A heated debate erupted at the monthly meeting of the Skeena – Queen Charlotte Regional District last Friday over whether or not the regional district was wasting time and money by trying to be involved in the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA) initiative.
PNCIMA is trying to create a single set of rules and procedures for managing the ocean that stretches from the top of Haida Gwaii down the BC coast to the top of Vancouver Island. The goal of PNCIMA is to create a way to manage the oceans that balances the economic, ecological, social and cultural needs placed on those waters.
Patrick Marshall is the consulting economic director for the Coastal Community Network, of which the regional district is a member. Marshall talked to the board members by phone to ask them to write a letter saying that they support the network’s attempt to gain a $160,000 grant so communities will be better represented and be more effective during the PNCIMA planning process.
“For the first time in a long time this is an opportunity being presented to local governments. You can take it and run with it, or not . . . [Past coastal agreements] were done to you, and here’s an opportunity for you to take control of how your constituents actually feed into the process. You can take responsibility for this,” said Marshall.
If the grant money doesn’t come through, every regional district would be on its own to pay out of their own pockets and use their own staff “to stay in the loop” at PNCIMA, and to do their own public consultations.
The problem is that the Federal Government will be under no obligation to actually implement the plan once it’s actually finished, which means the regional district could end up wasting its time.
Once Marshall was off the phone some members expressed serious doubt that the whole process was worth the time or trouble.
“What do we get out of this in the end? We put all this money, all this effort into this and what do we get? We get a document that the government looks at and says ‘well, we can’t use this because it’s not what we want’…As far as I’m concerned, we are wasting our time, because they’re going to do what they are going to anyway,” says Karl Bergman.
Bergman went on to argue that if the federal government were really intending to take the agreement seriously the Regional Districts would not be struggling to get grant money just to be involved in the process.
Board member Jack Mussallem appeared to be skeptical that they should support the spending of a taxpayer-funded grant on something that may turn out to be fruitless.
Des Nobles is the board member who actually represents the regional district at PNCIMA. He says that he shares Bergman’s concerns but that by refusing to try to be apart of it much worse things could happen.
Nobles suggested that it wasn’t the process that was being treated with indifference, it was actually local government.
“I’m extremely upset, because I can guarantee you that none of the other levels of government get treated in this fashion,” says Nobles.
In the end, the board decided to send the letter of support for the grant application.