Are the winds of change blowing across British Columbia in the wake of the Eagleridge protests, which morphed into a huge rally against the Gateway project about 10 days ago at the East Delta Agricultural Hall?
I think they may be, for ever since the three-piece protest by West Vancouverites over Eagleridge took place, protest is no longer a prerogative of the left. The Gateway rally heard from such prominent Communist agitators as former Vancouver NPA Councillor Gordon Price, Councillor Vicky Huntington, Conservative MP John Cummins and former Socred Cabinet Minister Rafe Mair.
Time was that highways were laid, bridges erected, tunnels dug and dams built without a thought being given to people affected and not even the obvious environmental issues ever came into play. That's no longer the case, the saints be praised, in the woods, since the Clayoquot and other ravages brought huge public response, and ultimately, government action.
A lesson not learned was the Coquihalla Highway, built to coincide with Expo '86, which saw wonderful runs of steelhead in the Coquihalla River destroyed.
But, you see, for the longest time, there was always another valley to cut and river to dam.
While, thanks to protesters and native peoples, chopping down trees has become more complicated, with highway projects, nothing has changed since the days of Bennett Sr. and Phlying Phil Gaglardi.
We the people have been lax. Many of us grew up at the time Alcan was reversing rivers, flooding thousands of acres of lands (putting natives' homes and graveyards under water) and destroying fish values, and we thought it was marvellous. The sainted B.C. writer Bruce Hutchison, author of the classic Fraser, devoted his last chapter to the happy prospect of damming the Fraser River above Lytton, thus creating unlimited supplies of electricity for home use and export. W.A.C. Bennett built dams and highways with virtually no concern about environmental or social values.
But people have changed and I've been fortunate enough to have been associated with some of the battles, especially the Kemano Completion Project that would have, sooner or later, wiped out the Stuart system's sockeye salmon runs.
The BC Liberal government sure as hell hasn't changed, though, as demonstrated by the Sea-to-Sky Highway widening, a project that included the controversial Eagleridge bridge, and now the Gateway project.
The operative statute is the Environmental Assessment Act, which is run by a director charged with assessing the environmental impacts of projects. He may or may not, in his sole discretion, inform the public or seek its input, and if he does, he sets the rules and says how much information they'll get! Here is the really peachy part of the process: if the director doesn't want to assess a project -- for which read, the premier doesn't want him to -- he doesn't have to. In most major assessable projects, such as the Sea-to-Sky project and Gateway, first the decision to build is made by the premier, then a "show" assessment is done after it's too late to stop the project.
It's in the context of this utterly phoney process one must look at the contempt of court proceedings, which in the Eagleridge case sent two elderly women to jail, the consequences of which probably hastened the death of one of them.
I know one must obey court orders or face the consequences -- neither of the women claimed otherwise -- but the critical question is this: was the court system abused by the government?
Here we had a decision made, followed by sham hearings and so-called public information meetings, in which information was controlled by the director, then the protest, then jail -- an ass-backwards, phoney process. But it's slicker than that, for the government, like Pontius Pilate, washed its grubby little hands and let someone else do the dirty work.
A well-known lawyer in this field, Cameron Ward, explains that the B.C. government "has come up with a creative way of punishing political dissidents. Rather than have people charged with breaking laws enacted by their duly elected representatives, the conventional way of dealing with public disorder, the government enlists the courts to have objectionable conduct characterized as contempt of court. It does so by encouraging the use of injunctions issued in sham civil proceedings. There is no statutory punishment for [civil] contempt of court...it is entirely up to a judge's discretion as to how to punish such a 'contempt of court.'"
We don't have contempt of court here, but contempt of democracy.
I don't argue that people who disobey the law shouldn't be punished. What I do say is that the government abused the court process, using it, through the head contractor, to enforce a behind-closed-doors decision ratified after the fact by a man who owes his job and healthy salary to the generosity of the premier.
As I asked at the Delta gathering, how would you like your dispute with a neighbour to be settled by the other guy's hired hand? A military trial in North Korea looks democratic by comparison.
Anyone who has seen the consultation process indulged in by the Ministry of Transport -- as those who live along the Sea-to-Sky highway have -- will recognize it for the sham it is. Bureaucrats present all manner of options with accompanying maps and pictures, and members of the public ask questions and give opinions, which are all dutifully recorded by the bureaucrats. Then the government does whatever it damned well pleases.
Permit me a slight digression. Back in the '50s and '60s, when there was a major strike, the employers often got union leaders jailed "for contempt." Government wisely changed things with a fair Labour Code and a fair Labour Relations Board to hear grievances. The system works because it's an open and fair process. Nobody goes to jail anymore. That sort of process must be put in place for environmentally sensitive projects.
What about the MLAs for Delta and West Vancouver?
You surely jest! Gordon Campbell MLAs do as they're told.
Joan McIntyre, MLA for West Vancouver-Garibaldi, was utterly uninterested in helping her constituents with the Eagleridge project, and Val Roddick, MLA for Delta South, despite having been invited, was a "no show" at the Delta meeting. Roddick is known for making grand speeches about her commitment to the Agricultural Land Reserve, a commitment that apparently doesn't apply to that which Gateway will pave over. (Curiously, farmland made into highways stays in the ALR as "non-farming use," meaning there's no need for an application to the land commission!)
I am not and have never pretended to be an expert on the Gateway project. What I do know something about is "process." The Environmental Assessment Act provides the appearance of a process where there is none, unless you include consultations made after the decision has been taken. It's Through the Looking Glass with Premier Campbell shouting "off with their heads," playing the part of the Red Queen, as the contractor does his dirty work for him.
This is democracy Gordon Campbell style. And with a toothless pussycat in charge of the NDP, there's no end in sight.
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