Pro-logging group side-steps quorum rule to lobby councillors separately on Municipal Forest Reserve
For a council meeting to take place in North Cowichan, a quorum, or majority, is required. That means at least four of the seven council members must be present.
Jim Dias knows that better than most.
He served as Chief Administrative Officer for North Cowichan for 20 years before retiring in 2010.
Today, Dias is a member of a pro-logging group comprised of 10 individuals, mostly retired foresters and ex-politicians, pushing to continue logging North Cowichan’s coastal Douglas-fir forest — the rarest forest type in B.C., according to the B.C. Forests Ministry.
So, when members of the group recently wanted to present their case to elected officials, they chose not to appear before council and speak as a public delegation for the allowable 10 minutes.
Instead, the group met with council members in three separate sessions to ensure there would be no quorum — and, therefore, no public meeting or public record.
The group’s members who met with councillors were Dias and two retired foresters who once held executive positions with TimberWest, John Mitchell and Robert Beard.
In a phone interview, Dias confirmed: “Meeting with an individual member of council or individual members of council as long as we don’t exceed a quorum of council doesn’t constitute a council meeting so therefore our initiative was to try to meet with each one of them."
The group also met with senior municipal staff.
Dias said: “Our position was we needed to explain to each one of them in more detail and answer any questions that they had….”
Some may see all this as bad optics.
But Mayor Rob Douglas argues it’s just part of his job. “I meet with different people and organizations throughout the week, so I really didn’t see it much differently than that.”
(Douglas also said he met separately on another occasion with another member of the group, Eric Jeklin, a retired forester who has served on the municipality’s Forestry Advisory Committee.)
Here was the make-up of the three meetings:
— Douglas, Christopher Justice and Debra Toporowski.
— Tek Manhas, Bruce Findlay, and Mike Caljouw.
— Chris Istace, by himself.
“I offered them my time and an open ear in the same respect I offer any resident or business owner who has thoughts, comments or concerns with regards to topics related to North Cowichan,” said Istace, who met the group at a Chemainus cafe.
While defending past logging of the forest, Dias and his group have raised the concept of “modern alternative harvesting systems,” but haven’t defined what that means.
The group’s push to continue logging the coastal Douglas-fir forest stands in contrast to the greater will of the public as expressed through an extensive consultation showing a clear majority want a conservation vision for the forest reserve.
Lees and Associates consultants presented the results of the second and final phase of public consultation to council on March 7.
“I was really interested to see all of the different engagement activities moving in the same direction,” said Megan Turnock of Lees & Associates. “I’m actually a little bit amazed at how consistent the messaging was. It gives you a good sense of where the community’s at right now.”
Further details: https://bit.ly/3l25Rsg
The findings of the public consultation will now go to the UBC Partnership Group, which recommended four potential scenarios for future management of the reserve. An on-line survey found 76 percent support for the two conservation scenarios.
“They’ll be looking at public feedback and from there deciding if they’re going to make any changes to the four scenarios,” said Douglas, adding UBC could report back to council in late spring.
Municipal staff are also involved in parallel private consultations with local First Nations, with a meeting held last week.
The municipality is expected to begin filling seats soon on a new Forestry Advisory Committee — including three foresters, in addition to the municipal forester. Critics have expressed concern that such appointments are not in alignment with the pro-conservation message resulting from the public consultation.
Douglas said the make-up of the FAC remains to be determined, including with First Nations. “Now that we have the summary of the public input, I think it’s appropriate to take another look at the structure of the committee. There’ll be an opportunity for that.”
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— Larry Pynn, March 9, 2023