What it Took - How Shawnigan Won

 “The end of this story has been written, because there is only one ending acceptable to the people of Shawnigan - that this permit is revoked and the site is cleaned up. We will persevere until this outcome is reached. We will persevere no matter how long it takes, no matter what it takes. We will persevere because we are on the side of what is right, we are on the side of justice, we are on the side of clean drinking water, and we are on the side of the future of Shawnigan.

We will not give up." - Sonia Furstenau, speaking to the Save Shawnigan Water rally at the BC Legislature.

Recently, the Shawnigan community received the news we’ve been waiting for nearly four years to hear: Cobble Hill Holdings’ permit that allowed them to dump 5 million tonnes of contaminated soil into our watershed was - at long last- cancelled by Minister of Environment Mary Polak.

This decision was pivotal for a community that has long been worried about the safety of its drinking water. No longer would CHH and its various operators be allowed to dump a total of five million tonnes of contaminated soil on top of an un-mapped aquifer. No longer would volunteers be spending countless hours of their time monitoring the site, gathering evidence of non-compliance, alerting the government to it, figuring out creative ways to protest it, taking the story forward again and again, keeping media informed, and generally putting their lives on hold.

While the news was welcome, the personal cost to the community has been enormous. It is unbelievable that in this day and age. and in Canada, we have had to fight our own government to protect our drinking water. Losing faith in the very institutions designed to protect us is profoundly disturbing, and left unchecked, has deep ramifications.

People are disillusioned with our government.

Until the day the permit was cancelled, not once did it seem that the provincial government was in Shawnigan’s comer. The tone was set the day that 15,000 signatures against the permit were brought to the legislature - and both Premier Christy Clark and Minister Polak walked out during its presentation. Nothing could have signalled more strongly to the community what we were in for.

The fight has been costly from every perspective.

The Shawnigan Resident’s Association and the Cowichan Valley Regional District both filed BC Supreme court challenges, with combined costs approaching $2 million. We don’t even know how much the provincial government has spent fighting their own citizens, but when you consider the judges, bailiffs, court recorders, Ministry of Environment staff responding to countless letters and requests from the community, monitoring of the site, plus the lawyers’ fees, the number must be high.

This obscene process, where profit is privatized, and the taxpayers pick up the tab for everything else, has to end. We haven’t even talked up clean up and removal of the soil. Who will pay for that? The taxpayer, again?

Perhaps the only difference between Shawnigan and other communities in BC facing similar issues is this: we were able to effectively organize and challenge the status quo. Out of roughly 100 key volunteers, 13 groups were formed, with the team leads forming a core group that kept us going forward under Sonia Furstenau’s direction. Special mention must go to the research team that has gone above and beyond, putting in countless hours to counter, with fact and science, the government’s opinion that everything was just fine.

It is difficult to convey how much time, effort, and heart the community has put into fighting this. It truly has been a massive. Outside of the core group, hundreds have helped out - from the smallest of ways to the biggest, and with many donors of all stripes. It would almost be ridiculous but for the silver lining - how much stronger the community is for it all. We know what it takes. We know what it means to have each other’s backs. We are the forces of know, and we're not going away.

Every group has to have a leader. It would be remiss to not mention the one one key player throughout it all who kept the ball rolling, who didn’t give up, who displayed hope and courage when we were hit with setbacks, and led with integrity. Sonia Furstenau spent four years rallying the community, reminding us to never give up hope, fighting hard for what she believed in, and always promising that the outcome we desired was within our reach, as long as we persevered. It was the ultimate symbiotic relationship. Here’s the last word:

“This victory is a testament to what can be achieved when a community decides to truly work together. By focusing so much of our energy on the positive - the community building, the compassion and love at the centre of our efforts - we were all able to support each other through even the darkest moments of this fight. Shawnigan is the example that proves that a group of committed citizens who choose to be rooted in integrity, honesty, and kindness can indeed change the world."

Sonia Furstenau

Laura Colpitts is a photographer and storyteller splitting her time between Shawnigan Lake and Calgary AS. She is a key contributor to the Save Shawnigan Water Community Action Group, and is involved in the campaign to elect Sonia to the legislature. This article is entirely her own opinion, separate to the election.

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Economy hot button issue for Cowichan Valley candidates

Sarah Simpson - Cowichan Valley Citizen 
Mar 10, 2017

It's expected the 2017 provincial general election will be called on April 11 and as such, candidates are busy compiling their platforms with the hopes of getting their messages out to as many people as possible before voting day.

The economy is a top-of-mind issue for candidates and voters alike and is the first topic in a Citizen series discussing some of the bigger election issues with the (so far) six Cowichan Valley riding nominees.

Candidate Sonia Furstenau and the BC Green Party are committed to ensuring that B.C.'s economy creates conditions for everyone to thrive.

"A healthy economy that creates abundant opportunities is underpinned by universal access to quality healthcare and education, housing security for all citizens, a basic income strategy, a healthy environment, and fair taxation," she said.

With a keen eye on environmental issues, Furstenau noted B.C. needs to move away from "misguided mega-projects like Site C and LNG" and instead "see the extraordinary opportunities in a transition to a modern, renewable energy economy."

Committing to a low-carbon future will create job growth across multiple sectors, she said.

"Public infrastructure, sustainable transportation and farming, and a value-added approach to B.C.'s resources will create long-term employment and a better future for all of B.C.," she said.

For Libertarian candidate James Robert Anderson, eliminating government regulations to allow healthy competition would "substantially benefit" B.C.'s economy.

He's for ditching Crown monopolies like ICBC, BC Liquor, BCLC and BC Ferries, believing more competition and therefore more job opportunities would result. Less red tape around businesses like Uber and Air BnB, would give more options to consumers, while generating income for service providers, he believes.

"While some government regulation is required to protect individuals against force and fraud," Anderson said, "the current level of regulation and government control over business is stifling the economy and holding B.C. residents back from their full potential."

Anderson also thinks working with municipalities to reduce development costs and expedite the rezoning process would stimulate the economy by increasing construction job opportunities while at the same time helping to alleviate the housing crisis.

Independent socialist candidate Eden Haythornthwaite's platform proposes democratically directed public ownership of all natural resources and the industries that spring from them.

"Part of running your economy is having adequate revenue to provide people with the things they need," she said.

The current system provides incentives to the gas and oil sector just for doing their regular business, she noted, and that takes away from the public purse.

"I just think we have a system that's based on profit and selfish personal gain and only works for a tiny handful of people and so our needs are not met," she said. "To me, the economy is based on supplying the things we need and in supplying the things we need we can have a tremendous amount of wellbeing and we can prosper.

"My platform is based on things we need. It's not a wish list."

Independent candidate Ian Morrison says a healthy and prosperous population makes for a healthy and prosperous economy and a new Cowichan District Hospital and investment in health care is a great start.

"We'll reduce wait times for surgery and provide the needed care for our growing senior population, and support people with mental health and addictions," he said. Living wage jobs and a $15 per hour minimum wage are a priority for Morrison.

"It helps students, the working poor, and families," he said. "It's good for business too."

What's more, Morrison believes creating secondary manufacturing opportunities for the forest sector and producing new and stable union jobs for young people and First Nations workers will boost the economy, as would encouraging tourism, attracting high paying tech sector businesses to the region and growing agriculture.

A strong economy is the fundamental plank of the Liberal platform according to candidate Steve Housser.

"Without a vibrant economy that creates the conditions for growth and employment, there simply can't be the tax base to pay for the health, education and social services we all want and deserve," he said, adding the best social program possible is "a good job that allows men and women to look after their families."

When more British Columbians are working and paying taxes, the province is better positioned to look after those less able to look after themselves, he said.

"This is why I believe a strong economy is key to the heath of the people and communities of B.C."

Housser went on to say that the surest way to promote economic strength is this: the government needs to spend less than it earns.

NDP candidate Lori Iannidinardo did not respond by press time.

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'Enough is enough': B.C. Green Leader calls on environment minister to resign

Jeff Lawrence, CTV Vancouver Island 
Thursday, October 27, 2016

The leader of the B.C. Green Party says Environment Minister Mary Polak should resign for her failure to handle environmental threats including the recent diesel fuel spill near Bella Bella.

“What I’m going to say today is something that I have not done before and I’m not doing lightly,” Andrew Weaver announced at the B.C. Legislature Thursday. “Today after a sequence of events, the last being the diesel spill, I’m calling on the Minister of Environment Mary Polak to resign effective immediately.”

Weaver, who is also MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, said he’s never witnessed a government use “such outrageous rhetoric” to describe its efforts to protect the environment and now lacks confidence in Polak to do her job.

He called attention to two ongoing lawsuits launched over environmental issues – including MiningWatch Canada’s legal action against the government over the collapse of the Mount Polley tailings dam, and Shawnigan Lake residents’ suit over an unwanted contaminated soil dumpbuilt above the community’s watershed – and said a spill of more than 90,000 litres of diesel off the coast of Bella Bella is the last straw.

The Heiltsuk First Nation has criticized the federal government’s response to the spill, and even B.C. Premier Christy Clark has said Ottawa hasn’t done enough to provide adequate spill response on the B.C. coast.

Polak has been quiet on the Bella Bella spill – the response to which is a federal responsibility – but did call on Ottawa to create an improved spill-response plan for B.C. waters in June.

Weaver previously said the provincial government needs to take more of “an active stake” when it comes to how the spill affects local First Nations.

“This government is standing like deer looking in headlights with no response, no comment, apart from blaming others,” said Weaver. “We’ve got a climate policy that this government stands up and trumpets as leadership. It’s not a leadership plan.”

He called on the government to replace Polak with “a minister who will stand up for the people of B.C. and the water and environment that we all rely on.”

Sonia Furstenau, Shawnigan Lake Area Director for the Cowichan Valley Regional District, said that her community has spent millions in an ongoing fight against the contaminated soil facility, and said other municipalities across B.C. are contacting her seeking advice on how to wage their own environmental battles against the government.

“It’s absolutely reprehensible that communities are already looking at putting money aside for legal fees, because they understand that they’ll probably be forced to do what we’ve done in Shawnigan, which has had to spend $2-million to fight our own government to protect our drinking water,” she said.

“There is a failure of policy of water protection in this province, and we’re seeing it play out in real time in Shawnigan. I stand with Andrew and say it’s time for the minister to either do her job or step down if she won’t do it.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Environment said it would release a response to Weaver’s statement later Thursday.

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Victoria chapter calls on defence minister to help protect Shawnigan Lake drinking water

The Council of Canadians - Canadians.org

April 30, 2016

The Council of Canadians Victoria chapter was at a protest at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt yesterday calling on the federal defence minister to help them defend the right to water.

CHEK News reports, "Shawnigan Lake Residents are hoping the Department of National Defence [DND] will stop dumping contaminated soil above Shawnigan Lake. In March, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled the controversial Stebbings Road site can’t be used as a landfill. But six contracts — responsible for 106,000 tonnes of waste — can be fulfilled and the vast majority of the tainted soil is coming from DND." Shawnigan Lake area director Sonia Furstenau says, “We’re asking the defence minister to help us defend our watershed."

The article adds, "Defence minister Harjit Sajjan says he was recently made aware of the situation and will look into it."

A federal government media release from March 2013 says, "The Esquimalt Graving Dock has been used for the repair and maintenance of military and civilian vessels since 1927. Decades of work at the dock have contributed to sediment contamination in the seabed around the facility."

It's that contaminated soil that is being dumped in the Shawnigan Lake watershed area. The dump site itself is located on top of an aquifer, beside a creek leading to the community's drinking water.

CBC explains the current situation following the B.C. Supreme Court ruling on March 21 that found that dumping the contaminated soil was not a permitted use for the property under the regional district's zoning bylaws. It notes, "South Island Resource Management [the company that operates the dump site] appealed and asked for a stay of the ruling until that appeal is heard. A decision released [on April 15] granted a partial stay that allows South Island Resource Management to resume operations so it can complete existing contracts to accept contaminated dirt."

Cowichan Valley Regional District will be in court in May seeking to have that partial stay lifted. If they can't get the stay lifted, they are asking that South Island Aggregates be required to put up a $12 million bond to cover clean-up costs. The appeal to the March 21 B.C. Supreme Court ruling will be heard in August.

The Council of Canadians Victoria and Mid-Island chapters have been actively opposing the dump site.

In March 2014, the Victoria chapter protested outside an Environmental Appeal Board hearing to demand that the BC Ministry of the Environment reverse its decision to grant South Island Aggregates a permit to dump toxic soil near Shawnigan Lake. In May 2015, the chapter joined with 1,000 people at a rally at the BC Legislature in Victoria to protest the dump site. In June 2015, the chapter participated in a blockade of the entrance to the dump site. In Jan. 2016, the Victoria and Mid-Island chapters were at a protest at Shawnigan Lake just prior to the beginning of the BC Supreme Court hearings. And in Feb. 2016, the Mid-Island chapter attended a Sacred Land & Sacred Waters ceremony aimed at stopping the dump.

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People of Shawnigan Lake have their own mountain

Louise Dickson  / Times Colonist 

December 10, 2015

Old Baldy Mountain now belongs to the Shawnigan Lake community.

This week, the Cowichan Valley Regional District announced it had paid $1.5 million to a private landowner to purchase 100 hectares at the top and on the western slopes of the mountain, located on the east side of Shawnigan Lake.

Over the years, Old Baldy Mountain has been logged and threatened by development proposals, said Sonia Furstenau, director of the Shawnigan Lake Electoral Area.

“The community of Shawnigan Lake can celebrate knowing that this beautiful backdrop to the lake, captured in the works of renowned artist E.J. Hughes, will be protected in perpetuity,” Furstenau said.

“Conservation of Old Baldy Mountain as a local natural park also contributes to the overall watershed protection objectives for Shawnigan Lake and signifies the true direction the Shawnigan community wants for its future.”

The community raised close to $75,000 to acquire the land. The regional district also used reserve funds from Shawnigan Lake Community Parks and took out a small loan, which will be paid back over the next five years.

Old Baldy’s summit rises 458 metres above sea level and has stunning 360-degree views of Shawnigan Lake, the Koksilah River watershed, Sidney, Salt Spring Island and some southern Gulf Islands.

Preserving Old Baldy as a nature park and protecting its sensitive ecosystems has been a high priority for Shawnigan Lake residents for years, said Brian Farquhar, CVRD manager, parks and trails division. Small native plants and mosses grow on the exposed rocky outcrops along its western and southern slopes. Older second-growth forest grows on the northern slopes.

Protecting these features will be a priority in managing these lands as a natural park, he said.

“The plants are typically more fragile in these environments,” Farquhar said. “So that’s the importance of protecting them and ideally, keeping the public on designated trails so they’re not damaging them.”

The forested areas of the park play an important role for the watershed, he said. “Basically, they ensure that, through rainfall, the water is captured and slowly released into the lake via small tributaries and creeks,” Farquhar said.

For decades, Shawnigan Lake residents and visitors have hiked on old logging roads and unmarked trails on Old Baldy.

The regional district will now work with the Shawnigan Lake Parks Commission and local trail advocates to map and develop a formal network of hiking and walking trails. It will also restore areas damaged by logging and site clearing for developments that did not proceed, Farquhar said.

“We’ll certainly be doing something in 2016 because we know the public is already out there using it and enjoying it,” said Farquhar. “We’ll probably do some initial signage on the more established pathways people have been using. Over time, we’ll look to improve those and see if there’s anything else to improve the public’s use and enjoyment of the park.”



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it's time to ban big money in BC politics

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