Saturday, February 7, 2015

Well that didn't take long

Last week at the Woodfibre LNG open house I asked the representatives of Woodfibre how it was going to be possible that those of us opposed to the project could stop it.  To their credit, Josh, who formerly worked with the Environmental Assessment Office, advised that really the only way was to get political.

So I got up this morning, after a busy week of work, to sit down to write a letter to my local MLA Jordan Sturdy, who is also the MLA for Squamish.  As I fired up Google to find his email address, here are the articles that suddenly appeared:

Huh.  I'm not sure I have the capability to raise more money for Jordan Sturdy than Woodfibre LNG can.  Here I was, furiously putting in a shift documenting my experience of the Woodfibre open house, trying to muster strategic opposition by encouraging people to write to our MLA so that he could take a stand against Woodfibre LNG on behalf of the citizens of his riding who do not want the project going ahead.

I ask you though.  What are the options in a democracy when the only route citizens have to actually stopping something are closed by the combined weight of a billionaire's treasure chest and the strategic insight of Hill and Knowlton, who certainly have an extensive playbook on helping big energy companies get what they want?

The timing on this is shocking.  The environmental assessment process is currently open and closes on March 9.  Here is how you can participate. After that process, the Environmental Assessment Office will make recommendations and it will be up to the government to approve or reject the recommendations.

The provincial government is supposed to be the people's voice in this matter. We elected our MLAs to represent us.  In a democracy you would expect that their review of an environment assessment process would be impartial and would balance the company's aspirations against the citizens'.  Just because Woodfibre LNG meets all the criteria does not mean that it is something that should be built. It just means that whatever IS built will be compliant with whatever guidelines are currently in place .

And so we rely on our local MLA to take forward our concerns and one would hope that he will be neutral and considered in his deliberations about what his constituents want.  On the biggest and potentially most important economic and evironmental decision in a generation for his riding, you would think that Jordan Sturdy would rise above Hill and Knowlton and Woodfibre LNG's manipulations and at least maintain an air of neutrality while the process he is to influence is still open.

But that's not the case.  

I have spoken to Jordan Sturdy in the past and I like him, even though we have radically different opinions about the role of the ferry system and other things.  People I know who know him say he's a good guy and I believe them.

But on this issue he has made a colossal, disappointing and dispiriting mistake.  Our last hope to stop Woodfibre LNG was politically.  It was always going to be hard to convince BC Liberals not to approve Woodfibre LNG.  But now that they have been funded by them, there is absolutely a stench of actual, financial influence peddling in the air, and as nice a guy as Sturdy is, I can't shake the feeling that his constituents have no chance to get him to stand in the legislature and oppose this project.

In my dreams, here's what happens.  Jordan stands up in the legislature and declares that there has been a mistake.  That he realizes that receiving funds from Woodfibre was wrong and that he rejects all present, past and future efforts of Woodfibre LNG to influence the political process while the decision is still open. He would declare that he needs all of his constituents to write, phone and email him so that he can return to the legislature and express their concerns.  Because not a single employee, investor or beneficiary of Woodfibre LNG lives in Jordan Sturdy's riding.  Imagine if he stood alone and voted to deny Woodfibre LNG?  How courageous would that be, even though it probably represents what his constituents actually want him to do?  It's a sad day when doing what is expected of you is a courageous act.

Perhaps we should throw a fundraiser for him here on Bowen Island.  We could invite him out to the pub for "Take Back Our MLA Night", point out that he's here at the behest of a group of people that don't want the project to happen.  We could pass my hat around to raise a few bucks for his next election campaign and try as hard as we can to engage in our own influence peddling.  I wonder if he'd come?  I wonder if other communities around Howe Sound would do the same?

I also wonder about influence now. Other than a blog post from an obscure Bowen Islander whose faith in our democracy is continually eroded by the very people we elect to be its guardians, I wonder what ability we have now to stop it.  It's not that I expect to get my way on every issue.  What I expect is an assurance that there is a clean, lawful, neutral process for citizens to express their dissent.  You'd think that would be through your local MLA.  

Jordan has to know that the only people who really want this are a corrupt SIngaporian billionaire, The BC Liberal party brass and the bond rating agencies that underwrite our provincial finances and who call the shots.  The rest of us can live without it.  No one will go out of business or die because we DON'T build it.  

So this is a long letter to Jordan Sturdy.  To conclude: Jordan...I'm opposed to Woodfibre.  I'd be amazed if the collective voice of your constituents made a difference in this respect, because until you distance yourself from Woodfibre LNG, it's hard to have faith that you will be making a decision in the best interests of the people whom you represent.  I think you should issue a public statement clarifying the relationship and rejecting you now appear to have and take a strong stand for the integrity of the democratic process.  

I'll post your response on my blog.

EDIT TO ADD: To his credit Jordan Sturdy called me back this morning and we had another good talk about things.  I think he acknowledged that the perception is everything and the perception is bad, but he clarified that the fundraising event was not "sponsored by Woodfibre LNG" but Woodfibre LNG bought a table along with many other donors.  While I am not naive, and know full well how political fundraising works, I pointed out that the real problem was that you have an open application process in which the politicians are going to be responsible for making a decision.  They haven't decided yet so the thing about Woodfibre LNG contributing to the Liberals stinks, and still has the appearance of influence peddling.

I will give Jordan Sturdy credit though.  He personally maintains a principle of a strict separation between the fundraising activities of the riding association and the party and his own work.  He "chalked this one up to experience" acknowledged that it looked bad.  We spent about a half hour talking about the proposal and the inlet and I have to say he deserves a lot of credit for responding right away. He declined to write anything for my blog saying he prefers a phone call to engage over a written piece.  I agree with this.  Our MP John Weston is the worst offender of this kind of thing, never taking time to respond or engage and only just publishing pap that makes him look good and effective when in reality he has rarely acted on anything of substance.

So while I am still highly skeptical about the process I continue to be impressed by our MLAs willingness to engage and ndisncuss issues.  Thanks for the call, Jordan.

PS...He also laughed when I asked him if he'd come to a "Take Back Our MLA" night at the pub as a fundraiser once he clarified that I wasn't starting a recall campaign.  Who knows, eh?