Policy defended as MLA visits islands

  • Aug. 18, 2004 5:00 p.m.

The provincial government’s forest policy includes initiatives like giving wood to community forests and First Nations, MLA Bill Belsey says, and islanders shouldn’t be opposed to it, Alex Rinfret writes.

Mr. Belsey said he was surprised to hear that some people who live here are so upset about the province’s approach to forestry that they held a protest two weeks ago outside the Ministry of Forests office in Queen Charlotte.

“I really don’t understand,” Mr. Belsey said Monday evening in Masset. “There’s been significant offers of fibre to the Council of the Haida Nation, is my understanding.”
That wood is coming from the 20-percent takeback the province is getting the licence holders (in exchange for compensation), he said.

Mr. Belsey said islanders like Port Clements mayor Dale Lore, an outspoken critic of provincial policies, have not brought their complaints to his office.
“It’s interesting, Dale Lore has never spoken to me in the last six months about forest issues,” he said. “He was in my office for the first time last week… I’m not sure where he’s coming from.”
However, when the Observer asked Mr. Belsey about the province’s decision to allow Weyerhaeuser to take private land on the islands out of the tightly-regulated Tree Farm Licence management regime (one of the issues which led to the protest), Mr. Belsey said he didn’t know anything about it.
“If it’s owned privately I do not feel we should be telling them what they should do on it,” he offered, but then said he was not sure what the government had done.
“What changes have been made there, I’d have to talk to forestry,” he said. “Nobody’s contacted my office regarding this issue.”
He said that if islanders have concerns about the decision to remove private land from the TFL, and call his office, he will look into it.

Issues that islanders are talking to him about, he said, are BC Ferries (“it’s not a luxury service to the islands, it’s a necessity”), the northern residents tax deduction (a federal issue – “I think Mr. Layton should be able to deal with that”), access to fibre (we can expect an announcement about community forests here within a couple of months), and assisted living for seniors.
Asked what he thought about the outcome of the recent federal election, Mr. Belsey said he was surprised and disappointed that the riding had voted NDP. It’s much better to have a representative who belongs to the governing party, he said.

“If you want something out of government, you need someone who’s sitting on the inside of the tent,” he said. “My point is, what does (voting NDP) do for you? I can’t think of one positive thing that does.”
Mr. Belsey said that as a Liberal, he sits in caucus with the provincial government and is able to bring up issues affecting this riding, and get results. For example, he said, he was instrumental in helping islanders get more control of the South Moresby Forest Replacement Account, a $24-million forestry fund.
He conceded that the government had not made a great decision when it moved the administration of the islands small business timber program to Chilliwack from Queen Charlotte. But he said that without his presence in caucus, the decision could have been even worse for the islands.

“I bet you we wouldn’t have a forest office in Queen Charlotte City, there wouldn’t be anybody there,” he said, if there had been an NDP member representing this riding instead of a Liberal.
The problem facing this government, he said, is that it had to make a lot of cuts, yet the vast majority of MLAs were Liberals – so Liberal ridings had to suffer too.
“It would be much better to have 40 (Liberal seats) and 37 (opposition), that way every dollar you have, you put it into a riding that’s represented,” he said. It’s “naive” to think that politics doesn’t work this way, he added.

The provincial government’s approach appears to be paying off, he said. BC is headed for a surplus (barring any more major forest fires or other natural catastrophes), there are lots of jobs in the lower mainland, and several communities are about to start managing their own forests.
“In talking to some of the people today, they have told me they see a change,” he said. “I get the feeling the province has made a turn.”

Meanwhile, all islanders, including Mr. Lore, are welcome to call his office any time.
“Dale can call my office or he can call me a fencepost in the newspaper,” Mr. Belsey said, referring to a comment Mr. Lore made last year. “Only one will get results.”

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