The chair of the Regional District of Central Kootenay is defending his attendance at an invitation-only meeting between the forests minister and an industry group.
John Kettle was one of several local politicians present at the session last month in Fruitvale between minister Steve Thomson and representatives of several local sawmills.
In July, the RDCK board agreed to request such a meeting at this week’s Union of BC Municipalities convention following a presentation from the Interior Lumber Manufacturers Association, which is seeking greater and easier access to timber.
However, Kettle says in the meantime local mills arranged their own meeting with Thomson, who was in the area, and asked certain local politicians to join them. Others who weren’t invited only learned about the meeting after the fact.
Kettle said his participation — as an individual director, not board chair — and that of other elected officials, including the mayors of Nelson, Castlegar, and Creston, was limited to about 15 minutes plus a dinner afterward. The rest of the session was between Thomson and representatives of five local mills.
“They had an hour and a half with the minister, which is totally unheard of,” Kettle said, adding that he was only present for a “general discussion” with few specifics. “All we did was show up. There was nothing scurrilous about this.”
But East Shore director Gary Jackman said Thursday he was uncomfortable with the meeting’s optics. He was concerned the minister would presume the board tacitly endorsed whatever the industry group said and that rural needs were potentially excluded from the discussion.
No further meeting with Thomson is scheduled at the local government convention this week as originally planned, although Kettle suggested it would have been limited to the brief presentation of a position paper in any case.
In a recent letter to the Star, rural Nelson director Ramona Faust explained what led to the board supporting the lumber manufacturers and noted they spent little time reviewing the association’s documents, which were only distributed the morning of the presentation.
She expected more discussion ahead of a meeting with the minister, including community concerns, but it never happened. “I don’t know what was discussed by the directors that attended the meeting [in Fruitvale], nor the mills in attendance and that is an uncomfortable position,” she wrote.
Faust’s letter brought rebukes from two other directors.
“I’m really disappointed and saddened that a member of this board would write a letter to the editor in that fashion,” Nakusp mayor Karen Hamling said. “I just find that very, very sad.”
Rural Creston director Larry Binks agreed: “I as well took exception to the letter. I don’t see the need for it and feel like the board’s been thrown under the bus.”
But Faust said she wasn’t suggesting anyone did anything wrong.
“I don’t think I put anybody in a particularly bad light and I don’t think there was any malice intended,” she said. “I am saying if we clear up the way we handle delegations, we all have an opportunity to say what’s important to us.”
Faust has asked that the board amend its bylaws so that requests from delegations are not acted upon immediately except in rare circumstances. The motion has been referred to staff for more study.
The Interior Lumber Manufacturers Association want constraints on the local fibre supply relaxed to free up more wood for their mills, which they say would also reduce conflicts over logging in watersheds, but critics have dismissed the call as a “timber grab.”