Category Archives: Energy and Resources

Rafe Mair to Justin Trudeau: BC is not yours to give away

Justin Trudeau speaks at the Paris climate talks - flanked by Canadian premiers (Province of BC/Flickr)
Justin Trudeau speaks at the Paris climate talks – flanked by Canadian premiers (Province of BC/Flickr)

“They hang the man, and flog the woman,
That steals the goose from off the common;
But let the greater villain loose,
That steals the common from the goose.”

I’ll not waste too many words on Prime Minister Trudeau’s treachery.

Of all the many political sins, surely the greatest of all is hypocrisy and this prime minister has taken that sin to new levels. He basked in the glory of Paris and being portrayed as the hero of the earth but had scarcely got home when he cast aside the cloak of righteousness, reverting to being a cheap hustler for the fossil fuel industry, even outshining Stephen Harper.

May takes a stand

Photo: Laurel L Russwurm/Flickr
Elizabeth May (Photo: Laurel L Russwurm/Flickr)

The consequences that would flow from Kinder Morgan’s pipeline would be a monumental contribution to global warming and killing the earth’s atmosphere but he’s consoled by the fact that the fossil fuel industry loves him and with their captive pseudo-journalists are falling all over themselves in support. I can’t help but comment on Gary Mason in the Globe and Mail, who criticizes Elizabeth May because she’s said she’ll go to jail if necessary in protest of the Kinder Morgan line. Mason, the sneer undisguised, quips, “Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has already said she is willing to go to jail over Kinder Morgan. Less clear is what good she thinks she can do behind bars.”

Gary Mason knows the answer to that full well and fears it because it would do one hell of a lot of good. There’s not a public figure in BC who could rally people against Kinder Morgan in a more effective way then she. Elizabeth May behind bars would be Kinder Morgan’s all-time, number one nightmare – not to mention a political horror story for the Liberals and the Tories. She has that commodity the media has abandoned – credibility.

From Brexit to Trump

Ms. May, along with other leaders of this fight like Grand Chief Stewart Philip, head of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, understands something that Trudeau chooses to ignore: There’s been a sea change in politics in this world. The enemy is no longer the other political parties but the elite, regardless of individual political persuasion. Brewing for a decade, it recently manifested itself in the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump. No one needs to explain this to Ms. May or Grand Chief Philip and I’ve neither the time nor the inclination to explain it to Trudeau.

Not long ago I said this about the Brexit result and in predicting Trump’s victory:

[quote]The media and pollsters have been caught out making outdated assumptions and asking irrelevant questions. They’re looking at this contest through the prism of elections past and are still declaring their choice of issues and missing the main one.

It’s an entirely new ballgame and I refer back to articles I’ve done here and elsewhere saying that society as we have come to know it is mortally wounded …[/quote]

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr CC Licence
Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr CC Licence

The accepted media wisdom, an oxymoron if there ever was one, is that mostly kooks voted for Trump. In fact, interview after interview discloses the underlying reason was deep anger with what the Anglican Book of Prayer so neatly calls “those set in authority over us”.

The phenomenon is not Donald Trump but a worldwide movement of ordinary people who are angry. Whoever looked less elite was going to win.

Tired of being lied to

Who are these angry people?

Not the poor and disadvantaged, although they are part of it; not the traditional left, many of whom are unwelcome. These are people pissed off at the entrenched wealthy, the elite, who have the power to do as they wish. Mr. Trudeau, your ilk, sir!

What was the cause? The catalyst?

Clearly, it was pollution, a phenomenon that showed the elite to be incompetent, serial liars who, since the start of the industrial revolution, had assured the public that no harm came from gunk emitted from smokestacks even though cities like London were blackened by these emissions.

The denouement began with Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring. It was just a matter of time before people realized they had been, and were being lied to. For the first time, the need to regulate industry in order to protect the environment became widely accepted, and modern environmentalism was born.

Industry and politicians went into denial. Tobacco smoke, hitherto claimed harmless, was proved to kill both smokers and innocent bystanders, yet the companies fought every inch of the way like cornered rats. The chemical companies went into full denial, even though companies like Union Carbide became massive killers.

The list seemed endless and the evidence piled, up but the elite kept on lying and hiring pliable scientists and clever PR specialists. Governments were willing accomplices and, every day, the elite lost credibility, yet clung to their denial.

Then, in a different but related area of public health, there was that kook Ralph Nader, denying the wonders of America’s icon, the automobile and its ever-increasing safety features, in his 1965 book Unsafe At Any Speed. Suddenly, the courts demonstrated that Nader had been right all along. Jesus! Was there nothing sacred?

More valuable than money

Prime Minister, we’ve come to the crux of the matter. 

It has dawned on people that the elite have only one standard of judging value – money – and that they would risk destroying the earth to make it.

More and more, people see that there’s real, tangible value to water, more than just making electricity and slaking our thirst. What, they asked, if it does no more than be beautiful in its untouched state? Can it be said that water is only valuable when destroyed for a dam?

Trees have a dollar value when they become lumber and paper. What about the life they harbour and perpetuate? Is an uncut forest not valuable in itself? Do we have to destroy it before it’s an asset?

Environmentalism went from being semi-admirable Kookism practiced by, you know, those sorts of people, to the respectable, then became mainstream, moving into the realm of the sacred.

Unholy catechism

No one believes developers or governments any more, not even Prime Ministers. Projects that once would scarcely cause a ripple of adverse reaction became hugely controversial and it was no longer just the “usual suspects” picketing and demonstrating against those in authority. Suddenly “Jack was as good as his master”, perhaps better. The elite, the “higher purpose persons”, have their knickers in a knot, unable to comprehend what’s going on or why. Lying, bribery and blatant hypocrisy constitute the only catechism they understand.

You are in denial, sir, because you can’t think of anything except business as usual, always hoping this all goes away.

“National Interest”

Let’s move into contemporary British Columbia.

You tell us, Mr. Trudeau, that our environment and way of life is subject to what you say is in “the national interest” – whether we like it or not. Money counts, especially oil money. Your political commitments, not to say bribes, are paramount.

Justing Trudeau and Jody Wilson-Raybould meet in Hartley Bay on the BC coast in 2014 (Flickr / Justin Trudeau)
Justing Trudeau and Jody Wilson-Raybould meet in Hartley Bay on the BC coast in 2014 (Flickr / Justin Trudeau)

We must accept that pipelines carrying deadly bitumen go through virgin forest where spills can’t be reached or, more likely, there’s nothing to be done anyway. You glibly dismiss the horrible, ongoing risks of tanker traffic – plain statistics tell us what will happen.

We’re told we must, in the interests of the “nation”, put our rivers, inlets, shorelines, fjords, public safety and unbeatable environment at risk to enhance the interests of others.

Why, Prime Minister? Please spell out this national interest. Don’t you really mean the interests of the Liberal party in Alberta? The political survival of premier Notley? Don’t you mean really the masses of investment capital which hasn’t a soupçon of social conscience?

I would never hold this against them Mr. Trudeau but I remember so well going to first ministers conferences on the patriation of the constitution and watching Alberta oppose equalization for poor provinces, lecturing them that if they only managed their affairs as Alberta did, they would be fine. That these provinces had no resources and Alberta was sitting on all that oil didn’t seem to count. It seems as if shoes have changed feet in this country.

Rights and Wrongs

Let me ask you a niggling question: Are Property and Civil Rights not a provincial right under our Constitution?

Attitudes have changed, Mr. Trudeau, and people all over the world now believe that those things that you cheerfully donate to your corporate friends don’t belong to you or the government but to all of the people.

Yes, you have the legal right to give them all away but that’s because our political system is a couple of centuries out of date and reposes in your office dictatorial powers while you pretend to run a democracy. You know, as does anyone who thinks about it, that MPs, particularly in the governing party, have absolutely no power and are just expensive cyphers whose main job is to make sure that pension checks are mailed on time.

Let me put it perhaps more bluntly, Mr. Trudeau: We in British Columbia – and especially First Nations whose unceded territories are at stake – regard those mountains as ours, the rivers are ours, trees are ours; so are the oceans, the beaches, the coastlines, the lakes and on it goes. Your right to steal them from us and give them to oil companies only rests upon a political system that, frankly, stinks.

BC doesn’t belong to you

If that was just the position of one ageing pol living in Lions Bay, British Columbia, you would be able to rest easy. What I’m trying to make you understand, sir, is that the ever-increasing masses of people all over the world are fed to the teeth with a phoney political system that takes away from people what is theirs and gives it to greedy supporters of politicians in power.

In short, British Columbians regard all of our forests, rivers, coastlines, as having enormous value to us simply as they are – not in their exploitation but their existence. This is where we live. our home, our legacy.

Why can’t you understand that, Prime Minister?

You, the hero of the Paris conference, ask us to sacrifice our home so that the Tar Sands, the world’s biggest polluter, can spew its poisons full time again? Why are you telling us, Mr. Trudeau, that we must pledge what God gave us to the tender mercies of the fossil fuel industry? .

Sir, we aren’t fools. We’ve seen how your lot cares about BC. When we hear soothing words from industry and the federal government about how they will treat our assets with care and respect, we think of our sacred salmon, which has been at the mercy of industry and the federal government – a government flooding our waters with diseased foreign fish to this day – ever since Confederation.

You are dead wrong, sir, letting hubris overcome common sense and you’re clearly spoiling for a fight.

If that’s what you truly want, you shall have it.


Fate of BC’s ancient forests is a question of “values”

Craig Pettitt of Valhalla Wilderness Society in the Incomappleux Valley (Image: Damien Gillis)
Craig Pettitt of Valhalla Wilderness Society in the Incomappleux Valley

How do we value wilderness? What metrics should we apply to an 1,800-year-old tree, or the tiny lichens that make their home on it? What numbers do we input into our calculator – ecosystem services rendered, tonnes of carbon sequestered, cubic metres of merchantable timber, jobs created? These are the questions that came to mind while filming my latest documentary, “Primeval: Enter the Incomappleux”, deep in the heart of the Selkirk Mountains in BC’s Kootenay region.

The Incomppleux's intact ancient forest
The Incomppleux’s intact ancient inland temperate rainforest

Depending on the metrics, one can arrive at starkly different answers as to the fate of our few remaining old-growth forests. After decades of clearcuts have made a checkerboard out of BC’s wild places, the Incomappleux is left in a rare category: one of the last truly intact stretches of temperate rainforest here or anywhere – growing continuously since the last Ice Age, forgotten by human time and imprint. To walk amongst its 25,000 hectares of ancient cedars and hemlocks is to get lost in nature in a way that was likely normal to First Nations inhabiting this land for the past 10,000 years, yet all but unknown to today’s British Columbians.

I had the unique privilege of entering the Incomappleux – no easy feat as access roads and bridges have been washed out by Mother Nature – to document a team of scientists and conservationists, led by Valhalla Wilderness Society, and their work to protect this place through a provincial park that would encompass a grand total of 156,000 hectares.

The result is a new 20-minute film premiering tonight (Nov. 23) at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, with a repeat showing tomorrow (Nov. 24) at UBC’s Forest Sciences Centre (detailed info below). I hope it will provide audiences with even a small sense of the awe and wonder this place inspired in me.

Numbers game

But these feelings, and the demonstrated psychological and health benefits from spending time in wilderness, are hard to quantify in dollar terms. Nevertheless, it is difficult to deny that our present-day society, through its growing disconnection with nature, is losing something essential to the human experience.

But let’s deal for a moment with the metrics we do understand – as they have been drilled into us by countless industry op-eds, “position papers” by right-wing think tanks, and, broadly speaking, our mainstream media. Many of us have come to accept certain assumptions about the importance and nature of our “resource economy” – which are often incorrect.

A “decadent” forest

Let’s look at the Incomappleux as an example. It is currently covered by Category-A cut blocks owned by international forestry giant Interfor. Under a true “free market”, it would never be logged. This is because ancient trees hold little value as merchantable timber – they begin to rot from the inside out, even while they’re still standing.

The industry and government refer to these forests as “decadent”, which means “decaying” and “self-indulgent” – in other words, “How dare this tree be so selfish as to put its own existence ahead of what would be a much more economically productive monoculture tree farm.” This has been the way things are done in BC’s forests for decades: mow down and remake these “decadent” old-growth forests in humans’ image and to our exclusive, commercial benefit. What other reason could this forest have for existing, other than to serve our immediate needs?

A typical nurse log
Nurse log in the Incomappleux

But that “decadent” tree is providing many invaluable services to its ecosystem and the climate – by sequestering large volumes of carbon, which does very much concern us humans. When it keels over, this tree’s rich nutrients will seep back into the soil, feeding millions of organisms. New trees will sprout upon its back. I filmed one red cedar in the Incomappleux that was up to 1,500 years old when it died. Its corpse – very much still kicking around today – has a 300-year-old tree growing out of it. That puts the nurse log’s origin roughly at the time of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius or his son Commodus (as depicted in the film Gladiator). Surrounding this tree are myriad lichens, fungi, mosses and insects, all benefitting from this one “decadent” tree.

The lichen-caribou connection

One of the Incomappleux's 300 or so lichen species (Photo: Jason Hollinger)
One of the Incomappleux’s 300 or so lichen species (Photo: Jason Hollinger)

The lichens are of particular import as they feed endangered Mountain Caribou in winter months, when higher elevation slopes are out of reach. Those caribou are in free-fall (36% decline throughout the region since the provincial government’s 2008 recovery program was instituted).

This is chiefly attributable to habitat loss (not the frequent scapegoat, wolves). So if we keep logging these valleys, we will preside, sooner than later, over the extinction of a marvellous species. How does the value of caribou survival fit into our economic matrix?

Subsidizing old-growth logging

A clearcut near the Incomappleux
A clearcut near the Incomappleux

Back to those cut blocks. Not only do these trees hold little commercial value, but the valley’s remoteness means the cost of harvesting is high. Combine that with the fact that many smaller, local mills which used to create jobs for communities in the Kootenays have been shuttered in recent decades, in favour of larger, more centralized, often foreign-owned mega mills. That means greater trucking distances = greater cost. Ergo, the Incomappleux is highly uneconomical to log.

That’s where our “free enterprise” government intervenes in the market, offering steep corporate handout discounts on stumpage fees to incentivize logging in these uneconomical places. A rate that can be as high as $20/cubic metre falls to as low as 25 cents. What should have fallen short when evaluated by our economic calculator is now magically viable for logging.

Ancient forests still on chopping block

Clearcuts in the Klanawa Valley on Vancouver Island (Photo: TJ Watt)
Clearcuts in the Klanawa Valley on Vancouver Island (Photo: TJ Watt)

That’s not to say that Interfor will log it tomorrow, but this is how it could very easily happen. And it is happening around the province as we speak. On Vancouver Island – where 9,000 hectares of old-growth are still logged each year – at a place called East Creek, stumpage has been as low as 27 cents/cubic meter. This is, sadly, not particularly uncommon amongst hard-to-access old-growth forests on the coast and in the Kootnenays’ inland forests.

Bear in mind that these are public forests (private lands in BC carry no stumpage fees and even less regulation and oversight). Public forests are a crown asset and when our government gives away timber for pennies on the dollar, that is revenue that isn’t going to schools or hospitals – let alone being reinvested in regulating or modernizing the forestry sector. When local mills are closed in favour of bigger, central ones and logs are shipped overseas for processing, we are losing thousands of jobs in the bargain.

Raw deal

Raw Canadian logs for export (Paul Joseph/Flickr CC Licence)
Raw Canadian logs for export (Paul Joseph/Flickr CC Licence)

On that note, here are some more numbers that should give us pause: Last year alone, we saw 7 million cubic metres of wood leave this province in the form of raw logs – that’s enough lumber to frame 165,000 new homes in BC, according to researcher Ben Parfitt. All this, combined with other examples of mismanagement, has meant a steep decline in forestry jobs in BC – from 100,000 or so at the 1995 peak to around 65,000 today. So out-of-whack is the BC situation that as of 2012, according to Stats Canada, it took 1,312 cubic metres of harvested wood to create one full-time forestry job in BC – compared with just 292 cubic metres for the same job in Ontario.

Let me be clear: My family has worked in BC’s forestry sector for a century or more. I take very seriously the jobs the sector has provided to the province’s workforce. But there are many intelligent ways, through improved management and innovation, that we could bring jobs back without sacrificing the few remaining bits of true wilderness we have left. Not to mention a whole new economy out there in the form of clean tech, the creative sectors, value-added manufacturing and Supernatural BC tourism that we’re forgetting about.

A different calculus

Biologist Veera Tuovinen taking stock of the Incomappleux's biodiversity
Biologist Veera Tuovinen taking stock of the Incomappleux’s biodiversity

Moreover, standing in the heart of the Incomappleux, towering cedars swaying overhead, the mists welling up from Battle Brook below, moistening the mosses and hair lichens, it strikes one that there just may be deeper values than jobs, stumpage fees, and cubic metres of harvestable timber. Unfortunately, I can’t hope to do this revelation justice with my camera or mere words. Proud though I am of what we captured on this journey and excited to share it on the big screen, nothing can come close to the experience of being there. In that sense, I fear, numbers will always win out.

If that’s the case, then here are a few more figures to tabulate:

• 0.5% – the total of the planet’s land surface that these temperate rainforests covered, at their peak

• 10% – the amount of old-growth left on Vancouver Island today (1% if you look deeper into specific species like Douglas Fir on Southeast Vancouver Island)

• One tonne – the amount of carbon a single ancient tree is capable of storing

Seeing the forest for the trees

The Incomappleux River
The Incomappleux River

Alas, I suppose I’ve fallen into a trap in recent years. Hungry for credibility in the eyes of mainstream media, government and industry, I’ve sought to confront difficult conversations about resource projects based on the terms laid out by their proponents: i.e. engaging with claims of jobs and public benefits, questioning economic studies from the Fraser Institute and the like.

Meanwhile, my old pal and co-founder of this publication, Rafe Mair has often preferred to talk about the spiritual dimension of these issues. He speaks of wild salmon and free-running rivers as the soul of our province. Perhaps I didn’t get it, until now.

But there was a time when I did. When I was 10 years old, my aunt Vivian – a lone environmentalist amongst 5 brothers in the oil and gas industry (my mother, as a teacher, got a pass from both camps) – put me onto a campaign to protect the Carmanah Valley on Vancouver Island, where I grew up. I took the petition around my school and neighbourhood and was proud to sign up a few dozen names. My bedroom wall was graced by a poster of the valley, staring up at four iconic sitka spruce, sun glittering through the needles of the canopy. I never went there, but even that picture instilled a sense of peace in me growing up.

Then I forgot all about it and went off into the world to make money.

Mosses on the branches of the Incomappleux's ancient trees
Mosses on the branches of the Incomappleux’s ancient trees

Going to the Incomappleux reawakened in me that sense of calm and wonder at the natural world. And I understood Rafe’s point. There are some values that can’t easily be quantified. Call it quaint or naïve in this complex modern economy, if you will. But there is a soul in those trees and lichens – and, perhaps, in us too. Who are we to decide whether they exist or disappear forever into the annals of human time?

Yet, unlike many environmental battles in BC’s ancient and recent history, the story of the Incomappleux need not have any villains or losers. There is only this: a place so perfect and rare that once lost it can never be recreated; a company that could easily be compensated for relinquishing its tenures, which, without government intervention that would make Karl Marx blush, have no economical value; and a chance to leave a splendid legacy for the caribou, the lichens, the cedars and hemlocks, and our own children and future generations. So one day, my son or your granddaughter can have the opportunity to stare up at that canopy, feel the cool breeze on their cheek and forget all about the facts, figures, and petty concerns of our man-made world.

Sign Valhalla’s Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park petition here – and see  “Primeval: Enter the Incomappleux” at two Vancouver screenings:

• Tonight (Wed, Nov. 23) @ Vancouver’s Rio Theatre – 7:30-10PM (doors open 6:30). Part of VIMFF’s “Back to the Roots” night – also featuring short films by Daniel Pierce and Darryl Augustine, presentations by TJ Watt and Craig Pettitt and a Q&A with them, Damien Gillis and lichen expert Dr. Toby Spribille. Tickets available online here or at the door.

• Thursday, Nov. 24 @ UBC Forest Sciences Centre (2424 Main Mall – Room 1005) – 6:30-8PM. Featuring panel discussion with Prof. Suzanne Simard (see her incredible TED talk), Dr. Toby Spribille, Craig Pettitt, Damien Gillis and moderator Ngaio Hotte.


Rafe: Trudeau will have hell to pay in BC if he approves Kinder Morgan

Recent Vancouver rally against Kinder Morgan (Photo: David Suzuki Foundation/Facebook)
Recent Vancouver rally against Kinder Morgan (Photo: David Suzuki Foundation/Facebook)
None should be in the slightest surprised at the anti-British Columbia stance of Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. As Talleyrand famously noted when, after the fall of Napoleon the Bourbons were restored, “they learned nothing and forgot nothing”.

Thus it is with the Liberals who, once safely back in power, turn their attention to repaying supporters, namely Ontario financiers and the oil industry, often the same people. This ancient Liberal policy never fails.

Whose interest?

This time Justin Trudeau has overstepped the mark and as Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson warns, if he approves the Kinder Morgan pipeline, “…you’ll see protests like you’ve never seen before …” His Worship is right. British Columbians know that the standard Ottawa patter that something is “in the interests of Canada” is ill-concealed code for “in the interests of Bay Street and whatever they’ve invested in or covet.”

The operative words are “the interests of Canada”. To Industry, they cover material interests only and no value whatever is placed on assets like mountains, rivers, lakes, forests for their own sake, wildlife, peaceful safe inlets, beautiful views, peace, quiet, tranquility, and so on. Why aren’t these things material Canadian assets too? They sure as hell are once they’re gone!

Enough is Enough

Don’t British Columbians have a real interest, say, in protecting their lakes and rivers from being industrially developed? Or Howe Sound, our gorgeous southernmost fjord? Or the Peace River? The list is endless.

Who is Justin Trudeau to say that letting industry make money on LNG tankers is more important than the safety of people and property where they sail?

British Columbians say, “enough is enough!” From here on, our values speak as loudly as those from the businessmen’s clubs of Bay Street and the nests of political party strategists.

We are inspired as never before by the bravery of the Kinder Morgan protesters. Their guts and steadfastness has inspired a province as you seem determined to discover.

The right to protect our province

The Constitution Act, 1982, clearly states in Section 92:
“In each Province the Legislature may exclusively make Laws in relation to Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated; that is to say,…13. Property and Civil Rights in the Province.”

We say to you, Mr. Trudeau, that for those words to have any meaning at all, they give us the right, the power and indeed obligation, to protect provincial assets, including all those assets so clearly threatened by Kinder Morgan and other fossil fuel undertakings proposed, notwithstanding the fact that the federal government approves them.

More than this, we have “right” on our side. It’s Kinder Morgan, and its ilk, who would disturb, threaten and harm our precious environment, our property and our homes.

We resolve that this will not be permitted to happen. If you approve Kinder Morgan, sir, there indeed will be hell to pay.


So much for “World Class” spill response, as Bella Bella, Saskatchewan incidents show

Booms intended to corral a fuel spill near Bella Bella are blown apart by stormy weather (Photo: Tavish Campbell)
Booms intended to corral a fuel spill near Bella Bella are blown apart by stormy weather (Photo: Tavish Campbell)

In July, a pipeline leak near Maidstone, Saskatchewan, spilled about 250,000 litres of diluted oil sands bitumen into the North Saskatchewan River, killing wildlife and compromising drinking water for nearby communities, including Prince Albert. It was one of 11 spills in the province over the previous year.

The sunken Nathan E. Stewart tug (Photo: Tavish Campbell)
The sunken Nathan E. Stewart tug (Photo: Tavish Campbell)

In October, a tugboat pulling an empty fuel barge ran aground near Bella Bella on the Great Bear Rainforest coastline, spilling diesel into the water. Stormy weather caused some of the containment booms to break. Shellfish operations and clam beds were put at risk and wildlife contaminated.

Governments and industry promoting fossil fuel infrastructure often talk about “world class” spill response. It’s one of the conditions B.C.’s government has imposed for approval of new oil pipelines. But we’re either not there or the term has little meaning. “This ‘world-class marine response’ did not happen here in Bella Bella,” Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett told Metro News.

Easier said than done

If authorities have this much trouble responding to a relatively minor spill from a tugboat, how can they expect to adequately deal with a spill from a pipeline or a tanker full of diluted bitumen? The simple and disturbing truth is that it’s impossible to adequately clean up a large oil spill. A 2015 report commissioned by the City of Vancouver and the Tsleil-Waututh and Tsawout First Nations concluded that “collecting and removing oil from the sea surface is a challenging, time-sensitive, and often ineffective process, even under the most favourable conditions.”

Botched English Bay oil spill confirms BC 'woefully unprepared' for more pipelines, tankers- Open letter
Ocean pollution specialist Dr. Peter Ross displays an oily substance from English Bay spill (Vancouver Aquarium)

What the oil and gas industry touts as “world class spill response” boils down to four methods: booms, skimmers, burning and chemical dispersants. An article at notes, “For small spills these technologies can sometimes make a difference, but only in sheltered waters. None has ever been effective in containing large spills.”

Booms don’t work well in rough or icy waters, as was clear at the Bella Bella spill; skimmers merely clean the surface and often not effectively; burning causes pollution and greenhouse gas emissions; and dispersants just spread contaminants around, when they work at all.

Heavy toll on fish and wildlife

Humpback whale swimming near Bella Bella fuel spill (Photo: Tavish Campbell)
Humpback whale swimming near Bella Bella fuel spill (Photo: Tavish Campbell)

Researchers have also found that cleaning oil-soaked birds rarely if ever increases their chances of survival. A tiny spot of oil can kill a seabird.

After the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill off the Alaska coast, industry only recovered about 14 per cent of the oil — which is about average — at a cost of $2 billion. The 2011 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has cost more than $42 billion so far, and has not been overly effective. In that case, industry bombed the area with the dispersant Corexit, which killed bacteria that eat oil! Record numbers of bottlenose dolphins died.

Pipelines get a pass

We’re not going to stop transporting oil and gas overnight, so improving responses to spills on water and land is absolutely necessary. And increasing the safety of pipelines, tankers and trains that carry these dangerous products is also critical, as is stepping up monitoring and enforcement. With the Saskatchewan spill, the provincial government deemed an environmental assessment of a pipeline expansion connected to the one that leaked as unnecessary because the Environment Ministry did not consider it a “development.” University of Regina geography professor Emily Eaton, who has studied oil development, told the National Observer that Saskatchewan “gives a pass” to most pipelines it regulates.

Time to cut back

One pof many Heiltsuk responders who have remained on the scene for weeks, working on the spill that threatens their waters and seafood harvesting (Photo: Tavish Campbell)
One pof many Heiltsuk responders who have remained on the scene for weeks, working on the spill that threatens their waters and seafood harvesting (Photo: Tavish Campbell)

Beyond better response capability and technologies, and increased monitoring and enforcement, we have to stop shipping so much fossil fuel. The mad rush to exploit and sell as much oil, gas and coal as possible before markets dry up in the face of growing scarcity, climate change and ever-increasing and improving renewable energy options has led to a huge spike in the amount of fossil fuels shipped through pipelines, and by train and tanker — often with disastrous consequences, from the Gulf of Mexico BP spill to the tragic 2013 Lac-Mégantic railcar explosion.

Spills and disasters illustrate the immediate negative impacts of our overreliance on fossil fuels. Climate change shows we can’t continue to burn coal, oil and gas, that we have to leave much of it in the ground. If we get on with it, we may still have time to manage the transition without catastrophic consequences. But the longer we delay, the more difficult it will become.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.


Central Coast diesel spill response slow, ineffective, serious damage done: Heiltsuk

The Nathan E. Stewart fuel barge and part-sunken tug the morning of the incident (Jordan Wilson/Pacific Wild)
The DBL 55 fuel barge and part-sunken Nathan E. Stewart tug the morning of the incident (Jordan Wilson/Pacific Wild)

Judging by official statements in the aftermath of the ongoing Central Coast diesel fuel spill, the response to the disaster was relatively effective and damage minimized – a PR line largely soaked up by the mainstream media. To the people in whose territory the incident occurred, the Heiltsuk Nation, and local residents who will have to live with the consequences of the spill, nothing could be further from the truth.

“Recent press seems to suggest that containment efforts have been successful. Let me set the record straight: containment has not been successful, and clean-up efforts have barely begun,” says Heiltsuk On-Scene Commander William Housty. “The damage has been done, and the best we can work towards is mitigation.”

A Heiltsuk media statement this morning drives the point home in measurable terms:

[quote]Only 6,554 gallons of the 59,924 gallons of diesel onboard the tug were able to be pumped from the vessel before it sank in Heiltsuk Territory on the morning of October 13th. Since then, the sunken vessel has been leaking diesel into an area of enormous ecological, economic, and cultural significance to the Heiltsuk Nation.[/quote]

Diesel fuel slick in Gale Pass (Megan Humchitt)
Diesel fuel slick in Gale Pass (Megan Humchitt)

The spill occurred just outside Gale Pass – an important shellfish harvesting site for the Heiltsuk peoples – along with herring spawn on kelp and other fisheries. PR people for the cleanup company, Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC), and the company that owns the fuel barge whose tug ran aground and leaked all this fuel, Texas-based Kirby Corporation, have insisted that the contents of the tug, marine diesel, easily dissipate and evaporate, downplaying contamination concerns. If this were the case, then why was Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) compelled to shut down shellfish harvesting for 11 sub-areas around the spill on Friday via an “emergency chemical contaminant closure”?

These PR people have also been quick to counter early concerns about slow response time to the spill. But here are a few key points to consider:

  • Initial response came via local contractors for WCMRC, employees of the Shearwater Fishing Resort – and they were not well positioned to respond effectively, according to Kelly Brown, director of the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department. “The first responding vessels were not equipped to deal with a spill, and had to return to town to gather more gear,” noted Brown, one of the first responders on the scene. “The Heiltsuk are providing our own equipment because what responders have been able to provide so far is insufficient.”
  • The main flotilla of response vessels dispatched from Prince Rupert the morning of the spill (which occurred around 1 AM) didn’t reach the site until later that evening
  • The tug boat had long since sunk – two thirds of its body underwater, though initially still coupled to the barge – before booms were deployed around it. It doesn’t take a marine engineer to understand that fuel leaking below the surface, amid strong currents and tides, can easily evade booms up above.
  • Gale Pass, the entrance to key shellfish waters and beaches, was not adequately boomed until much later, due to strong outflowing currents. Heiltsuk responders who were on the scene expressed in frustration to me that if the booms were deployed earlier, at high tide, they may have remained in place, but with the delay in placing them, they were not able to be properly secured, thus allowing more fuel to make its way up the pass at a critical time.
  • No skimming or cleanup efforts began until the day after the spill – initially it was only “contain and protect mode”.
  • There were many players involved – Shearwater contractors, Heitlsuk responders, Coast Guard, WCMRC; eventually other contractors brought in by Kirby, Resolve Marine Group and Meredith Management; plus the company’s own Incident Commander, Jim Guidry, along with Federal, Provincial and Heiltsuk incident commanders. Did this contribute to the confusion observed by eyewitnesses on the scene in the early hours of the response? This is something that should be studied for future incidents.
  • With all these different players coming and going, the Heiltsuk were left to carry much of the load themselves – which they did admirably, according to many of the players involved, much like their Gitga’at neighbours to the north were forced to do in the wake of the sinking of the Queen of the North a number of years ago.
  • We still don’t know the official cause of the incident. Was it mechanical or instrument failure? Did human error play a role? The tug and barge appear to have gone wildly off-course for a number of miles. Did the captain fall asleep at the wheel? Why did his co-pilot not take control? Or did he not even have a co-pilot? We know this American company was given a waiver exempting it from having a pilot on board from the Pacific Pilotage Authority – since revoked in the wake of this incident, according to Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau. Why did it take such a disaster for this to occur? Why was the waiver issued in the first place? We need answers to these questions asap.

Long after the incident command is dismantled and the media loses interest in the story, the Heiltsuk and central coast residents will still be dealing with the consequences of this spill.

Heiltsuk responders (Megan Humchitt)
Heiltsuk responders (Megan Humchitt)

“The Heiltsuk are heartbroken and angry over this environmental disaster. We don’t know how many years or decades it will be before we are able to harvest in these waters again,” said Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett.

“Yet our community members are heroic. The overwhelming majority of vessels out on the water are Heiltsuk volunteer crews. Our community members are doing their best to assist with response efforts, but have not been receiving adequate direction or training from the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation in charge of the clean up.”

Bear in mind that despite these serious impacts to shellfish grounds and other natural resources, matters could have been much, much worse, had the fuel barge the tug was towing been full instead of making its return trip from Alaska to a southern port for refuelling.

This is why the Heiltsuk are calling for this incident to spur a long-discussed north coast tanker ban which the Trudeau government has yet to act upon. “We must take note, however, that tanker barges like this might not even be included in the ban. The ban needs to be complete, and spill response must be improved,” a recent statement noted.

In contemplating this ban, the Trudeau government would do well to ask itself: why does such a vessel need to take the inside passage? Why not direct it further west on the outer coast, avoiding the myriad navigational hazards, communities and sensitive ecological areas of the inner coast?


Heiltsuk call for tanker ban to include fuel barges amid ongoing leak in Great Bear Sea

Sunken tug towing Nathan E. Stewart (Image submitted)
Part-sunken tug Nathan E. Stewart towing DBL 55 fuel barge (Image submitted)

Updated 7 PM PST

A 10,000 tonne US-owned fuel barge, known as DBL 55, ran aground in Seaforth Channel on BC’s central coast early this morning and the tug that was towing it, the Nathan E. Stewart, is now leaking fuel into the highly sensitive marine environment of the Great Bear Sea.

According to Heiltsuk Nation authorities, in whose traditional territory the disaster is unfolding, the tug, believed to have had 60,000 gallons of fuel on board, sank at  approximately 9:50 AM today. It is believed that three of its fuel tanks were compromised.

“Though we are thankful that the barge was empty, we are gravely concerned about the potential ramifications of the fuel spill from the tug,” stated Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett.

“Our Gitga’at neighbours to the north are still unable to harvest clams and other seafoods ten years after the sinking of the Queen of the North. This spill area is in one of our primary breadbaskets, and we know that diesel is extremely difficult to recover.”

The barge, owned by Texas-based Kirby Corporation, ran aground near Gale Pass on Athlone Island, near the Heiltsuk community of Bella Bella, just after 1am, according to a Heiltsuk media release.

The Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department (HIRMD) is concerned spilled marine diesel fuel from the tug could drift toward herring grounds and other sensitive areas with shifting winds and tides.

“It’s really bad out here. A lot of fuel is on the beach already, and fuel is in the water,” said HIRMD director Kelly Brown from the spill site.

[quote]The initial spill response has been totally inadequate. The first responding vessels were not equipped to deal with a spill, and had to return to town to gather more gear. The Heiltsuk are providing our own equipment because what responders have been able to provide so far is insufficient.[/quote]

According to Michael Lowry, a spokesperson from Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC), the company with the contract to respond to fuel spills on the BC coast, local contractors came on the scene at approximately 11 AM this morning. Additional resources – including a mobile skimming vessel, a pair of boom skiffs, a work boat and a barge with response trailers – were dispatched from Prince Rupert this morning and expected to arrive on site by approximately 6 PM.

Diesel fuel slick in Gale Pass (Megan Humchitt)
Diesel fuel slick in Gale Pass (Megan Humchitt)

Some booms were deployed this afternoon, yet, according to Heiltsuk eyewitnesses, not across Gale Pass as of late this afternoon – due to a strong outflowing current that impeded efforts. This has meant a slick of diesel fuel made its way up the pass, which contains diverse marine life and is a key Heiltsuk site for clam digging and herring spawn on kelp. Fuel has also been spotted on nearby beaches and extending over the water.

Lowry noted that no recovery or skimming operations have begun at this stage. WCMRC will remain in “contain and protect mode” until a further assessment tomorrow morning, after which “recovery mode” may commence.

The Nathan E. Stewart on a typical voyage down the BC Coast (Pacific Wild)
The Nathan E. Stewart and barge on a typical voyage down the BC Coast (Pacific Wild)

This is all cause for serious concern from the Heiltsuk, re-igniting calls for a proposed North Coast tanker ban to be implemented quickly – and for the scope to include such fuel barges, which have been quietly transiting these waters for years.

“This is a stirring reminder that the north coast oil tanker moratorium cannot be legislated fast enough,” said Slett. “We must take note, however, that tanker barges like this might not even be included in the ban. The ban needs to be complete, and spill response must be improved.”


Pipelines being driven by private equity firms through ratings agency they now own

Former federal cabinet minister and Alberta Premier Jim Prentice, whose recent work with major private equity firm Warburg Pincus has seem him become a strong proponent for multiple pipelines. (Photo: Canada2020/Flickr)
Former federal cabinet minister and Alberta Premier Jim Prentice, whose recent work with a major private equity firm has him acting as a strong advocate for multiple pipelines.  (Canada2020/Flickr)

By Joyce Nelson

You may have caught the Sept. 12 headline in the Globe and Mail, the Edmonton Journal, etc: “Canada needs new energy pipelines, bond rating agency says.”

A new report from DBRS, Canada’s credit ratings agency (CRA), says Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline expansion, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, and TransCanada Corp’s Energy East pipeline are all necessary, but, as the Edmonton Journal put it, the “strong political, environmental and regulatory opposition” to these projects throws “a big question mark over Canada’s energy future,” the report says.

Ratings agency bought by private equity firms

DBRS is Canada’s (small) equivalent to the big three CRAs: Moody’s, Standard & Poors (S&P), and Fitch, which wield enormous power around the world by granting or downgrading the Triple-A ratings of companies, countries, and governments. The threat of a downgrade by a CRA can create scary media stories, especially if the target is a local government.

In December 2014, DBRS was bought up by two huge private equity firms – Carlyle Group LP and Warburg Pincus LLC. Both invest billions in energy projects around the world.

Conflict of interest

Since the 1970s the CRAs (aside from sometimes issuing unsolicited ratings) are paid for their services not by investors who want to know the safety of a bond being issued, but by the bond issuers themselves – who obviously have a stake in getting a Triple-A rating for their investment vehicle. These factors came into play during the U.S. subprime mortgage bubble, when some investment banks were paying the big three CRAs millions of dollars for Triple-A ratings on what turned out to be toxic assets.

In July 2014, I wrote a three-part series (“Debunking the Bogeyman”) on CRAs for, so I knew a bit about how these CRAs operate. When I saw that DBRS had been purchased by Carlyle Group and Warburg Pincus, my first thought was: I wonder what those investment giants will do with DBRS?

Prentice delivers message for private equity firms

Fast-forward to September 12, 2016 and the new DBRS report, stating: “If pipeline infrastructure is not built, Canada’s energy sector increasingly risks the eventual loss of global market share” and “could eventually see their credit ratings change without more overseas access…”

The next day, September 13, Bloomberg reported that PM Justin Trudeau is said to be favouring Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion, but former Alberta premier Jim Prentice “warned Kinder Morgan’s project alone won’t be enough.”

Bloomberg quoted Prentice:

[quote]’We need pipelines, we need pipelines to the West Coast, and most advantageous for Canada of course are pipelines into the Asia-Pacific basin and Trans Mountain would certainly be helpful,’ Prentice, a Calgary-based adviser in the energy group at Warburg Pincus, said Tuesday at the Bloomberg Canadian Fixed Income Conference in New York.[/quote]

The Bloomberg quote from Prentice continued: “‘But we also need to bear in mind that Trans Mountain won’t solve the problem,’ because tankers that can navigate the region are too small to service Asia, he said.  Canada needs an energy port that can ship up to two million barrels per day to Asia, Prentice said, and Canadians should be concerned that investors are cooling to the country’s oil patch. ‘The concern that really should alarm us as Canadians is low-cost capital is exiting the Canadian basin,’ he said.”

So Warburg Pincus adviser Jim Prentice is endorsing the views of DBRS, owned by Warburg Pincus and the Carlyle Group, which have billions they want to loan to governments for investment in infrastructure. Prentice had earlier been a paid advisor for Enbridge in 2014, helping the company negotiate with First Nations opposed to Northern Gateway. 

Revolving door

BlackRock's New York headquarters
BlackRock’s New York headquarters

Making the picture even more interesting, on September 12 the Financial Post reported that Mark Jenkins, global head of private investments at the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) is leaving to take a senior leadership role at the Carlyle Group. The CPPIB’s Mark Wiseman has already left to work for BlackRock, the biggest asset manager in the world.

As I reveal in my forthcoming book – Beyond Banksters: Resisting the New Feudalism – all these big financial players are central to the infrastructure and privatization plans being rolled out for Canada and North America in the coming months. The Justin Trudeau Liberals are planning to spend $120 billion on infrastructure (by borrowing from private sources), and are readying for their 2017 budget announcement, which will reveal Phase 2 of their big infrastructure plans.

On November 14, BlackRock (which manages trillions of investment dollars) will host a private summit for major international investors hoping to loan billions of dollars to Canadian governments for infrastructure spending. On the speakers list are Justin Trudeau, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi, and other federal officials.

Will the Carlyle Group and Warburg Pincus be at that private summit? You can safely bet on it. Will the press be allowed to cover this private summit that includes our elected officials? That’s a big question. Will DBRS be playing a bigger role in the next few months? Stay tuned.     

Joyce Nelson is an award-winning freelance writer whose sixth book, Beyond Banksters: Resisting the New Feudalism, can be pre-ordered at now.


Rafe: With LNG approval, Trudeau govt shows true colours…but we shouldn’t be suprised

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna with BC Premier Christy Clark (right) announcing her government's approval of PNWLNG (Province of BC/Flickr)
Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna with Industry Minister Jim Carr (left) and BC Premier Christy Clark (right) announcing the federal government’s approval of PNWLNG (Province of BC/Flickr)
[quote]Developing a climate plan to meet Canada’s Paris Agreement commitments is a challenging but achievable task for the federal government. Doing so while meeting Alberta’s and BC’s oil and gas production growth aspirations, however, will be virtually impossible.
The oil and gas industry is certainly not going away any time soon, but if Canada is serious about meeting its climate commitments it is time for the prime minister and premiers to do the math and stop telling us we can have it all. – David Hughes, geoscientist, shale gas expert and 32-year retired veteran the Geological Survey of Canada.[/quote]
British Columbians have every reason to be fighting mad at Trudeau’s decision to approve the Pacific Northwest LNG project. Yes, every reason to be fighting mad but absolutely no reason to be surprised.
Philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it” and we just had that jammed up…er, shoved in our face.
Already early this year, people like Dr. David Suzuki, Norman Farrell of In-Sights and myself and colleagues at this publication were raising the issue that Trudeau’s emerging Liberal environmental policy was inconsistent with the commitments he had made at Paris.
Well, you will never find a clearer example of the dissembling and hypocrisy of this two-faced Trudeau bunch than in my constituency of West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country.

Woodfibre LNG approval was first clue

Liberal MP Pamela Goldsmith-Jones (Flickr/CreativeMornings Vancouver/Matthew Smith)
Liberal MP Pamela Goldsmith-Jones (Flickr/CreativeMornings Vancouver/Matthew Smith)

It’s no exaggeration to say that the only substantive issue in the 2015 election was the proposed Woodfibre LNG plant at Squamish (WLNG). People were enraged at the Harper government and MP John Weston on this issue, wanted to see the end of them, looked for a considerable period as if they would vote Green, panicked at the thought of a split vote and the Tories returned to ruin Howe Sound with WLNG, and so switched to the Liberal candidate – former West Vancouver mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones – who’d pledged she would support the wishes of her constituents.

In an election where the only substantive issue was WLNG, it was not surprising that Goldsmith-Jones won by a landslide. Having been assured that there would be consultation with them, voters felt confident that at worst they would have a fair opportunity to be heard.
Ha! Silly buggers trusted this new, attractive and sweet-talking Prime Minister and had forgotten Santayana entirely. Completely out of the blue, on March 18 last, environment minister Catherine McKenna quietly announced the Trudeau government approval of WLNG.

Environmental assessments still broken

Apart from all else, the so-called environmental assessment process was flawed unto fraudulent, such that Trudeau promises a review and fixes during the election. We’re not talking technicalities here but very substantial concerns about deadly, poisonous discharges – both into the atmosphere and directly into Howe Sound, putting all sea life at serious risk, including recently restored salmon and herring runs. There was no consideration given to the width of Howe Sound, considered grossly unsafe for LNG tanker traffic both by international rules and the industry’s own standards.
Not only were the people of the area not consulted, they were deliberately misled. Sandbagged is the better word. The esteemed, former mayor of West Vancouver, now Trudeau’s MP and parliamentary secretary to the foreign minister, was not even advised that this decision was pending, much less given notice that it had been made.
After it was released in such a shocking, high-handed manner, she clearly lacked the guts to speak out and hasn’t done so to this day.
In fact, the deception and hypocrisy didn’t end there by any means. On the orders of her government, Goldsmith-Jones held two sets of public hearings, after the decision,  neither of which dealt with the wisdom of the decision. Indeed, the second group was classic Liberal cynicism that should have been as familiar to us as Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
These meetings were held so that the government (the same one that had just approved WLNG) could explain it to the rabble, all aspects of climate change and how we could prevent it. There was just one niggling detail – we weren’t permitted to raise the issue of pollution from LNG, the most significant contributor to climate change! Nothing, of course, to do with the fact that the same Trudeau government had just approved the LNG plant in Squamish which would contribute dramatically to climate change!

Fox put in charge of the hen house

By now you must be begging for mercy, but there’s one more dollop of pure Liberal party policy, so typical that you can evaluate the rest of the process by it.
Now the damage has been done, Trudeau, to the accompanying of sucking from our MP,  has set up an  environmental review process.
Guess who the chair of this process will be?
Doug Horswill - LNG lobbyist and Trudeau-appointee to review environmental assessments
Doug Horswill – LNG lobbyist and Trudeau-appointee to review environmental assessments

Doug Horswill, Founding Chair of Resource Works, an industry advocacy group founded for the sole purpose of doing everything possible to get government approval for Woodfibre LNG!

My comment at the time was that this was the worst example of cynicism since Caligula made his horse a Consul. DeSmog Blog was bang on when they declared “the overarching message of Resource Works is that continued extraction of natural resources is essential to B.C.’s prosperity and anything that stands in the way of extraction — local opposition, regulations, taxes — is a threat to that prosperity. It’s a message they repeat over and over and over.”

What’s good for the Liberal Party

So now we have it. The tinpot dictator with the boyish smile arbitrarily approving a legally-contentious project, not approved by the First Nations involved, clearly a substantial threat to fish, a traditional part of First Nations existence, and without any concern whatever for the environmental and social consequences.
Will we ever learn the one fundamental principle that has always guided the Liberal party? “What’s Good For The Liberal Party Is Good For The Nation.”
I leave you with one question: Aren’t you glad we got rid of that soulless dictator Stephen Harper and his pals, the oil industry, so bent on destroying our natural resources, atmosphere, and principles of fair play?

Opinion: Environment & Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna gets failing report card

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna gets failing report card
Environment & Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna (Mike Gifford/Flickr cc licence)

The following is an op-ed by Dr. Eoin Finn – B.Sc., Ph.D., MBA

In October 2015, SFU Energy and Materials Research Group  Professor Mark Jaccard published a report titled “Canadian Climate Policy Report Card: 2015”. In part, it is a damning critique of the (Harper) Conservative Government’s climate action record, though it documents over three decades of inaction by Governments of all stripes.  Its Executive Summary concludes that:

[quote]Over the past three decades, governments in developed countries have made many commitments to reduce a specific quantity or percentage of greenhouse gases by a specific date, but often they have failed to implement effective climate policies that would achieve their commitment. Fortunately, energy-economy analysts can determine well in advance of the target date if a government is keeping its promise. In this 2015 climate policy report card, I evaluate the Canadian government’s emission commitments and policy actions. I find that in the nine years since its promise to reduce Canadian emissions 20% by 2020 and 65% by 2050, the Canadian government has implemented virtually no polices that would materially reduce emissions. The 2020 target is now unachievable without great harm to the Canadian economy. And this may also be the case for the 2050 target, this latter requiring an almost complete transformation of the Canadian energy system in the remaining 35 years after almost a decade of inaction.[/quote]

This summary even-handedly describes a similar era of inaction under the (Chrétien /Martin) Liberal governments. After all, it was a Liberal government that signed the 1997 Kyoto agreement, and then lollygagged along to their 2006 ejection without taking a single significant action to ensure its ambitious targets could be met.

Real Change?

Trudeau and McKenna (Photo: Environment & Climate Change Canada/Flickr)
Trudeau and McKenna (Photo: Environment & Climate Change Canada/Flickr)

Justin Trudeau’s October 2015 electoral elevation to power came with a Liberal policy book promising “Real Change” on this file. It started well. A new National Energy Board Environmental Review process was promised. November’s COP21 in Paris saw Canada espousing lofty climate goals to the theme of “Canada is back”. February meetings in Vancouver with provincial Premiers urged setting a price on carbon. A climate change test was added to environmental assessments, and promises to eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies and promote sustainable technologies were trumpeted.

However, of late, the decisions of the Government, and this Ministry in particular, evoke a creeping sense of déjà vu and backsliding on the climate file and the instructions in Minister McKenna’s mandate letter. Cogent examples of these decisions include:

  • Failure to clarify what, exactly, Canada’s GHG emissions target should be if we are to play our part in meeting the COP21 goal of limiting climate change to an increase of less than 20C.  There is a looming gap between Environment Canada’s 2030 GHG emissions estimate of 817 megatonnes and the Copenhagen target of 524 millions. Nobody in McKenna’s remit (or Energy Minister Carr’s) seems to wants to grasp that 300 megatonne nettle, nor venture an estimate of what further reductions will be needed to meet COP21 commitments
  • Maintaining the Harper Government’s unambitious and inadequate GHG emission targets of 17% reduction by 2030, which, without swift action, we have no hope of meeting
  • Bowing to the desires of a few Premiers to kick the carbon-tax proposal down the road and (they hope) out of sight
  • Inaction on the review of the Oil & Gas industry emissions that successive Environment Ministers in the Harper Government had promised year after year. This industry contributes over 26% of Canada’s GHG emissions. Singling it out for inaction suggests that this Government is also a “captive regulator”
  • A decision to continue the 30% accelerated capital cost allowance for LNG facilities – a fossil-fuel subsidy granted by the Harper Government in 2014
  • Approval of the Woodfibre LNG plant in Howe Sound, despite its almost 1 million tonnes of annual GHG emissions. This puzzling and highly-unpopular decision also belied another Trudeau promise – that of “politicians may issue permits, but only communities can grant permission”
  • Cabinet’s approval of NEB’s decision to approve Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline extension, LNG Canada’s 40-year license extension for its Kitimat plant and Steelhead LNG’s 5 export licenses – each of which represents a vast expansion of Canada’s GHG emissions
  • Publicly supporting the Keystone XL and Energy East pipeline proposals
  • Silence and inaction on repealing any of the Harper Government’s egregious environmental legislation – particularly the omnibus Bill C-38, which shredded environmental protections in the Species at Risk Act, Navigable Waters Act, NEB Act and 60+ others
  • Promises to reform the National Energy Board and its farcical review process replaced with nominating yet another dubious set of second-guessers. This is hardly the stuff of meaningful reform to “restore public confidence” in the NEB;
  • Not one concrete legislative or regulatory action on Liberal energy efficiency promises – boosting renewable alternatives, setting tighter automobile emission standards, elevating building insulation standards, promoting public transit initiatives, and inaction on the PM’s lofty promise to the U.N. that “Climate change will test our intelligence, our compassion and our will. But we are equal to that challenge. I encourage other signatories to move swiftly to follow through on their commitments”. Since then – nothing, nada, zilch.

Blowing hot air

Recent interviews with Minister McKenna have deteriorated into the avoidance, obfuscation and outright nonsense many had come to regard as par for the Harper Government course. Even allowing that this Ministry deteriorated hugely in the 10 years of Harperite neglect, this about-face and foot-dragging is deeply disappointing to scientists and NGO’s, many of whom worked hard on the election that put the LPC in power. Remembering the counsel that “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, this trend is highly discouraging to those who thought October’s election result would herald sunnier ways on the climate front.

Kinder Morgan, PNWLNG will tell the tale

Lelu Island and Flora Bank - site of Petronas's controversial, proposed LNG terminal near Prince Rupert (submitted)
Lelu Island and Flora Bank – site of Petronas’s proposed PNWLNG terminal near Prince Rupert (submitted)

The Minister’s (and Government’s) grade on its climate report card: a big fat “F”. As they say in the North – big sled, no dogs. 

Two litmus tests for her and the Liberal Government loom large – decisions on the Kinder-Morgan/TME pipeline expansion and Pacific NorthWest LNG.  Approving either would undermine policies for “Real Change”, return Canada’s international reputation to the doghouse, consign to the dumpster the promises of a better First Nations relationship and severely dent chances of re-electing Federal Liberals in BC in 2019.

On this form, if Professor Jaccard is to write a 2020 update to his report, it won’t arrive at any different conclusion.


Dr. Eoin Finn is Director of Research for My Sea to Sky, an NGO concerned about proposals to re-industrialize iconic Howe Sound, BC.


Electric Vehicles are set to take off…so why is Trudeau still pushing pipelines?

Tesla Model 3 at March 2016 unveiling (Steve Jurvetson/Flickr)
Tesla Model 3 at March 2016 unveiling (Steve Jurvetson/Flickr)

In my previous March 2016 article “Pipelines to Nowhere“, I made the point that the proposed Canadian pipelines are about increasing the international supply of petroleum when all the signs are that demand fossil fuels are levelling off over the longer term.

For example, recent data showed renewables represented 99% of new US electrical generation capacity added in Q1 of 2016, up from the 68% in 2015 referred to in my March story, leaving one to believe that further progress has been made since year 2015, when 90% of global new capacity added was associated with renewables.

That said, it is the incredible, emerging trends in the transportation sector – currently nearly 100% dependent on petroleum – that are on the verge of severing the world from its heavy addiction to oil.  On that note, the majority of car companies have plans for bringing in a wide array of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles by 2020 and by that time an electric vehicle would be competitively priced versus a conventional internal combustion engine vehicle.

Big car makers get serious about EVs

Notwithstanding this progress, the transportation times appear to be changing faster than indicated since my March article was published.  A couple of significant examples confirm this trend, including:

1)  Volkswagen recently announced it will invest $11B in a battery manufacturing facility and expects 20% to 25% of its sales – 2 to 3 million vehicles/year – to be electric vehicles by 2025

2) Tesla has $1000 deposits for 370,000 Model 3 vehicles that won’t be delivered until 2017

3) A projection coming out of the UK suggests that by 2020 there will be more charging stations in the UK than gasoline stations

4) Porsche is hiring 1400 people for the development and deployment of its new electric sports car

5) Mack, Tesla and China’s BYD have made it known they will be bringing electric trucks into the marketplace, with the BYD truck to be assembled in Lancaster, California – the same place BYD manufactures electric buses – and the two types of vehicles will share many components.

Outpacing the aforementioned examples, Norway has increased its sales of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles from 25% of the total new vehicles sold in 2015 to 28% in the first half of 2016.

Germany, Netherlands could ban gas cars

Against this backdrop, the Netherlands and Germany are now mulling over banning gasoline cars from new vehicle offerings, beginning in 2025.  Then there is the news from Australia that it is placing fast-charging stations around the country to sell electricity at the same price as that from one’s home plug outlet.

And as I indicated in “Pipelines to Nowhere“, China and California have myriad policies to make zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) the shape of the future, with China having a target to manufacture 2 million eco-vehicles/year by 2020 and California targeting 1.5 million ZEVs on its roads by 2025.

Resistance is futile

So why are electric vehicles only 1% of total vehicle sales now and how can so much happen by the end of the decade to drive such transformative change?

First, there are the dealers.  According to a survey conducted on behalf of the US Sierra Club, dealerships are doing everything imaginable to discourage potential clients from purchasing electric vehicles by not keeping them in-stock, keeping them not charged for a test drive and salespeople ill-informed on what one needs to know about electric vehicles.  The salespeople much prefer to push the high-volume, high-profit margin SUVs.  Funny coincidence, I experienced a similar scenario when I tried to purchase a hybrid in the 2008 model year.

2016 Chevrolet Suburban
2016 Chevrolet Suburban

Then there is the matter or the US Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards cloned in Canada, which set sales-weighted average fuel consumption targets  for each vehicle size category, as well as sales-weighted targets for the overall vehicle sales of each manufacturer.  The perverse side of this concept is such that if a manufacturer has sales heavily weighted in favour of large, high-energy-consuming vehicles, its overall sales fuel economy target becomes more lenient, otherwise known as “compliance flexibility.”   The manufacturers are now exploiting this loophole to the limit, even to a point of making some models bigger to be subject to less stringent fuel economy standards.

In theory, the automakers have to make up for failing to meet overall sales-weighted fuel consumption targets in later years, leading up to 2025.  But the automakers are already gearing up for sob stories to request more leniency on the part of the US government, with the excuse that they have to accommodate unanticipated client demand for the vehicles with the high profit margins, the SUVs.

Here in Canada, the Government of Quebec has introduced Bill 104 to duplicate the stipulations of California and 9 other states, on the percentage of zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) and hybrids manufacturers must sell from 2018 to 2025 – that percentage incrementally increasing each model year from 3% in 2018 to 15.5% in 2025.  The Quebec dealers and the manufacturers are putting up a fight that essentially says that: a) the policy won’t work because the public must be free to choose and the demand is not there for ZEVs and hybrids; and b) what is good enough for California and 9 other US states is not good enough for Quebec.

Meanwhile survey after survey has shown that electric vehicles are favoured by the public, and 2020 is the tipping point when ZEVs become competitive.

The City of Montreal has acknowledged this public receptivity in that it will shortly adopt legislation requiring car sharing services to incrementally offer greater percentages of electric vehicles, beginning in 2018 and reaching 100% electric by 2020!

Trudeau Govt failing Canada on climate change

Meanwhile, the federal Liberal Budget for 2016-17 only allots $56 million over two years for cleaner transportation, with a large portion of these funds to be invested in developing standards and regulations  – I thought the latter expenses were part of government operating costs!  And the Trudeau government has already reneged on its promise to invest in charging stations and have a government vehicle procurement plan favouring ZEVs.

The current government has its mind set on pipelines for which there will not be a corresponding increase in consumption to justify increasing the supply. Plus, Canada can’t meet the Conservative GHG reduction targets should these pipelines be built. 

Justin Trudeau speaks at the Paris climate talks - flanked by Canadian premiers (Province of BC/Flickr)
Justin Trudeau speaks at the Paris climate talks – flanked by Canadian premiers (Province of BC/Flickr)

But wait, you say.  The Liberals have said they are going to overhaul the environmental review process.  The context is a reaction to a Federal Court decision to annul the National Energy Board’s recommendation for approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline and a desperate attempt to avoid a repeat overturning of the NEB approval of the Kinder Morgan TransMountain Pipeline to triple its capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels/day.  Trudeau’s support for the latter pipeline dates back to the 2015 election campaign.

Taking a closer look at this Trudeau concern about the implications of the aforementioned Federal Court decision for the Kinder Morgan project, Trudeau appointed a three-person panel to advise the government on the NEB approval of the TransMountain project.  One of the three panelists is former Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird, who participated in an executive exchange program with Kinder Morgan.  Ms. Baird is now a registered lobbyist for liquefied natural gas projects in BC.  Hardly the profile of a credible panelist to advise the Trudeau government.  The President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Stewart Philip, has referred to this panel appointment as a conflict of interest.

More conflicts of interest

Now, Trudeau has an even bigger NEB conflict of interest on his plate.  Within the last few days after the August 29, 2016 stillborn start to the Montreal segment of the NEB hearings on Energy East, the hearings were suspended indefinitely in response to two formal requests that two of the three NEB commissioners on Energy East be removed because of a conflict of interest.  These two commissioners, Jacques Gauthier and Lyne Mercier, along with the NEB President, Peter Watson, met with former Quebec Premier Jean Charest in January, 2015, while Charest was acting as a consultant for TransCanada.
All Jim Carr, the Minister of Natural Resources Canada, could say in reaction to the latest NEB fiasco is that the NEB needs to be modernized to avoid these conflict of interest situations.  This is in keeping with Budget 2016-17, which confirms the NEB’s role evaluating the environmental impacts of pipeline projects.

What should be at the heart of the question of the environmental review process is the Harper government’s decision to put the National Energy Board in charge.  Tinkering with the oil-tainted NEB engine is about changing an image and not the substance. Substance would suggest the re-habilitation of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, or some equivalent, to get the job done – properly!

Canada needs solid, clear legislation

Canada is still operating under the traditional resource economy model while its competitors are moving into fast-forward on the green economy.  This is the context for Budget 2016-17 offering less for clean technologies than the budgets of previous Liberal governments.

There is a moral or common thread to this piece.  First, when the government objectives are clear and well-laid out in policy and legislation, industry will comply.  Second, where things are fuzzy, or in the all of the above category, industry will procrastinate though whatever loopholes are made available to them.

Canada needs solid and clear policies and legislation, not meaningless clichés or platforms for “all of the above.”