This will be, at long last, the year of the environment in B.C. For the first time in my memory, leaders debating in the upcoming election will have to answer questions about the environment.
It will be a strange feeling for those who have slugged it out in the trenches since the 1960s only to be ignored by the media who think that the only issues are those they have acknowledged to be so, and no others.
For decades the media's agenda has refused to reflect the demonstrable public concern that spawned Greenpeace, the Sea Shepherd Society and may others including the Wilderness Committee, the Living Oceans Society, the Georgia Strait Alliance... I'm already getting into trouble because I can't possibly name them all. I especially must mention the great work at sea by Paul Watson, on whose board of advisors I have sat on for some 20 years, and Joe Foy and his colleagues at the Wilderness Committee with whom I have shared many a podium.
For decades the media has had the benefit of the hard information and well-grounded alarms provided by such organizations, and have regularly treated them as "special interests" rather than guardians of all our interests.
Now, however, the environment is so obviously a pressing issue at the heart of nearly all key election issues in British Columbia that any news person worth their salt must take notice. Let me be of help, then. I will make the media's job easier by providing a handy reference of questions that should be posed to every candidate who comes near a reporter's pad or microphone.
Ask about global warming. Connected to and overarching all I'm going to discuss in the rest of this column is the horrible reality we call climate change. This is a civilization threatening problem to which our federal and provincial governments pay little more than lip service. We, like the United States and China, seem to think that whatever must be done can come tomorrow.
Ask about coal. A provincial government can make no claim to care about climate change while enabling the increased extraction and burning of coal. Yet B.C. ships several hundred thousand tonnes per annum of coal at Deltaport and is increasing our capacity to do so. That puts us in the camp of Mitt Romney. In the past presidential election the Republican candidate was calling for expansion of coal production and he was accompanied by millions of dollars of ads by the coal companies.
Ask about pipelines, bitumen and fracking. There are, at this writing, nine proposed pipelines scheduled to cross our province and more than 600 tankers per year will then be slated to deliver toxic, high emissions tar sands crude and dangerously fracked, high emissions gas to overseas customers. Our provincial politicans seem overwhelmed by this and seem to be saying, "We can't be against everything." But they fail to consider that if they are for any of the projects they will be forced to approve others.
Ask about fish farms. Justice Bruce Cohen has now recommended no further licenses in the path of migrating sockeye, an injunction both governments seem ready to ignore. But it's more than that. The provincial government has the power to license all fish farms and this government seems quite unwilling to do this. Moreover -- and this is a critical point -- it refuses to apply the precautionary rule which would require that applicants prove the safety of their proposal, not leave it to doughty warriors like Alexandra Morton to prove them unsafe.
Ask about ruin of river power projects. We have the private power issue where large corporations (Independent Power Producers or IPPs) can literally destroy our rivers to make power for BC Hydro that doesn't need it but must buy it anyway at hugely inflated prices. As a result, BC Hydro, if it wasn't in the public sector, would be bankrupt. The only reason it isn't is that it can simply continue to raise rates to the public to cover their losses. At this point, by some estimates, BC Hydro owes $50 billion dollars to IPPs for future sales.*
Ask about the Deltaport expansion. It is not needed. It is obliterating agricultural land. It threatens migratory birds and Burns Bog.
Ask about the B.C. Utilities Commission. With respect to water licenses and IPPs in general, the commission must be re-constituted and have its powers reinstated.
Ask about the environmental assessment process. It is so badly flawed in British Columbia that it can in truth be called fraudulent. Those in charge do not allow the public any input as to whether or not the project should proceed in the first place; the exception, perhaps, being the BC Hydro process for Site C.
These projects, by the time they have reached the environmental assessment process, are done deals. To attend these meetings is the acme of frustration. As I have said in the past, I would rather have a root canal with no freezing than attend another. To see proof of what I'm saying, remember that with respect to the Enbridge proposed line, Minister Joe Oliver and the prime minister have stated that whatever the EAO (Environmental Assessment Office) decides, the project is going ahead anyway.
Question the media
This election in May will tell us whether or not we will preserve British Columbia for those to come or simply be a conduit by which large corporations can destroy us in pursuit of profit -- profit that leaves the province incidentally.
We, the long suffering public must demonstrate that, contrary to media expectations, we do in fact regard our environment as the number one issue. That we do care about caribou, bears and animals of all descriptions, birds and the fauna under threat.
When you scan your newspaper or listen to a news broadcast and find it devoid of critical questions you wish had been put to politicians, here is a question that you, as a citizen, should put to that media enterprise: What the hell is wrong with you?
*Typo fixed Jan. 7 at 2:08 p.m.