Local politicians split over environmental ‘rights’

Right to clean water, air and food narrowly supported by UBCM majority, critic says it's 'David Suzuki propaganda'

Delegates vote on resolutions Wednesday at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver.

Over vocal objections from some representatives, local politicians have narrowly endorsed a call for an “environmental bill of rights” for B.C. at their annual convention.

Calling it “an idea whose time has come,” Richmond Coun. Harold Steves sponsored the motion Wednesday at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver. It calls for recognition of a right to “live in a healthy environment, including the right to clean air, clean water, clean food and vibrant ecosystems.”

Steves reminded delegates of a summer of smoke from forest fires and a drought that saw his Cache Creek farm run out of water. He noted the bill of rights has been supported by 36 municipalities around B.C., after a tour of local councils by the David Suzuki Foundation’s Blue Dot campaign.

The idea was quickly challenged.

“How is this resolution going to prevent forest fires and create clean air?” North Cowichan Coun. Al Siebring asked. “It’s not.”

Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb dismissed the bill of rights movement as “David Suzuki propaganda” backed by urban people who don’t understand that mining and forestry provide the lumber, copper and other products that build their homes and communities.

Cobb said it already takes years of environmental review before resource extraction can be approved, “and if this passes, it will be another nail in the coffin of rural B.C.”

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz urged support for the bill of rights, arguing it would “raise our consciousness.” Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps quoted from a presentation to council by an 11-year-old boy and joined other delegates in calling for the resolution to support future generations.

Coquitlam Coun. Terry O’Neill listed a dozen provincial laws governing clean water, air pollution, public health and food safety. He called on the convention to focus on specific measures instead of asserting rights that are actually “a demand for others to do something for you.”

Nanaimo Regional District director Julian Fell agreed, saying four of the six rights proposed to his board are actually “entitlements.” He called for the UBCM to declare that water and air should be legally guaranteed to remain public assets.