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14th July 2022
“Perceptions,” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

The king is dead. Long live the King!

I think this would be an apt way to describe the current political situation in B.C. where a popular premier has surprisingly announced he’s stepping down catching everyone off guard including yours truly and members of his own party.

John Horgan’s departure is being strongly lamented within the ranks of the NDP and even voters outside the party which is no surprise as he’s the only B.C. NDP Premier ever to win two elections in a row and seemed a cinch to win a third.

But not everyone is lamenting, especially British Columbians who care about B.C.’s supposedly pristine environment which Horgan largely ignored and in fact damaged more than almost any premier in B.C. history in his zeal to allow some of the province’s largest corporations and businesses plunder the environment for endless profits while many NDPers discretely looked the other way.

Yes, I’m talking about Site C, the unneeded mega-dam that’s well on its way to flooding thousands of hectares of prime agriculture land, grasslands and forests that supported farmers, wildlife, fish and waterfowl and protected against climate change in northern B.C. to the benefit of us all.

Horgan and the NDP were initially against the Site C dam on the Peace River. So were the First Nation bands that lived in the area for millennia. The BC Utilities Commission, the agency that advises government on power projects like Site C were also against the project, because among other things, it’s located in an earth- quake zone. But the former Liberal government went ahead anyway and brazenly abolished the BCUC so it could be built despite opposition.

But when the voters ejected the Liberals in favour of the NDP many voters – including some NDP supporters – thought the government would finally do the right thing and cancel the Site C project that had ballooned to more than $16 billion, the most expensive dam in Canadian history.

But Horgan, who’s not shy about spending public money, reversed his position on the controversial project and gave it a go-ahead again citing short-term construction jobs over environmental safety. A few short years later, he announced another expensive boondoggle, demolishing and rebuilding the B.C. Museum at a cost of close to $1 billion. A public outcry forced him to change his position again and he cancelled the project admitting he’d made a “mistake.”

But John Horgan’s true colours came out most openly in his unstinting support for B.C.’s Big Timber lobby brutally intent on logging the last of the province’s old growth timber stands, now down to five per cent of the provincial total because of a century of over-cutting and wasteful forestry practices.

This was very unlike the previous Liberal government, which compromised with logging protesters, to reach an agreement during the “War in the Woods” battle in Clayoquot Sound in the early 1990s. Meanwhile Horgan ignored the actions of a secretive RCMP force called the Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) which recently roughed up logging protesters at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island and at the Argenta-Johnsons Landing face at the north end of Kootenay Lake.

Both areas contain pristine stands of old growth timber that fight climate change by sequestering carbon in their massive trunks. But this didn’t stop the B.C. government from approving logging in the ancient stands, contrary to a recent government report calling for a “paradigm shift” away from logging such ecologically valuable timber. In a recent issue of The Narwhal, famed UBC forestry professor Suzanne Simard, author of the best-selling book ‘Finding the Mother Tree,’ says ,“All the ingredients are here. It’s right beside a park, it’s got endangered species, it’s got an informed citizenry, it’s got a First Nations presence. It should be a place we can save.”

Instead, Horgan looked the other way as a heavily-armed gang of goons in black military fatigues and RCMP emblazoned on their shirts, wrestled 17 protesters to the ground and dragged them to their jeeps including a grandmother 75 years old.

That’s how old growth logging is carried out in B.C. these days. The shame of it! Despite the Canadian Constitution guaranteeing free speech and the right to protest it’s all tossed to the wind.

So, despite his seeming popularity with many British Columbians, Horgan has been no friend to environmentalists in B.C. and has cozied up to the corporate sector and the powerful forestry unions. Is that a smart way to prolong the current NDP interregnum in the province? Unfortunately, it may well be for those who put profit before saving what’s left of our unexploited patrimony.

But for the sake of our environment, I earnestly hope not.

– Gerry Warner is a retired journalist, who believes it’s more important than ever to protect our rapidly disappearing ancient forests so there will be trees to harvest in the future.