I am responding in part to Nathan Giedes's recent column on "what is a conservative" and in part to the recent Mount Polley mine disaster, and I am combining my response because I see some significant thematic overlap here.
Giede outlines that conservatives believe that "all tyrannies across the globe have one thing in common: markets dominated by the government or its cronies that restrict access to land and investment." I would like to address his statement within the current B.C. context.
Presumably conservatives want to vote for politicians who promise to do away with the notion of government interference in people's lives, in other words, governments that do away regulations and "bureaucratic red tape." Clearly, we can look at the Harper Conservatives and B.C. Liberals as such governments who in theory, get out of the way of people doing business, but let's look at this situation a bit more closely and less idealistically. What we are witnessing with the Mount Polley mine collapse is a disaster on more levels than I have words in this letter to outline, but, suffice it to say, despite Christy Clark and Bill Bennett blowing off the public's water quality and fish safety concerns, this tailings pond collapse was utterly catastrophic.
Lake Polley remains closed to the public and mercury, arsenic and other toxins poured directly into the public watersheds, including one of the two major salmon runs of the province, and the world. Mount Polley was for the most part, a self-regulated mine; in fact, according to the mining industry standards it was not far off being certified as a sustainable mine (mining association TSM certification program). I would like to ask Mr. Giede: who better to ensure such mines are operating properly than a government who is supposed to be minding the interests of the public? Clearly neither government (provincial nor federal) is doing so here, but what seems most problematic in the Mount Polley situation is the government's handing over the keys to the mining sector to self-regulate. These current governments are doing the great handover to the competitive/ collective/ private property owning system that conservatives seem to value so highly as an ideal. Here then is an example of governments doing away with supposed "bureaucratic red tape." Like Giede, I don't like the government sticking its nose into my business, and I enjoy the personal freedoms that come with living in such a great country; however, we need to be practical here. Who better than a properly functioning (and regulating/ enforcing) government to oversee mining operations like Mount Polley on behalf of the public, never mind the whole myriad of other industrial projects lined up like LNG, bitumen pipelines, etc etc...)?
Local First Nations certainly seem to be stepping up to the plate much to their credit. Maybe they will be able to continue to safeguard watersheds for the whole of the public but it hardly seems fair to them to be saddled with this massive responsibility on behalf of the whole of the public who enjoy the benefits of Canada's incredible natural environment. After all, regardless of our background and poltical persuasion: we all depend on uncontaminated water to drink and many of us enjoy activities like fishing and eating fish.
Maybe there is someone better than government to oversee all of these industrial projects and potential threats to our watersheds and collective spaces, but it does not seem practicable that we as private citizens are going to be able to pull this off nor have the capacity that some form of body representing the commons would have... a government by the people, for the people could be this. Alas, we don't have such governments right now, neither federally nor provincially. It is becoming increasingly evident at both levels, we have governments by the corporations, for the corporations. And the truth is: these corporations are foremost about their own profits, not the common good (granted there are some good people working for these companies, but their job is not to ensure public safety and environmental protection). The problem I would argue is not with the notion of government itself but the kind of governments we currently have in power.
Mary MacDonald is one of the founders of People's Action Committee for Healthy Air (PACHA) in Prince George and Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance. She has worked as a lawyer in the past and currently works in health care. She has lived in the northern interior of BC for most of her life and has a particular interest in environmental and social justice.