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Candidates share views on the environment; Kyllo stays away

In attendance: BC NDP candidate Steve Gunner, left, addresses the audience at the environmental all-candidates forum, while the BC Conservative’s Tom Birch and the BC Green’s Chris George listen. BC Liberal Greg Kyllo did not attend. - Tracy Hughes/Observer
In attendance: BC NDP candidate Steve Gunner, left, addresses the audience at the environmental all-candidates forum, while the BC Conservative’s Tom Birch and the BC Green’s Chris George listen. BC Liberal Greg Kyllo did not attend.
— image credit: Tracy Hughes/Observer

As Okanagan College dean and moderator Jim Barmby put it, there was lots of light shed on the issues but very little heat for the candidates at the environmentally-focused forum Monday night.

The forum was hosted by four groups, the Shuswap Environmental Action Society (SEAS), Shuswap Water Action Team (SWAT), KAIROS and the Shuswap Naturalists.

The biggest controversy came from who wasn’t there. BC Liberal candidate Greg Kyllo opted out of the forum, saying he wasn’t attending all-candidates meetings for special interest groups, because he would be compelled to attend them all.

Jim Cooperman from SEAS objected to this rationale, telling the approximately 70 people in the audience that, “the environment is not a special interest because without a healthy environment, no one has anything.”

Moving forward with the three candidates, Tom Birch for the BC Conservatives, Steve Gunner with the NDP and Chris George with the Green Party, the discussion was respectful and educational.

The comment was made that this forum drew more attendance than the Chamber of Commerce and OMREB-sponsored general forum held last Saturday.

The crowd for this forum was particularly diverse, including a contingent of teens, who have been noticeably absent at previous forums.

One young person got straight to the point, asking the candidates to give their first priority for the environment if they were to be elected.

George said he believes it is imperative for the Shuswap Lake Integrated Planning Process (SLIPP) to have permanent funding.

“We need something secure to help protect our lake,” he said.

Birch, who was the only candidate to support pipeline and tanker expansion, stressed that he was committed to work locally to bring community groups together for a co-ordinated approach on issues like lake water quality, agriculture and forestry.

“I have a passion to bring all these good organizations together and work on environmentally sustainable solutions... I believe we have the ability and the knowledge to create solutions in the Shuswap that can then be used all over the province and the world.”

Gunner also mentioned support for SLIPP, as well as “putting more teeth” back into the Ministry of Environment.

“We need people to be looking after our environment and making sure regulations are followed.”

The candidates were also questioned about how to make a shift away from non-renewable resources.

Birch said he advised slow, carefully planned change.

“We don’t have to be in a panic... we need to make the shift to cleaner technology in a way that isn’t going to destroy business or the economy... if you tear at the fabric of society by destroying the economy, you will rip the heart out of environmental change.”

He reflected on his experiences with the poverty in Africa.

“If people can not feed their children, they are not going to care about trees or oil or anything.”

Gunner says the NDP have learned from watching the mistakes of the BC Liberals, in that there needs to be public buy-in to create social change.

“We need to manufacture a social contract, by talking, educating, sharing so that there can be a political will to make change.”

George took a stance that the planet cannot afford to wait much longer to deal with issues like pollution and climate change.

“The future of our species depends on having a change of heart. We need programs to move forward now.”

When it came to wireless technologies including the controversial smart meters, all the candidates agreed citizens should have the right to opt out.

Another common theme from all three candidates was a commitment to try and get funding for lake water protection, either under the guise of SLIPP or as part of a water board, as is done in the Okanagan watershed.

The Shuswap Naturalists questioned the current environmental assessment process, which relies on developers hiring a qualified environmental professional to produce assessment reports.

Gunner and George both said the model is only partially effective because there are no checks to ensure the reports reflect science, rather than a bias towards to developer who is paying for the report.

“We’ve had an evisceration of the civil service when it comes to the environment,” said George.

Gunner and Birch  also advocated for more clearly defined environmental regulations so developers can know and follow the rules from the get-go.

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