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Rich Riding, New Politics: MP Pam Goldsmith-Jones on Environment, Bill C-51 and Change

A cup of tea on the rocks with West Van's former mayor.

By David P. Ball 1 Dec 2015 | TheTyee.ca

David P. Ball is staff reporter with The Tyee. Send him tips or comments by email, find him on Twitter @davidpball, or read his previous Tyee reporting here.

Settling onto a damp, rocky point jutting out from West Vancouver's Caulfeild Cove, local MP Pam Goldsmith-Jones carefully eases open a Thermos and pours two steaming cups of tea.

"There's a seal!" she exclaims as a sleek head surfaces only metres offshore.

Goldsmith-Jones is the new representative for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, trouncing Conservative John Weston in the Oct. 19 election.

The riding is B.C.'s second wealthiest, stretching from West Vancouver to Whistler. The average income in 2010 was $57,554, according to Statistics Canada, 51 per cent higher than B.C.'s average and 47 per cent above the national average.

Despite its reputation for ostentatious mansions and fiscal conservatism, Goldsmith-Jones insists that protecting a "healthy democracy" and the treasured coastline are in fact paramount here.

"The environment was a unifying issue that brought our riding together," the two-time West Vancouver mayor said. "We felt we had all sort of been muzzled as a society... It crosses all political parties."

Still, building her election campaign in the riding around environmental activism rather than fiscal prudence might have jarred some backroom strategists.

It was the right choice, Goldsmith-Jones says.

"Honestly, that's what people talked about on the doorsteps," she says. "This is the coast of B.C., what could be more precious?"

That's why the 54-year-old rookie MP is watching United Nations climate talks in Paris closely. Global discussions and carbon targets are important, she says.

But looking out at the cove, Goldsmith-Jone takes a more local approach.

"The work really is going to be when everyone gets home from Paris," she says.

This interview is edited for clarity and length.

The Tyee: Let's talk about coastal safety and the coastal economy -- fisheries, tourism, marine safety, and pipelines.

Pam Goldsmith-Jones: Those things were big in this election, from this riding in particular. It was such a chopped-up public policy model under Stephen Harper.

Could you tell my why, in this riding, those big issues emerged? Do you think people misinterpret what West Vancouver voters believe?

One of the greatest motivators to run, other than the health of our democracy, was the environment. That wasn't necessarily what the Liberal party nationally would have thought about our riding a year-and-a-half ago, but honestly that's what people talked about on the doorsteps.

The environment was a unifying issue that brought our riding together. We felt we had all sort of been muzzled as a society. In my work as mayor too, [I saw] this is a really quite activist community. They are in the Sunshine Coast and in Squamish too. It crosses all political parties when you're talking about the health of our foreshore, the health of our creeks -- people are really respectful of Streamkeepers and what they do.

Justin Trudeau came out against the Northern Gateway pipeline, and most observers believe his coastal ban on crude oil tankers has effectively killed the project. But on other pipelines, like Kinder Morgan and Energy East, what will happen and what do you say to voters skeptical about how much the Liberal government is committed to making sure they're safe?

That was a big challenge during the election. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau characterized it, the federal government [will play] the role of judicious keeper of the process -- rather than putting your thumb on the scale and skewing the process -- that's what our job is. That's all I can say on behalf of the government right now, because that is all he's said.

But will climate change concerns now be considered as part of the National Energy Board process?

There's going to be all sorts of pressure to look at the whole picture. We were using the word "Paris" as synonymous with the international movement to start tackling climate change.

The work really is going to be when everyone gets home from Paris, and sits down with the provinces. That's where you really see strong differences of opinion across the country.

Your Conservative predecessor John Weston also talked a lot about the environment. His slogan was, 'The environment is the economy.' How are you different?

I found that definition confusing, although a supporter of John Weston said to me, 'You're not looking at it right; he meant they go together.' It would be very challenging to have been an MP in that government -- with that particular leader -- which was really all about dismantling environmental legislation and protections.

I know that John Weston put together the fisheries roundtable out of a sincere desire to contribute. But he couldn't. That government presided over the dismantling of the Fisheries Act, the Species At Risk Act, Environmental Protection Act, the Navigable Waters Act. It just goes on and on!

How am I different? I have a track record in the community of standing up for the environment beginning with the battle to save Eagle Ridge Bluffs, but with small things too -- expanding the width of riparian zones around creeks beyond what the province says is required. Improving biodiversity in the intertidal zone and slow the damage storms we're doing to our beaches and seawalls. We were really proactive. That tapped into why people live here. People love living in every part of this riding, they're crazy about it, and that has a lot to do with nature.

Let's talk about the Coast Guard. Marine safety is an issue here and all along the Burrard Inlet. The Coast Guard closure in Kitsilano has been reversed, but other stations were closed, too. Why are people so concerned about that?

Our intent when we said we would re-open the Kits Coast Guard station was also to equip it with oil spill response. [The spill in English Bay] right in front of our very eyes was going too far. That was, to me, the point at which people said, 'Stop! There's already been cuts to three marine communications centres and a disintegration of safety on the coast.' But there's more that needs to be done. You saw that come to light when the Leviathan II sunk [near Tofino]. Minister [for Fisheries, Oceans and the Coast Guard] Hunter Tootoo will have to address them right away. I'm prepared to be quite vocal about the need to make sure we maintain safety on the coast.

People who are current and former Coast Guard employees have told me that the communications centres are important. The ones in Ucluelet and Vancouver closed, the one in Comox* is set to shut. It's all centralized to Victoria and Prince Rupert. What are your plans around that?

That was an issue when the Leviathan II sank too. I think things need to be put back. People are genuinely proud of the Coast Guard. There's interest in better integration between Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue and the Coast Guard. There's quite a bit of room for improvement.

One of the legacies of the Harper government is people would rather be told the truth and asked to think about possible solutions rather than be kept in the dark. To realize the safety we take for granted is really not there is deeply concerning for people. This is the coast of B.C., what could be more precious?

Another anxiety in a lot of ridings is around civil liberties and privacy. There are a lot of people concerned about surveillance and spying on citizens and it seems to cut across partisan lines. Given that your party voted in favour of Bill C-51, the Conservative's anti-terrorism law, what can people expect from your government?

Justin Trudeau has said government should be open by default. It should be the exception, not the rule, when things are kept private. But if you're talking about personal privacy, we had a debate on this during the campaign -- the rationale for cancelling the long-form census was that it was too invasive, but there was no debate on C-51. We're going to have a proper debate on C-51 and there will be the opportunity to understand what the security measures are, why they're important and why oversight's important. It doesn't go as far as some countries do. But because there was no time for debate, it's all now suspect. We'll come up with something better.

Ralph Goodale is the new public safety minister, responsible for changes to Bill C-51. How do you respond to critics who say he was a senior cabinet minister in Liberal governments that undermined civil liberties through anti-terrorism measures after 9-11? How can they trust your review of C-51 to protect individual rights?

First of all, the debate on Bill C-51 will be in public.

We live in such open times, and I've always thought that Justin Trudeau is just the right age, actually, because of the times he represents. There will be a drive to be open that is beyond Bill C-51. You've already seen the media in our caucus meeting; I have never, ever been told what to say or been prevented from speaking to anybody.

I believe I have a lot to offer -- and a lot to learn. I look forward to working with the Conservatives, the NDP and with [Green Party] leader Elizabeth May. My experience at the local level is that you're always working with everybody.

*Story clarified Dec. 3 at 2 p.m.  [Tyee]

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