Liberal candidate Miles Richardson faced several questions about his stand on oil and gas development Friday morning in Masset (June 18).
In response, Mr. Richardson outlined three conditions which would have to be met before the federal government even considered lifting its longstanding moratorium on oil and gas exploration and drilling off BC’s coast.
“First, that the people of the area are willing to accept the environmental risk of harm. Second, that the aboriginal rights and title issue be resolved. Third, that a comprehensive regulatory regime be put in place,” he said.
Once those three conditions are met, government and industry would have to take a serious look at how much oil and gas is actually there, and whether it makes economic sense to extract it, Mr. Richardson told the seven adults and one baby who attended the hour-long question and answer session.
At the moment, he said, industry is not even interested in Hecate Strait’s oil and gas for several reasons, including confusion over which level of government has jurisdiction over the area and the unresolved First Nations claims, he said.
And he warned islanders that it is irresponsible to oppose oil and gas without more information about what resources are actually out there.
“People should understand that just saying ‘no’ to everything diminishes your power in the conversation,” he said. “I don’t think we should shy away from anythingÂ… What I mean by shying away is before even having a serious look.”
Mr. Richardson also said the current process undertaken by the federal government – including the so-called “Priddle Panel” which visited the coast in April to gather public input – is inadequate.
“It was a process that was unilaterally imposed,” he said, adding that when organizations like the Council of the Haida Nation are not involved in designing the process, it’s no surprise that they refuse to participate.
Many groups and communities across the Skeena-Bulkley Valley feel they have an interest in the oil and gas issue, he said, and they should all have a say in the discussion. Mr. Richardson then asked one of people attending the session what he thought should happen.
“The risk is not worth it,” Jaalen Edenshaw replied. “Our culture depends on the ocean.”
Mr. Edenshaw added that people living on Haida Gwaii should have a bigger say than others on the oil and gas issue, because the risk here is greatest.
“This riding is very polarized, and based on very little information,” Mr. Richardson told him. “We need to bring the information into the discussion.”
Mr. Edenshaw asked the candidate what his position would be if complete consultations had taken place, all information had been collected, and the Haida Nation had established title to the area and continued to say no.
Mr. Richardson responded that he would have to make a decision when that day came.
“I agree that any activity we undertake must protect that marine environment,” he continued, adding that even the most pro-development people agree on how precious the environment is. “The people throughout this riding share that view, that’s what I’ve heard very strongly.”
Although most of the time was spent discussing oil and gas, Mr. Richardson did address several other subjects. Tax cuts proposed by the Conservatives, he said, are “a crock” and will not help the economy. Provincial governments like BC and Ontario which have tried them have ended up gutting social programs.
The Liberal spending scandal which has figured so prominently in the campaign was wrong and will be fixed, he said. The bigger picture, he said, shows something good happening in Ottawa: the Liberals have brought in balanced budgets, and are now in a position to spend more on health and education.
Asked about the gun registry program, Mr. Richardson said it should be changed to a voluntary registry, or scrapped. He said he would fight to change it, and that the prime minister has told him he is open to suggestions on this one.
“It has just been a waste of money. We haven’t got value for what we spent on that,” he said. “People who use rifles for their own use, hunting, protection, anything like thatÂ… no damn way it should make a criminal of you, that’s my opinion.”
Mr. Richardson also spoke about Canada’s health care system, and the need for the federal government to attach some strings to the money it hands to the provinces for health care, and ensure that health care standards are upheld.
“At the end of the day, the federal government has to play hardball on that,” he said. “You know what’s going to happen, the provinces will hop up and down and the feds will look like the villain. I guess that’s politics.”
One final point: Mr. Richardson wanted to make it crystal clear to islanders that he is running for the federal Liberals, which have nothing in common with the provincial Liberal government.
“I’m running on the Paul Martin team for the federal Liberal party, and we have absolutely nothing to do with (BC premier) Gordon Campbell,” he said. “And you can double underline that.”
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