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Expired · 15th December 2010
Ray Grigg
To many British Columbians, "Super, Natural British Columbia" was a reassuring slogan. At least it tacitly recognized the incredible beauty and the astounding ecological diversity of BC – one of the most biologically diverse regions on the planet. Implicit in this marketing slogan was the promise that BC's remarkable scenery and richness would be acknowledged as an invaluable and irreplaceable public asset.

So the shift in marketing to "The Best Place On Earth" should have been noted with foreboding, primarily because the expression is too vague to mean anything in particular. Is it "The Best Place On Earth" to gamble? To ship illegal immigrants? To get rich by unregulated speculation? To export raw logs? To operate polluting mines? To drill for methane and gas? To build pipelines? To open new tanker routes for shipping oil to Asia?

The emphasis during the last decade in British Columbia has shifted away from "Super, Natural" toward industrialization. The change has never been official, never publicly declared or explicitly decided by plebiscite or election. But governance of the province has abetted this shift with the relaxation of regulations, with the weakening of oversight, and with environmental assessments becoming little more than ritualistic exercises invariably favouring industrial development over conservation and precautionary measures. The shift has been gradual and pervasive. But not so subtle for the few British Columbians who have noted the signs. Many more, however, are now aware of the loosened rules, the auctioned resources, the changed landscapes, and the exploited places in which everything natural seems to be for sale.

Retrospect makes the evidence of this shift overwhelming. Parks, together with their funding, maintenance and supervision, have been neglected. Raw log exports, the cheapest and most exploitive use of a valuable resource, has closed mills and shredded the social fabric of forestry-based communities. Run-of-river projects, under the guise of green energy, are blighting wilderness landscapes with the scars of intrusive roads and long transmission lines. Innumerable open net-pen salmon farms, documented as deleterious to both wild fish and wildlife, pock coastal waterways and coves. Coal mines, the most hypocritical enterprise for any government purporting to be concerned about global climate change, continue to operate and be developed. A proposed northern oil pipeline, which will invite frequent visits of supertankers to a navigationally challenging coast, threatens irreparable ecological damage to mountains, valleys, rivers and shorelines. A power line is planned for the remote centre of the province to service prospective mines. Even offshore drilling for oil and gas, in some of the most pristine and rich marine ecosystems on the planet, remains a possibility under this industrialization agenda.

In the interior of BC, a provincial environmental assessment of Taseko's huge copper and gold mine approved the project with the ludicrous justification that the economic benefits would outweigh the ecological damage. With such logic, why even bother to consider environmental impacts? Fortunately, a federal environmental review stopped the project by recognizing that the mine's tailings would cause widespread local ecological damage and send pollutants into the Fraser River basin.

Perhaps BC's shift from "Super, Natural" to industrialization is most apparent in the management of the province's forests, a resource that has inestimable value for ecology, climate regulation, recreation and tourism – even human psychological health has now been linked to forests, which explains why we like to visit them. The BC Forest Service – about to reach its 100th anniversary in 2012 – is now a faint shadow of itself. Its district offices have been cut from 44 to 22 since 2001, with a corresponding reduction in total staff.

The Forest Service's mandate since 1978, "to manage, conserve and protect the province's forest, range and outdoor recreation resources to ensure their sustainable use for the economic, cultural, physical and spiritual well-being of British Columbians..." has become " provide a superior service to resource stakeholders by supporting competitive business conditions." Forest management in BC has shifted from stewardship to "identifying clear outcomes for investors" and "fulfilling [its] role as advocates for the forest industry" (see "The Big Burn" by Briony Penn on the internet). Put bluntly, the primary function of forest stewardship in BC is to accommodate and encourage the cutting of trees. The other "Super, Natural" values of forests are complications that interfere with the process of industrializing this important resource.

In keeping with this thrust of industrialization, in 2006 the BC government passed Bill 30 – critics call it the "Ashlu River Bill" because it neutralized the ability of the people of Squamish to stop an unwanted run-of-river project. Against the unanimous objection of all BC municipalities, this draconian measure overrides local disapproval of industrial developments deemed to be in the interest of the province.

The latest move in the industrialization of BC is evident in the government's newly-formed super-ministry, the Ministry of Natural Resource Operations. This is a catch-all bureaucratic department that is designed to speed applications for industrial projects toward rapid approval and realization. The reach of this ministry is so broad that it includes almost everything relating to almost any kind of resource development anywhere. If its name were not couched in the softening language of bureaucratic jargon, it could more rightly be called the Ministry of Natural Resource Exploitation. The remnants of environmental concerns and constraints are presently unknown.

Everyone, of course, recognizes the need for some industrialization. But thoughtless, compulsive and unrestrained industrialization is the cancerous pathology that is consuming the ecological integrity of our planet. British Columbia still remains a relative Eden in the wreckage representing most of our manic impact on Earth. But speeding along the same course of folly hardly seems like the sane thing to be doing.