Political Propaganda employs the ideals of liberal democracy to undermine those very ideals, the dangers of which, not even its architects fully understand.
In the early years of DeSmog’s research into environmental propaganda, I thought of industry PR campaigns like “junk science,” “clean coal,” and “ethical oil” as misinformation strategies designed to dupe the public about the real issues.
Although there is obvious truth to that view, I now understand that propaganda is far more complex and problematic than lying about the facts. Certainly propaganda is designed to look like facts that are true and right, but not in a way we might think. What’s more, the consequences are far worse than most people consuming and even producing it realize.
Much of my new understanding comes from conversations with Jason Stanley, an American philosopher and professor at Yale University and author of an important new book How Propaganda Works. According to Jason Stanley, the danger for a democracy “raided by propaganda” is the possibility that the vocabulary of liberal democracy is being used to mask an undemocratic reality.
In a democracy where propaganda is common, you have a state that appears to be a liberal democracy, its citizens believe it is a liberal democracy (they have free speech) but the appearance of liberal democracy masks an illiberal, undemocratic reality.
In this rich and thoughtful book Stanley defines political propaganda as “the employment of a political ideal against itself.” DeSmog stories about groups presenting ideologies or financial interests as objective and scientific evidence are paradigm examples of this type of propaganda.
“Propaganda that is presented as embodying an ideal governing political speech, but in fact runs counter to it, is antidemocratic … because it wears down the possibility of democratic deliberation,” Stanley writes.
He dismisses the idea that it’s deception that makes propaganda effective. Instead, Stanley argues what makes propaganda effective is that it “exploits and strengthens flawed ideology.”
It sometimes involves outright lies, but Stanley points to a bigger problem, which is that “sincere, well-meaning people under the grip of flawed ideology unknowingly produce and consume propaganda.”
My worry, alongside Stanley’s, is that when we can’t spot propaganda or don’t understand how it works, its detriment to democracy will grow to a point where it can’t be reversed.
Propaganda blazes a reckless path in politics
The best example of this dangerous form of propaganda is currently playing out in the race for a leader of the Republican Party in the U.S., with its surprising frontrunner, real-estate tycoon and reality TV star Donald Trump.
In his campaign, Trump has described Latino immigrants as criminals and rapists and proposed to build a wall across theU.S. border to keep Mexicans out of the country. He’s also called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the U.S. as an attempt to crack down on terrorism and believes those already in his country should be registered on a special government database and required to carry special identification cards.
While it may sound like bluster to some, Trump’s efforts to build support by whipping up fear and anger about race and religion is unfortunately working, at least where popularity contests are concerned.
That’s even though people in his own party see him as reckless and dangerous for the country. Trump is now being regularly characterized as a demagogue in mainstream media, with parallels to Joe McCarthy, the Republican senator who is known for stoking anti-communist fears in the 1950s.
Canada isn’t immune to this propaganda-guided campaign strategy. Consider the Conservative-driven debate during last fall’s federal election around whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear the niqab during the citizenship oath. The former Harper government’s “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act” also pandered to fears of immigrants, while claiming to address issues such as forced marriages and honour killings, which many pundits were quick to point out are already illegal under existing laws.
Understanding propaganda is key to stopping its spread
Obviously these examples of propaganda feed into negative stereotypes, but blatant bigotry is only part of the problem.
This style of rhetoric is not as much an attempt to persuade, as it is an act of cultural tribalism: the creation of a team divided against other teams in a manner that shuts down open-minded thinking.
Stanley writes that a democratic society is one that values liberty and political equality. It is a society suffused with a tolerance of difference. It rests on the view that collective reasoning is superior, “that genuine liberty is having one’s interests decided by the result of deliberation with peers about the common good.”
These examples of propaganda pose a challenge for liberal democracy because they sabotage joint deliberations of this sort. They are touted as free speech but in fact undermine public reason by excluding certain groups.
Such ad hominem name-calling undermines our ability to question our perspectives, or respectfully consider the perspectives of others, Stanley says. It undermines the inclusive, rational debate at the core of liberal democracy.
“…flawed ideologies rob groups of knowledge of their own mental states by systematically concealing their interests from them,” he says.
Understanding what makes propaganda effective is at the heart of understanding political inaction on issues that scream out for action. Stanley is most worried about demagogic speech, saying it “both exploits and spreads flawed ideologies,” creating barriers to democratic deliberation. “It attempts to unify opinion without attempting to appeal to our rational will at all,” he says.
Stanley describes propaganda as a method to bypass the rational will of others. The consequences are widespread and can be long-lasting. Accumulated over time, propaganda becomes a turn off that discourages citizens from participating in democratic responsibilities, such as voting, the participation level of which is already embarrassingly low in free societies like Canada and the U.S.
Propaganda’s attempt to silence critics
The propaganda problem goes way beyond terrorism, impacting the entire world around us. Consider the harm being done to the planet by those who deny climate change is a reality or label Canadian oil as “ethical” and coal from West Virginia as “clean” to justify its aggressive expansion and government subsidies.
According to Stanley, it’s difficult to have a real discussion about the pros and cons of an issue when they’re slapped with these types of spin. He believes assertions like these, where words are misappropriated and meanings twisted, are often less about making substantive claims and more about silencing critics.
In his words, they are “linguistic strategies for stealing the voices of others.” Groups are silenced by attempts to paint them as grossly insincere, which in turn undermine the public’s trust in them. Consider the former Harper government’s labeling of environmentalists who opposed their aggressive oil sands expansion policies as “radical groups” funded by foreign interests trying to block trade and undermine Canada’s economy.
When I first met Stanley in Harlem, he used the example of Fox News, which he says is silencing when it describes itself as ‘fair and balanced’ to an audience that is perfectly aware that it is neither. “The effect is to suggest there is no such thing as fair and balanced. There is no possibility of balanced news only propaganda,” Stanley says.
This style of propaganda pollutes the public square with a toxic form of rhetoric that insinuates there are no facts, there is no objectivity and that everyone is trying to manipulate you for their own interests.
Former BC Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen says BC Hydro’s claim that a one-year delay in Site C dam construction will add $420 million to the project’s $8.8 billion cost is “effectively illusionary” and based on “fundamentally flawed” analysis.
Eliesen made the statement in an affidavit filed February 16 in the B.C. Supreme Court, in response to BC Hydro’s application for an injunction to remove Peace Valley farmers and First Nations members from a camp they have occupied since New Year’s Eve.
Injunction could lead to arrests
The application, to be heard February 22, seeks to prohibit anyone from physically interfering with Site C work or counseling others to do the same. If the application is approved, campers who remain at the site will risk arrest.
The peaceful camp, at the Rocky Mountain Fort site on the Peace River’s south bank, has prevented clearcut logging of the surrounding old-growth forest in preparation for Site C flooding. Court documents filed by BC Hydro say the area around the fort site must be cleared immediately because it is slated for a “potentially acid-generating” waste rock dump. The documents note that a berm will be constructed to prevent waste from entering the Peace River.
In his affidavit, Eliesen, who has also headed Ontario Hydro and the Manitoba Energy Authority, says BC Hydro’s testimony in support of the injunction application “fails to provide the proper and comprehensive historical context of BC Hydro’s determinations regarding this project” and is “without merit.”
Eliesen: Site C delays save ratepayers millions
In a January 28 affidavit, Site C Commercial Manager Michael Savidant claims that a one-year delay in logging will inflate the cost of Site C construction by $420 million, an increase of $245 million over his previous statements about the cost of a one-year delay.
Savidant, who has worked for BC Hydro since 2004 and who previously worked for Enron Canada, says the revised costs of a delay include $100 million for inflation and $160 million “of increased interest costs due to future higher rates.”
Eliesen’s affidavit says that delaying Site C is likely to save B.C. ratepayers “more than BC Hydro’s alleged $420 million costs” of delay. That is due to BC Hydro’s own projections for decreasing demand for electricity, particularly among heavy users such as the pulp and paper industry. Under the circumstances, Eliesen says, proceeding with Site C right now is “highly imprudent.”
US economist agrees
In a separate affidavit addressing the injunction application, U.S. energy economist Robert McCullough testifies that a one-year delay in construction would save B.C. ratepayers $268 million, a two-year delay would save $519 million, and a five-year delay would result in net savings of $1.18 billion. McCullough says savings result from Site C power sold at a loss due to a “dramatic fall in world energy prices since 2008.”
In court documents to support its injunction application, BC Hydro claims the seven-week camp has prevented logging from taking place around the fort site and is causing damage and “irreparable harm” to the crown corporation.
The injunction application follows a civil suit against the campers launched in mid-January by BC Hydro. The suit claims damages against six of the campers, including Peace Valley farmers Ken and Arlene Boon and Helen Knott, a social worker from the Prophet River First Nation.
“BC Hydro has taken this aggressive move of intimidation in terms of suing us,” Knott said in an interview.
[quote]In the northeast region where I’m from there’s a lot of oil and gas industry. We’re not against development. This is the project where we’re saying ‘No, this is enough. It’s too much. You’re crossing the line.’[/quote]
Campers get support
Knott, who is currently in Toronto speaking about the Rocky Mountain Fort camp at an Amnesty International event, was served with the civil lawsuit when she was visiting Peace Valley farmer Esther Pedersen. Pedersen has been collecting food donations for the camp from local residents and businesses. A road right-of-way on her farm has also been used by helicopters that flew to the camp, including one that brought scientist David Suzuki and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs to visit and dropped off a second survival shack for the campers.
“We’re getting letters from older ladies who are baking pies and making soups [for the camp] and shows of solidarity from across Canada,” said Knott. “It’s pretty amazing.”
The campers, who call themselves the Treaty 8 Stewards of the Land, are asking for Site C construction to be halted until five legal cases against the dam are resolved and the federal government can review Site C’s potential infringement on constitutionally-protected treaty rights.
Rescind questionable permits, say critics
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, Amnesty International and two dozen other national and B.C. groups have asked the federal government to rescind Site C permits granted by the Harper government. The Union of B.C. Municipalities has also called for a moratorium on Site C.
Eliesen’s affidavit says Site C has not been subject to “an adequate level of due diligence” to determine if the project is needed, if energy alternatives have been adequately explored, and if the timing of construction is appropriate.
Need for project not demonstrated
Eliesen points out that the Joint Review Panel which examined Site C for the federal and provincial governments concluded that BC Hydro had not demonstrated a need for the project and recommended it be sent to the watchdog B.C. Utilities Commission for scrutiny, which is also a request from the campers. The B.C. government has exempted Site C from the commission’s oversight.
Fort site holds historical artifacts, cultural materials
Court documents filed by BC Hydro state that further excavation of the fort site will be conducted this spring to search for remains of historic aboriginal encampments dating from the late 1700s and early 1800s when the fort served as a provisioning centre for the fur trade industry.
Survey work by a BC Hydro contractor last summer and fall found evidence of cultural materials, including modified historical artifacts, which are “possible” indicators of aboriginal encampments, according to the documents. The documents say the B.C. government notified all Treaty 8 First Nations and other aboriginal groups about the findings on January 18, after a report on the findings was submitted to the Archaeology Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources three days earlier (and following the first media report on the issue in a January 8 DeSmog story).
The Rocky Mountain Fort site, a designated Class 1 heritage site, is one of 40 heritage sites that would be destroyed by the Site C dam when it floods 107 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries. BC Hydro’s court documents claim that any delays in logging around the fort site will impact the entire project.
In the early 1990s, when Eliesen was BC Hydro’s CEO and President, BC Hydro issued a public statement on behalf of its Board of Directors, saying that Site C would not proceed due to First Nations rights, and economic, social and environmental factors.
NOTE: BC Hydro’s injunction application will be heard by the BC Supreme Court Monday. Supporters of the Treaty 8 Stewards of the Land are encouraged to attend.
In 1966, American psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Fifty years later, a corollary offers itself: If every nail appears familiar, you may be inclined to pick up the same hammer to deal with it.
In taking office, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been handed the enormous toolbox that is the Canadian federal bureaucracy. And as any handyperson knows, in an unfamiliar toolbox there are likely to be surprises, good and bad. You can tell if the former owner of the toolbox was practised in their craft and if they took care of their possessions; if they used their tools appropriately or if they opened every can of paint with the same, now half-enamelled screwdriver. As you root through the toolbox you may find gems and you may find broken tools, or worse – tools missing that you had expected would be in the box. And when dealing with the bad surprises, you will only notice how broken a particular tool is, how ill-suited it is to your intended purpose, when you go to pick it up for the first time.
PM faces decision of national importance
Prime Minister Trudeau and Environment Minister McKenna will soon be called upon to open their environmental toolbox and make a nationally significant decision in that portfolio: to render a judgement as to whether Pacific Northwest LNG should go ahead. And when the Prime Minister reaches into that toolbox, it is likely that the state of one particular hammer, as it squares with some of his publicly stated views, will give him pause.
That hammer is the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA). Under the governance of Stephen Harper, that agency became a tarnished, broken instrument. The Canadian public has a vague idea that the CEAA acts in the interest of Canadians in vetting the possible environmental and social impacts of proposed industrial projects. Wrong.
Under Harper, CEAA stopped protecting environment
Thanks to the Harper government’s overhauling of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in 2012 and the simultaneous gutting of other federal acts that interleave with it, the CEAA became a pared down version of its former self, carrying out little in the manner of self-initiated analysis. Its principal purpose became to funnel information provided by the industries that it was charged to scrutinize, through a cookie-cutter matrix that yielded uniformly stamped, sugar-coated findings of “not likely to cause significant adverse effects.” The word “no,” vanquished from its vocabulary, was replaced by a mantra of “approve and mitigate.”
Long gone from the agency’s own toolkit is any kind of prybar that could wrench the bent nail of an ill-founded proposal, sending its (typically) foreign proponents packing from Canadian soil. Gone is impartial study, replaced by the heavily edited “science” – often hurriedly collected in one field season – by legions of contractors on the payroll of industry. Gone is the precautionary principle, in which the public and the environment are protected from harm by not committing to a project on which there is no scientific consensus as to the possible adverse effects.
Federal assessment ignores salmon
As an example of this brokenness, witness in part the CEAA’s recent assessment of the proposed Pacific Northwest LNG terminal, delivered for public comment on February 10. Debate persists among scientists as to the potential adverse effects of the proposed location of this massive industrial plant and its LNG vessel berths, within the Skeena River estuary. One scientific camp claims that the proposed site is adjacent to the most productive and vital 0.8 km2 in the entirety of the 54,400 km2 Skeena River watershed – Flora Bank. Nonetheless, the CEAA has passed judgement and, with regard to the well-being of salmon, it has given the project a thumbs-up.
For a supposedly impartial agency to rule on such debate when the scientific jury is out is to beg two disasters. The first is a certainty: The utter loss of public trust in government to protect and uphold the integrity, in all senses, of the land. The second, in this particular instance, is a distinct possibility: The depletion or loss of wild salmon from the second most productive salmon watershed in BC, which also ranks among the more productive salmon watersheds in the world. It follows that those salmon might also disappear from the ocean ecosystem, potentially making this a global issue.
Petronas twice ordered to redo salmon studies
The scientific parrying pertaining to Pacific Northwest LNG’s possible threats to wild salmon is well documented elsewhere, and to be fair to the CEAA, the agency initially deemed the proponent’s salmon science so poor, it sent the contractors back to their field notes. Twice. In a nutshell: There is general agreement that the eelgrass of Flora Bank is important to salmon. But how important? And can eelgrass habitat be recreated at point B if destroyed at point A? And will that artificial habitat be of use to salmon or will it merely just fulfil a checkbox requirement, ticked by another permit-hungry proponent as it steamrolls across the landscape?
The salmon enigma
Anyone familiar with the history of tidal fisheries management in British Columbia will be aware that controversy reigns. Despite extensive scientific enquiry and vast public funds expended, no expert can predict with accuracy how many salmon will escape and return in a given year. Unexpected bonanza returns arrive with the same frequency as the fishery going bust. In 2013, several First Nations along the Skeena River took the unprecedented step of closing their commercial and sustenance fisheries in response to that year’s salmon crash, when the return was a third of what had been predicted. The precautionary principle dictates that we should not be messing further with something that we do not understand to this degree.
Salmon are cold water-adapted species. The increases to the overall temperatures of freshwater and ocean water are propagating a monumental constellation of stresses. Spawning streams are often dry due to reduced flows. Parasites and diseases flourish. Ocean acidification is killing salmon food. The ranges of many ocean species are shifting northward, bringing together species that formerly did not mingle en masse. Yet salmon are not officially a species at risk. So, despite being the miracles that they are and with question marks clearly hanging over their population dynamics and habitat, wild salmon, as far as the CEAA is concerned, escape the regulatory scrutiny that, say, the harbour porpoise (a species at risk) rightfully merits. It is telling that a search for “salmon” in the CEAA’s recent assessment of Pacific Northwest LNG returns 51 matches. A search for “harbour porpoise” returns 116 matches.
“Significant adverse effects” unlikely: CEAA
It then follows as no surprise that:
[quote]The Agency concludes that the Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on marine fish and fish habitat, including marine plants, taking into account the implementation of mitigation measures.[/quote]
The CEAA’s specific response to the multitude of concerns for wild salmon expressed by First Nations, scientists, and the general public is a damning indictment of how the agency has been charting its course: Implement eighteen mitigation measures and drop the following tell-tale comment into the document.
“The Agency considers that the involvement of Aboriginal groups in the design and implementation of follow-up and monitoring programs related to traditional fisheries and marine resources [after project construction] could contribute to increasing the confidence of Aboriginal groups in the results of the EA [environmental assessment] related to the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes.”
In other words, the CEAA is advocating the prevailing industry tactic of abrogating the concerns of First Nations by offering them promises of jobs and money. This is a cultural obscenity. Imagine being a young, formerly unemployed First Nations person, now paid to stand watch over the LNG industry’s activities on the BC north coast as your sustenance birthright – wild Pacific salmon – disappear. Imagine even suggesting that such a pathway is appropriate. Is it any wonder that there is a First Nations camp on Lelu Island adjacent to Flora Bank?
Greenhouse gases don’t go ignored
But all is not lost in the cause of environmental science. Scroll through the pages of this 257-page document and the sun breaks through the approve-and-mitigate gloom. Somewhere along the progression from initial draft to publication of the CEAA’s conclusions on Pacific Northwest LNG, a federal election intervened. Voters breathed new life into government. The paragraphs that reflect it – no doubt written by employees of the CEAA now happy to be freed from the bonds of Harperism – flash like salmon in a bed of eelgrass. It is perhaps fitting that this watershed moment in Canadian environmental assessment revolves around protecting a watershed – the Skeena River, its species, and its people.
One sentence, in particular, reveals incisive teeth in the very place where the agency cannot dodge the real-world science of cause and effect:
[quote]The Agency concludes that the Project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects as a result of greenhouse gas emissions after taking into consideration the implementation of best achievable technology and management practices and compliance with the B.C. Greenhouse Gas Industrial Reporting and Control Act.[/quote]
Whether intending to or not, by publishing that sentence, the CEAA has handed Prime Minister Trudeau an utterly new and very powerful tool. It, too, is a hammer. But this isn’t the same one that has been swung for decades by the lackies of bureaucracy as they predictably drove home the nails of development. It is more akin to the gavel that a magistrate bangs on the bench while barking, “Case closed!”
From wellhead to waterline
According to the report, the CEAA accepts the proponent’s prediction that the Pacific Northwest LNG plant itself would create 0.27 tonnes of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) per tonne of LNG produced. The agency says that this, obviously, is a bad thing, but then makes a quantum leap, delivering a miracle in the practical context of recent Canadian environmental science.
In an abrupt departure from how the BC’s Environmental Assessment Office has chosen to evaluate the same project, the CEAA has dropped the blinders and intends to evaluate the effects of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions from wellhead to waterline. Long ago flushed out of the fold, the inherent common sense of this approach has finally come back to the pen. The proponent, no doubt nervous, has already began quibbling over the details that such scrutiny brings to light, and is attempting to frame the total greenhouse gas emissions increase of the project as “insignificant” in the global context. (The global increase would be 0.015 percent.)
But the CEAA is not dissuaded. The document explains that getting the fracked gas out of the ground and piped across BC to Pacific Northwest LNG would create another 0.33-0.44 tonnes of CO2e per tonne of LNG produced (depending on the source gas). This makes an upper threshold of 0.71 tonnes of CO2e per tonne of LNG – a far cry from the global industry’s current (and very dirty) average of creating 0.58 tonnes of CO2e per tonne of LNG.
Just one project = a fifth of BC’s total GHG’s
The total effect of the project would be to increase BC’s greenhouse gas emissions by between 18.5 percent and 22.5 percent, and Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by between 1.65 and 1.95 percent. Pacific Northwest LNG would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Canada’s notoriously dirty oil and gas industry, and the dirtiest that deals strictly with fracked gas. Forget that BC’s Premier Clark brands her darling not-yet-an-industry as “clean,” when it comes to LNG, the CEAA is clear: The project would create tarsands-scale emissions.
Petronas project would kill climate targets
In full operation Pacific Northwest LNG would account for 32.1 percent of BC’s mandated greenhouse gas emissions target for 2020, thus rendering achievement of that target impossible. Canada has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 200 million tonnes per year from current levels, by 2030. Pacific Northwest LNG would add up to 13.98 million tonnes of emissions per year, also thwarting that objective.
Will project face true climate test?
The prime minister has announced that a “climate test” will now be required for all large-scale fossil fuel projects, but with regard to Pacific Northwest LNG the CEAA has already done the grunt work for him. Pacific Northwest LNG is an F-student in and F-industry. No amount of “offsetting” or carbon credit purchases (among the document’s suggested mitigations) should be employed to give the project a free pass to go belching forth into the atmosphere.
With regard to the project’s site at Lelu Island, this is where the circle closes; where, if Prime Minister Trudeau is willing, the gavel should firmly come down. Greenhouse gases contribute to climate warming. A warmer climate threatens salmon and their habitat, from near treeline to out in the open ocean. Threaten salmon and you threaten not just those miracles of nature but the First Nations of northwestern BC whose cultures have evolved around, and which continue to depend on wild salmon.
Some things just can’t be “mitigated”
No document, no agency of government, no foreign-owned consortium can mitigate against the loss of a human culture. The lead player in this project, Petronas, has run roughshod over native peoples in its dealings around the globe, particularly at home in Malaysia. Until now, our governments have been party to Petronas and its corporate clique, with their feigned respect for BC First Nations; bidding the company to industrialize the land without sincere regard for the effects on its people. In doing so, our governments, provincial and federal, have failed to represent and to protect the people of BC who are being affected, and who will continue to be most affected, by the proposed LNG industry. That is why so many residents of northwestern BC, First Nations and non-, are putting themselves on the line – on the banks of the Wedzin Kwah, at Madii ‘Lii Camp, and on Lax Lelu. These are not camps of “protest” or “resistance”; they are statements of rightful presence by citizens to whom has fallen the dutiful obligation to protect their home from the outright invasion that would render it ruined.
Don’t forget Paris
Speaking at the Paris Summit in November 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau addressed Canadians regarding the collective effort to reduce the emissions that are driving climate change:
[quote]People want to do more, but they want to know that what they do fits into a bigger picture, because there is no point in bending over backwards if your neighbour or your government is not also doing its part to ensure that we all have the maximal impact together. There can be no laggards in this.[/quote]
Prime Minister Trudeau, many among the First Nations and other residents of northwestern BC look to you for progressive change. Match their collective courage. They will have your back if you do. Reach into a new place in your toolbox. Pick up the gavel, swing it firmly, and dismiss the case for mega-scale LNG development in Canada.
The final round of public comment on Pacific Northwest LNG is open until March 11, 2016.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines due diligence as: “The care that a reasonable person exercises to avoid harm to other persons or their property.” As the debate on British Columbia’s proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry enters its fourth year, it is past time to bring one aspect of that industry under scrutiny – the safety of people in proximity to LNG vessels and terminals.
Breaking all the rules
The default document on this topic is one created by the LNG industry itself. In 1997, the Society of International Gas Tanker and Terminal Operators (SIGTTO) published Site Selection and Design for LNG Ports and Jetties. The document is clear and succinct in describing how to enhance LNG safety:
LNG ports must be located where LNG vapors from a spill or release cannot affect civilians.
LNG ship berths must be far from the ship transit fairway to prevent collision, and since all other vessels must be considered an ignition source.
LNG ports must be located where they do not conflict with other waterway uses now and into the future.
Long, narrow inland waterways are to be avoided, due to greater navigation risk.
Waterways containing navigation hazards are to be avoided as LNG ports.
Anyone familiar with the marine approaches to Prince Rupert and Kitimat will be aware that to propose marine transport of LNG from terminals in those harbours violates all of the SIGTTO standards referred to above.
Prince Rupert at Risk
Although industry analysts agree that not all will be built, four large terrestrial LNG export facilities are proposed for the Prince Rupert area, along with three, smaller floating facilities. At full build-out, the large plants would generate 796 round-trip transits of LNG vessels into port, the smaller facilities 208. That’s almost three round-trips per day. In 2014, the Prince Rupert Port Authority reported that 494 vessels called at port terminals to take on and offload trade resources and goods, and that was a year when coal export was markedly down.
Key concerns are not just that LNG export could triple industrial vessel transits at Prince Rupert, and that the BC government sees no harm in promoting that possibility. Vessels in the Q-Max LNG carrier class are 345 metres long with a capacity of 266,000 cubic metres of LNG, comparable in size to the large ships that now dock at the Fairview Container Port.
The potential tripling of marine traffic at Prince Rupert would principally involve extremely large vessels carrying a dangerous commodity in a confined waterway.
The likelihood of a breach to one of the five or six storage tanks on a typical LNG vessel – whether accidental or intentional – is low. It has not happened since LNG marine transport began in 1959. But LNG itself as a substance, through its manufacturing process and in its steady-state in storage, possesses innate hazards. LNG terminals and storage facilities have suffered catastrophic explosions.
As more vessels are added to LNG fleets, making more voyages into confined and treacherous waters such as found on BC’s north coast, the chances of at least an accidental breach in a marine setting will increase. World events of the past two decades indicate that the risk of an intentional breach cannot be dismissed. For the LNG industry to tout past “safe” performance as an absolute indicator of future probability is hubristic.
What would happen if LNG were to escape from a marine vessel storage tank? In 2004 and 2008, the US Department of Energy commissioned Sandia National Laboratories to find out. Sandia reported that an instantaneous fireball would not be likely. What would be more likely is a “cold explosion” known as a rapid phase transition. The temperature of LNG is -161.5°C. Escaping from a vessel, LNG would release a blast as it froze the ocean surface, then evaporate as it warmed and picked up water vapour to form a low, heavier-than-air vapour cloud that would drift outward. The larger the breach, the larger the cloud.
Outright ignition of regasified LNG would require it to mix with air in a range of 5 percent to 15 percent LNG. If this cloud of LNG vapour were to spread from a vessel or a terminal with optimal conditions for ignition, an aerial fireball would be possible. That ignition would typically “backtrack” from the spark to the source of the cloud. But with an onshore wind a fiery blanket could disperse over land. Sandia’s research suggested that typical aerial dispersal distances from a small breach would be 3050 m from a near-shore source, and 4600 m from an offshore source.
LNG burns at more than 500°C. Sandia’s reports described three zones of hazard around an LNG vessel should a breach occur with ignition. Within 500 metres of the vessel, death to all living things on the water, surfacing from the water, in the air, or on adjacent land would be likely. This could result from shrapnel, incineration, cryogenic freezing or from suffocation. Between 500 metres and 1.6 km from the vessel, these threats lessen but are still critical. Second-degree burns to exposed human flesh would typically result from 30 seconds of exposure.
Structural fires, grass fires, and forest fires would be ignited. Effects would lessen moving from 1.6 km out to 3.5 km, beyond which the hazard is considered negligible. In the US, these hazard zones have been embodied in regulations governing LNG facility location. It is also standard for LNG ports to have fireboats that are foam-capable, as use of water on an LNG-fed fire would exacerbate it.
Plotting the Sandia hazard zones along the shipping lane at Prince Rupert is informative. All human settlement in Prince Rupert, Port Edward, Dodge Cove, and Seal Cove is within the hazard zones. More than 13,000 residents are at risk, along with up to 3,000 people who may be visiting at any given time. More than 60,000 passengers depart the port on ferries and water taxis each year in these hazard zones.
If this information can be gleaned from reliable sources on the Internet (such as Government of Canada and Prince Rupert Port Authority websites), with distances confirmed using Google Earth, be assured that the BC government, federal government, and the LNG industry are aware.
In harm’s way
LNG vessels transiting to the proposed WCC LNG facility on Tuck Inlet (across Fern Passage from Seal Cove) would ply the length of the Prince Rupert Harbour shipping lane and its approaches. The Fairview Container Terminal is on the verge of the 500-metre hazard zone, as is a 4 km length of the CN Rail line. The Coast Guard base, City Hall and its Emergency Operations Centre, the Fire Hall and its 911 call centre, the Prince Rupert Port Authority with its Port Security Operations Centre and Emergency Operations Centre, the BC Ferries and Alaska Marine Highway terminals, the Via Rail terminal, the Seal Cove Coast Guard Search and Rescue helicopter base and BC Ambulance medevac base, and the RCMP detachment all lie within 1.6 km of that shipping lane. Prince Rupert Regional Hospital and the BC Ambulance station are on the 1.6 km line.
To cement brazen disregard for the SIGTTO guidelines, LNG vessels approaching WCC LNG would pass other LNG vessels berthed for loading at the proposed Aurora LNG facility on Digby Island, at a point where the navigable waterway is scarcely 1 km wide. They would also pass LNG vessels docked at New Times LNG and Orca LNG on the Prince Rupert waterfront.
Boston-bound LNG ships require armed escort
Boston is the only US city with an LNG facility. The Everett terminal in Boston Harbour imports LNG – meaning that vessels enter the harbour loaded and leave empty – the opposite to what is proposed for BC’s north coast. Typically, only one LNG vessel every eight days makes the trip to Everett LNG, but the stir that each passage creates is instructive in terms of appraising risk.
When four days from port, an LNG vessel approaching Boston must contact the US Coast Guard with a manifest and crew list. The Coast Guard runs checks on the crew. When 12 miles from port, the Coast Guard boards the vessel to inspect it and to begin surveillance to ensure that all other vessels keep 500 yards away. When five miles out, a pilot boards the vessel and four tugboats are engaged. Passage into port is only permitted in daylight and with clear visibility.
Five armed boats, two from the Coast Guard and one each from three police agencies, escort the LNG vessel into harbour. Law enforcement officers patrol all piers and jetties along the route, with a helicopter or two dedicated to observe from above. Bridge traffic over the harbour is halted as the vessel makes way beneath. Marinas are shuttered and guarded for 20 minutes before and after each transit. The security cost? About 80,000 USD per transit. The economic cost? Unknown.
Tight restrictions on lone Atlantic Canada import port
The Port of St. John, New Brunswick, is home to Canaport LNG, Canada’s only LNG import facility. Transport Canada has implemented Boston-like measures for LNG transits: mandatory security screening of LNG vessel crews; a “marine safety zone” of 0.5 nautical miles (926 m) around any LNG vessel; no anchoring within 1.5 nautical miles of an LNG vessel; and no overtaking of LNG vessels when they are underway in the harbour.
When an LNG vessel is offloading at Canaport LNG, a 620 m radius from the centre of the terminal is off-limits to all marine traffic except tugs and service craft employed with that vessel. Given the large “sail areas” of LNG vessels, the harbour master may consider other “special provisions” to accommodate them, or may order them to leave port when they are empty and it is windy.
Harper rejected LNG on East Coast
In 2006 and 2013, the Canadian government rejected plans for LNG vessel transits through Head Harbour Passage and Passamaquoddy Bay, New Brunswick, to a proposed LNG facility in Maine. Describing those Canadian waters as “a unique and highly productive marine ecosystem,” the 2013 letter from the Canadian ambassador to the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission summarized concerns related to “the environmental, navigational, and safety risks as well as the adverse economic consequences…”. Which begs the question: What is so different about the setting for LNG vessel traffic proposed for BC?
Although piloting will be required, Transport Canada has not announced its plans for LNG carriers on BC’s north coast. According to its website, the Prince Rupert Port Authority is considering implementing “safe transit zones” and “traffic separation patterns to define specific routes for specific types of vessels.” In other ports, separations of as much as an hour are required between LNG carriers and other watercraft.
What about other boaters?
What if, as is likely, setbacks and separations are mandated around LNG vessels approaching BC’s north coast? For one thing, LNG plants with planned multiple berths (Aurora, Pacific Northwest, and WCC) would not be allowed to have more than one LNG vessel at dock. But of greater importance, with the possibility of three LNG vessels a day entering and three a day exiting the port of Prince Rupert, what would be the effect on BC Ferries, the Alaska Marine Highway, the airport ferry, the Metllakatla ferry, water taxis, commercial fishing (especially salmon and herring openings), tour operators, cruise ships, and recreational boating and fishing?
Why aren’t these potential economic impacts and inconveniences being weighed against the touted benefits of the LNG industry? Although the issue was raised by the public during “consultation,” why wasn’t the possibility of restrictions to marine traffic included in the descriptions of any of the proposed LNG projects? Is it because the backlash would be over public safety, not mere inconvenience? And who in government has investigated the insurance requirements for LNG carriers and ports? Each LNG vessel is typically its own limited liability company, flying a flag of convenience; its owners beyond the reach of law should calamity occur.
Practice what you preach
Last words on the issue of LNG marine safety and due diligence go to those responsible – industry and government:
[quote]Engaging with our stakeholders in open and honest dialogue is a critical part of the way we do business and essential in helping us to understand concerns, share information and build strong relationships. In carrying out these activities, we are guided by five principles: inclusion, respect, timeliness, responsiveness, and accountability. -WCC LNG Project Description[/quote]
[quote]If spilled, LNGevaporates into the atmosphere, leaving no residue on either soil or water. No environmental cleanup is required. -BC government website, LNG fact card #5[/quote]
Graeme Pole lives near another LNG “ground zero” – in the Kispiox Valley, near the route of the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project.
Will LNG proposals put coastal First Nations at odds with those fighting to protect land and water in Treaty 8 Territory?
By Kevin Washbrook
On an unusually chilly afternoon last month I had the opportunity to listen to Chief Liz Logan of the Fort Nelson First Nation and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs at the Drums for the Peace Rally in front of BC Hydro headquarters in downtown Vancouver.The Rally was held to mark the start of Treaty 8 First Nations’ federal appeals court case, which argues that the BC government’s approval of Site C Dam infringes on their treaty rights.
I was struck by the speakers’ determination to continue fighting Site C in court even as BC Hydro races to clear land for this destructive project.It saddens me that Christy Clark would willingly sacrifice the traditional territory of Treaty 8 Nations, not to mention some of the best farmland in BC in pursuit of her government’s obsession with exporting LNG, but that afternoon I was buoyed by the resilience of these front line land defenders.The fight against Site C clearly isn’t over.
Tsawwassen chief downplays LNG plant’s impacts
Like many people, a few days later, I was surprised to hear Chief Bryce Williams of Tsawwassen First Nationannounce a joint proposal with FortisBC and others for yet another LNG terminal, this one on Tsawwassen Nation treaty lands at Roberts Bank on the Fraser delta.Chief Williams explained that he was neutral on the proposal and that it would be put to a community vote, but he also took effort describe the project as relatively low impact, including pointing out that the LNG terminal would be powered by electricity, and not natural gas, if it went ahead.
Cooling and condensing natural gas into a compact liquid for export is a very energy intensive process, so powering up this new LNG terminal would take a lot of electricity.As I listened to Chief Williams I had to wonder, is this the LNG project that will make Site C dam inevitable?And if so, how will Chief Williams and the Tsawwassen people justify that to the Treaty 8 Nations in Northeast BC who are fighting to keep it from being built?
Lots more fracking needed to supply LNG plant
When Fortis, the BC government and the many LNG proponents now active in BC describe their LNG proposals as “low impact”, they are talking about the LNG facility itself.However, that LNG doesn’t come from nowhere.If the Tsawwassen LNG proposal goes ahead it will require an enormous amount of natural gas from the fields of Northeast BC — and that demand will trigger more well drilling and more fracking, and contaminate more fresh water in Treaty 8 territory.
Listening to Chief Williams I was reminded of Dene-Cree lawyer Caleb Behn — recently featured in the movie Fractured Land — who, along with many others, is working hard to reduce the impacts from all the seismic exploration, roadbuilding, well drilling and fracking generated by the natural gas boom in their traditional territories in the northeast.
The Pembina model says that over a 30-year period, sourcing natural gas to supply the the Tsawwassen LNG project could require more than 2000 new wells in northeast BC, could use more than 30 billion litres of freshwater, and could produce more than 11 billion litres of waste water.The model also says that over that 30-year period the Tsawwassen project could generate more than 47 million tonnes of climate emissions during the drilling, processing and transport of gas to the LNG facility on the Fraser Delta.
On Wednesday December 16 Tsawwassen First Nations community members will vote on whether to move forward with their LNG proposal.I have no doubt that Fortis and the other project partners are actively promoting the benefits that would follow from approval.I sincerely hope that community members also have access to information on the upstream impacts that would be generated by that approval, so that they can make a fully informed decision on the project.
It really comes as no surprise that the Provincial Government has rubber stamped the Environmental Assessment (EA) for Woodfibre LNG. This is one of their pet projects, and the BC Liberals’ election promise was to develop an LNG industry for BC, whatever the cost. They have continued to push this pipedream, despite plummeting gas prices and increasing pressure from LNG companies to slash taxes and weaken regulations in an attempt to make the industry viable.
This approval simply highlights a conflict of interest: how can the public have faith in the integrity of the BC Environmental Assessment process when the Ministers approving these projects (one of which is Rich Coleman, the Minister of Natural Gas Development) also have a mandate to develop LNG export facilities? Quite simply, we don’t.
[quote]…our environmental assessment process is, according to critics, the weakest and most confusing it has been in decades—thanks to abrupt changes in our environmental laws and deep budget cuts to government regulatory agencies.[/quote]
This has not been an open and transparent process, and meaningful community engagement has been limited by short windows for public input, incomplete studies provided by the proponents, and poor advertising of open house events. Thanks to My Sea to Sky’s efforts to get people involved, the public comment period for Woodfibre LNG in March generated a record number of public comments. Has this overwhelming community opposition been adequately scrutinized by the Ministers granting this EA approval, or are the BC Liberals ignoring public input, as well as deleting emails?
The good news is that while Woodfibre LNG has their rubber stamped approval from the Province, they still need approval from the Federal government. Our new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has acknowledged that “even though [it is] governments that grant permits, ultimately it’s only communities that grant permission.”
So far community opposition has been loud and clear, with Powell River, Lions Bay, Gibsons, West Vancouver, Bowen Island, and Squamish all signaling strong opposition to Woodfibre LNG through recent resolutions. My Sea to Sky has partnered with more than 20 other organizations that oppose this project, and our volunteers have hit the streets to gather over 4,400 signatures (and counting) to the Howe Sound Declaration, stating opposition to the project.
There is no social license for this project in Howe Sound. A rubber stamp isn’t going to change that.
The Conservatives may be a disaster at governing a nation, but they are experts at manipulating electoral wins. In the last two elections they improved their position by 6% in the weeks just before the elections – providing victories in both cases. It may happen again.
Off to see the Wizard
The Conservatives are noted for their propaganda and negative advertising. The corporate media will explain the wisdom of “staying the course”. And now the Conservatives have recruited the highly successful spin-doctor from Australia, Lynton Crosby, also known as the Wizard of Oz or the Lizard of Oz. In Australia, he is sometimes called the “attack dingo” and in Britain, a “political rottweiler”. His favourite phrase is “below the radar”, meaning sneaky.
So we better brace ourselves for a struggle. He was behind four successive conservative wins in Australia and also behind the majority win of David Cameron in the recent British election. Lynton Crosby is a winner…and we might be the losers!
Three-way race tightening
The polls, at the time of writing, show Canadians to be in a vulnerable position: the NDP are at 32%, Conservatives 30%, Liberals 30%, Greens 5% and Bloc Quebecois 3%. If the Conservatives make their usual 6% increase (with Lynton Crosby’s help), they will end up with 36% – knocking the NDP down to 29% and the Liberals down to 28%. In other words – another Conservative victory.
Power in working together
This situation is a threat, but only if we lose sight of the real battle. The critical struggle is between the vast majority of progressive Canadians (70%) and the corporate controlled Conservatives (30%). It is the struggle of the combined forces of Liberals, NDP and Greens to regain a caring society. But we must work together for the common cause, through strategic voting.
There is terrific power through strategic voting. The Conservatives may gain 6% through a propaganda campaign, but that is nothing compared with what Canadians can do through strategic voting. In the last election the Conservatives had won 21 seats in BC, but are currently polling to win only 7 seats. In four of these ridings, the Conservatives are leading by only 2%, 4%, 6% and 7% – and could easily be defeated by a relative handful of voters swinging their votes to the party most likely to defeat the Conservatives. There is real power by working together. Divided we fall.
Change is within reach
Strategic voting can defeat almost any Conservative candidate in Canada. In this election, we must abandon our old habits of voting for the party we think is best. Instead, we should vote for what is best for Canada – removing the Conservatives. Does it really matter whether the Liberals win a few more seats than the NDP or vice versa? They are both essentially progressive parties, and so are the Greens. They all promise to bring in electoral reform. They all are concerned about climate change; they all are concerned about the unfair distribution of wealth; and they all believe that peace-keeping is more important than war-making. They all want the restoration of democracy. These are exceedingly important issues – but not shared by the Harper Conservatives.
Great things can happen with the removal of the Conservatives. And what a boost to our self esteem! To think that we were the ones who faced up to the problem and made the critical change – no longer wimps putting up with unacceptable values. All of this will happen…as long as we do not split the progressive vote.
And for those who feel that voting is frustrating and insignificant, you can be assured that every vote done strategically will actually count. Every vote goes directly to defeat the Conservatives. Just vote for the candidate most likely to defeat the Conservatives – and that will make the difference.
Doug Carrick writes regular articles for the Hornby Island “First Edition”, the Denman Island “Flagstone” and occasionally for the “Island Tides” and other publications.
This is for my fellow baby boomers. Yes, I mean you +55ers – the ones who lived through the 60’s and 70’s and even remember some of it. Think back to those days. Do you remember “Make Love Not War”, “Ban The Bomb” or how about “Power to the People” or “Never Trust Anyone Over Thirty”? Do you remember what your priorities were back then – your values, your ideals?
We were going to change the world and, for a short time, we did. Ours was the generation that stopped a war. Although Canada stayed out of Vietnam, we welcomed over 30,000 Americans who came here to avoid killing and being killed and we gave refuge to more than 50,000 “boat people” after Vietnam fell. We stood up for civil rights and women’s equality. We marched for a nuclear free world and even started Greenpeace, right here in Vancouver, because we thought saving our planet was important. But as I think about this election and the state our country is in, I remember a few years ago my son telling me that his generation was sick to death of hearing about all the noble things our generation had done and asking the question, “What have you done lately?”
Thinking about that question today, the only answer I can come up with is that we SOLD OUT!
It would be bad enough to say we sat idly by as our government destroyed our democracy with bills like the Orwellian-named “Fair Elections” Act; eliminated our freedoms by passing its anti-terrorist bill C-51; passed Bill C-24, making it possible for someone like Calgary’s Mayor Nenshi to be stripped of Canadian citizenship even though he was born in Toronto; muzzled or vindictively destroyed anyone who disagreed with them (Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission president Linda Keen); turned the peacekeeping forces that we were so proud of into a war machine; gutted environmental protections for the benefit of big (mostly foreign) corporations; sold off our natural resources (along with our wheat board) to other countries; allowed entire industries to be wiped out and well paid jobs to be shipped to third world countries; widened the income inequality gap; increased the number of homeless and allowed 1 in 5 children to live in poverty; slashed social programs and eliminated safety nets (healthcare, EI, support for veterans, the national child care program); increased the age of eligibility for OAS and changed retirement age for CPP; took aim at women by slashing funding, closing offices and removing “equality” from the stated goals of the Status of Women ministry; drastically cut funding of the CBC and the arts (because “nobody cares about the arts”); made secondary education less and less affordable for anyone but the privileged upper class; waged war on First Nations by cancelling the Kelowna Accord, ignoring Supreme Court decisions and refusing to uphold laws and policies set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (even refusing to ensure they had the barest necessities such as access to clean drinking water); and abandoned our injured veterans saying we had “no moral obligation” to them.
It would be bad enough to say that we ignored their secrecy (European and TPP trade agreements; avoiding the media or screening their questions; gagging scientists, federal public servants and their own MPs; delaying, restricting or denying public and media requests under the Access to Information act); their lies (F-35 stealth fighter jets); their corruption ($50 million in taxpayers’ money funnelled into Tony Clement’s riding under the guise of G8 expenses, the artificial lake); their misuse of funds and attitudes of entitlement (Bev Oda’s $16 orange juice, Peter McKay’s personal use of military helicopters); the laws they broke (Harper breaking his own fixed-date election law, the In-and-Out scandal in which the party exceeded national campaign spending limits by moving funds through local ridings, Robocalls); their criminal charges and convictions (Dean Del Mastro – Harper’s “ethics” spokesman jailed for crimes committed while sitting as an MP, top aide Bruce Carson convicted of 5 counts of fraud); Harper appointing Senators in clear violation of requirements regarding residency and the consistent pattern of unethical conduct of other Harper appointees.
It would be bad enough to say we did not pay attention to all the other abuses of this government, such as being found in contempt of Parliament (for refusing to release costs on programs to opposition MPs); proroguing Parliament 4 times and shutting it down for 181 days; re-naming the Government of Canada the Harper Government; eliminating the long-form census; omnibus bills; attacks on the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; spying on environmental and aboriginal activists; auditing charities and non-profits (all of them environmental, civil society, anti-poverty, foreign aid and human rights groups); using tax dollars to fund political ads and propaganda for oil companies; retroactively passing legislation to protect themselves from crimes already committed (the shredding of long gun registry data); and last but certainly not least, the Senate scandal (the $90,000 cheque, who knew about it and when, attempts to interfere with an official audit).
Yes, it would be bad enough to say we just ignored all of these things (and more) but the truth is that not only did we do nothing to stop them, we gave them our support! We became the establishment that we fought against – those people over 30 that we did not trust (and for good reason). We voted for this government and according to polls, we are the one age group that is overwhelmingly going to vote for them again.
Now, I realize that not all of you voted for the former Reformers, who have convincingly painted themselves as the Conservative party of old, and I realize that not all of you will vote for them on October 19th, but for those of you who will, I have a few questions.
1. Why? Why would you support a government as secretive, corrupt and hellbent on destroying our freedoms as this one? Someone suggested to me that it is because you care more about your money than anything else but that simply does not make any sense. When Harper took over, the economy was growing at 3% a year, there was a surplus of over $13-billion and our debt was $492-billion (and falling). Since being elected, he has run 6 straight deficits and the federal debt is now $615-billion (and rising). Whether he admits it or not, we are in a recession with our loonie tanking, unemployment climbing and commodity prices plunging. Why would you trust a government with this kind of a track record to keep your money safe?
2. When? When did you abandon your values and decide that lying, cheating, stealing and breaking the law were not a problem? When did you stop caring about other people and become okay with our military bombing innocent civilians, with children in this country starving, seniors having to choose between groceries and medication, people having to work 2 or 3 jobs in order to feed their families or keep a roof over their heads, with healthcare cuts that forced mental patients onto the streets, with jobs being given to temporary foreign workers while qualified Canadians went unemployed and with a dead child being washed up on a beach on the other side of the world while we ignore a refugee crisis that we are at least partially responsible for creating with our bombs?
3. Do you have grandchildren? Do you care if they grow up to be honest, ethical, compassionate adults? Do you teach them values? Do you teach them your “new” values – the ones that you accept from your government – that the end justifies the means and it is perfectly acceptable to lie, cheat, break the law and do anything else you have to do in order to get what you want? Or do you teach them to do as I say, not as I do because that always works out so well?
4. How? How do you plan on explaining to your grandchildren that you didn’t care? You didn’t care enough about their future to stand up for healthcare, education, the environment, their rights, democracy and for honesty and decency? How will you answer if they ask why you didn’t love them enough to protect them?
5. And finally, can you give me just one reason to justify voting for this man who vowed that no one would recognize Canada when he was finished. Did you really hate our country that much the way it was?
Canadians used to have much to be proud of and we can be proud again. Our country’s best days do not have to be behind us. October 19th may be the most important election of our lifetime. We have a choice. We can continue down this path of destruction, giving up our ideals, our freedoms, our democracy and our very identity or we can change direction and start repairing the damage, healing the wounds and restoring our standing in the world.
This is our chance to show that our generation still has values we are willing to stand up for and we can still make a difference. It is your opportunity to show your grandchildren that their futures matter and you will do everything in your power to protect them. By living your values, you will be leaving them a legacy. They will learn by your example and will never have to ask why you didn’t care.
According to Stephen Harper, the coming election offers a choice between the certainty of Conservative economic expertise on the one hand…or the risk of Liberal or New Democrat inexperience. However, a closer examination reveals a different picture. It is the Conservatives who have the shaky economic record.
All his eggs in one basket
For example, instead of diversifying the economy, Harper has put all his eggs in one basket (the tar sands). Farmers on the prairies know all about diversification. To cover the possibilities of crop failure or an unexpected drop in market price, they plant a variety of crops – wheat, canola, legumes, oats, barley, flax, or some such mix. They know it would be disastrous to speculate on one crop…and be wrong! Harper has done just that with oil. An inexcusable risk that went wrong!
The Conservatives have tried to project the image of business expertise by showcasing a “balanced budget”. The Huffington Post examined this budget and listed “Seven Conservative Tricks to Faking a Balanced Budget”. It wasn’t balanced at all. In fact, the Conservatives hardly know what a balanced budget looks like. They have produced nothing but “deficit budgets” in each of the previous seven years. That is why our national debt has sky-rocketed in the Harper years.
Worst Canadian economic record since WWII
Harper warns us never to trust the spendthrift Liberals. Our memories are so short! It was during the Liberal years that the two “spendthrifts”, Chrétien and Paul Martin, reduced the national debt by an unprecedented $81 billion. Since then, Harper has increased the national debt by $176 billion – also unprecedented! Economic expertise?
[quote]Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are running the most poorly performing economy the country has seen since the Second World War.*[/quote]
Their study “examined the economic data from nine Canadian governments…using 16 indicators of economic progress, including job creation, Gross Domestic Product growth, export growth, household debt and real personal income.
“The Harper government ranked last or second last in 13 of the 16 indicators”, resulting in “a score of 8.05 out of 9, with 9 being the worst possible score.” Based on economic performance, the Harper government was rock bottom. And at the other end of the scale, “Lester Pearson has been the most successful prime minister, followed by Pierre Trudeau.” *
Child poverty, homelessness reach abysmal levels
But we hardly need such studies to prove their economic ineptitude. It is obvious. Under the Conservatives we have had more children living in poverty, more homeless people, more people depending on soup kitchens, and greater family indebtedness. Highly paid jobs have been replaced by low paid part-time jobs with no benefits. And young people despair of ever owning their own homes.
Most damning is their tax policy. They keep reducing taxation on the rich and on Corporations – forcing government agencies to reduce services to everyone else – thus creating more billionaires each year and more paupers. Good economics for the top 1%, but horrible for the rest.
Putting economy above planet
Even worse, is the Conservative policy of promoting the development of the Alberta tar sands at the cost of permanent damage to the world’s climate. The greenhouse gases created are causing droughts in the best farmland; are wiping out the glaciers and snow fields which are reservoirs for next summer’s water; are destroying forests (by diseases and fires); are destroying the oceans (by acidification and overheating); and are causing massive damage to islands, coastlines and port cities (by rising oceans and extreme storms). The harm done to people around the world is much greater than the paltry economic benefit to Alberta. Is this good economics?
Harper’s request for us to “stay the course” with the Conservatives is like staying the course with the Titanic. Contrary to Harper’s propaganda, Conservative economics is a disaster.
* Jeremy J. Nuttall, The Tyee.com, July 31 2015
Doug Carrick writes regular articles for the Hornby Island “First Edition”, the Denman Island “Flagstone” and occasionally for the “Island Tides” and other publications.
Republished with permission from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Policy Note.
By Marc Lee
Last week, the BC government released the text of its Project Development Agreement with Pacific Northwest LNG (led by Malaysian state enterprise, Petronas), considered the front-runner in getting BC an LNG export industry. The agreement goes to the BC legislature this week in order to convince Petronas to make a “final investment decision.” There are still other barriers to this project going forward, due to First Nations rights and the province’s environmental assessment process. The project hit a major snag when the Lax Kw’alaams first nation balked at Petronas’ proposed site for its LNG terminal. Also, the Gitga’at first nation has just launched a legal challenge for not being consulted in the development process.
Where’s the money for BC?
As far as the Project Development Agreement goes, much of the concern raised has been that the BC government is locking in the tax and regulatory regime for 25 years into the future. Changes made by subsequent governments – to the LNG tax, a special tax credit on corporate income tax, the BC carbon tax, and anything else that would affect project costs – would essentially have to pay compensation to Petronas. It is understandable why Petronas would seek such provisions, as this is a low-margin industry, and without them the company could not justify laying down tens of billions of dollars in capital investment.
However, what’s most disturbing is that this is a massive privatization of a public resource, for which the people of BC will get very little in return. Let’s look at the numbers:
Phase one of the project would produce 12 million tonnes of LNG per year for export, with a second phase that could raise that to 18 million tonnes. The actual amount of gas extracted, however, would be about 25% higher because of the huge amount of gas that would be used to extract, process, transport and liquefy the gas into exportable product.
For BC, there are two potential sources of gains: the revenues to the provincial government; and gains in employment.
Public revenues for BC depend on what price Petronas is able to get for LNG in Asia, but prices for LNG have crashed along with oil prices. It costs about $10 per mcf (thousand cubic feet) to land LNG in Asia due to the high costs of liquefaction and shipping, whereas current prices in Japan, Korea and China are much lower ($7.45 to $7.85). So any company exporting BC LNG in the current market would be losing lots of money.
Petronas can benefit despite low prices
In spite of these horrible economics, it is possible that Petronas can justify paying a premium in order to secure supply over multiple decades, or its hope is that LNG prices will rise back to earlier highs. The initial hype for LNG was based on prices around $16, which seems completely unrealistic, especially given slowing demand for LNG worldwide, combined with lots of new (mostly Australian) LNG coming into the market.
So let’s assume landed price of $12, or about $2/mcf in profit, and 12 million tonnes (=576,000 mcf) of LNG exported per year. Based on that, over the 25 years of the agreement, the landed value of that LNG would be about $173 billion, and Petronas’ profit would be almost $29 billion.
Loopholes, slashed rates mean few export taxes for BC
BC lowered its corporate income tax rate for LNG to 8% so this would represent about $1.8 billion in corporate income tax over the 25 years. That said, this revenue may not be new money – the industry and government are now arguing that LNG exports are necessary to displace lost sales to the US.
BC also introduced a 3.5% LNG income tax, but allows companies to fully deduct capital costs before paying the full tax, a process that would take 8-10 years. This notably puts taxpayers on the hook for reduced revenues should there be cost over-runs (and this is an industry known for its cost over-runs). Over 25 years, BC would collect $600 to 700 million in LNG income tax assuming no cost over-runs.
Royalties are the other key revenue source. It is important to remember that royalties are not a tax, but the public’s share of the revenues for the exploitation of a public resource. In recent years, BC has been charging low royalties to keep production high, largely due to credits to companies for fracking operations. Those low royalties have averaged 7% per year, and assuming that rate over 25 years, this would amount to about $4 billion in royalties. A new royalty agreement with the proponents suggests these could be much lower, although it is hard to say how much.
Adding these together, BC would get about $6.5 billion in additional revenues over 25 years, or just over $200 million per year. Compare that to a provincial budget of $46 billion per year, and total provincial debt of $43 billion. There are also costs to the public sector associated with infrastructure, services and so forth, so we should really be looking at net revenues.
Revenues would go up if Petronas builds phase two, and its export capacity increases to 18 million tonnes per year. And prices in Asia could venture higher, thereby increasing corporate profits and BC’s share. On the other hand, I do not account for “transfer pricing,” whereby companies shift costs in order to minimize their global taxes payable.
Jobs in the hundreds not thousands
What about jobs? The Petronas environmental assessment application estimates a peak of 3,500 temporary jobs during the 3-year construction phase of the project. After that, only 200 to 300 permanent jobs. There would likely be some additional employment upstream due to increased fracking as well, but in total the job creation is very small given the size of the venture. And that’s assuming all of these full time jobs hire people who would otherwise be unemployed; if they just shift from another part of the economy the benefits are much less. In comparison, BC has 2.4 million employed people.
For all of the hype about LNG creating jobs and eliminating our provincial debt, these real-world numbers are underwhelming to say the least. Having campaigned on that hype in the provincial election two years ago, it appears our provincial government is willing to accept a bad deal over no deal.