Balanced. That’s the word that comes to mind when reading consultant Barry Penner’s report on the highly controversial Pender Harbour Dock Management Plan (DMP).
As a former attorney general and minister of Aboriginal relations and reconciliation, Penner fully acknowledges the legitimate legal claims of the shíshálh Nation in Pender Harbour. As a former environment minister, he understands the government’s responsibility to protect the foreshore and marine environment.
However, Penner also acknowledges the community’s intense opposition to aspects of the DMP and identifies some of the plan’s major weaknesses.
The most glaring omission is the absence of scientific studies to back up the restrictions and regulations that would be imposed on property owners if the plan went ahead as is.
“I have not been provided with studies indicating that existing docks in Pender Harbour have had a negative environmental impact on aquatic life, including fish,” Penner wrote in one of his findings. “While it may seem intuitive that a large number of docks along the shoreline would have some negative effect on the environment, the lack of empirical evidence makes it difficult for property owners who see large numbers of herring under and beside their docks to accept that ‘docks are a problem.’ Secrecy about the location and type of archeological values at Pender Harbour similarly detracts from public understanding of such issues.”
Another serious flaw in the draft plan is the confusion surrounding costs and authority.
“For example,” Penner wrote, “more than a few property owners told me that they objected to having to pay fees of $500 to the shíshálh Nation in support of an application for a dock tenure. While media articles have referenced such a fee, there is no mention in the DMP of a requirement to pay fees to the shíshálh Nation.”
Nor does the draft plan give shíshálh Nation final say or decision-making authority over dock tenure applications, Penner points out – “but it also does not explicitly state that the Ministry is the final decision maker.”
Such unacceptable oversights in the DMP ultimately led to contradictory claims by officials and unanswered questions at public meetings, feeding the divisiveness that took hold in the spring of last year after the draft was sprung on the community.
By calling for clarity and fairness, Penner’s recommendations offer a path to resolution, respecting the interests of all parties involved. They also provide a degree of vindication to members of the Pender Harbour community, who knew a bad deal when they saw one.