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Where to next with the NDP

By John Clarke
Copyright 1996. Contact publisher for permission to use.

After four years of radical change in forest policy in BC under the old NDP government of Mike Harcourt, the real work has only just begun under the new NDP administration of Premier Glen Clark. Indeed, most people in the industry must now think of the Harcourt years as merely a prologue to what has to come now. And they believe they have a reasonable shot at having much of their own agenda met by Clark. He has a knowledgeable new forest minister in David Zirnhelt - a rancher and woodlot operator in private life.

Always a compromiser between industry and environmental lobbies, Harcourt would probably call the Forest Practices Code his finest legacy. It's generally concede to be the toughest set of logging rules in North America and is at least the equal of legislation in place anywhere else.

The Code stiffens regulations for clearcutting (now sharply reduced), riparian preservation, stream protection, roadbuilding in harvesting areas, and so on. The Code is expected to add $2.1 billion a year to logging costs.

In addition, a Protected Areas Strategy and stringent map drawing by the Commission on Resources and the Environment have placed more than 10 percent of the province's wilderness off limits to industrial development and CORE is bidding to reach the United Nations goal of 12 percent.

Stumpage rates in BC have increased under the NDP to an average seven times higher than in Quebec and dive times higher than in Ontario or Alberta. BC companies must finance through a stumpage hike the $400 million a year Forest Renewal Program. More forest land is being alienated. Independent analysts insist the annual allowable cut (AAC) will have to be trimmed a further 20 percent over the next 20 to 25 years to maintain sustainability.

The industry is being squeezed. Yet the people who manage it believe there will be new opportunities with a Glen Clark administration. They see Clark as a different kind of politician; less diffident than Harcourt and less captive to the environmental movement. Besides, if Clark really intends to go to war on BC's $20.5 billion debt (under 64% under the NDP in the last five years) he 'll need money. The forest industry is still one of his biggest cash resources.

Nothing is expected to happen quickly. Zirnhelt will need some time to settle in before he can begin to influence policy his own way. But he is not a novice in forestry as his experience with the family woodlot in the Cariboo testifies. He's being counted on to bring a more practical, hands-on appreciation of the land's potential and limitations than his predecessor, the academic Andrew Petter.

Implementation of the Forest Practices Code will be key to success or failure. It's an extremely difficult piece of legislation. There are 300 sections in the statute itself, another 300 in the regulations and 34 guidebooks, all running to 2,000 pages that must be studied and understood.

The code will not be changed significant, if at all. But even the government admits its a very bureaucratic playbook. Logging permits take too long to get approved.


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