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Parties pledge support for B.C.’s old-growth forests as RCMP crack down on activists

Candidates address battles over the harvesting of B.C. forests against climate change backdrop
Demonstrators gathered outside Nelson’s RCMP detachment Aug. 23 to protest the treatment of people blocking roads at the Fairy Creek old growth forest. Photo: Tyler Harper

John Woodside, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter CANADA’S NATIONAL OBSERVER

As activists opposed to old-growth logging were dragged and pepper-sprayed by the RCMP in Fairy Creek over the weekend, the Liberal Party promised to protect old-growth forests in British Columbia.

North Vancouver candidate Jonathan Wilkinson promised a re-elected Liberal government would put $50 million on the table to help protect old-growth forests, and took a shot at the NDP for not mentioning “old-growth” specifically in its climate plans, saying he was “disappointed” in NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh as a British Columbian. Wilkinson also said the Liberals would work toward an agreement with B.C. Premier John Horgan’s NDP government to expand protected areas.

“In many areas, the focus really is on stopping the decline of biodiversity, and that means looking to protect intact ecosystems to start with,” Wilkinson told Canada’s National Observer.

“While forestry management and the harvesting of timber in the province is the purview of the provincial government, our view is that there is a role for the federal government (in) working with the province and Indigenous communities,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson was reluctant to say the federal government was looking to insert itself into the province’s domain but did acknowledge Ottawa has jurisdiction over species at risk it could use.

“We’re not trying to tell the province of British Columbia what it must do, but we are trying to say we’re a willing partner to work with you on something that we know is important for British Columbians,” he said.

The Green Party’s Nanaimo-Ladysmith candidate Paul Manly said it was “about time” the Liberals listened to him and pointed to a motion he introduced in the House of Commons in February calling for the protection of old-growth forests.

“I have sent numerous letters to the minister, and to the minister of Indigenous-Crown relations, and to the minister of public safety, saying that they need to step in and offer conservation financing to First Nations and work with the province and First Nations to end this crisis,” Manly said.

“These land defenders aren’t going to stop. They’re not going to stop even with this brutality that we’re seeing from the RCMP. They are determined to protect these forests, and these forests are key for climate change,” he added.

Manly said that when Canada signs international agreements, like the Convention on Biological Diversity, that is a commitment that should be upheld by the federal government. Instead, he pointed to an inconsistency.

“When the federal government signs a trade agreement, the subnational governments — the provinces — are bound by that agreement. When we sign environmental treaties, like for the protection of biodiversity or to take climate action, the provincial governments aren’t bound by that,” he explains.

But the jurisdictional landscape is changing in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year that ruled the federal government has a right to impose a carbon tax, essentially because responding to climate change is an issue of national concern.

“The federal government has a right to step in to protect biodiversity in the same way,” Manly said.

“How does (Ottawa) uphold our international agreements? Well they’re going to have to take the provinces to task, and it may mean going to court over it to fight over jurisdiction,” he said. “But we are in a climate emergency …This is the sixth mass extinction on the planet, so we need to do something about it.”

Climate group Stand.Earth international programs director Tzeporah Berman said in a statement she was encouraged by Wilkinson’s announcement, but it came after more than 700 people have been arrested by RCMP this year at the Ada’itsx (Fairy Creek) blockades.

“Old-growth forests are important to people all across Canada and are an essential part of any effective national climate plan. Yet even today, people are being arrested for trying to stop the clear-cut logging of some of the last of the province’s old-growth,” Berman said.

On Tuesday, the protests at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island continued. Recently, the press has been denied access despite a court ruling calling the RCMP’s action unlawful.

On Monday, Singh committed $500 million to fund Indigenous-led land and water stewardship programs, including for old-growth forests. Other NDP candidates have signalled their support for old-growth forests as well, including Victoria candidate Laurel Collins and Cowichan-Malahat-Langford candidate Alistair MacGregor who have previously written to Wilkinson calling for federal support.

The NDP did not return requests for comment.

RELATED: B.C. old growth protesters accuse RCMP of aggression after use of pepper spray