The Strathcona Regional District is rallying behind one of its directors who has been told he is no longer welcome on the forestry board he has sat on for the last seven years.
Gerald Whalley, director for electoral Area A, was told to leave a meeting of the Mid Island Forestry Lands Advisory Group (MIFLAG) on Sept. 22 and to not come back.
Whalley said he angered the Western Forest Products representatives who sit on the advisory group board by questioning the group’s clean audit.
His reasoning, he said, was he had become suspicious of the forestry group following a controversial vote on a motion related to Western Forest Products’ use of herbicides in the Sayward Valley.
“I appealed the audit findings and this made them angry,” Whalley said. “So the forester said, ‘you’re no longer welcome here.’ We’re meeting on private property so I had to leave.”
Whalley said three others left with him and another MIFLAG meeting was then scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 27, after the Mirror went to press.
At last Thursday’s regional district meeting, the Strathcona Regional District board – the body which appointed Whalley to the MIFLAG board – approved sending Cortes Director Noba Anderson, in addition to Whalley, to the meeting in the event Whalley was escorted off the meeting premises (Western Forest Products’ Menzies Bay office).
Directors said they wanted Whalley to attend to make a statement.
In a letter to MIFLAG, regional district Chair Jim Abram took the group to task for its dismissal of Whalley.
“I would like to convey the regional district board’s extreme disappointment with the action you have taken concerning Director Whalley,” Abram said. “I have never encountered any company that has dismissed a member appointed by another agency, solely due to the fact that they disagree with the company’s views on silviculture. Advisory groups are put in place to give advice. You can take that advice or not, but dismissal of an appointee because of that advice is totally inappropriate. Every member of MIFLAG must be free to discuss and to vote as they wish on these issues without hostility or intimidations.”
Abram added that the group’s “failure to follow due process is unacceptable and your conduct towards Director Whalley is both unethical and disrespectful.”
At last Thursday’s regional district meeting, directors threw their support behind Whalley.
“Director Whalley has served on the MIFLAG committee for the past seven years with absolutely no issues and no problems until Western Forest Products came to an impasse over the Strathcona Regional District’s position on herbicide application in the Sayward Valley,” Leigh said. “They used Director Whalley as their scapegoat.”
Whalley said the problems started when a motion went before the MIFLAG board to increase Western’s allowable use of herbicides. A vote was called on the motion, with six voting in favour and four against. Whalley said the motion was declared carried, or passed, even though, as Whalley contests, in the forestry group’s Terms of Reference it states 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 he requested that the minutes of the Sept. 22 meeting – which have not been posted to MIFLAG’s website – show that the motion failed.
Following that Sept. 22 meeting, Jeff Ternan, operations manager for Western, wrote a brief letter to the regional district stating that Whalley’s participation in MIFLAG had been terminated.
“In light of recent events, Gerald Whalley is no longer welcome to participate in, or attend any further MIFLAG meetings or functions,” Ternan wrote, but didn’t explain further in the letter the reasoning behind that decision.
Amy Spencer, director of communications and government relations with Western Forest Products, would only say that Western is working with the regional district to resolve the issue.
“We are looking into this issue to determine that due process was followed by all parties involved,” Spencer wrote in an email Monday afternoon. “To be clear, we welcome the opinions of all members of the community advisory group (MIFLAG) and it is our goal to proactively resolve any issues that have been raised with the Strathcona Regional District directly. We are confident that we will find a mutually agreeable outcome to this situation.”
In the meantime, the regional district will be seeking legal advice as to whether an outside agency, such as MIFLAG, is allowed to terminate an appointment requested of and made by the regional district board.
The Mid Island Forest Advisory Lands Advisory Group is made up of several community representatives including a councillor from the City of Campbell River (Charlie Cornfield), a regional district director (Whalley), members from School District 72, the Sayward Fish and Game Club, First Nations, and the Campbell River Chamber of Commerce, as well as Western Forest Product representatives.
The group serves as a public participation process in the area of sustainable forest management, which Western Forest Products adheres to.
The committee is not a decision making body but makes recommendations to MIFLAG which Western is not required to accept. Meetings are held at Western Forest Products’ Menzies Bay office.