September 24 2013
For Immediate Release
Port Authority Withholds Coal Export Documents from Public, Citing Financial Interest
-- Port's financial stake in developments conflicts with mandate to regulate in public interest
Vancouver --Voters Taking Action on Climate Change (VTACC) released documents yesterday related to Vancouver Fraser Port Authority communications with the coal lobby. The documents, obtained through an Access to Information request, show that Port Authority staff view themselves as allies rather than impartial regulators of the coal industry.
Today VTACC is releasing new documents related to Port Board of Director communications about coal export expansion. What is most troubling about the documents obtained through this second ATIP request is what the Port refuses to release to the public, and why: key portions of documents have been redacted because the Port claims a financial interest in coal terminal decisions.
The Port's direct financial interest in these outcomes is in fundamental conflict with the Port's mandate to make regulatory decisions in the public interest.
"A Port Authority that is required to fully fund its operations through leases and user fees cannot be expected to make impartial regulatory decisions with respect to economic developments in the port," said UBC professor of political science and VTACC volunteer director Kathryn Harrison. "How can the public trust the Port to protect health and the environment if they have a conflict of interest based on their reliance on revenue from those same industries?"
In justifying redaction of records concerning proposed coal export expansion at Neptune Terminals and a new coal terminal at Fraser Surrey Docks, the Port cited Section 18(a) of the Access to Information Act, which authorizes a government agency to decline to release records that have or are reasonably likely to have "substantial value" to the Government of Canada.
Of course, since substantial portions of the records were withheld, the public cannot evaluate the nature or extent of the Port's financial interest. Is the Port counting on lease revenues from the Fraser Surrey Docks and Neptune Terminals expansions? Do plans to replace the Massey Tunnel with a bridge, thus giving ocean-going vessels access to Fraser Surrey Docks, have implications for Port user fees? Whatever the reason, any financial stake by the Port Authority in these proposals creates an unacceptable conflict of interest for the Port as the federal agency charged with making a decision in the best interests of Canadians.
The current model of Port Authority governance in Canada is deeply flawed. There is a fundamental contradiction between the Port's mandate to manage public lands and facilitate commerce, overseen by a Board largely nominated by Port users, and the Port's mandate to regulate Port users and evaluate development proposals in the public interest.
VTACC calls on the federal government to ensure that management of public health and environment impacts arising from activities in all ports is overseen by expert and impartial federal departments. Port Authorities should hold a more modest mandate to manage public lands and coordinate Port commerce, subject to oversight by federal departments such as Environment Canada and Health Canada.
In the interim, and of more immediate concern, VTACC calls on the Port Authority to collaborate on a joint environmental and health impact assessment of proposed coal export facilities with relevant federal, provincial, and local authorities, and to voluntarily impose a moratorium on approval of such facilities until all aspects of these decisions can be made by transparent, expert, and impartial public authorities.
For further information: Kathryn Harrison, VTACC Director firstname.lastname@example.org