I am, as readers well know, a babe in the woods when it comes to matters of journalism. Ever naive, I read the papers in awe and know that all times they have my better understanding of affairs at heart.
Well then, imagine my horror when I found that my hopes and dreams had been dashed. I’m like that little boy seeing his idol, Shoeless Joe Jackson, arrested for cheating, mumbling through tears of disappointment, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” Here’s how it happened.
About a year ago, one Stewart Muir, for nearly 14 years the Deputy Managing Editor of the Vancouver Sun, founded an organization called Resource Works, stated to be an independent organization dedicated to bringing people together to come up with sensible answers to environmental concerns. (As the Duke of Wellington said when a man accosted him on the street with “Mr. Robinson, I believe”, “If you’ll believe that you’ll believe anything! “).
As we have well demonstrated in these pages, one of Resource Works’ main functions – amidst broad platitudes about “breaking the ice in the controversial resource debate, through research and honest, respectful dialogue” – is to promote the controversial, proposed Woodfibre LNG project near Squamish.
Now comes the part where, if you’re a believer in newspaper honour and ethics, you’d be wise to pour yourself a stiff drink.
The first thing available to you when you “Google” Resource Works is a document called “About Resource Works“. It’s bright and full of pretty videos and even prettier statements about Resource Works. When you get to the bottom, it’s black as the inside of a goat with barely legible grey printing. Scroll down – make sure you have lots of light – and there’s a heading called “Partnerships”, which tells you, “We’re proud to work with a diverse range of partners“.
And who are these partners?
Under “P” just above RBC Royal Bank – are you ready for this? – none other than the Vancouver Province!
In the name of God, the Province, Resource Works, and by logical extension, Woodfibre LNG, are partners!
In short, Postmedia, which includes the Vancouver Sun, the Province, and the flagship National Post are shills for a highly controversial undertaking which we expect them to hold to account on our behalf!
Conflict of interest?
Is it any surprise that the Province doesn’t care about the ethics of the owner of Woodfibre LNG? Or any wonder they’re not concerned that Howe Sound and the Fraser River are too narrow for LNG tankers?
This is a good moment to look at how a newspaper ought to behave, as outlined in the Pew Reseach Centre’s nine core principles of journalism:
[quote]While news organizations answer to many constituencies, including advertisers and shareholders, the journalists in those organizations must maintain allegiance to citizens and the larger public interest above any other if they are to provide the news without fear or favour. This commitment to citizens first is the basis of a news organization’s credibility, the implied covenant that tells the audience the coverage is not slanted for friends or advertisers.[/quote]
I can’t imagine any publisher or editor arguing with the proposition that their papers cannot place themselves in a conflict of interest, real or perceived, any more than a Member of Parliament or MLA can. Remember the merry hell the media raised with then Premier Vander Zalm when he confused his role as premier with hustler of a theme park?
Industry gets easy ride from papers
Let’s look, then, at two environmental issues which have come to the fore since the Campbell government came into power in 2001 and see if we can spot a conflict of interest?
During that time, The Sun and Province each had a political columnist, Vaughn Palmer for the former and Mike Smyth for the latter.
First, a quick look back at Palmer’s columns during the NDP decade. He was thorough, critical, and accurate. He almost single-handedly brought down the Glen Clark premiership with his coverage of the fast ferry fiasco. I can’t think of any issue where the NDP of that decade got an easy ride from Palmer – nor, for that matter, should they have
Starting in 2001, Palmer changed from being a government critic to being only a critic of things that were not going to get his newspaper into trouble with the government or advertisers.
Example: Early in his regime, Campbell brought in a new energy policy which, with the exception of Site “C”, forbade BC Hydro from creating any new sources of power and gave that right exclusively to the private sector. This “Run Of River” policy is, far from being a benign as advertised, hugely destructive in several respects. Prominent economists added the concern that BC Hydro was losing buckets of money by being forced to buy private power at several times the cost of either importing or making the power themselves.
Private power play
This was a big election issue in 2009, every bit as egregious a sin, hell, far more egregious than the Fast Ferries debacle. There was the documented damage to rivers not just by dams (the private power people preferred “weirs”) but roads and power lines to the critical insect population, the resident trout that were seriously imperilled, as were spawning salmon, and thus gulls and eagles – a plethora of issues.
Palmer rarely covered this policy and when he did, it was usually in defence of it. For 14 years, Palmer and Sun editorials have spared the Liberals from a moment’s discomfort on this subject!
Palmer ignores troubling LNG facts
Fast forward to more recent days, the Christy Clark government and LNG. Clark, apart from making a horse’s ass of herself with promises of a hundred billion dollar Prosperity Fund, has displayed child-like indifference to the many serious issues involved.
For starters, wouldn’t you think that Palmer, would have thoroughly investigated the background of Sukanto Tanoto, the man behind Woodfibre LNG?
As everyone knows, Mr. Tanoto is a convicted, big league tax avoider and destroyer of tropical jungles. The evidence is thorough and easily available but Postmedia and Palmer seem quite uninterested in whether or not WLNG would pay its taxes and respect our environment.
There is now overwhelming evidence from leading scientists that both Howe Sound and the Fraser River are far too narrow to sustain LNG tanker traffic. This, apparently, is of no concern to Palmer and Postmedia either
Why not?, I wonder.
There are, of course, many other concerns about LNG, including fracking, transferring natural gas to the plant, converting it into LNG, and the hazards of producing it and loading it for transport. Again, one would’ve expected Mr. Palmer to examine this issue pretty carefully. To the best of my knowledge, he has not written a word on these problems.
Neither has Mike Smyth for the Province written much critical on these two enormous issues.
Why would these men avoid these two major topics. They are both skilled writers and it’s hard to explain their silence. Could they be under outside pressure? That suspicion certainly crosses the mind.
Postmedia sells journalistic credibility to oil lobby
Last year, the Vancouver Observer reported on a Postmedia presentation that outlined a content strategy including several Financial Post “Special Report” sections, with topics to be arranged by Postmedia and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).
The partnership also includes 12 single-page “joint venture” features in newspapers across the country. Those are different from “special reports” in that CAPP fully directs the topics and Postmedia writers just pen them.
This note from Douglas Kelly, the publisher of Postmedia’s National Post, may help explain these, ahem, corporate blow-jobs:
[quote]From its inception, the National Post has been one of the country’s leading voices on the importance of energy to Canada’s business competitiveness internationally and our economic well being in general. We will work with CAPP to amplify our energy mandate and to be part of the solution to keep Canada competitive in the global marketplace. The National Post will undertake to leverage all means editorially, technically and creatively to further this critical conversation.[/quote]
Now there’s “arms length” journalism for you! This helps explain the Sun and Province’s support for the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, opposed by many municipalities and citizens affected by the project.
A lucrative partnership
Resource Works and the Province have had a very profitable time as partners.
RW teamed up with the paper to produce a weekly feature on how important trade, industry and resource development are to the B.C. economy. Combining company propaganda and being partners, one can assume that the financial deal was very favourable to the Province.
The Province gave Muir a podium to argue that we can’t have health care without LNG development. It continues to give him a regular soapbox, as you will have noticed in what appear to be op-ed pieces at will. You might also have noticed that when I, for example, answer one of his screeds, it’s heavily censored and published several days later, if at all…after which Muir is given free reign to rebut my rebuttal.
The Province also gave a similar podium to Resource Works adviser Dan Miller, who was briefly premier as the New Democrats imploded in 2000. Miller is a long-time resource industry evangelist and a consultant with PR powerhouse National Public Relations, which has Enbridge as a client. Partners, you see, are nothing if not loyal.
Clearly, Postmedia takes its obligation as RW’s partner very seriously indeed!
Did Resource Works doctor interview?
But could it be that despite all this, Resource Works is still telling us the true state of affairs?
To answer that, I’m going to poach on my own column, here, of March 15, 2015. I’m satisfied that it succinctly and fairly sums up the situation.
The Province and Sun haven’t uttered a peep of concern about the adequacy of Howe Sound to handle LNG tankers. Perhaps this has something to do with their partnership with their old colleague Muir and his Resource Works – d’ya think?
When they unveiled their Citizens Guide to LNG: Sea to Sky Country Edition in March, we were told to watch a video interview of Dr. Michael Hightower, an expert on tanker traffic.
Here is what I wrote, in part:
Let’s look at transportation of LNG by tanker through Howe Sound. I do that not just because it’s of enormous concern to everybody who lives along the proposed route, but because Resource Works dwells upon the issue. They concede that if tankers go too close to the shore, there could be a problem. However, they assure us there is no problem because they spoke to Dr. Mike Hightower, of Sandia Laboratories in New Mexico, a world acknowledged expert on the subject, who’s developed a protocol accepted by US authorities for the distances ships must maintain between themselves and the shore.
Resource Works has produced a number of videos which they make available to the public in order to sell the benefits of LNG. In all of them the interviewer is an attractive young lady named Meena Mann. It is in one of them, featured on the Vancouver Province (surprise, surprise!) website, where Dr. Hightower appears to talk to Ms. Mann about LNG and tankers and you would likely conclude that there is very little danger, if any, posed by LNG tankers in Howe Sound.
Here is what Sandia has reported, based upon Dr Hightower’s work:
“Sandia National Laboratories defines for the US Department of Energy three Hazard Zones (also called “Zones of Concern”) surrounding LNG carriers. The largest Zone is 2.2 miles/3,500 meters around the vessel, indicating that LNG ports and tankers must be located at least that distance from civilians. Some world-recognized LNG hazard experts, such as Dr. Jerry Havens (University of Arkansas; former Coast Guard LNG vapor hazard researcher), indicate that three miles or more is a more realistic Hazard Zone distance.”
What the video does not tell you is that Dr. Hightower had not addressed his attention to Howe Sound, and when local resident Dr. Eoin Finn did so, Dr. Hightower concurred that Bowen Island and parts of West Vancouver are very much at risk – within the 1-mile radius – as are parts of the Sea-to-Sky Highway and Lions Bay/Bowyer Island. In other words, if one accepts Dr. Hightower’s formula, as Resource Works clearly does, there is no way any LNG tankers would be permitted to proceed from Squamish to the ocean.
Dr. Finn, a former KPMG partner and chemistry PhD, took the time to phone Dr. Hightower because the interview didn’t look quite right. Well, it wasn’t right because it wasn’t conducted by Meena Mann at all but by a male!
Was the question changed when Ms. Mann did her fake interview? Was Dr. Hightower’s answer altered? I don’t know but this sort of shabby deception is bound to raise doubts like this. What we do know is that far from supporting Resource Works’ assertion that LNG tanker traffic is safe in Howe Sound, given the facts, Dr. Hightower comes to exactly the opposite conclusion …
Resource Works is guilty of a hugely deceptive practice. Even if Miss Mann asked precisely the same questions the real interviewer did, there are different inflections in the voice no doubt and her body language during the interview was, to say the least, descriptive of her feelings. If this is an example of the integrity of Resource Works, they are not entitled to any credibility whatsoever.
Resource Works’ distortions continue.
A case was brought in 2013 against Encana and the province by the Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club. The issue was whether or not section 8 of the Water Act, which allows back-to-back short-term permits, was valid. That was the sole issue; the judge made it clear that she wasn’t deciding on the government’s overall water policy, or the “fracking” question, but whether back-to-back short term water leases under The Water Act were valid – bear that in mind.
Resource Works, in reporting this – and I quote, from page 47 of A Citizen’s Guide To LNG: Sea To Sky Country Edition – states: “When a ruling came down in late 2014 it showed that the regulatory processes in place, and industry compliance with them, are sound and well managed.
“In an overwhelming endorsement of current practices in water protection, Justice Fitzpatrick concluded that when it comes to the regulation of industries water usage, British Columbia is in good shape with a “justifiable transparent and intelligible framework for the regulation of short term water use.”
In fact, she did no such thing as a reading of the judgment makes abundantly clear. She confined her decision to the interpretation of Section 8 only. The issue was whether or not section 8 of the Water Act, which allows gas companies to get an endless number of water approvals back-to-back, was lawful.
Only a practitioner of the black arts of Public Relations could read into Madam Justice Fitzpatrick’s judgment that she said “that the regulatory processes in place, and industry compliance with them, are sound and well managed”, or “when it comes to the regulation of industries water usage, British Columbia is in good shape.’”
She simply did not say this!
Over the decades, I’ve seen unscrupulous people misquote judges but never have I seen a situation like this where the judge’s words were completely made up to suit!
Surely, one’s entitled to conclude that this sort of dissembling, distortion, and outright misrepresentation colours all of the presentations of this outfit not to mention their partners, Postmedia.
What we have then is an organization, Resource Works, set up to deceive people and they’ve diligently done just that. They pretended initially that they were “independents” only trying to get a dialogue going between people but, as anybody who takes a glance at this issue would quickly confirm, this was barnyard droppings. RW is clearly a shill for Woodfibre LNG, plain and simple.
Part of this process of deceiving the public comes in what Resource Works does not say. It’s interesting, for example, that A Citizen’s Guide To LNG: Sea To Sky Country Edition doesn’t touch the issue of “fracking” until page 46 and then only in two brief paragraphs. It mentions that there is a US documentary on the subject but says that they, Resource Works, don’t think there’s any evidence of problems with “fracking” in BC. If that doesn’t convince you, I ask you, what will?
To make matters much worse – and the purpose of this column – is that one of the largest media corporations in Canada is involved up to their ears in this sham – I nearly said scam – and no longer can make any pretence at providing independent information for its readers. It’s like a clock that strikes 13 – you can never trust it again.
Is that overstating the matter?
I think not.
Circling the drain
By their own clear admission, Postmedia is in deep financial trouble, laying off and buying out huge numbers of employees. Their stated reason is lack of advertising revenue. Does this affect their reporting of what advertisers, current and potential, are up to? Does it impact on how they report on governments supported by those advertisers? Has it made it attractive enough for them to ignore time-honoured journalistic ethics and make unholy alliances? These thoughts are bound to occur to one.
When you read nothing from either the local paper’s political commentators on the downside of the Woodfibre LNG proposal, given that Postmedia’s a partner, does it not immediately occur to you that something’s strange here? Here’s an issue which may bring down the Clark government and both Vaughn Palmer and Mike Smyth, political commentators, are apparently not interested!
Can we trust anything concerning LNG when it appears in Postmedia? Can they be trusted to fairly present opposition to Woodfibre LNG? What are they not reporting?
My father used to say, “Rafe, don’t believe everything that you read in the newspapers.” I change that advice to my children and grandchildren by saying, “apart from the comic strips and possibly the Obituary Page, don’t believe a damn thing you read in the newspapers!”
Unless, of course, you believe in the Easter Bunny, think slot machines are fair and are interested in buying a bridge I have for sale.