Candidates included Tracey O'Hara (NDP)

Candidates included Tracey O'Hara (NDP)

Water issues dominated at all-candidates’ meeting in Chilliwack

Topics ranged from the sovereignty of indigenous peoples over water, the Mt. Polley mining disaster, climate change and more

Four candidates running for MLA seats in Chilliwack ridings showed up Wednesday to the first all-candidates’ meeting on World Water Day.

They weighed in water-related issues at the Sto:lo Research and Resource Management Centre, answering some complex questions that came from the crowd of about 100 people.

Representing the NDP were candidates Patti MacAhonic (Chilliwack-Kent) and Tracey O’Hara (Chilliwack), along with Wayne Froese (Green Party), and Laurie Throness, (BC Liberals).

Topics ranged from how to reconcile the sovereignty of indigenous peoples over water, the Mt. Polley mining disaster, as well as climate change, fish-friendly dike upgrades, and the Water Sustainablity Act.

Candidates were asked if they would lobby for dike upgrades that were “fish friendly” and what strategies they would use to reduce agricultural runoff.

“We need to have proper ag practices that are followed,” said MacAhonic, talking about the challenge of ag waste. “We need to encourage smaller farms and make sure we’re not taking land out of the Agricultural Land Reserve.”

Reducing ag runoff is important, Throness noted, because of the high nitrogen levels.

“We can use setbacks and riparian zones. There is new technology where waste is injected into the ground.”

Most corn in the region is used for cattle, but it’s about what makes economic sense for the operators.

“I think farmers should be free to grow whatever is most profitable for them,” said Throness.

Froese noted agricultural is “a pivotal issue” in the Chilliwack community and across the valley. “It’s an industry that is pretty much stagnant as a result of the monoculture crop cycles that drive out small enterprises and that are unable to compete on the economies of scale.”

He said it’s going to take “innovative” new agri-business techniques to drive a new approach to the industry, like micro farming and efforts for more crop diversity.

O’Hara wondered if there were forces holding farmers back and what could be done to support that.

One of the questions was: “How do we reconcile the original sovereignty of indigenous peoples over water with the asserted jurisdiction of sovereignty over water that B.C. is claiming?”

MacAhonic mentioned NDP leader Horgan’s promise that the NDP will adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and act on the 94 recommendations.

Froese noted that the Greens had accepted the UN Declaration “uncategorically” and said it was the Chilcotin court decision that set precedent in determining water usage.

One of the key issues that came out of the court decision was that “consultation is nice” but it doesn’t drive home that if there is a yes or no resolution, “it requires free, prior and informed consent,” Froese said.

Throness had a different take on it.

“I think we are all here in this country together,” Throness said. “We are all equal participants, we all have equal privileges and responsibilities.”

The incumbent MLA said he couldn’t say that First Nations had a “different” sovereignty over water than other residents of British Columbia, and encouraged First Nations in general “to engage with larger society on an equal basis,” to also get involved with treaties in order to reach their full potential.

Regarding the proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline route, and the request by Nestle officials to divert from the original routing, the questions was then posed: “Is it one rule for business and one rule for the public?”

Throness pointed out that Nestle had paid to get the pipeline diverted.

“It’s a private arrangement they came to,” Throness said. “I think Nestle supplied some land for them to do that. There’s no two rules. It’s the same rules for everyone.”

Froese took issue with that assertion.

“I think the fact that Nestle had this clout speaks to fact that corporate issues trump private issues,” Froese said.

Nestle maybe the “poster child” for water use commercially, but it’s not the only one.

“We need to look at all industrial users,” he said, adding that “LNG is primary example” with fracking being a key issue regarding water use.

O’Hara said she found out that Nestle had extracted 265 million litres, all free of change, while making $9 billion in profits, “so it stands to reason they can afford to have this done.”

That was also a theme with the other NDP candidate.

“Money seems to talk in our province,” commented MacAhonic. “It’s our future being leveraged. We need to be good stewards of our future.”

Throness said in his introduction that he made a list of 15 water-related projects that he’d obtained for Chilliwack and the rest of his riding, totalling $21 million for drinking water, waste water and flood control projects.

He also came out in support of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline proposal.

“I’m going to take the position in the upcoming campaign that, along with my government, I am supportive of the pipeline being built, including through Chilliwack.”

He cited the benefits over 20 years, of jobs, GDP and tax benefits. He said the NEB represented “expert help” to make decisions about energy projects, and stressed there would never be a “zero risk” pipeline.

The route already crossed many aquifers.

“Every alternate route that TransMountain would choose will be contested, because there is water everywhere in the Valley,” he said. “In conclusion, there has been a very exhaustive independent study by NEB experts and they are comfortable with the route, so I am comfortable with it as well.”

Throness asked that any land owners, who may be adversely affected by the route, interested in finding out how to file Notice of Opposition in the next six weeks, to contact him.