Today, I asked the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy how many of the conditions in the closure plan have been met, and if the minister has any expectation that the work would be completed by his deadline.
S. Furstenau: Yesterday I asked the Minister of Energy and Mines about the order that was issued to South Island Aggregates to remove soil from their property on lot 21 in the Shawnigan watershed. The minister acknowledged that the company missed the September 30 deadline to comply with the order. Indeed, she said that the company “had not taken our order seriously.” The operators of SIA are the same people who own the adjacent lot 23 on which a contaminated landfill sits. The permit for that landfill was cancelled by the then Minister of Environment in January 2017.
The current Minister of Environment approved a closure plan for this landfill with a significant number of conditions, including the condition that the closure be completed by October 31, 2019. From all appearances, those conditions, including the drilling of new water monitoring wells, have not been taken seriously.
My question is to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. How many of the conditions in the closure plan have been met, and does the minister have any expectation that the work would be completed by his deadline?
Hon. G. Heyman: I want to echo the words of my colleague from yesterday, the Minister of Energy and Mines, thanking the member for her tenacity and her advocacy on behalf of her constituents, who are — and have been for a long time — concerned about their water quality.
As the member knows, I spent a lot of time reviewing the closure plan. We spent a lot of time in the ministry hearing from both the member and her constituents who have concerns about the closure plan and the conditions that were placed on it. They had concerns about the review by a qualified professional. As a result of that, I asked that a second qualified professional be consulted, as well as ministry staff with expertise in the area.
As a result of all of that work, I added significant new conditions to the closure plan, including a condition for ongoing monitoring and the ability to change the conditions at any time if new evidence came forward. However, as a result of taking those steps, which I believe were necessary to respond to the concerns of the community, there was a considerable delay in the commencement of the work to reach the original date of October 31.
We are currently in the process of reviewing the work as well as taking steps to ensure that the site will be secure and water will be protected throughout this fall.
Mr. Speaker: House Leader Third Party on a supplemental.
S. Furstenau: So my understanding of the answer that the minister just gave is no, the deadline will not be met, and the conditions don’t seem to have been met either.
All of the concerns that he identifies in the community remain. We remain deeply concerned about our water. I will put it out there that the ongoing monitoring is mostly being done by Ed and Cliff, who are in their 80s, and Bernie.
The fact remains, however, that this is a company that has repeatedly violated conditions of its permits and ignored orders from government. Not only that, this company has not been paying its property taxes on these two properties.
By not enforcing the rules and continuing to grant extensions, it would appear that the message this government sends is that rules don’t matter, conditions mean nothing and deadlines are irrelevant. Government’s job is to protect the public interest, not the interests of one company. In Shawnigan, we have endured the interests of a company being put ahead of the well-being and health of our community for over seven years.
My question to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy is: given the record of these operators, how can he justify continued allowances made to them in light of their well-documented track record, and when will he put the public interest first and order that the soil be removed from this site?
Hon. G. Heyman: With respect to the member, who I know cares deeply about this issue and is doing an amazing job representing the interests of her constituents, our government, in fact, puts the interests of the constituents and the safety of the drinking water ahead of the interests of the company, and that’s what we will continue to do. That’s why I delayed approval the plan until I was satisfied that we were taking every step that was allowable, that was reasonable and that was defensible under the legislation that governs my decision-making before issuing approval for that plan.
We continue to monitor. Staff from my ministry continue to monitor the sites. The surface and ground water in the area are monitored monthly. And we are, as I think the member knows, reviewing the progress of the company in meeting the deadlines and whether it is reasonably possible, given the delay that took place in my office, to ensure that the closure plan was the strongest that it could be within the law that applied. That’s what I will continue to do.