VICTORIA -- The New Zealand forestry giant Fletcher Challenge isn't the only company wanting to expand its British Columbia empire. It also isn't the only company running into stiff opposition.
CIP Inc. has an application before the government to increase the size of its Tree Farm Licence on Vancouver Island to 152,000 hectares, which would roughly double the existing TFL area. But if the company expected smooth and expeditious approval, it didn't reckon with the towns of Tahsis, Zeballos and Gold River.
The three communities have combined forces to wrestle some major concessions and commitments from the company in return for their support of the application.
To fully appreciate the battle between the northern Vancouver Island communities and the company you have to understand that CIP is a subsidiary of Canadian Pacific Forest Products which, in turn, is owned by Canadian Pacific, the company Canadians have loved to hate ever since it finagled huge land tracts out of the government in return for building a coast©to©coast railroad more than 100 years ago.
The three communities, which are located within the TFL in question, want more from CIP than vague promises. They want a form commitment from CIP to take an active part in the future of their towns.
Representatives from Gold River, Zeballos and Tahsis recently met with government and company officials to discuss their concerns. According to the minutes of the meeting, a copy of which I obtained, the towns' representatives left no doubt in Forest
Minister Dave Parker's mind where they stood on the application if the company fails to make some firm commitment to them. "We are opposed to the application, until commitments are made. It's a matter of how the communities are treated," said Tom McCrae, mayor of Tahsis.
McCrae said CIP's development must go hand in hand with the development of the communities. He said the company had, for example, received assistance from the government and the towns for some subdivisions which are now lying vacant. He didn't want past mistakes repeated.
CIP's Sandy Fulton replied that the company wasn't in the real estate business, which I find rather amusing. Canadian Pacific is among the biggest real estate developers in the country. They still haven't disposed of all the land they got for next to nothing a century ago.
What exactly is it the communities want from CIP, the child of a parent which has had its way for so long and isn't used to some small town running interference?
To start with, the three communities want the company to draw its work force mostly from the area. The timber harvest, they say, should be managed to benefit the local economy.
To that end, the towns want CIP to operate out of Zeballos, which is accessible by either road or water. They want all silviculture work to be done by a contractor based in Zeballos. Engineering and forestry crews, they say, should be based in Zeballos.
"The financial responsibilities that have been taken on by the village to accommodate this corporation are in jeopardy if this operation and community suffer any more down-sizing," states a brief that is to be submitted to a February 2 public hearing on the company's application.
The towns also insist that they have input into the allocation of five per cent of the annual harvest, which is to go to open bidding. They want the company to assist them in encouraging workers to move their families into Zeballos. And they want the company to participate in the completion of a road, linking Zeballos to Tahsis.
"We would also like to encourage the corporation to take a larger role in community events and projects," the brief states. And finally, the towns want a written commitment from the company that it will maintain a stable operation in the area.
I talked to McCrae and he wasn't very impressed with the company's track record. His town, Tahsis, he said, had lost about 700 people in the past few years as a result of the company's down-sizing.
"We are saying to the company, 'make a long©term commitment to the communities.' We are saying to the government, 'make a long-term commitment to environmental protection.'"
McCrae doesn't mince words. When Parker told him that his job wasn't an easy one either, considering that some 130 pieces of legislation impacted on his ministry, McCrae replied: "That doesn't impress me Dick."
Well, the way it looks from here, CIP would be well©advised to comply with the demands of the three communities. The days when big multi©national companies could lord it over small towns seem to be over. The towns are fighting back. They want more than just temporary jobs. They want an assured and stable future.