Yuck! No, it's not Survivor English Bay. It's the molasses people! Photo: PNG
The following is a re-publishing of my 24 Hours column from this week, with an addendum below...
Last summer, Mayor Gregor Robertson surprised many when he called for a special meeting of Vancouver city council devoted to the topic of oil exports through the Port of Vancouver.
The city has no jurisdiction over the port, which rests on federal land, and no oil storage or loading happens in the City of Vancouver. For this reason it was seen by some as pure politicking to capitalize upon the horrific BP oil mess happening at the time in the Gulf of Mexico.
Robertson rebuffed critics and told reporter Frances Bula, “I was hearing about it from citizens – e-mails, phone calls, people bringing it up in the last few weeks.”
But were the concerns of Vancouver citizens really the motivation for Mayor Gregor’s fear-mongering over oil? I wanted to confirm this.
Through a freedom of information request made last July, I requested copies of all communication concerning oil made to Gregor Robertson. I finally received my response – albeit over four months late – and there is no evidence the Mayor was being lobbied on this issue by citizens.
Sure, Robertson was getting plenty of emails from environmentalists. One correspondence complained of ‘oily film’ coming off train cars near the port. Another writer mentioned an incident where canola oil was once spilled in Burrard Inlet.
But despite his claims to the contrary, the FOI shows that not one message was sent to the Vancouver mayor concerning the transport of oil through our port before the meeting was announced.
So why did Gregor Robertson put oil onto Vancouver’s agenda last June?
Only eight weeks earlier the Mayor and his chief of staff Mike Magee flew to New York on a $10,000 junket. 24 Hours’ Bob Mackin reported that Gregor met with a pair of American donors to his 2008 campaign, and then met with two highly influential environmental groups.
According to his calendar, Robertson met for 90 minutes with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a group that campaigns against offshore oil development. Robertson met the next morning with a vice-president of the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, a deep-pocketed American charity that has connections to a campaign against the Alberta oil sands.
It’s unclear how any of these meetings was meant to benefit the city.
Of course, it might just be a coincidence. However, Gregor Robertson’s connections to Americans who write big cheques to fund environmental campaigns in Canada run deep. As well, the Mayor’s campaign financial disclosure included numerous US donors.
While Robertson’s oil meeting might seem like a one-time nod to allies in the environmental movement, it has triggered a larger media war against oil shipments off the B.C. coast.
While we’ve never had an incident here involving an oil tanker spill, that didn’t stop activists from smearing themselves in molasses last October to remind us of the risks.
It was a great political stunt. And so it seems was Gregor Robertson’s special council meeting about oil.
An addendum to this column. For the first time in a long time I was sent my freedom of information request by mail. An envelope with about a three centimetre-thick wad of photocopies was delivered to me, with $7.64 worth of postage on the front.
Within the voluminous pages were emails sent to Gregor Robertson, but zero correspondence by him. The emails began in April and ended the 2nd week of July, actually a few days after my FOI request. In all the messages sent to Robertson until the end of June (when it was announced publicly that Robertson personally wanted to convene a special meeting of city council to discuss oil container traffic and safety procedures in the Burrard Inlet) there was no mention at all of oil spills, oil containers, local pipelines at all.
As I requested "all" communications to the Mayor's office, I will assume that I received a comprehensive hard copy of what came to Robertson in those weeks he claimed he was "hearing about it from citizens..."
There was a pitch by a company wishing to sell oil clean-up services using bullrushes. There was a grumpy message from a taxpayer complaining about City workers sleeping in their trucks, there was a mention of a canola oil spill that took place during the '90s that might have affected some water fowl.
What was most absurd about the request is that I was also sent a complete print out of a provincial report that was sent as an attachment to one of the emails. It was completely unrelated to the request, and used up nearly 100 sheets of paper I will now toss in the recycle box. Surely, sending this request digitally instead could have avoided the cost, and the waste of resources?
Notably, once Robertson announced his intentions to use city council as a political stage to discuss the business of Canada's west coast port, the Mayor received several letters from people who saluted him for taking up the cause. There was also a form letter, presumably drafted by an environmental organization, that was re-sent to Robertson about 20 times.
- post by Mike