Old-growth protesters gather outside premier's office as minister promises legislative change
Organizers brought old-growth tree stump they say is 1,200 years old
Forest reform legislation is set to be introduced this fall by the New Democrat government, but the promise of change can't come soon enough for old-growth logging protesters who gathered outside Premier John Horgan's office Monday.
Forests Minister Katrine Conroy said Monday the legislation the government will introduce intends to bring changes to the Forest and Range Practices Act and the Forest Act, but she couldn't guarantee the new laws will end protest actions such as the friction at Fairy Creek over old-growth logging.
"We're going to do this and we're going to do this right,'' she said in an interview.
"It's about our forestry, significant changes."
Conroy could not provide details of the changes but said it goes beyond the issue of old-growth logging and relates to forest workers, communities and Indigenous groups.
"I hope that people will see we are moving forward,'' she said.
A spokesperson for the group known as the Rainforest Flying Squad said the people seated at legislature entrances were sending a message to the government on the first day of the fall sitting over deep concerns about old-growth logging.
WATCH | Protesters gather outside the legislature to send the premier a message about old-growth logging:
More than 1,100 people have been arrested this year for breaching a court injunction for protesting logging of old growth in an area north of Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, although a judge refused to extend the injunction last week.
"We are essentially bringing the front lines to the legislature to put the onus on government to protect the old-growth forests,'' said group spokesperson Robert Arbess, as he sat outside the premier's office at the legislature.
Arbess said the government needs to move quickly to address the old-growth issue.
"We're trying to get the premier's attention to let him know that 1,100 people were not arrested for nothing."
Some people seated on steps outside Horgan's office were dressed up in costumes to resemble trees and they brought along a large slice of an old-growth tree that the protesters said was 1,200 years old before it was brought down.
Teal Jones also looking for change
While the company trying to take logs out of the woods on southern Vancouver Island and the protesters trying to stop them may not see eye-to-eye on much, both parties want the B.C. NDP to take definitive action on forestry issues.
"The protesters have been saying that the province has been doing nothing. I agree they've been doing very little," said Conrad Browne, director of Indigenous partnerships and strategic relations for Teal Jones Group.
The Surrey, B.C.-based company owns the harvesting rights for Tree Farm License 46, the area around Fairy Creek where protesters have been set up for months, and is currently appealing a B.C. Supreme Court refusal to extend an injunction against protest blockades.
Browne said the protesters are misinformed about logging practices in Fairy Creek and the province should be including more industry players in its decision-making around old-growth.
"That valley has been protected long before the protesters showed up and will be protected long after they leave," said Browne, speaking to CBC'S The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn.
"There's areas on the periphery or on the outside that the protesters are calling Fairy Creek, that we have permits, that we're legally allowed to go and harvest, and that is both second growth and old-growth."
He said Teal Jones plants three trees for every one it cuts down and that old-growth forests in B.C. are "absolutely" not in danger.
"We have to harvest these trees for the qualities that they provide to us but we do it in a very regimented and regulated way, always have done," said Browne.
This industry insight and expertise, he said, is missing from a five-person panel created in June by the province to help inform future forestry legislation.
"There's not a single person from industry," said Browne. "That seems a little suspect and it seems a little concerning."
Fracking and wolf cull protests
Old-growth logging protesters were not the only people raising concerns about the policies of the B.C. government in Victoria on Monday.
A group of about 75 people opposed to fracking of natural gas in northern B.C. and the government subsidies to the industry held a rally at the legislature's front lawn.
"It must end now,'' said Dr. Melissa Lem, president-elect of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. "Let's send the legislature a message.''
Supporters of the conservation group Pacific Wild also showed up at the legislature to deliver a petition to government with more than 500,000 signatures opposing the province's wolf cull program to protect endangered caribou.
New Democrat house leader Mike Farnworth said the government has a full agenda and will introduce finance, environment and family legislation in the coming weeks.
Most of the 87 seats in the chamber were full Monday for the first question period, following a safe-return protocol after recent sessions were largely held online with limited seating in the chamber.
The Opposition Liberals and Greens said they expect the government to bring forth long-awaited old-growth policy reforms during the session.
"It's getting worse. It's not getting better,'' said interim Liberal leader Shirley Bond.
"[The Premier] needs to fix the ministry that he created to make sure that we don't stand in the house month after month talking about record numbers of lives lost in this province,'' Bond said of the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.
Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe released statistics last month that show almost six people died from illicit drug overdoses every day in July.
Horgan replied that the province faced a parallel health crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic and the overdose deaths, but said the government's "harm reduction policies are the foundation of success.''
Bond said more than 6,000 people have died of illicit drug overdoses in B.C. since the government created the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions in 2017.
With files from Bridgette Watson and The Early Edition