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'Dear Friends of Formosa Nursery'

An NDP MLA vents his frustration at those who would pave a blueberry farm.

By Corky Evans 28 Nov 2006 | TheTyee.ca

Corky Evans is MLA for Nelson-Creston.

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TransLink hearing 'a sham and a lie.'

[Editor's note: This letter was e-mailed around by NDP MLA Corky Evans last week in the wake of the official rebuff to efforts to reroute a highway to save the Formosa Nursery blueberry fields in Maple Ridge. We reprint it in its entirety here.]

Nov. 20, 2006

Dear Friends of Formosa Nursery,

I write to tell you the story of the TransLink meeting I attended last Friday (Nov. 17). The meeting was supposed to consider the request of the owners of Formosa Nursery that the board of TransLink use the southern edge of their farm as the route for the Abernathy Connector rather than cutting their farm, and blueberry fields, in half.

No, in all honesty I don't write to tell you the story so much as to tell it to myself. Or to construct a story I can understand. Or to go through some process to get it out of my head, or settled in my head, or something. I have no idea of the morality of using a communication with someone else, or others, as the medium by which I try to work out experience. If this feels like exploitation, I apologize and feel free to stop reading at this point.

I do not know what else to do and I do know that many people have been engaged by the expropriation going on at Formosa Nursery and, thus, I justify this (quasi)therapy as keeping folks informed.

A bit of background:

A few months back I learned that a profitable and growing blueberry operation in Maple Ridge was to be paved in spite of the fact that a Crown-owned and free and parallel access to the same place existed 130 feet away. This made no sense and I asked the local MLA, Michael Sather, to arrange an opportunity for me to meet the owners of Formosa Nursery to hear their story.

The tour happened and Michael and I resolved to try to initiate a fight-back campaign by trying to let the world, and decision makers, know what was happening, mostly in secret, in Maple Ridge.

A grand coalition

The ministers of Agriculture and Transportation and the chairs of the Agricultural Land Commission, the GVRD, and TransLink were invited to Formosa Nursery to look at the land and meet the owners, Ting Wu and Risa Lin. Only staff from the ALC and TransLink attended the tour. TransLink offered Ting and Risa money. They asked TransLink to move the road 130 feet off their productive crops.

We next organized a tour of the land for members of the press and the public, which happened about two weeks ago. That same morning the chair of TransLink and the vice-president met with Ting and Risa and Michael Sather and me. It was at this meeting that Ting was invited to make an appeal for reconsideration of the road location to the whole board of directors of TransLink.

Malcolm Brodie, the chair of TransLink and the mayor of Richmond, told Ting that he could speak to the board on Nov. 17, he could bring supporters, that each speaker could speak for five minutes, and that construction of the road across Formosa Nursery would not begin until the board of TransLink had an opportunity to hear what the interveners had to say.

Following that offer, a grand coalition of persons and organizations wishing to defend Formosa Nursery was put together. They included Taiwanese friends of Ting and Risa, four New Democrat MLAs and staff, representatives of the Pit Polder Society, the Green Party, the Organic Growers and one distribution company, the Western Canadian Wilderness Committee, the Fraser Valley Coalition, Greenpeace and citizens concerned with the issue or the land or the process.

Cogent and respectful

I will not go into the specifics of the presentations. Suffice to say that I have not seen such an excellent group of presenters making such a cogent and respectful case for anything at any hearing process, anywhere. Sheryl Seale wound up the process with a beautifully documented presentation on the disinformation efforts of the TransLink staff that utterly destroyed their arguments claiming they had engaged in fair treatment and due process.

As I sat in my seat during the (approx.) two hours of presentations, I came to believe that it was impossible that the TransLink board could do anything short of ordering a review of the road location across Formosa Nursery and a review of the behaviour of their staff over the course of the last four years.

When the last presentation was finished, the chair, Malcolm Brodie, asked his directors if they had any further business. Nobody spoke. Then he announced adjournment of the meeting.

I thought, "This is fine. They will go to lunch and then reconvene in camera, to consider the evidence heard and decide what to do." That was my (perhaps naïve) understanding of how due process is supposed to work.

We were then advised that nothing else would happen. There would be no reconsideration of any facet of the expropriation of Formosa Nursery land, nor was there any intention, ever, of entertaining such a reconsideration. The hearing offered to Ting Wu and Risa Lin and their friends was not a hearing or even a form of seeking "input." It was a sham and a lie. A show put on for the benefit of the cameras to create the illusion of due process.

The directors would not even vote to reject the arguments they had just heard because that, honest, act would reflect badly on the show, the directors, and the project. The directors, all municipal politicians in their own right, would do nothing at all that might look like a decision of any kind, thereby leaving the fate of Formosa Nursery with their staff, their lawyers, the road contractor, or anybody at all so long as there was no political cost to themselves, the decision makers.

I have spent five years as a municipal politician and 20 years in various roles in provincial government or Opposition. I have never seen, however, a government of any sort invite presentations in a formal setting and then refuse, in any way, to consider (at least to reject) the validity of the information they received.

Not legitimate

TransLink is not, it seems to me, a legitimate institution. A legitimate institution needs to have, at minimum, the integrity to do its job. I have no trouble with unpopular decisions. Indeed, often the unpopular decisions an organization needs to make are the measure of its maturity and the seriousness with which they approach their mandate. TransLink, however, has failed any test of leadership or governance.

The TransLink board, apparently, desires to devolve their mandate to their staff and will not use their decision-making power and responsibility to make decisions of any kind. When governing bodies do not exercise their capacity to govern, but instead devolve decision-making authority to operational staff, terrible things happen. This is not something we are experienced with in Canada. This tends to be the method of governance we expect from false democracies and tyrannical systems in other parts of the world.

Obviously, at this point, supporters of Formosa Nursery need to carry on defending Ting Wu and Risa Lin in their efforts to receive fair treatment. The problem is that, now that we have seen how TransLink functions, we must also try to deal with that sickness in our midst, and I hate it when targets proliferate in the middle of an organizing activity.

On the one hand we should refocus our efforts to attempt to force the minister of Agriculture and the provincial cabinet to exercise their mandate to defend farmers, farming and food production, starting with the organic blueberry business at Formosa Nursery. On the other hand, we all know that Formosa Nursery is just the issue of the moment and if TransLink and the provincial government can pave that farm without cost, farmland in the Lower Mainland will become the Development Land Bank of choice for all sorts of projects from building ports to highways to subdivisions. Thus, we need to inflict some political cost, at minimum, on the directors of TransLink for their behaviour.

What next?

Happily, the official Opposition does not have to try to do any of this in isolation. The Formosa Nursery debacle has brought powerful interests together from former premier Vander Zalm to various nonpartisan organizations and two political parties and thousands of citizens. Somehow, we need to sustain and build upon that beautiful coalition to have any chance at all of success on these (proliferating) fronts.

I am not sure what should happen next. Some of us will meet soon in Maple Ridge to discuss options and the excellent electronic networks that have grown up with this issue should provide us with a venue to continue talking across the province.

And talking together is the most important thing I can think of, just now, because in the absence of a huge and broadly based mobilization of citizens, Formosa Nursery will just be the beginning. We must learn to work together and understand one another's interests even as we organize. The interests that appear poised to pave massive parts of the Lower Mainland and make us utterly reliant on global interests for our daily bread are huge and rich and on the move.

Somewhere we have to make it stop.

Corky  [Tyee]

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