September 2010 edition

Re: The Big Burn, August 2010

As a concerned citizen, I am distressed on three counts by what I read in Briony Penn’s feature, “The Big Burn.”

First, Forests Minister Pat Bell is mismanaging our public forests so completely that, if present policy is not reversed, our own generation and future generations of British Columbians will be dispossessed of our most valuable economic and recreational resource. The government’s selloff (giveaway?) of the forests to private industry and failure to remain informed of the status of much of BC’s forests are instances of this mismanagement.

Second, Bell and his forests ministry are no longer accountable to the electorate. This is evidenced both in the failure to maintain the inventory of BC forests and by the lack of reporting on forest management—and on the nature and status of the forest resource—in the public record.

Third, Bell and the BC Liberals are preparing to squander our best forestlands in a reckless gamble on fibre farms for biofuel, although there is evidence that its production and use will aggravate global warming.

This misguided agenda for our public forests and the clandestine disposal of this resource must be stopped now. The management of our natural resources and of the environment is a sacred trust, to be undertaken in the public interest, for the benefit of all, both now and in the future. 

Thank you to Briony Penn and Focus magazine for uncovering yet another case in which the Campbell government has put private profit ahead of the public interest.

Gillian Thompson


On the same day as Focus published “The Big Burn,” Forests Minister Pat Bell announced in a news release that he has a small army of “72 fibre officers based in communities across the province” on hand to find fibre in public forests.

Unwittingly, Bell corroborates Briony Penn’s findings that fibre officers, fibre farming and silvicultural slums are replacing foresters, forestry and natural forests.

And, horrifyingly, Fibre Connections BC appears to be Bell’s replacement for a neutered Forest Service.

What next? Citing competitiveness and investor interests, Bell will be justifying Frankenstein forests and changing the law to allow genetically modified organisms (GMOs). 

Quickstep (via


Briony Penn lays out in chilling detail how Forests Minister Pat Bell is practising what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism” in her book The Shock Doctrine. In this instance, the twin disasters are the extensive mountain pine beetle infestation caused by climate change and the reduction in government revenues from forestry due to the recession. Bell seems to be using both disasters to weaken the Forest Service’s ability to ensure sustainable forest management, thereby setting the scene for privatization of our publicly-owned forests. 

At a time when the massive problems facing our forests call for increased efforts by the Forest Service to find solutions, and when the slow economy requires the stimulation of government activity, Bell is cutting back on important Forest Service functions and changing the focus of the service from “stewardship and public service” to “services to resource stakeholders” (i.e. a monopoly of logging corporations) and “advocacy for the forest industry.”

Moreover, by subsidizing logging on a massive scale through rock-bottom stumpage fees and by allowing small-scale logging on vast areas of land without the obligation to replant, Bell is, ironically, putting our forest industry at risk of censure by international consumer markets in the United States, Japan and Europe.

Worse still, it is pure folly to do all this while wrecking our valley bottoms with hybrid and possibly genetically modified monocultures of trees for biofuel, which in turn will accelerate the global emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 

We should all be alarmed that, through these changes in forest policy and practice, Bell and the BC Liberals are compromising environmental health and economic opportunities for British Columbians now and for generations to come.

Graham Ross-Smith


As usual, government and industry logic is stuck in a faulty linear mode, ignoring the economic and ecological values, and carbon storage momentum inherent in mature complex forests. They’re also ignoring the huge fossil fuel inputs required to maintain the industrial agriculture model of short-rotation fibre farming, which destroys carbon-rich topsoil. This is beginning to sound like Ponzi Forestry. I guess Bell figures when the shelves are looking bare it will be time to sell the store.

David S. (via


Thank you for bringing this subject to the attention of the public.

An infusion of staff and funds to the Forest Service (Ministry of Forests) is no solution to the problem.

Privatization or enclosure of BC’s public forests has been underway for many decades. Forest companies were given private timber harvesting rights and increasing forest management responsibilities in public forests. 

We have public forests because we wanted our forests to be managed by a professional forest management agency (Forest Service) rather than private timber interests. The intended outcome was a healthy forest industry and sustainable, forest-dependent communities. We have neither.

The Forest Service was never allowed to become the independent professional forest manager of our public forests and after almost one century it has to be regarded as a failed institution.

We need new democratic institutions that can provide direct independent professional management of our public forests. These can be realized if the public or shareholders of our forests ask for these new institutions. Read more about the democratic alternative of Local Forest Trusts and a Forest Trust Assembly at

Andrew Mitchell


Briony Penn’s assessment of the “loophole” in the Kyoto Protocol is dead accurate. If the CO2 emissions from logging, transporting, manufacture, shipping and burning of pellets were counted, it would make natural gas emissions look like peanuts per unit of energy produced. In fact, for every unit of energy produced by pellets shipped to Europe, twice a much CO2 is released compared to burning natural gas. It will take over a century and a half for this CO2 to be reabsorbed. Biofuels dramatically increase CO2 loading just at a time when we need reductions.

If we saw our forests through a carbon lens instead of an investor profit lens, we would see that conservation and the sale of carbon credits would provide income for local communities far outstripping returns and a few jobs provided by investors.

Thanks for a well researched, well written exposé.

Dave (via


All of the details in Briony Penn’s piece are accurate and way overdue in reporting. Close to 100 years ago the famed ministry and chief forester’s position were created to protect the forest and ensure an accountable person looked out for the planet. Today what this has morphed into is a political perversion of power with its strongest links tied to business and not the good of the public or the forests. Mr Mike DeJong brought in the “Take or Pay” policy almost 10 years ago and it paved the way to accelerated climate change and fraud. Now, Mr Bell is back-pedalling on that one as fast as he can. The process still remains the same: no public input. Along with professional reliance, the cornerstone of the last decade’s forest activities, the ministry needed to close its ears and eyes to the Forest Service to see it implemented. In some districts, staff meetings where halted to ensure its success. This was just the beginning of what Briony is now alluding too.

Recently, Minister Bell was on the radio denouncing the job losses from the effect of the pine beetle situation in the interior, contrary to his staff. His deputy refuses to listen to her staff regarding the true potential for bioenergy as it doesn’t play into the liberals’ election promises.

Across this province senior people in government are not listening to staff and forging ahead: Denial, denial, denial.

The budget this year to monitor BC’s forest for climate change: $0. That’s right. Even though the Climate Action Mitigation Strategy, released just in time for the Olympics, says we have a robust monitoring program for climate, there is not a single dollar this year to monitor the effect of climate on BC’s forests.

Our government is out of control. We need an independent review on the true state of BC’s forests before the idiots that we elected do any more damage.

Please support an independent investigation into the true state of BC’s forests. Our government is doing nothing at the worst possible time. Why is that?

William J. (via


The winds of change are blowing, and I agree that something better is needed. To deliver sustainable benefits for British Columbians, I believe that forestry on managed timberland must become more productive—ecologically, economically and socially. This is not productivity defined as cost minimization, clearcutting, and short rotation plantations. It means biodiversity-based productivity, confirmed by studies, that the richer the biodiversity, the greater the forest productivity and benefits. 

One obstacle is our forest tenure system—mostly operated by five licensees. The historic combination of public and private land in BC’s Tree Farm Licences was not an original Canadian idea. The first tenure of the type was the Shelton Cooperative Sustained Yield Unit (1946) between US Forest Service and Simpson Timber Company on Puget Sound. Amid a storm of public controversy, the US Forest Service terminated this tenure type. 

To choose our forest destiny while strengthening BC’s competitive position, my vision is BC’s public forests, managed locally. I support ecologically-based community forestry, regional log markets, small-scale tenures (e.g. woodlots), extended rotations and growing high-quality wood to attract investment. Compare this to what we generally do now. 

Ray Travers, R.P.F.


Re: Home-grown health care, August 2010

The visionary Tommy Douglas, our co-founder of socialized medicine, observed before he died: “Only through the practice of preventive medicine will we keep the costs from becoming so excessive that the public will decide that Medicare is not in the best interests of the people of the country.”

Dr Michael Rachlis, Canada’s renowned physician authority on Medicare, reminds us that Tommy Douglas believed his vision would have to be implemented in two stages—the first stage was to remove money as a barrier to access but the second, more difficult, stage would be “to alter our delivery system” in order “to reduce costs and put an emphasis on preventative medicine.” (

Dr Rachlis calls Stage Two “The Quality Agenda.” It requires efficient resource use, appropriate technology, more community control, banning fee-for-services, bringing complementary and homeopathic modalities into the system, and increased funding through progressive taxation.

Preventative medicine also means Medicare needs to support three policy shifts. These are ending very harmful nutrition habits; banning the industrial poisons circulating the biosphere now in every person’s blood, wrecking our DNA; and eliminating stress from overwork and underpay. 

A health care model that challenges these assaults head-on may be found at the Health Care Without Harm website, 

Will our low income and poor residents have equal access to the new Victoria Health Cooperative? Saskatchewan’s early health care cooperatives did not charge low income recipients. Let’s continue the struggle for a just—and quality—health care system available to all.

Larry Wartel


Editor’s note: See, especially regarding its Health Access Fund.


Re: Where rainwater and democracy merge, August 2010

Thanks to Aaren Madden for yet another great article about the visionaries and champions in our midst. Where would we be without Calvin Sandborn and the Environmental Law Centre? For starters, the public would be less informed—especially about their legal rights when fighting corporate acquisition of public property and services.

Should the CRD adopt the regional stormwater strategy advocated by the ELC, we could lobby for community-based initiatives like Portland, Oregon’s hugely successful “Grey to Green” program ( The program’s “Community Watershed Stewardship Grants” is a model for the community-based approach to green infrastructure.

Local storm sewers are in bad shape—especially in Victoria and Oak Bay. Given the preference of both senior levels of government for public-private partnerships (P3s), if we don’t find a local solution—and quickly—a corporate “fix” for our aging infrastructure might be foisted upon us.

Freya Keddie


Re: Victoria City Hall: well-paid but confused, August 2010

Thank you Focus for the ongoing and inspired coverage by Sam Williams of the Victoria Blue Bridge tragicomedy. The debate over the largest expenditure of public funds in the history of the city requires serious study of the true facts surrounding the matter, something city council abjures.

By actually reading the reports and following up with questions outside the status quo or usual suspects, Williams is bringing to light what council and its staff have been trying to cover up.

With councillors now admitting they knew about the earthquake danger to the bridge more than four years ago, yet never thought to do anything about it until this year, the paucity of ability on council is revealed.

Especially in his last column, it is clear this is not a city council to be railed against nor even despised, for this council, probably for the first time in Victoria’s history, has descended into farce.

Patrick Murphy


Re: I’d rather be Fred than dead, August 2010

In Gene Miller’s August column there was a quote describing North Americans as “the energy hogs of the world...our lifestyles are ruinous.” I don’t disagree, but is it always our fault?

About a year ago we went out and bought an LCD TV to replace our 10-year-old set. Once we got it home, I did the unthinkable—I read the owner’s manual. The ventilation requirements were huge so I looked up the power consumption numbers. This LCD was going to use about 40 percent more energy than our old CRT lump.

So I started to do some checking on the internet and it turns out the same manufacturer was offering the same size LCD in Europe that uses about one-third the power of the set they sell in Canada. Naturally we returned the set to the store and we are waiting for the energy efficient units to make it across the pond. In the intervening year, Canada’s LCD offerings have become more efficient, going from three times Europe’s power use to two times Europe’s power use. Better, but still outrageous. 

When I contacted the manufacturer about this anomaly, I was fed platitudes about markets having different requirements etc. How can we become as fuel efficient as Bordeaux if the low energy use products aren’t even available here? 

Part of the problem is that energy in North America is too cheap. Until we have European-size energy rates, we won’t demand the most energy efficient products and, as long as there is little demand, manufacturers will continue to sell the cheapest inefficient sets here where price, not efficiency, is king.

If the government started taxing energy and guaranteed that prices would not fall below a certain level, then we would all base our buying decisions on this reality and our energy use would plummet. Such a tax strategy would be good for the government’s finances and the environment.

Steen Petersen


Re: The health care “crisis” con, August 2010

I have noticed Government at all levels has been increasingly using this crisis-creation tactic Naomi Klein calls “Disaster Capitalism.”  A very good read, by the way. It worked so well with the BC Rail theft, they are now also using it to privatize BC Hydro, BC Ferries, and education as well as health. Heads up people, Campbell is selling off our assets faster than we can recall him. Which we will, by the way. Unless he retires first!

Kim Poirier