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A Q&A with Whistler’s MP Patrick Weiler

Weiler introduced a motion earlier this month to ban old-growth logging on federal lands and the export of ancient logs and products made from them
Whistler’s Liberal MP Patrick Weiler is seeking to ban the export of old growth logs and products made from ancient trees.

Before he was elected to the House of Commons as the member of Parliament for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country in 2019, Patrick Weiler’s work as an environmental lawyer was often rooted in resource management. Now in his second term, the Liberal is putting that expertise to work in Parliament defending the country’s old-growth forests.

Whistler’s MP introduced a private members’ motion on May 4. It calls on the federal government to end old-growth logging on federal lands outside of reserves, and more notably, for an end to Canada’s export of old-growth logs and wood products made from old-growth trees as soon as possible, but no later than 2030. The proposition falls in line with the Liberal government’s commitment to protect 30 per cent of Canada’s land and waters by 2030, and its goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Pique reached Whistler’s federal representative on May 9 over the phone from his home in B.C. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Pique: What motivated you to introduce this motion?

Patrick Weiler: Ever since I was a very, very young kid, my mother has really helped me appreciate old-growth forests. I think I was about seven or maybe eight years old when I first went on a camping trip to Carmanah Valley [on Vancouver Island], and ever since then, I’ve really, really appreciated what old-growth forests are and the unique habitat that they provide. For me, it’s always been such an iconic part of our natural heritage and history, kind of similar to what a cathedral is in a lot of European countries. So I’ve always had a really strong appreciation for it, [especially] the more that I learn about how much it is being cut down … Even though in recent years, there’s been less cut down, there’s still over 30,000 hectares each year that the province is cutting down right now, and there’s not that much left.

It’s an important issue in the riding. There’s old growth throughout, but it’s hidden here and there, and some of it is actually under threat. There’s areas on the Sunshine Coast which have been deferred from logging recently, but those tree-cut licenses could be issued, so it’s a really important thing to protect and it’s something I hear about frequently from constituents.

The frustrating part is there’s only so much that’s in the federal jurisdiction that we can do to advance old-growth protection. Really, I put this motion together because these are the areas that are within the federal jurisdiction where we can make a difference, and where we can also help the province to move to a more sustainable form of forestry and protect what are really precious areas right across the province.

To my understanding, only about one per cent of B.C. is federal Crown land and  about 95 per cent is provincial Crown land.


So with that in mind, how do you think the federal government can help the province manage its approach to old growth, whether within or outside of this motion?

In the motion, the ban on old-growth forestry on federal land; that’s very limited. [That federal land] is mostly Parks, the Department of National Defense. There’s no old-growth logging [happening on those lands] that I know of, but it’s important to show leadership. Something that we passed in the budget last year was a new Old Growth Nature Fund, so it’s $55 million. I sit on the Environment and Sustainable Development Committee, and through votes at those committees, we’ve actually expanded the Old Growth Nature Fund by almost another $27 million, so we now have this fund which I’m hoping will be launched this year—that’s what the motion is pushing for—which will be able to leverage what we hope is going to be matching provincial funding, and then also a lot of private-sector funding. There’s great groups like the BC Parks Foundation and so many other donors that really want to protect this land, so we can take that money and then we can leverage it and make it go so much further.

It’s important to put the resources there in conservation, but just knowing how there are many communities right across the province where forestry is the lifeblood of those communities, it’s supporting that industry to move towards sustainable forms of forestry. Old-growth logging is inherently unsustainable. It’s irreplaceable. It’s supporting [those communities] on value addition, so that they’re able to get the most economic impact and jobs from forestry in the long term, while we protect old growth. This motion really allows us to provide that type of support, but also the stick, which is banning the export of old-growth logs and wood products made from old growth. This is something that is in the federal jurisdiction, because all international trade is.

Some people have criticized that aspect of the motion, saying banning old-growth exports in particular could really kill those industries. What’s your response to those people?

I saw that quote in an article written by [Glacier Media reporter] Stefan Labbé, and I was very surprised by the logic in that. To say that by moving away from old-growth logging, we are going to kill the province; to say that the province is on life support at this point right now, and the only way the province can survive is by logging old growth, to me doesn’t make any sense. I think that really sells the province short, and I think it really sells the opportunity short that we have in second- and third-growth logging, where there’s tremendous opportunity.

So I was surprised to see those comments and I couldn’t disagree more. But I do think it’s very important that we support sustainable forestry and the jobs and the communities that rely on it, and that’s why I made it a key part of the motion to incorporate that, because we need to make sure that nobody is left behind as we continue to move towards a more sustainable and prosperous economy.

What do you anticipate as being the biggest challenges in getting this motion passed?

The challenge with this is it requires coordinating very closely with multiple different orders of governments, so working very closely with the province, and on the exports ban, also making sure that whatever is brought forward is going to be World Trade Organization compliant. Those are things that will be complicated discussions to manage.

I’m not an international trade lawyer myself, so I can’t say exactly what the best way of moving forward on that will be—I have had some discussions with the International Trade Minister, I know there’s a few different avenues that are being discussed on how we’re going to ban the exports of thermal coal, so I anticipate we would want to use a similar mechanism for this. But this is something that is a very multifaceted issue, so I think the discussions with different orders of government will be challenging, but also with industry. But these are discussions that we need to be having right now, because of the iconic and important value that old growth has.

You mentioned earlier in our conversation that old growth is something you hear about often from constituents. Old-growth logging became maybe more prominent of an issue when we saw protests happening in 2020 and 2021 on Vancouver Island. I’m curious how it felt for you to watch that happening as a federally elected official, when, like you said, a lot of these issues aren’t in your jurisdiction?

In a way I felt a little bit powerless, which was very frustrating. To see precious old growth like that getting logged was hard to watch and to see people standing up for it was in some ways very motivating, to see how much people really care for things like this. I remember right when those protests started happening, I had a conversation with our then-Minister of Environment, Jonathan Wilkinson, and I asked him, ‘What is it that we can do here, right now, to protect this?’ And that’s actually what started the discussions on the Old Growth Nature Fund. Soon after that, we were able to get that incorporated in our campaign platform in 2021, so it was for me a great relief.

I was just very happy we were able to pass that in the budget last year. Now that we’ve been able to expand it, I’m just hoping we can launch that as soon as possible so we can provide that peace of mind, particularly in our most at-risk areas, and move forward with protection as soon as possible.

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