The pandemic has pushed many issues that used to be staples of B.C.’s political culture into the background.
When thousands of people a week are being infected with a virus that is killing millions of people around the world, it has been hard to focus many other subjects and issues that in normal times would get the public’s attention.
But slowly, as so many people get their first vaccination doses and COVID-19 indicators decline, some issues are starting to return political arena.
And one of them is a throwback to the NDP’s previous time in government, back in the 1990s.
I am referring to the events unfolding in the Caycuse Valley on southern Vancouver Island, west of Victoria. Dozens of environmental activists have so far been arrested for defying a court injunction barring them interfering with logging operations there, and it is likely more arrests and clashes with police and loggers will occur.
Both the loggers and the protesters have accused each side of assault and tempers have flared. This is not going to die down soon. Ironically, it is all taking place in Premier John Horgan’s own riding of Langford-Juan de Fuca.
The protesters are upset at the potential harvesting of old growth trees in the Fairy Creek portion of the tree farm licence held by forest company Teal-Jones Cedar Products. The activists claim this area is the last unprotected intact old growth forest on southern Vancouver Island.
Whether this will turn into another “war of the woods” as we saw in Clayoquot Sound, located in another part of Vancouver Island, in the 1990s is unclear. Back then, hundreds of people were arrested in a tense stand-off.
However, a familiar face from that previous protest – one which gave the NDP government of the day absolute fits – has joined in the protest at Fairy Creek. That would be Tzeporah Berman, a former Greenpeace organizer and perhaps B.C.’s best known environmental activist.
She told me last week she was returning to the fray, messaging me to say, “Hi Keith just thought I would let you know after 27 years I am heading back to the blockades tomorrow. So disgusted by this government’s broken promise and the increase in old growth logging.”
Berman was duly arrested for civil disobedience, although that will hardly deter her or others from continuing efforts to stop the logging.
Unlike its predecessor government of the 1990s, the current NDP administration has not shied away from policies that enrage some of the environmental activist community. It is continuing to build the Site C dam, it supports the LNG industry and its pipelines, and mounted only tepid opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline.
So not stopping the logging of a small stand of old growth timber is not particularly out of character for this NDP government.
Plus, there is another important factor at play here that was not present during the 1990s war of the woods.
The logging operations at Fairy Creek have the strong backing of the Pacheedaht First Nations, which claims the land as their hereditary lands. They have essentially told the protesters they are not welcome.
This explains why the NDP government will try its best to not become involved in this dispute. It has proudly boasted about being the first jurisdiction to endorse and implement UNDRIP (the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) and it hardly wants to be seen clashing with First Nations when it comes to logging.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.