Is NOMA ignoring democratic values?

By Julee Boan and Scott Harris
We have concern regarding the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association’s (NOMA) recent resolution, passed with support from Thunder Bay, calling on a number of environmental organizations to “cease and desist” their forestry “campaigns.”
While Environment North is not specifically mentioned, we are also a registered charitable organization. Since 1972, we have strived to improve and protect the ecological sustainability and socio-economic wellbeing of Northwestern Ontario through leadership, research, partnerships, education, community advocacy, information and community capacity building.
At times, we have called for changes to forestry practices and policy, including voicing questions and concerns when the province exempted the forest industry from the Endangered Species Act. We also voiced support for forest tenure reform to increase local decision making, and the expansion of Wabakimi Provincial Park, among other issues.

Regardless of whether or not everyone on council agrees with our opinions, we would like mayor and council to agree with us on the following: Curtailing public debate on the sustainability of forestry, and other industrial development, is not in the best interest of our community.
In the case of this resolution, it is simplistic to claim that “all forestry products in Ontario are sustainable” (language used in the resolution). There is a sizable body of scientific research that suggests that there are sustainability issues. At the very least, we ask you to support that there are different perspectives that can be legitimately derived from the best available science.
For example, there is a vast difference between use of the term “sustainable “ to mean sustainable yield of merchantable timber, and sustainable with regard to other forest values such as biodiversity and balanced ecosystems.
A recent comprehensive study, Effects of Natural Resource Development on the Terrestrial Biodiversity of Canadian Boreal Forests concludes, “Identifying the scale at which a decline in biodiversity becomes unacceptable and requires remediative action (under Canadian law and treaty obligations) is a complex scientific and social question that has not been adequately answered for most components of Canada’s boreal forest biodiversity.”
Further, we are concerned about our city aligning its opinions too closely with the industrial sector, including forestry. While forest companies have certainly brought economic benefits to the North, there are several companies that have also left northern communities high and dry.
In recent years, workers’ pensions have been put at risk, companies have demanded lower municipal tax rates (even in economically depressed communities), and there are examples of companies keeping a tight hold on local wood supply, despite closing the resident mill. As such, we ask that you take a cautious approach when considering such blanket support.
Lastly, we would like to better understand how this resolution (among others) was passed through NOMA. Who was delegated to make this decision on behalf of the city? Did our mayor and councillors review this resolution prior to its passing? Is there a record of the discussion/debate that took place before supporting it? If so, would you be able to share it with us?
When NOMA passes such resolutions, it gives the impression that weighty issues such as the strongly accusative “support for forestry” resolution have been debated by individual councils, and that councillors have duly surveyed their constituents on the matter. If this is not the case, it appears NOMA has leap-frogged what we normally consider to be democratic process.
Scott Harris is a member of Environment North in Thunder Bay.