Bill of Rights encouraging: Furstenau

Sonia Furstenau came away from this year’s UBCM conference with hope that the plight of her community will not continue to be ignored

Sonia Furstenau came away from this year’s Union of B.C. Municipalities conference with renewed hope that the plight of her community will not continue to be ignored by those with the power to create change.

The Shawnigan Lake director was one of many politicians that spoke in favour of resolution A5, an Environmental Bill of Rights that would “recognize the right of every resident to live in a healthy environment, including the right to clean air, clean water, clean food and vibrant ecosystems,” and “provide for public participation in decision making respecting the environment and access to environmental information,” as well as to provide whistleblower support and access to justice when environmental rights are infringed.

The resolution passed by about a two-thirds majority, Furstenau estimated.

“It was a significant one and I think really relevant across the province — well, across the country right now — the notion that we should all be able to have a right to clean water, clean air and clean soil,” she said.

The passing of the resolution is particularly a big deal for Shawinigan, which figured greatly in Furstenau’s speech at UBCM.

“I told them of Shawnigan and how we thought we could rely on the government to protect the one thing that’s so essential to our community — clean water — and that in fact they have failed to do so and it’s shaken our faith in the capacity of government to protect communities,” she explained. “There were a lot of eloquent speeches in favour of the resolution and people speaking against it said things like ‘oh we don’t need more red tape, we don’t need more bureaucracy’, that kind of thing.”

That resolution was one of two that impacts Shawnigan Lake and the Valley as a whole, she said.

Resolution B34 was brought forward at the convention by the CVRD.

“It was a resolution basically asking the provincial government and Ministry of Energy and Mines not to issue permits that contravene local zoning bylaws,” she said.

It would help the regional district navigate multiple complex issues particularly those in the south end.

“When we have land use bylaws and we also have entrenched in our official community plans what we want the future of our communities to look like, it’s incredibly devastating to have the provincial government ignore those bylaws and ignore our official community plans, which we have endorsed,” Furstenau said. “We were quite pleased to have that pass as well, and again, as a clear indication of the need for the provincial government to respect the jurisdiction of local governments.”

Now the work begins to get the provincial government to listen to the wants and needs of the province’s local governments and then to make meaningful change.

“That’s always the challenge. Now the task for the UBCM board and staff is to work with government and to try to see these resolutions come to fruition,” she said. “I don’t know what the success rate on that is but I think it’s important just fundamentally that these are the priorities of local government.”

What she does know is that the passing of resolutions A5 and B34 has signalled a shift in perspective.

Furstenau said it’s her understanding that nearly half of the politicians at UBCM were newly elected and she thinks we could be seeing a bit of a changing of the guard in terms of the priority the environment is given in decision making.