Exclusive interests of industry have trumped a public wish for a major marine and coastal protection area in the Strait of Georgia.
“Any attempt to establish marine parks or conservation areas that would prevent vessels from anchoring in these areas should be challenged vigorously,” says the powerful and well-financed Chamber of Shipping of B.C. in its 2011 annual report. The 2014 report announced victory as the proposed conservation area “fell off the radar, with Parks Canada seemingly bowing to strong opposition from local and marine industry stakeholders.”
No matter that federal and provincial governments have been reassuring B.C.’s Gulf Island and South Coast residents since the mid 1990s that the public interest would best be served by a National Marine Conservation Area in the southern Strait of Georgia.
“Canada is a trading nation, and we could lose our ability to trade if we don’t have sufficient anchorages,” says the chamber’s colleague, Kevin Obermeyer, CEO of the Pacific Pilotage Authority, a Crown corporation.
About 400 Gabriola residents recently took exception to such entitled assumptions, however, suggesting appointed boards of the Crown, working closely with self-appointed private authorities, have no right to put economic interests before social and environmental considerations.
Facing designation of five anchorages, leaked chamber and pilotage documents in hand, a protest flotilla sailed Gabriola’s northeast shores. Gabriolans, sailors, tourists and fishing-boat owners were legitimately upset. No one had told them about anchorages being dropped in their neighbourhoods, into coastal waters where the fishing is good and the eagles, seals and orca whales feed. And so they’ll go to the B.C. Supreme Court if the pilotage authority continues to deny due process and the public interest.
Gabriolans want to know why the Chamber of Shipping tasked the Nanaimo Port Authority, another Crown corporation with appointed directors, to “nominate additional capesize anchorages to the east of Gabriola Island.”
Why can an industrial alliance tell a public agency what to do? And why can the port authority make decisions on coastal waters outside their jurisdiction?
It appears the chamber and Nanaimo Port Authority have become a little too comfortable in defining the public interest, ill-conceived shipping anchorages being the latest example of what might be in store for the Strait of Georgia should they have their way.
For 10 years or so, visions of oil and gas, coal and Pacific trade consortiums have whetted the taste for windfall profits and mega-project developments along B.C.’s coast. Tantalized by new markets, the politically high and mighty seemingly in approval, we’re led to believe there’s no time to waste.
“Layer upon layer of environmental initiatives, marine protected areas and marine conservation areas, unless better co-ordinated, have the potential to be significant impediments to Gateway efficiency and future growth,” the chamber told the federal and provincial governments.
Not so fast, the Gabriolans say. What about that little “global treasure found nowhere else in the world,” which the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society was pleased to see protected in June? Federal-government fishing closures announced around the Strait of Georgia’s glass sponge reefs, at least one of which lies off Gabriola Island, might actually stop those anchorages where the tankers and freighters are slated to go.
Which, in a strange way, could validate the chamber’s contention, if not their methods — that economic booms and business opportunities might fall before ecological imperatives and the bleeding hearts of the world.
But what if, rather than duking it out in court and re-fighting that old canard, all sides took a collective breath instead? Maybe sat down together to consider options that support the environment and the economy, sustainability and development?
According to the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, Gary Holman, an National Marine Conservation Area “ensures commercial activity is managed sustainably while recognizing First Nation rights and protecting areas of high ecological importance.”
So, designating a NMCA could, in fact, help business, ensuring fair and equal application of regulations for such economic needs as anchorages, while balancing ecological needs for habitat and marine protection.
In this light, a federal election just around the corner and our children’s children deserving of a lasting and meaningful gift for Canada’s 150th birthday, perhaps it’s best to fast-track the NMCA — so we all benefit at the earliest opportunity.
Neither the Chamber of Shipping, Pacific Pilotage Authority or Gabriolans want another empty promise for a southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Protection Area. The question is, which party will speak the truth to power, champion environmental rights and stand up for our common future?
Laurie Gourlay is president of the Vancouver Island and Coast Conservation Society.