Sunday, March 16, 2014

Forests and Colonialism in Canada

Aboriginal people certainly identify with the notion of colonialism, and probably see it extending into present day life in Canada. Colonialism is a thing of the past for most of us, or so we think. Canada derives much of its wealth from natural resources, some renewable and others non renewable. Forests should be a renewable resource, but much of forest management in Canada has been economic exploitation of forests with a dash of public relations sustainability. Trees have been planted after forest harvest in British Columbia for some decades, but that has not prevented timber supply problems.

Sustainable forest management is not just about technical forestry treatments. Forests are most affected by the attitudes of a society that get reflected in the laws, institutions and policies for forest management. The attitude that most supports sustainable thinking is patience. Forest management is a long term affair and it requires patience.

Colonialism is a word that comes from the Roman Latin and it relates to the subjection of conquered peoples and the expansion of territory. Subjection yields pictures of guards with whips making slaves work in a salt mine. However we can subject ourselves either individually or collectively to some rather limited ideas or vision. When Provincial or Federal elections take place in Canada the average Joe usually hears that "this election is about the economy and jobs, jobs, jobs". The economy is not entirely under the control of any government and there are other aspects to government than the economy. The economy becomes the total issue and we vote for the politician that we think has the best and most believable offering of the "most jobs".

What does this collective fixation on the economy, or inverted totalitarianism mean for the land and resources of Canada? The average Canadian has forgotten his or her country. Canada is a land of forest, prairie, rivers, lakes, distance and vast space. Yet most of us live in cities, and our immediate experience relates to these human constructed environments. Children may be too busy playing with electronic devices and never be introduced to the nature of their country. News focuses on cities.

How does a city centered population view the land and resources of Canada. Most of Canada becomes a vast hinterland of resources that can be exploited to support the city. This is the mentality of colonialism. The city is Vancouver or Toronto instead of Rome, but otherwise there is little difference. Where is the sustainable attitude of patience? It is nowhere to be found. Exploit any resource as fast a possible, make money and jobs. Even dissent against forest or other resource exploitation in Canada reflects the sensibilities of the city dweller, rather than fundamental questions about the sustainable management of  resources.

Control of public forest resources in British Columbia by industrial forest corporations has resulted in some of the largest incidents of civil disobedience in the history of Canada. These should have prompted considerable public debate about the role of forest corporations in our public forests and new institutions to ensure sustainable forest management. Rather than deal with the core problem, public debate and probably a city centered debate focused on the symptomatic solution of saving some forests in Parks or protected areas.

Public debate on Canada's large hydrocarbon resources in natural gas and tar sands has not focused on the inter-generational stewardship of these valuable resources. Making the most quick dollars now, seems to be the basic assumption that is not open to challenge. The dissent is about pipelines and the possibility of icky lumps of oil fouling the waters of the Pacific Coastline.

Large Government office complexes and corporate office tower castles in Canada's major cities control the hinterland and its resources. Large numbers of voters also reside in the cities so democracy in Canada could become a tyranny of the city majority over the hinterland minority.

Canada's land, resources and all people will probably fare better in the long term if our democratic institutions included provisions for giving more autonomy to the hinterland. A start could be made in Ottawa. The House of Commons is roughly representative of the population which in turn means that it will have bias toward city interests. Reform of the Senate is needed to provide a functional elected chamber to replace the present collection of appointees. The Senate could represent Geography in Canada with some being elected to represent major cities and the balance being elected to represent large rural areas and their interests. An elected Senate should have some teeth such as the power to veto or send back legislation to the Commons.

Under Canada's constitution the Provinces have control over land and resources and there is also a need to devolve some control from city capitals to resource communities and rural areas. The local interest and perspective is more likely to align itself with the patience and sustainability than distant control from government or corporate penthouses located in the city.

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