A First Nation’s claim of Aboriginal title, filed today at the BC Supreme Court in Vancouver, threatens the future of some open net pen Atlantic salmon farms. Lawyer Jack Woodward, who filed the claim on behalf of the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation of Kingcome Inlet, warned the NDP government it should not be renewing salmon farm tenures in their territory “in the face of this competing claim of ownership of the territory,” according to a media release on the case.
The claim takes aim at ten salmon farms operated by Marine Harvest and Cermaq within Dzawada’enuxw territory. Each of these aquaculture sites requires a provincially-granted “Licence of Occupation” in order to operate, most of which expire on June 20. The claim also affects some forest tenures, mostly inactive, held by Western Forest Products and Interfor.
“The fish farming industry is infringing on our way of life, by breaking the natural circle of life that has sustained us since time immemorial,” said Hereditary Chief Hawil’kwo’lal (Joe Willie). “This cannot continue.”
The Dzawada’enuxw case adds to the mounting pressure from First Nations and environmental groups on Premier John Horgan not to renew these tenures, along with others throughout the Broughton Archipelago, later this month. The industry faces a number of serious challenges – from sea lice outbreaks and new research into the potential impact of piscine reovirus on Atlantic and Pacific salmon, to calls from high-profile groups like the Pacific Salmon Foundation and prominent BC chefs to end ocean-based salmon farming. But it may be a small nation from remote Kingcome Inlet – nestled among the coast mountains, 80 km northeast of Port Hardy – that poses the greatest threat to the industry’s future.
With Monday’s filing, the Dzawada’enuxw become one of only a handful of BC-based First Nations to launch Aboriginal title claims in the wake of the Supreme Court of Canada’s historic 2014 verdict in the Tsilhqot’in case, which firmly established title on unceded Indigenous territories. Woodward also represented the Tsilhqot’in in their title claim.
“The Dzawada’enuxw people have lived in our territories since time immemorial. We have never ceded these territories to anyone, and have remained living within our ancestral lands throughout time and will continue to for generations to come,” said Dzawada’enuxw First Nation Elected Chief & Traditional Leader Okwilagame (Willie Moon).
Establishing title in the eyes of the court requires demonstrating that a nation occupied its territory pre-1846 – the date of the Oregon Treaty between Britain and the United Sates which drew the current Canada-US border in the West – and that it is still there today. On both counts, the Dzawada’enuxw appear to have strong case.
Canada can fight climate change and build more climate-ravaging pipelines.
First Nations’ rights should be respected – just not at the expense of these pipelines, dams and other major projects they oppose. Got it?
It’s hard to fathom, but these are the positions of our provincial and federal leaders. They want to have their cake and eat it too.
All sunshine and broken promises
If the first step in dealing with a problem is admitting you have one, then Canada has made some progress on the environment and Indigenous rights – but on that score alone.
We traded climate change-denying, First Nations-bashing Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the smooth-talking, Sunny Ways Justin Trudeau. He made bold declarations about fighting climate change on the campaign trail, then in Paris, earning him accolades from around the world. He installed Canada’s first ever Aboriginal Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, promised a “new relationship” with First Nations, and vowed to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).
But many of his actions have not lived up to the words. The hypocrisy is on full display for everyone to behold. For instance, he recently told The National Observerthattripling Kinder Morgan’s dilbit pipeline capacity “is an unavoidable element in a national climate plan.” Huh?
Trudeau explained his twisted logic to CBC radio’s Gregor Craigie:
[quote]First of all, we need to have a world-class oceans protection plan in place, which is why we put over $1 billion in the biggest investment in protecting the B.C. coast that there’s ever been.[/quote]
Let’s pause there a moment. Wouldn’t not adding 340 new oil tankers a year to the BC coast be an even better way to protect it? Justin continued:
[quote]Second, we have to have an ambitious plan to fight carbon emissions, to reduce carbon emissions, right across the country, which we’ve brought in with the pan-Canadian framework…And third, we need to make sure that we are getting our resources to market overseas, safely and securely.
The only way we can get any of those things is if we do all three of those things together. That’s the plan that we put in place, and that’s what we’re going to move forward with.[/quote]
Justin has tried to clarify this dizzying argument by saying that “in order to get the national climate change plan — to get Alberta to be part of it, and we need Alberta to be part of it — we agreed to twin an existing pipeline in order to get to work.” So, in order to save the climate, he cut a deal that will only damage it more. I’m sure to him, this all makes perfect sense.
The problem is not only does Justin’s pipeline program undermine his climate promises, it breaks his commitments to First Nations, many of whom vehemently oppose this planned incursion into their unceded territories.
The latest to disappoint First Nations
On the provincial stage, in recent years, both Alberta and BC have also turfed long-running right-wing governments – in their case for the NDP (and BC Greens). In BC, John Horgan campaigned on clean energy jobs and a vow to fight Kinder Morgan, nebulous though it was. He also echoed Trudeau in supporting UNDRIP, and has since doubled down on his support for First Nations and the environment in his recent throne speech.
But where the rubber meets the road, it’s been a different story.
In announcing his controversial, factually-challenged decision to continue with Site C Dam, Horgan offered, “I’m not the first leader to stand before you and disappoint Indigenous people.”Aside from being one of the great understatements post-contact, it showed how weak his resolve really was. He might as well have said to First Nations, “I have your back…as long as it costs me nothing.”
The Horgan cabinet ministers most directly connected to the Site C decision had essentially vowed on the campaign trail to pull the plug on the project. I say “essentially” because most left themselves a millimetre of wiggle room for insurance. Lana Popham, now agriculture minister, told a Victoria crowd, “In my view, we’re nine seats away from being able to stop Site C.”
Michelle Mungall, now minister of energy and mines, declared, “…if we’re government, then our plan is to go through the B.C. Utilities Commission and we will work to end Site C…Our desire is to stop the Site C dam.”
George Heyman, now environment minister, told Treaty 8 First Nations and citizens at the Paddle for the Peace, “The dam project is wrong on every count because of its negative impact on agriculture, the environment, First Nations, clean energy commitments, economics, and the promise of jobs”.
Is it any wonder so many First Nations and British Columbians feel betrayed by these very same people’s decision to carry on with Site C?
Alberta, the oil deep state
On the other side of the Rockies, the bar was admittedly much lower, even for a new NDP government. First Nations have never really factored into provincial decision-making there and few expected the NDP to shut down the bitumen sands. But Notley did run as a fresh face for Alberta politics, promising to tackle her province’s unfair oil and gas royalties. She even brought in a climate plan that included a provincial carbon tax and a promise to phase out coal-fired electricity by 2030.
In every meaningful way though, Notley has stayed the course of her Conservative predecessors. The royalty hike was soon kiboshed. Her provincial carbon tax is too low to accomplish anything and she’ll only buy into a bigger national tax if she gets her pipelines. Pro-industry voices have come to her defence, arguing it’s still technically possible to meet Canada’s climate commitments while adding new pipelines. Can we at least agree they don’t help?
So committed to the industry is Notley that she’s prepared to start a trade war over it, as her childish antics have shown of late.
If we take their good intentions on the campaign trail at face value, how do these leaders get sucked into the status quo once elected? Former Alberta Liberal Opposition Leader Kevin Taft offers a credible explanation in his recent book, Oil’s Deep State: How the petroleum industry undermines democracy and stops action on global warming.
An “oil deep state”, says Taft, is what happens to jurisdictions around the world once they discover oil (as opposed to a “Petrostate”, which is “conceived in petroleum”). If governments don’t take serious steps early on to keep petrodollars out of their politics and ensure that the lion’s share of the benefits flow into public coffers, as Norway has successfully done, then it’s exceedingly difficult to hold on to one’s democracy. Industry leverages all that money back at controlling the very governments that are supposed to regulate them.
Albertans get 4% of oil wealth vs. 80% for Norwegians
This unholy relationship between Big Oil and our governments doesn’t just impact our environment, health and First Nations’ rights – it means a raw deal for taxpayers, as Mitchell Anderson lays out in a recent essay in The Tyee. In 2015/16, he notes, the Notley Government “collected a mere $1.5 billion on 942 million barrels of bitumen production, worth only $38 billion due to collapsed oil prices. This resource rent works out to less than four per cent return to Alberta taxpayers. Compare that to the days of former premier Peter Lougheed when Alberta captured 28 per cent of resource revenue, or even 15 per cent even in the days of Ralph Klein. Norway taxes oil company profits at close to 80 per cent.”
So Notley had good reason to attempt a royalty re-jig – too bad she lacked the resolve to see it through. This helps explain her recent tantrums and her government’s desperation to expand the industry – though at a 4% share of depressed oil prices, they’d have to build an awful lot of new pipelines to claw their way out of their fiscal hole.
By the way, those who buy into Notley and Trudeau’s logic that without oil and gas revenues, we can’t afford to pay for our environmental programs need to take a hard look at these revenue numbers (BC’s are even more pathetic) and then promptly knock it off.
Under the influence
I say the above to provide context to our problem, not to absolve our leaders for the bad choices they keep making. Horgan’s predecessor Christy Clark let the oil industry write her climate plan, while she clung to the promise of a fracking-powered LNG industry. Sadly, inexplicably, Horgan is now trying to keep her LNG pipe dream alive. Meanwhile, the Trudeau government welcomed Donald Trump’s election as they saw it would help resurrect the embattled Keystone XL Pipeline.
Our federal and provincial governments may well be “captured” by this industry – but one way to ensure they remain captured is for new leaders to keep taking the same campaign donations and meetings as their predecessors did. According to Huffington Post Canada, by late 2016, the Trudeau Government had already met with these big oil and gas companies or lobby groups the following number of times:
Enbridge: 86 times
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers: 70 times
The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association: 57 times
TransCanada Pipelines: 45 times
Imperial Oil: 57 times
Kinder Morgan 35 times
That’s 350 meetings — nearly one per day — with just six of the top players in the Canadian oil and gas industry in Trudeau’s first year in office. Perhaps this explains why he wound up sticking with the very same Harper-era climate targets he once mocked for being too weak.
How do First Nations, environmental defenders and everyday citizens stand a chance against this kind of influence?
Horgan had made commitments to First Nations that are simply impossible to keep while continuing to break treaty promises and violate their rights in such a significant way – even if he’s real “conflicted” about it.
It remains to be seen where the Horgan NDP goes from here. Their hypocrisy on key issues has already frayed relations with many of their longtime supporters and their legislative partners, the BC Greens. But much of their legacy has yet to be written. Will they show they respect the environment and First Nations’ title and rights by giving their all to oppose Kinder Morgan? Will they refuse to renew unsustainable open net pen salmon farming tenures – many of which come due this June? Will they drop this LNG business once and for all? Will they reverse their disastrous position on Site C? (They still very much can and should).
Or will they just be a milder version of the Alberta NDP or federal Liberals?
These are tough political choices, no doubt. But it’s the tough choices that reveal true character and leadership. It’s actions, not promises that count.
At least be honest
As I argued in a critique of Justin long before he was elected prime minister, it’s his hypocrisy that’s the hardest to stomach. At least with Stephen Harper, Ralph Klein, Christy Clark and Gordon Campbell, we knew what we were getting. They may not have been honest about a lot of things, but they made no bones about their policies on energy, the environment, and Indigenous Rights. They didn’t care and they told you, straight up.
It’s somehow worse being lied to, and then, to add insult to injury, getting lectured for having a problem about it. Justin clearly cares about his brand. Unlike Harper, he desperately wants to be liked – and when people turn on him, even for perfectly good reasons, he doesn’t take it well.
Witness the irony of Justin losing it on a pipeline opponent at a town hall meeting in Nanaimo: “If you’re not going to respect the people in this room, then you need to leave.” What’s worse – not respecting the decorum of a public meeting or not respecting an entire province, the rights of Indigenous people and the environment? If we’re talking about respect, who in this situation deserves the lecture?
Sure as God made little green apples, British Columbians and First Nations will keep fighting Trudeau and Notley on Kinder Morgan and Horgan on Site C, LNG, and fish farms.
These defenders of the environment and Indigenous rights have proven determined to stick to their convictions, even when doing so is deeply inconvenient. Even when it means being bullied, publicly insulted, and threatened with financial ruin or jail. They know Trudeau and Notley’s “National Interest” argument doesn’t hold water; that even the threat of pitting our police officers and military soldiers against decent citizens is a gross abuse of power that makes a mockery of our prime minister’s commitment to obtaining “social licence” for projects; that science and the law tell us we must take our environment and Indigenous rights seriously, and that our leaders are wrong not to – even worse, to pretend to and then break their word.
Of course politicians lie. A cynic might say it’s even quaint or naive to complain about it. But a lot is riding on just how pissed off citizens get about being lied to – and what they are prepared to do about it.
After the backlash from his Site C decision, Horgan can’t make another misstep, like faltering on Kinder Morgan, without losing critical votes to the Greens and dashing his chances of reelection. Justin’s 17 BC seats matter far more to his own future than do his four in Alberta, so declaring war on BC could prove a big mistake. Rachel can’t get reelected without getting her pipelines built, but, let’s face it, even with them, her days are numbered.
So they all had better enjoy their cake while they can.
At this rate, it won’t be long before the party’s over.
On September 12, the Federal Court of Appeal in Montreal will hear the latest legal challenge to the massive Site C hydroelectric dam already under construction on Treaty 8 territory in northeast British Columbia. First Nations community members from Treaty 8 are travelling on a caravan across Canada to focus attention of the importance of this case to the rights of all treaty nations and to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promised new relationship with First Nations.
The Justice for the Peace caravan has been supported by LeadNow and is endorsed by the Assembly of First Nations British Columbia, the First Nations Leadership Summit, and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.
Prophet River and West Moberly First Nations have been fighting the Site C hydroelectric dam project for close to five decades. Site C is a disastrous plan to build a giant dam in the Peace River Valley of northeastern BC. It’s an $8.8 billion project that will flood 83 km of farmland, drown wildlife habitat, and trample indigenous rights — all to supply electricity for dirty tar sands extraction and fracking.
Site C Dam is a litmus test of the commitments made by Canada to have a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations. Treaty 8 Justice for the Peace Caravan are joining thousands of supporters in calling for a respectful relationship that honours Treaties and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, head of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, called the federal government’s permitting of the Site-C Dam “an absolute betrayal of all of the commitments and promises Prime Minister Trudeau made during the last election.” He called on young people to be a part of history by stepping up and taking action to protect the Peace River: and they are.
Youth delegate Helen Knott, who is blogging about the caravan at reclaimthewarrior.wordpress.com, says that although dam construction is underway, “Only a small fraction of land has been cleared and the earth is so resilient that it has already begun to heal itself. It is not too late to stop this dam. It can and will be stopped.”
Says Caleb Behn, Treaty 8 member and Executive Director of Keepers of the Water:
[quote]We are the heart and soul of the oil and gas economy in this country. We have given coal. We have given oil. We have given trees. My dad went to residential school. We gave souls…And this is how you’re going to treat us in the 21st century? This is the kind of hypocrisy that makes me question the wisdom of my ancestors choosing to sign on to treaties.[/quote]
With their Justice for the Peace Caravan, Treay 8 members and their allies are make it loud and clear that if the Trudeau government is serious about a renewed relationship with First Nations, it is unacceptable to issue construction permits while there’s an outstanding First Nations legal challenge about the Site C dam.
The West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations are appealing a federal Judge’s decision to approve the construction of Site-C despite the project’s violation of their constitutionally-protected rights to hunt, fish, and trap. After months of waiting for a trial date, they’re appearing in court on September 12. When the House of Commons resumes sitting a few days later, they’ll head to Ottawa to deliver 20,000+ petition signatures and meet with key Ministers on the file.
“We’ve raised nearly $300,000 for Treaty 8 First Nations’ legal challenges,” says Susan Smitten, executive director of RAVEN Trust.
[quote]The caravan is a powerful demonstration of unity and hope, and what it means to bring people together to support communities who are on the frontline of disastrous projects like the Site C dam. Legal challenges are expensive, and a major financial burden on First Nations. But Treaty rights of First Nations offer some of the strongest environmental protections in the world. They stand a good chance of victory in the courts.[/quote]
The cross-country Justice for the Peace Caravan will stop in communities all across Canada, sharing stories, connecting struggles, and building support for the just resolution of the Treaty 8 First Nations’ case against the Site-C dam. 4,432km is a long way to go.
The Heiltsuk First Nation, whose traditional territory encompasses much of BC’s Central Coast, is ecstatic at the news of the Federal Court of Appeals overturning the approval of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline. “This decision marks a huge step in the right direction,” said Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett.
“From the moment this project was proposed, Heiltsuk leadership had a powerful mandate from our people to fight for the sake of our future generations. And we have fought hard. To say our community is thrilled is an understatement.”
The court’s decision stated, “We find that Canada offered only a brief, hurried and inadequate opportunity…to exchange and discuss information and to dialogue.”
[quote]It would have taken Canada little time and little organizational effort to engage in meaningful dialogue on these and other subjects of prime importance to Aboriginal peoples. But this did not happen.[/quote]
The decision, signed by two of three justices on the Appeal Court, casts serious doubt on the future of the embattled project. The ruling comes in response to a challenge brought on behalf of seven BC First Nations, including the Heiltsuk.
Consultation standard not met
The judges found the federal government did not meet the minimum standard of “reasonable efforts to inform and consult” First Nations.
[quote]The inadequacies — more than just a handful and more than mere imperfections — left entire subjects of central interest to the affected First Nations, sometimes subjects affecting their subsistence and well-being, entirely ignored,” the ruling says.
Many impacts of the project — some identified in the Report of the Joint Review Panel, some not — were left undisclosed, undiscussed and unconsidered.[/quote]
A brief celebration, then back to work
The Heiltsuk will be hosting a celebratory rally in Bella Bella on June 30, but they’re not stopping for long to savour a hard-won legal victory – instead turning their attention to Trudeau government’s next steps on the file, noting:
[quote]Now all eyes are on Trudeau. It’s time to end this project once and for all, to implement a tanker ban that safeguards our precious coast, and to meaningfully model a relationship with Indigenous peoples that respects our sovereignty and our title and rights.[/quote]
In a statement released by the community’s leaders, they indicate, “The Heiltsuk Nation is committed to working alongside [Prime Minister Trudeau] to ensure the coast is protected for the generations to come.”
Video of contentious Enbridge NEB hearing in Bella Bella in 2012:
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.
A letter written by Lax Kw’alaams Hereditary Chief Yahaan (Donnie Wesley), calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reject Petronas’ controversial LNG proposal near Prince Rupert, has gained a long list of unlikely, high-profile supporters.
The signatories include over 70 leaders of First Nations, environmental organizations, businesses, unions, university groups and faith groups, plus several scientists and academics such as David Suzuki and Wade Davis. Amongst the notable First Nations leaders are Garry Reece, Chief Councillor of the Lax Kw’alaams Band Council, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Chief Na’Moks (John Ridsdale) of the Office of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, and Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Liz Logan.
Federal decision expected soon
The plea comes in advance of a decision on the project’s federal environmental permits, expected in early 2016 or sooner – following several delays. By contrast, the BC government has already enthusiastically signed off on the project, but without the support of local First Nations, who rejected the government and proponent’s offer of some $1.15 billion in economic benefits and a significant grant of crown land.
Since then, hereditary leaders of Lax Kw’alaams and their supporters have been occupying Lelu Island in defiance of test drilling and exploratory work by contractors for the proponent. This has led to increasing tensions between First Nations and the Port Authority, which claims jurisdiction over the test work.
“The people of Lax Kw’alaams have unanimously voted ‘No’ against the project because of devastation it would cause to Flora Banks,” said Chief Yahaan on the occupation.”
[quote]It’s a habitat for juvenile migrating salmon, crabs, eulachon, halibut…We are here and we’re telling the people of Canada and British Columbia that we’re not giving up Flora Banks.[/quote]
“Lelu Island is part of the Yahaan’s tribal territory of the Gitwilgyoots,” according to a media release on today’s letter.
Watershed moment for LNG opposition
The letter could signal a watershed moment in the growing movement against LNG development and the fracking that would supply it with fuel. “This is the first time that such widespread and unprecedented agreement has been reached in BC on LNG”, said Greg Horne of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition. “From every corner of the province, we are all in agreement that Lelu Island and Flora Banks is the worst possible spot on the north coast to site an LNG facility”.
Whereas projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain project have seen strong, clear resistance from early on – especially amongst First Nations – LNG has proven a more complex issue. The combination of economic benefits offered to communities and the perception that LNG is somehow less dangerous environmentally than Tar Sands bitumen has meant that traditional oil and gas opponents were slower to take on the Clark government’s LNG vision. But that has changed over the past year, as more groups have connected the dots between fracking in northeast BC and the LNG industry; while the enormous climate impacts of the industry have begun to become clear.
Meanwhile, risks to marine habitat and wild salmon from LNG terminals have sparked a backlash amongst coastal nations and communities along the proposed pipeline routes, where several resistance camps have emerged in recent years.
“Of all the thousands of miles of coastline, they chose the one location most critical for Skeena salmon”, said Des Nobels, Northern Outreach Coordinator, T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation. A separate letter from the United Fisherman and Allied Workers Union (UFAWU) and environmental groups emphasizes the same point to the new PM:
[quote]We urge you to reject this project outright because mitigation will not be possible. The importance of this specific site is long standing common knowledge in the scientific community.[/quote]
While the country speeds toward a high-stakes federal election, things are heating up on the provincial front with the LNG file in BC. As Premier Clark hosts a third international LNG conference in Vancouver, sticking to her “optimistic” outlook despite a cooling global market, several First Nations continue to make waves with the issue – but in very different ways.
Yesterday, representatives of the 600-member Luutkudziiwus house of the Gitxsan Nation announced their intention to file a legal challenge of the province’s permits for the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline (PRGT), which would supply Petronas’ proposed LNG terminal on Lelu Island in the Skeena Estuary.
“We are taking the government to court over the lack of consultation, inadequate baseline information presented, a weak and subjective impact assessment, and the current cumulative effects from past development,”says Luutkudziiwus spokesperson Richard Wright.
[quote]People from all over northern BC are now outraged about the $40 billion Petronas LNG project. It is unbelievable that they claim they consulted with us.[/quote]
Meanwhile, the Squamish Nation’s elected council has voted to grant conditional approval to the proposed Woodfibre LNG plant in Howe Sound. The decision comes after the band announced in August 25 conditions it’s imposing on the project, some of which WFLNG has since consented too.
But local grassroots opposition group My Sea to Sky has strong reservations about this recent move. “While we completely respect the Squamish First Nation’s decision on how to protect and manage their traditional territory, there is still much work to be done by way of actually witnessing the proponent’s ability to meet the conditions during facility construction and operational stage,” the group noted in a statement released this morning.
“At the moment there is growing concern regarding the alternative FortisBC pipeline route and gas-turbine compressor station positioned behind Crumpit Woods, Raven’s Plateau and the Valleycliffe area. Residents are newly becoming aware of this new route situated even closer to their homes and schools. My Sea to Sky is aligned with the Squamish Nation Council with respect to the ardent concern that Woodfibre adopt a less-destructive cooling system to manage the proposed facility.”
The Squamish Nation shares this concern regarding the project’s cooling system, as Chief Ian Campbell acknoledges, “…we need to have mechanisms and assurances that the technology is the best available. The next step is the technical analysts to prove that the system won’t have an adverse impact.”
Campbell, has offered assurances of his members’ commitment to environmental sustainability, adding, “Bottom line: If our lands and waters are not protected, liquefied natural gas plants or other industrial operations simply won’t get built. Period.”
This may be welcome news to My Sea to Sky, but the group remains deeply concerned about local and broader risks from the project.
Thinking beyond Howe Sound
“Given the grave impacts of further developing the LNG industry in British Columbia – increased fracking in Treaty 8 territory in northeast BC, water contamination, climate change-causing emissions, and the risks associated with tanker traffic for the coast – we feel we have a collective responsibility to think beyond our backyards when it comes to evaluating the Woodfibre LNG project,” the group warns. “There are upstream communities deeply affected by our decisions regarding supporting an experimental LNG facility in Howe Sound.”
“Moreover, the social license for the Woodfibre LNG facility is still lacking from the Sea to Sky corridor as well as the municipalities around the sound who have all called for a ban on tankers in Howe Sound.” A long list of local and provincial municipal bodies have already passed motions for a ban on LNG tankers in Howe Sound, including Britannia Beach, Bowen Island, West Vancouver, Lions Bay, Gibsons, the Islands Trust and the Union of BC Municipalities.
Howe Sound resident, Common Sense Canadian co-founder and outspoken WFLNG critic Rafe Mair concurs with this sentiment:
[quote]This is a long way from over. People throughout Howe Sound are going to doing everything imaginable to prevent Woodfibre from going ahead.[/quote]
Chief Campbell made a similar acknowledgement, cautioning this vote does not constitute full approval. “This is one step in a multistage process, so it’s definitely not a green light for the entire project,” said Campbell. “It allows us to issue an environmental certificate that would be legally binding. The Woodfibre LNG facility must abide by all the conditions that the Squamish Nation has imposed.”
Free, Prior and Informed Consent
Meanwhile, in Gitxsan territory in the Skeena Valley, leaders of the Luutkudziiwus House – who are maintaining a camp in the path of proposed pipelines – are prepared to do whatever it takes to assert their rights and keep LNG pipelines off their lands and waters. “Our Madii Lii territory is not to be played with by the province of BC in their LNG game. Clark’s LNG dream is a nightmare for us,” says Hereditary Chief Luutkudziiwus (Charlie Wright). “While she tries to maintain a shiny picture of LNG in their conference this week, the reality is that First Nations are being bulldozed, and we have had enough.”
“We want the BC government to respect our constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights with a true reconciliation process that honors healthy families and increases community health and education,”adds Luutkudziiwus spokesperson Pansy Wright.
“Development within our traditional territories must have our Free, Prior and Informed Consent and stop tearing apart our communities.”
Future of LNG remains unclear
While Clark picked up support for her LNG vision from the Squamish Nation this week, the Gitxsan may have found a new ally in the global LNG market. One of Malaysia’s leading business publications recently revealed that Petronas is likely to put its project on hold until as late as 2024 due to plummeting Asian prices for the resource, which have fallen well below the break-even point for BC-made LNG.
Either way, the future of BC’s key economic vision remains far from clear.
The Tsartlip First Nation on southern Vancouver Island is weighing in on a proposed LNG project for the Saanich Inlet – pouring cold water on an August 20 announcement by proponent Steelhead LNG touting the support of the neighbouring Malahat Nation. Both groups are jumping the gun, warns Tsartlip Chief Don Tom:
[quote]Tsartlip has requested a meeting with Steelhead LNG and it will take place onSeptember 11th. We intend on making it clear that Tsartlip First Nation’s approval will be required for any LNG project to proceed. We oppose the aggressive approach taken by Steelhead LNG and their Board of Directors by publicly announcing the project prior to any discussions with the Tsartlip community.[/quote]
This strong statement comes two weeks after Steelhead – which describes itself as “a Vancouver-based energy company focused on LNG project development in British Columbia” – trumpeted a “mutual benefits agreement” with the Malahat for a proposed floating LNG terminal in the Saanich Inlet at Bamberton. At the same time, the company announced that it had secured a builder, US pipeline company Williams, to begin designing the “Island Connector Project”, which would carry gas from Cherry Point, Washington to the floating plant.
“Tsartlip are the owners of the territory located on the eastern shore of the Saanich Inlet in Brentwood Bay and Tsartlip owns Goldstream Indian Reserve #13 directly to the south of the proposed LNG terminal location,” said a news release from the nation earlier today.
[quote]Steelhead LNG appears to be using a ‘cookie cutter’ approach in dealing with First Nations, this approach will not work with Tsartlip. We take offense to the aggressive pursuit of Malahat LNG without respectful acknowledgment of our Territory.[/quote]
Further south, concerns have been raised by a growing number of groups and individuals about the risks of running LNG tankers through narrow passages and highly populated areas – which Chief Tom echoed in his comments today: “Tsartlip takes tremendous pride in protecting all aspects of our community and will not subject our people to the risks around pipelines and LNG terminals, so far their process can be characterized as disrespectful and insulting.”
You’d hope we’d come a long way since the crises of Gustafsen Lake and Oka . You’d hope.
This is, after all, 2015. Post-Tsilhqot’in decision. Post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission – out of which the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada used the words “cultural genocide” to describe the treatment by the crown of generations of aboriginal peoples.
To top it all off, we’re in the midst of a federal election – hardly the time for strong-armed tactics driving forth federal energy policy.
And yet, in the recesses of the ivory tower that is the PMO in Ottawa, there has likely been a running conversation in recent days and weeks about directing the RCMP to dismantle a First Nations-led encampment on the Morice River, wherein indigenous titleholders to those lands and waters are peacefully denying access to surveyors from TransCanada Pipelines who want to build a natural gas conduit to the coast.
If there is any need to cut down those nests, it won’t come for years into the future, when the dam is raised and the valley flooded. But permits were issued by the Clark government to begin cutting them down in a few days. Why? I’ve thought long and hard about this and can’t find any other good reason than out-and-out provocation of First Nations.
They dare to gum up the cogs of the progress machine? Hit ’em where it hurts. Show ’em who’s boss.
The same can be said for TransCanada’s survey work. All summer we’ve been hearing a familiar, frustrating tune. The company tries to enter this contentious stretch of territory – occupied for years now by members and supporters of one of the five clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, the Unist’ot’en. They have made their position clear: No oil or gas pipelines through their territory. They are backed up by the hereditary chiefs of all five clans. They have not been ambiguous in any way.
Under intense pressure from social media and concerned citizens, groups and prominent leaders, the RCMP issued the following statement on Friday evening:
[quote]To clarify, the BC RCMP has no intention of ‘taking down the camp’ set up by the Unist’ot’en…Despite what is being portrayed by some media and on social media, the BC RCMP would like to emphasize that we remain impartial in this dispute. We understand that there has recently been progress made and we are very pleased with these developments. Our Aboriginal Policing Members continue to remain in contact directly with the Unist’ot’en and we will continue to assist in any way we can. [/quote]
If this is true, it’s a step in the right direction and an indication that public pressure is working.
But it would be foolish not to take such a statement with a pound of salt. After all, we’ve seen this before, all too recently, in New Brunswick, where members of the Elsipogtog First Nation stood up to unwanted shale gas exploration in their territory. Rubber bullets, tear gas, jack boots, German Shepherds. Ugly, ugly stuff.
Moreover, note how the above RCMP statement does not preclude arresting the members of the camp – only “taking down” the camp itself. It will be very interesting to see their next move.
What’s the rush?
What this issue has in common with the eagles’ nests in Peace Country is the unnecessary haste. Wherever you stand on LNG, nothing real is happening anytime soon. Not because of protest – though that’s certainly an important factor – but because the market is simply not there. Heck, it was bad at $50 oil and China bailing out in favour of cheaper Russian pipelines. At $40 oil (Asian LNG spot market prices are indexed to oil prices), with Japanese nuclear plants firing back up, the Chinese economy in trouble, and the Malaysian government imploding, you could not pick a worse time to be developing BC LNG.
So when you hear about Petronas’ contractors carting in geotechnical instruments to Lelu Island, near Prince Rupert, or TransCanada barging into Unist’ot’en territory for survey work, we’re talking early, early, wishful, whimsical, shot-in-the-dark work here. What we are not talking about is anything closely approximating an LNG industry actually being built in BC.
Which brings me to my point: What’s the rush? If this stretch of the Morice River is so sacred to and so forbidden by the First Nations who hold title to it, and meaningful development of a hypothetical plant in Kitimat is so far off in the distant future – not to mention bloody unlikely, period – then why risk provoking another ugly chapter in Canadian colonial history?
Hydro forced to stand down…for now
In another piece of encouraging news – depending how you look at it – an injunction hearing brought this month by Treaty 8 First Nations over the eagles’ nests and other early work by Hydro yielded some progress with a ruling Friday. While the court declined to issue an injunction, as a part of the proceedings, BC Hydro committed to stand down for now on some of this contentious work – until current cases before the courts have been decided.
“We went to court to protect our old growth trees, eagle nests, beaver dams and our traditional way of life”, said Chief Roland Willson of West Moberly First Nations. “As a result, BC Hydro will not be destroying the forests or removing eagle nests and beaver dams in the Moberly River valley [which runs into the Peace River at the dam site]. We asked for those areas to be protected”.
Broader concerns over the legitimacy and constitutionality of Hydro’s work permits for Site C will be decided at a judicial review hearing in November. Yet these temporary concessions from Hydro are cold comfort amidst the Clark government’s obsessive drive to build a $9 Billion-plus project that we plainly don’t need and to which First Nations and farmers and many supporters around BC are steadfastly opposed.
What’s Harper driving at?
It’s not terribly surprising that Clark continues pushing forward her LNG and Site C pet projects while she faces little opposition from an absent NDP and her next provincial election is a ways off yet. But the RCMP’s enforcement of pipeline construction is a federal matter that, knowing how the Harper government operates, must be micromanaged from the PMO. This in the midst of a federal election campaign.
Which begs the question: What is Harper up to?
The logical conclusion is that he sees an opportunity to prove his point on Bill C-51 – to offer up an example of the kind of “radical” protest of “critical infrastructure” for which he designed it. If the RCMP were to push their way into the camp and things went badly, in his twisted mind, this would provide fodder for his campaign. “See, I told you. These are the kind of radicals you need my protection from.”
If this is what he’s thinking, I submit he’s wrong. The Unist’ot’en have indicated their intention for peaceful, title-and-rights-based opposition. Nothing good can coming of provoking this sort of conflict. And as I say, there’s simply no need for it at this stage in the game. Meaningful LNG development is miles away, if it ever comes.
Time for a Time-Out
So, to TransCanada, I say, you’ve got 1,000 km of survey work to do. Leave the Unist’ot’en alone.
To Stephen Harper, you just polled 23% to Mulcair’s 40% in a major national poll, partly because of this very attitude you continue exhibiting. I suggest you worry more about staying in office than beating the policies of your last term over the heads of the Unist’ot’en and other First Nations and concerned citizens. Canada needs to grow up, not regress to the travesties of Gustafsen Lake and Oka.
And to Christy Clark, I say, your own election campaign is not really that far off. Should you stay this course, your fiscal recklessness, disrespect of the courts and First Nations will come back to bight you in the you-know-what.
Three powerful coastal First Nations are banding together to protect Pacific herring – a marine resource integral to all of their cultures. The Nuu-chah-nulth of West Vancouver Island and the Haida today signed onto a declaration by the Heiltsuk Nation of BC’s central coast to defend herring against unsustainable commercial fisheries.
“Today, we have taken the first step in what will be a long and important journey,” said kil tlaats ’gaa Peter Lantin, President of the Haida Nation.
[quote]This declaration is a commitment by our Nations to collaboratively protect herring stocks using our traditional laws. Our success in implementing this declaration will benefit all British Columbians by ensuring the health of the herring, and by extension, every species that depends on them.[/quote]
The signing comes amid the Assembly of First Nations gathering in Ottawa and on the heels of a seminal potlatch in Bella Bella last week during which the Haida and Heiltsuk celebrated a historic Peace Treaty between their two nations. The president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, Debra Foxcroft, joined in the festivities too, along with hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, each of whom vowed to work together to protect indigenous title and rights and the environment in the face of intense pressure for industrial development.
“For decades our herring have been overfished and mismanaged by the DFO,” said Foxcroft on signing the herring declaration. “The last two years have been particularly contentious. Just when it looked like herring in our territories were starting to recover, the Minister decided to open our territories to commercial roe herring fisheries in 2014, contrary to the recommendation of the Minister’s own senior staff in DFO to keep our territories closed until the herring recovered.
“The Minister acted on her own accord, and in doing so forced our Nations to go to court to protect herring in our territories…We seek a new way of doing business with Canada that will properly manage herring as they try to rebuild.”
While the Haida and Nuu-chah-nulth were able to halt planned commercial fisheries in their territories this past Spring through the courts, the Heiltsuk had to take to the waters and occupy the local DFO office to protect herring stocks. The result was an intense standoff, documented in these pages, which saw the gillnet fishery scrapped – but only after a stealth seine opening by DFO during which commercial boats scooped up 680 tonnes of herring from Spiller Channel in Area 7.
Even with the pressure of the DFO occupation and the backing of other nations like the Haida and Nuu-chah-nulth for province-wide protests, it was ultimately the lack of available fish that forced the gillnet fleet to depart empty-hulled – vindicating First Nations’ and independent scientists’ contention that a commercial fishery is unsustainable at this point.
Fighting for a sustainable alternative
The Heiltsuk and other coastal nations employ a sustainable fishery in which herring lay their prized roe on kelp and hemlock boughs, swimming free to spawn another day. By contrast, the commercial seine and gillnet fisheries capture and kill millions of herring just to harvest roe from a small percentage of mature female fish. “Our nation has a proven Aboriginal right to fish and harvest spawn-on-kelp and it is our responsibility to ensure this fishery remains sustainable,” explained Marilyn Slett, Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Nation.
“This Declaration provides guidance on effective legal and policy frameworks that will ensure that we, as stewards of our lands and waters, continue to protect our resources for future generations.”
The Heiltsuk are currently in negotiations with DFO for a co-management agreement that could help to ease tensions in advance of next year’s herring season.