Letter: MCFC – the awful truth

I refer to a recent letter in the press from Ms D Ellingham regarding the McBride Village Council and the McBride Community Forest Corporation. Ms Ellingham used the expression “in my opinion” a number of times in the letter. Much of the small portion of Ms Ellingham’s letter that was not purely opinion was factually incorrect. It gives me no joy to write this letter and I have no desire to show anyone in a pejorative light. However, a factual response to Ms Ellingham’s letter may inevitably not reflect favourably on some. I will endeavor to avoid that as much as possible.
I will comment on the items in Ms Ellingham’s letter in the order in which they occur.

1. Now the future of MCFC is sitting in limbo.

This is not factual. It is Ms Ellingham’s opinion. It is every bit as valid to say the future of MCFC has never been brighter.

2. Further, and on September 5, 2015 BKB Cedar had to issue layoff notices to 15 families (with 20 children).

Mr Basran did not have to lay off 15 employees. The MCFC board had arranged for 10 loads of cedar to be delivered to him on September 8th. The board also arranged with Carrier Lumber Ltd. for him to receive 10 to 15 loads of right-of-way cedar at minimal cost to BKB and at breakeven to Carrier. In a statement, MCFC said that Carrier Lumber can provide 15,000 cubic meters of cedar to Mr Basran over the winter. Pressure was put on the MCFC to log block 29. But the board knew that to bow to that pressure would have serious negative implications for the future operations of MCFC and might jeopardise the upcoming deal to purchase part of the Carrier Lumber licence. The reason for this is that the present MCFC board have discovered that during the tenure of the previous MCFC board there has been overcutting and large waste assessments which impact on the AAC and result in penalties. The present MCFC board are fighting these penalties.

3. It is no secret that on August 7, 2015 MCFC Board of Directors (who also happen to be McBride’s current Council) fired MCFC’s General Manager Marc Von der Gonna.

I wish no ill to anyone in McBride and it gives me no joy to write anything pejorative. It was Ms Ellingham who raised the subject and I am merely endeavoring to provide a factual background to her opinions. Anyone who has taken even a mild interest in the McBride community affairs will be aware of the following events that occurred while MCFC was under Mr Von der Gonna’s general management and Mr Rick Thompson was chairman of the board.

• The Forest Practices Board said that the report they issued after reviewing MCFC activities was the worst report they have ever had to issue to a community forest.
• MCFC was penalised for logging in a fish-bearing riparian habitat.
• MCFC was penalised for logging in two Old Growth Management Areas (OGMA).
• MCFC claimed helicopter logging stumpage when helicopter logging did not occur.
• MCFC awarded direct contracts to a logger below current market price for logs.
• MCFC seriously overcut and acquired a large waste assessment which is impacting on its AAC and potentially incurring penalties.

4. They now have another legal action to deal with, their second legal action in nine months.

Ms Ellingham appears to be making a statement of fact that Mr Von der Gonna has launched a legal suit. There is no legal action and, if there was, the public could find that information on the courts website.

I can verify from government sources that Mr Von der Gonna did appeal the penalties imposed on MCFC for logging the OGMAs and that his appeals were dismissed and the original penalties upheld. The costs of processing those appeals would ultimately accrue to the taxpayers at large; that includes you and me.

5. They lost the first legal action, for wrongful dismissal of the Public Works Foreman. We haven’t found out how much the first legal action cost, …

The McBride council did not lose the legal action. There was no judgement of guilt or liability. They reached an agreement with Mr Aitken which is normal in an employment termination and certainly much cheaper for both sides than a prolonged legal action. The village public works appears to function well without Mr Aitken’s supervision and so the council might be congratulated for saving the tax payers the amount of his salary, approximately $75,000 p.a.

6. …. and I wonder how much this one will cost the taxpayer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, no legal suit has been launched. In the event that a legal suit is launched by Mr Von der Gonna, it would perhaps be more pertinent to speculate how much it will cost Mr Von der Gonna. If Mr Von der Gonna did launch a suit then it would be against MCFC, not against the Village. Hence it would have no impact on the Village taxes.

7. Now, they intend to do another audit of MCFC. This is to be a comprehensive audit of finances, managerial and operations of MCFC……. What is the purpose of this audit?

The purpose is “to ensure the long term viability and sustainability of the Community Forest and to ensure that the social, economic, and environmental benefits that the forest provides to the community are maximized.” The audit will also assess the risks and liabilities of the current practices.

The board of any corporation do have a fiduciary duty to act in good faith in the best interest of the corporation. If Ms Ellingham has evidence that the board are not doing this, then she would be better to take that evidence to the relevant authority rather than publicise unsubstantiated opinion and innuendo.

8. …. Mayor Martin was part of a group that was formed back in 2010 that called themselves “Take Back our Forest”; Mayor Martin’s name and phone number were on TBOF leaflets. Their mandate was to gain control of MCFC because they felt it was being mismanaged.

If Ms Ellingham really wanted to report accurately on that group she would have said their choice of name was unfortunate and misleading as their wish was not to seize control of the community forest. Their wish was for the control of the community forest to be more transparent and more democratic. Ms Ellingham omits to mention that the community forest was initially created to serve everyone within the forest footprint. It was made a corporation owned solely by The Village of McBride only as legal convenience. It was the previous council under Mr Frazier which transformed it into an opaque entity controlled entirely by the McBride council.

9. In my opinion, this new audit is all about looking back, still trying to find fault with MCFC. If MCFC’s current Board of directors are so hell bent on looking back how then can we hope to move forward?

Ms Ellingham is entitled to hold and express her opinions and she has certainly expressed them in her letter and in a most pejorative tone. If she wishes them to be given serious consideration I suggest that she provides at least a little substantiation.

I would also suggest there are alternative opinions to the one above and that it is one held by the majority of the community. It is the opinion that the audit underway is all about putting the community forest on a firm footing. Then it can proceed into the future with sound management and in a way which satisfies the wishes and values of the community as expressed in the public input which is requested in a notice on the MCFC website. The review is being conducted by respected and experienced professionals and it seems sensible to wait for the outcome before trashing it and the MCFC board.

The process does indeed look toward the future and towards giving the community a community forest of which we can all be proud. It deserves our constructive participation.

Dennis King
McBride, BC