B. Routley: I must say that it’s really great to be back and once again have an opportunity to speak out on behalf of the fine people who live in the Cowichan Valley.
I want to focus today, the limited time that I have, on one throne speech item that’s critically important to people in the Cowichan Valley, and that’s the modernization of the century-old Water Act. This is an issue that is absolutely critical to a lot of my constituents, and we’re very concerned about the future of our water and our watersheds.
Hon. Speaker, did you know that without water you will start to die within 72 hours? We must have water. Without water, no food is grown, no energy is captured, no activity can be performed. We actually need water for life, yet we humans go around threatening our own life-giving water.
Did you know, hon. Speaker, that in Canada on any given day of the year, public health authorities are reporting more than 1,500 drinking water advisories that are enforced in communities throughout Canada?
[D. Horne in the chair.]
In the Cowichan Valley we have serious concerns about the pollution of drinking water — contamination that is being rained down on us by this Liberal government, contamination delivered, ironically, by your own Ministry of Environment. Government has the authority to dump contaminated soil in the Shawnigan watershed. They’ve given that authority.
I see that some of that dumping has begun already, even though most people generally believe that water is a shared public asset, that water must be protected and managed for the public good. And yet this Liberal government has adopted a kind of global economic fundamentalism.
As stated in the throne speech, they intend to be focused on getting to yes. They are all about getting to a profitable yes, even if it means dumping contaminated soil in Shawnigan Lake’s beautiful watershed. The Liberal yes, therefore, believes that community rights are not as important as profit-taking as a principle — or even as a core value to this Liberal government.
I believe this is totally unacceptable. This government has clearly ignored all of the positions taken by political parties. Across the spectrum we were unanimous during the last election that we had no interest in seeing a dumping-of-contaminated-soil plan go ahead — in the beautiful Shawnigan Lake watershed of all things.
Even the Liberal candidate said in this last election, “Not only is the site above a major aquifer that supplies drinking water; it is also right beside a stream that flows directly into the Shawnigan Lake. This is lunacy,” he declared. He was right. There’s one Liberal, for sure, I can agree with. Absolutely right that it’s lunacy, and it has begun.
All of the Cowichan Valley municipal groups that the CVRD represents, and those are communities all over the Cowichan Valley…. In fact, it goes beyond the boundaries of the Cowichan Valley.
The majority of the CVRD and the Shawnigan residents were all ignored by this government, all treated as not as important as getting to yes. And yes for who? For one for-profit company, South Island Aggregates.
I’m not against business having the opportunity to get into business and do what they’ve been doing for years, and that’s providing gravel. But now they’ve been granted a permit, of all things, by this Ministry of Environment to dump up to five million tonnes of contaminated soil over the next 50 years in the Shawnigan Lake watershed.
It is quite simply a nightmare, the fact that this government could actually condone and support a plan to dump tonne after tonne of contaminated toxic soil with chemicals in this soil like furans and dioxins — dioxins are a cancer-causing chemical — petroleum hydrocarbons like benzene and styrene, just to name a few of the long list of contaminants approved to be dumped in the Shawnigan watershed.
This government says in the throne speech that they’re going to modernize the Water Act, yet by their actions they seem to have no focus on protecting the waters so critical to the people of the Cowichan region and the Shawnigan Lake region specifically.
What will happen to all of the toxic contaminants that are left on the truck tire treads? Has anybody thought about that? This may ultimately be spreading poisonous leachates throughout the trucking and transportation corridors as they travel over and over again, in and out of the contaminated soil-dumping sites throughout the Shawnigan region, over the Malahat to Victoria and beyond.
This is not far-fetched when all you have to do is drive to the little community of Youbou. Look what happens when the logging trucks, which are busy exporting logs, drive through that community all summer long, all winter long. In the summer it’s just dust clouds, and in the winter it’s mud sometimes right up to people’s ankles. Actually, the company, to their credit, finally put in a truck wash to wash some of the trucks.
Just think about this. We’re going to have tonnes and tonnes of toxic chemical dumped in our watershed, and then they are going to be trucking it in and out and up and down the road with all of those great big truck tires dragging it all over the community and up and down the highways.
To add more concern to this matter, these contaminants are to be brought into and dumped close to community wells and aquifers and right upstream to our pristine Shawnigan Lake, right in the very heart of our beautiful Shawnigan watershed. The residents have formed groups, such as the Shawnigan Residents Association, to try and stop this from happening. They had to do fundraising, if you can imagine this, to provide funds to try to protect themselves from the actions of their own government. Even the Cowichan Valley regional district has tried to get this government to listen and to stop this from happening.
To date, the wishes of all of the communities in the Cowichan Valley that I represent have been completely ignored. Government has clearly failed to act to protect the community interest when it comes to the water in Shawnigan Lake. There is no Liberal action plan to allow communities to stop this kind of risk-taking behaviour with their community watershed.
Yet I would remind the hon. Speaker that this government talks about an earthquake plan, earthquake preparedness. What do they think is going to happen? How are we going to prepare, in the event that there’s a catastrophic earthquake? Everybody, all the scientists, are talking about how it’s going to happen one day, and they’re busy trucking up and down the road all this toxic chemical right into the Cowichan Valley. It’s totally unacceptable.
Sadly, there’s nothing in this throne speech that gives any hope that this government has any interest in these kinds of community concerns, and that, to me, is very disturbing and regrettable. Communities ought to have the right to stop individuals from profit-taking when putting an entire community’s water at risk.
What about them impacting the community land values? Any of the Liberal ministers that are here, what would you think about your land values? Any of the Liberal ministers that are here: what would you think about your land values and what would happen to them if they were moving a toxic dump into your neighbourhood, eh? What would you think that would…? You know, that’s a very serious consequence indeed. Everybody else gets to have their property values decrease as a result of one profit-taking, putting-the-community-at-risk kind of venture.
You look at the environmental and recreational opportunities in the community. What are you going to start up? Are you going to start up a canoeing or a kayaking venture right next to the toxic dump? I don’t think so. I don’t think too many people are going to be excited about setting up that kind of thing. I don’t know. Is the Green political friend here? Are you going to want to make a special trip up and do a tour of the beautiful Cowichan Valley and have a look at the lilies and the flowers that grow right next to the toxic chemicals? I don’t think so. Somehow I just don’t think it’s going to happen.
I would like to ask this government further. I would love to ask a question. What do you think tomorrow’s children would want to say to you about the incredible mess that you will have left behind for them? What do you think they would want to say to you if they could look you in the eye and take you by the hand up to this great big hole with 50 million tonnes of toxic chemicals, some kind of stew rolling around in their area? You’re going to tell them: “Oh, it’s all very fine. We’ve made an incredible mess for you, but oh well, it’s not in our backyard.” It’s not in the minister’s backyard — no.
Government should be able to…. They should be busy enabling communities to defend themselves, to defend the sustainability and protection of their communities’ water and watershed. This is important to communities. I don’t think, other than a roof over your head, having the basic necessities of life, like water…. That is pretty serious, when you start threatening that. That’s what this government has taken on.
I don’t understand how they don’t get it. All of these people rallying and protesting. I guess they get so used to it and their hides get so thick that it just runs off like more contaminated soil. I don’t know. The government should be listening. Instead, we get this Liberal dump-and-run policy, an “it’s not there in their backyard, so they just don’t care” attitude.
It’s clear for all to see that this government’s idea of moving ahead on this plan is to steamroll over any community interest, no matter what the risk to the environment or to the communities’ most basic of all needs. All they want is a little pure water.
Another great concern for the Cowichan Valley not addressed in this throne speech is the state of our world-class rivers, such as the Cowichan River, which is a Canadian heritage river. In the fall of 2012 the water was so low in the river that Cowichan Tribes First Nations and other community groups had to bring fish upstream in dump trucks in a desperate attempt to help the survival rate of our wild salmon stocks. It was deemed the trap-and-truck strategy. They even had a strategy, the trap-and-truck strategy, to haul fish upstream in dump trucks.
The Liberal government, I would add, had refused to listen to the community concerns regarding the need to hold back a little water at the weir in Lake Cowichan. We, in fact, ended up having a crisis in water levels that required this plan for rescuing fish. While I had communicated my support to the minister…. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to miss a page of this, so I’m just going to go back a little bit.
What was incredible to me was that Cowichan Tribes, the mayors and Cowichan Valley regional district had all tried to talk to government in the spring of 2012. We even had the mayors, and all these mayors knocked on the door and said: “Could we get MLA Routley out in the hall to talk to him?” They were there with a member from Cowichan Tribes, and they said: “Lookit, we want the opportunity to hold back a little water. There’s not enough snowpack. We’re concerned at the low levels in the river at this juncture, and we want to just up….”
It’s like a ferry boat ramp, the weir is, and it just lifts up. They would have been able to save back a little rainwater in the lake so that they could dispatch it later. However, as a result of not listening, we ended up with this crisis in water levels that required this plan for rescuing fish.
While I had communicated my support to the Minister of Forests…. All the community leaders and even myself as MLA had put forward political capital in the community. By that I mean…. All of you know, as politicians, that if you stand up and say, “This is my position,” there are always some folks, believe it or not, that are not unanimous in their thinking of what they would like to see happen.
As far as I’m concerned, the issue became more of one…. All these mayors, First Nations, all unanimous — this was a no-brainer to me that it should be supported, so I supported them. The issue in the end is about what was more important for the community: the survival of fish and the Cowichan Valley river habitat or where we would be moving deck chairs on the beach if we hold back water for the weir.
I lived on Lake Cowichan. I lived in Marble Bay, had two hectares of land and it was all raked lowlands. I actually had about 190 feet of waterfront. When the summer…. When it went down, yeah, we liked it, because then we had more beachfront, and we got to move the deck chairs down the beach a little bit. But really, when it comes to preserving our wild salmon stocks…. To me, I don’t understand those folks who were upset about holding back a little water at the weir.
In the end, what happened to the salmon was that the salmon were stuck there in Cowichan Bay in the big, deep pools right down in the bay. They were sitting there as a breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet for the seals. The seals were even using one of the booming grounds as a kind of floating island to hang out on. That allowed them to stick nice and close by the salmon buffet.
Now, this wasn’t working out too well, though, for the salmon. Their numbers were going down pretty dramatically and pretty quickly. That’s when people decided we had to act. The fish and their future chance in the spawning grounds were all at a very elevated risk because of the low water levels in the river.
That brings me to the point that all of the Cowichan Valley community saw the problem; however, the provincial government — who actually had the power to act and to instruct the powers that be to hold back a little bit of water — chose not to do so. I’m sure the minister has reasons, but I do find it shocking to have all the mayors, the Cowichan Valley regional district chair, the MLA — everybody — stepping forward and saying, “Can we hold a little water back?” and it didn’t happen. And then our worst fears were realized.
Now, I want to illustrate the continuing frustration we feel in our communities regarding the government’s lack of actually listening to the concerns of the community, whether it be Cowichan Tribes or the Shawnigan community’s concerns for the contamination of their watershed. All of this is only magnified when you look at the position Cowichan Tribes have taken and shared with the community regarding their concerns and their representations to government on the upcoming Water Act modernization process.
Please, if you do anything, just listen a little bit to what First Nations say in their submission to government regarding the Cowichan River and all that it means to them:
“Water is an integral part of the livelihood and existence of the Cowichan people. To us it is sacred. We have relied on water since time immemorial, and we take on the responsibility to look after it with the objective of keeping it clean and pure. Our water is essential to our cultural and spiritual needs, particularly related to traditional sources of food. Cowichan people have always fished and harvested from the rivers and the sea in our traditional territory.”
And they want to continue to do so.
It was really striking. In fact, a lot of us just stopped for a moment. We were at a watershed conference just weeks ago with people from all over Canada, actually from all over the world. All kinds of biologists and specialists and scientists who knew about water and watersheds were at this conference.
The former chief of Cowichan Tribes, Lydia Hwitsum, really had everybody awestruck in her point that, really, they had some very simple principles in mind. They said at the watershed conference that they wanted one day to see the First Nations and Cowichan Tribes be able to harvest the seafood like the clams that were once abundant and once available in Cowichan Bay. It’s been closed since the 1970s as a result of pollution and fecal coliform levels being so high that they can’t eat the contaminated fish.
It really was stunning to stop and think about what we have done to our water and to our watershed — that this chief had grown up as a little girl and remembers the day that they once used to be able to actually harvest the seafood. They can’t do it anymore, and she’d really like to live long enough to see a day where they could once again harvest the seafood.
“The current Water Act” — which was put in place back in 1909 — “is based on the colonialist approach of the time,” they point out, “with First Nations’ interests dismissed outright. Revamping or modernizing the Water Act is long overdue, and Cowichan Tribes want to express our concern that this process needs to be based on aboriginal rights and title to the water in our territory. Therefore we take the stand that this process needs to be based on ‘duality of ownership’ and that the province does not assume it has jurisdiction over water, nor is it the sole authority to delegate management of water in our territory.”
I pause there to make the point that it’s interesting that back in 1909 they established some principles, the kind of first in, first rights principle that gave people continuing rights. Even today some of those rights have been sold and are treated as…. I mean, they are like gold to whoever had the rights to water, and water in areas….
It’s unfortunate that the First Nations are claiming that even today there doesn’t seem to be any rights of the duality of ownership for First Nations who live in areas that they’ve been assigned.
“Water issues in Cowichan traditional territory.
“Cowichan people and culture have always been intimately connected to the watershed. Because of the placement of reserve lands by the federal government, most of us live in the floodplain of the Cowichan or Koksilah rivers.”
Well, that was convenient of them, eh? The feds thought that it was the right thing to do to give them the floodplain.
“Every year a large portion of the reserves are flooded and our members are forced to leave their homes. Much of this flooding is caused by unchecked activities in our watershed” — urbanization, poor logging practices. “Not only does the flooding affect our homes; it also further increases the contamination of our wells and our rivers.
“Cowichan Tribes reserves have a total of 50 wells, including ten community wells. There are boil-water advisories on approximately 90 percent of these wells. Clearly, Cowichan Tribes needs more control over activities in the watershed that affect our culture and the well-being of our communities.”
Cowichan Tribes apparently is currently in litigation — I guess along with the teachers; they’re in line for the courts — with the province over a water issue.
“We took this step because the province was not listening to us” — oh, there’s a familiar theme — “by way of many letters and phone calls, specifically with regard to issuing land tenure on Crown land for the access to a well. Despite our pleas to not issue this tenure and the fact the Crown land is on the treaty table, the province denied our aboriginal rights and permitted tenure to the proponent. Cowichan Tribes is confronted with water issues now” — the pressure is on the resource in a very heavy way — “and we simply cannot wait for a stalled treaty process to accommodate our need to protect the sacred resource.
“In 2004 Cowichan Tribes initiated a project to develop a strategic recovery plan for fish and aquatic resources within the Cowichan watershed, which includes the Cowichan and Koksilah rivers and the Cowichan estuary. The Cowichan Recovery Plan was completed in 2005, and in 2007 the Cowichan basin water management plan was developed by a partnership consisting of Cowichan Tribes, the Cowichan Valley regional district, B.C. Ministry of Environment, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Catalyst Paper Corp.”
They, by the way, have a large say in the river. They have rights to almost a third of the water in the summertime.
“The partnership resulted in the Cowichan Tribes–led Cowichan Stewardship Roundtable, which includes all the stakeholders from the Cowichan Valley interested in watershed management issues….
“The advisory board is a model for what is working with respect to water and watershed management in the Cowichan Valley. It is also a model for what will work as a future governance model under a modernized Water Act.
“Cowichan Tribes has always had involvement in numerous restoration and stewardship activities. This year our aboriginal fisheries department is working to develop a ‘vision document’ for the purpose of clarifying the role that Cowichan wishes to take in rebuilding the Cowichan River chinook….”
I might stop here and add that Cowichan Tribes are the largest First Nations group in British Columbia — the largest band, group of bands. There are six major bands that are involved in Cowichan Tribes.
“At a recent community meeting Cowichan members were asked ‘what was their “vision” for the watershed and its fisheries.’ Comments included Cowichan Tribes having more control over their traditional territory and greater power over decisions involving development, land use, water quality and quantity.
“The Cowichan community strongly expressed the desire to see a clean and healthy watershed in the future to allow for the preservation of spiritual and ceremonial uses as well as to provide access to clean and healthy food. A Cowichan elder stressed the importance of protecting the watershed through partnerships and shared stewardship. The only way that this partnership can work is to begin dialogue around the duality of water ownership….
“As outlined in the opening caveat of this submission,” we believe that “the process by which the Water Act is being modernized is flawed. There are also underlying assumptions that must be discussed with First Nations.”
I see that the clock is running out, and I want to talk about the community, the CVRD. The watershed put forward a group of recommendations which I’ll be expounding on later.
One of them that’s critical is the fundamental concern of the whole-of-watershed planning and management. There is a serious concern that we’re still going back, in the 1909 amendments, to the thinking that is outdated and antiquated in that we’re not planning and managing on the basis of the entire watershed, or whole-of-watershed planning and management.
We believe in Cowichan that the legislation is flawed because it does not empower whole-of-watershed management.
“Although water sustainability plans would be allowed for, at its core the primary focus of the legislation continues to be water allocation. We respectfully submit that in order to ensure adequate flows, good water quality, sustainable fish populations, other ecosystem services and a sustainable economy, we must plan and set clear objectives at the watershed…level.”