Politicians Should Not Be Lobbyists … Period

By Mike Archer. A large number of those who live in the Fraser Valley believe that the haze we experience during summer months is a result of pollution.

The fact that it simply isn’t true* has not stopped several politicians, who love nothing better than to jump in front of parades, wherever they may lead, from vocally opposing Metro Vancouver’s plan to convert waste to energy through incineration and stop driving diesel-spewing trucks full of garbage through the valley, on their way to the Cache Creek landfill.

The fact that Abbotsford pays Vancouver to transport its garbage in diesel-spewing trucks and drive through the Valley on the way to the BC Interior is seldom mentioned by councillor Patricia Ross or Mayor Banman who both vehemently oppose Vancouver’s attempt to reduce its waste, convert in to energy and remove tonnes of pollutants from the Fraser Valley airshed.

I won’t devote any more space here to the argument except to encourage readers to read the research at the bottom of the post and, if you come to any conclusion other than the one I have, please write and tell me where I’m wrong.

Some real environmentalists may be able to set me right or come up with a different understanding of the published research and I welcome their involvement in the discussion. Unlike most politicians, I am perfectly prepared to change my mind.

What I would like to discuss in this column is John Les’ trip through retirement some of which will now be funded by a company that stands to gain from one of the positions he has fought hard to keep on the front page of newspapers in communities where he could secure votes and influence during his long career as a Fraser Valley politician.

In addition to his years of taking a cheque from BC citizens as an MP and cabinet minister, John was Mayor of Chilliwack, and Chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) during the period when the gravel industry was given free reign to demolish the mountain and helped set it on its present course of becoming the biggest eyesore in the Fraser Valley.

Drive from Mission to Agassiz sometime and have a look at the north face of Sumas Mountain. You’ll be staring at the future of Sumas mountain courtesy of John Les, Patricia Ross and Sharon Gaetz – the last three chairs of the FVRD who quite literally abandoned the residents of the mountain to the mercies of gravel industry.

Ross even voted for Abbotsford to annex the mountain against the wishes of the residents and environmentalists.

For these three politicians to attempt to claim any credibility as stewards of the environment is comical. To watch as Les hires himself out to the company which stands to gain from his reckless attempts to stop Vancouver from reducing its waste by converting it to energy is preposterous.

A lawyer would advise me not to accuse John of planning this retirement job while he was in office and I am in no way doing so. I prefer to believe he would never do such a thing.

But a crucial part of conflict of interest legislation demands that there not even be the appearance of conflict. Taking a paycheque from a company after taking a such a consistent and vocal supporter of their position while in office ends up looking an awful lot like a conflict of interest. The public could certainly be forgiven for making that conclusion.

The fact that he didn’t consciously do so does not absolve him of the responsibility of avoiding the appearance of having done so because it brings the whole public process into disrepute.

Earlier this summer John brought together a group of aging ex-mayors of Fraser Valley, just after the devastating flooding in southern Alberta, in order to urge the provincial government to allow gravel removal from the Fraser River. In a highly contentious statement, Les and his fellow retired mayors equated gravel removal with flood mitigation.

A brief look at the research shows his argument to be dubious at best and the timing of the announcement appeared deliberately timed to take advantage of the devastation of our fellow citizens in Calgary.

His tenure as one of those who was in the Liberal cabinet and chaired the FVRD when it was annexed and turned over to the gravel companies makes his concern for a gravel-company-friendly position on flooding – at a time when we weren’t facing any such danger – sound out of place and a little incongruous at best. The public might be forgiven for thinking he was making his case for the gravel companies a little too vociferously at a time when most people were more concerned about our neighbours in Alberta.

Similarly, the money John made through land deals while Mayor of Chilliwack and the lack of any clear evidence that would lead to the likelihood of a conviction does not excuse him from adhering to both the letter and the spirit of the legislation and setting a proper example for the system.

The heavy criticism of his actions as Mayor of Chilliwack for the tone he set at City Hall when it came to expediting the removal of land from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), not to mention the profits he made doing so himself, brought Chilliwack’s developer-mayor as close to serious trouble as he has ever come in his political career and forced him to resign from cabinet.


More importantly, the potential damage to the environmental movement caused by politicians who adopt faulty logic and fight popular battles for the wrong reasons, while allowing for the wholesale environmental destruction of what remains of the Fraser Valley’s pristine wilderness to the gravel companies risks making anything they say appear meaningless.

Who will pay attention to the real environmental issues facing the Fraser Valley when former politicians like John Les take jobs with companies which stand to gain or lose a great deal of money based on the government’s decisions on environmental matters?

Help like this the environment doesn’t need.

Perhaps more importantly our political system cannot handle any more cynicism. The lies told to us by the Bush and Blair administrations will affect international politics and the willingness of citizens to trust their politicians for generations.

Abbotsford’s full-court press selling a water shortage which simply didn’t exist has affected the willingness of the citizens of Abbotsford to trust their politicians in much the same way.

I’m not accusing John of doing anything wrong. He is undoubtedly following the rules as they currently exist. I think those rules stink and I think John should make an example of his career and stand for something better.

When enough average citizens come to the conclusion that politicians can simply not be trusted and are seen to be gaming the system the damage runs deep. I’ve never believed anyone should be allowed to make a career out of politics but taking ones career at the public trough all the way into retirement is a bit much.

John should turn down the job offer he has accepted and devote his talents, which are substantial, and his contacts and influence, which are invaluable, to helping the disadvantaged or the homeless in Chilliwack who are much more deserving of his attention and experience than a garbage company from Cache Creek.

For a look at the research by both parties in the battle of Vancouver’s Waste-to-Energy plans see the following:

Research, Sources and Background:
We did what we could to provide as many useful links for those who want to look into the matter further.

– *2001 Environment Canada Air Quality Study Lower Mainland Airshed

Douw Steyn
Douw Steyn
Funding canceled

Ryley Landfill

Critique of Waste To Energy Proposals:Incinerators – Waste-to-Energy Proposals in the Watershed Sentinel by Joyce Nelson.

Fraser Valley Regional District Research:
Consolidated FV Management Plan 1998 PDF
Best Management Practices and emission inventory of agricultural sources in the Lower Fraser Valley
State of the air Reports
Dr Ian Mckendry Report-Air Quality in the Fraser Valley
Particulate Emissions and Health – Prf C. Vyvyan Howarrd

Metro Vancouver Research:
Solid Waste Planning
Landfill Evaluation 2008 PDF
Implementation Matrix PDF
Solid Waste Management Full Report PDF
Draft Solid Waste Implementation Plan 2010 PDF

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