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'First Dollar' Sounds a Rural Cry

As resentment builds in resource towns, a North Island rally takes aim at enviros and city folk.

Quentin Dodd 31 Mar
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A small rally in Campbell River last Friday gave a preview of how the battle for hearts and minds may be waged in B.C.'s resource communities in the next election.The 80 or so people who gathered outside the constituency office of Liberal MLA Rod Visser weren't there to give him grief. They had come, they said, to remind urban dwellers that the "first dollars" in B.C.'s economy come from resource industries, including mining, forestry, fisheries, aquaculture, and wilderness tourism.The First Dollar rally was held, noted several attendees, specifically to mark and honor the 10th anniversary of the Yellow Ribbon Campaign's rally in Victoria. That was part of a protest movement against the then NDP government on behalf of the forest industry, which resulted in a rally in Campbell River that can within an ace of turning into a riot.That campaign, which saw quantities of yellow ribbons proliferate across northern Vancouver Island, also led to more than 20,000 people gathering in protest against the then NDP government on the steps and lawns of the BC Legislature on March 21, 1994 - the event commemorated Friday.One who spoke in 1994 to the disgruntled throng was Visser. Ten years ago he operated Discovery Crane, which worked alongside industry in the north Island. Now MLA for the North Island Riding, Visser turned the one-time NDP stronghold on the Island into a swing riding under the Liberals in the last election.But polls last week show Visser's party risks losing nearly every seat it holds on Vancouver Island, as well as many seats in other rural parts of B.C., to the NDP in the next election.'It's comforting to us'Visser has been under growing criticism in the riding for the lack of government assistance to its ailing forest-dependent communities. He remains outspoken in favour of his government's takeback of crown acreage from major BC forest companies. And at every opportunity he voices his support for mining, aquaculture and other industries in the region.At Friday's brief wind-swept and rain-threatened ceremony, Visser was presented with a box of Yellow Ribbons to take to his fellow MLAs, to wear in a display of support for the province's resource industries. He told The Tyee he did not take the rally as a demonstration of concern that the government might not be not treating the industries right.Visser said he was taking away a positive message from the chilly rally, which started on a shoreline park downtown and was accompanied by a drive-past by a convoy of commercial trucks and vehicles - a throwback to the forest-related protest rally in Campbell River in 1994."It's comforting to us when we go out there to know that we have this constituency (of industry supporters) behind us," Visser said, adding that every MLA in B.C. has to deal with environmentalists' concerns.'Tip of the iceberg'The lunch time event, which was organized by persons with ties to the forest and fish farming industries, drew support from not only B.C. Liberals but the new federal Liberal candidate hoping to wrest the area from Conservative MP John Duncan. Gold River Mayor Dave Lewis traveled to be on hand, as did Port Hardy Deputy Mayor Joe Pashak.Pashak told the crowd that resource industries are constantly "slammed" by the environmental movement with the assistance of the media.Referring to resource industries as "the first link in the chain", former Port Hardy Mayor Russ Hellberg added that until they were developed, the province's resources had beauty and spiritual value but little economic value."The group of people with us here today," Campbell River Mayor Lynn Nash told the crowd, "are just the tip of the iceberg. And we make this commitment to you today: We're going to get more involved than we've been in the past. We're going to unite to ensure our voices are heard. We're going to remind . that we are a key part of the economy and that we make the first dollar."Without the work of the resource communities in taking natural resources and turning them in to product, where would the Vancouver executives and analysts be, or the lawyers and consultants, or the hospitality workers or transportation employees?"Nash echoed other participants in stressing the rally was not meant as a protest, but that it was always good to grab the attention of Victoria's politicians. "They get tied up in their legislation and kind of forget about us out here."'Bullied by big urban types'A founding member of north Vancouver Island's pro-logging Citizens for Shared Resources said the organization had been "sleeping" since the anti-logging preservationist protests of the mid to late 1980s and early 1990s, but "we can revive it if it's needed"."We've been there, remember?" said Lou LePine, a 74-year-old former logger from Port Hardy, looking at the yellow ribbons and balloons festooning trees and lampposts in the area.While the environmental movement's base is decidedly urban, in recent years some groups like EcoTrust Canada have become more involved in sustainable economic development projects, especially along the rural coast of B.C.Driving anger in places like Campbell River, says Eric Tamm of EcoTrust Canada, is "a real false dichotomy between the environment and the economy. It's unfortunate that there isn't more of a bridge between the environmental movement and the rural communities." Tamm says the goal of his organization "is to help transition our economy from the old extraction, exploitation model of the past."But Lou LePine, for one, isn't buying into that dream. "The preservationists are still being funded by these big foundations and the workers aren't as organized as they used to be," he says. "Again it's the rural people being bullied by the big urban types that have never been in the bush and never got rainwater in their lunch bucket."To find the First Dollar web site go here. Campbell River-based Quentin Dodd is a regular contributor to The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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