June 1, 2021
BC Premier John Horgan reveals a new strategy to avoid meaningful change while accusing old-growth forest defenders of seeking a “return to colonialism”
GARRY MERKEL AND AL GORLEY, after calling for a “paradigm shift” in how old forest is valued in BC, probably had no idea that John Horgan would move so fast. But the premier has spoken and with the stroke of a press conference BC has moved from the era of Talk and Log into the new paradigm of Talk with First Nations and Log.
Here’s the situation Horgan faces: There’s growing public support for blockades of old-growth logging at Fairy Creek Rainforest in Horgan’s own riding. These actions involve hundreds of people—and it’s an All Ages event—committing acts of civil disobedience and risking arrest by a militarized police unit which has put restrictions on press access to the conflict zone and has denied the public the right to be on publicly-owned land. It’s happening daily and is unlikely to stop until the police start shooting people.
In the face of all that, what does the premier chose to do? He releases a series of forestry-related “policy intentions.” None of these addressed the old-growth issue beyond vague language about possible future short-term logging deferrals. All of Horgan’s intentions seemed to depend on interminable private talks with First Nations.
What was the premier thinking? In response to a question from a reporter, Horgan said, “The critical recommendation that’s in play at Fairy Creek is consulting with the title holders. If we were to arbitrarily put deferrals in place there, that would be a return to the colonialism that we have so graphically been brought back to this week by the discovery in Kamloops.”
Horgan seemed to be saying that solving the crisis in public trust around this issue would be like murdering 215 First Nations kids, again.
The premier’s convoluted rhetoric speaks for itself. The question that needs considering is this: Is Horgan using the paucity of First Nations’ treaty agreements to protect the forest industry from real change? He’s claiming that the government can’t make decisions about a new direction for forestry in BC unless those decisions include consultation with First Nations. Is this actually the case? Or have Horgan and his cronies in the forest industry just figured out a new, post-colonial version of talk and log?
We might judge the answer to that on the basis of his government’s record of signing treaties with First Nations. In nearly 5 years in office, approaching year 30 of a process that began in the early ’90s, Horgan has signed exactly zero treaties, a record that’s far worse than former premier Christie Clark’s.
With no actual record of successfully negotiating with First Nations for what really matters to them, Horgan appears to be using the injustice done to those communities to hide behind in order to avoid making hard decisions on new directions. Directions that he doesn’t yet know how to sell to his party’s labour base, new directions that reflect the need—in light of the climate and biodiversity crises and falling forest employment—to reframe our entire relationship with forests. The irony here is that this deeper, necessary reframing meshes with First Nations’ traditional wisdom and practices regarding the use of forests. Turning them into feller-buncher operators doesn’t.
The BC treaty process, dragged out by endless consultations by an army of highly paid BC government lawyers, has bankrupted First Nations and left them desperate to recover financially. Those debts, and the damage they inflicted on First Nations communities for nearly three decades, are now being used by Horgan to keep firm the forest industry’s death grip on BC’s old-growth forests, just as those debts have been used in other resource disputes.
That’s the real “return to colonialism” that’s taking place.
Jens Wieting, Sierra Club BC senior forest and climate campaigner, called today’s announcement an “Orwellian nightmare.” He added, “The old-growth crisis calls for immediate short-term funding for First Nations and forestry workers seeking an alternative to logging the last old-growth. Defending business as usual will only exacerbate conflicts like the one happening over Fairy Creek and undermine options for communities seeking an alternative to destructive resource extraction.”
Horgan’s performance truly was an Orwellian moment.
David Broadland is going to write about forests and politics until First Nations title and rights are reflected in just treaties for all BC First Nations, and trees are valued for what they provide just by standing in a forest.