LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) is one of biggest energy stories to hit Western Canada. It is promoted as a clean bridge fuel that will create thousands of jobs and turn British Columbia into a trillion-dollar global energy leader. The idea is to cool natural gas into liquid, so it can be shipped to higher-price markets in Asia. But is it really all it’s cracked up to be? And what are the trade-offs and impacts associated with LNG and the fracked gas that would feed it?
The Common Sense Canadian is your go-to source for in-depth analysis of the potential benefits and risks of this “game-changing” industry.
Apparently, according to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and BC NDP leader John Horgan, we have a new doctrine in Canada which essentially says that Jobs Come Ahead Of Crisis When A Powerful Union Leader Says So.
Any free society, as part of its basic philosophy, permits citizens to better themselves, legally, and to withhold their labour. At the same time, no society can permit those rights to endanger society as a whole. Moreover, it can hardly be permitted because society hasn’t been able to control some of its segments, like the bastards exposed by the Panama Scandal. That behaviour exposes the weakness of people, not of the philosophy.
Horgan’s about-face shows humiliating weakness
Having once been a cabinet minister in a Socred government, I risk being called anti-union if I offer any criticism of a union. There’s a distinct odour of Senator Joseph McCarthy in an allegation that because one belonged to a certain group, they therefore can be assumed to have certain beliefs. I support unions, have been a member of three, had formal election endorsements from two, and I couldn’t have been elected, twice, in Kamloops, a union town, if I was anti-union.
What I’m on about is the humble, indeed humiliating volte face when John Horgan met with the union, and its powerful leader whose support, more than any other, made Horgan the NDP leader.
[quote]B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan met with his toughest critics on the party’s liquefied natural gas policies, and said his party’s official rejection of the Pacific Northwest LNG proposal could yet turn to Yes.
Mr. Horgan was speaking to the annual convention of the BC Building Trade unions in Victoria on Wednesday, where he sought to diffuse anger from his party’s labour allies over his decision to ask the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to withhold approval for the proposed Pacific Northwest LNG plant near Prince Rupert.
The NDP Leader apologized to union leader Tom Sigurdson for sending the submission to the regulatory agency without giving him notice that the party had come out against the proposal.[/quote]
Many, evidently including Mr. Horgan, think there’s an easy, gradual way to deal with the fossil fuel/climate crisis so nobody ever has to make a sacrifice quite yet. Forgive the indiscreet example, but that’s like the young boy, who, being warned he’ll go blind if he keeps playing with himself, promises to quit just as soon as he needs glasses.
One leap forward, two bounds back
I heartily congratulate the NDP in Convention for, barely, passing the Leap Manifesto and ask Notley, Horgan and company, “What’s the equivalent of needing glasses to inform us we must now act?” Doesn’t this, at least in principle, make abundant good sense?
Of course Premier Notley has a problem,but letting it fester, indeed helping it get worse, is scarcely the solution. In spite of 70 years of Alberta arrogance towards less well-off provinces, we all have a societal obligation to help. And we must do that as part of the same Canadian way Albertans were so grumpy about when they were rolling in petrodollars.
What we do not have is an obligation to suffer the fatal consequences of “business as usual”. Someone has to explain that to Ms. Notley and Mr. Horgan, who must then stand up to those who would put themselves first.
A Canadian problem
The solution lies in accepting the fact that this is a national problem affecting every single Canadian and that those who will be most directly affected need the assistance of the rest of us. Just what form that takes must be worked out but we have to make a start, which the Leap Manifesto does.
Of course there are doubting Thomases – articulate ones. If you’re one, here’s my answer.
As a lawyer, I can assure you that there isn’t a proposition ever propounded that I couldn’t make a case against.
Are you a “round earther” – I guarantee I can make a hell of a case for it being flat.
Believe in God? I can rally no end of scientists, including Richard Dawkins, to refute that.
In support of God are many of the world’s greatest thinkers, including Albert Einstein.
Mr. Sigurdson (I take it you have precedence in the NDP), Mr. Horgan, the scientists have done more than meet the civil onus of “on a balance of probabilities” but have satisfied the criminal test of “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
Beyond “a shadow of a doubt”? Perhaps not, but it’s impossible to think of any proposition that meets that test.
But Mr. Sigurdson, Horgan, if you’re wrong, if your “scientists” are wrong, everything is lost. And if the 97% are somehow wrong, we have still made the world a hell of a lot better, safer, cleaner and nicer place to live.
One might reduce the argument, then, to this: “Better safe than sorry”!
Gentlemen, we are all in this together, including you!
Important events don’t always seem to be so. So it is with the changes last month in both the Green party and the NDP.
Going back, say a fortnight, the ruling Liberals were unpopular as hell, led by an airhead who likes to have her picture taken and ride in airplanes. Despite that, I would have said – indeed I think I did – that she still had a very good chance of winning next year’s election, if only because of Mair’s Axiom I, “you don’t have to be 10 in politics, you can be a 3 if everyone else is a 2.”
Not only was John Horgan a 2 at that point, he was harried by the Green party who showed every sign of moving into second place, a humiliation that would have damaged the NDP for a considerable time to come.
The Green party was basking in the huge popularity of its national leader, Elizabeth May, undoubtedly the most popular politician in BC and perhaps in Canada. No one seemed to care that voters didn’t really know who the provincial leader, Dr. Andrew Weaver, was – let alone what he really stood for. A substantial number of British Columbians, wavering between voting Green or NDP didn’t like the NDP from another movie. That was the moment for the Greens to make a clear, concise, and comforting statement of their policy emphasizing, of course, the environment.
Dr. Weaver seemed reluctant to support the environment too enthusiastically because he wanted to demonstrate that the party has other strings to its bow – an awkward problem, to be sure, because the Green party is seen by many to be a one-trick pony. This changed somewhat when Elizabeth May arrived and gave a fair impression that even if no one else did, she knew what the she was doing. That’s why I suggested that the BC party drop Weaver and co-opt Ms. May and that if they did, their success in the next election could be truly remarkable.
Weaver blows it stumping for private power
In any event, Dr. Weaver destroyed himself on a talk show on 1070 CFAX in Victoria with host Ian Jessop . The issue was the Gordon Campbell Energy policy of 2003 as carried on by Christy Clark. Under this policy, the right to make new power was taken from BC Hydro and given to so-called Independent Power Producer (IPPs), who were permitted to destroy beautiful rivers in order to make the power.
In the 2009 election, this was a non-issue in spite of the efforts of some of us to make it one. One person who supported this government policy was Dr. Weaver, then a professor at the University of Victoria. To us going around the province speaking against the policy, that was a pain in the ass but no big deal.
Dr Weaver evidently didn’t know this and clearly was taken by surprise when Ian asked whether or not he and the Green party still supported this Liberal policy that had destroyed so many rivers and all but bankrupted BC Hydro. Weaver babbled and the more Jessop questioned,the more he babbled. I suggest that you listen for yourself here – starting around the 41 min mark.
Far from trying to make things better, Dr. Weaver took to blaming me and a column I wrote and got into a slanging match, on Facebook would you believe, with publisher Damien Gillis. Whether or not he was right or wrong – he was wrong as hell – the point is, this was not a time for shrill name-calling but damage control; time for party to come to grips with this question and declare themselves against the IPP policy and in favour of public power and keeping BC Hydro solvent. That simply didn’t happen.
Now, silently, the NDP slipped into the game.
Horgan steps up to the plate
Late last March, John Horgan, the leader, wrote the federal minister of Environment, announcing his Party’s opposition to Pacific NorthWest LNG and, while doing so, laying out four conditions that had to be matched before his party would give approval to any LNG project. The first three are pretty routine but the fourth one, a sort of omnibus clause, covers damn near any environmental eventuality one can think of. It states that “BC’s air land and water must be protected and resource development must be as clean as possible.” It then gives specific numbers with respect to greenhouse gases.
As a one time legal beagle, I don’t see how the NDP can make any exceptions to that blanket guarantee.
The scene has changed
It’s no mystery why this revelation was made privately: John Horgan wanted to save face. He’d have a hell of a time getting an appropriate motion from a convention because so many put jobs before the environment, as we saw in the 2009 election. Union members won’t understand that jobs can never trump the environment and that the terrible shape the world is in is proof of that. The Party knows this but never wants to start quite yet. They’re like the lad who is told that if he doesn’t stop masturbating he’ll go blind, and who in turn responds, “I’ll quit just as soon as I need glasses”.
In any event, the NDP have now pushed the Greens out the environmental field entirely.
Will their deeds match their words?We’ll see when other LNG proposals come to their table.
But the scene has changed and, as has been so well and truly said, in politics, six weeks is an eternity.
I agree with my colleague Rafe Mair on most things – including his commentary that John Horgan and the NDP’s choice to back LNG has been a political disaster. The only real difference between Rafe’s and my views on the subject is that I still think they have a shot, a slim one albeit, to win next year’s provincial election. But only if they own up to their mistakes and quickly embrace a new, winning narrative.
That narrative is simple. It’s the only one they can win with and it’s so simple and powerful that if they pick it up, short of a Monica Lewinsky-level scandal, it will return them to government. This is it:
[quote]New Democrats, New Economy
Why is this the perfect slogan? It does everything the NDP needs it to. It promises an economic vision and jobs – the things people most want to hear. It contrasts them with the Liberals’ dowdy Old Economy – a shortsighted, failing vision based on fifty-year old ideas like big hydro dams and oil and gas.
It promises the single most popular and alluring of election outcomes – the very thing that brought Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau and many other usurpers to power: Change. Finally, it sets the stage for protecting the environment and the economy at the same time – the Holy Grail of Canadian politics today. I’m telling you, roll with this slogan, backed by a solid campaign, and you win.
It’s the economy, stupid
In the aftermath of the NDP’s catastrophic loss under Adrian Dix last time around, I penned a post-mortem titled, “It’s the economy, Stupid NDP” (based on American political guru James Carville’s famous slogan to that effect). I stand by every word to this day. The main points I made therein are:
The NDP didn’t deal with the ballot box issue of the campaign (and more often than not the key issue of all campaigns): the Economy.
The NDP failed to tell a compelling story, while the Liberals spun a powerful “jobs” meta-narrative. Sure, it was all bullshit, as we now see, but it worked at the time. They were going to deliver untold “prosperity” to British Columbians by building a brand new LNG industry. The NDP, by contrast, had no vision, no story to offer.
The latter was easy pickens. You can be a strong, respectable, principled leader and still attack your opponent wherever justified. Christy Clark and her Liberals are unpopular and vulnerable, but you have to be willing to get your knuckles a little bloody in politics. You have to be willing to draw attention to the fact that Christy Clark failed three times to get a university eduction; worse yet, that she got stripped of her student presidency and fined for cheating in a campus election at SFU – hardly irrelevant when gauging her political character today.
You also have to be willing to remind voters that this government has increased our real debt from $34 Billion to well over $170 Billion since it came to power – much of that owning to a whole, new category of taxpayer obligations it invented to sweep sweetheart private power contracts and PPP construction deals under the rug (that’s not even counting the likely $20 Billion tab coming if Site C gets built).
You have to be willing to tick off a long list of scandals, from triple-deleted emails and healthcare firings all the way back to illegally broken teacher contracts and BC Rail (hey, if your opponents are happy to go back to the fast ferries well, two decades later, over what now seems a paltry cost overrun by comparison to today’s boondoggles, well, then, BC Rail and legislature raids are more than fair game).
All of these things are fair game – not only that, they need to be brought up, in fairness to the electorate. But I digress. Back to that winning formula: The New Economy.
A golden opportunity missed
Nearly three years ago, I began doing townhall presentations around BC on the myths of the Liberal LNG vision. Armed with the latest data from Bloomberg and respected global and local energy analysts, I predicted that the bottom would fall out of the Asian LNG market long before we got to it (I said $8/unit, where the break-even point is around $12 – today it’s fallen even below that, with predictions of $4-5 over the next year, meaning it’s impossible to make a buck at LNG).
The response I heard from NDP MLAs at the time was, “We can’t say ‘No’ to everything.”
No, you can’t. But you can say “No” to stupid ideas and “Yes” to good ones. Had the NDP picked up on this intel 3 years ago, they may have taken a political hit in the short term, but by now, a year out from the election, they’d be looking like geniuses who could shamelessly crow, “We told you so!”
Say “Yes” to good ideas
So, the flip-side of that coin is what you say “Yes” to. You say “Yes” to renewable energy. I don’t mean rip-off private power projects and old-school, destructive dams – rather our abundant geothermal potential, wind and solar.
It’s no big leap for an unemployed gas pipeline welder from Fort St. John to weld wind turbine components instead, or for an oil sands electrician to wire up roof-top solar. We have the workforce – we just need to shift it from an old, shrinking economy, to a new, burgeoning one.
All around the world, except Canada, the leading industrial nations are getting it – investing tens of billions in renewable energy and reaping millions of new, green jobs. As our contributor Will Dubitsky recently noted, “according to the International Energy Agency, in 2015, an astounding 90% of all global electrical power capacity added was attributable to renewables.” Translation: nine tenths of the market for new electricity in the world today is clean tech, not fossil fuels. Pipelines, oil sands and fracking are on the way out. Why stake your future on a losing, outmoded idea?
You also say “Yes” to the creative economy. Vancouver now has the biggest digital effects industry in the world and a booming tech sector – driven by the great lifestyle the region has to offer and a growing cluster of skilled people and hubs of activity and resources. Mayor Gregor Robertson is embracing and nurturing this trend, while Christy Clark has shown half-hearted acknowledgement at best. In the last election, her government also ran against the film industry – which is now thriving again in today’s low-dollar environment.
Super, Natural BC
You say “Yes” to preserving and growing our $13-14 Billion Super, Natural BC tourism economy, which employs over 135,000 people vs. 10,000 at the absolute peak of our oil and gas industry – roughly 3,000 direct jobs for British Columbians in oil and gas extraction and maybe double that in additional support services. But you don’t do that by destroying our salmon runs with LNG plants, marring our coastal viewscapes with bad clearcut logging practices, oil tankers and LNG plants. You don’t attract people to “the greatest place on earth” if it no longer is “the greatest place on earth”.
You also say “Yes” to local, value-added manufacturing. You don’t ship raw logs to China and Japan – you turn them into high-grade wood products here first, employing thousands in the process.
We seem to have it set in our minds that we’re bound to be nothing more than hewers of wood and drawers of water – a “resource” economy – forevermore. That’s our lot in life and there’s nothing we can do about it. Balderdash. It’s that sort of self-determining crap we’ve been feeding ourselves for decades and which keeps us from moving forward.
The bottom line is this: Oil and gas contributes a scarce few jobs to this province, compared with other sectors – same goes for mining. Don’t take my word for it – check out this handy chart, put together with Stats BC figures, for this publication by Norm Farrell.
Oil and gas also contributes just 0.1% of our provincial revenues – partly because since 2008 we’ve been subsidizing the industry to the tune of a billion dollars a year in taxpayer-funded infrastructure and massive royalty credit-backs. Imagine, for a second, if we invested that kind of dough in building a renewable energy sector!
Getting that land into production would create jobs at the same time as it saves consumers money from the rapidly escalating cost of importing half our food from drought-stricken places like California.
The NDP created the Agricultural Land Reserve – arguably its single greatest legacy. It should stand loud and proud for it now.
No more Mr. Nice Guy
John Horgan’s a smart guy. He’s a hell of a lot tougher than Adrian Dix too and I doubt he’ll make the same mistake of running a “nice guy” campaign. I’m also liking what I started hearing from him late last year, in terms of taking a tough stance against Site C Dam and rolling out a green economy platform called PowerBC. He needs to go much further on both of these points, but, hey, it’s a start.
That said, Rafe is correct that Horgan and the NDP have dug themselves a huge hole by failing to counter the Liberals’ disastrous LNG fib. So BC faces three possible outcomes next May:
Despite all their mistakes, fibs and failings, the Liberals get back into power…again
The NDP, under John Horgan, finally gets it together, embraces the “New Economy” and wins an election for the first time since cargo pants and Tevas were in fashion
Based on our current trajectory, we’re headed for option 1 – which would be an unmitigated disaster for our economy and environment. But if there’s any chance of it being option 2, things have to start changing right now. The NDP can’t win by default – just because their opponents are so bad. The last election proved that in stunning fashion. Moreover, they don’t deserve to come to power, nor will they help the province unless they have the right vision and commitment to follow through on it.
They also must get their shop in order, as I noted in my post-mortem 3 years ago. The party’s back rooms need fresh blood and the various factions within the NDP must commit to working together and winning for once. This campaign cannot be the sloppy mess the last one was – they require a well-oiled machine to beat a slick political operation like that of their rivals. And all that starts at the top, with the party’s leader.
All of which means the ball is in John Horgan’s court. And nothing short of the future of the province hangs on his next move.
It all started off so well. Justin Trudeau launched his career as Prime Minister with big promises to First Nations and the growing number of Canadians concerned about the environment. He installed indigenous MPs in key portfolios like Justice and Fisheries; vowed a new respect for Aboriginal people and their rights; re-introduced the climate to Environment Canada.
But five months later, it appears former New York Governor Mario Cuomo was right when he famously said, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” And the prose Justin Trudeau is authoring these days tells a very different story than it did on the campaign trail.
It’s all frankly understandable. The forces behind major pipelines, hydro dams and LNG projects are considerable and deeply entrenched. It was always going to be a challenge for young Justin to appease two sides seemingly so far apart.
At the recent World Economic Forum, when he spoke of Canada shifting from “resources to resourcefulness” and joining the global green economy, he drew a mixture of ridicule and outrage from Calgary to Bay Street. Even as the rest of the world is getting it, we, as Canadians, clearly have a depressingly long way to go.
Yet there are some hard realities here which are simply unavoidable. And that means Prime Minister Trudeau has some very difficult choices to make.
Can’t have your cake and eat it too
He cannot, for instance, ignore the pleas and court challenges of Treaty 8 First Nations on the catastrophic and treaty-breaking Site C Dam and still claim to be respectful of First Nations.
He cannot approve LNG projects and pretend to care genuinely about climate change.
He cannot keep approving and subsidizing heavy oil pipelines and pretend to champion the green economy.
These, unfortunately for Justin, are not grey areas. There is no room for “balance” or a “middle path” – simply because of a stubborn little thing called facts.
Just the facts
Treaty 8, signed and adhered to beginning in 1899, guaranteed First Nations throughout the Peace Valley Region the right to hunt, fish, trap and practice their traditions on the land unimpeded by colonial settlement and development. Flash forward a century and it is abundantly clear this promise has been shattered.
Over two thirds of the region has been impacted by heavy industry – in many places multiple layers of development stacked on top of each other. Logging, mining, roads, power lines, conventional gas, fracking, pipelines, massive hydro dams. As for the latter, there are two already. Site Site C would be the third and, undeniably, the final nail in the coffin of this treaty and the lives First Nations have lived there for some 10,000 years.
In other words, you cannot sign off on Site C – or refuse, in this case, to revoke illegitimate permits issued by your predecessor on the eve on an election, literally – and declare yourself a friend of First Nations. These two realities are utterly and completely incompatible.
Wilson-Raybould between a rock and a hard place
And this is where it gets very messy for even the best-intentioned, brightest young stars of the Trudeau Cabinet. I’m talking specifically about Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. The former BC leader of the Assembly of First Nations has run smack into a wall of political reality. She claims no conflict between her current role and her former. But here we must go back to what she to said to me and others 4 years ago at the Paddle for the Peace, where she took a passionate, unequivocal, legal, treaty-based stand against Site C. See for yourself here.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould is the first indigenous person to be minster of justice in Canada. She is a smart, capable leader and she understands Aboriginal law perfectly well, as she attests to in the above video, noting:
[quote]The legal reality is that Aboriginal people have rights and treaty rights that must be respected…The country’s reputation is at stake with approval of these projects like Site C…running roughshod over Aboriginal title and rights, including treaty rights, is not the way to improve that reputation. [/quote]
But what good is all that if she can’t put it to use and do the right thing, legally, for the people of Treaty 8 territory, now that’s she’s finally in a position of real influence?
Suicide and dams
Before leaving off on Site C, I want to direct readers to Emma Gilchrist’s poignant and accurate piece titled “Want To Reduce Suicide in Native Communities? Step 1: Stop Destroying Native Land”. Mr. Trudeau has recently come face-to-face with the tragic epidemic of suicides on native reserves in this country. If he’s honest about it, he will stop compartmentalizing this issue from that of environmental devastation. This is no big leap. It is abundantly fair to connect these issues and it brings home the gravity of the decisions he now faces. There are, literally, many lives hanging in the balance. That’s a big responsibility for anyone to bear, but no one said being Prime Minister is easy.
When you then take that fracked gas and pipe it to LFG terminals on the coast, in order to turn it into a liquid you can load onto Asia-bound tankers, you first have to chill and compress it. This requires the burning of copious amounts of additional gas to create the electricity for the cooling process. One plant alone, the proposed, Petronas-led Lelu Island project, would increase the province’s greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping 8.5%. Plus all that dirty fracking to get it out of the ground.
Suffice it to say, you cannot be a friend of the climate and still approve LNG projects. No way, no how. Which is why it came as a huge – though not surprising – disappointment when, this past Friday afternoon, the Trudeau Government quietly approved the proposed Woodfibre LNG plant in Howe Sound. (PS you don’t make an announcement you’re proud of on a Friday afternoon).
Once again, this decision came with casualties, including the tarnishing of another bright new MP’s credibility – that being West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country’s Pamela Goldsmith-Jones. This just after she held a series of public meetings to discuss the climate impacts of the project.
My colleague Rafe Mair called bullshit at the time, noting that climate calculations can easily be fudged and admonishing Goldsmith-Jones for ignoring all the other issues associated with the project – like tanker danger and the millions of gallons of hot, chlorinated water that would be dumped into local fish habitat by the plant. Some called Rafe cynical for not giving Pam a chance. Well, though it gives me no pleasure to say in this case, my friend Rafe was bang-on.
Pipelines to nowhere
Finally, a few more inconvenient truths on pipelines:
There is no market justification for them. As this recent study shows, Canadian oil sands producers are already getting the highest value possible for the resource – despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about getting bitumen to tidewater.
There is no growth in demand for fossil fuels. As our contributor Will Dubitsky has aptly noted in these pages, “according to the International Energy Agency, in 2015, an astounding 90% of all global electrical power capacity added was attributable to renewables.” Global emissions have been flat since 2013 – which is really, really good news. The shift to the green economy is real and it’s happening right now – everywhere except Canada.
So instead of continuing our massive subsidies to the oil and gas sector and approving new pipelines, our prime minister needs to follow through on his bold statements about green energy and actually start supporting the stuff. That will lead to far more jobs, which will prove far more reliable into the future than would continuing to flog a dead oil sands horse. Again, that is simply what the best available facts point to, so wherever you stand morally on these issues, if you care about jobs, then this one is a no-brainer.
Where the rubber meets the road
So where does Mr. Trudeau go from here? I’m happy to report it’s not all bad. Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo appears to be listening seriously to First Nations on the Central Coast of BC about the upcoming herring fishery. The commercial quota has been significantly cut back this year and tensions appear to be much eased compared with the fierce standoff I documented in these pages last April. Fingers crossed.
As for Site C, I know it’s messy. It’s tough for a new administration to reverse the policies of the old one – especially once they’re already in motion. Our new PM doesn’t want to run roughshod over BC Premier Christy Clark and this one is clearly her baby.
Yet Site C is still in its infancy. There is still time to reverse a very bad and politically unpopular decision – for taxpayers, ratepayers, farmers, fish, wildlife, and, frankly, all British Columbians. Make no mistake – this one decision will cast the die for Mr. Trudeau’s legacy with First Nations. That’s the choice before him, whether he likes it, recognizes it or not.
Lelu decision looms
As for LNG, Mr. Trudeau has already made the tragic mistake of approving Woodfibre. Still on his docket is the larger Lelu Island project that would, in addition to being terrible for the climate, also threaten our second biggest salmon run, the Skeena, and further alienate First Nations (I’m not talking about the band council that reversed its position on Friday, rather the clear opposition of the thousands of band members it represents who voted nearly unanimously against the project last year).
Mr. Trudeau received a letter from over 130 respected scientists slamming the government’s draft assessment of the project and urging it to protect wild salmon by turning down the permit. We shall see how the review panel finds and then how Mr. Trudeau’s Cabinet rules. But if they say “Yes” to this one, it will be exceedingly difficult to tell the difference anymore between Mr. Trudeau and his predecessor.
If that last line causes some to gasp, so be it. Nearly three years ago, I wrote a piece titled, “Why Justin Trudeau may be more dangerous than Harper”, which touched a nerve back then. I take no pleasure in being right about such unfortunate matters. But my thesis then was essentially that Justin represents a better-packaged version of the same policy positions as Harper on many defining issues – trade deals, oil and gas, the environment, and foreign ownership of strategic resources. The way things are shaping up today, I can see little justification for altering that assessment.
I hope I’m proven wrong. I hope, sincerely, that Mr. Trudeau, Ms. Wilson-Raybould, Ms. Goldmisth-Jones, and all their well-meaning, bright-eyed Liberal colleagues find the courage to right the ship, even if that means braving rough political waters ahead. It would be good for this country and the world if the next four years proved radically different from the last.
But, then, as they say, the proof is in the pudding.
Over 130 scientists are slamming the draft environmental report into a proposed LNG terminal on Lelu Island over salmon habitat and other key issues. The concerns – expressed in a letter yesterday calling on the Trudeau Government to disregard the draft report on the project – come near the end of the public comment window, which closes Friday.
Report “scientifically flawed”
The letter, signed by such respected salmon experts as SFU’s Dr. Jonathan Moore, BCIT’s Dr. Marvin Rosenau, and retired senior DFO manager Otto Langer, calls the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s draft report on the project “scientifically flawed” and based on “inadequate” information. Said Langer, “The CEAA report is less than scientific, full of speculation and wishful thinking.”
“You couldn’t find a worse location to develop in terms of risks to fish. The CEAA report does not acknowledge that this LNG proposal is located on critical habitat of Canada’s second largest wild salmon watershed”, said Charmaine Carr-Harris of the Skeena Fisheries Commission.
5 big mistakes
The scientists’ letter lists five key mistakes made by CEAA with its report:
Misrepresentation of the importance of the project area to fish populations, especially salmon
Inadequate consideration of multiple project impacts and their cumulative effects
Unsubstantiated reliance on mitigation
Assuming lack of information equates to lack of risks
Disregard for science that was not funded by the proponent
On the last two points, the scientists highlight fundamental flaws in the review process and its scientific methodology, noting:
[quote]CEAA’s draft report is not a balanced consideration of the best-available science. On the contrary, CEAA relied upon conclusions presented in proponent-funded studies which have not been subjected to independent peer-review and disregarded a large and growing body of relevant independent scientific research, much of it peer-reviewed and published…The CEAA draft report for the Pacific Northwest LNG project is a symbol of what is wrong with environmental decision-making in Canada.[/quote]
Citizens can add their voice
The window for public comment on CEAA’s draft report remains open until Friday end of day (see instructions for submission here). After that, the review panel will weigh the feedback it has received and produce a final report sometime in the coming months. It will then fall to the Trudeau government to decide whether or not it wishes to issue an environmental certificate for the project, over these serious climate and salmon concerns.
A battle is brewing in Saanich Inlet over a proposed floating LNG terminal – long before the proponent, Steelhead LNG, has even filed its formal application. In recent weeks, an increasingly bizarre controversy has erupted over whether or not elected Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) directors have the right to express their opinion on the project at this early stage.
The controversy was boiled over last month after the CVRD unanimously passed a motion put forth by district director Lori Iannidinardo to oppose the project, citing concerns surrounding air quality and shipping lanes near the region’s population (see video of motion and vote).
Keep your opinions yo yourselves, directors warned
The vote was met with warnings from Ross Blackwell, General Manager of the CVRD Planning and Development Department, as documented by the local blog Cowichan Conversations. Mr. Blackwell appears to have drawn his position from an internal legal opinion issued by CVRD Legal Counsel Peter Johnson. On this basis, Blackwell cautioned elected directors not take a public position on the project before reviewing a formal application by the proponent – or they could face legal challenges down the road.
The district staff cite several court rulings – including Save Richmond Farmland Society v. Richmond (Township) and Old St. Boniface Residents Assn. Inc. v. Winnipeg (City) – in defence of their argument that directors must maintain an “open mind” towards the project until staff has formally reviewed the proponent’s application, forwarded its recommendations to elected officials, and those directors have had time to issue a carefully considered decision.
The stuff of local politics
To some directors and local pundits, though, this has come across as anti-democratic fear-mongering. As Cowichan Conversations publisher and former regional director Richard Hughes puts it: “Speaking out on issues is the stuff and substance of local politics. It is the responsibility of our elected officials to respond and take positions on issues pending, or in play.”
Into this political and legal morass has now waded eminent lawyer Jack Woodward (lead counsel on the famed Tsilhqot’in case). In response to a query from Director Iannidinardo, Woodward recently penned the following letter – which addresses a letter written by Peter Johnson, containing his legal opinion on the matter. Woodward’s response letter is republished here from Cowichan Conversations:
The issue Mr. Johnson’s letter deals with is bias, namely, whether the Board has expressed such a degree of bias that an application by Steelhead could never be given a fair hearing. Mr. Johnson takes a timid approach, and at the end of his letter Mr. Johnson suggests you patch things up with some kind of ameliorating statement from the Board, perhaps along the lines of: “I know we said we oppose the project, but we would still give you a fair hearing if you make an application.” I don’t think Mr. Johnson’s advice is correct on this point. An ameliorating statement is not necessary, because fairness goes without saying.
A judge doesn’t start a trial by saying: “I will give you a fair trial.”
But more importantly, I don’t think Mr. Johnson’s letter adequately presents another, very important part of the law, namely, that politicians like yourself are protected by the courts in having the freedom to make political decisions and represent the people who elected them.
In both the Old St. Boniface case and the Save Richmond Farmland case, the very cases referred to by Mr. Johnson, the council’s zoning decision was upheld by the courts despite earlier statements that were said to indicate bias.
Those cases both stand for the proposition that you are entitled to your opinions, and you are entitled to express those opinions. It is surprising to see those two cases referred to in a letter which is basically telling you the opposite.
According to the law, the rule against bias is partially relaxed for politicians like yourself who are entitled, even encouraged, to express their views robustly in the public forum. Consider these words of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in the Old St. Boniface case (the same decision that Mr. Johnson referred to):
“I must assume that the Legislature was aware that in this capacity the members of Council will have fought an election in which the matter upon which they are called upon to decide may have been debated and on which the would-be councillors may have taken a stand some pro and some con.
Indeed, the election of a particular councillor may have depended on the position taken…In the course of this process, a councillor can and often does take a stand either for or against the development…Accordingly, it could not have been intended by the Legislature that this rule [bias] applies to members of Council with the same force as in the case of other tribunals whose character and functions more closely resemble those of a court.”
“some degree of pre-judgment is inherent in the role of a councillor.”
Lori, this is a free and democratic country. You have been elected to serve the people. You are entitled to express your views. The resolution you passed is an expression of your views as an elected politician. Our country fought wars to protect your right to express such views. You can’t be muzzled. Be fearless.
If Steelhead makes an application to the Board you must review the application on its own merits and express no bias against Steelhead.
Everyone has to be treated fairly, even Steelhead. But no application has been made, and you don’t know for sure if an application will ever be made.
You have done Steelhead a favour by telling them where you stand on LNG. If they make an application, you have to consider it fairly, on the merits, once you have read it and considered what they have to say. Until then you don’t have to worry.
I hope this helps. Don’t hesitate to contact me with any further questions.
Jack Woodward, QC[/quote]
Issue heating up
Since the back-and-forth over the CVRD vote, several directors have shown signs of softening on their opposition to the project, while others are doubling down. And, again, considering Steelhead LNG has yet to file its application, we’ve seen nothing yet. Expect Saanich Inlet to join Howe Sound and Lelu Island on a growing list of heated regional battles over the province’s LNG vision.
The following is the first in a two-part opinion letter series. In a sequel letter, Common Sense Canadian publisher Damien Gillis will do what he rarely does: disagree with his old pal and partner, Rafe Mair.
Dear John Horgan,
I hate to say this, but I told you so, and the flock of chickens I promised have now come home to roost.
Many months ago I took you to task for supporting LNGwithout reservation. I told you that by doing this you had prevented your party from questioning each and every step of the LNG process as well as government policy in trying to flog it.
Your excuse was that “we cannot be against everything”, probably the most nonsensical thing I have ever heard in the political arena and that’s saying something. What you said to your party and the voter is that whether or not you approve of a policy depends not on whether it’s good policy but the optics.
What, I asked, if it turns out to be lousy policy? How will you be able to criticize a policy you vowed to support? And that’s just what happened, Mr. Horgan…and I told you it would.
The duty to oppose
I tried to explain Lord Randolph Churchill’s dictum that “it is the duty of the opposition to oppose”. You obviously haven’t studied your politics or you would know that what he was saying was, basically, you must test every proposition of government policy in order to demonstrate its value or otherwise. If you approve of a policy before then, you abdicate your duty to the people. This was no minor matter I raised, Mr. Horgan, but goes to the very root of our parliamentary system.
See what’s happened? Since that time Christy & Co have screwed up every aspect of the LNG issue and you can’t utter a word about any of them because you’ve given herpolicy your blessing! Isn’t that precisely what I warned you would happen?
A big, fracking mistake
There surely is no need for me to list the litany of absurdities that the government has committed in the last term over LNG. I just raise a couple of factors.
You approve of fracking– even though most scientists condemn it. Is that perhaps because a lot of it happens in constituencies you covet?
On the question of the business handling of LNG, it’s hard to imagine that any government of any political stripe could so mangle a file as the Liberals have, yet you must be taken to approve – how dumb is that? Moreover, you must also accept as true all the sheer rubbish Christy has been pumping out about 20 LNG plants by 2020! Isn’t this just what I said would happen?
The company you keep
The situation in Howe Sound is a microcosm of the mess you’ve got yourself in – let’s have a peek.
Do you favour licensing a crook, big time tax-cheater and jungle-burner – the owner of Woodfibre LNG (WLNG) – to become part of our community, to be trusted by our environmental ministries, our finance ministries and the people of Howe Sound? The answer, sir, is yes, you do.
Do you favour the sham environmental process used by the Clark government to approve this company? The answer is yes, you do.
Do you care about the clear threat to sea life from toxic emissions from WLNG, a sea life that, thanks to cleanup mainly from citizens, includes a stunning return of herring, salmon, Orca, dolphins, sea lions and seals once largely gone? Of course you don’t, because you cannot quarrel with any aspect of LNG policy.
Do you give a damn that Howe Sound is far too narrow for LNG tankers, even by industry standards set by The Society of International Tanker and Terminal Operators (SIGTTO), headquartered in London – the de facto world authority on LNG terminal siting standards? I doubt you’ve even read them, for why would you when you uncritically support LNG?
Do you know that Dr. Michael Hightower, a world-renowned expert on LNG tanker operations at Sandia International Laboratories, has defined for the US Department of Energy three hazard zones of 500m, 1600m (1 mile) and 3500m surrounding LNG tankers? That this means virtually the entire Sea to Sky Highway from Britannia to Lighthouse Park, Anvil, southeast Gambier, Bowyer, eastern Keats, Bowen, and all islands of the Pasley group fall within the zone?
Furthermore, from Britannia to Porteau Cove, Bowyer, White Cliff, both coasts of Bowen and eastern Pasley group are also within the much more dangerous 1600m zone? Do care at all about these people and their property put at risk? No, Mr. Horgan, you couldn’t care less because, of course, “you can’t be against everything!”
Kick ’em between the legs
You’re now telling people that you have to command respect, almost love, in order to get their support in 2016. Of course, you might get lucky and find that the Liberals have been so bloody awful that Screaming Lord Sutch and the Official Monster Raving Loony Party could win the next election. But that’s always a dangerous assumption, Mr. Horgan, and is where I’ve always disagreed with Tommy Douglas’s theory that when the government is falling all over itself, it’s time to get out of the way and let them fall. He was wrong, Mr. Horgan – that’s the time you kick them as hard as you can right between the legs to make sure they don’t suddenly recover their balance as sometimes happens.
You must now do something that every politician hates to do, even 50 years after they’ve left office. You have to admit that you were wrong and you have to say approximately this:
[quote]We made a mistake in supporting the government on the LNG issue. We wanted to make sure people realized we support development, however we were premature and we must review all LNG issues so that the public is fully informed, and that’s precisely what we are going to do. Whether or not LNG has a future in British Columbia remains to be seen. The government has made, as everyone knows, an unholy mess of the whole issue and it is our duty to try to sort this out and let the people make a decision on the facts.[/quote]
People will remember an apology like this for a long time but they won’t hold it against you, Mr.Horgan, hard as that may be to believe. That’s because the greater sins belong to the government and people know and understand that.
Even Dix would be better
Both of your predecessors, Ms. Carole James and Mr. Adrian Dix have proved to be far more effective in opposition, inside the House and out, than you have. Both in their time ran lousy campaigns, but the NDP should look for improvement, not perfection, and, even given the warts, Dix makes more sense as the leader of the NDP going into the next election than you do. The public won’t reject Dix in advance because he lost an election. The Liberal media will make a fuss but it’s a matter of making the best of a lousy situation. The issue is Mair’s Axion II, “you don’t have to be a 10 in politics, you can be a 3 if everyone else is a 2”. Under that formula, Dix doesn’t look that bad.
I have never, going back a ways now, seen a government that I thought should be tossed out on its ass quicker and more effectively than this one. At the same time I can’t remember any moment where the opposition was in a worse position to do that.
You should be fired but, never fear, your party won’t force you out…they would rather lose an election then lose face.
That means you may be the man who, through stubbornness, lost the election to the worst government in the living memory of this ancient political junkie.
Well, there’s great excitement in the federal constituency of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country – Liberal MP Pamela Goldsmith-Jones is having not one, not two, but count ’em, three public hearings on the proposed Woodfibre LNG plant, far and away the most contentious issue in this neck of the woods.
Sticking to climate change
No, that’s not quite accurate because the public hearings are billed to be just about greenhouse gases and climate change, not about such things as the emissions that would come from the plant, the dangers to the newly-revived sea life, nor, of critical importance, the narrowness of Howe Sound, making it totally unsuitable to LNG tankers. There is another issue which no one in government talks about, it evidently not being polite to say anything – Woodfibre LNG is run by a tax-cheating crook best known in Indonesia for burning down jungles.
A welcome change from Harper days
Now, I am writing this before the first meeting and my firm suspicion is that the above issues will be raised, thank God, even though they are distinctly not on the agenda.
It is, however, quite an exciting time because we’re not used to members of Parliament talking to us, except to tell us what government thinks we should be thinking. Indeed, when it was brought to our new MP’s attention that the folks back home were very restless about this issue and actively planning ways and means to make nuisances of themselves, within hours she had scheduled these meetings.
Not everybody thinks these are a wonderful happening. I am not alone in believing it’s all a crock of crap and a political publicity exercise by the government.
The federal government obviously doesn’t give a rat’s ass about global warming or climate change.
Why do I say that?
Well, the issue was great for giving the rookie Justin Trudeau a stage for an early dog and pony show before the world in Paris, and it certainly looked promising when Canada decided we’d wean ourselves off fossil fuels.
Then Mr. Trudeau came home and the next thing we knew, pipelines were being built as usual, new ones approved, fossil fuels coming out of the ground in ever increasing amounts, then shipped to countries that couldn’t wait to send gunk into the atmosphere. Fossil fuel companies are acting as if the Paris conference didn’t happen and, for all intents and purposes, it didn’t. The fossil fuel companies not only control our newspapers but our governments too.
The actions don’t fit the words
Let me ask Pamela Goldsmith-Jones a question or two.
I confess to being a bit of a cynic, but when I look at Mr. Trudeau in Paris and then listen to him back in Ottawa it occurs that I have two stories to choose from and, based on his words and past performances, I can safely assume that the fossil fuel companies are in no danger, their subsidies will continue, their pipelines will be built, the National Energy Board will continue to be a sham and it’s business as usual. That being the case, why the hell would I waste one second of my time listening to you, Madam MP, explain how concerned the government is about climate change and GHGs?
Focus on Howe Sound
Now, if you really wanted to find out what your constituents are fussing about these days you wouldn’t talk about climate change and GHG’s, which, after all, is a pretty easy subject to bullshit about and then do nothing, but you’d deal with what are the issues specific to Howe Sound. I say that because greenhouse gases and climate change is a universal issue and, if not addressed, the world will expire. What do you expect us to add to Paris?
No, Madame MP, let’s take a look at the potential emissions from the proposed plant and what harm they will do will not only to people but also to the renewed sea life, now once more abundant thanks a great deal to be concerned and generous residents of the Howe Sound area who worked so hard for the last 25 years on their restoration.
Woodfibre boss is bad news
Let’s talk, Pamela, if I may be so bold, about the ownership of Woodfibre LNG. Sukanto Tanoto is world-known in the industry as being bad news. His record as a big time tax cheat puts him in a class by himself. His environmental record shows him to be an uncaring industrialist who cuts down or sets fire to anything that gets in his way.
Furthermore, Pam, it’s easily demonstrated that his Canadian company is setup so that skating taxes and royalties into tax-free Singapore is child’s play.
Now, it may be that Mr. Tanoto will see the light and suddenly care deeply for the environment, pay his taxes like we all do and be a wonderful corporate citizen. And, of course, pigs might fly.
Shipping LNG is risky business
On the critical, fundamental issue of the width of Howe Sound, no scientist would deny there will be accidents and and with LNG tankers, they are very serious and deadly. The Department of Environment concedes that there will be accidents which means that it’s not a matter of if we have calamities, but when.
Many of your constituents, Pam, would like you to hold open meetings and deal with the questions which specifically concern the residents of the Howe Sound area. This is not a NIMBY issue but one for all of BC. Howe Sound is the southernmost Canadian fjord and one of the most beautiful in the world. Why would you, as our member of Parliament, not want to hear from us on these issues and why wouldn’t you not take them directly to the prime minister and make it clear to him that the people in your constituency are deadly serious about fighting WLNG up to and including civil disobedience?
Pam, I don’t join the enthusiastic applause for your sudden decision to have three meetings on climate change and GHGs. It’s a copout and, frankly, not only is no better than we got from your predecessor who simply ignored us; it’s worse. At least Weston was honest enough to say that his boss loved the idea of the LNG plant, that he, Weston, also thought it was a terrific idea and if his constituents didn’t like it, too bloody bad.
That attitude got him badly beaten by you in the election but I say to you that if you don’t take your constituents seriously, very seriously, on this issue, we’ll run a fencepost with hair and thrash you.
Like most Canadians, Pam, I had high hopes for Mr. Trudeau but now I see that when it gets down to cases, the fossil fuel industry with all its money and power will carry the day and Mr.Trudeau and the government will go along and, like Weston before you, you will too.
If I’m wrong, it will be my huge pleasure to shout my apologies from the rooftops – and from here.
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 red flags keep popping up for BC’s vaunted LNG plans. Last week, Shell became the latest company to put its final investment decision for a proposed plant in Kitimat on hold due to the collapse of the global export market. This week, a draft federal environmental report on Petronas’ proposed Lelu Island project – while not going far enough, critics charge – confirms it would carry “significant adverse environmental effects”, including climate issues. Now, a group of Russian scientists is kicking off a tour of northern BC to warn British Columbians about the very real impacts these projects can have on wild salmon.
None of this has fazed LNG’s biggest cheerleader, Christy Clark, who maintains her Liberal government is “sticking to its guns” on LNG. One can only hope such statements don’t prove literal, with the plethora of aboriginal resistance camps and a growing citizen movement to block her plans. Our premier may not heed these warnings, but British Columbians who care about preserving our already beleaguered salmon runs would do well to.
LNG plant likely connected declining salmon run
Three Russian scientists and a noted conservationist speak from direct experience when they caution us about the effects these plants can have on wild salmon. The group hails from Sakhalin Island, which, according to a media release on a talk they’re giving today, is “the only place in the world that has an existing LNG facility operating in a wild salmon estuary.”
The project, built in 2009 by Shell but now operated by Russian energy giant Gazprom, has coincided with a “severe decline” of what was once the third largest pink salmon run in the world, in Avina Bay. They’ve studied the situation extensively and are here to report on their findings – namely that the collapse can be attributed to activities associated with the plant, including dredging, light, and noise pollution. They see the potential for a repeat of these unfortunate circumstances if the Trudeau government approves Petronas’ project, which sits amidst vital estuary habitat for Skeena River salmon.
Russian project similar to Lelu Island
“Sakhalin Island and Lelu Island have two things in common – wild salmon and LNG. My Canadian colleagues invited me, along with three Russian scientists, to share our experience of the environmental impacts of the Sakhalin II LNG project, which has been in operation for 10 years on the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean”, said Dimitry Lisitsyn, member of the Russian delegation and Director of Sakhalin Environment Watch.
[quote]We have a chance to help the people of the Skeena watershed protect one of the most famous and rich wild salmon sanctuaries in the world. With the dramatic decline of our wild salmon, I really hope this will not be replicated in the Skeena estuary. [/quote]
The Russian scientists, at the invitation of First Nations and conservation groups in the Skeena region, will present their concerns and science to a number of communities across the north and in Vancouver over the next week.
Federal review needs to address salmon
Meanwhile, conservation groups and First Nations have voiced concerns with the recently published draft environmental report from the federal review panel for ignoring salmon issues, though it did tackle the carbon footprint of the project and impacts on other marine life, particularly harbour porpoises. Opponents of the project are pressing for the final report to include these salmon concerns – a plea which should be buoyed by the Russian scientists’ visit.