Western internal review reveals ‘dysfunction’

Members of a Western Forest Products advisory group believe their meetings are dysfunctional and a waste of time, according to an internal review conducted by the forestry company.

Amy Spencer, director of communications and government relations for Western Forest Products, said a review of the Mid Island Forestry Lands Advisory Group revealed a degree of dissatisfaction with how meetings are conducted.

“We did advise members of MIFLAG privately and overall they felt there was dysfunction and that meetings were not a good use of their time,” Spencer said.

In response, Spencer said Western has revised its terms of reference.

Key to those changes is a new code of conduct to ensure meetings are productive.

The code dictates that: discussions will focus on the issues and the facts; the diverse perspective of each member will be respected; use of denigrating or derogatory language or behaviour will not be tolerated; discussions are kept brief and to topic with no sidebar discussions; disagreements will not be made personal; and members must keep an open mind with positive feedback.

The internal review and resulting changes to the terms of reference stem from an investigation conducted by SAI Global that was triggered by Strathcona Regional District Director Gerald Whalley appealing Western’s clean audit findings.

Whalley launched the appeal following his eviction from a Sept. 22 meeting of MIFLAG – a group that, as part of Western’s certification, advises the company on sustainable forest management practises and includes representatives from the regional district, the City of Campbell River, School District 72, Western Forest Products, and other stakeholders.

Whalley said he angered the foresters by appealing the audit after an incident at a previous meeting, on July 28. Whalley said a motion to allow Western to increase its allowable use of herbicides in the Sayward Valley by three times was declared carried following a vote of six in favour and four opposed.

Whalley contests that it should have failed according to MIFLAG’s original terms of reference that dictate that, “decisions which must be made by MIFLAG are done by consensus building techniques where consensus is deemed to be ‘no strong opposition.”

Whalley said MIFLAG failed to record a sub-committee’s recommendation that went against allowing Western to increase herbicide use three times over.

Whalley said the group’s actions led him to question the audit during the Sept. 22 meeting and the foresters grew angry and told him to leave. Following that meeting, Jeff Ternan, operations manager for Western, wrote to the Strathcona Regional District relaying that “in light of recent events, Gerald Whalley is no longer welcome to participate in, or attend any further MIFLAG meetings or functions.”

The subsequent investigation by SAI found that all parties of MIFLAG should have been consulted on Whalley’s removal.

The investigation did not, however, find any evidence to corroborate Whalley’s allegation that Western manipulates the minutes of the MIFLAG meetings to suit its own needs.

But Whalley said the investigation only took into account the existing minutes of the MIFLAG meetings and only involved interviews with himself and two Western Forest Products employees. The report from SAI Global says the investigation consisted of a review of MIFLAG’s terms of reference, minutes from MIFLAG meetings in 2014 and 2015, version four of a strategic management plan, 2013 and 2014 indicator (target) reports, and MIFLAG’s 2014 annual report.

“The findings are as disappointing as they were predictable,” Whalley said following the release of SAI’s report in March. “The investigator’s position was that if it’s not in the minutes, it didn’t happen.”

Whalley has since appealed the investigation.

Spencer, meanwhile, said Western found value in SAI’s investigation and the company has decided to implement all eight of the recommendations SAI put forward in its report.

Those recommendations include completing minutes from the July and September 2015 MIFLAG meetings, reviewing the public participation requirements of MIFLAG, a code of ethics for members, and having the herbicide subcommittee report its recommendations in a timely manner.

MIFLAG, which generally meets every two months, has yet to meet since the Sept. 22 meeting when Whalley was asked to leave.

Spencer said MIFLAG intends to resume its meetings as soon as Western gets agreement from all members on the revised terms of reference which were presented to the Strathcona Regional District board during an in-camera meeting April 28.

Spencer said the regional district will still have a place at the MIFLAG table and that it will be up to its board of directors to decide who will sit on MIFLAG.

The regional district board voted at its April 28 meeting to defer the matter of future participation in MIFLAG until a future board meeting.