Sunday, November 04, 2007

Liberals betray public with forest-land giveaway

The Liberal government's willingness to hand benefits worth hundreds of millions of dollars to forest company owners is staggering. It simply doesn't make sense.
The government has written contracts with forest companies covering their private land that has been included in provincial tree farm licences. The public compensated the companies handsomely to get them to sign the contracts, which ensure the land is managed and protected as timber-producing forests.
But now all the companies do is ask and the government lets them out of the agreements.
The companies make huge quick profits.
The public loses access, green space, environmental protection, forest jobs - and gets nothing.
This started in 2004. Weyerhaeuser asked the government to take 90,000 hectares out of its tree farm licence.
Ministry staff told Mike de Jong, then the forest minister, it was a bad idea. The company had already been compensated for including the land; the tougher environmental and replanting standards were worth continuing; and the agreement ensured the land stayed as forest. Communities saw this as an important social contract, staff reported.
And if the government let the company take the land out of the tree farm licence, it would have to negotiate compensation, staff said, and that would be tricky.
But de Jong over-ruled the ministry’s non-political staff and said OK to the company's request. He got nothing in compensation for taxpayers. Within months Weyerhaeuser began negotiating its sale to Brascan, which agreed to pay $1.4 billion.
Much of that value was due to De Jong's decision, which meant a $500-million windfall for the company.
Brascan executives said that getting the lands out of the tree farm licence meant an extra $18 million to $24 million a year in profits for the company, now called Island Timberlands.
And for the first time, the company could sell the land for development instead of being obligated to keep it as timber to ensure the future of the Island forest industry.
That meant a huge increase in the land's value. The company now says it has identified 38,000 hectares it wants to take out of forest use. They're worth $300 million to $450 million as is, "with a significantly higher valuation potentially achievable through value-added development activities." De Jong could have said no; nothing bad would have happened and the company had no case for demanding the gift.
He could have asked for compensation for the public or job guarantees, or at least demanded a donation of land for parks. Instead, he handed benefits worth $500 million over and got nothing in return.
Forest Minister Rich Coleman did it again this year. Western Forest Products asked him to let it out of its tree farm licence, reducing its environmental and replanting obligations and allowing more raw log exports.
And, more importantly, freeing up 70,000 acres for sale and development, including waterfront west of Victoria used by surfers, campers and tourists and land adjacent to provincial parks.
It's a gold mine for the company. And the government got nothing for the public - not money, investment commitments or a single acre protected as a park.
Coleman didn't consult anyone - politicians or public - from any of the communities. It was astonishingly arrogant. A developer has already bought the Jordan River property. He won't commit to public access to the surfing beach and camping area.
WFP is also selling another big chunk of land near Sooke Potholes Provincial Park. Just two years ago, the public helped raise money to buy land for the park. Part of the appeal was the park would be surrounded by land protected as forest. It might be logged, but it would replanted. Coleman ended that. The company now has 561 acres for sale around the potholes.
So why did he do it? Coleman says the company asked for help and he delivered. There's no evidence he saved one job or that Western Forest Products needed a handout. Coleman hasn’t released a single scrap of paper showing a review or rationale or business case for his decision.
Now the government is planning the next giveaway, in the Kootenays. Pope & Talbot has been advertising 16,000 acres currently covered by tree-farm licences for sale for development. Coleman maintains he hasn't decided whether to let the company out of the contract.
But in fact, the same developer who bought the Jordan River property has purchased a large lakefront tract from Pope & Talbot. Both the developer and the company seem confident the deal is done, despite Coleman’s claims.
Again, why would the government give a bankrupt forest company a gift worth millions? Especially when the land includes property that's important for running the business.
A company asks for a favour worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The government doesn't negotiate, or protect the public. It says sure. And you lose.


Anonymous said...

Has it not occurred to everyone yet that the BC Liberals are either shills for Organized Crime, or are "Organized Crime" themselves? They
have written blank checks to friends and insiders and themselves. They are destroying BC and generations to come with "projects" like the convention center, Olympic and highway construction, pay raises for themselves, P3 construction, and whatever else these parasites have set up for themselves and those lucky enough to be their friends.

Anonymous said...

So we can a afford to give away millions to mega-rich forestry magnates but we can't afford a $10 minimum wage or a couple thousand here or there to support families or kids in crisis?

So what's new? How many other times have the BC Liberals given away hundreds of millions in tax cuts, resource extraction/ development rights, privatization plums and various other benefits, to their big corporate backers, while lecturing the least fortunate that we can't afford to alleviate their misery?

Why do we think Big Biz loves them so much that they'll do whatever it takes to ensure that we never elect the NDP, Greens or any other political group that might actually put our own public interest first once in a while?

Don't blame them--blame our own greed and stupidity. We keep turning a blind eye and selling out our patrimony and our children's heritage because we're hoping to get some of the crumbs.

Come the next elections, we'll endorse this all over again and they'll get even bolder & the giveways to the super-rich who can finance elections will become ever more obscene.