Citizens taking action ~ Vancouver, Lower Mainland, and beyond.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Metro Board's embarrassing exploitation of the gentle Chief Pasco

Today's meeting of the Metro Board was a study in what's wrong with governance in our region.

The first thing the Board did was to retreat behind closed doors. For an hour and a half the rest of us -- several local citizens and a much larger group of people from First Nations communities as far away as Fort St. John -- milled awkwardly in the lobby waiting to be re-admitted to the Board Room.

At quarter to eleven, the doors were re-opened and Nlaka'pamux Nation Tribal Council Chief Bob Pasco was admitted to the microphone. Pasco has sat in that chair many times, and over many years, speaking out against Metro's earlier plan to build a 100-year dump in Ashcroft. On those occasions, the Board gave him a patient hearing and then directed staff to continue doing just that.

This time Chief Pasco was invited to appear before the Board.

They gave him all the time he wanted to speak from the heart about what the land means to him and his community and future generations, and to invite one patient articulate First Nations speaker after another to take a turn at the mike. (Only Don Maclean from Pitt Meadows spoiled the moment by asking the Chair at one point how much longer this would go on and then sitting back and fuming in his chair until it was over.)

At the end of the delegation, Pasco noted that "there's a difference after all these years." In earlier times, he said, the message he picked up in the Metro building was "you don't belong here." But now "things have changed."

What has changed? Merely that Pasco is now a convenient tool in Metro's petty turf war with the provincial government, a totally trivial non-issue that has eclipsed all matters of public interest in deliberations about the future of our region's waste.

It turns out that the Board laboured so mightily behind those closed doors this morning to issue forth a long-winded motion that Metro send a delegation to Victoria.

What really has the Board's knickers in a knot -- the "elephant in the room" as Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan called it -- is the infuriating fact that Victoria approved the Cache Creek landfill permit extension while rejecting an essentially identical facility in Ashcroft. It was Corrigan who noted that Victoria's high-handed interference in Metro affairs was lubricated by paid lobbyists working for entities with a "financial interest" in the matter.

It was gruesomely clear in the discussion that followed that some on that Board appear to be more worried about the public money lost when Ashcroft was turned down than about the disdain for First Nations they would rightly have been accused of if it had gone ahead. Pasco's lessons had clearly fallen on deaf ears.

Corrigan I feel sure spoke for many on that Board when he expressed the view that recycling has "reached the point of diminishing returns." We should just get on with it, Directors kept saying, and build a landfill, or an incinerator, "or whatever" -- because, after all, we're in a desperate situation.

In a desperate situation to find someone's airshed or someone's traditional territory -- whatever -- to get rid of a problem that, after all, we can't do anything about.

After the meeting I went up to Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore and asked him how things are going with their food scraps program. He said he's still taking lots of heat from citizens, but it's mainly about switch from weekly to bi-weekly garbage pickups.

Unlike Mayor Moore, who is not afraid to wade in and take political heat for helping his community get their waste on a diet, the rest of the politicians on that Board -- to a person -- seem ready to cave to the troglodyte element in every community who feel that wasting is an entitlement: "I pay my taxes," they hear, "now you clean it up or we'll remember you at election time."

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