Monday, July 21, 2008


Forestry deal gives lie to claims of openess

How the media is changing!! Here's a story from Nanaimo Daily News (a CanWest newspaper, like most others in B.C.) which has not only caught on to the fact that when Campbell says "open and transparent" it probably means "backroom deals". They've also noticed the similarities between what has happened to the BC Forests and what has happened to BCRail. There's an e.mail address is at the end, for readers who may wish to send a Letter-to-the-Editor of this newspaper. - BC Mary.
Forestry deal gives lie to claims of openess
Nanaimo Daily News - July 17, 2008

The announcement on Wednesday that the government removed land from three tree farm licences without due regard to the public interest sounds pretty much consistent with the way forestry and other issues have been handled by this government.

Named front and centre in this by auditor general John Doyle is former forestry minister Rich Coleman. Not only did Coleman make the decision with little or no regard for the involvement of taxpayers, but there were concerns of insider trading and conflict of interest.

It was Coleman who failed to implement any kind of real or effective plan in response to the emerging forest crises, both on the coast as a six-week strike battered the industry, and in the north and Interior as the pine beetle ravaged forests.

But this ends up being about a lot more than forestry. It's even about more than an incompetent government that has tried to fall back on letting the market decide.

This opens up questions in many other areas of government. How many other deals have the Gordon Campbell Liberals presided over that have given short shrift to the public interest? Certainly the allegations around the B.C. Rail case, now in court, have that ring.

From the very start, this government has shown what can only be called arrogant disregard for the public interest as they've set about privatizing and making the province "open for business."

If this is the kind of business they are conducting in the forest industry, it won't be open for very long. In the first place, allowing timber companies to shed their tree farm licences so they can become developers is a death knell to the forest industry.

All over B.C. the forest industry is being left to small operators as a result of this government's failed forestry policies. While they can do great work, on a small scale, B.C. will never again dominate or even be part of the international timber market.

That claim was made before and the government -- through Coleman -- said that was not the case, claiming the process would protect the industry. Now we are learning that exactly the opposite is happening, not only that the process failed but that it may be open to corruption.

Maybe the process of removing private land from TFLs can work as the global forest industry changes, but if so we may never know now. This government, it would appear, is unable to undertake a simple process like selling off a rail company or taking land out of TFLs without raising suspicion of back-room deals.

Of particular concern in this case is the reaction of the man who replaced Coleman as minister of forests, Pat Bell. Shooting from the hip, Bell accused Doyle of being unprofessional and lacking integrity. Bell was also upset that Doyle, as he was likely required to do, alerted the B.C. Securities Commission about possible insider trading.

Bell may as well have said that Doyle was lying when he claimed there was no evidence to support an insider trading investigation. The pall is now cast over the Ministry of Forests, not by Doyle, but by Bell's comments.

Doyle's report is a warning that needs to be heeded on several fronts. The first is that greater scrutiny is required over how the Ministry of Forests conducts such transfers. This government has talked a lot about openness and transparency, but shows the opposite. They've been caught and now they're not very happy about it.

It's time that more scrutiny like Doyle's is applied to this government. Contracts in areas like health care need to be opened up fully if this government is going to redeem its claim of being transparent.

In the end, this is about how this government has and continues to mismanage forestry in this province as much as the way they operate.

By closing themselves off to scrutiny, they have seriously damaged forestry and other sectors.

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Shame on Bell, buddies for their dirty tactics
Forest minister lambastes auditor for his report

Michael Smyth
The Province - July 17, 2008

Shoot the messenger, change the subject. That was the shabby strategy chosen by the Gordon Campbell government yesterday after gutsy Auditor-General John Doyle slammed them for a $150-million sweetheart deal with a B.C. forest company.

Pat Bell, the new forests minister, called Doyle's report "unprofessional, unfair, biased and inappropriate."

The same words should be used to describe the minister's treatment of the public's independent financial watchdog at the legislature.

Doyle should be praised for calling the government to account, not knocked down and dragged through the mud like he was yesterday. Shame on Bell and his buddies for their dirty tactics.

But the Liberals decided that was the only card they could play after Doyle properly hammered them for their dealings with Western Forest Products.

This one goes back to January 2007, when then-forests-minister Rich Coleman took 27,000 hectares of land owned by the company out of a restrictive provincial tree-farm licence, clearing the way for the company to make a killing on real-estate deals.

With real-estate prices soaring, this was an incredible gift by the government to a company that's been generous to the B.C. Liberal Party.

Between 2005 and 2007 -- the period when the government and the company were in talks about the land -- the company gave the Liberals $62,000 in campaign donations.

The Libs were furious Doyle mentioned these concerns yesterday and chose to slime his reputation for doing it.

Sound familiar? The federal Liberals tried the same tactics when Auditor-General Sheila Fraser started sniffing around on their sponsorship scandal.

The result? The federal Libs were driven from power and now Fraser is a household name and a hero to Canadian taxpayers.

The B.C. Liberals were also angry Doyle mentioned concerns over unusual trading in Western Forest Products stock just before Coleman's announcement. They were fit to be tied that Doyle's snooping has triggered a conflict-of-interest probe against Coleman, whose brother is a Western Forest Products executive.

But Doyle's most important and critical findings surround Coleman's decision to release the land for private development in the first place -- and that's what the Campbell government tried to obscure yesterday with their cheap and scurrilous attacks on the auditor-general.

When the land was protected in the tree-farm licence, the company faced strict rules about how it could be used. Springing the land from the licence -- with not a dime of compensation to the public -- was like handing the company a winning lottery ticket.

These are exactly the type of shady deals the auditor-general is supposed to shed light on. Doyle suffered a drive-by smear for his trouble. But something tells me this is one watchdog who won't be afraid to sink his fangs into the government again.


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