‘Gotcha’ politics of Forest case unhelpful

To the Editor

I felt compelled to write this letter to the editor after reading the stories in both local papers about the Haliburton Forest. First of all let me commend the Haliburton Echo and Angelica Ingram for the balanced coverage of this court case involving Dysart township and the Forest. However that’s where my commendation ends.

As a former Haliburton resident and as the wife of a Haliburton Forest contract employee I have come to know Peter Schleifenbaum and his family throughout the last five years and I feel what was missing from both stories in both local papers are a contextual background and some simple facts.

Not only is Haliburton Forest one of the largest employers in Haliburton County they are a hugely successful tourism operator with a full four-season business in the region as well as being one of the largest taxpayers in Haliburton County. The Haliburton Forest was also started by Peter’s father in an amazing and beautiful story of a 100-year plan to preserve and sustain the now 80000 acres of land the Forest contains. They became the first certified sustainable forest in Canada and have worked hard to encourage other forest management operators across the country to do the same and so far I believe only one other forest has achieved that worthy status.

That to me and to most municipalities would be deserving of some respect and entitlement because your paved roads your schools your libraries… the Forest has helped build them all through paid tax dollars. Your stores are kept busy when Forest staff come to into town to spend their hard-earned dollars.

In fact most municipalities as I have learned through years of newspaper work public meeting attendance and community development work would not only be heralding the Forest as a gift from the Gods but be working with Peter through regular meetings to try to smooth the Forest’s path forward in both land development tourism development and mutual prosperity. For a very simple reason – when the Forest prospers the entire region prospers.

That context appears to be missing in all coverage around this court case involving the Forest. The fact that the municipality did not find a way to work with Peter and the Forest on this issue of ever-necessary built mills and accommodation buildings for an ever-growing ever-expanding and completely innovative business model appears to speak to a local meanness of spirit and a tremendous gap in local vision.

The highly skilled team of managers at the Forest now includes a young local general manager who is working on a PhD a skill level previously unheard of within tourism operators in the county. Peter himself has a doctorate in forestry and is a prestigious lecturer at the University of Toronto constantly working with UofT research teams in areas of biology forestry climate change and innovative practices and is a renowned speaker because of that research. What other operator in the county or even Ontario for that matter can boast the same level of expertise and base of knowledge.

But aside from those pieces their annual concerts held on Bone Lake and in the Logging Museum bring major Canadian artists and major attention to the region each summer. They have the much-loved Wolf Centre dogsledding the wood shop the Canopy Tour log home kits and some of the best snowmobiling in the province. Their busy mills and tourism operations offer full-time year-round jobs for local people. So when you look at the many aspects that the Forest contributes to the Haliburton economy finances and tourism base you discover an impact that reaches far beyond Haliburton and Dysart’s boundaries.

No doubt about it Peter Schleifenbaum is an innovative and intelligent force to be reckoned with but if this municipality is smart they will begin to work with Peter and the Forest not against him. They will also stop wasting precious tax dollars on lawyers and a court case that could have most likely been resolved with regular meetings with the Forest.

This type of “gotcha” politics is not only outdated it appears to an outsider like me as even petty or small-minded. Municipalities usually work with businesses with a mindset of cooperation and an attitude of a shared vision for a mutually prosperous future.

And no I have not discussed this issue with Peter or any Forest staff. However as a professional observer I have to say that I’m astounded by this municipality’s response to a gap in building permits for several buildings that are almost identical to other existing buildings at the Forest and for what appears to be an uncooperative attitude towards one of the most successful regional year-round local employers.

Most municipalities would be actively working to smooth paths and remove obstacles to further expansion and growth at the Forest and I can only hope that common sense will prevail before more precious local tax dollars are wasted.

Laura Redman