NDP's environmental street cred fades as Sierra Club B.C. disputes government claim about giant spruce tree

Horgan's majority has some things in common with the last B.C. NDP majority government, which didn't have a pretty ending

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      The more things change, the more they stay the same.

      The last time the B.C. NDP had a majority government in the late 1990s, it came under withering criticism from the environmental movement.

      That was because it continued to allow logging in watersheds, didn't endorse full social and environmental costing when pursing power projects, and removed land from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

      It also didn't seem too concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, as demonstrated its the decision not to shut down the Burrard Thermal natural-gas-fired power plant.

      In the 2001 provincial election, the B.C. NDP was reduced to two seats in the legislature.

      Once again, a B.C. NDP majority government is enraging the environmental movement.

      This week, it concerned—you guessed it—logging in watersheds. Specifically, the Fairy Creek watershed on Vancouver Island, where the number of those arrested increases by the day.

      But the NDP has also not made progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to the most recent inventory. In fact, the Climate Change Accountability Report disclosed that carbon emissions jumped three percent in B.C. in 2018—the NDP's first full year in power.

      That's before the first LNG plant has been built with the government's blessing.

      The LNG plant in Kitimat can proceed because of the cabinet's decision to complete the Site C dam. It will supply the electricity for this "carbon bomb", as it's been dubbed by environmentalists.

      The Site C dam requires flooding a valley along the Peace River, ensuring the removal of farmland from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

      Déja vu, you say?

      Yesterday, a large crowd of demonstrators gathered outside Premier John Horgan's constituency office to let this former forest worker know what they think of his support for old-growth logging.

      The tweet below by Tzeporah Berman sums up how many of them felt.

      Giant trees can be chopped down

      Now, there's a claim by a high-profile environmental group that the province has engaged in outright chicanery in responding to questions about the image at the top of this article.

      A Ministry of Forests spokesperson claimed in a statement that the giant spruce tree on the truck was chopped down before the Special Tree Protection Regulation took effect last September.

      “Government brought in this regulation to protect exceptionally large trees of all species throughout the province, and today, a tree of this size might well be illegal to harvest under the regulation, and fines of up to $100,000 could be imposed if it was,” the email stated.

      But according to Sierra Club B.C.'s senior forest and climate campaigner, Jens Wieting, Sitka spruce trees are only protected if their diameter is 2.83 metres or larger at breast height.

      The maximum load width in B.C. is 2.6 metres, the Sierra Club B.C. stated in a news release.

      So if the tree fits on the truck, can one conclude that it's legally onside?

      “This photo is a shocking example of the size of ancient trees that can still be logged today even after the B.C. government finally released a Special Tree Regulation in 2020," Wieting said. "The regulation was designed to ensure it wouldn’t significantly affect the industry.”

      His organization noted that yellow cedars can be cut up to 2.65 meters in diameter at breast height, coastal Douglas firs at 2.7 meters, coastal red cedars at 3.85 meters, and non-coastal red cedars at 2.9 meters. 

      George Heyman has been the minister of environment and climate change strategy since the B.C. NDP formed a government in 2017.
      Josh Berson

      Another demo on Monday

      On Monday (May 31) from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., there will be a protest outside Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman's constituency office at 642 West Broadway. 

      Demonstrators will call upon the government to stop old-growth logging and push for the province to implement recommendations of the Old Growth Strategic Review panel.

      "Another key demand is immediate implementation of species at risk legislation, which Heyman was instructed in 2017 to enact," organizer Diane Lake wrote on Facebook. "Four years later B.C. is still stalling, sparking concern that time is running out to save the province’s 1,800 species at risk. Scientists estimate as many as 30 to 50 percent of all plants and animals may be headed toward extinction by 2050."

      The NDP under Horgan looked pretty invincible last October when it won 57 seats in the 87-seat legislature in the provincial election.

      But seven-and-a-half months later, it's treating the environmental movement with the same disdain as occurred under the last B.C. NDP majority government in the late 1990s.

      Back then, the party paid a tremendous price, finding itself kept out of power for a generation through four consecutive elections.

      Horgan would be wise to heed the lessons from his party's own history. Failure to do so might evaporate his political capital far more quickly than he appears to appreciate at the moment.

      His younger MLAs, some of whom are likely privately sympathetic to the protesters, should also take heed of their party's history. Especially if they don't want to spend nearly a generation—like Horgan—sitting on the opposition side of the legislature.

      In the meantime, the B.C. NDP government's logging policies aren't likely being welcomed by the party's federal candidates.

      That was pretty clear in a recent tweet by Jim Hanson, who's hoping to defeat Liberal incumbent Terry Beech in Burnaby North–Seymour.

      "For the record, I oppose continued logging of old-growth forests in British Columbia," Hanson declared.

      Good luck to him in convincing all the green-minded residents of his riding to make distinctions between the federal and provincial wings of the NDP when they enter polling stations, possibly as soon as this year.