An all-candidates meeting brought more than a dozen Bowen Islanders to Lion’s Bay last Thursday. Many had strong opinions on the industrialization of Howe Sound and Woodfibre LNG. These issues dominated the evening’s conversation putting Liberal MLA Jordan Sturdy on the defensive.
Green Party candidate Dana Taylor introduced his party’s platform as a “positive one” and a clear alternative to the reigning Liberals style of “pay to play politics.”
“I decided to run for the Greens for two reasons,” he said. “Twenty-five plus years ago working for the Save Howe Sound Society I fought to bring regulations to clean up two Howe Sound pulp mills and restore marine life in the Sound. Secondly, the current Liberal practice of government-by-donation is putting democracy itself at risk.”
Sturdy introduced himself as an organic farmer with deep roots in Howe Sound, and “a pragmatist.” He reminded the audience that as MLA he worked to extend the protection of glass sponge reefs in Halkett Bay Marine Park, he has advanced the Gambier Island national park proposal through the provincial government, and brought the Cumulative Effects Assessment Framework to Howe Sound.
“I seek a balanced approach, where people are part of the landscape,” he said. “I am not an idealogue, I am a pragmatist and I think those of you who have worked with me over the years will know that to be true.”
NDP candidate Michelle Livaja introduced herself as a Bowen Islander and union steward who “fights for people.” She touted the NDP’s housing plan as the biggest in BC’s history and spoke of the Party’s plan to create an economy “that works for everyone.”
“This election is about choices,” she said, noting various indicators of the province’s lack of affordability. “Ultimately your choice depends on what sort of society you want to live in. An entire generation of children have suffered under Christy Clarke’s war on teachers, and our social safety net has endured 16 years of neglect under this government. A system of pay to play politics has ensured that decisions have been bought, and not made in the best interest of British Columbians.”
The candidates discussed plans to balance growth with the environment, and how to meet future transportation needs for a much denser Sea-to-Sky corridor. The audience offered Taylor its first round of applause after he took the mic a second time, offering an addition to his original response to a question on protecting marine life in Howe Sound.
“We’ve been clear about our opposition to the Woodfibre LNG plant,” he said. “That would be a good place to start when it comes to protecting the marine environment.”
On the same question, Livaja told the audience that the NDP planned to keep fish farms out of the way of salmon migration routes, offer incentives for fish farming operations to move to closed containment operations and also get the operations on land. Sturdy spoke of the jurisdictional complexities of protecting the marine environment, but added that within that, opportunities exist to expand protected areas.
The applause led into a question about the credibility of the environmental assessment process, and the audience showed its support for Taylor yet again.
Sturdy answered first, acknowledging that “people don’t have faith in the environmental assessment process.” He pointed to changes made to Woodfibre’s plans, driven by the EA process (from a floating facility, that burned gas and used a sea-water cooling system to a land-based facility powered by hydro and using an air-cooling system) as proof that it the process works.
“There seems to be a conception that all that ever happens is approved,” said Sturdy. “Typically what happens is that people get partway through the project and realize they won’t be able to meet the conditions.”
He went on to say that it is now important to educate people about the process and the conditions that need to be met. He said the federal and provincial Environmental Assessment Offices are working on a portal to show the conditions that need to be met, their status, the permits, compliance and enforcement, and monitoring.
“A lot of the conversation so far has related to the credibility of the environmental assessment process,” he said. “But I think if the Liberals were concerned about the credibility of that process, they would have started with not receiving donations from the proponent from the beginning to the end of that process.”
He went on to say that transparency needs to be created at the outset, instead of trying to convince people afterwards.
The candidates went on to discuss the Site C dam, renewable energy and a possible moratorium on industry in Howe Sound.
The Bowen Island section of the audience filtered out of the venue to the sound of applause for Michelle Livaja, discussing a the third question.
“I think the important question that is being missed from all of this, is what to the communities want? We speak to our municipalities, to our mayors and our councils, but they are not being listened to. I, obviously, cannot make a promise on behalf of the NDP Party, but I can tell you that as a representative... I think it would nice if the government actually listened to what people in the communities had to say.”