Mayors not all that keen about potential environmental rights bill

RDN director from Coombs/Errington suggests David Suzuki is 'losing it'

Enshrine the right to a healthy environment in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

That’s the end goal for environmental activists undertaking a national campaign starting at the grassroots level.

“One hundred and ten countries in the world have environmental rights enshrined and Canada isn’t one of them,” Paul Manly, Nanaimo-Ladysmith Green Party candidate told Regional District of Nanaimo board members Tuesday.

Manly wants to see the regional district board adopt a declaration of environmental rights, part of a campaign deemed the Blue Dot Movement spearheaded by the David Suzuki Foundation.

It would see people have the right to live in a healthy environment including: the right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, consume safe food, access nature, know about pollutants and contaminants released into the local environment and participate in decision-making that will affect the environment.

Manly recognized amending the Charter is “a long process,” but said the idea is to start the movement at the local level.

According to Manly, 46 communities in Canada have adopted the declaration to-date including Victoria, Duncan, Ladysmith and Vancouver.

But the jury’s still out at the RDN.

“This looks like an omnibus bill,” said Nanaimo mayor Bill McKay. “It’s all encompassing.”

McKay said he was particularly worried about the right to breathe clean air.

“We have a pulp mill in town that produces significant economic activity that follows all the emission standards required,”  he said. “The way I see it is that this being enshrined…will allow a challenge for that pulp mill as to whether or not it could even operate.”

While Manly responded by saying the declaration is meant to guide elected officials in planning decisions — not hinder economic opportunities per say — McKay maintained concern about the ramifications of interpreting the proposed legislation.

“When it goes in black and white and you no longer have control over it and it’s just words on a page now someone else takes control over it,” said McKay. “That’s my problem, it’s so all encompassing we can’t stop what someone else may do.”

Parksville Mayor Marc Lefebvre echoed McKay’s concerns.

“The minute you have a little bit of smoke or odour you could say you’re violating someone’s rights,” he told

The NEWS. “You’ve really got to put it in perspective.”

While Lefebvre said the environmental theory behind the declaration is something to strive for, he was hesitant to adopt the proposal in its current state.

“Some of the definitive statements, like the right to clean air and water, well they’re all well and good but at the best of times it’s tricky,” he said. “The bylaws we pass are only as good as the bylaws we can uphold… I would never put it in black and white because I can’t promise the impossible, I can’t do anything about a neighbour on Saturday night putting wet wood into a wood stove, I don’t have the authority to shut them down.”

Director Julian Fell, who represents Errington/Coombs, said he was concerned about the declaration’s semantics and intent.

“I’m concerned about the intent because it appears to me these are national and, ultimately I presume, international entitlements and I see this as compromising the sovereignty of our nation’s water supply,” he said. “This is also being promoted by Dr. Suzuki, well, I have an article that says Dr. Suzuki wants to throw all politicians in jail who ignore his idea of climate science… Frankly, I think he’s losing it.”

However, some board members welcomed the declaration with open arms.

“I totally support economic stimulus but also believe and know the importance of the environment, the environment has to steer business and how it’s conducted,” said Nanaimo Coun. Bill Yoachim. “Without being smart about it we won’t have nothing to be smart about… I’m a fan of this type of language.”

Director Alec McPherson, who represents Cedar, said this is basically what was passed at the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) conference.

“So for myself that part isn’t an issue at all and I’d point out it’s a declaration not a bylaw,” he said. “It’s simply a declaration.”

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