Antoni's Wire Service

Date: Sat, 10 Apr 1999
From: Antoni Wysocki
Subject: BC forests imperilled


Sometimes I feel sorry for Glen Clark, the NDP premier of BC. From the time that his government first squeaked into office (in '96 the NDP actually polled less of the popular vote than the opposition Liberals but the distribution was such that they obtained more seats in the Legislature) he came under steady fire from every right-winger in or out of the province. If ever Clark appeared to do anything well this only made newspaper editors and think tank flaks bellow the louder; for if there is one thing worse than a (nominal) social democrat who's making a botch of things it's the same person doing a half decent job. After all, one can't have the electorate thinking that less than unswerving allegiance to corporate interests will lead to aught but disaster!

In these times of near-universal cutbacks I'm willing to cut some slack for a fellow who's putting additional monies into social programs and keeping the freeze on university tuition. So what if he cooked the books to produce two consecutive balanced budgets? Deficit financing is, in many instances, sound economic practice (see Unnecessary Debts, a book co-authored by Pierre Fortin and Lars Osberg; respectively past president and president-elect of the professional association of Canadian economists.) Linda McQuaig has shown in her writings (notably Shooting the Hippo and The Cult of Impotence) that only an unrelenting and self-interested propaganda campaign by big business lobby groups enabled the supposed balefulness of deficits to become an idee fixe of the Globe & Mail and the country's other opinion-setters.

Given the sneaky way in which deficit financing has been avulsed from the political ambit I wouldn't blame Clark or anyone else for surreptiously re-importing it (so long as the budgetary shortfall in question was contracted in funding socially beneficial endeavors.) Nor, as Nova Scotians can attest, is Clark's administration the only one in recent memory to win an election based on a false claim to a balanced budget - but somehow when it's a Liberal government that gets caught the pundits are less outraged.

Similarly with BC's high-speed ferry boondoggle : where is the equivalent outrage in Nova Scotia over the government largesse doled out to Michelin, Irving and other mollycoddled companies? By no means am I defending pork-barrelling but I submit that Clark and the NDP seem to attract a great deal more censure for their misfeasance than do more avowedly right-wing administrations.

However, it's hard to be overly sympathetic when Clark does his darnedest to alienate progressives, his natural constituency. Consider the treaty with the Nisga'a, acknowledging their right to self-government. On the face of it this seems like a decent attempt to redress some of the terrible injustices that settlers have inflicted on the aboriginal population - a perspective reinforced by the spectacle of every redneck in BC screaming blue murder over the agreement.

The trouble is that, upon examination, it transpires that the compact is actually a nasty blow to indigenous sovereignty. Some Native Americans - notably the Mohawk Confederacy - have always maintained that they are sovereign nations on a par with Canada, the United States, etc. The Canadian constitution is not consentaneous with this position but it does recognize First Nations as the third element of a ternary division of powers within Canada (the others, of course, being the federal and provincial governments.) In other words, Ottawa has jurisdiction over certain spheres, the provinces over others and First Nations over others yet - principally a form of autonomy.

The Nisga'a treaty denies even the more limited notion of aboriginal sovereignty posited by the Canadian constitution. Instead it accords a status similar to that of municipalities, which are mere adjuncts to the provinces. Thus the treaty not only unconscionably deprives the Nisga'a of their full rights even under Canadian law but sets a precedent which will make it that much harder for other First Nations to hold out for what they are entitled to. On top of that the process is being funded by the Nisga'a themselves (through a loan extended to them by the BC government.) So it looks like Clark is trying to pull a fast one here.

Now word comes of more of the same on the environmental front. After near a thousand activists were arrested for standing in the way of clearcutting of the old growth rain forest in Clayoquot Sound the BC government finally got the message that a significant number of citizens were anxious to see this extraordinarily diverse and beautiful ecosystem put off limits to the logging industry. Accordingly - and with very bad grace - the province belatedly announced that most (but not all) of the area would be constituted as protected parkland. This sounds like a (qualifiedly) happy ending but a few days ago word emerged that even this partial success has a hefty price tag appended.

It has been revealed that the BC government has promised extensive compensation to Macmillan Bloedel, the transnational corporation which had logged the Clayoquot, to compensate for the company's loss of cutting privileges in the Sound. The area for which Macmillan Bloedel's harvesting license was rescinded amounted to a total of 7,500 hectares, but to mollify the company BC is preparing to give MacBlo 30,000 hectares of Crown land outright (i.e., actually cede title to this expanse) whilst allowing the company to exploit a further 90,000 hectares as it sees fit (i.e., MacBlo need not adhere to provincial regualtions on these lands.) For its part MacBlo has agreed to drop the lawsuit against BC which the company initiated upon being excluded from the aforementioned 7,500 hectares in Clayoquot Sound.

The deal has evoked reactions of horror and outrage; Joe Foy of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee averred : "I think this is biggest environmental issue to come down the pike I've seen" ('British Columbia/Macmillan Bloedel Package Slammed', Lycos Environmental News Sevice, April 05/99.) In addition to the anticipated derogation of the tracts being transferred - a considerable worry in itself - opponents fear that this pact will allow companies to press for similar concessions should future BC governments limit industrial logging in the public interest.

Needless to say, this deal was worked out in the absence of citizen input or even knowledge. Here, too, Clark doesn't need his enemies to make him look bad.

Sometimes I feel sorry for Glen Clark - but not today.