Building on months of opposition, around 500 people gathered on a warm October afternoon at the quay in New Westminster to oppose the expansion of Fraser Surrey Docks. Just across the Fraser, and clearly visible form the quay, the port is seeking to expand so that it can export 8 million of tons of dirty thermal coal from Montana mines. The protest was lighthearted but the message was serious: take back the port and demand that the people have a say in whether the expansion is approved. We have the right to clean water and clean air.
Port Metro Vancouver is the authority in charge of authorizing the proposal. It acts under the auspices of the federal government of Canada, and is essentially unaccountable to municipal and provincial governments in British Columbia. If Port Metro Vancouver gets what it wants, coal will be transferred via rail to Fraser Surrey Docks, loaded onto ships that will travel to Texada Island in the Strait of Georgia for transfer to ocean-going vessels, then shipped to Asian markets.
The US coal industry needs Fraser Surrey Docks for its exports as to date Oregon and Washington state residents have forced their governments to refuse permits for export. Yet at the same time that BC is looking to offer a way for coal export to expand, China – purported to be the market for this coal – has been in the news over the past few weeks describing how it is planning to reduce reliance on coal to cut the severe air, water and land pollution seen around cities like Shanghai and Harbin.
Speakers at the rally included Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation and 12 year old Ta'Kaiya Blaney of the Sliammon First Nation, Surrey resident and Communities and Coal founder Paula Williams, Sam Harrison from Kids for Climate Action, local MPs Peter Julian and Finn Donnelly, and Surrey doctor Pargat S Bhurji. Organizations supporting the rally included many community groups, and the BC Nurses’ Union.
Rally organizer and Voters Taking Action on Climate Change (VTACC) member Kevin Washburn was the emcee, and regularly drew the attention of the attendees across the Fraser River to the clearly visible Fraser Surrey Docks. In an unfortunate coincidence for the dock, everyone saw firsthand the amount of what was likely grain dust being kicked up into the air as a ship was being loaded. As Washburn stated, “You see what is happening. Now imagine all of that was coal dust.”
Peter Julian and Finn Donnelly reminded everyone about the Conservatives’ actions that are making things like expansions of coal ports even easier, mainly gutting of environment and fisheries’ acts. By removing two key words – “protect habitat” – the door has been opened for just about any company to do just about anything, even polluting a major salmon-bearing river such as the Fraser. Harper's governmentt also removed the requirement of environmental assessments from 99% of the types of projects that would trigger such a review. Donnelly also made this point: “We know that we need jobs but our environment is critical. It’s not one or the other.” Green jobs are necessary for a cleaner future less reliant on fossil fuels.
Speaker Ta'Kaiya Blaney is from Sliammon First Nation which includes Texada Island in its traditional territory. She was close to tears when she related the story of how she found out that the port on the island for the coal ships had been approved by the band council. Blaney said, “How can we speak our language which has everything to do with the land if there is no land? When it comes to pollution, it’s not just an indigenous problem, it’s everyone’s problem. It won’t matter who you are or how much money you have, clean water and clean air are a universal need.”
Clean water and clean air are not just universal needs, they are universal rights, as should be the voice of the people in a democracy. The decision by Port Metro Vancouver to expand coal exports must not be made unilaterally. Port Metro Vancouver should not be hiding behind closed doors making decisions that are not in the best interests of people or the planet.
It’s time to take back the port, a better, cleaner world is possible.