Where Do We Stand is fighting to keep the municipal forest intact. (submitted)

Guest column: Public consultation: the stacked deck

It would be easy to walk away in cynicism. But we’re not. We’re sounding the alarm.

By Icel Dobell

Sadly, a citizens’ Working Group established to help guide public consultation on the future of the municipal forest reserve appears to be a rubber stamp. And the deep, broad, transparent, inclusive, accountable, unbiased process we had expected has not transpired.

It would be easy for Where Do We Stand to walk away in cynicism. But we’re not. We’re sounding the alarm.

WDWS joined the working group (WG) in good faith to contribute to a transparent engagement process. But it is being kept secret.

Several times the WG has been given instructions not to put out materials to the public. Meetings are closed and they refuse to record them for the public.

At the third WG meeting on Monday, June 6, members voted 58 per cent in favour of transparency before the public — to tape the meetings.

But virtual unanimity is required. So, citizens are left with minutes that report selectively what has transpired rather than full access to make their own judgments.

Also worrisome, the draft survey and discussion guide (DG), presented to the WG before being posted online, are biased toward the business-as-usual plantation forestry model and full of leading questions.

For instance, the draft survey asks you whether local family-supporting forestry jobs are important to you. (Note the leading “family supporting”). It’s particularly misleading because it doesn’t spell out that logging last year employed, in man hours, about 10 people, two of them staff and the two logging companies are from up-Island. The question is also silent on the greater number of jobs created by preserving the mountains for recreation and tourism, including bike shops, artisans, restaurants, pubs, bed and breakfasts, and on and on.

The draft survey asks the same about the forest reserve contributing to local mills and sawyers; (local mills and sawyers don’t get to buy our logs, according to everyone I’ve interviewed); it fails to mention 63 per cent of our trees were exported last year.

The DG says, in recent years the forest reserve earned an annual average $288,000 net profit. Fact is, since 1987, the net profit is $132,740 a year on average. Since 2017, one-third of that is renting land to a cell tower (included as forest profit!) .

The DG fails to outright report that UBC says carbon credits could generate as much or more cash than logging (selling to local buyers, not Chevron ) .

Also troubling, the consultants will allow only 5,000 words of written submissions and won’t consider the 800 citizen comments submitted with the original 1,500 person petition that began this whole process.

Who decides what comments will be prioritized? No comment.

The online platform, Placespeak, will be used despite widespread concerns it’s too confusing.

The absence of broad, deep education is another issue. People lack a thorough understanding of our forests and their ecological importance as part of the most endangered landscape in B.C. — the coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone.

The coup de gras: the “interim plan.” Council has endorsed a two-stage consultation process. The first phase, the interim stage, is being hurried along with the apparent goal of continued logging while the second plan is developed. What is the “interim plan?” I have no idea. We have been asking for a year and haven’t received a comprehensive answer from staff and the consultants. At the recent Forest Advisory Committee meeting, the mayor said even some councillors are asking what it is.

When we ask tough questions, the consultants come back with: “council approved it.” I fear that council, too, is being used as a rubber stamp, that our elected officials want to do the right thing but are also bombarded with last-minute reports to synthesize in impossible time frames.

WDWS wanted to believe the process would be fair. We didn’t want to believe the debate is another stacked deck, an infomercial for the forestry department. Now, our only hope that consultation and the “ship” (as the municipality calls itself) could turn around is council. We are counting on the mayor and councillors, as our elected tugboats, to demand a transparent, open, inclusive, broad, deep process.

There is so much more to report. Please follow WhereDoWeStand.ca for updates.

Icel Dobell

Where Do We Stand

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