British Vander Columbia Zalm flashed Premier his William broadest smile in Victoria last Saturday as he and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signed an agreement to create Canada’s newest national park among the lush rain forests and foggy shores of the Queen Charlotte Islands. The premier’s smiles were understandable: in addition to the federal government’s payment of $106 million to the province, Ottawa will spend $32 million to develop the park and $50 million to create a special fund for development in the Charlottes over the next eight years. Meanwhile, a special review commission will recommend the level of compensation to be paid to loggers, with the federal share estimated at $23 million and the province’s at $8 million.
Vander Zalm had threatened to open the forested wilderness to logging unless the federal government offered a total of $196 million in compensation to logging companies and his government. The breakthrough took place after pressure mounted from environmentalists around the world, the Haida Indians who live on the islands and, ultimately, the Prime Minister himself.
John Broadhead of Victoria, who as president of Earthlife Canada Foundation spearheaded the public campaign to preserve the unique ecology of the islands, called the agreement “a great step forward.” The Haida, who make up about one-third of the region’s 6,000 inhabitants, applauded the creation of a new park roughly one-quarter the size of Prince Edward Island. But members of the logging industry remained harshly critical. Contractor Frank Beban charged that Vander Zalm had submitted to “blackmail at its best” by the federal government.
For the Haida, the agreement capped an intensive struggle to stop logging in the region. Because the area now falls under federal jurisdiction, the accord removes the provincial government from continuing negotiations over native land claims in the area. And for one member of Vander Zalm’s government, who asked not to be identified, that was a relief. “The bottom line is we got the Haida off our backs,” he declared. “The feds have to handle them now.”
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