Chief swings and Blackwell ducks

By Andru McCracken


Being a leader in a small community is tough. Armchair quarterbacks are more than willing to tell small town politicians how things could be done better, especially well after the fact. At the risk of being unneighbourly, I’m going to lay into Merlin Blackwell Mayor of Clearwater and I will not wait 10 years to do it. Blackwell has to remember who he is representing and quick.

The difference between the reaction of the Mayor of Clearwater and the Chief of the Simpcw First Nation to the closure of Canfor Vavenby is a curious thing.

At first glance it would seem the odds are against saving the jobs associated with the mill, but even so, Mayor of Clearwater Merlin Blackwell has taken an interesting approach. He took the decision without question.

Blackwell hasn’t said anything provocative or upsetting, he’s on record saying: “It’s rather unfortunate that it has happened,” in an early interview.

To date, he hasn’t chosen a combative stance by pitting the interests of Clearwater and by extension Vavenby against forest corporations. Instead, he’s on the record saying: “We’ve been through shutdowns before, multi-year shutdowns with Canfor, so we had a feeling something was coming.”

In interviews with the press, Blackwell concedes the loss of the mill and doesn’t even mention the forest tenure associated with that mill. My question is how can this be a sane position to hold?

Blackwell has decided it isn’t his job to stand on guard for the resources that has made his community wealthy since the 1950s. But whose job would it be then?

If you think it’s crazy talk that a mayor might influence the future of the Canfor-Vavenby mill or the fate of the associated tenure, think again. The ruling NDP has said they are interested in what is at stake for the community. They have spelled it out again and again, for media outlet after media outlet, that Canfor can’t just sell their license to Interfor without a thought and that jobs matter. The Province, like it or not, holds the trump card. They own it and they are acting like it. For 16 years the BC Liberals told us how much better it was with the fox in charge of the hen house. A reality check is required here because the times have changed. The fox is no longer in charge.

One imagines that every second BC Liberal co-owns their yard with the kid who mowed their lawn, deciding that, because the kid worked in it for a summer that he had a sovereign right to it.

Even with the support of the government who owns and manages the forest resource, Blackwell seems to have decided that there isn’t a better solution for Vavenby and Clearwater than to lose their mill. The reason the mill is closing is money. $60 million to be exact. If selling the tenure wasn’t an option, Canfor would not be shutting their mill.

When Canfor executives decided to close Vavenby, not one of them asked how Blackwell would like it, or the union or the Simpcw First Nation. Is it mean? No. That’s just competent board members doing their job. They work in the interest of their shareholders. They weren’t looking for accolades or acceptance or to make a difficult situation more tolerable. Does Blackwell think it’s his job to help his community roll over? To accept a crappy deal? If he feels different, and can imagine another outcome why hasn’t he said it?

On the other hand, Chief of the Simpcw First Nation Shelly Loring said in no uncertain terms that the mill closure and the backroom deal to sell Canfor’s tenure was unwelcome, wrong and not in the best interests of her community.

Could it be that Loring, representing the interests of her nation, is the better mayor of Clearwater? By this I don’t mean more popular. I don’t mean more statesmanlike. She has the courage to point out that she expects better. I think Loring is on the right track, but it’s going to be an uphill battle without the support of the Mayor of Clearwater.

Loring said clearly that she does not consider the loss of 178 jobs as ‘in the province’s and community’s interest,’ and she expects the Province to do something. It’s curious the mayor of a small forest-dependent town would not say the same.

In the upcoming weeks the Rocky Mountain Goat News will cover the precipitous loss of jobs in the forest sector over the last 20 years.

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