Saugstad's caribou columns off base

Re: Evan Saugstad: Economics 101 coming soon to a mill near you', Opinion, May 11, 2020 & 'Evan Saugstad: Caribou politics, plain and simple', Opinion, May 15, 2020

I usually have a lot of time for reading Evan’s columns but his two opinion pieces on the Caribou Partnership Agreement are so full of over-simplifications, inaccuracies, and inflammatory comments that it is hard to even know where to start.

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The most damaging aspect of these two articles is how they are aimed at garnering an emotional response, which seems to be lost on Evan. The articles seem purely intended to raise anxiety and fear, not inform and educate. You cannot write articles that reference a specific group, First Nations, and characterize them as abhorrent… acting in bad faith… questioning their integrity; and not understand how these are the kinds of words that inflame and nurture racism not ease it. Evan goes as far as to raises the spectrum of First Nations ownership of forest licenses as something to be feared, even though there is no evidence to support such a claim, in fact quite the opposite, as local ownership or control of resources has been the hallmark demand of local municipalities for decades, a view that local governments and First Nations have in common.

Evan’s implication that somehow the local First Nations are immune from the impacts of the local economy and have “independent funding from senior governments to rely on” couldn’t be further from the truth. First of all, it is the towns and local governments who receive the lion’s share of federal and provincial funding – up to $50 million per year just from the Fair Share agreement alone. Second, Saulteau is an important contributor to the local economy and active participant in the natural resources sector. Saulteau companies employ over 100 people, all of whom are local. Saulteau members also own businesses that work in the resource sector, all have workforces that are hired locally and all are no less dependent on the resource sector than others in the region – any implication to the contrary is just not true.

What Evan has failed to share is all across BC sawmills have been curtailing shifts or permanently closing. There are a lot of variables that influence those business decisions; lumber prices, stumpage rates, harvesting and transportation costs, proximity to markets, local taxation, softwood lumber agreement (or lack of), Pine Beetle and Spruce Bud Worm infestations, other market conditions and yes access to fiber. The northeast is no less immune to these dynamics than the rest of the province and we saw that with the curtailment of LPs facility in FSJ, had nothing to do with the Caribou Agreement.

The other disconnect with Evan’s articles is how they go completely against the flow of what is currently happening in the northeast today around the Caribou Agreement. The Chambers of Commerce from Chetwynd, Dawson Creek and Tumbler Ridge have all penned letters in support of the agreement and process. All of the local governments have joined the process to make sure that the regions shared objectives are achieved. Local industry (forestry, mining, gas & oil) have started to participate in technical working groups to address the issues that Evan references. To attack and undermine the process, the people involved, and the shared objective before it even has a chance to start, is the ultimate chiming in from the cheap seats.

Evan’s recent articles do a disservice to everyone in the region, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike, that have made a commitment to work collaboratively to implement an agreement that can work for everyone including the Caribou. Not everyone shares the view that “we have enough caribou elsewhere” – if the Covid-19 pandemic has taught the world anything it is how all things are inter-connected and ignoring that puts us all at risk.

This is not as “Plain and Simple” as Evan would like your readers to believe. And searching for simple solutions for complex problems has never gotten us anywhere – it is hard work, requires strong commitments and good faith on all sides. Evan’s recent articles seek to play on people emotions, to raise fear and anxiety using selective information, that neither serve the process, people or region well. The fact is Even is the one who is now playing “politics.”

The real heroes in this have been the two First Nations – they have been consistent and honest - have had to contend with racial abuse and other attacks on their character, and through it all maintained a civil discourse in every arena, just trying to make sure that facts, not fiction drives the conversation. In the end the potential loss of the Caribou is real, and mainly the result of industrial activity, whether through the construction of WAC Bennett Dam, mining, gas and oil activity, or the increase harvesting from the Pine Beetle epidemic.

If something is not done, the Caribou will be lost forever and that would be a tragedy.

Roger Harris was a former BC Liberal MLA for Skeena from 2001 to 2005, and Minister of State for Forest Operations from 2004 to 2005.

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