Colliery Dams – Democracy?

Frequently I hear that politicians are trusted about as much as used car salespeople. Politics can be so dirty! Yes, democracy is a messy business—especially when it’s actually practised. Which is why the decision to remove the beloved Colliery Dams could be seen as the worst example of democracy, or the best.

The mess began when, two years ago, Nanaimo city staff decided not to inform the city council or the residents that the dams would likely have to be removed or rebuilt. Then, suddenly, the councillors were told these dams were the two most dangerous dams in the entire province, and had to be removed A.S.A.P. Fear ran rampant. Council made a quick decision. Then the shocked community was informed. Fear: 1, Democracy: 0.

The grief expressed over these 100+ year old dams was palpable. This turned into fear, rumours, anger, and (thankfully) some quick organizing. Much of the anger was directed at the councillors who maintained their decision to soon remove the dams. But all this outpouring of emotion did have a positive effect: hundreds of people who had never previously been politically involved, suddenly were! Fear: 1, Democracy: 1.

Now the local Snuneymuxw First Nation has become involved. The Chase River, which flows through the Colliery Dams, is a very productive fish-bearing river, and the Snuneymuxw First Nation has treaty rights on that river. More significant is the fact that they, like First Nations all over the western world, have helplessly watched most of what they value be gradually taken away from them. They understand the struggle that the Save the Colliery Dam group is experiencing. They have also exposed the fact that there was no proper public consultation concerning the dam issue.

It is an irony that the very people who have been denied due process for over 200 years, those who were even denied the right to vote throughout most of Canada’s history, are now leading the call for a true democratic process. It may be, that even with the increasing powers given to trans-national corporations, disempowering Canadians in the process, First Nations may help us to reclaim a vibrant democracy.

I am excited to see people turn their grief, fear and anger into positive action! For too long we have been nice, complacent Canadians. What people around the world are fighting for—even losing lives over—we have taken for granted for too long. We risked losing it altogether. Now we can take back our park, our city, province and nation. This is more than possible should we continue to claim our power rather than sit back and play victim.

If we so choose, we can nominate people from our midst, such as Jeff Solomon, the very capable head of Save the Colliery Dam Park Society, rather than allow campaign money to purchase our elected officials. He and others would make excellent city councillors, MLA’s or MP’s.

Being politically involved could be a good thing! Fear: 1, Democracy: 99.


Ian Gartshore has been politically involved for the last 25 years.