Lawyers, Trees and Money: British Columbia Forest Policy and the Convergence of International and Domestic Trade Considerations

Article excerpt

Softwood lumber in Canada is a sectoral issue driven by both international and domestic dynamics. Domestically, the government of British Columbia maintains significant control of timber policy as a result of provincial land ownership, executive dominance, and the historic role of the Ministry of Forests. In addition, there is an almost symbiotic relationship between the bureaucracy and key sectoral associations in the province, such as the Council of Forest Industries (COFI) and the British Columbia Lumber Trade Council. Under the New Democratic Party (NDP) government of the 1990s, however, environment, labour, and aboriginal groups saw their policy relevance magnified. With the election of the BC Liberals in 2001 the influence of labour and environment, but not First Nations, began to diminish. Legislative changes related to the recent BC Forestry Revitalization Plan (FRP) also suggest a more market-driven approach to this sector. At the same time, however, it is clear that these policy changes do not represent a "regime change" in provincial forest practices. State autonomy may be weakened, but not to the point where protectionism and regulatory control are no longer possible.

However, these developments are not linked solely to domestic considerations. During the last two decades, international trade commitments have become increasingly intrusive into provincial and municipal areas of jurisdiction, especially in terms of services, investment, health and safety standards, labour, and the environment. Not surprisingly, many of these issues have direct implications for the formulation of BC forest policy. Specifically, international factors have contributed to domestic institutional pressures resulting in bureaucratic restructuring and a changing "culture" within the Ministry of Forests. Provincial industry relations have also been influenced by foreign ownership, bilateral lumber disputes with the United States, and the increasing role of non-elected legal representatives. In addition, during the 1990s global developments empowered labour and environmental interests, as a result of international funding, high export demands, and a low Canadian dollar. Consequently, while international factors have created an increasingly complex policy process in this sector, there is no conclusive evidence that global neo-liberalism has dramatically altered policy outcomes. For softwood lumber, it is apparent that domestic considerations remain dominant, especially in terms of such traditional participants as the Ministry of Forests and other sectoral interests.

Unfortunately, much of the literature on BC forest policy does not reflect the increasing convergence of international and domestic trade considerations. Historically, most studies of BC softwood lumber were initiated by research economists or as part of provincial royal commissions and other government studies. (1) Recently, however, several contributions have expanded this base of analysis. These include environmental studies, forest management and sustainability reviews, the impact of aboriginal interests, and the role of ideas in the formulation of policy. (2) Finally, some attention has also come from more general historical sources. (3) However, few of these contributions have focused specifically on the policy process. Two notable exceptions are Talk and Log: Wilderness Politics in British Columbia, and In Search of Sustainability: British Columbia Forest Policy in the 1990s. (4) Jeremy Wilson, in Talk and Log, reviews environmental groups seeking a greater role in the forestry sector between 1965 and 1996. In Search of Sustainability, on the other hand, adopts a policy cycle model to examine such issues as forest land use planning, timber pricing in British Columbia, and the province's Forest Practices Code.

This study, however, is also applicable to a wider range of literature examining the role of domestic considerations in the global political economy. …