©2003 Cascadia Times
BC Forests Under Siege
George Bush of the North
Campbell’s soup of right-wing politics wreaks havoc
in the province
by Paul Koberstein
VICTORIA — Let’s
play name that dictator: Since he came to power, he's undone tons
of environmental laws meant to protect forests, wildlife and rivers.
He is a classic cut, gut and clearcut politician: cut taxes for
the wealthy, gut core programs for the environment, and clearcut
the public's forests.
One more clue: he got himself arrested in a foreign country this
year for drunk driving and spent a night in the slammer.
Who are we talking about? If you guessed George W. Bush, you're
an apt student of American politics. Bush has slashed $1.6 billion
from federal spending on the environment, cut taxes for the wealthy
— not once, but twice — and his so-called Healthy Forests
Initiative’s stated purpose is clearing unhealthy forests,
but will clearcut some healthy ones as well. The catch is that Bush
was arrested for drunk driving in Maine in 1976.
The correct answer to this trick question is Gordon Campbell, the
premier of British Columbia. Cops in Maui pulled Campbell over on
Jan. 9, 2003, for a passel of traffic offenses including driving
under the influence (see “Don't Pull a Gordon, Page 13). Maui,
of course, is in a foreign country if you’re Canadian.
Few places in the United States are further apart than Maine and
Maui. Otherwise there's hardly an inch of ideological difference
between the two politicians. As a practical matter, Campbell cuts,
guts and clearcuts much faster than Bush, but that’s because
he possesses “near-dictatorial power,” as Joel Connolly
of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote last year, Campbell’s
party, the so-called BC Liberals (despite the label, they are very
conservative) holds 77 of the 79 seats in BC’s Legislative
Assembly. Imagine what Bush would do the same if he controlled 97
percent of the seats in Congress.
Campbell, who at age 55 is 18 months younger than the US president,
graduated like Bush from an Ivy League college, Bush from Yale,
Campbell from Dartmouth. Campbell launched his political career
as assistant to the Vancouver mayor, and later worked as a developer.
He was elected mayor in 1986 and served three terms. In 1993, he
became leader of the opposition Liberal Party in the Legislative
Assembly, a parliamentary form of government.
In the 1996 campaign, his first run for premier, he ran on a platform
of privatizing many government functions. But during the 2001 campaign,
he cloaked his political views with words of moderation. “It's
time for a New Era of environmental management, based on sound science,
cleaner water and sustainable practices,” his platform said.
He promised “to include every British Columbian in the opportunities
to shape the future of this province.” In his inaugural address,
he intoned, “BC intends to lead in the creation of sustainable
environmental stewardship. The Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection
will ensure environmental protection and prudence are of the highest
Voters threw out the moderately progressive New Democrats who'd
been in power for a decade. The BC Liberals they voted in have rubber-stamped
all of Campbell's policies.
Those policies have been far more anti-environment than advertised
during the campaign. Polls in BC show that the public strongly supports
environmental protection, but apparently voters had no idea how
far to the right Campbell planned to govern. He pulled off the old
bait-and-switch routine to perfection.
So far, Campbell has:
l Thrown out one-third of all rules to protect the environment,
while boosting the amount of trees to be clearcut;
l Eliminated most of the new South Chilcotin Provincial Park so
mining and logging companies can access the area;
l Ended temporary moratoria on grizzly bear hunting and on the
development of new salmon farms in marine waters;
l Moved to open offshore waters to oil and gas development.
l Defied the British Columbia Supreme and Appeal Courts, the Federal
government, and the Taku River Tlingit First Nation by approving
to the Tulsequah Chief mine and road proposal in the Taku Wilderness.
l Campbell’s government closed Ministry of Forests offices
in 20 communities around BC, and fired 2,000 workers in ministries
that protect the environment. Further cuts are planned. These workers
do everything from maintaining forest trails to enforcing logging
“He simply lied about what his government would do,”
says George Heyman, president of the BC Government Employees Union.
“He believes the role of government is to get out of the way
and let big corporations run the economy, without regard to social
and environmental concerns.”
“What we are witnessing is probably the most hostile government
in the history of British Columbia toward the environment,”
says Chris Genovali, executive director of the Raincoast Conservation
Society in Victoria. “We're in for a fight on this front that
probably exceeds what the people in the United States are facing
with George Bush.”
Opposition leader Joy MacPhail of the New Democratic Party said
in a recent speech, “Gordon Campbell is the real McCoy: an
honest to goodness right-wing ideologue of the most cold and calculating
Like Bush, Campbell's friends in the industry paid most of the
bills for the campaign (see chart on Page 16), and have been getting
quite a payback on their investment. The fourth largest donor to
Campbell's campaign is the US timber company Weyerhaeuser, which
paid $54,400 for regime change in BC. Another US timber company,
the Portland-based Pope & Talbot, was the 24th-largest donor.
These companies stand to benefit from the meltdown of wildlife protection
rules on both sides of the US-Canada border.
It’s all a timber executive could ever want: no rules, just
On his first day in office, Campbell announced a massive tax cut
that gave sudden new wealth to the richest 5 percent of BC taxpayers,
many of whom are stockholders in the same industries that funded
his campaign. Later he cut business taxes by half. This left BC
with a gaping budget deficit, which he plugged by dismantling a
wide range of social, education, health and environmental services.
In the first few months he chopped thousands of employees from public
payrolls while closing schools, courthouses and hospitals.
By the end of March 2003, 29 forest service offices were closed
and 35 percent of the ministry's staff had been laid off. The cuts
have crippled the government's ability to monitor logging operations
and enforce compliance with environmental laws.
By 2004, Campbell plans to have overturned one-third of all environmental
rules designed to protect BC's forests, parks, wildlife and rivers.
He has appointed a “minister of deregulation” and has
already discarded the BC Forest Practices Code enacted in 1995 to
protect wildlife and ecosystems from logging. Last November, he
replaced it with a much more industry-friendly version, known as
the “results-based code.” (See story, Page 16.)
In a speech last year to a timber industry group, Campbell promised
that the new forest code would set “the highest” environmental
standards. “But we have confidence that our industry wants
to meet those standards, that they will meet those standards, and
that they have practices that are based on sustainable resource
management and sound scientific principles.”
But Candace Batycki of the environmental group ForestEthics, says
the damaging effects of Campbell's forest policies are obvious in
every corner of the province, particularly in the rare and biological
rich inland rainforests in BC. “Endangered species are crashing,
and logging companies are increasingly unable to find enough wood
to fill their own allowable cuts in some areas,” she says.
“They are moving into steeper areas. They are moving into
domestic watersheds provoking confrontation with rural people who
are worried about the impact of logging on their water supplies.
Yet in BC we are cutting more than ever, in a time when wood prices
at all time lows and supplies are at all time highs, in a tragic
race to the bottom that will leave current and future generations
with a lot less than we have traditionally enjoyed in this province.”
At the same time, Campbell has been slashing budgets to monitor
and enforce violations of the new code. BC's budget for the environment
will sink to a historical low by 2004, according to a recent study
by the Raincoast Conservation Society. “Coastal BC's enforcement
budget today is essentially the same as in 1983,” Raincoast’s
Genovali says. “Premier Campbell is literally turning back
the clock with his Draconian budget cuts and disdain for environmental
regulation. The Liberal government is essentially abdicating its
responsibility to manage the province's wildlife.”
The Campbell government is also planning to increase the corporate
control of public forests through its new “Working Forest”
legislation. Under this law, companies will be able to work with
government to set timber targets almost regardless of impacts on
wildlife. The government will also designate almost half the province
as a “working forest” in order to guarantee a sizeable
land base for timber companies to clearcut. This law will also yield
another kind of certainty: a range of endangered species will be
driven to extinction in the foreseeable future, unless things change,
Ken Wu of the Western Canada Wilderness Society calls the law “perhaps
the most sweeping anti-environmental forestry legislation in B.C.'s
history.” Jim Fulton of the David Suzuki Foundation says the
government has given the timber companies far more than they had
wanted. “No company ever asked for half the province to cut,
No company ever asked for no forest practice code to be imposed
on them. This will lead to such bad results that another government
will have to come in and clean it up,” Fulton says.
Last year, as British Columbian environmental groups were protesting
these changes, Campbell cut off their access to information and
government officials. The government refuses to locate logging operations
for environmental groups who want to monitor for damage to the environment.
The impacts on wildlife will be enormous, says Dr. Brian Horejsi,
a grizzly bear expert at the University of Alberta in Calgary. He
predicts several key grizzly populations will be lost unless the
government drastically changes its ways — which it is not
likely to do. “This government is betraying the people of
the province,” he says. “They have such a narrow and
aggressive agenda on behalf of corporate development. Virtually
nothing is immune.”
Campbell’s controversial initiatives also extend to energy
development. He wants to open offshore areas to oil and gas drilling
for the first time since a moratorium against drilling was imposed
“We will take that energy and ship it down to our friends
in the United States,” Campbell says. “If you were an
American and you were thinking about your energy future and your
country's security, would you rather depend on Canadian energy or
Saudi Arabian energy? I'd pick Canada every single time.”
The Canadian government estimates oil reserves of 9.8 billion barrels
in Hecate Strait southeast of Haida Gwaii, as well as 40 trillion
cubic feet of natural gas in waters close to Vancouver Island. These
are also salmon migratory routes, and any significant spill could
have catastrophic effects.
Conservationists say the government’s estimates of fossil
fuel reserves are wildly exaggerated, and any proposal to drill
will face stiff opposition. Instead, they say offshore waters should
be protected through the creation of a network of marine reserves.
Campbell’s plan to open new South Chilcotin Mountains to
logging and mining has stirred broad public outrage. “We are
dead set against allowing any logging or mining in our provincial
parks,” says Gwen Barlee of the Western Canada Wilderness
Committee, “and the overwhelming majority of British Columbians
feel the same way.”
Paul Koberstein is editor of Cascadia Times.
He is a co-author of The Clean Water Act: An