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Progress Without Brakes

Monster road in Delta runs over local rights.

By Rafe Mair 4 Jun 2007 |

Rafe Mair writes a Monday column for The Tyee. Mair's website is His latest book, Over the Mountains, should be at your bookstore.

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MLA Roddick: We can't hear you.

Questions have been asked in the B.C. legislature about two lawyers allegedly using insider knowledge to make a profit of almost $2 million on sale of a property adjacent to the proposed South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR). This question coincided with a private citizen's complaint about this deal to the Law Society of B.C. which handles questions of lawyer's ethics. Let me make this abundantly clear: questions in the house and letters to the Law Society prove nothing except somebody has complained. In this case, based on public information, there are, however, questions that must be answered.

However important the alleged profitable land flip may be, it mustn't obscure other concerns which are many and very serious indeed.

As I have pointed out in the past -- and it bears repeating -- the public process concerning the SFPR before the decision was made was useless.

It also bears repeating that under the Environmental Assessment Act the process, though laid out in the act, is essentially in the hands of the premier. The executive director is appointed by cabinet and is, therefore a political appointment essentially under the control of Premier Campbell.

Again, as reported before, the environmental assessment is generally done after the political decision has been made.

The question is a simple one. Do people of an established community have any rights?

Can their long established way of life be eliminated by a Victoria edict said to be in the provincial and national interest by the government proposing development?

Don't call me a nimby

This isn't a question of nimbyism over a planned half-way house or some such thing but goes to the very roots of the community to be affected.

Let's start with the Eagleridge project to bypass the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal by doing a diversion that devastates sensitive environmental values.

This decision was taken by the Campbell government. And then the executive director, appointed by Campbell you'll remember, did some environmental assessments which he found, (surprise! surprise!) not to amount to any concerns sufficient to warrant the government backing off.

Another surprise! The public meetings were all held after the decision and were for the purpose not of determining whether the project should go ahead but how the government might lessen the environmental impact. Yet another surprise! The BC Liberal MLA, Joan McIntyre, was nowhere to be seen throughout. She didn't even attend the rally, after the citizens were forced to surrender, to raise funds for the legal fees incurred.

Paving the bog?

But Delta raises an issue even more important that Eagleridge although the environmental concerns are real and of little interest to Mr. Campbell. There is the question of impact upon Burns Bog. Not only the direct impact of using the land, but also the impact of vehicle traffic spewing all that carbon monoxide into this wonderful natural preserve. There is the question of how much land will really be taken out of the Agricultural Land Reserve. There are many more similar concerns.

The critical concern is this: can a provincial government sacrifice a community in order to bring more money into the province's coffers and, in the bargain, reward their supporters? Does the community itself not have any say in the matter?

Some say that the overall benefit to the province, namely money coming into the treasury, trumps all other considerations.

But does it?

If the threat of war required that a community be walled, or armed, or become an armed forces base, one could agree that the safety of all required the sacrifice by the few. But this is merely a commercial matter that sacrifices the community, its long way of life and its history, to the god Mammon, without any opportunity for the citizens to be heard before the decision was made.

Where was Roddick?

Permit a short digression. South Delta's MLA, BC Liberal Val Roddick, who pretends to speak for her riding, has been struck dumb by this issue.

Consider the rally at the North Delta Agricultural Hall in early April, which drew an enormous crowd, including such communist agitators as Gordon Price, former NPA councillor for Vancouver. Also attending, raging radical Vicki Huntington, a Tory whose dad was a federal Conservative cabinet minister. John Cummins, the Tory MP for the area, finally showed his true colours as a comsymp. They all spoke against the major parts of the Gateway project.

Val Roddick was nowhere to be seen. She didn't even appear if only to report the results back to the government.

I raised this question at that rally. Who says that people in Delta want to be the gateway to China?

It's assumed by Premier Campbell that economic progress is always good. This is a typical Chamber of Commerce/Board of Trade approach to life. "If you don't have progress," goes the refrain, "your economy decays and we'll all be in the poorhouse".

But where's the proof of that? Are the people of Delta all going to be made rich in exchange for having their community butchered? Is it to be accepted that every economic development is good no matter what other values are destroyed? Most importantly, do the residents of Delta not have the right to be heard before the government makes its decision?

'Progress' trumps all

This entire exercise of widening Highway 1 and twinning the Port Mann coupled with the SFPR will scarcely be the end of the matter. As soon as these acts are fulfilled, the need to expand again will follow. As goes the line from Field of Dreams: "Build it and they will come." And as with the present plans, a little bit more ALR land will be nipped here, a bit more there. The air will become more polluted. Bit-by-bit Burns Bog will be poisoned and eroded.

Ah, but this is progress. That's what the premier says. The people of British Columbia want PROGRESS! That it's progress at the expense of Delta is evidently of no concern.

Whether it's wild salmon wiped out by Campbell's friends in the fish farm industry or communities scarred by road development, what come first are the coffers of British Columbia to say nothing of the BC Liberal Party's war chest. Progress trumps all.

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