Many who attended yesterday’s meeting knew they were going to have to sit through the business material of any semi-independent industry and government-appointed board’s reporting.
However, we also knew that some of the other stakeholders, parents, doctors, and other concerned citizens were going to have a chance to ask questions and hopefully get answers, especially about the environmentally daunting prospect of tons and tons of U.S. coal being trained and barged through the lower mainland to Texada Island and then shipped through the Salish Sea and Victoria to Asian markets.
What we didn’t count on was to be insulted by having a new aspect of a general meeting: pigeonhole live voting. That’s right. Questions could be submitted right there and then, if you had a smart phone of course. And hey, you could then vote as to which question you wanted most answered.
It was Democracy in action!
Of course, by the time one logged in, and then got to the questions, why some 27 other people had already put out their questions, and why, the speed readers in the audience, they had already voted for their top questions. One vote only people!
And of course, said the moderator, I will take some questions from the floor; there are trained people to hold the mikes at the appropriate distance and level. And you can submit some questions in written form, she said. None of which made it to the podium by the way.
Nonetheless, it appeared that the much vaulted town hall meeting was going to take place and that citizens were to have their say.
But after I read the top five questions on my smart phone, I submitted my query: how many of these questions were submitted by Port Metro Vancouver?
Mine quickly moved up to number 6. But I couldn’t compete with the number 27 zinger : ‘What can the Port of Vancouver do to better educate the public on its environmental initiatives!’
What the board needed of course, was a better skilled director when the potted questions started to fly. They didn’t even blink an eye. They didn’t hesitate in order to increase tension. They didn’t even give us the courtesy of trying to make us believe that they hadn’t heard that question before.
There was not even a, “You want to take this one, Bertie?”
No, the mike was up, the spiel was on – all delivered a little too on cue.
Yes, there were the impassioned questions from the floor like, “Who’s going to do the second health impact study?” To which the answer was a reputable firm, a firm well versed in handling sensitive data from a variety of sources, a firm well known for its work in advising governments!
But the name of this firm?
There was of course no answer.
It was one questioner who perhaps knew the answer, “What do you think of awarding a health impact contract to SNC-Lavalin, a firm currently under investigation for fraud and corruption in at least six countries no less?”
So after two more people out of a total of eight got to speak, and the audience was forced to listen to more board members trot out their prepared answers, we were told there was no more time.
Outraged, I stood up and asked why we were being rushed out of here, why were we subjected to this charade? I even turned and passionately stated to those around me, “This is Canada! We don’t have to take this!’
A nice man came to my side and stated, “I am sorry sir, but I am going to have to ask you to leave.”
Yes, this is Canada. Where coal from mines owned by the Koch family, coal which many ports in America will not allow to be shipped from their communities, can be shipped from our shores: carcinogenic coal dust and diesel fume particulates be damned because I can almost hear the Port Metro Vancouver Board say:
“They’re good old Canadians, right? They don’t need no real Town Hall Meetin’s! They’re a complacent lot. But just in case, load the questions, don’t answer the tough ones, and wrap it up short and sweet. Make ’em think they were heard.”
How tragic that it has come to this. How sophomoric in its lack of subtlety. How farcical indeed, seeing that Port Metro Vancouver actually states that “Collaboration strengthens Port’s environmental initiatives.”
There was no real collaboration yesterday, only a poorly orchestrated attempt to assure us that we live in a democracy and that we will have a say as to what goes into our air and water and land.