British Columbia

Environmental bill of rights divides municipal leaders

Delegates at this week's UBCM meeting called on the province to draft an environmental bill of rights to protect the environment, but the resolution was far from unanimous.

UBCM resolution draws support and derision from leaders; highlights urban-rural divide

Contents from a tailings pond is pictured going down the Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake near the town of Likely, B.C. last August. Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb said Lower Mainlanders wouldn't know the Mount Polley disaster from "a stick of wood." (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

A UBCM resolution on a proposed environmental bill of rights has drawn heated debate at this week's conference, and highlights an urban-rural divide between assembled mayors and councilors.

The resolution, which passed, calls on the province to create an environmental bill of rights that would guarantee rights to clean air, water and food; "vibrant ecosystems;" public participation in decisions that affect the environment; access to justice when environmental rights are infringed; and whistle blower protection.

The resolution was endorsed by delegates, but some, like Williams Lake Mayor Walter Cobb, had strong objections.

"It's just another curtailment of resource communities," he told Radio West host Rebecca Zandbergen. "It already takes up to five years to get a permit to do some extraction of raw materials out of our province.

"If you want to shut down the resource communities in B.C., then go for it. Because this will just be another nail in our coffin."

Cobb says that B.C. already has strong enough environmental legislation, and anything further would lead to less forestry and fewer mines in B.C.

Blames Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island delegates

Cobb also said the resolution was the product of municipal leaders on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, and he described their arguments for it as "pretty weak."

"People in the Lower Mainland … they don't understand that if we don't have resource extraction, they wouldn't have a window to look out of. Because glass comes from resource extraction. They wouldn't have a two-by-four to build their house with," he said. "You can't continue to live the way you live in the Lower Mainland, without resource extraction."

"They're the users of our resource extraction. And they don't understand that, and that's what's so very, very frustrating."

When challenged if improved environmental laws or a bill of rights might prevent something like the Mt. Polley disaster from happening again, Cobb said he doubted that incident was any worse than a mudslide on the Sea-to-Sky Highway.

He also challenged Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps' ability to speak on the environment because of the raw sewage that Victoria discharges into the ocean.

Quesnel mayor responds

Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson supported the environmental bill of rights
Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson supported the bill of rights and disagrees with Cobb on its predicted impact on the province's resource communities.

He says the bill of rights is a response to bad policy and process from the federal and provincial governments when it comes to the environment.

Simpson described the National Energy Board hearings into pipelines as one of the "bad" processes that have led to citizen distrust.

"I don't agree with [Mayor Cobb] that if you do process right, and you make sure the regulations are right, and do compliance and enforcement right that you're going to shut down rural communities," he said.

Simpson says he doesn't expect a great deal of opposition from most resource-based companies over the bill of rights.

To hear from Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb, click the audio labelled: Williams Lake mayor on environmental bill of rights

To hear from Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson, click the audio labelled: Quesnel mayor on environmental bill of rights


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