Friday, June 03, 2005

Park fiasco symbol of Liberal failure on environment

VICTORIA - One court case, and you get a snapshot of everything that's wrong with the Liberals when it comes to environmental issues.
Water, Land and Air Protection Minister Bill Barisoff was prepared to spend $100,000 of your money, damage a provincial park - including habitat for a species at risk - and anger local residents.
And all because a nearby business owner wanted to save some money on developing his property.
Here are the facts, briefly. Grohman Narrows Provincial Park is just outside Nelson, small but beautiful, and home to several species-at-risk, including the painted turtle.
It has an entrance road from the highway, in place for more than 20 years.
Three years ago, a development company bought property across the highway from the park, intending to develop a repair shop for heavy trucks. But it needed to build an access road on to the highway. And the transportation ministry said that for safety's sake the two entrances - the garage and the park - needed to be directly across the highway from each other.
Bad news for the developer. Building an access driveway opposite the park's entrance would cost an extra $250,000, because he'd have to blow up some rocks.
So hey, he asked the water, air and land protection ministry, why don't you move your entrance about 30 metres to line up with where I want to build?
It never hurts to ask. And as a good neighbour, it's right the ministry checked to see what the consequences would be. It found the change would cost taxpayers $100,000, damage the park permanently and be bad news for those rare turtles. Construction could kill some, and they were at risk of being regularly crunched by cars if the entrance was moved closer to nesting habitat.
If this decision dealt with some project that promised hundreds of jobs, and had big community support, it might sill be a tough call.
But this was one developer looking to save money. Balance that against the cost to taxpayers, and the damage to the park, and the ministry's answer should have been 'sorry, we're not moving the entrance.'
Barisoff thought different, and in January he ordered the entrance moved.
Oh come on, said the West Kootenay Community Ecosociety. And off to they went to BC Supreme Court, making just the argument that ministry staff had warned about Barisoff about. The minister is bound by the Park Act, the society said, and that means he has to defend them, not damage them.
Justice Janet Sinclair Prowse saw it the same way. The act says the minister is the steward of parks, she noted, and he is only allowed to approve damaging development if it is meets some park need - like building a washroom, or trail.
And Barisoff violated the act by approving damage to help a developer. The entrance has to stay put, Sinclair Prowse ruled. The minister was not fulfilling his basic duties.
Barisoff, like predecessor Joyce Murray before him, is likable. But neither would be described as strong ministers, or passionate advocates for their ministry. Their appointments reflect Gordon Campbell's judgment about its importance.
I mean Campbell didn't even keep the environment ministry name after the last election, replacing it with the clunky - and less apt - ministry of water, land and air protection. (Environment, the ministry that dare not speak its name.)
It will be interesting to see if Campbell acknowledges that abandoning the obvious name was a mistake when he names his new cabinet. (More than half the voters opted for parties that promised to restore the environment ministry.)
There's no need for a zealot at the head of the ministry. But cabinet ministers are expected to fight their corner, even as they recognize the government's overall direction.
Developers have lots of advocates at the table.
Environment - not water, land and air protection - deserves its champion in cabinet.
Footnote: When the legislature finally resumes, likely in September, expect the NDP to be all over this case. Barisoff's decision, as well as violating his legal obligations as minister, is inexplicable. The willingness to spend $100,000 of taxpayers' money to help a developer cut its costs is only one factor; the ministry spent tens of thousands reaching its wrong decision.


Anonymous said...

I'm shocked, yes shocked and even appalled, to learn that a member of the BC Liberal cabinet would put corporate interests before other interests.

It's like learning that water is wet or that rocks are hard.

Only the terminally naive could have possibly entertained the notion that it would ever be otherwise with this lot.

And I hadn't heretofore considered the possibility that you were naive, Paul.

Anonymous said...

Mark Hume writes in the Globe and Mail (June 4, 2005 - Page S1): "Four hours before he was to retire this spring after spending 34 years working for the provincial government, Gordon McAdams was called into an office by a supervisor and dismissed.

His sin?

Mr. McAdams had filed an affidavit with the Supreme Court of British Columbia that used confidential government documents to show how the province had violated the B.C. Park Act when it approved a road on habitat used by endangered painted turtles."

Read the rest of Hume's article at

Anonymous said...

Good story, Paul, thank you, though I've got to agree with the "water is wet" comment as well.

But why is this the first we're hearing about this? Why didn't anyone write about this --and so much else like this -- during the election campaign?

Anonymous said...

Asume- We all know what that means - from what I have read on teh subject of Grohman Park there has been a lot of mud slinging at the developer. Maybe people should think before the write - on what grounds do people assume that the deveoper "payed" off officials. To my knowledge he is not the one who requested moving the park road. Does anyone think the development would have ever got started if there was not some indication that access was assured?