria. The extent of wood to be auctioned in log markets as part of proposed radical alterations to tenure and stumpage appears to have been over stated. Figures of up to fifty per cent were mentioned. Less than half that is more in line, which is close to the status quo.

Regardless of future changes forest companies will still maintain their silvicultural obligations. Forestry contractors will not likely wind up working for independent logging contractors or a burgeoning ministry of forests in the future as we shift to more market-based log procurement.

The forest investment account which supplants FRBC represents a significant and continuing drop in direct public spending on forestry. Gone is any specific reference to a backlog program for instance. This at a time when government has stated hundreds of thousands of hectares are emerging as impeded stands.

The former FRBC chair Roger Stanyer estimated that his corporation has over $200-million in various assets and appropriations including the program continuity fund. Most of that money appears destined to leak back into general revenue.

Government is committed to reducing its role in regulating industries through self regulation and reducing red tape. There is an implied expectation that industry associations will have a role in maintaining accountability and compliance among their members. There is no clear strategy emerging yet as to how this is to be accomplished.

The final agenda adjustments for our annual conference in Victoria February 6,7,8 are falling into place. As usual there is no shortage of issues and we have never had a program this full. At this time, in particular, Victoria will be the place to be to find out what initiatives will be shaping the silvicultural and forest stewardship industry of B.C. over the next few years.

Expect some detailed updates over the next weeks. In the meantime please make plans to support the WSCA and attend the conference.