Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May and her provincial counterpart, MLA Adam Olsen, met a full house at Gulf Islands Secondary School for a joint town hall session on Thursday evening, where issues relating to pipeline and tanker expansions on the coast remained a top concern.
Questions from the public covered a wide field of federal and provincial issues. Concern about pipeline approvals, the impact on the environment and the unlawful treatment of First Nations people in their own territory at the Unist’ot’en camp framed some of the discussion. In regard to a question about protecting orcas from increased shipping noise, May pointed out that Canada is falling far short of the protective measures recently announced in Washington state under governor Jay Inslee.
Even worse, she said, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Fisheries Minister John Wilkinson had reportedly asked for an emergency order of protection for the southern resident killer whale population after the most recent calf’s birth, and were denied.
One of May’s projects is sponsoring a bill to end the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity, which she hopes will be passed before June of this year.
Olsen reported the provincial government spent a busy fall session passing legislation on a number of issues that had been highlighted for action under the NDP/Green party confidence and supply agreement. He was disappointed in the referendum results on the electoral system but praised voters for helping bring the riding the highest return rate in the province.
One question for Olsen was what he intended to do about the Penelakut Seafoods aquaculture application at Booth Bay, with issues of recreational use, environment and potentially toxic product raised. A decision on the license of occupation from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development is expected to come this summer.
Olsen said he had talked with Minister Doug Donaldson once and many times with senior staff about the issue and concerns. He had also met with concerned residents together with Penelakut Tribe’s economic development officer and seafood company members earlier that day. From what he learned, the plan is to seed shellfish on the beach and then harvest it from the water after two years, without infrastructure or mechanics and without predator netting if possible.
In relation to pipeline expansions in B.C., there was discussion of mainstream media coverage in Alberta and elsewhere, RCMP action and priorities in the province, and anti-SLAPP legislation to protect public speech from costly legal action. The recent news that a consortium of First Nations business interests (mainly based in the Prairie provinces) may be interested in purchasing the Trans Mountain pipeline from the federal government also came up.
May called that news shocking. She suggested that it was a “set-up” and the government is actually planning to pay the Indian Resource Council the money it would need to buy the pipeline.
Olsen said he could not criticize Indigenous groups for wanting to improve their economic well-being, but also saw the situation as a classic divide-and-conquer strategy under colonialism.
“My people, the Salish people, have been very clear about how we feel about tanker traffic coming through our territory, and what’s being set up here is we’re going to warrior-up,” Olsen said. “And it’s going to be our own people we’re looking across at — our own cousins, our own relatives, and the government’s going to be standing back saying, ‘Get on with it, guys.’ So it’s pretty ugly, it’s pretty sad, and pretty frightening, to be honest with you.”
For more on this story, see the Jan. 23, 2019 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.