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Response to Minister of Environment’s cancellation of Cobble Hill Holdings Permit

Response to Minister of Environment’s cancellation of Cobble Hill Holdings Permit
February 23, 2017
For immediate release

VICTORIA B.C. — After years of community members fighting their government over the safety of their drinking water, the B.C. Minister of Environment has cancelled the waste discharge permit for Cobble Hill Holdings, effective immediately.

“I’m glad the Minister has finally pulled the permit, but it’s unfortunate that it took this long. It is egregious that the people of Shawnigan had to take their government to court simply to receive representation,” Andrew Weaver said, Leader of the B.C. Green Party.

Weaver first visited the site with community members and Shawnigan Lake Area Director, Sonia Furstenau, on April 2nd, 2015. During that time Weaver collected water samples which were tested for contamination at the University of Victoria. His initial analysis of the case can be found in a report posted to his website on April 18th, 2015.

Furstenau, B.C. Greens candidate for Cowichan Valley and Deputy Leader of the B.C. Green Party, added, “While I’m thrilled for the residents of Shawnigan that the Minister has done the right thing and cancelled the permit, I remain committed to holding the government to account to ensure the contaminated soil is cleaned up safely. The residents of Shawnigan should be proud of what we accomplished today, but they deserved to see action from their government much sooner.”

Weaver continued, “Sonia Furstenau has shown outstanding leadership on holding the government to account over their dereliction of duty on this file. I’m incredibly proud to have her on the B.C. Greens team. This kind of principled representation is what communities across B.C. deserve and can expect from the B.C. Greens.

“The situation that has unfolded in Shawnigan shows why the government’s professional reliance model is completely inadequate for environmental protection and community safety. Instead of drawing on the technical expertise of the civil service who serve the public interest, the government cut these experts and now relies instead on the judgement of experts hired by corporations with vested interests.

“The Minister does not have a plan for how or even if the contaminated soil will be removed. Who is going to deal the contaminated soils now? Where is it going to go?”

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Media Contact
Mat Wright Press Secretary, Andrew Weaver MLA
1 250 216 3382
mat.wright@leg.bc.ca


Background


MLA Andrew Weaver first visited the site with community members and Shawnigan Lake Area Director, Sonia Furstenau, on April 2nd, 2015. During that time Weaver collected water samples which were tested for contamination at the University of Victoria. His initial analysis of the case can be found in a report posted to his website on April 18th, 2015. Subsequent comment and analysis were published as the situation evolved.

Professional reliance model

In 2001, after the BC Liberals were elected to their first term, they began to cut the size of government. As a direct consequence of government downsizing, technical expertise within the civil service became a casualty. Instead of having technical expertise in house, the government moved towards wide scale use of Professional Reliance in the permitting process. Under the Professional Reliance approach, the Ministry relies on the judgment and expertise of qualified experts hired by a project proponent.

What is particularly important to note is that in March 2014, the Office of the British Columbia Ombudsperson released a scathing report criticizing the Professional Reliance model with respect to streamside protection and enhancement areas. The report, entitled The Challenges of Using a Professional Reliance in Environmental Protection – British Columbia’s Riparian Areas Regulation made 25 recommendations, 24 of which the government agreed to accept. But this acceptance came almost a year after the Ministry of Environment granted SIA their permit.

The government’s approach to follow the Professional Reliance model is fraught with difficulties. The role of the government is to protect the public interest. When government is making decisions solely based on a project proponent’s expert opinion, it is very troubling. Imagine a judge in a court of law only listening to the expert opinion on one side of a case (plaintiff or defendant) and not allowing expert opinion to be submitted from the opposing side.

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