Tuesday September 18, 2007
Green trouble for NDP's James
By BILL TIELEMAN
Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.
Carole James owes MLA Michael Sather a huge debt of gratitude.
But instead of thanking him, the B.C. New Democratic Party leader has thrown Sather out of her caucus!
Sather's offence? The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA is simply supporting a long-cherished NDP policy to protect valuable and disappearing farmland from industrial and residential development.
Sather's real problem is that he refuses to accept the wrongheaded idea that farmland is only worth protecting unless aboriginal people want to pave it and sell it to park shipping containers destined to and from China.
That means he will vote against the Tsawwassen First Nation treaty - only because the B.C. Liberals exempted the TFN from the provisions of the Agricultural Land Reserve, the historic legislation brought in by Dave Barrett's first NDP government in 1973.
And because James said the NDP caucus supports the treaty, she expelled Sather this month.
But James should instead be thanking Sather for opposing the treaty that removes 207 hectares of farmland from ALR protection and gives it to the Tsawwassen for Deltaport expansion.
That's because Sather is the thin red line holding back NDP voters who are environmental and farmland supporters from giving up on the party and voting Green.
Sather, along with NDP MLAs Guy Gentner, Corky Evans and possibly others who will abstain rather than vote for a treaty that will permanently eliminate a huge tract of productive farmland, is defending one of the NDP's proudest accomplishments.
And by doing so Sather is assuring NDP voters that protecting farms is worth fighting for to some in the party.
With the NDP at 32 per cent support, miles behind the B.C. Liberals at 50 per cent, and with the Green Party at 16 per cent in the latest Mustel Group poll, Carole James is in big trouble.
Two Green Party leadership candidates, Ben West and Damian Kettlewell, say they oppose the treaty over the ALR exemption.
That leaves Sather to defend farmland for the NDP.
"The issue of preserving agricultural land is so essential, whether it's protecting our food supply or climate change, it's so important," Sather said in an interview.
James has also alienated voters who believe - rightly - that an elected MLA is their representative, not simply a political party's. But the NDP provincial council backed James' position against a free vote - something B.C. Liberals MLAs will have.
"I am disappointed - we should have a free vote," Sather says.
And disappointment with the B.C. NDP is becoming James' biggest problem of all.
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The Western Canada Wilderness Committee has also supported Sather and his call for a free vote on the Tsawwassen Treaty.
“We consider MLA Michael Sather to be a thoughtful, courageous, and well-spoken proponent for protecting BCs farmland...There are British Columbians who are not in favour of a treaty settlement that would see farmland paved and we would hope that these views could be represented by elected representatives without censure," said Joe Foy, Wilderness Committee National Campaign Director.
"The suspension of Mr. Sather from the NDP caucus and the continuing pressure to prevent a free vote on this important issue is, in our opinion, an assault on the free debate of important issues that a robust democracy depends on,” Foy added.
In a letter to NDP leader Carole James, the WCWC asks her to reconsider the position taken against a free vote on the treaty.
"The Wilderness Committee is extremely appreciative of NDP MLAs Michael Sather (Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows) Corky Evans (Nelson-Creston) and Guy Gentner (Delta North) for speaking out against the proposed treaty and for speaking up for the protection of farmland, the environment and community health," Foy wrote.
"We are therefore very dismayed to learn that all NDP MLAs are expected by you to vote for the treaty - no exceptions - in order to show party solidarity on this issue."
"Media reports also indicate that NDP MLAs that still choose to vote against the proposed treaty will suffer some kind of sanctions and this has us especially concerned. I note that the governing Liberals are allowing a free vote amongst their MLAs."
"Please, won't you reconsider?"