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Find the will to face up to an Inconvenient Truth

By Graham Brazier

Climate change is no longer a science story.

At the recent Academy Awards Hollywood stars publicly embraced environmentally-friendly limousines and plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars to alert their fans to alternatives for the fossil fuels that produce greenhouse gases.

It was a sign that something has shifted. Or as Al Gore said: “The Zeitgeist has begun to change. I think it reflects the increased popular will to confront and solve this crisis. It’s an extraordinary experience to see this issue – which the conventional wisdom used to say was politically marginal – become central for so many people. As it should.”

While Gore traveled around Europe and North America with his slide show on global warming under his arm – the one he’s presented more than 1,000 times – U.K. economist Sir Nicholas Stern worked on his own gloomy task, a report on climate change for the British government. Stern’s conclusions, released in October of 2006, were, from an economist’s point of view, dire indeed. The Guardian described them as ‘an apocalyptic picture’.

Gore’s message ‘that action couldn’t wait’ was confirmed and underscored by Stern. Nevertheless, his recommendations were directed at governments while Gore delivered his pitch to anyone who would listen, mostly it was to corporations and individuals. The result was the Academy Award Winning film An Inconvenient Truth which carried Gore’s point ever deeper into popular culture where, flawed or not, its message found wide-spread acceptance amongst large segments of a previously disinterested public.

In the film, Gore prompts the question: “What can I do about climate change?” and then provides twenty suggestions. Not surprisingly, six of them relate to reduction of the use and impact of the automobile.

Countless local governments contemplating transportation plans involving restrictions on private automobiles must have been thrilled to see their objectives reinforced in such a high profile film.

In a post-inconvenient-truth world, it’s hard to imagine transportation schemes that call for expanded facilities for private automobile use, including highway construction, will proceed unchallenged by a newly invigorated public.

Which brings me to Denman Island where, at a time when progressive communities around the globe seek to shrink automobile dependence and make a contribution to limiting greenhouse gas emissions, a proposal currently before this community to develop the North Denman Lands suggests that we expand our road network and provide accommodation for more automobiles. Rather than being part of the solution, we are asked how big our contribution to the problem should be. Should we provide sanctuary for 50 or 65 more cars?

I’ll give Al Gore the last word: “We need to solve the climate change crisis. It’s not a political issue, it’s a moral issue. We have everything we need to get started, with the possible exception of the will to act. That’s a renewable resource. Let’s renew it.”

Alliance keeps wary eye on new BC-Alberta trade pact

The Gulf Islands Alliance is concerned that the new BC/Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) could thwart the Islands Trust in carrying out its ‘preserve and protect’ mandate.

In a letter to the Trust, the Alliance asks the Trust to petition the province to seek an exemption from the agreement. The Alliance first raised its concern at a Trust Council meeting in December.

Here’s part of the Alliance letter:

“As we have become more familiar with the possible implications of the TILMA we have become increasingly alarmed about the possible ramifications the agreement could have for the Trust system of governance. This is particularly so as we know that the Islands Trust is not specifically listed under Section V (Exceptions).

“Rick Earle, Director of Finance for the City of Burnaby has said of this agreement:

“Although characterized as building on or furthering the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT), TILMA is structured to be very broad and encompassing (inclusive) unless specific exclusion are provided. The AIT only covered certain specified areas. This fact alone makes the potential for challenges under the new agreement much more probable than the under the AIT.”

“The civic measures dealing with quality (quality of life, neighbourhoods, etc.) are not covered as legitimate objectives and are therefore subject to challenge under the agreement. For example, zoning to minimize industrial/residential interface issues could be challenged; there are many areas in the city where the interface is an issue, based on historical development. Any bylaw restricting new development could be challenged based on its restriction of trade and the fact that historical examples do exist where commercial enterprises are built adjacent to residential areas.”

“Regardless of the intent, the breadth of these sections provides the potential for virtually unlimited challenges to city bylaws, zoning, and practices.”

“The Trade, Investment, and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) has the potential to have far reaching negative impacts on municipal objectives; therefore it is recommended that Burnaby ask the Union of B.C. Municipalities to review the agreement and consult with the provincial government and municipalities, with the intent of making required changes, exempting municipalities, or having the province withdraw from the agreement in its entirety.”

“Saskatoon’s city solicitor, tabled a report of TILMA at the Municipal Council’s Feb. 26, 2007 meeting. Her views included the following:

“Cities like Saskatoon, which have a long history of doing things first and doing things differently, will be at the greatest risk of TILMA challenges,”. “Based on the information that we have to date, it is…possible to assume that TILMA cannot be adjusted to fit cities.”

“We are writing to request that the Trust Council press the Province to exempt the Islands Trust under Section V in the Exceptions specifically outlined in the agreement. We are of the opinion that if Minister Hanson’s assurances that the ability of the Trust to meet the Trust Object will not be impaired by this agreement, then he should have no problem including the Islands Trust in this list.”

In a parallel action, the Gabriola Local Trust Committee requested Islands Trust to ask the Province for a commitment that TILMA won’t prevent the Province from signing off on local trust committee official community plans. MP Jean Crowder, Nanaimo-Cowichan noted that the BC NDP caucus has been speaking out against TILMA and “the un-democratic way it was put in place.”

It wanted a debate about it in the BC legislature “so all British Columbians could learn about this agreement and its implications. The BC Liberals voted down the motion for debate.

“Jim Flaherty, the federal Finance Minister, mentioned TILMA in the budget speech as a good model for other provinces to follow,” Crowder said. “So we expect the federal government is planning some way of extending this bad deal across the nation.”

One critic said that TILMA will allow “legal challenges to restrictions on the location and size of commercial signs, environmental set-backs for developers, zoning, building heights, pesticide bans, green space requirements, private health clinics, nursing homes, junk food in schools, air quality, tourist developments, ecological reserves, agricultural land reserves, rent controls and much more. This could get very expensive for the tax payer at a potential $5 million per challenge.”

In a letter to objectors, Colin Hansen, the BC minister responsible for the deal, replied to demands for public consultation and legislative involvement and charges that TILMA doesn’t protect the Islands Trust area, or the Agricultural Land Reserve and municipal and regional district zoning:

“While not specifically listed as exceptions, these protected areas and regulations are legitimate public and environmental objectives and not subject to the Agreement.

“This also extends to labour laws, environmental standards, human rights legislation, community drinking watersheds and forest protection lands. I must re-emphasize that the Agreement applies to trade, investment and labour mobility between provinces and does not strip away legitimate rules and regulations.

“Legislation was not required to enter into the agreement. However, implementation of specific measures related to TILMA will require amendments to existing legislation.”

He noted that the Conference Board of Canada concluded that under TILMA BC could gain an additional 78,000 new jobs and $4.8 billion in real gross domestic product.

GIA launches December 2006

Southern Gulf Islands

Press release, December 7, 2006
Victoria – A new group of concerned citizens from across the southern Gulf Islands has formed to support the ‘preserve and protect’ goals of the Islands Trust Act.

Announcement of the Gulf Islands Alliance launch was made at a regular meeting of the Islands Trust Council today in Victoria.
“We want to ensure the full implementation of the Islands Trust mandate to keep our fragile island ecosystems intact and our rural communities small and diverse,” said Alliance Chair, Christine Torgrimson, of Salt Spring Island.

“Our aim is to better inform ourselves and the public to support measures that counter the growing threats to our islands.”

“In the 1960s and 70s the province recognized the fragile and special nature of the islands. It wisely legislated the Islands Trust Act in 1974 to protect what it said was one of most unique and threatened environments in the world.

“Since then, the Trust area population has more than doubled. The Trust has wrestled with the forces of industry, development and tourism to try to keep the islands intact. In recent years, the province has unfortunately refused to provide the resources and legislative tools that the Trust needs to do its job thoroughly.”

Noting recent national public opinion polls placing the environment as a leading public concern, Torgrimson said “residents of the islands and beyond are receptive and ready to join us and the Trust to make sure these precious islands are not squandered.”

She pointed out that in several recent public forums, sponsored both by the Trust and by citizen groups, people from various islands discovered they share similar concerns.

“Throughout the islands, we are struggling with shortages of groundwater, illegal rental of residences for short-term vacationers, logging and tree-cutting issues, and the loss of near-shore marine life. Some islands are literally losing their residential communities as second homes and short-term vacation rentals take over their neighborhoods and housing prices escalate well beyond many islanders’ means.

“We have recognized that we can be far more effective by getting together as an inter-island force, learning from each other, finding the best solutions, and bolstering the efforts of the Trust,” Torgrimson said.

“Particularly because we live on islands, we realize that we must define and accept limits on population, tourism and use of island resources. We’re not unrealistically against all growth and development, but we will actively oppose growth that diminishes the environment and/or abuses the public good at it’s described in the Islands Trust Act.”

In recent years, various Gulf Islands have been hit hard by residential and commercial development, resource depletion and increasing tourism. These are the same issues that sparked passage of the Islands Trust Act 32 years ago. Since then provincial funding has declined to levels which now jeopardize Islands Trust ability to safeguard an ecologically rare archipelago that includes 13 major islands and more than 450 smaller islands.