Thursday, August 26, 2004

Time for a truce in B.C.'s brewing resource battles

VICTORIA - I've got nothing against Randy Bachman, and I'd be keen to see him and Neil Young in a benefit concert up in Duncan next month.
But the rock stars are a good symbol for a developing problem in B.C. Clashes between the people who earn their money in resource industries and those who have concerns about how those industries operate are becoming increasingly divisive and bitter.
I'm not choosing sides. (Though I acknowledge a consistent partiality to the underdog, which in this case generally means the people involved in resource industries.)
Mostly, I'd argue we have to get past some of the suspicion and close-mindedness and start talking together as people who share an interest in the future.
Bachman and Young are starring in a big benefit concert for the Crofton Airshed Citizens' Group, formed out of a concern about emissions from Norske Canada's Crofton pulp mill.
The mill has been there for almost 50 years, and Norske employs some 1,000 people in the area, at good wages. People have always grumbled about the mill, but complaints have gotten loudest now, when the mill is cleaner than it's ever been.
What's changed? The trigger for the concern is Norske's plan to start burning shredded tires, chipped railway ties and coal in the mill's boilers, which have been fed with wood chips. The company says the shift would reduce emissions; some in the community have concerns. It's an issue of science, and should be resolved on that basis.
But what has also changed is the arrival of people in the area who came for the view, and the climate, and the lifestyle. They don't need to work the mill; they don't have a cousin or son employed there. They don't really like mills, or mines, or logging, or gas wells.
The airshed group members say they don't want the mill shut down; they just want the environment protected.
But Bachman emailed the environment ministry in January, and suggested all manner of dire consequences unless they padlocked the mill doors. “We will not rest until the Crofton mill is shut down permanently,” he pledged.
His publicist later said he's changed his mind, and doesn't want the mill closed.
But his first reaction matters. Bachman lives on Saltspring Island, in a multi-million-dollar environmentally friendly home. He earned the place, and affluence doesn't bar him from being involved in public policy debates.
But when you can call up Neil Young and get him to come to town, you've got a lot of clout. When you threaten to kill 1,000 jobs, you show a willingness to use that clout recklessly. And that will make other people nervous.
Enter First Dollar. It's a new organization, only a few months old, that wants to stand up for resource industries, the communities that depend on them, and the people who work in them. Leanne Brunt, one of the organizers, says the First Dollar will hold its own party outside the big fundraiser, with kids' games, a picnic and maybe some local performers. First Dollar, which has attracted support from across the province, reflects resource communities' need to push back against people who would too casually push them out of existence.
Across much of B.C. two worlds are noisily colliding over resource industries. Suspicions rise, both sides dig in, and the result is usually destructive.
B.C. has been through this kind of conflict before, with the war in the woods. No one should look back on that destructive time with fondness. Effective societies resolve disputes without splitting into hostile camps. And they maintain the ability to recognize the legitimacy - even urgency - of others' concerns.
There are few absolutes in this debate. Rational trade-offs must be made, and too often the opponents of resource industries - like Bachman in his email - show little willingness to recognize the need for compromise.
Unless we recognize that, and work together, we will all lose.
Footnote: This week's auction of coalbed methane leases in the East Kootenay shows the problem. A bitter battle by opponents, which enlisted Montana politicians, meant energy companies simply decided not to bid. The failure to find common ground - a failure shared by both sides - has robbed the region of a chance at good jobs.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

GOOD HEALTH, CLEAN AIR, WATER, AND NATURAL BEAUTY ARE WHAT MATTER. RANDY BACHMAN MAY HAVE BACKED DOWN, BUT I WOULDN'T. I WANT THE CROFTON MILL SHUT DOWN PERMANANTLY, PERIOD. I AM TIRED OF PEOPLE TRYING TO JUSTIFY SPEWING CANCER-CAUSING TOXIC CHEMICALS INTO OUR AIR AND WATER SUPPLY FOR THE ALMIGHTY BUCK. THE REAL ISSUE IS THE SCARCITY THINKING THAT EXISTS IN THE WORLD. THE IDEA THAT IF THE PEOPLE WORKING AT THE MILL LOSE THEIR JOBS THAN THEY WILL SOON BE LIVING IN CARDBOARD BOXES ON THE STREET. SO, LETS DESTROY THE PLANET, AND ALL ITS INHABITANTS SO THAT A FEW PEOPLE WON'T HAVE TO LOOK INTO OTHER OPTIONS. HOW RIDICULOUS! IF YOU REALY DID YOUR HOMEWORK AND TOOK THE TIME TO UNDERDSTAND WHAT AFFECT TOXINS HAVE ON THE BODY, AND ON THE PLANET, THAN YOU WOULD REALIZE THAT "COMPROMISE" IS SIMPLY OUT OF THE QUESTION. IN FACT "COMPROMISE" IS WHAT HAS GOTTEN US INTO THIS MESS IN THE FIRST PLACE. THE MILL'S EMPLOYEES ARE NOT THE "UNDERDOG",THEY ARE THE VICTIMS OF PERVASIVE SOCIAL IGNORANCE.

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Anonymous said...

There's a strong feeling that Randy Bachman's spirited attempt at fighting the Big Corporation was not, in fact, to aid the residents of Crofton, but rather to squeese just a bit more cash out of them. The Crofton Airshed Community group broke up disconcertingly quickly, and yet we still suffer from the rotten egg stench and disappering fish stocks.