There weren’t too many differences of opinion between two federal candidates for South Surrey-White Rock who spoke at Wednesday evening’s Communities and Coal forum at Ocean Park Community Hall.
Liberal candidate Joy Davies and NDP candidate Pixie Hobby were virtually unified on the undesirability and dangers of shipping U.S. thermal coal through the community, and what they described as the “inadequacy” of the decision-making and review process for the proposed expansion of the coal facility at Fraser Surrey Docks.
And like the Green Party’s Larry Colero and Conservative candidate Dianne Watts – who were not present, but sent statements to be read at the meeting – they both supported an independent health-impact assessment on the port.
(The proposed expansion is currently under challenge in federal court by Communities and Coal, along with Voters Taking Action on Climate Change and two individual applicants.)
Watts declined to attend in deference to outgoing Conservative MP Russ Hiebert – who also declined to attend or provide a statement, deferring to “the future 2015 candidates.”
Watts said in a statement read aloud by moderator Andrew Murray that, as mayor of Surrey until last fall, she joined council in calling for the need for an independent health-impact assessment for the port expansion, and formal public hearings on the proposal.
Colero’s statement said the Green Party remains “firmly opposed” to shipping US thermal coal.
“Canadians have an inherent right to protect themselves and their families from lethal threats created by American business ventures.”
Pointing to the “gutting” of the federal Environmental Assessment Act – which Hobby, as an environmental lawyer, helped craft – Davies and Hobby were adamant there could be no meaningful change in environmental protection without ousting the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in October’s election.
Their only key difference was on whether Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau or NDP Leader Tom Mulcair should form the next government, although both, along with Communities and Coal co-founder Paula Williams, stressed the importance of voter turnout to voice public feeling on the issues.
Hobby won the loudest applause of the evening from a full house of some 150, in answering a question about how much economic benefit could be gained by overriding environmental concerns for projects like the coal-port expansion.
She pointed to a Sachs Goldman study in 2013 that she said showed “the window on coal is shutting down quickly – any further investment in coal infrastructure will result in an oversupply which would lead to a collapse in the market.”
“Harper put all his eggs in the oil-sands basket and (the market) collapsed, prices went down and now we’re subsidizing the industry through our tax dollars… Are we going to see a repeat performance with coal?
“This kind of development simply doesn’t make sense. Welcome to the 21st century – but the Harper government lives back in the 20th.”
Davies hammered the Harper government in remarks throughout the evening, following an impassioned presentation by former Appalachian coal miner Nick Mullins and his wife, Rusty, who described the devastating impact the coal industry has long had on health and safety in the U.S.
In her opening statement, Davies said that while other alternatives are being researched, the use of coal remains a fact of life.
“It is a long journey to change this paradigm,” she said. “We Liberals don’t have a blanket prohibition on the shipping of natural resources to or from the the US. We want municipalities and the provinces to have more input into all issues that touch their communities, but we simply will not have resolution to these issues while the Harper government remains in power.”
In Watts’ statement, she reaffirmed her concerns about rail safety and the shipment of dangerous goods through such communities as Ocean Park and Crescent Beach and her continued interest in rail relocation.
“Speaking to the larger picture… again I have spoken publicly on the need to transition out of use of fossil fuels to alternative sources, and to eventually cease to use fossil fuels entirely,” she said.
In his statement, Colero said the Green Party was the only party in the last election that proposed a national transportation strategy.
He said he believes the party will influence Parliament to create a “clean freight initiative” that would include science-based assessment of risks and hazards and new regulations to make sure railways “serve all Canadians.”
“Experience shows us that the Port, Transport Canada and the BNSF Railway cannot be relied upon to safeguard Canadians, let alone the planet,” he said.