October 31 2013
Port Authority covered up sponsorship of major coal industry event, fearing press and public backlash
-- further erodes credibility as neutral public decision maker on coal export proposals
Vancouver -- New documents recently obtained by VTACC through an Access to Information request reveal that the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority sought to hide its financial sponsorship of the 2013 Coal Association of Canada conference, held in September in Vancouver.
Internal communications reveal that the Port agreed to support the event with a "$5000 sponsorship augmented with golf swag." Later, however, fearing "press and public backlash," the Port asked the Coal Association to remove Port branding from conference materials, and discussed using public funds to reprint the conference program to remove Port brand marks.
"It's bad enough that the Port views its sponsorship of the coal industry as a mere public relations problem to be swept under the rug, rather than as a fundamental issue of bias." said VTACC director Kathryn Harrison. "It's even worse that the Port is hiding its support for the industry. How can the public trust the Port to make impartial decisions with respect to an industry that it champions, whether openly or secretly?"
The decision to hide Port Authority sponsorship of the event appears to have involved CEO Robin Silvester. According to a staff member, Silvester "fully backs our support of this important industry sector, but that as a result of recent press and public backlash, we need to be less out-there at this time." (1)
Staff noted that the conference program had already gone to print, with the Port listed among the "Associate Sponsors," and the Port also was to be identified as a sponsor on a "messaging board" at the entrance to the event.
Port Director of Trade Development, Katherine Bamfield, asked staff to ensure that "all digital and electronic promotion items exclude PMV brand marks" and to "enquire as to the cost of reprinting the materials."
Staff responded that, "Reprint would cost approximately $3000. They [presumably the Coal Association] would need to confirm with printer if they can still print in time. No other PMV brand marks will be displayed at the conference."
The final print copy of the 2013 conference program (obtained by VTACC and scanned here) does not include any reference to the Port's sponsorship. Documents collected through the ATIP request do not indicate if the Port actually used public money to pay for reprinting.
In addition, there is no reference to the Port Authority on the conference "Sponsor Page" on the Coal Association's website (screenshot here).
These new documents confirm the Port Authority's entrenched industry bias. The attempt to hide that bias undermines claims by the Port that it governs in the public interest and erodes public trust in a federal agency with significant authority over economic developments in our region.
VTACC calls on the Port Authority to impose a moratorium on approval of new or expanded coal facilities. All aspects of these proposals should be reviewed by transparent, expert, and impartial public authorities. VTACC supports the call from Surrey, other municipalities and our Health Authorities for comprehensive and independent environmental and health impact assessments of these projects, followed by public hearings.
Further, to restore public trust in our Port Authorities over the long term, VTACC calls on the federal government to ensure that management of public health and environment impacts arising from activities in all ports is handed over to expert and impartial federal departments.
For more information : Kathryn Harrision, VTACC Director firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) Page 39 in PDF, hand numbered page 29 in document. Key passages are highlighted in yellow. All documents obtained through this latest access to information request are included in the online link. Most email correspondence appears to have been organized by the Port in reverse chronological order. The cover letter from the Port Authority which accompanied the delivery of the documents can be found here.
Earlier ATIP requests revealed that 1) that the Port Authority has an inappropriately cozy relationship with coal industry lobbyists and 2) that the Port Authority has a financial interest in the proposal to build new coal export terminals.
These findings seriously call into question the Port's ability to objectively make decisions that are in the best interests of the public.