Protesters wanting Rio Tinto to install scrubbers on its smelter emissions stacks in order to lower the amount of sulphur dioxide (S02) being released into the air greeted Premier Christy Clark when she paid a brief visit here November 24.
Gathering outside the Chalet restaurant where Clark was meeting with Chamber of Commerce members, the group stood at the bottom of the restaurant driveway, holding signs and waving at passing motorists.
Controversy over the effects of S02 arose when Rio Tinto finished its $5 billion smelter modernization project, receiving permits from the province to increase the smelter’s SO2 emissions by upwards of 56 per cent. Other emissions from the smelter are said to have been reduced by 36 to 98 per cent.
Nicole Halbauer, one of four people campaigning for the Skeena riding NDP nomination for next spring’s provincial election, stood alongside protesters. She said that the scrubbers would improve Kitimat’s air quality.
“It’s not an expensive thing to fix the situation, to improve our air quality, it’s just a matter of industry dictating to our government once again what they feel is important, instead of our government setting the guidelines for industry,” she said.
“Kitimat and Terrace people should not be tested like we’re guinea pigs,” said Lis Stannis, an activist with Kitimat for Clean Air. “We all know that sulphur dioxide is bad for your health and makes you sick, so why are we being exposed to it?” she asked.
During the Chamber of Commerce discussion, Clark said that while she didn’t have the latest update on the proposed Kitimat Clean Refinery project, owned by Black Press proprietor David Black, she did know that the proponents were in “active, confidential discussions,” but stressed that the economics have to work in order for the project to be viable.
Prior to that, Clark toured the skills training facility and chatted with community leaders, including acting Haisla chief councillor Crystal Smith and former chief councillor Ellis Ross, Clark’s handpicked Skeena riding candidate. Clark participated in both soldering and welding demonstrations, and then took questions from the media.
When asked about the Liberal’s choice of two First Nations candidates in northern ridings for the upcoming election, Clark said that it was important to have First Nations communities represented in the government process, in order to have their voices recognized and established.
“I think it says that First Nations people in our province (want) to be a part of building a different future, and they want to be inside the room, helping shape the decisions,” she said.
“If the future for First Nations is going to change, it’s First Nations people that have to be a part of deciding how it will change, and that really will be the end of this paternalistic view that government has had towards First Nations for a couple of centuries now in Canada.”
The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs may disagree with the premier’s statement, after she did not have time to meet with them when she met with Smithers Chamber of Commerce members later that afternoon.
The Chiefs had wished to hand deliver a draft of the Wet’suwet’en Recognition & Reconciliation Framework Agreement, but were told by the premier’s office that she had no time to interact with them.
“Our Chiefs have worked tirelessly this past year researching and drafting a framework agreement that reflects our Wet’suwet’en rights and title interests.,” John Ridsdale of the Tsayu Clan said in a statement. “This calls into question the sincerity of Premier Clark and her government’s commitment to work with the Wet’suwet’en with integrity and honour, to advance the reconciliation of our respective government’s rights and title interests.”
“I don’t think Christy Clark can pick and choose who lives in British Columbia,” said Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen of the snub, during a telephone scrum on November 24. ”It’s about respect, it’s about basic respect, and you can’t pick and choose the Native communities that you want to talk to based on whether they agree with you.”
“She’s the premier of all of British Columbia, the Wet’suwet’en have legitimate and legal interests in the area, and beyond that, it’s just basic respect.”
25-30 protesters were also on hand in Smithers, as part of an anti-LNG demonstration.