Rafe Mair: Howe Sound under siege

Rafe Mair: Howe Sound under siege

Rafe Mair: Howe Sound under siege
Boaters raise the alarm over plans to re-industrialize Howe Sound (Future of Howe Sound Society)

Howe Sound is Canada’s southernmost fjord. It is a natural beauty which should be declared a world-class heritage site.

I grew up as a child on Howe Sound and well remember the men with the herring rakes, raking out the herring for salmon bait. Speaking of the salmon, if you went fishing and didn’t catch one, you must’ve forgotten to put a spoon on your line.

Over the years, Howe Sound went downhill. Industry polluted and people became careless about the environment. The fish disappeared; the whales disappeared; the Orcas disappeared; the herring and salmon seriously diminished.

Howe Sound on rebound…

A revitalization program – partly official, mostly just people taking care – has brought Howe Sound back, not quite to where it was when I was a boy, but considerably back to where it  should be. Herring came back, salmon increased, Orcas abound and humpback whales have appeared for the first time in years. The fishing industry has restarted.

…But not for long

This, unfortunately, was not to last. Industry has reappeared, big-time.

Just let me give you an example of what we now see on the horizon for Howe Sound:

1.     $60 million proposed McNab Greek creek gravel mine

2.     $1.7  billion Woodfibre liquefied natural gas (LNG) project

3.     $350 million Eagle Mountain Woodfibre gas pipeline expansion project

4.     $500 million Metro Vancouver waste incineration facility at Port Mellon

5.     We already have three private, ‘run-of-river’ projects, one approved and two in the process of approval – under the radar somehow.

6.     A multimillion dollar real estate development at Brittania Beach involving 4000 homes. God knows how many cars and of course all of the impact such large, new community will bring.

There are a number of citizen groups opposed to this development, both in Squamish and other parts of the Sea to Sky Highway and Howe Sound communities.

Map of Howe Sound with proposed industrial projects (with help of Future of Howe Sound Society)

Gravel pit threatens salmon, recreation

McNab Creek gravel pit is the center of attention. A gravel pit, for God’s sake! McNab Creek, apart from the Squamish River, is the only salmon-bearing river in Howe Sound. The gravel pit will, of course, have all of the usual effects on salmon rivers that gravel pits do. Erosion, siltation, and habitat loss will threaten multiple species of spawning wild salmon.

McNabb Creek-gravel pit location
McNab Creek – location of proposed gravel mine

The company, Burnco, out of Calgary, wishes to use McNab Creek because it is closer to its customers and cheaper to deliver gravel by boat. This will be a catastrophe and it’s safe to say that the people of the Howe Sound area are almost entirely opposed to it.

This massive assault cannot be under played. We will have lost a world class beauty spot. I haven’t even mentioned the impact of tankers out of Vancouver.

The difficulty comes in the opposition. People are law-and-order by nature and tradition. They don’t like to offend the law but obey it. John Weston, a conservative MP for the area, is fond of talking about how there is “process” in place.

Environmental review process deeply flawed

Well, folks, this “process” is about as fair as the Soviet show trials were in the 1930s. The fix is in. The process doesn’t involve the people expressing their opinion as to whether not they want the project – all they can do is offer suggestions as to how the environmental process might proceed.

The meetings are stacked – the proceedings biased and there’s always somebody from the company on the stage to “explain things”.

Companies are ordered to perform routine processes such as have public houses and opportunities where they try to explain themselves to the public. The difficulty here is the companies are not noted for telling the truth anymore than governments are. There’s no frank discussion of the downside of the project – simply a propaganda exercise complete with pretty pictures and models showing what a marvellous thing this is going to be for the people. In the case of Burnco, they fail to mention that it will entail just 16 low paid jobs.

Time for civil disobedience

There is nothing harmless about a gravel pit on a fish bearing river indeed on any river.

Unfortunately the answer to the question – if indeed there is an answer – involves civil disobedience.

One is always reluctant to suggest this for fear of being seen as promoting violence, which I’m not. I am not fomenting revolution; I am simply saying that unless the citizens of the Howe Sound area – indeed all of British Columbia – stand up to the government and refuse to accept these projects, they will go ahead.

Refusal to accept means, frankly, getting in the way of the production. Lying down in front of bulldozers and that sort of thing.

The pattern that follows is all-too familiar. The company takes the civil law and turns it into criminal law by getting  injunctions against a few of the people who protest – and when those people refuse to obey the injunctions, they are sent to jail for contempt of court and that takes the steam out of the movement.

It’s that latter phrase we must watch – taking the steam out of the movement. We must have enough people prepared to go to jail that it is the government and companies who tire of the exercise, not the public.

This takes organization and it takes people willing to make sacrifices. This means that more and more people go to jail so that the authorities tire and, in fact, perhaps even run out of jail space.

Democracy in name only

In a democracy these are strange words. The problem is is we should know we live in a democracy in name only. The public does not get the right to decide what’s going to happen to them – that’s  decided by line corporations with their handmaidens in government.

Am I being too hard on governments and corporations?

I don’t think so – all you have to do is look at the amount of money spent by the public relations people in industry has been almost duplicated by governments using public funds – so a docile public  hasn’t got a chance.

When you add to that a media that is beholden to government and industry, the public has almost no chance of being informed, except by volunteer efforts without the backup of expert opinion.

It is gone on long enough.

Time to get together

Pipelines will abound in British Columbia to make money for somebody else and destroy our heritage. We, the people, are offered nothing else but go through the process and then sit back and take it.

Surely that’s not good enough.

Surely we must finally get together and fight back.

We have valuable allies in first Nations. Unfortunately they have the right to think that they’re standing alone on this fight and everybody else is waiting for them to win it. This is simply not fair nor is a practical. We have to get behind that leadership and support it every way we can, personally and monetarily.

If we do not rise up as one and fight back against the power of hugely-funded industry and client governments, we will lose our province.

The solution is strong medicine. It will be difficult to organize. But we’ve got to do it.


P.S. Rafe’s back

I have been away – I hope you noticed. It started in the middle of December when I took a bad fall and went to hospital this was aggravated by another fall after I got home in January. To make a long story short, I spent 4 ½ months in the hospital and nearly bought it three times. Presently I am home and still quite weak. It will take some time for me to get better, I am told.

In the meantime I hope to get back to doing more writing. This is my first story for The Common Sense Canadian in nearly 6 months. I hope to vastly improve upon that record.

In the meantime I thank you very much for your patience and I am delighted to see that my friend and colleague Damien Gillis has kept things running and the magazine has grown and prospered.


Rafe Mair


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at rafeonline.com.

27 thoughts on “Rafe Mair: Howe Sound under siege

  1. Could some one speak to the IPP kilowatt rate currently being paid out by hydro and how that equates to billions of dollars – the standing offer for residential solar power generation is l believe 9.99 cent a Kw hour – do the IPP power contractors get more than the current residential program . Rafe , l am so thankful for you . Cheers and happy new year to all of you caring folks out there .

  2. Rafe – Your comments are bang on – Howe Sound is Vancouver’s most precious jewel – every aspect of the sound is more valuable as it is so accesible to workaday families – almost anyone can afford a rental boat for a few hours or just to simply dawdle at Porteau cove for a few hours with the kids. The rest of the BC coast might as well not exist for most folks in Vancouver for all they get to see of it. We’ve seen heaps of dolphins, seals, orca’s and sea lions in Howe Sound – more wildlife than I’ve seen elsewhere in BC.

    As an environmental professional I can’t see how mining out the gravel acquifers that feed steady flows of clean water to salmon eggs embedded in McNab Creek isn’t going to kill off the McNabb salmon runs.

    The Woodfibre LNG plant is still considering floating compressor trains whirring away 24/7 which will transmit sound into the water that chases away herring, and the remaining salmon and the Orcas and dolphins that once again are part of the food web in the sound.

    What are these proponents thinking? If they want to have half a chance of being accepted by the residents of this part of the world they have to spend a little more time thinking how to make their projects work without destroying all we have now.

    The good news is that the Metro incinerator proposal is likely dead for the moment due to BC Hydro’s reluctance to buy expensive power from it.

    Welcome Back Rafe – May you long keep reminding us what is good!

  3. Today, my husband and I witnessed an amazing sight – a Humpback Whale breaching and fluking as it journeyed up Howe Sound.

    It will be so sad if, after the de-industrialization of Howe Sound, new industries are to be introduced. To my mind, the worst of the proposals would be the Gravel Mine because the loading of barges from a belt high above the water would cause loud underwater noise and disturb the whales which are now returning to these waters. This would be followed closely by the proposed Garbage Incinerator. Don’t people realize that Howe Sound is really one huge bowl that traps pollution. When Woodfibre was in the operation, we, on Pasco Road,
    used to smell it when the wind blew in a certain direction. We are miles from Woodfibre!!
    As for LNG Tankers, they would be navigating through a narrow passage between the Mainland and Bowen Island where there is substantial marine traffic – and ferries.

    Howe Sound should be declared a World Heritage Site – a now almost-pristine fjord so close to a major city. The area should be declared a Marine Park with the same protection as Stanley Park.

    Wishing you a return to good health, Rafe. My husband and I have long been major fans!!

  4. Glad to hear you’re back and on the mend, Rafe.

    We definitely need more voices like yours and Damien’s and mine, because we might need a sonic boom to wake up all the late sleepers to help stop the catastrophe we call the Harper Government.

  5. Great to see you back in harness Rafe. I see above that the latter day “Easter Islanders” are still hanging around like a smelly old G suit.

    There is a breathtaking absence of critical thinking that continues to financially cripple BC’s future.

    Every curious person in BC knows that the price of new electricity generation is near or greater than $100 per MWhr. Even the contemporary new-call for micro projects is settling in around $115 per MWhr. Anyone asking the BC Hydro director of business development will not get a straight answer as to what new heavy industrial customers will pay but it would be no surprise if you were to think in terms of $40 per MWhr. So who is to make up the subsidy for these corporate free riders? If you don’t immediately think of the residential and commercial customers like you and me then you would be wrong.

  6. If people like Rafe had been in office a hundred years ago, there wouldn’t be a British Columbia.

  7. This is neither a “left or right” issue. This is not about progress or standing still. This is about what is the most beneficial solution for all. Sadly, we have a government in BC run by lobbyists and special interests. Neutrality and objectivity do not exist in BC any more. All we have left now are folks willing volunteer their/our time to speak up.

    The process for everything to do with these mega projects is rigged, the deck is stacked, It seems more and more obvious the decisions all have been made long ago, the game now is to make it all appear as if the system is working. In reality, are these lobbyists, marketing and P.R. firms looking out for the public’s best interest, or the interests of shareholders??

    We see nothing wrong with progress. But not at the expense of eliminating oversight, checks and balances. Metro vancouver are trying desperately to place one of their garbage incinerators (up to 6 of them) in the Howe Sound. Anyone with any brains can see how devastating this will be for the Howe Sound. Regional tourism will be all but destroyed, barge loads of garbage coming in, barge loads of gravel going out, what’s wrong with this picture?

    It’s ironic all these big money players don’t live in these areas they want to decimate. In their “ivory tower” communities, man they scream bloody murder if someone is pan handling too close to their country club. The disconnect to these communities in question, where actual people live and work, raise their kids, shows the level of arrogance and ignorance when measuring the pros and cons on whether to proceed with a mega project. The impact to environment, community, the social ramifications rank way at the bottom, profits, control and power, rank way at the top.

    Those who think these are wonderful things, how would they feel with a gravel pit, a garbage incinerator of natural gas plant next door to them? For the record, the mega project of a garbage incinerator has proponents falsely claiming all the jobs that can be created at a garbage incinerator. When actually measuring what is incinerated, directing those materials to a super sorting Material Recovery Facility, (MRF) instead, once organics are removed, up to 15 times more jobs are created in the recycling, reuse and non thermal recovery sectors. The amount of jobs lost to a garbage burner in tourism will dwarf the jobs created at the incinerator.

    So the high priced talent, those bought and paid for “experts, lobbyists and P.R. firms” will put whatever spin is needed to help ram some of these horrible projects through. They don’t live here, why would they care? But dare try to do anything where these hypocrites live, oh they’ll have the law on ya so quick it will make your head spin. Lot of brave talk from people who don’t live in the Howe Sound!!!

  8. We have lived on Howe Sound for 25 years now. I was involved in the fight to prevent a huge LNG tank at McNab Creek – a circumstance only narrowly averted at the last minute. You are right, Raif, the fix is in. It was then and it is now!

    A Gravel Mine at McNab Creek would not only light up the night sky, but the barges being loaded would cause a huge amount of noise underwater. I went to the Public Meeting at Gleneagles and it was just as you would expect – lots of pretty pictures and glib explanations. Not that it makes any difference who is involved, but it really grates that the company planning this is from Alberta.

    When we first came here, it was not unusual to see salmon jumping, but this is a sight we have not seen in some years. However, we were around about three years ago when the first dolphins were sighted – due, of course, to the creosoted piers in Squamish being lagged so that the herring can spawn. Now we have Orcas and even a Humpback.

    Howe Sound deserves more respect. It should be declared a World Heritage Site. I am in my early seventies, so don’t expect to live to see much of the devastation that would ensue if Howe Sound is to be re-industrialized, but I do love my grandsons and would like to think that this beautiful environment could be kept as pristine as possible for them.

  9. Rafe sounds like classic modern left. If the process doesn’t produce the results you want, it’s biased, if you don’t agree the law, ignore it. Hollywood morality: If I believe I am right, I am, and that gives me the right to trample others’ rights and do whatever I want.

    Only someone on the left would look at the economic devastation wrought by industrial closures as a positive. For well educated, better off than average people like Rafe, jobs are not something we worry about. We are far enough removed from industrial processes to be able to indulge in the fantasy that we can declare our own backyards industry free without consequences. Unfortunately that doesn’t work so well for the communities that need the tax revenue and the less than well educated folk who need the jobs.

    And anyway, it is not an all or nothing proposition. We can have a bit of industry without destroying Howe Sound. Nobody is going to build another 19th century pulp mill. Let’s have realistic mitigation strategies instead of extremist BANANA posturing please.

      1. If true, that is a result of the ongoing histrionics that follow any kind of development these days. A small but increasingly well financed, boisterous minority can use longer, more complicated processes to tie up developments indefinitely. They have even acknowledged this as their strategy. The proponent loses either way.. if they win the opponents just claim it was all a set up or unfair. Rafe never says exactly what is so devastating about a gravel pit, for example, other than his apoiled view. He offers nothing except ‘build nothing’, which is not a practical strategy nor fair to those who need work near where they live. For Rafe to compare the current review processes to Soviet show trials is just nuts. To complain of anti democratic behaviour when we just had an election where a majority of voters supported parties that want more resource development is even more ridiculous, and is itself anti-democratic. Thank goodness these decisions do not belong 5o locals alone.

        1. Mike……
          A GRAVEL PIT trumps a salmon spawning stream?
          Give your head a shake man. This company doesnt give a damn about the environment. They are doing this because its very profitable. Let them build there gravel pit somewhere else where its slightly less profitable……..

          When I think of the thousands of hours volunteers have spent over the past few years improving the herring spawning grounds so that salmon, seals, killer whales, humpbacks, etc.etc.etc can have a place to EAT.

          I dont give a damn about one gravel pit and the profits of a company that resides out of Province.

          Bring on the protesters. I welcome them with open arms………

        2. Hey Mikeknight , I have to say , are you a little thick in the head man (to put it nicely) . If you want to see what a gravel pit does when built on a river , go to the Coquitlam River and look . Rafe doesn’t need to fill in all the blanks , well I guess there are people that can’t see the obvious . Perhaps they need to do a little research . Go fishing , hunting , hiking etc. Go into the woods camp and then you might know what the blanks can be filled with . Do you even know what is going on politically in this province or Canada for that matter .

  10. Go to the root of the problem: demand. The solution will take a long while to implement, but the it’s the only real way to take power from the pyramid scheme we call modern western society.
    A dialogue on this would be controversial, for sure, but wouldn’t dealing with the source of the issue be more ultimately effective?

  11. Rafe, we missed you or should I say the province missed you. The forces of evil are at the gates, lead by premier photo-op and her mutinous crew. The are mere puppets whose string go very far to their corporate masters.

    The mainstream media have devolved into a quivering jelly of deceit almost like Uriah Heep, unctuous, self-serving and basically dishonest. There is no truth, no morals, and zero honesty.

    Yes it is time for civil disobedience, massive civil disobedience, so much so that the judiciary will be in awe.

    Clama, et exterminii, misit in canibus quatit.

  12. Thanks Rafe! Speaking for myself, my family and everyone I know who lives in the howe sound – we are all opposed to the industrialization of the fjord – we have been all been breathing breaths of fresh air since the Woodfibre mill shut down years ago and we are not impressed with our governments willingness to sell anything and everything at whatever cost for the sake of a handful of jobs .

  13. Great letter Rafe! It seems wrong that we have to fight the government to protect the environment but that is what has happened. I prefer Civil Obedience, not uncivil. What our governments are doing is the uncivilized part. We in Kitimat and hopefully most of BC are preparing to stand up when Harper gives the go ahead on Enbridge. Hope you continue to get stronger and feel better soon!

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