I would suggest that Carol James make Shane Simpson trade portfolios with Jenny Kwan. Because “Economic Development” is really what Shane Simpson is all about, just dressed up with trendy buzzwords to anesthetize and confound critics of his “managed growth” agenda. The man is a relic of the 1960’s with no apparent understanding of the threat that his so-called managed growth poses to biodiversity, because he doesn’t really understand biodiversity—how it functions, what it requires and what it provides us. His environmental literacy is that of a car salesman. He spent his life in East Vancouver and his self-proclaimed environmentalist resume was built on urban issues. He has most probably never been out on a marsh or a nature trail nor hiked in a Provincial Park and wouldn’t know a red-winged blackbird from a barnowl. There is no wilderness experience or emotional connection to nature to inform the stale old paradigm he employs to stake out his position.
What is most decisive about his incompetence though, is his pompous, arrogant and brusque attitude. I suspect that Jenny Kwan knows as little about environmental issues as he does—but at least she knows it. As the saying goes, ignorance is preferable to the illusion of knowledge. Jenny Kwan is polite, receptive, open-minded, and bright, very bright. Carol James could hand her the environment portfolio and her learning curve would be steep. She would listen to biologists and environmentalists, rather than just developers, mayors and town planners. That’s what we want in an MLA, not necessarily someone who is going to agree with us, but someone who is going to listen to us.
I followed Jenny Kwan’s career on Vancouver City Council and thought that she was a remarkable person, one of my heroes, and her stock rose even higher when she stood alone with Joy McPhail in the legislature. So I wasn’t too surprised that she gave me a polite hearing, nothwithstanding my anti-development views. Still, shouldn’t it strike you as odd that an MLA representing Economic Development would be more open to an environmental perspective than the MLA representing the “Environment”?
What saddens me about all of this is how far the party has traveled to the centre in my life-time. In the early 70’s there was much more environmental awareness in the NDP than there is today, believe or not. The Agricultural Land Freeze was among the first acts of the Barrett government. In 1983 I was part of Bob Skelly’s leadership campaign. He was the dark horse, but won on an environmental platform. Dr. Patricia Marchak of UBC was among his impressive Brains Trust and clear-cutting was a big issue. Vancouver Island was adding 9,000 people every year to its population so protecting estuaries and defending the ALR were important as well. But after the mid 80’s the NDP went astray and a decade later it was possible for an NDP premier to call environmentalists the “enemies of British Columbia”.
We jettisoned the Environment in favor of Growth. But what about our raison d’etre, social and economic equality? In 1969 a third of us defied Big Union intimidation and signed the Waffle Manifesto because we weren’t satisfied with social democracy. We wanted a return to “democratic socialism”. We wanted, not a mere equal distribution of income, but a more equal distribution of wealth—which generates income. Since our defeat, the gap between rich and poor widened and kept widening even under NDP administrations. Economic growth has never solved poverty. And “social democrats” have really become “liberal democrats”. A planned economy is now considered a quaint anachronism, the market mechanism a given and market solutions the only practical alternative.
Yes I obviously have an issue with Shane Simpson personally. I didn’t like him 25 years ago and I didn’t like him on the 24th of January 2007. But I suppose he’s just the obnoxious incarnation of a pernicious ideology that’s taken hold of this and every other party. It’s the ideology that doesn’t understand that “managed” growth is still growth, that growth has limits, that we have the ability to set those limits and the moral right to do so and that it is not what our economy may “need” that is relevant but what the environment can sustain.
THE NINE TENETS OF SHANE SIMPSON’S BELIEF SYSTEM
1) You can’t stop people coming here---wherever “here” is (B.C., Qualicum Beach, Lasqueti Island, Okotoks, Alberta)
2) You can’t cap the population level—anywhere.
3) If you could, you don’t have the moral right to do so.
4) You can’t stop growth, you can only “manage” it.
5) Yes, “managed” growth is still growth, but growth can continue ad infinitum because it must—the economy requires it.
6) There is no such thing as a limiting factor that we can’t ignore. What a healthy ecosystem requires is not a consideration.
7) “Sustainability” can have any meaning we choose to give it. We can bend it to fit any development plan or growth projection.
8) “Planning” is also now an elastic concept. It no longer involves, as the innocent might assume, the selection of an ideal or optimal arrangement of resources and the formulation of guidelines to steer haphazard development toward it. Now it has come to mean merely the accommodation to projected trends that are said to be the signal of “inevitable” occurrences. Planners now simply forecast future demands and pander to them.
9) Oxymorons like “managed growth”, “smart growth” or “sustainable development” suffice to answer all objections and doubts. We can have our cake and eat it too because it’s “managed” or it’s “smart” and of course it’s “sustainable” (isn’t everything now?)
... and oh so many others...
Naturally, it helps to have people believe that they can’t stop something, that any given trend is “inevitable”, because when they believe that, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’re beaten before we start, and that’s the game pro-growth advocates have been playing—and winning—for 50 years or more.