Traditional Conservatives and free enterprisers are the emerging face of the opposition to B.C. transportation minister Kevin Falcon's $3-billion Gateway program.
Speakers of all political stripes drew strong applause at a March 31 "Stop Gateway" rally at the East Delta Community Hall. But it was Delta councillor Vicki Huntington who got the loudest ovation after welcoming the audience of 800 to "embattled and beleaguered Delta".
"What we're threatened with is a threat to local jurisdiction and democracy," she said of the Gateway program. "It's a conjunction of government and industry–provincial and industrial interests taking precedent."
Falcon officially unveiled the Gateway program–a plan that includes a new Pitt River Bridge, the widening of Highway 1, the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge, and the construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road through Delta–at a January 31, 2006, BC Chamber of Commerce event in downtown Vancouver.
Huntington later told the Georgia Straight she is a "small c" conservative. Her late father, Ron Huntington, was MP for West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country and a minister in former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney's cabinet.
Equally unapologetic in his criticism of the B.C. Liberals was Conservative MP John Cummins (Delta–Richmond East). "If all our neighbourhoods knew what was in store [from Gateway], BC Place wouldn't be a big enough venue for a mass rally," Cummins, a former Reform MP, told the crowd.
Huntington said she and Cummins "just happen to be mouthpieces that are conservative in nature". She said former West Vancouver councillor Liz Byrd, along with Byrd's husband, Ed, sat in the crowd at the rally. The two are scheduled to stand trial in B.C. Supreme Court on April 13 for their participation in the protests at Eagleridge Bluffs. (The Byrds told the Straight they were unable to comment on any issues because they feared it would affect their trial outcome.)
"They are staunch Conservatives," Huntington said. "I spoke to Liz today."
White Rock resident Donna Passmore, 45, coordinator of the Gateway 30 Network and member of the Livable Region Coalition, organized the rally. In a phone interview, she told the Straight she has deep blue roots from her Fraser Valley upbringing as a member of the Progressive Conservative Youth when Mulroney was in power. She said she is not surprised by the local Tory environmental push, and she reeled off the name of her childhood Conservative MP, the late Bob Wenman.
"Bob would be standing side by side with me against this, and so would Ron Huntington," Passmore said. "Bob was extremely green. Mulroney is seen as Canada's green prime minister. There is a group of us who believe conservatism and conservation stem from the same roots–ideologically and linguistically. Money pollutes that. I've always been comfortable being a green Tory. I've been a Greenpeace member since age 12."
Former Socred minister and media commentator Rafe Mair was the opening speaker.
"I couldn't believe the amount of people," Mair told the Straight. "After half an hour they were still filing in. I think this is a culmination of a long-term simmering annoyance in the general public.”¦I think we're going to see more of this."
BC Chamber of Commerce president and CEO John Winter told the Straight that Gateway-program opposition was made up of "a bunch of NIMBYs" whom he described as the "same people who always complain about everything".
"My position on Gateway has not changed since last year," he said. "If we are supposed to be seen as Canada's gateway to Asia, we need to do something about the transportation infrastructure. I also want to see greater participation from the federal government."
Winter did not see any significance in Cummins and Huntington's Conservative opposition, nor in the fact that 800 people packed into the hall.
"Cummins is the MP for the riding," Winter said. "It is his job to advocate on behalf of his constituents. And Rafe Mair? He's anything but a capitalist. I don't know what you'd call him. Maybe an opportunist."
Passmore said she paid a visit to Falcon in his Surrey-Cloverdale constituency office "around Valentine's Day" last year, shortly after he announced the Gateway program. She said she objected to the Gateway program to the minister before going public with her views.
"He said I was the only one south of the Fraser who felt that way," she said. "Now there are hundreds showing up to a meeting in Delta to show that's not the case."
Falcon had not responded to messages by Straight deadline.