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Debacle in Delta

How the Campbell government is engineering a disaster.

By Rafe Mair 23 Jul 2007 |

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

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Part of expansion plans.

The Campbell government, faking open government, has held phony "open" cabinet meetings with the real business done behind closed doors. Thus it's not surprising that residents of Delta weren't told about the real Deltaport expansion by candid politicians but from Freedom of Information exercises done by a suspicious (rightly) media and residents who (rightly) smelled a rat.

Let's do what the governments should do and lay out the real story.

The South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR) is an integral part of the Deltaport expansion and will result in the blighting of Delta, one of our oldest communities. Moreover, it will get worse with inevitable changes in the years ahead.

This raises a question that senior governments never ask. Does Delta want this massive change to their lifestyle?

This isn't a "NIMBY" issue, like a halfway house in a residential neighbourhood, but the radical alteration of an entire community with a very long history. Governments are not accustomed to answering such questions and prefer to decide first, and deal with the public when it's a done deal. It's "Ready ... Shoot ... Aim."

Managing the message

Because of their basic philosophy, the Campbell government is astonished that some people don't want "progress." That's probably because "progress" seldom changes where they themselves live and if it does, as with the RAV line and the Arbutus Corridor, they just change the plans and do their "progress," at greater expense, in someone else's back yard. This bunch can't believe that some areas don't want "progress" -- especially when the loot ends up in the pockets of others.

The SFPR, so critical to expanding Deltaport now but especially in the future, requires a deal between the government and the Tsawwassen Indian Band. This week band approval -- skillfully managed by the government -- will come. Nothing illegal here, just some good, old time politicking.

And when it comes to buying electoral certainty, the Liberals are in a class of their own. Here are a few of the moves made:

Stacked meeting. The government stacked the Tsawwassen Annual General Meeting on July 5 by flying in, at taxpayers' expense, enough non-residents to ensure that the deal would be approved.

The ratification will be done by a meeting on July 25th . Non residents can vote at special voting booths at Vernon, Bellingham and Tsawwassen or they can mail in their votes.

This strikes me as similar to giving me a vote in Vancouver Civic elections because I was born, raised and educated there. It's argued that for natives it's different because the land is their heritage but the fact remains that non-residents will not have to live with the consequences.

One of the band members, the outspoken Bertha Williams, says this: "How is it fair that band members residing clear across North America may vote on the treaty when they never resided here? ... Surely you can see the logic of us being outvoted by the many band members that do not live here. We are the direct descendants of our forefathers that dwell here, whereas the majority of voting band members have recently been re-instated ... Where is the fiduciary duty of the federal government to protect my family from this treaty that we are opposed to?"

PR blitz. The government, at taxpayer expense, flew 40 band members to Nisga'a so they could see how well that nation was doing. The government has spent $430,000 on PR flacks to help convince the rank and file that the deal is a good one. Minister Mike de Jong says that this was so band members would receive "accurate information."

If a PR company has ever, in history, presented "accurate information" that wasn't in its client's interest I would be shocked beyond belief.

Payouts. Upon ratification of the agreement, certain elders will receive a $15,000 cash bonus.

The government will give the TFN 1,000 acres of land currently within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), releasing 500 acres immediately which will soon be alienated for non-farm use. Important bird and wildlife values will be uprooted. No one in either senior government has shown the slightest concern about the massive increase in air pollution the additional traffic SFPR will produce. The SFPR has been deliberately changed from its initial path so that it now abuts, and accordingly threatens Burns Bog.

For the most part, the negotiations and monies expended by the Campbell government have been done in secret.

So long salmon

But, alas dear readers, there is more. Many believe that the Deltaport expansion will be for Gordon Campbell what the "fast ferries" were to Glen Clark. Over half the products brought into Deltaport are destined for eastern markets. In 2014 the Panama Canal will be expanded so that many vessels will save money by avoiding Vancouver and continuing to the product's final destination.

The Deltaport now, and as expanded, will have a profoundly adverse effect on the Fraser River salmon.

The 1979 Federal Environment Assessment Panel Review for an application for an expanded coal port facility at Roberts Bank said this:

"From the point of view of estuarine ecology, the Panel has concluded that the potential impacts on the Fraser River estuary, of which Roberts Bank is part, are too great to recommend that the port expansion be approved as proposed. The extent and ecological significance of the Fraser River estuary, particularly its use by fish and wildlife, make it unique in North America. A major salmon fishery depends on its preservation as do hundreds of thousands of migratory birds."

Robert Thibeault, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), wrote this on July 29, 2003, to the Vancouver Port Authority about plans to expand the port at Roberts Bank: "(DFO) Pacific Regional staff has met with VPA officials on several occasions over the last eight months to discuss this terminal expansion proposal. During these meetings, and in subsequent correspondence, DFO staff has clearly identified the unacceptable impacts to critical fish habitat that would occur with several of the proposed expansion options, specifically the Deltaport Expansion, and Terminal 2 Options #2 and #3."

Scientific consensus against

All good stories have a mystery. Somehow the DFO was shunted aside and the torch was handed to Environment Canada (EC) which, on April 27, 2005, said this:

"Vancouver Port Authority has stated that the proposed Deltaport Third Berth Project will not have significant environmental (ecological) impacts on Roberts Bank. EC does not share this view, for the following reasons:

"The footprint of the development, and the proposed mitigation, will directly impact productive habitat for migratory birds and other biota;

"The studies presented in support of the finding of no significant ecological impacts do not provide sufficient evidence to support that conclusion. As already discussed, the conclusions are based on data and analyses for which there exist major flaws; and,

"Perhaps most importantly, the evidence cannot show that the project footprint impacts will not act cumulatively with historical changes to the bank that have resulted from construction of the Deltaport and ferry causeways."

Enter the politicians

Then enter the bureaucrats, lawyers and politicians who, without in any way quarreling with their scientific warnings, pressured Environment Canada to start talking with the Vancouver Port Authority.

Without in any way quarreling with their previous assessments (above) Environment Canada was to talk about "an 'adaptive management plan' incorporating a comprehensive array of monitoring and environmental assessment protocols, to provide advance warning of emerging negative ecosystem trends during project construction and operation" ... blah, blah, blah.

This is politicized civil service double talk for "pay no attention to what we said before, do what you have to do, watch what you're doing and after the harm we predicted happens, try to find a way to make up for all the birds, fish and sea life you've displaced."

In summary, your senior governments, from the outset, intended to do as they pleased, to pay as little attention as possible to the community they're shafting, ignore environmental issues, fix votes when needed, all the while keeping the public in the dark.

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