Appeared in the North Shore News – August 29, 2014
It’s always good to know the people you’re dealing with, wouldn’t you say?
Especially if there’s a dollar sign involved. Also if your personal well-being – basic air, water, protection from loud, hurtful explosions – are in the mix.
So, since we are unlikely to meet him face-to-face, here is an introduction to Sukanto Tanoto, the Indonesian billionaire whose Woodfibre LNG company proposes a liquefied natural gas plant and its transport through Howe Sound to China. Opponents of the plant, prominently Eoin Finn and Mona Helcermanas-Benge, provided important background – especially crediting Coun. Bill Soprovich.
John Vidal, environment editor of London’s Observer, reported in May that one of Tanoto’s many companies, world-class palm oil company Asian Agri, evaded taxes through shell companies in boltholes like the British Virgin Islands. Ironic name – the British Virgins are among top prostitutes for global tax evaders. A Jakarta court fined Asian Agri US$205 million. At these heights, just a small book entry in the costs of doing business.
International tax evasion of trillions of dollars, long condemned by finance columnist and editor-at-large of the National Post Diane Francis but rarely mentioned in most media, fits what British Prime Minister Edward Heath – a Conservative – called “the unacceptable face of capitalism.”
Back in little ol’ West Vancouver, council made an eye-blinking retreat from its unanimous motion in July that joined several other municipalities in urging a ban on LNG tanker traffic in beautiful Howe Sound. Council takes another swing at the issue next month.
This column speculated that the hasty reversal coincided with an unprecedented letter from riding MP John Weston, who disagreed with “the motion, the way it has been passed, and its timing.” Ordered, I suspect, straight from the prime minister’s office, which, like the money-scratching B.C. government, needs another environmental war like it needs a hole in the dam. (Coun. Craig Cameron, clearly rankled, later told me that he had initiated council’s reversal: “My concerns were … due process. … I never heard from Weston … until a few days later.”) Weston, evidently alarmed that media coverage didn’t lay out his objections fully, ran his whole letter in an advertisement in the News – preceded by: “I really wanted to clarify my Pro-Process position, not Pro-LNG.”
Ah, process. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a uniquely Canadian invention. Certainly the first refuge of politicians who sniff a no-clear-win issue, vote-wise.
Which may explain why Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, Weston’s Liberal opponent in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky in the next federal election, took 21 days after the News story to weigh in – issuing a media-wide open letter days after I asked her view.
She wouldn’t be the canny politico West Van grew to know and, in some quarters, loved, if she didn’t pen a thoughtful, measured and predictable non-opinion on the core issue, while boldly backing “our communities (who) are asking for a voice in the process” – there’s that word! – “and I stand with them.” Goldsmith-Jones also caromed a shot at Weston for being, in her quotation marks, “unimpressed” with West Van council, a word he never used and a sentiment he specifically rejected.
Politics. And not to be personally smug. The undersigned doesn’t envy the pressured political class. Arbitrate between mankind’s insistent needs and nature’s deceptive largesse? I wouldn’t want to be king making those choices. Might abdicate.
On one hand: For such tycoons, and for such still-dangerous, still-Communist customers as imperialist China, we should bow down and put our green lands, air, water and safety at risk? On the other hand: My scorn approaches infinity for those – and they are many – who don’t connect welfare programs with the private wealth-spinning that pays for them.
The opponents’ environmental case: “If approved, Woodfibre LNG says it will discharge 17,000 tonnes … of chlorinated, desalinated water, 10 degrees hotter than at intake, into Howe Sound every hour of every day for the next 25-plus years. The effect of this on the marine food chain in the Sound, including herring, salmon, dolphins, orcas and whales, could be devastating.”
Which should trouble consciences. Can we in this favoured area cheerfully let those in distant places suffer scarred landscapes and the risk of terrible error – ducking our share of the burden? Erect “do not trespass” signs around this pristine ghetto for the welloff and the lucky?
I regret that my experience with our race cries out: Sure, we can.
Is West Van council secretly grateful that the LNG issue may distract opposition to its witless Ferry Building project, hoping for protester burnout?
Unconfirmed: Trish Panz won’t run again for West Van council. Wild guess: She’ll join Goldsmith-Jones’s election team.
Some oaf recently “keyed” 47 cars in two North Vancouver car lots, which police estimated caused damage of almost $100,000.
Why don’t courts make full restitution part of any sentence, and make it stick until paid? That could be sobering.
© Trevor Lautens, 2014