An Editorial Opinion – Right From The Stump, October 23, 2022
Some may believe that the British Columbia forest industry dodged a bullet with the disqualification of Anjali Appadurai as a NDP leadership candidate. Ms. Appadurai has been described as the “anti-logging candidate” with her calls for bans on old growth logging and raw log exports. Following the disqualification, MLA David Eby will become the uncontested next premier of the province. However, just because the anti-logging candidate did not succeed, it would be a grave mistake to think all will be good (relatively) with Eby.
This leadership race that never happened has provided insights into where forest policy will be heading.
Ms. Appadurai quickly rose to become a force to be reckoned with in gathering support for her candidacy. According to one news report, the BC NDP’s membership had declined from 40,000 to 11,000 by the time of the last annual NDP convention. Journalist Avi Lewis, suggested in his National Observer article that the decline was associated with discontent over the NDP government’s decisions on Site C, LNG, and old growth.
A Canadian Press article reported Appadurai had signed up an estimated whopping 14,000 new NDP memberships before being disqualified. Undoubtedly that amount of backing would have made Appadurai a serious leadership contender. Regardless of the controversy over her disqualification, the take home message for all, including the NDP is that Appadurai’s supporters cannot be ignored. Furthermore, it is apparent the factions behind Appadurai are very effective, having outorganized the competition to almost hand Appadurai the premiership.
While Appadurai says she will stay with the NDP party, this leadership imbroglio has confirmed NDP’s past policy development has been heavily influenced by the “green” leaning membership. It is fair to say based on the support Appadurai garnered, that a continued and possibly greater commitment to policy to appease this segment of the NDP party should be expected. Unfortunately, there are very few NDP insiders who truly understand the natural resource sectors and likely have enough clout now to counter the environmental extremism apparently becoming entrenched in the party.
What about the alternative? With the continuous bombardment of misinformation and rhetoric on issues like old growth logging etc. receiving minimal counterarguments, public opinion has become skewed and biased against forestry. The reality is the BC Liberals and other parties will have limited options for a campaign platform that deviates significantly from this current forest policy direction given the public’s current sentiments.
We will not have to wait long to get a sense of a direction from Eby’s leadership as he is promising significant action on priority issues including environmental policies in his first 100 days as premier. According to a CBCarticle, Eby has pledged to accelerate the NDP’s old growth plan. Such a pledge is yet another example of the NDP listening to green voters than doing what is best for this province.
An acceleration will make things worse given the current struggles the Ministry of Forests has had with First Nations consultations and opaqueness on various aspects of the old growth deferral policy. Sawmills and pulp mills are closing and many more are still to come, which will now become Eby’s legacy. See BC Pulp & Paper: A Crisis With Solutions In Plain Sight, October 2022 and Recipe For Gridlock, December 2021
If I had the chance to add to Eby’s 100-day plan, I would include the following list of priorities:
Putting an end to the procession of pulp and paper mill curtailments by addressing the fibre supply crisis through expedient action on making burnt timber and harvest waste more readily available. This is crisis has been made many magnitudes worst by the NDP’s decisions including old growth deferrals.
Meaningful actions to increase value-added wood products manufacturing, including a strategic plan that does not peg different segments of the industry against each other. If there is to be a pledge to accelerate anything, it should be this.
Boldly taking a stance by incorporating common sense, real science as well as social and economic considerations into forest policy.
And perhaps most importantly, lead a government which actually begins to address the false rhetoric and misaligned attitudes towards forestry. Provide and promote statements which acknowledge British Columbia is always striving to be the global leader in forest management given the circumstances of this province – because it is true.
For the BC forest industry, this NDP leadership race debacle should be taken as a very loud signal that significantly increased investment will be required to continue doing business in this province. As Premier Horgan has said on numerous occasions, the industry is failing to demonstrate its collective social licence. Short-lived advertisements have not made a difference.
In the Right From The Stump blog post, What's Your Forestry Story, March 2022 I wrote that industry is losing a battle against those who would prefer the sector to be reduced to a small cottage industry. Based on the rise of Appadurai, that was no understatement.
The industry (and government) must start telling the forestry story – including how we rely on forest products and the carbon benefits – in addition to the social and economic benefits we all enjoy. Telling the forestry story is not just the domain of the various trade associations, but that of individual companies to build their own social licence.
With effective and well-organized voices like Appadurai continuing to influence the NDP from within, it will be critical to increase positive communications about forestry, including explanations on how forestry is part of the solution in managing climate change.
For ideas on what could be done, please contact David Elstone at the Spar Tree Group Inc.
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Written By David Elstone, RPF
Publisher, View From The Stump newsletter
Managing Director, Spar Tree Group Inc.