B.C. Auditor General Confirms: Province's Enviromental Review Process a Sham

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A-G Report Confirms BC's Sham Environmental Assessment, Enforcement
by Rafe Mair l Common Sense Canadian
Vindication always feels good but as you read the Auditor-General’s report on the BC Environmental Assessment Office (BCEAO), which reports to the Ministry of Environment – it’s the governments licensing and enforcement arm – the warm feeling of vindication quickly vanishes and you are swamped with the realization of what this government’s gross neglect has done and continues to do to our province.
 
The full story is the front page headline story in today’s (July 8) Vancouver Sun which indeed speaks volumes, considering their usual affection amounting almost to servility towards the the government, the Fraser Institute, the fish farming industry and the like.
 
The report is not complicated. This quote from the AG, John Doyle, says it all:
 
"I raise my eyebrows whenever conditions are placed on a [project approval] certificate which aren’t enforceable or measurable, I ask the question, what’s the point? What the government needs is a single focus on compliance to make sure what the government requires to be done, is, in fact, done. (emphasis added).
 
Of some note is the “pie chart” showing that the BCEAO rejects 0.5% of applications! 
 
Mr. Doyle has shown how inadequate – too weak a word – the process is on the record. Now let me tell you how the environmental scam looks from the trenches.
 
Along with colleagues in the environmental field like Gwen Barlee and Joe Foy of the Wilderness Committee, Damien Gillis and I have attended a number of BCEAO public hearings and I would rather have a root canal without anaesthetic than attend another. And, speaking of roots, the main frustration goes right to the root of the matter.
 
These meetings are not to decide whether or not the proposal is acceptable on environmental grounds, but what the environmental assessment process ought to include! In other words, it’s a done deal so the wisdom of the project is moot. It’s “sit down and shut up and, in Mr. Mair’s case, stop saying 'Bull Shit!'”
 
It’s also interesting to note that, with private power applications at any rate, the company gets to pick the venue for the “hearing” and they’re noted for picking halls too small which are situated as far as possible from where the interested population lives.
 
Examples abound but the one for the Glacier/Howser private river project was a doozy. In that latter case, the main population is in Nelson so the company scheduled meetings in the villages of Kaslo and Meadow Creek (population a few hundred, tops)! Pretty neat, huh? But to the dismay of the company and the government, more people attended the Kaslo hearing than live there (1,100 of them in a town of 1,000)!
 
It may seem picky, but appearances are very important - perception is reality - and the first thing one notices is the chumminess between the government people and the industry people. The Chair, while declaring those concerned about the merits of the project as out order, permits the company spokesperson to sing the “virtues” of the project to his heart’s content.
 
What cannot be overestimated is the indictment of the government implicit in this report, considering that the Director of Environmental Assessment is a public servant appointed by the Minister which, in practice, means with the approval of cabinet including the premier. Public servants are selected because they will do as they are told which, of course, is their duty.
 
Without ministerial direction to allow the public to deal with the merits of a proposal, the Executive Director has no right to do so. The environmental policy of this government is to do nothing to safeguard our environment and nothing is done. To operate the sham process we have is worse than not even going through the motions because the latter case would at least be honest not an exercise in duplicity.
 
What this tells me is that every environmentally approved project under this regime must be opened for review and done immediately. Then the government must forthwith provide an environmental process wherein the public can make representations on the merits or otherwise of the project.
 
Once upon a time municipal bodies had the right to grant or withhold zoning approval of certain projects. This ended a few years ago when the Squamish-Lillooett Regional District was faced with zoning the Ashlu River private power project. The District held public hearings throughout the district, found opposition to the project overwhelming, and denied the company its required zoning - with a vote of 8-1 against.
 
Unable and unwilling to permit its corporate friends (Ledcor) to be subject to the law, Premier Campbell passed Bill 30, which took away from municipal authorities, retroactively, the right to zone this sort of project. Thus, the only opportunity of the citizen to question the wisdom of a project was snatched from them and thrown in the garbage pit by Campbell & Co. Citizens can turn down a Wal-Mart or fast food joint but when it comes to an enormous project that will affect them big time, they are legislated out of all right to ask questions and air their views.
 
What this scathing report does is add further evidence of this government’s utter indifference to the environment and we had better do something about it as the pipeline people apply for their permits and other private power companies want to bugger up (pardon the technical language) more rivers for the profit of large corporations and their foreign shareholders.
 
Mr. Doyle’s report tells us that for all practical purposes there is no environmental assessment process in our province.
 
There we have it – the game may be crooked but it’s the only game in town.
 
 
 
Rafe Mair was a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. Since 1981 he has been a radio talk show host, and is recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists.  
 
 
 
 

 

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