Retiring BC MLA eyes next career challenge: shift forestry to ecology-first

Written By Rob Shaw

“I’m a passionate conservationist. I’m not a politician.”

–-Mike Morris

There’s still 10 months until the next provincial election, but retiring Prince George MLA Mike Morris is already jumping into his next challenge. Morris unveiled his “Future for our Forests” website last week, a launching pad for a post-political career he said will focus on campaigning for better forestry regulations and environmental protections.

The site contains two reports Morris has authored into overharvesting, damaging clearcutting practices and a lack of emphasis on the overall health of the forests.

“One of my driving factors is I want to change the paradigm on forestry so people aren’t just looking at forests for the 2x4s, and pulpwood, so they are looking at the complete value, the protein value, the biodiversity… it’s all important and needs to be looked at as a package,” Morris told Northern Beat in an interview.

“I want to influence the decision-makers.”

Daunting task

Morris admits he’s facing a daunting task. The MLA for Prince George-Mackenzie sat in cabinet as Solicitor General from 2015 to 2017 when the former BC Liberal government was in power. He knows how difficult it is to convince the civil service, ministers and premier to act on policy changes.

“It is, but I’m always up for a challenge,” said Morris.

“Whether it’s a political party or government, it’s pretty tough to refute solid evidence. So I have to find a way of turning the scientific reports, and I’ve got lots of them, into plain language they can understand, but also make sure they have access to scientific decisions.”

First-hand witness to overlogging and government inertia

Morris said he’s spent years studying the misuse of B.C.’s forests, and the rebalance necessary to preserve wildlife and biodiversity. 

Mike Morris (seen here in 1983) has tended a trap line for 50 years and during that time has noticed population declines in many wildlife species. [Photo supplied]

As a trapper, hunter, hiker and adventurer who has spent much of his life exploring the outdoors, Morris said he’s witnessed first-hand what he now sees in scientific reports about overlogging. He tried raising it privately with government during his pre-political life as a senior RCMP officer in the region.

“I was never satisfied with her responses I got, and nothing ever got done,” he said.

“Politics gets in the way of doing the right thing, that’s one thing I’ve learned being an elected official.”

Mike Morris

He decided in 2013 to make the leap into provincial politics to effect change, and became the parliamentary secretary to the minister of forests.

“You get in and you realize you are confined even more once you are elected, particularly as a member of government,” he said.

“When I ended up saying yes to the position of solicitor general, I was like: This is not really what I want to do, I want to maintain that position in forestry.

“Then you get saddled with responsibilities in a ministry, and it’s a 24/7 job, and I couldn’t do much in that capacity [for forests].”

“You realize you are confined even more once you are elected, particularly as a member of government.”

After the Liberals lost power following the 2017 election, Morris said his time in Opposition has given him a new runway to make his arguments.

“It’s almost like in government you are stuck in this deep rut and trying to get out and make change — it’s tough to climb out of that rut,” he said. “But once you get out of government it’s like you are back on level ground and you can see long distance and figure out a strategy to get there.”

Time to stop clearcutting, appoint chief ecologist

He now wants to see the elimination of clearcut logging, the replacement of B.C.’s chief forester with a chief ecologist, and registered foresters shifted to professional forestry ecologists. Coincidentally, the BC Green Party shares similar policy goals.

Morris is already starting to shift his focus into a more non-partisan stance. He said he’ll remain a conservative-minded person, and has been personally encouraged by BC United leader Kevin Falcon to champion his biodiversity cause. 

But he’ll also give credit to the BC NDP government where warranted as well.

Morris pointed to new government framework on biodiversity, as well as legislation this fall that beefed up forestry enforcement, allowed controlled burns by First Nations to mitigate wildfires and modernized tools for ecological protection.

“I was invigorated, happy, to see them go in the direction they are going,” Morris said of the NDP’s recent changes. 

Once he’s retired as MLA next year, he’ll be free to praise whatever party acts on his suggestions.

Not his first retirement: After a full career with the RCMP, Morris retired as superintendent of BC’s north before serving 11 years as MLA, including three as Solicitor General. His next next career challenge is his lifelong passion – advocating for ecology-first in forestry management. [Photo Jeff Davies]

“I’m a passionate conservationist. I’m not a politician, I think everybody probably knows that. I got elected to represent the folks here and I’ve been representing a wide variety of hunters, trappers, outdoor adventurists throughout the province. But I’m not a political strategist in any stretch of the imagination, so I’m going to focus on conservation and try and push that as much as I can in whatever capacity I can,” he said.

“Politics gets in the way of doing the right thing, that’s one thing I’ve learned being an elected official for 11 years. 

“Once I shift the political affiliations I have and can concentrate on getting the message out there and making sure the decision makers are seized with the information.”