Two principles were laid out by the province to guide communities who sought the right to harvest trees under a local area-based tenure. Both principles were based on the single thing defining this tenure from all others, which was the expectation for a high degree of community participation and oversight.
The first principle required the CF Licensee to engage and utilize the diversity of interests and people within the broader community in meaningful dialogue regarding potential for economic opportunities. The second principle stipulated the organization holding the licence would be required to provide adequate accountability and financial transparency with which the community would be able to hold its CF organization to account. No exceptions were made. Regardless of the organization set up to manage the licence, whether a Society, Co-op or Corporation, these were the guiding principles that superseded any discretionary powers assumed by the Licensee.
Sadly the village of McBride has become broadly recognized and known for exemplifying how not to run a Community Forest. Unlike McBride, other municipal-owned Licensees were clearly able to understand the nature of the fiduciary relationship with the greater community that a CF license represents in contrast to its tax-based services. Since the solely-owned corporation MCFC was set up as the Licensee, all members of council elected to run the village over a 4 year period, have assumed a right of control over the makeup of the members of the Board of the organization holding the CF licence, and therein claiming the right to shield themselves from obligations for financial transparency to the community at large, and for accountability regarding legislative charges and lawsuits brought against the Licensee.
Communities are expected to hold their CF organization to account. A municipal-owned company is a public body. The ownership of a corporate entity entrusted with a provincial forest licence, does not empower council as shareholder/Board authority, either to condone professional misconduct that results in pervasive charges for breach of legislation, nor to condone millions of dollars to be withheld from the financial records of the municipal-owned forest corporation by way of ‘gifting’ the majority of standing timber quota, to be sold privately by private individuals while, at the same time claiming to the community that market value was used for the dollar value received by the corporation.
Over the past 20 years, the result of the Council of McBride’s refusal to legitimately engage with, respect, and value the input of those without whose support the area-based licence would not have been granted, is the sad state this community has been left with. Those currently on staff trying to pick up the pieces are not only left with the impact of the massive overcut, creaming and waste assessment that impacted a sustainable economic future, but a massive silviculture liability now coming to light with the recent Inventory completion. The fact that despite the volume of timber that left this area-based licence in 2020 no profit has been realized, is also the result of extensive legal liability from three outstanding lawsuits pending against the corporation, one now having been delayed for over 10 years.
Sadly as well, despite community requests for help at the provincial level, assistance was never offered to help correct the fundamental responsibility for community inclusiveness required by provincial policy.
The McBride and area community has requested numerous times for members of the Board to be fully elected by the community in order for the Board to be directly accountable to the community. The abuse of power has to stop. It has gone on long enough.
“Participatory decision making is an important concept underlying community forestry; people affected directly by a decision should participate directly in the decision-making process.” [CF Guidebook]