Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Suspended NDP MLA Michael Sather outlines why he will vote against the Tsawwassen Treaty over farmland exclusion

Very few MLAs have been suspended from their own party's caucus on a matter of principle in the BC Legislature. It takes a great degree of courage and conviction.

It also takes for them to passionately believe in what they are doing.

Michael Sather, MLA for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, is one of those MLAs and he has my support wholeheartedly for opposing the Tsawwassen Treaty because of its exclusion of prime farmland from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Michael Sather is - in my view - standing up for NDP party policy that has been in place since the ALR was established by the Dave Barrett NDP government in 1973.

This speech in the Legislature is an eloquent defense of the need to preserve our vanishing farmland without once denigrating the Tsawwassen First Nation.

It is well worth reading and I am pleased to present it in full.



Afternoon Sitting

Introduction by Members

M. Sather: Joining us is in the gallery today is Harold Steves. Harold is a long-time city councillor in the city of Richmond and really is an architect of the agricultural land reserve. There's a really interesting story of how that came about, starting with the application to renovate the family's farm, and his father made an application way back then.

It's a very interesting story, and I hope somebody writes a book about it some day. Will the House please join me in welcoming my hero Harold Steves.

Second Reading of Bills


M. Sather: I would like to thank the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations for sharing their traditional territory with us today.

I'm speaking against Bill 40 and against this treaty. It saddens and angers me to be in the position where I feel compelled to vote against the second treaty in modern-day British Columbia.

I don't agree with all the decisions made by the majority of the Tsawwassen First Nation. However, I do not blame the TFN. I know they have struggled long and hard in the white man's world to provide the best deal possible for their people.

I do not know what was discussed at the treaty table. I wasn't there. But I do know about talking to white people. They are relentless. They never give up. Sometimes the only options they offer are highly unpalatable.

We in the white man's world really have no comprehension of who aboriginal peoples are. We cannot really respect those we do not understand — these people of the land looking out to the sea. The relationships that aboriginal peoples have are foreign to us. We don't know these relationships.

A couple of weeks ago I was speaking to a band councillor of the Moberly First Nations in the upper Peace River drainage. We were talking about a mining company executive who was upset that their proposal had been stymied, and he was talking about the first nations of the area. The mining company executive said: "These people say they talk to bears. How can you deal with people like that?"

I heard the member for Okanagan-Vernon saying a few minutes ago that as a result of the Williston dam and the damage it had caused to the Tsay Keh Dene and the Kwadacha people, the government had worked to resolve those issues. I don't know how one can resolve the issues of the destruction of one's homeland.

As the Premier has said, we're going to be embarking — and the government's going to be embarking — upon serious discussions about the further flooding of that drainage, the further flooding of that river with the Site C dam. I'm hopeful that the government will think long and hard about the West Moberly First Nations and about the Saulteau First Nations and what that would do to their way of life — what that would do to the destruction of the moose, which is at the centre of their culture.

Getting back to the mining company executive, the implication of what that person was saying is that there must be something wrong with these people. Are they mentally ill? Talking to bears, talking to the salmon, talking to the whales is not a mental illness. It's an expression of an understanding that there is no separation between us and them, between the earth and humankind, between the sea and humankind, between the animals and humankind.

That same member of the West Moberly First Nations was telling me how difficult it is for his people to relate to the white man's concept of ownership. To own something, one must be separate from it. It is implicit in the concept of ownership. How can you own something that is part of you?

It's as silly to first nations as saying that I own my arm. Indeed, it is my arm, but I don't think of myself as owning my arm. It's simply a part of me, although sometimes I think that the way things are going, we will soon be legally encapturing the dollar value of our very body parts.
The broader culture and the culture of first nations remain worlds apart. I heard this dichotomy expressed in a different way on the lawn of the Legislature last week. One of the first nations leaders said to his brothers and sisters: "How do you know who you are? How do you know that your rights will never be extinguished? Because you have a name."

This is a highly sophisticated concept that is very difficult for us to understand. It's not a part of our culture. What I hear first nations saying is that there is an indivisibility between humans and the earth.

We, on the other hand, have been separating ourselves from nature for over 2,000 years. We have set ourselves up on a pedestal. We are superior to nature. We look down on nature. We are at war with nature. We look for winners and losers. They look for harmony.

We have our god and our saviour. Money is our god. Technology is our saviour. But there will be no technological fix for what ails us. We are in a state of denial, and our denial is harming us badly.

We are, in fact, no different than aboriginal peoples. We too come from the earth. We come from the sea. There will be no true reconciliation with indigenous peoples until we effect a true reconciliation between ourselves and nature.

We must speak what we believe. I do not believe this treaty was born of a whole relationship or of true respect, and I must speak against it. We could go back hundreds of years to talk about the beginning of this treaty, or we could talk about more recent events, like the construction of the B.C. Ferries terminal in 1960 and the construction of the Roberts Bank superport in 1970.

Those latter events had a very negative effect on the marine life upon which the Tsawwassen people depend, the rich crab fishery where the people could step out of their boat in the shallow waters and pick the crabs off the ocean floor — a bounty that the Tsawwassen people shared with their white neighbours…. My friend Harold Steves has told me about going there when he was a child in Richmond and picking those crabs up and enjoying that bounty as well.

The port development in particular has fouled the kitchen of the Tsawwassen First Nation. I was talking to a member of the TFN Band Council who said their people will harvest crab sometimes, only to come home, remove the shells and find the meat is black. He said he does not recommend that his people harvest in the area.

In 2002 the TFN launched a lawsuit against Vancouver Port Authority, B.C. Ferries, the government of British Columbia, the government of Canada, B.C. Transportation Financing Authority and B.C. Rail over the destruction of their environment. In 2004 the TFN and the Vancouver Port Authority signed a memorandum of agreement and a settlement agreement that set the stage for tripling of the port and for the development of a container handling facility on 350 acres of agricultural land in the agricultural land reserve.

That land had to be removed from the ALR to complete the deal. This treaty removes that land, along with another 150 acres. Normally any land, whether in a treaty or not, has to meet the approval of the Agricultural Land Commission before being removed from the ALR. That did not happen in this case. Everything changed between the signing of the agreement-in-principle and the signing of the final agreement.

Whereas under the agreement-in-principle, removal of lands from the ALR in conjunction with this treaty would remain under the jurisdiction of the ALC, under the final agreement, in section 9 of Bill 40, the provincial government removes the jurisdiction of the ALC over those lands.

In my community the owners of Formosa Nursery are suffering the effects of the loss of their agricultural lands for another Gateway project. The Minister of Agriculture and Lands, in reference to that law, said that it's a slippery slope when you overrule the ALC.

My question is: what kind of slope is it when the government completely removes the jurisdiction of the ALC in order to remove land from the ALR? I guess that would be moving from a slippery slope to an avalanche.

The agricultural lands in question in this treaty were originally expropriated in 1968 for development of a port that was to stretch from Roberts Bank to Hope. The creation of the agricultural land reserve in 1974 has prevented those lands from being developed by the port.

The port and the governments that support their expansion at Roberts Bank have waited 39 years to get those agricultural lands back for port expansion. They finally found a way to do that, and that was to sanitize this assault on agriculture by attaching it to a treaty with a first nation. It's sadly ironic that the Tsawwassen First Nation went to court over the destruction of their environment by the port and ended up with more destruction by the port.

Who is so determined to expand the port? Not the TFN, I wouldn't think. After all, they're the ones who launched a lawsuit over the environmental damage caused by the port. The Vancouver Port Authority certainly has an interest in expanding, as shown by the Deltaport third berth expansion, the planned terminal 2 and the container-handling facility on the ALR that will come to pass with this treaty. It is clear from this treaty that the provincial government is supporting the port expansion and all the damage that it is causing.

People sometimes ask me why I'm so concerned about the loss of 500 acres of agricultural land. There are several reasons, including loss of food security and reduced ability to fight global warming.

A recent report by the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, entitled B.C.'s Food Self-Reliance, says that B.C. farmers produce only 48 percent of the meat, dairy and vegetables that we consume. Maintaining even that level of food self-reliance in 2025 will require a 30-percent increase in agricultural production.

The problem is that climate change is causing more drought, which makes water availability a real, limiting factor on agricultural production. In addition, declining oil supplies will dramatically drive up the price of oil and increase the cost of importing food products. In all likelihood, we are going to need our food lands a lot more in the future.

There's another reason that I'm concerned about the loss of 500 acres of some of the best farmland in North America. The loss of the crab fishery, mussels and clams is the loss of the food and sustenance that is the way of life of the Tsawwassen people. The loss of agricultural land is the loss of food for all of us and the loss of the way of life for the farmers that work that land. As one of those farmers said to me: "Remember, blacktop is the last crop."

Some who are supporting the treaty point out that non-aboriginal people have turned huge tracts of what was once agricultural land into other uses and that, therefore, we cannot say to first nations that they cannot do the same. There are serious ramifications in accepting this argument. For example, where I live in Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows, agricultural land is constantly threatened by residential development. Proponents of this development say to me: "Most of our area that has houses on it was once agricultural land or was suitable for agriculture. How can you deny others the same right to develop on agricultural land?"

If we accept that argument, we can kiss goodbye to sustainable urban development and to ending urban sprawl. We will be giving up on producing our own food — a risky proposition, especially in this age of global warming — and we will be forsaking the best tool that we have to fight urban sprawl, the agricultural land reserve. I have no quarrel with first nations gaining title to agricultural lands, but we need to keep our agricultural lands in production, whether held by aboriginal or non-aboriginal people.

Similarly, if we look at global warming, we see that this is a problem for everyone in the world. Some have suggested that countries like China and India should not have to meet the same requirements to fight global warming that the more developed nations do because they are not responsible for as much of the problem. But global warming doesn't know boundaries, and even though it is not fair, we must all do our part to fight the problem.

In the same way, it can be argued that it is not fair that first nations should have to protect food lands. But as the member for Delta South is always saying, we all have to eat to live, and we all have to work together to protect and manage our agricultural resource wisely.

I want to talk about the process that led to this treaty. The treaty process, as shown by the actions of the provincial and federal governments, was not respectful of first nations. First nations had been treaty-making long before the white man came to North America. They have been working out how to share resources between their territories down through the ages. They have a respectful process to do that, which includes consultation between hereditary chiefs, elders and now band councils.

This process was not followed with this treaty. Three bands in the neighbouring Sencoten Alliance noted in their petition to the Supreme Court of British Columbia that despite repeated attempts to engage with the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation in 2005 and 2006, the first formal consultation meeting with representatives of the minister did not occur until May 29, 2007, almost five months after the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement was initialled.

Similarly, the Semiahmoo people from White Rock and surrounding areas wrote in their petition to the court: "After signing the agreement-in-principle, the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation did not engage in any consultation with the Semiahmoo, notwithstanding that they had notice for at least the previous 11 years that the Tsawwassen statement of intent encompassed Semiahmoo traditional territory."

This is an insult to aboriginal peoples. This is not the way they do business, but they have been forced into this box by a government that doesn't truly respect their ways. Many of those first nations were on the lawn in front of this building last week. They called for a just treaty that takes into account fully the rights of first nations whose traditional territories overlap the traditional territory of the Tsawwassen First Nation.

I'd like to talk now about the effect that the port expansion, which is facilitated by this agreement, is having on the environment at Roberts Bank offshore of the current Tsawwassen reserve.

Roberts Bank is at the centre of a coastal ecosystem. It is of international significance in its importance to waterfowl and shorebirds. Up to five million birds migrate along the Pacific Flyway in this area. It is the winter home for the highest number of waterfowl and shorebirds in Canada. The area of Roberts Bank, Boundary Bay, Sturgeon Bank and South Arm Marshes is designated as an important bird area of global significance. Of 597 important bird areas in Canada, this area is listed as number one.

The endangered southern resident killer whale feeds on salmon on Roberts Bank, sometimes between the port and ferry terminals. Expanding the port will increase commercial shipping traffic near this area, despite the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' national recovery strategy for resident killer whales — which is to reduce human threats, including noise and pollutants.

Looking at the continuing assault of port development on this area, I can only conclude that food lands do not matter; birds do not matter; endangered whales do not matter. Port development matters.

We have to do better than this in future treaty negotiations. First nations and many non-aboriginal people demand it. Nature demands it. We can do better, and I believe we will.

In closing, I would like to extend my best wishes to Chief Kim Baird and the Tsawwassen First Nation for success and harmony in the years to come. Thank you, Madam Speaker, all my relations.


Anonymous said...

I admire the way Mr. Sather has put his argument forward and would vote for him if he was my MLA as for the rest of the Ndp and Liberals they have become too ideological.

Anonymous said...

What an inspiring speech from Michael Sather; what a reflection on this Liberal government. Shameful.

Anonymous said...

It's very refreshing to have a person like Michael Sather sitting in Victoria. There should be more like him in this Province, nay this country. This man appears to be the only one who can see the big picture as well as how the TFN were duped.

Anonymous said...

Yes this MLA has made some good points, and I see no reason for me to repeat them, as I agree with most of them. But I question the wisdom of his leader in the Opposition who did some things to him when he told folks he would be voting against the trety. This man was shut out of his own caucus, lost a critic role and even had his email shut down. Pretty petty the way i see it. Most folks don't read Hansard and Bill was good enough to post all of Sather's speech. His constituents should be burning the wires telling her she made another mistake by muzzling one of her caucus members. It was the leader of the Opposition who threw out a long standing position of the NDP ,and a long established treaty negotiations position. The ALR was developed many years ago.
But now sort of bent out of shape.

Gordon ignored the ALR by removing it in this case. She fell right in line. And her dismal argument is, "don't do it again". The piece of land could easily have been left in the ALR for the bands use as long as the rules still applied. Some additional land or cash added to the package. Or if the band wouldn't agree, well back to the negotiating table. There have been delays before. When the next band wants similar excemptions of the same or other BC Laws, we can expect simliar manouvering by this government. And why wouldn't a band request similar results as the Tsawassen? Their lawyers and consultants can all read, and no doubt about it, other cases will come up. We now see bands arguing for buildings in downtown Vancouver.a feeind oif the premier is lobbying to stop the handing over of of all things a golf course. We saw our legislature lands in a legal dispute and the premier with one of his visions handed over 35 million dollars. He sure must be seen as a easy mark by some. Others see him as a fellow who will get you what you want if the prices are right.

For those who write and say they would vote for Sather, thats great but you too have a MLA and you can send him or her a message that they don't like what you see going on. One wonders just how many will now or after the next removal occurs. One MLA had it right when he said. after this deal all ALR lands are up for sale.
and there are somany others waiting to finish negotating and many who simply will not negotiate figuring the courts might be nicer to them, DL

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Michael Sather.
Carole James should hang her head in shame, especially in light of the fact that Campbell's own MLAs are allowed to vote against the treaty.

Anonymous said...

Umm ... re: "Courage" and "Conviction" Did he have the C of his Cs to vote against at the first opportunity - second reading of the implementing Act = or was he absent? Perhaps something more important than attending for the vote came up?

Budd Campbell said...


You've lost me. Can you explain how many votes have been involved, and when they occured?

I do know that the NDP Caucus meeting that decided the party's vote in favour of the Treaty, and included the decision to make it a strict party line vote, a three line whip as it's called in parliamentary terms, occured while Sather was attending a meeting in New Brunswick in connection with his critic's role. The Caucus leadership, of course, knew of his absence prior to scheduling this meeting.

He was, as you would expect, told absolutely nothing whatsoever upon his return and had to ask people like Trevina what was going on. And as you would also expect, his enquiries proved to be remarkably unproductive in terms of eliciting any comprehensible information. Sather's total opposition to any deal that included an arbitary ALR exclusion was very, very well-known to the entire NDP Caucus, as I am sure you know, and had been for many months if not years.

Anonymous said...

Michael Sather, nice guy that he seems to be, is being played for a useful idiot in this case.
Yes, yes, the principle of the thing. Except that it isn't a precedent-setting case by any stretch of the imagination. It's a couple hundred acres of admittedly good farmland. It was also a dealbreaker for a First Nation who have been fighting for centuries for something resembling justice.

So here we all are, distracted by an issue that, had it gone the other way, would have ignited yet another firestorm. Budd has been making the point repeatedly about what Bill and his ilk would have had the NDP do. Still no answer, Bill?

Of course this plays into the Liberal message box about the NDP, which any idiot could see. And it helps distract at least some of the populace from the real, tangible issues that are hitting British Columbians. Count the column inches, Bill, that you've devoted to the appalling level of care seniors are receiving, or the damning report by the UN Rapporteur on Homelessness, with the similar number inches you're using to fret over a few hundred acres.

We, on the left - and I have no doubt you're still with us on the left, Bill - have to fight for the real things that matter to real people right now. A few hundred acres of farmland within a Mike Weir teeshot of downtown Vancouver comes way second to things like social justice.

I would have preferred that the NDP handled this issue better, no question. But all that pales in comparison with the devastating effects of the Campbell government on the poor, the sick, the elderly, and yes, First Nations.

Anonymous said...

Budd ... read Wednesday's Hansard where the house divided on second reading of the TFN treaty impletation Act and there was a recorded vote. Guess who wasn't there? And there's no question of anyone, in his own caucus or otherwise, neglecting to tell him there was a vote ...
Though I really really don't care for her or her record of government, I know exactly what Margaret Thatcher meant when she'd refer to someone as a "wet" ...

Anonymous said...

A fellow just wrote a item on The Public Eye claming to be a NDP insider. wonder if the fellow here at 5.45 is on the same team. Doesn't lonmg established polices mean anyhting. Does it mean than any deal beats no deal at all? I read some parts of speached in hansard about the bbill to clear the way to the federal level of this treaty. I thin it's fair to sasy that Sather isn't the only one upset, but he is the only one who got centured by his leader.
Things at negotiation tables are brought up that nobody in the room actually believed would end up in the treaty. A side agreement with the Indians and the Port, our shy writer 545 anon says would have happened any way. I don't think so, it was a sly way for Gordon to get his way and anyone complaining must be bad people who don't like Indians.Yes I used the word Indian because at this time, that is the federal legal name for the folks at tsawassen. Gordo is slick no doubt about it. Wonder how long the lease is for? 100 years maybe . I sure wouldn't buy a used car from the premier but folks are prpared to hand over ALR land with no arrachments.Sins of the fsathers is the usual expression D. Love

Bill Tieleman said...

With his usual penchant for informed comment and accuracy, "Heaney" has attempted to criticize MLA Michael Sather for not being in the Legislature for the vote on second reading of the Tsawwassen Treaty.

The Vancouver Sun reported clearly today why this was:

"In a surprise move, New Democratic Party MLA Michael Sather, who was suspended from the NDP caucus for saying he would vote against the treaty, was not in the legislature and therefore effectively abstained.

Sather has objected to the treaty because it removes land from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Reached Wednesday night, Sather said he missed the vote because there was a meeting in his constituency regarding the potential closure of three schools and he wanted to "support my community."

But Sather said he plans to be in the legislature when the bill comes to third reading. "I'll be there for the vote," he said."

So, Sather is acting as any responsible MLA would by being present for important public business in his riding, not hiding somewhere.

And I hardly think the vote on second reading would be that important to anyone other than a longtime denizen of the legislative precincts, and no one is under any illusion that Sather is dodging the vote - since he's already been thrown out of the NDP caucus by leader Carole James.

Attempting to score points with a cheap shot against Sather is uncalled for.

Secondly, one of the Anonymouses asks what I would have had the NDP caucus do. I've answered that question in published columns and here several times - they should have declared they would vote against the treaty because of the exclusion of farmland from the Agricultural Land Reserve and then done so.

Far too many people who should know better have accepted the terms and conditions Premier Gordon Campbell has constructed for this debate. It is not First Nations or farmland preservation.

It is not treaty or ALR.

The NDP should have stuck to its principles, the principles upon which the ALR was created by the Dave Barrett NDP government in 1973, while continuing to support righting historic wrongs through equitable treaties or other measures.

The same Anonymous also criticizes me for lack of attention to homelessness and seniors' care compared to time spent on the treaty - both issues I have written on several times and which are also very important.

But this treaty is in the Legislature right now for a vote and that is the time to have this important debate.

I do not denigrate anyone who supports the Treaty despite the exclusion of farmland - but I vehemently disagree with those who say farmland must be sacrificed to reach treaties when the real issue is the manipulation of the treaty process to use the Tsawwassen people to get Deltaport expansion.

Anonymous said...

Bill I don't know if you're able to say the words "cheap shot" without any hint of irony .... but there you are.
MLA's know there's something worth doing or that needs doing every night in their riding, if they're good MLAs. And every day they do the people's business under the dome is a day they are stealing from their local priorities --- but on this day, there wasn't anything more important happening in just about the whole province than this vote, especially for people who've had so much to say about it
As far as second reading being an arcane stage ...it is the important threshold stage any initiative must pass to become law and during which the question on the floor is support or opposition to the Act "in principle" - Certainly if it's important enough to break ranks with your caucus because of your principled position, then, having made your principled speech at second reading stage, one should probably also be present to actually vote one's principles - unless you think making a big splash in Bill T.'s blog is mission accomplished (having made the front page myself, I don't know that I find it so important)

Anonymous said...

I would hazard a guess that Teileman has a pretty good grasp on the house proceedings. Did Anon notice who else wasn't in the house at the time? some folks get the day of for assorted reasons. If a MLA says he is off for another reason somebody keeps score. Sather gave a speech and his reasons for talking and voting against the treaty. The vote is at third reading.The it headsfor the big house in Ottawa. I'm beginning to think Heaney is trying his or her best to discredit both Bill and MLA Sather. By doing so he or she discredits themself. If Sather's consituents don't like his approach well time will tell. As for front page news and him or her being there means nothing if we don't know who he or she is, and I wonder if we would care.

Instant experts on the treaty business are showing up. Strange that the few of us who actually spent months at assorted tables never got to meet the instant experts.Where were they all those years as policies were devloped. Oh they were wating to make thier knwolegde known in the last few days. This traety will affect us for many many years and we will see many reasons to remove lands from the ALR. D.Love

Budd Campbell said...

Budd ... read Wednesday's Hansard where the house divided on second reading of the TFN treaty impletation Act and there was a recorded vote. Guess who wasn't there? And there's no question of anyone, in his own caucus or otherwise, neglecting to tell him there was a vote ...

You're being perfectly silly heaney and you know it.

So what if Sather wasn't there to vote against the treaty at each and every stage. He's been kicked out of the Caucus for opposing it at all, and now you're dissing him for not opposing it at every possible stage? What kind of airhead material are you trying to peddle here?

And just in case you didn't know, the Caucus "management group" improperly advised the Speaker's office to cut off any and all service to his "leg.bc.ca" email address for a few days, with the result that constituents couldn't even reach him. This on top of their conduct earlier in the year, deliberately blindsiding him while he was in New Brunswick and then refusing to tell him anything of substance when he got back. There are some real winners in Victoria, alright.