By Jeff King–All five islanders attending the Union of BC Municipalities’ annual convention voted against a resolution calling for an end to the federal oil and gas exploration moratorium, but it passed anyway by about a two-thirds majority, amid charges that there wasn’t enough democratic debate.
The resolution, sponsored by Prince Rupert mayor Herb Pond, was passed Friday afternoon as the UBCM met in Kelowna. It proposes doing away with the 30-year old federal moratorium, and allowing exploration in the waters around the Charlottes.
Five delegates from the islands, all elected politicians, attended, and all voted against the resolution.
Masset mayor Barry Pages was one. He thinks the timing is poor, since the federal Priddle panel, on the islands last spring, has yet to report its findings
“I didn’t think this is the right time for a resolution like that to be in front of the UBCM,” Mr. Pages said, “I think next year would be a better time, because right now the federal government is in a process to gather input. Until that input comes, I don’t think they should be making that resolution.”
Mayor Pages was also critical of the lack of discussion on the resolution. He says many people were upset because they didn’t get the chance to speak, as discussion was cut off fairly quickly. Masset councillor Janet Brown also attended the convention and voted against the resolution. She was the only islander allowed to speak before the vote was called.
Port Clements mayor Dale Lore, who voted no, has several concerns. Seismic testing is one. “There are no baseline studies done,” he said, “We wouldn’t know what we lost.” He says more research is needed to determine the impact on both at-risk species as well as the commercial fishery, and that ocean currents are also a big concern, “We were told by one scientist that three days a year the currents (could carry an oil spill) into Prince Rupert harbour, one day a year to Kitimat, but it gets us every day.” “We take all the risk,” Mayor Lore said, “and from a historical perspective we’d be crazy to think we are going to get any benefit. Basically, the only thing for local people, we could deliver their groceries while they were in the exploration stage. That’s it.”
Mr. Lore was also unhappy with the way the vote was carried out. “They didn’t allow for democratic debate,” he said, “They did not want to hear from local people, they made it very obvious to me that they had no desire for any two-sided debate on this issue.”
Later, he says he talked with NDP MP Nathan Cullen, who assured him that the NDP will vote against the federal government and force an election if it removes the exploration moratorium. “The federal government is not stupid,” Mr. Lore said, “they are not going to lift this moratorium.” He also called the representatives who voted in favour of the resolution “lackeys of the provincial government”. “If they aren’t provincial lackeys, why is it the premier gave them $90-million twenty minutes later?” he said.
Carol Kulesha, Area F regional district director, also voted no. “At this point I do not have enough information to move forward with lifting the moratorium”, she said. She is soon going to tour Cook Inlet, an oil and gas producing area in Alaska, and hopes to come back with more information. Of the resolution, she said “what it does show is that there were impassioned people speaking for both sides, as this issue is larger than our island.”
Ian Hetman, regional district director for area D, voted against the resolution. He says he didn’t like the way the whole thing went at the convention. “It is really upsetting being there and just the way the process went, but that’s the way it goes. That’s the system, so you live with it, but you don’t have to be happy,” he said. He also said it’s naÃ¯ve of people to believe that pressures to continue development will disappear after exploratory work is carried out. “The studies need to be finished about what damages could possibly result before we go any further,” he said.
Prince Rupert mayor Herb Pond told the Observer Monday morning the moratorium has prevented any significant dialogue from taking place. “We are very eager to see the science and the dialogue proceed, regardless of the outcome, quite frankly,” he said, adding “Â…we owe it to ourselves and our kids to at least have a responsible discussion about it.”
In Vancouver, the David Suzuki Foundation says the mayors are ignoring the wishes of most British Columbians, who are in favour of the exploration ban continuing, and also that the oil and gas industry would have lots of risks and few benefits.
About 600 politicians from around the province attended the convention. The resolution is not binding, but just an indication of what delegates are thinking. The federal moratorium remains in place, and at this point most of the focus is on waiting for the Priddle Panel results to be given to the federal government, expected soon.
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