Water to natural gas: candidates weigh in

The environment is a topic that could well influence voters in the federal election

Lexi Bainas Citizen and

Katherine Engqvist News Gazette

The environment is a topic that could well influence voters in the federal election, and local candidates hoping to win the Cowichan-Malahat-Langford seat on Oct. 19 are staking out their territory on issues that range from renewable energy to pipelines.

NDP candidate Alistair MacGregor calls climate change “the overarching issue of this century” and points to its effect in the riding.

“We have seen a pretty sharp drop in our river levels and extended drought periods. That is something our federal government will need to take a very serious look at and implement actions to combat.”

MacGregor said he’s been listening to stakeholder concern about the Cowichan River.

“There is a real consensus that we need to hold back more supply at the lake. That involves raising the weir. I’d like to see some action on that file,” he said.

MacGregor also talked about the Malahat First Nation’s LNG plans briefly, saying,

“That announcement was a surprise for everyone. I have heard from the Tsartlip First Nation and, in the background, from members of Cowichan Tribes that there is a lot of uneasiness about this.”

He then said the current push from higher levels of government towards oil and gas development could be seen “as the easy route to quick money” for impoverished First Nations communities.

“Bamberton is so beautiful; that specific tract of land could have a whole bunch of different uses outlined for it,” he said.

The Green Party sees the environment in connection with employment, so jobs created must be sustainable and renewable, said Green Party hopeful Fran Hunt-Jinnouchi.

“We’d like not to have so much resource extraction per se but rather to create alternatives. The Cowichan Valley is uniquely poised in this regard because these discussions are far advanced in comparison to the overall riding. With the weather, our water security, our food security, dealing with drought: we need to take some bold stands and take some strong actions to protect the environment and to protect our coastline,” she said.

The group approach is seen in dealing with the drought in the Cowichan River.

“The Stewardship Roundtable is an excellent source of sharing of information. Greens propose a robust budget around estuaries and fish and working with First Nations. The federal and provincial government need to step up immediately to address the immediate need: raising the Cowichan Lake weir,” she said.

Hunt-Jinnouchi said that, while backing the Malahat Nation’s move towards economic development, she saw their proposed LNG project as short-sighted.

“There hasn’t been collaboration with their neighbouring nations or communities,” she said, but added she could see the pressure being brought to bear from both federal and provincial governments.

Liberal Party candidate Maria Manna said the environment is in a delicate situation that will require teamwork moving forward.

“Our earth is so tender right now, it’s too fragile, we cannot be selfish,” she said.

Her party, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, is looking to build a national strategy where the provinces would work directly with the prime minister to shape policy that would encourage “cleaner and renewable” technologies. Manna said this would help create more jobs in those energy sectors.

When asked about pipeline projects, she said a Liberal government would only agree with them if there was a “stringent environmental process.”

“We can’t compromise the environment or our lands.” She said they would need to be “absolutely safe … You cannot take any risks.”

In the case of pipeline projects, Manna added, the government needs to work closely with aboriginal groups and communities.

“We need to make sure the land isn’t compromised,” she said, adding there would also need to be “social licensing” before a project could be supported.

Conservative Martin Barker sees the Malahat Nation’s proposed LNG facility as a potentially positive step for the First Nation.

“Myself, and the Conservative Party will always support the efforts of First Nation people in achieving prosperity and accountable self-governance. The Malahat Nation has made prudent use of the First Nation Funding Authority to create opportunity for its people.”

The road to the potential LNG plant and underwater pipeline “will require considerable consultation and study, and then the meeting of very strict safety and environmental standards as is the practice in Canada,” he added, but refused to comment further until he has heard the arguments for and against.

That said, Barker said his party understands that tens of thousands of Canadian jobs depend on a thriving energy sector.

“The natural resource sector, directly and indirectly, employs 1.8 million Canadians, many in skilled, quality jobs. Resource development generates $30 billion annually in revenue and is the largest employer of First Nations people,” he said.

While Conservatives try to boost Canada’s clean energy sector, strengthen Canada’s record on conservation and deliver good Canadian jobs plans for the future must continues to address these concerns, he said.