Merlin Nichols: Caribou on my mind, again

merlinnichols

You’ve read this Peace River Regional District news release earlier and elsewhere: “representatives from the PRRD and Concerned Citizens for Caribou Recovery met with the Provincial Ministers of Environment and Forests and Lands on January 23 at the BC Natural Resources Forum.

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“The meeting concluded with a commitment from the Province to initiate public and stakeholder engagement in early February on the draft Partnership Agreement to recover caribou in the Peace region. As part of the engagement the Province committed to sharing data and analyses on potential impacts of the Agreement and made a commitment to work with the PRRD on evaluating the impacts of the Agreement on Peace communities. The Agreement will not be finalized until engagement is complete and potential impacts on communities and workers are understood.”

So says the January 24, 2019 news release from the Peace River Regional District.

My experience assures me that it's an accurate reporting of the government’s commitment.

Wow!

Are we almost there?

Not even close. All our requests, demands, pleas to be part of the discussion were ignored or worse. What’s new now?

I scanned the release carefully for anything new since my first encounters with government on this issue on March 28, 2018, at the office of the Oil and Gas Commission in Fort St. John – an eye-opening but otherwise unsatisfactory event.

I do know that on May 15, 2018, the delegation I was with received, except for the February date, almost identical commitments from the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development himself.

Three subsequent delegations, one to the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development and his staff (September), one to the Ministry of Environment (November), and one to the Deputy Minister of Forests (November) produced nothing more than the same hopeful platitudes.

And through it all, we’ve only been asking to be part of the process. Seems reasonable to us looking for crumbs under the governments’ table.

Before I proceed to an analysis of the release, I need to assure you that I believe strongly that everyone (and that does mean everyone – no exceptions) within the boundaries of the Peace River Regional District and beyond, all the way to Victoria and Ottawa, immediately and for years to come, will be affected in ways, at present expected and unexpected, by the details of the Partnership Agreement yet to be revealed. Don’t ever think otherwise.

The government has committed to share “data and analyses on potential impacts of the Agreement.”

What will that “sharing” look like? Maybe like, “here are the numbers: the jobs, the businesses, the people, the tax base. What are you crying about? Act like adults and take your lumps. Live with it.”

What is the point of getting the numbers when the discussion is over and the deed is done?

But be relieved, “the Agreement will not be finalized until [public and stakeholder] engagement is complete and potential impacts on communities and workers are understood.”

That is encouraging but only until I read between the lines. There will be impacts on communities and workers and the rural homeland we so much love and the government is committing to nothing more than to help us understand those impacts – as though we couldn’t understand without government help.

And then the Agreement will be finalized. Not until then. Finalized! Live with it.

Hey, folks, not to worry, I’ve been out of the loop on this issue for several months. I’ve been able to sleep better. Maybe I shouldn’t have read this news release. My dreams will be bad again tonight. Maybe I don’t know about what I am talking about. Take it all with a grain or two of salt. Our governments love us, don’t they? Like compassionate big brothers, they look out for our welfare. Welfare? Did I say welfare? No one wants welfare?

Some time ago, I turned down a request for a radio interview on this topic. Out of the loop, out of the discussion, no opportunity to influence, what was the point?

But this news release opened all the old wounds; stirred up latent fears. I felt I had to respond. This is my response. Take it from here and run. Who knows, perhaps the race will soon be over.

Oh, by the way, Will Rogers says, “be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.”

And a warning shot from the Ancients: “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished.”

Merlin Nichols is the former mayor of Chetwynd.

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