By Heather Ramsay–Time is running out for the South Moresby Forest Replacement Account (SMFRA), and if there’s no action from Ottawa, it could be finished March 31.
Having the $24-million fund transferred to the islands has been under discussion for years, and on a couple of occasions it looked like it was close. But it never happened, and now with a Conservative government in Ottawa and a sunset clause that will kill the fund in March, it may never happen.
But there’s a last-ditch attempt underway.
The Gwaii Trust has a consultant in Ottawa trying to organize a meeting with the appropriate ministers and GT chair Miles Richardson says the trusts’ executive is preparing to go if need be. “We’re keeping the pressure on and working with BC, who are in our corner,” he said. “But we’re not going without meetings being secured.” With the parliamentary session ending by Dec. 15 and not starting again until the end of January, Skeena MP Nathan Cullen says it doesn’t leave much time for SMFRA. But he warns the Conservative minority government may fall before the end of March anyway. He’s approached four different ministers, and found none had been briefed, and none are ready to champion the SMFRA cause. “No one has given a single reason as to why not,” he says. He can only assume the bureaucracy is keeping the topic from the politicians. He plans to go back and have a face to face with the ministers again. The province’s 50-percent share of the fund exists only as a ledger line, meaning the cash does not sit in the bank. But the province has indicated it’s ready to transfer the money to the islands. Gwaii Trust director Warren Foster, who is also on the SMFRA management committee, says they even have a mechanism in place. But the fed’s portion needs a cabinet decision to be transferred. Repeated lobbying has Gwaii Trust closer to the goal, but ministerial changes and even worse, government changes, mean islanders keep arriving back at square one. Mr. Foster says the issue is to go to the federal treasury board Jan. 25, but says there’s no guarantee it will be dealt with then.
In the meantime, Mr. Foster says SMFRA was unable to put out a call for proposals this year because “we have no assurance there will be any money to allocate.” “Certainly SMFRA shouldn’t exist by March 31. Hopefully it will exist as Gwaii Forest,” says Mr. Foster. Presently, the SMFRA management committee has six seats, three held by islanders. SMFRA was set up in 1988 to mitigate the impacts of loss in timber supply and forest-based employment after the formation of Gwaii Hanaas. John Farrell, account administrator, says the amount given out each year depends on the interest from the principal. More than $600,000 was given out in 2005-2006 and this year $493,000 worth of projects are in the works.
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