Five weeks ago today, Alice, Mandy, and myself, Emily, three BC high school students in the Langara riding, sent a message to our MLA, asking to meet with her to discuss the Fraser-Surrey coal dock expansions. Weeks of preparation later, we’re sitting in Moira Stilwell’s meeting room, accompanied by Alice’s friend, Jay, our designated photographer and fellow environmentalist. Today is April 8th, the day of Defend Our Future, a provincial day of action where teens all over BC are rallying to stop the new coal exports.
Ms. Stilwell hasn’t showed up yet, so we hastily discuss talking points and arrange our 200-something petition signatures in the middle of the meeting table. She soon arrives, loud and jovial, shaking our hands and asking us what our goals for the meeting are. We tell her about Kids for Climate Action and Defend Our Future, all the while eyeing her as she pulls out a package of notes that appear to have been sent from the CEO of the Fraser-Surrey coal docks. It’s off-putting, though definitely not surprising, as only hours earlier we had found out that he emailed every MLA just to warn them about us. We address the topic boldly, asking her what she thinks about the CEO’s notes, and Ms. Stilwell is with us on the strange logic of accepting the coal project in Vancouver. “From my understanding, the US has declined to do it,” she begins, “So it’s kind of like shipping their garbage.”
The discussion of the coal logistics is simple; it’s a mutual understanding that coal is bad for the environment, as is the transportation of it through our city. However, she still has yet to actually say that she opposes the project as a whole. “We do need energy from somewhere,” Stilwell says. “We also need jobs, and the project provides both of those.”
Luckily, she agrees to present our petition at the next assembly, offering to send us a DVD of her speech. "I think the MLAs will present your petitions and then they’ll go into a storage room never to be seen again,” she says, telling us that she doesn’t want to give us false hopes about the effectiveness of our petition. She reiterates that people vote for politicians that will solve economic problems before environmental ones. "Politics have a short horizon--no one thinks about our environment in 6 years, we think about it in 4 years." It’s clear that the point she is trying to make is that the only stance she will take is the one that gets her re-elected. Again, she tells us that we are great young citizens, but unfortunately she can’t agree to something that will put her in anyone’s (as in, anyone of voting age) bad books.
In the end, she agrees to present the petition but refuses to sign our poster committing her to stopping new coal exports in BC. Huh? Only earlier, she had been quite set against the burning of fossil fuels. Obviously, she’s just not willing to disagree with her fellow Liberals. It’s disappointing to see that even the leaders of our communities aren’t willing to stand up for what they believe in, even concerning a topic that will hugely affect my and other young people’s futures. The impression I’m left with is that people in positions of power care more about keeping their power than actually using said power to change things, a rather dismal idea that gives me a good dose of reality. As the meeting finishes up, we take photos with her and the unsigned poster, and Ms. Stilwell assures us that we can expect a copy of her newsletter with our faces on it in the coming month. We leave the office feeling dissatisfied with our unsigned poster. Not only is she not standing up for herself, she is also letting down thousands of youth by not standing up for our future. It’s disappointing to realize that politicians are still, time after time, choosing economics over environment when our planet is rapidly deteriorating. Old habits really do die hard, huh?