B.C. government's vision for spring legislative session silent on forest policy; forest workers upset

NANAIMO, B.C. , February 14, 2008 () – A greener and healthier province promised in the B.C. Liberals’ throne speech lacks warm fuzzies for forest workers.

Lt.-Gov. Steven Point’s speech, presenting the government’s vision for the spring legislative session, offered incentives to reduce carbon emissions and improvements to how health care is delivered, but was silent on forest policy.

That doesn’t sit well with Arnie Bercov, vice-president of Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada Union Local 8.

“The climate stuff is just more rhetoric, but I didn’t see anything for the forest industry,” Bercov said from the legislature steps, where about 100 forest workers were protesting the closure of the Elk Falls sawmill Wednesday.

The speech contained a suggestion for doing more with less in health care, by handing more responsibility over to nurses, paramedics and pharmacists, while making it easier for foreign-trained doctors to practise in B.C.

Vancouver Island Health Authority representatives could not be reached at press time. But Ron Cantelon, Nanaimo-Parksville Liberal MLA, said those changes should help Nanaimo seniors and people with mental illness.

Leonard Krog, Nanaimo NDP MLA, criticized the Liberals for hijacking his idea to ban smoking in vehicles occupied by children under 18. His private member’s bill calling for just that was shot down in the legislature last fall.

“I have to say, ‘What happened in three months, apart from pure political pressure?’ The science was there,” Krog said.

The killed bill was written to protect children from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke, considered by many just as deadly as smoking and a pathway to nicotine addiction.

“Public opinion hasn’t changed. This shows to me the government doesn’t really care – it only finally really cared when it realized it was a politically popular idea,” Krog said.

Still, he said he’s “delighted” to see it make the short list of government policy objectives.

It’s one of dozens of items the Liberals touched on the speech.

Cantelon said giving nurses and other professionals an expanded role, while streamlining the process to accredit foreign doctors, would likely mean better support for seniors and mentally ill in Nanaimo.

Seniors’ housing is another area he said would “be very applicable” to Nanaimo.

And while the speech contains references to planting more trees in urban landscapes for environmental reasons, Krog saw little for the troubled forest industry.

“I didn’t see anything to guarantee the viability of Harmac,” Krog said. “We know forestry is in deep trouble and this is the government that’s letting the land go out of tree farm licences for real estate developments.”

Cantelon agreed forestry isn’t the economic engine it once was in Nanaimo.

“The industry is changing,” he said. “Harmac is still a big employer. They’ve been bought out by one of the biggest pulp and paper producers in the world.”

Krog said government is abandoning the industry.

“This is a major crisis and there’s nothing here to deal with it. My community needed to hear something positive in forestry and it’s not there.”

Bercov said he’d like to see the Liberals make forestry more of a priority.

“I don’t get why they don’t at least appoint a full-time forest minister – at least someone who pretends to be interested,” Bercov said.

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