Skip to main content

British Columbia A change in government has done little to alter B.C.’s environmental path

Before the 2017 election that would make him Premier of British Columbia, John Horgan stood with opponents of the proposed Site C dam, a hydroelectric project he described as a multibillion-dollar boondoggle. To acknowledge his support, protest organizers inscribed Mr. Horgan’s name on a yellow stake, which was planted within the footprint of the megaproject that the Liberal government of the day was advocating.

But on Site C and other major environmental issues, Mr. Horgan has not diverged substantially from the path laid down by the BC Liberals.

The environment was never a big part of the BC NDP’s election platform in 2017. The party promised to work on climate action, but made no mention of Site C, or an environmental disaster at the Mount Polley mine. A seismic shift on ecological policies was not part of the New Democrats’ promise to voters.

Story continues below advertisement

Yet, expectations were high, based on the NDP’s record during 16 years on the opposition benches. The New Democrats had opposed Site C, and condemned a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) project because of the greenhouse gas emissions they would create. They criticized the Liberals for failing to charge the mining company responsible for the Mount Polley disaster. And they committed to extend the model of the Great Bear Rainforest – which permanently protects 85 per cent of old-growth forest in a large swath of B.C.’s central coast.

Now, almost two years after the election, a minority NDP government that is formally supported by the Green Party has approved construction of the Site C dam. The legislature passed a law on Thursday to secure a massive LNG investment. The mining industry is welcoming new resources from the province. And some of Canada’s oldest trees are heading for auction.

Telling the environmental policies of the NDP and the Liberals apart isn’t easy, Green Party MLA Adam Olsen says. “A lot of these decisions are eerily similar."

FORESTRY

On Friday, the Premier addressed a convention of the Council of Forest Industries, outlining his government’s work to chart a new course for a strong, sustainable future for B.C.’s forest sector.

That includes logging in the last old-growth rain forests on Vancouver Island that are still intact, including some of the biggest Douglas firs in Canada, said Jens Wieting, the Sierra Club of B.C.'s senior forest campaigner.

Proposed BC Timber Sales logging

plans for Vancouver Island

The majority of the 1,300 hectares listed are

forests with an age of 140–250 years. Sierra

Club BC data show that industrial old-growth

logging continues at a rate of more than three

square metres per second, or about 34 soccer

fields per day.

PROPOSED AUTHORIZED HARVEST AREAS

Old-growth (1,312 hectares)

Second-growth (1,022 hectares)

Eve-Naka

326 Ha

Artlish-

Amai

331 Ha

Campbell

River

773 Ha

Berman

95 Ha

Rosewall

109 Ha

Sproat-

Nahmint

361 Ha

Chemainus

140 Ha

Toquart

83 Ha

Parkinson

Creek

113 Ha

Remaining old-growth

Second-growth

Non-forest

Protected areas (>5 hectares)

Note: Sierra Club defines old growth as more

than 140 years old, Second-growth as 60-140

years old

CARRIE COCKBURN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCES:

JENS WIETING, DAVID LEVERSEE, SIERRA CLUB BC

Proposed BC Timber Sales logging

plans for Vancouver Island

The majority of the 1,300 hectares listed are forests

with an age of 140–250 years. Sierra Club BC data show

that industrial old-growth logging continues at a rate

of more than three square metres per second,

or about 34 soccer fields per day.

PROPOSED

AUTHORIZED

HARVEST AREAS

Eve-Naka

326 Ha

Old-growth

(1,312 hectares)

Second-growth

(1,022 hectares)

Artlish-

Amai

331 Ha

Campbell

River

773 Ha

Berman

95 Ha

Rosewall

109 Ha

Sproat-

Nahmint

361 Ha

Chemainus

140 Ha

Toquart

83 Ha

Parkinson

Creek

113 Ha

Remaining old-growth

Second-growth

Non-forest

Protected areas (>5 hectares)

Note: Sierra Club defines old growth as more than

140 years old, Second-growth as 60-140 years old

CARRIE COCKBURN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCES:

JENS WIETING, DAVID LEVERSEE, SIERRA CLUB BC

Proposed BC Timber Sales logging plans for Vancouver Island

The majority of the 1,300 hectares listed are forests with an age of 140–250 years.

Sierra Club BC data show that industrial old-growth logging continues at a rate of more than

three square metres per second, or about 34 soccer fields per day.

PROPOSED AUTHORIZED

HARVEST AREAS

Old-growth

(1,312 hectares)

Second-growth

(1,022 hectares)

Eve-Naka

326 Ha

Artlish-

Amai

331 Ha

Campbell

River

773 Ha

Berman

95 Ha

Rosewall

109 Ha

Sproat-

Nahmint

361 Ha

Chemainus

140 Ha

Toquart

83 Ha

Parkinson

Creek

113 Ha

Remaining old-growth

Second-growth

Non-forest

Protected areas (>5 hectares)

Note: Sierra Club defines old growth as more than 140 years old,

Second-growth as 60-140 years old

CARRIE COCKBURN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCES: JENS WIETING, DAVID LEVERSEE, SIERRA CLUB BC

“We have this consistent pattern of business as usual,” he said in an interview. The province’s timber-sales agency is putting up for auction this year more than 1,300 hectares of old growth on Vancouver Island – mostly forests that predate Confederation. On the Sunshine Coast, cedars estimated to be more than 1,000 years old will be on the block by next year.

“To be honest, I am in an utter disbelief about their forestry path,” Mr. Wieting said. ”In the context of forests, ecosystems and climate change, we are crossing dangerous limits."

Story continues below advertisement

In the 2013 election campaign, the NDP promised it would “protect significant ecological areas like wetlands, estuaries and valuable old-growth forests.” But that commitment morphed in 2017 into a promise to use the Great Bear Rainforest model to “sustainably manage.”

That plan is still under discussion. This spring, Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said in the legislature that he’s still “drilling down” in talks with environmentalists to determine the importance of saving old-growth forests.

MINING

In February, B.C.'s Mines Minister, Michelle Mungall, announced plans to hire 65 safety and enforcement officials over the next three years, and changes to speed up mines permit approvals.

The changes fall short of Auditor-General Carol Bellringer’s recommendations to eliminate the conflict inherent in having compliance and enforcement rest with the ministry that promotes mining development.

The Auditor-General’s recommendations followed the 2014 environmental disaster at the Mount Polley copper mine, when a tailings pond breach spilled about 25 million cubic metres of waste water and tailings into water systems and lakes in central British Columbia.

Wildsight, an environmental organization in the Kootenays, has been working for years on the issue of selenium pollution from five mountaintop-removal coal mines in the Elk Valley owned by Teck Resources Ltd.

Story continues below advertisement

Lars Sander-Green, an activist with Wildsight, said the expanded enforcement regime in the Ministry of Mines simply reinforces the fox-guarding-the-henhouse situation, paired as it is with more efficient permitting to encourage investment. “They are doubling down on the conflict of interest.”

LNG

This week, the federal Environment Commissioner said Canada is not doing enough to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases despite mounting evidence the country is vulnerable to rapid warming. Julie Gelfand’s remarks came one day after a major federal study warned that Canada’s climate is warming at twice the global rate.

On Thursday, legislators – with the exception of B.C.'s three Green MLAs – voted to approve a tax credit for major LNG projects that is tailored to the $40-billion LNG Canada development – a project that will generate, in Phase One, 3.4 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

Environment Minister George Heyman said his government will be on the right side of history because it has ensured that the project fits within a new plan called Clean BC that sets out targets to reduce the province’s total GHG output.

“There are a lot of people in the North, including many Indigenous nations, who are going to be lifted out of poverty with this project,” he said. “I would never say that’s a reason for unlimited development, but if we can develop within our plan, that was the mandate I was given.”

SITE C

The yellow stakes honouring people who supported the fight against the megaproject are lined up on Arlene and Ken Boon’s homestead. Their home has been expropriated because it is expected to slump into the reservoir created by the Site C dam, but they are living on the property until the bulldozers arrive.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Boon recalls Mr. Horgan speaking passionately against the project as leader of the opposition. “Obviously, we had higher expectations for the NDP,” he said. But after Mr. Horgan announced that the project was too far along to cancel, the surveyor’s stake with his name on it was returned.

“The NDP is a complicated party. They got people on both sides of the spectrum on resource extraction and the environment," Mr. Boon noted. “The so-called brown side of the NDP won the battle of the day.”

Mr. Olsen, the Green Party MLA, echoed that sentiment. From delays protecting species at risk to forestry and the construction of this dam, he said, the New Democrats have established a track record. “With the NDP, on labour and environmental battles, generally the environment loses.”

GOVERNING IS DIFFERENT

The B.C. business community has expressed some anxiety about a growing regulatory burden – a combination of a new environmental assessment regime and changes proposed by the federal government. But mostly, alarm is generally absent over the direction of the NDP government. The Business Council of B.C. and the province have signed an agreement to advance a competitive, low-carbon industrial strategy. The mining association has praised the changes in its sector. And industry has applauded the government for proceeding with Site C and securing LNG Canada.

Greg D’Avignon, president and chief executive of the business council, said most of the concerns from his members involve what may yet come: "There are a number of environmental files still in flux within the regulatory and legislative processes,” he said. “We are at risk of losing sight of the economy and jobs within these discussions.”

Mr. Heyman, who once led the Sierra Club of B.C., said his government has made progress on the environment, including the renewed climate-action plan, new protections for fresh water and a revamped environmental assessment process that comes into effect in the fall and will give communities and First Nations a greater voice in what projects are approved.

Story continues below advertisement

“There is a lot to praise,” he said. But he noted that the NDP government has been busy on many files – education, health and housing, to name a few – and can only make so many changes at once.

And, while the NDP was free to criticize environmental policy in opposition, governing requires a different, more balanced approach.

“I’ve never experienced any interest group being completely satisfied with the actions of any government.”

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter