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Lack of information raises concerns about Working Group guiding forest consultation process

Vancouver consultant Erik Lees this week emphasized the importance of a “balanced” public consultation into the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve. But given the lack of transparency surrounding the citizens’ Working Group one wonders if that’s the case.

Lees has provided a list of 15 members of the Working Group, but has not posted on the municipal website who they represent — and that only fuels public suspicion about the whole process.

On March 15, the Municipality issued a news release saying that Lees and Associates had selected the members of the Working Group after a “neutral and independent” vetting process designed to ensure a balanced membership.

The news release stated that four members of the Working Group had forestry “interests and/or backgrounds.”

By my calculation, however, at least seven members of the current Working Group have links to forestry in one form or another.

It would have been eight members had not launched an official complaint June 19 over the appointment of a pro-logging employee of the Municipality of North Cowichan to the Working Group. She has since been removed — and, for the record, I do not fault her personally, just the process that allowed her membership.

It’s important to note that three neighbourhood associations — Chemainus, Sahtlam and Quamichan Lake — remain unrepresented on the Working Group.

I am not saying that the current Working Group cannot provide thoughtful and important input to a discussion on the interim and long-term management of the forest reserve and cannot consider the broad range of interests at play.

But I do object to the fact that the Municipality and Lees for no good reason continue to not release basic background information on the members. By the same questionable logic, these meetings are also closed to the public.

The official minutes ( of the June 10 Working Group read: “All attendees introduced themselves and briefly described their interest/ involvement with the municipal forest.”

But those same minutes are conveniently silent on what members said about themselves.

It’s just another example of a flawed consultation process rife with secrecy.

(Photo: Mount Sicker)

— Larry Pynn June 26, 2020


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