B.C. legislature Speaker Darryl Plecas takes questions about the report on senior staff from former chief justice Beverley McLachlin, May 15, 2019. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. VIEWS: Log exports and my other errors so far in 2019

Plastic bags, legislature overspending turn out differently

Last week’s column blasted the B.C. government and Forests Minister Doug Donaldson in particular for increasing log export limits in northwestern B.C., after years of NDP promises that they were going to crack down on exporting jobs along with logs.

As I often find in tracking the complex operation of the provincial government, and the heated political rhetoric around it, it’s not that simple. It turns out B.C.’s total Crown land log exports are down so far in 2019, compared to 2018. And they were down 30 per cent in 2018 compared to the previous year.

The latest export exemptions for the Northwest region do appear to increase the limits, but the formula has changed and it’s likely too soon to see the true effects. B.C. Liberal forests critic John Rustad says he’s heard from Skeena Sawmills that exporting premium logs is a threat to their fragile business, but he’s also heard from log exporters that the new rules are killing them.

“I’m not quite sure how the government managed to find something that didn’t work for anybody,” Rustad said, adding that he and Skeena MLA Ellis Ross are doing one of their regional industry roundtables this fall to get clearer answers.

In the meantime, I should have given Donaldson the benefit of the doubt. And here are a couple of other subjects worthy of second thought.

• Was I wrong about B.C. legislature Speaker Darryl Plecas and his assistant Alan Mullen, who have relentlessly pursued senior legislature officers about lavish spending and travel?

Plecas’s revelations of touring the gift shops of Scotland, buying fancy suits and luggage and taking a delegation to a Seattle Mariners game were sufficient for former clerk Craig James to retire with his pension fund and split wood at his own expense.

RELATED: B.C. increasing coastal log export fees

RELATED: Plecas orders copies of staff hard drives

I had criticized Plecas for marching the two officers out before the facts were known, and two other things. First, he betrayed the voters who elected him as a B.C. Liberal, by effectively joining the NDP to strengthen their minority government bid. Second, he tried to get Mullen into the job of sergeant at arms as he attempted to force out Gary Lenz, who was cleared by an independent review.

Now we know Mullen spent $13,000 to tour legislatures across Canada and the United States this summer, ostensibly to examine their security procedures. It’s better than a limo tour of St. Andrews golf course, but the last thing Plecas needs is more questionable travel approved by his office. Mullen has promised a report on his findings, and until then he too deserves the benefit of the doubt.

• As this column noted in May, the rush by B.C. municipalities to follow the lead of Victoria and ban point-of-sale plastic bags from retail businesses has not been as big as I predicted.

This eco-fad has been further set back by a court ruling striking down the Victoria bylaw. The judge found that while municipalities can regulate business, protecting the environment is the province’s job.

Where I erred was saying people don’t need to be forced to make the change. After hearing from a few retail clerks, I find that adoption of reusable bags is slow. People forget, then they get dinged for a paper bag.

I converted after finding how much more sturdy reusable bags are, and learning to keep a stash in the car. Perhaps I overestimated the ability of our convenience culture to adapt.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


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