Push for B.C. to complete Great Bear agreements competes in crowded election agenda
Source: Vancouver Sun
Byline: Jonathan Fowlie
An environmental coalition will attempt on Thursday to push protection of the Great Bear Rainforest onto the already crowded election agenda, issuing open letters to B.C.'s main political leaders, calling for more immediate action.
"The people of British Columbia want the Great Bear Rainforest agreements completed," said letters sent by the coalition to Premier Christy Clark and New Democratic Party leader Adrian Dix.
"We are asking your party to include the completion of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements in your platform and priorities for the first 100 days after the election."
The letters were written by the Rainforest Solutions Project, which has been working for years with the forest industry to implement an agreement to protect a massive temperate rainforest on B.C.'s coast. The letters come on the seven-year anniversary of that agreement, signed in 2006 by then-premier Gordon Campbell.
Negotiations have been unfolding since, with land-use orders signed by government in 2009 to go from 50 per cent protection of old growth in the area to 70 per cent by March 31, 2014.
Last month, the environmental coalition behind today's letters - consisting of Forest-Ethics Canada, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club - expressed significant frustration, saying the forest industry has not been moving quickly enough.
"We have worked with logging companies on finding solutions how to increase conservation but it's incredibly difficult," Jens Wieting, a campaigner for Sierra Club BC, said in an interview Wednesday.
"What we would like to see is the government do what government's are there for, which is to solve problems," he added, calling on government to push for a solution. A major block in negotiations is balancing the target of preserving 70 per cent of the rainforest's old growth with an agreement to allow an annual timber harvest of 2.7 million cubic metres of logs.
On Wednesday, Minister of Forests Steve Thomson said he believes the parties are on track to meet the 2014 deadline, and said he saw no reason to commit to an earlier timeline.
"I think setting a specific timeline beyond what we've agreed to currently will set some expectations we may not be able to achieve."
The call for more immediate action comes as several other special interest groups are also hoping to get their issues on the agenda for the election in May.
Within just the last week, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has called on government to raise and reform taxes, the Climate Justice Project has sought to draw attention to the issue of climate change, and the Canadian Bar Association has called for a major overhaul to improve the province's justice system.
Wieting acknowledged his organization is entering a crowded field, but said a poll commissioned by the coalition proves the Great Bear Rainforest is an issue that resonates across the province.
Conducted by Justason Market Intelligence between Jan. 25 to Feb. 1, the poll found 68 per cent of people believe it's important that "the B.C. government fulfil all elements of (the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement) before the upcoming provincial election in May."
"We know that whoever is in the next government will be faced with very difficult questions," he said.
"This one should be a clear 'yes' because British Columbians care about this; people around the world care about it."
The poll has a four percentage point margin of error, 95 per cent of the time.