Tag Archives: Water and Energy

Stephen Harper stopped short of ratifying the Canada-China FIPA trade deal in 2012 under enormous public pressure. What will 2013 hold for FIPA and foreign ownership of Canadian energy companies?

2012: The Year of Energy Politics


CBC’s Power and Politics has chosen “energy politics” as the top Canadian news story for 2012 and we at the Common Sense Canadian couldn’t agree more.

Energy is the current which runs through a diverse array of issues presently reshaping our country – from omnibus budget bills that have slashed environmental regulations, to foreign trade deals, changes to our labour rules and, perhaps most significantly, the growing mobilization of First Nations, supported by non-aboriginal Canadians, to oppose many of these initiatives.

2012 was a year that began with Conservative Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver dismissing opponents of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines as “radicals” and ends with the Idle No More rallies sweeping the nation – with support coming in from as far away as Buckingham Palace (or just outside its gates, anyway).

It was a year when two very different visions for the future of Canada and its place in the world collided headlong with each other. One seeking to curb the Tar Sands and new arteries essential to its growth, the other striving to make Canada into a new Saudi Arabia – provider of oil, gas and coal to emerging Asian markets.

Each policy piece from the Harper Government was part of a bigger puzzle, designed to bring its new vision to fruition.

There was the first omnibus budget bill, C-38, which gutted the Fisheries Act, watered down environmental assessment processes and slashed ministry staff in monitoring and regulation. The Common Sense Canadian published retired senior DFO scientist and manager Otto Langer’s first warning of these intended changes to the Fisheries Act, which unleashed a media firestorm and spate of denials from senior Harperites.

We also published the sad farewell letter from one of the world’s top marine pollution experts, Dr. Peter Ross, who lost his job when the Harper Government essentially canned our entire ocean monitoring program. Even one of the world’s top monitoring stations for climate change and arctic ice melt, PEARL, could not escape this government’s ax (for a savings of a whopping million and a half a year).

Clearly, these changes grew out of and helped to further a “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to climate science that is critical to the Harper Government’s hydrocarbon expansion agenda – which also demanded the smoothing of those pesky regulatory hurdles for resource project development.

But one of the Harper Government’s pet projects, the Northern Gateway pipeline, made defending its agenda more challenging, with an unrivaled string of public embarrassments. There was the damning US report on the company’s 2010 disaster in Michigan, then more spills in Canada, a badly bungled PR campaign, the infamous “missing islands”, and repeated blunders at the National Energy Board hearings into its proposal.

Yet, even with these public blemishes on the star of its new energy vision and with mounting evidence of catastrophic, fossil fuel-driven climate change, the Harper Government’s attitude remained unchanged, especially on the international stage. In 2012, we became the first country to formally pull out of the Kyoto Protocol (not that we ever took our commitments serious in the first place). At the same time, Canada was caught by the Guardian, through a leaked memo, working to block a resolution to end to public subsidies for fossil fuels at the Rio+20 summit.

Back in Ottawa, the latest omnibus budget, C-45, picked up where its predecessor left off, slashing the age-old Navigable Waters Protection Act – one of the main beefs of the Idle No More movement.

Provincially, energy politics have dominated the agenda too – from the well-publicized spat between BC Premier Christy Clark and Alberta Premier Alison Redford over revenue sharing from the proposed Enbridge pipeline, to Redford’s new alliance with Quebec Premier Pauline Marois over alternate plans to move bitumen East.

The media and public discourse in BC was particularly infused with with energy – beginning with the NDP and Liberals jostling for positioning on Enbridge, to the emergence of KinderMorgan’s proposed pipeline and tanker expansion for Vancouver as a major urban issue in the lead-up to next May’s election. Add to that natural gas fracking, proposed pipelines and the plan to build multiple Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) terminals on the coast – all of which are increasingly on the media and public’s radar and sure to be election topics. The movement against the proposed Site C Dam, which would power gas and mining operations, is building momentum too.

The NDP has been all over the map on these issues, initially getting behind fracking, new pipelines and LNG plants with few reservations, then, recently, showing signs of feeling some of the public pressure building around these issues. This was evidenced by an op-ed in the Georgia Straight, co-penned by Energy Critic John Horgan and Environment Critic Rob Flemming, promising “a broad public review of fracking” and “immediate changes to protect B.C.’s water resources”.

The party appears caught between the growing concerns about fracking and LNG and a desire not to appear to be too “anti-business” or ignore an opportunity to reboot the BC industry and close the budget gap with increased royalties and related revenues. It will be very interesting to see where the NDP goes on this file in 2013.

Christy Clark, for her part, has left no doubt about her bullish outlook for natural gas and LNG, comparing BC’s potential with this resource to Alberta’s Tar Sands. Some of the nation’s top independent energy experts have poked big holes in Clark’s plan, though, suggesting that her numbers simply don’t add up.

Federally, the NDP’s selection of Thomas Mulcair shook up the political scene and energy debate. Unlike Harper’s former Liberal Opposition challengers, Mulcair seemed to have a firm grasp of energy and economic issues and was prepared to take on Harper on topics others would shy away from.

Take Mulcair’s rendering of the “Dutch Disease” into a Canadian household term. The concept, supported by the OECD and other highly reputable economic institutions and economists, holds that the downside of a petro-state economy is artificial currency inflation, which leads to the hollowing of a nation’s manufacturing sector. New jobs in Fort MacMurray mean layoffs in Hamilton. The fact Mulcair was able to get the traction he did with this discussion and to lodge it – even a little – in the national consciousness is a testament to his oratory skills, political sensibilities, and willingness to take some risks to differentiate himself from Harper. Mulcair also helped to re-frame pipeline politics, opposing Enbridge but getting behind the notion of shipping bitumen East (the source of another emerging public energy debate).

But the reach of energy politics extended far beyond provincial and national borders this year, as the Harper Government negotiated a new trade deal with China, ostensibly to stimulate investment in Canadian energy resources. The Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FIPA) came under great scrutiny – particularly in these pages – for eroding Canadian sovereignty and enshrining much diminished environmental protections as the law of the land for years to come.

Harper seemed caught off guard by the backlash generated by this deal and several concurrent foreign buyouts of Canadian energy companies – which seemed to be the very purpose of FIPA. When he finally approved the $15 Billion purchase of Nexen by Chninese state-owned CNOOC and Canadian gas company Progress Energy by Malaysian giant Petronas, it was late on a Friday afternoon, to avoid the media glare that had been focused on these deals. He promised then, surprisingly, that this marked the “end of a trend and not the beginning of one” with regards to such foreign buyouts of Canadian energy assets (PS we aren’t buying that line here).

Compounding the public and media pressure around FIPA and these energy company buyouts was the controversy that erupted from a coal mine in northeast BC. When it emerged the company, HD Mining, was hiring all imported Chinese workers for its Murray River mine, a heated back-and-forth ensued between the United Steelworkers’ Union and a Chinese worker who has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, alleging the union is “creating contempt for Chinese people”.

In the midst of this fracas, an embarrassed Immigration Minister Jason Kenney promised to review the labour rules that allowed this situation to happen. And yet, it was Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, with Kenney’s support,who just recently made the changes to the Canadian labour regulations that enable companies to hire foreign temporary workers for lower wages than they would pay Canadians.

The Harper Government’s labour policy seems designed precisely to encourage situations like the one at Murray River, directly undermining the government’s “jobs” rhetoric around resource development.

Likely as a result of all this scrutiny, Harper has delayed on ratifying the Chinese FIPA. A campaign led by social media-driven public advocacy groups Leadnow.ca and Sumofus.org generated over 80,000 petition signatures and thousands of letters and submissions to government officials protesting the proposed FIPA.

But the biggest story in 2012 has been the unprecedented coming together of aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians to jointly confront these hydrocarbon projects and the Harper Government’s vision for Canada’s future. Even in the waning days of 2012, we saw another victory by First Nations and environmentalists working together to secure a long-term ban on coal bed methane fracking in the Sacred Headwaters. That the Clark Government saw this as politically expedient – or necessary – is interesting in and of itself.

It remains to be seen where the Idle No More movement goes from here. Will its intensity subside in the new year like the Occupy Movement of last year, or will it be forged into a formidable political force, crystallizing the burgeoning sense of discontent amongst many Canadians with the direction our political leaders are taking us?

2013 holds the answers to many other burning energy questions, like how the Enbridge pipeline hearings will conclude or when KinderMorgan will formally file its plans. Will this American company’s experience be smoother than that of Enbridge, or will an unprecedented urban environmental movement rise up to block its path? What role will natural gas will play in BC’s provincial election? Will this new energy alliance between Alberta and Quebec and the vision to pipe the Tar Sands East pan out? Perhaps most interesting, will Harper ratify or abandon FIPA and will he keep his word on nixing future foreign buyouts of Canadian energy assets?

Stay tuned to the Common Sense Canadian in the New Year to find out. Or maybe the evening of December 31st. Knowing the Harper Government, that’s when all the really important changes to our national fabric will be announced.

It's been a big year for the environment in Canada - including lots of rallies like this one in Prince Rupert to oppose the Enbridge pipeline

How the Environment is Becoming the Top Issue for Canadians


Wendy and I, exercising a habit of some years now, are further depleting our kids’ legacies and will be away until January 10, starting with 20 days in the Caribbean then 4 days in Boston visiting friends.

It’s been an interesting year in the environmental field.

Opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway project is massive and I predict the same situation will prevail against the proposed Kinder Morgan expansion. In fact, this is the first time in my memory that the environment has been the #1 issue. In fact, one of the signs is that neither the government, nor sadly, the opposition want to come to grips with several major environmental issues. The federal government is beyond all hope and may have to be stopped by massive civil disobedience, which no doubt will come.

All of us who are now waiting in the trenches must, in my opinion, pay considerable homage to those who have fought before us when the public was not so concerned. They were branded as “tree huggers” by many who now have learned that they were in fact heroes.They indeed cleared the pathway to public awareness of what lay ahead if we didn’t learn from their experience.

We – that is to say those not committed to the philosophy of the Fraser Institute and its in-house newspaper, the Vancouver Sun – know that without fail large companies who wish to invade our wilderness and oceans lie through their teeth constantly and without exceptions. This doesn’t make us communists or even socialists – neither of those two styles of governance have been much in synch with matters environmental, with Russia and China being in a class of their own when it comes to ecological indifference – at best.

I believe that many British Columbians know that we’re not talking “left” and “right” here but “right” and “wrong”.

A very good example was my Roast in November 2012 in the WISE Hall in East Vancouver. As I noted on the occasion, many in attendance that night would rather have been caught in a house of ill-repute just a few years before. Perhaps the leading indicator was the folks of West Vancouver who fought so hard to save the Eagleridge plateau from the degradation of the wildlife habitat and then took a bus down to the East Delta Agricultural Hall to help protest against degradation of agricultural land, Burns Bog and other wildlife preserves by the expansion of the Deltaport project and South Fraser Perimeter Road by corporations and the government. The meeting was addressed by people from both the right and the left. It was a moment of great symbolism which simply is not understood well enough by both major BC parties, especially not by the Liberals.

Environmentalism is not shrill protest, for protest’s sake, based on political objects rather than evidence. People have seen and heard with their own eyes and ears what is happening with fish farms, private power projects that have all but bankrupted BC Hydro; they’ve seen farmland destroyed and looked at the record of pipelines and tanker companies; they have not only assessed the risks of catastrophes to come, but also realize the consequences that will flow. They have come to ask, “is it worth taking any risk if the damages will be catastrophic and permanent?”

I think that slowly but steadily the public has come to realize that money is no answer. What does it profit the province if they get billions of dollars but lose their wilderness as a result? In Biblical terms, what does it profit a man to gain the entire world but lose his own soul?

And the soul of the province, how we live, how we look at ourselves and how we look at our legacy has become a hugely important factor.

How much are our wild salmon worth?

What price on our rivers and the ecologies they sustain?

Is there any financial arrangement that will compensate for the loss of our coastal fauna and flora as well as the people who, for centuries, have been sustained by those resources? Incidentally, a recent UBC study found that a single oil spill from tankers on BC’s coast could wipe out all the economic gains of the Enbridge pipeline.

If we lose our farmlands, is there a price that will offset that? Will the farm cease to be the underpinning of our way of life? Is money going to buy us the food we need?

There is this notion that we must continue to “progress”, which is code for “money talks and when it does one should bow down in grateful obeisance to the god Mammon and forever hold our tongues.”

I reject that notion. We can progress and prosper without placing our entire outdoors at the certain risk of destruction. Other prosperous democracies have managed to survive without screwing up their environment as the people of BC are being asked to accept.

In the May election in 2013 we have what may be our last chance to stop right wing governments, mad economists and soulless corporate bloodsuckers from desecrating our beautiful land.

This map from the David Suzuki Foundation's recent report shows all human-driven change to the Peace Region (buffered by 500 m) in red.

New Suzuki Foundation Report Shows Staggering Longterm Industrial Impacts on Peace Region


Roads, dams, logging, mines, fracking, seismic lines, pipelines, transmission lines. The Peace Valley region in northeast BC has seen its share of industrial development over the past half century. Now, a new report from the David Suzuki Foundation vividly illustrates the toll these cumulative impacts have taken on the land.

The foundation commissioned scientists from Global Forest Watch Canada to survey 40 years worth of satellite images in order track the increasing industrialization of the land. They found that over that span, more than 65% of the region has been impacted by industry – often involving different activities layered on top of each other – leaving little intact wilderness.

“Our study found that there are 16,267 oil and gas wells, 28,587 kilometres of pipeline, 45,293 kilometres of roads, and 116,725 kilometres of seismic lines packed into the Peace Region. If laid end to end, the roads, pipelines and seismic lines would wrap around the planet an astonishing four and a half times,” said Peter Lee, who led the research study.

Far from being a thing of the past, this industrialization of the region continues marching forward, with the proposed Site C Dam, new coal mines, and continued logging, fracking and other impacts. All this occurs atop important habitat for threatened populations of grizzly and caribou and amid sensitive boreal forest critical to carbon absorption and sequestration.

The Suzuki Foundation is supporting the work by Treaty 8 First Nations, farmers and conservationists to oppose Site C Dam, which would be the third dam on the Peace River. Representatives of these groups recently came to Vancouver and shared their message with local media.

“Enough is enough,” West Moberly First Nations Chief Roland Willson told The Vancouver Sun. “We need to slow down. It’s more important to maintain the integrity of what’s there than put it under water…all to expand the industrial footprint.”

Said Dr. Faisial Moola of the Suzuki Foundation in a blog on the report’s release, “If built, Site C would flood 3,173 ha of prime farmland and destroy sensitive wildlife habitat.”

“That’s why the David Suzuki Foundation is standing with local farmers and ranchers, as well as the Dunne Zaa/Dane zaa First Nations, to oppose further destruction of this productive, ecologically important and picturesque valley with the construction of the Site C Dam and reservoir.”

Download the full report here.

Damien Gillis is co-directing a documentary, Fractured Land, which examines these issues in detail. Learn how you can support the film here.

A rally against Kinder Morgan's proposed pipeline and tanker expansion last year.

Public Will Soon Turn on Kinder Morgan…Will the NDP?


Mike Smyth had an interesting column in Sunday’s Province, dealing with the proposed second and much larger Kinder Morgan Pipeline to Vancouver, which would see a five-fold increase in tanker traffic through Vancouver’s harbour. In it he told us that the company was being very laid back compared with Enbridge, holding a series of public information sessions. Mr. Smyth, quite correctly in my view, said that the public, if only mildly involved now, would change its attitude toward Kinder Morgan.

Kinder Morgan will and indeed is being dishonest with the public. This is no different than Enbridge or any other pipeline – they all maintain that there will be no spills and that, if there are, they will be minor (which is what Enbridge said about Kalamazoo) and quickly cleaned up. This is nonsense and the public will very soon be letting Kinder Morgan know that.

We must all know that corporations simply do not tell the truth except by accident. Their face to the public comes from highly skilled public relations departments and highly skilled and expensive outside agencies.

As we have seen with BP in the Gulf of Mexico disaster, after the tragedy they are quick to find pictures of healthy birds and animals to show that all is well again.

Close to home, the Ashlu private river power project is of interest. Ledcor received its right to dam and divert the river on the basis that migratory salmon would not be interfered with. The permission was in these words:

A decision was taken on November 30, 2009 and was that the authority may exercise any power or perform any duty or function with respect to the project because, after taking into consideration the screening report and taking into account the implementation of appropriate mitigation measures, the authority is of the opinion that the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. (emphasis added).

To say that salmon have indeed been adversely interfered with is putting it very mildly indeed.

This report from the Wilderness Committee:

More than 3,000 pages of documents obtained separately by the Vancouver Sun and the Wilderness Committee through freedom of information requests show water-flow fluctuations caused by run-of-river hydro projects are killing fish — and the problem is not isolated.

While independent power producers insist their sector remains the cleanest energy option, the documents bolster environmentalists’ long-standing concerns about the industry.

“I’m seeing significant environmental problems,” said Gwen Barlee, policy director for the Wilderness Committee. “And that runs completely counter to what the companies are saying, which is essentially, ‘Trust us with your wild rivers and there won’t be any problems.’ ”

The documents detail repeated short-term fluctuations in water flows, resulting in the stranding and killing of juvenile fish downstream of two plants, Capital Power on the lower Mamma and Innergex on Ashlu Creek, another tributary of the Squamish.

In one incident on Ashlu Creek, on May 8, 2010, 166 salmon and trout fry became stranded due to rapidly dropping water levels. Fewer than half of the fry could be returned to the creek alive. Another 39 fry died during a stranding on April 20, 2011.

Neither hydro operation has been charged.

This happens all over the province – companies get government permission to dam a river, the understanding being that salmon runs will not be harmed, then the salmon runs are extensively damaged.

What is also endemic is the lack of any government surveillance of water used and released by the company. They promise, cross your heart and hope to die, that they will conform to the terms and when they don’t there are no consequences.

While Kinder Morgan isn’t into hydroelectricity, its pipeline will cross many streams and rivers and it too will cross its heart and promise that it will be so careful in fish habitat we have nothing to worry our pretty little heads about.


But there is much more. If this line goes through there will be upwards of 350 tankers leaving Burrard Inlet every year going through the very dangerous 2nd Narrows Bridge, loaded with deadly bitumen.

We will be assured that there won’t be any accidents and, if there are, why it will all be cleaned up spick and span and that there will be no residual damage.

This is bullshit and they know it.

Kinder Morgan’s Director of Engineering and Marine Development Mike Davies acknowledged at a recent debate in Vancouver that there have been more than 70 spills from the current Trans Mountain Pipeline over its 60 year lifetime. That includes a 2007 spill that drenched a Burnaby neighbourhood in oil – for which the company was found partially responsible and ordered to pay a $150,000 fine by the courts. Then, last week we learned from a National Energy Board report on the spill of 90,000 litres of oil from the company’s Abbottsford tank farm in 2011 that emergency alarms warning of a leak went ignored by operators for hours.

This takes me into politics.

Adrian Dix, the leader of the NDP, won’t take a stand on the Kinder Morgan line until it formally files its application.

This cop-out is raw cowardice. Dix knows as much as he ever will about this pipeline – enough to oppose it no matter how much they will ship.

This is causing us at The Common Sense Canadian to re-think our policy for next May’s election.

Dix is evidently worried that he will be seen as “against everything”. No one, least of all Damien Gillis and I want Dix to be against everything but only those projects that will damage our precious province and all the fauna and flora that our wilderness sustains.

In addition to damage done in any particular place there is the question of the cumulative impact of the half dozen or more oil, gas and condensate pipelines now proposed for BC. No environmental process, Provincial or Federal, has addressed this question.

In fact the process reminds one of a Soviet “show” trial. The result is certain but to make it look good, governments hold hearings where the desirability of the project is out of order, it already being  a “done deal”.

As it sits right now, as we survey the scene on environmental matters, there is little to separate the uncaring, corrupt Liberals from the gutless NDP.


‘Power & Energy’ Subject of Intergenerational Dialogue in Vancouver


Gen Why Media and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives are co-hosting an “intergenerational dialogue” in Vancouver on Tuesday, December 11 to explore various existing and proposed energy projects in Western Canada. Titled “Power & Energy: Connecting the Dots”, the program is the third in a series of “Bring Your Boomers” events, sponsored by Vancity, designed to debate key social issues from different generational perspectives.

In addition to musical performances and a keynote talk by the CCPA’s Marc Lee, the evening will feature a three-way dialogue, with each panelist representing a different generation. I have the privilege of representing Generation Y (a.k.a. “Millennials” – born from the late 1970s to early 2000s), while leading energy and public policy expert Ben Parfitt of the CCPA will represent Generation X. Rounding out the panel is Boomer Karen Cooling, National Staff Representative at the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. Adding further generational depth to the discussion will be 11 year-old moderator and First Nations singer/songwriter Ta’Kaiya Blaney – a vocal critic of oil tankers on BC’s coast.

Cooling’s union represents workers in the energy sector, among other areas, and has actively raised concerns about proposed oil pipelines to export Alberta bitumen to Asia and the United States. Her colleague, union president Dave Coles, recently told a crowd of thousands gathered in Victoria to oppose pipelines and takers in BC, “these pipelines are job killers” because they export bitumen without refining it and threaten the environment.

Ben Parfitt has published a number of highly-regarded independent reports on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, in BC. Fracking is also a key focus of a film I’m currently co-directing with Gen Why co-founder Fiona Rayher, called Fractured Land, which examines energy issues in northern BC and Alberta through the eyes of a young First Nations law student named Caleb Behn. The film will discuss the concept of the “Carbon Corridor” – an interconnected web of fracking and tar sands projects, dams, coal mines, oil, gas and condensate pipelines, and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plants and tankers on BC’s coast – designed to transform Canada into a major hydrocarbon provider to new markets in Asia.

Founded in Vancouver in 2010, Gen Why Media describes itself as “a production group that collaborates across disciplines to create media, events, workshops, public art and intergenerational dialogues that engage society in new forms of public engagement.” Says Tara Mahoney, Gen Why co-founder and organizer of Tuesday’s event, “Our goal with this dialogue is to engage a broader audience in a discussion about energy policy – a topic that isn’t always very accessible, particularly to young people. We hope to use culture as an entry point into a conversation about energy policy and to find ways different generations can work together to shape these issues going forward.”

Gen Why’s previous “Bring Your Boomers” events have examined topics such as technology, globalization, activism and intergenerational cooperation and featured an impressive list of speakers – including former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine, journalist and activist Judy Rebick, filmmakers Nettie Wild and Nimisha Mukerji, Vision Vancouver Councillor Andrea Reimer, and LeadNow.ca Executive Director Jamie Biggar.

Tuesday’s “Power & Energydialogue will also feature a musical performance by popular Vancouver band Brasstronaut. The event takes place at the Rio Theatre – 1660 East Broadway, adjacent to Commercial-Broadway Skytrain Station. Door open at 6:30 and the event starts at 7 pm. Tickets can be purchased online here.

Rich Coleman was recently caught in a conflict of interest scandal (Darryl Dyck - Canadian Press)

Rafe: BC Liberal Government Corrupt


The Campbell/Clark government is corrupt and here are a few of the reasons I say this:

  • Campbell gets convicted of drunken driving and doesn’t resign as he certainly would have demanded that an NDP premier do
  • The 2009 budget that was $1.2 billion short of reality – this amounted to a fraud upon the voters
  • The lies about the HST
  • The BC Rail stink
  • The use of public finds to promote the Liberal Party
  • The use of public servants for party political purposes
  • Private power contracts for political pals which are bankrupting BC Hydro

Readers will, no doubt, find other reasons.

In recent weeks we discovered Rich Coleman taking election funds from a brewery he is now about to save $9 million in taxes.

Let me tell you about the standards that prevailed in my years (1975-81) in the Bill Bennett government.  And, I must say, in the Barrett government before it. Now, mark you, I’m not talking about what policies they supported but the integrity of the premier and his ministers.

I had Coleman’s job and the first thing I did was check my small RRSP and found I had a few shares in Hiram Walker Distillers, which I promptly sold at a small loss.

Of more importance, in 1978 I was greeted by a headline in the morning paper alleging that I had interfered in a hearing before the Rentalsman (the arbiter for rental disputes at the time) who came under my ministry. There wasn’t a particle of truth in it but the Premier gave me 48 hours to deal with it.

It transpired that a judge, hearing an appeal from a decision by the Rentalsman, heard a witness say she had “heard that the minister himself got involved in the case”.

The Rentalsman publicly said that I had had nothing to do with it and had never interfered with his office. I hired a lawyer, now Supreme Court Justice, who within the time limit prevailed upon the judge to withdraw his remarks and say outright that there was no evidence at all that I had even known about the matter let alone interfered in it.

My seat in cabinet was jeopardized, quite properly, by those two matters.

When Minister Jack Davis was being investigated for fraud the Premier promptly sacked him. The standard is not, you see, reasonable doubt but “is the minister under a cloud of reasonable suspicion?”  This principle, one of the foundations of democracy, is not well known to the public nor, it seems, to the Campbell/Clark government.

What has this got to do with environmental matters?

Plenty for this government is going to represent us on pipeline matters, tanker matters and many other concerns we all have about our environment.

The killing of the HST has involved the premier trying to make the best possible deal with the feds when the tax expires just a month before the next election.

Thus the essential question arises: When the feds approve the various pipelines proposed without even the usual sham of an environmental assessment process, what will Premier Clark be doing? Will she, in fact, take favours from the feds and promise not to interfere in return? Indeed, has she already done this?

Are she and her ministers going to fold and do as their federal masters demand in fear of recriminations?

There are some, no doubt, who say that the feds should have their way as they speak for all Canada. That ignores the very principle under which Canada governs itself – namely a division of powers under the Constitution Act (1982), which follows the BNA Act (1867), which underlies a federal state as is the case in Germany, Australia and the USA.

Prime Minister Harper is no doubt going to approve these pipelines and the consequent tanker traffic using the omnibus clause giving him that right under section 91 – “Works connecting provinces; beyond boundaries of one province; within a province but to the advantage of Canada/or more than one province”.

The province retains a number of powers it can use such as the right to issue licenses – especially water licenses – to protect wildlife, including non-migratory fish and to protect its shoreline. 

Will Premier Clark have the courage of our convictions and say, “Prime Minister, these pipelines will be subject to our rights to protect our environment under Section 92 and they will be rigorously enforced?”

Or will there be under the table “deals” made linking pipelines and tankers to other issues between Ottawa and Victoria? Such as the HST? Such as selling our constitutional rights for money from Ottawa’s share of royalties and other taxes collected?

There is no middle ground – just as a woman can’t be a “little bit pregnant”, we either stand up for our environment or we don’t.

In short – forgive the expression – will she have the balls to stand up to the feds or, more likely, will she and her ministers try to find some middle ground?

What we need is an honest government of honest men and women protecting us against the predations of greedy corporations, the government of China and the raw uninhibited capitalism of Prime Minister Harper and his toadies from BC.

Clearly, standing up for our rights and honest dealings based on principles is not this government’s strong suit.


Audio: Damien Gillis Talks Chinese FIPA, Fracking, Water on Nanaimo Radio


Damien Gillis appeared recently on Nanaimo’s CHLY Radio to discuss a number of key political and energy issues in Canada. Gillis and host Rae Kornberger of A Sense of Justice cover the controversial proposed Canada-China trade deal and how that relates to energy and environmental issues in BC particularly. Included amongst these is natural gas fracking in northeast BC and the enormous volumes of fresh water required for these operations. Listen to the interview in two parts – as well as one highlight clip dealing with proposed water licences for fracking. (recorded Nov. 28, 2012)

Highlight Clip: Water Licences for Fracking (6 min)

Full Interview – Part 1: Chinese FIPA

Full Interview – Part 2: Water, Fracking and Fort Nelson First Nation

A cow moose drinks from a pond. Another important water source for moose, mineral springs, are drying up. (photo: wikimedia commons)

Moose licks: mineral springs disappear amid drought and hydraulic fracturing


Amongst the willows lining the road just below where the tall poplar, birch, spruce and pine trees stand, there is a passage. A small party of hunters hopes it leads to a healthy mineral spring. But hunting in B.C.’s South Peace isn’t what it used to be. The hunters fear the mineral spring is gone: disappeared in the oil-and-gas rich area that saw one of its driest years on record in 2012.

There are no clear reasons why the springs, which are used by animals such as Canada’s iconic moose, are vanishing in the province’s northeast corner along the B.C.-Alberta border. These springs are known to hunters in the area as moose licks.

One hunter in the party stops to consider the disappearing mineral springs. “We hunted these licks since our childhood. My brothers and I would hunt them with our dad, and we travelled to them by foot over the years,” the hunter says. “There has been a change to how we access the trails to the licks; in some cases these changes have been made by the oil-and-gas companies. In many cases, the licks are gone when we do get to them.”

Resting at the northern tip of the Rocky Mountains, the South Peace is an embattled land where farming anchored the economy until a natural gas boom in recent decades changed things. The cultural centre of the region is Dawson Creek, B.C., a town of about 11,000 people that boasts the title “Mile Zero” of the Alaska Highway.

The area is situated 600 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, and about 1,200 kilometres northeast of Vancouver. The South Peace covers 32,000 square kilometres of land stretching north to Fort St. John, west to the Williston Reservoir, east to the Alberta-B.C. border, and south to the Pine Pass where the Rocky Mountains begin.

2012: a dry year

People hunt largely for subsistence in the South Peace, not to acquire trophies. This is a distinction proud hunters in the area will emphasize. Many South Peace hunters believe it’s their right to hunt for subsistence. Many hunters belong to families that have hunted for generations.

Métis elder Malcolm Supernault belongs to one such family. As a respected elder, former North East Métis Association president, and private security contractor, Supernault has hunted and trapped all his life. He enjoys talking about Canada’s icon, the moose – a hulking member of the ungulate family that can weigh up to 700 kg and measure more than 2 metres tall. Supernault is worried about the impact of consecutive droughts on moose that he says rely on mineral springs in summer for water.

“This year was a dry year,” Supernault says in a recent phone interview. “As a rule, moose licks are used in the summer. You’ll find those moose licks will dry up.” Supernault says human activity often pushes wildlife out of traditional mating areas. “Every cow moose has an area where they raise a calf, and unless they’re forced off, they will stay. It’s humans that have caused the most havoc. Industry is everywhere.”

It’s not all bad for moose licks though. Supernault says resource development often creates new areas where springs are able to bubble back to the surface as long as there’s enough moisture created from the ground below or air above. He explains not all moose licks are mineral springs; instead, many are swamps that dry up faster than mineral springs during droughts.

Supernault is cautious about placing blame on any one reason for the disappearing moose licks, but says he’s seen how resource activity affects water supplies. “Anytime you put equipment over a piece of ground, it impacts the moisture right away. Drilling as well, pretty soon the underground streams change. Now industry is starting to pay attention. Water is our lifeline,” Supernault says.

More natural gas than you can imagine

In April 2011, the Canadian National Energy Board and B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines released a report entitled, “Ultimate Potential for Unconventional Natural Gas in Northeastern British Columbia’s Horn River Basin.” The report says there are 5.58 trillion cubic metres of natural gas deposits in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin – an area spanning from the B.C.-Northwest Territories border to southern Alberta.

With large new discoveries continuing to emerge like Apache Corp’s play in the Liard Basin, west of the Horn River, that number will likely end up being much higher.

The report also says there are 3.09 trillion cubic metres of natural gas from this basin in Northeast B.C., with 2.21 trillion cubic metres of shale gas compared to .878 trillion cubic metres of conventional fields. This means there are many more shale gas deposits in B.C. requiring hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for short, to extract.

By comparison, Canada’s Lake Superior contains 1.21 trillion cubic metres of water, and is the third-largest freshwater lake in the world by volume, and the largest by surface area. Yet its water volume is only half the estimated volume of shale gas in Northeast B.C.

In the South Peace, where mineral springs are disappearing as severe droughts cause water supplies to vanish, the City of Dawson Creek saw its average water use spike to 9,464 cubic metres between August and September this year, whereas water use hovers around 5,678 cubic metres on average in other months.

This year the city and B.C. Oil and Gas Commission issued a water restriction in September on industrial use of water in the South Peace. In its 2011 provincial water use report, the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission indicates rivers where shale gas is extracted see an increase in water volume usage.

For instance, the Upper Petitot, East Kiskatinaw, and Kiwigana rivers see on average a .81 per cent use of annual water runoff compared to other rivers which fall far below this average. This may seem an insignificant amount of water, but when natural gas activity increases during summer months, these rivers’ annual runoff is much depleted by the time there’s a drought.

Drought response level 4

Outside of the regular problems associated with resource activity, such as loss of habitat for wildlife and pollution, fracking requires substantial amounts of water. In B.C., water-use permits are granted by municipalities, which supply much of the water the oil-and-gas industry in the area requires.

The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, a regulatory agency, also grants short-term water permits (known as Section 8 permits) if companies apply to draw water from sources outside of municipal boundaries. These two institutions work together in times of drought by restricting the use of potable water by industry, as was the case this past summer.

For Dawson Creek Mayor Mike Bernier, it’s a balancing act because the oil-and-gas industry drives the local economy. In a recent phone interview, Bernier acknowledges severe droughts are changing the way city officials deal with water shortages. For instance, the municipality partnered with Shell Canada to build a water reclamation plant that uses waste water to feed natural gas fields.

The Kiskatinaw River, a tributary of the Peace River that branches off and travels southwest through resource-rich lands, is at its highest in spring when the snowpack melts. Bernier says the city is looking to build more reservoirs to store water collected when the city’s water source is at its peak.

“It has been quite something the last couple of years with four out of six as recorded drought years. This year was our driest year in recorded history,” Bernier says in the phone interview. “It’s always a balance with industry in the area so heavily dependent on water. We do work with different companies in the area and look for different ways to recycle. Companies are sensitive on issues around water shortages.”

This past summer, the city issued a Drought Response Level 4 advisory that required the city to obtain maximum reduction of water use as directed by the B.C. Drought Response Plan to avoid a loss of water supply. This cut off the oil-and-gas industry from both city and B.C. Oil and Gas Commission water-use permits. “It’s a last resort,” Bernier says. “We value our economy and jobs more than green lawns.”

Bernier explains city officials are working to further their understanding of the watershed. He says water issues are cyclical. The mayor compares 2012’s drought with 2010’s flooding that destroyed roads, homes, and entire hillsides all across Northeast B.C. “It’s been all over the map. This year, because of the drought, the river almost dried up to nothing,” Bernier says, adding there are times the Kiskatinaw River produces more water than the city needs. Now the municipality is looking at ways to increase the number of reservoirs in the area to ensure there’s always water in times of drought.

Water troubles further north

A five hour drive North from Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson First Nation is grappling with its own water challenges relating to shale gas development in the Horn River Basin. The nation’s new chief Sharleen Wildeman is quick to point out her members benefit from employment in the industry, but her community is concerned about 20 new long-term water licence applications on their territory currently before the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

“Fort Nelson First has worked with the natural gas industry and government to provide economic opportunities for our members and the entire province through responsible resource development. But our concerns regarding irresponsible, unsustainable water use have gone ignored,” the chief says during a delegation she led recently to Vancouver to raise these concerns.

These new licences mark a shift in water use for shale gas in both their long-term duration and in the enormous volumes of water they represent. For example, Encana is applying to draw up to 3 billion litres a year out of the Fort Nelson River for its nearby shale gas operations. Nexxen Corp.’s licence, the first and only  application to be approved so far, is for five years, but under the current Provincial Water Act, these long-term licences can extend for up to 40 years. Fort Nelson First Nation recently won the right to challenge Nexxen’s licence at the Environmental Appeal Board.

Fort Nelson First Nation is calling on the provincial Liberal government to halt the issuance of these new licences until the community and general public have been properly consulted and a responsible long-term water management plan is in place. The nation’s leaders put forth a series of additional demands, such as gathering proper baseline data, adequate monitoring and enforcement measures and the ability to make certain culturally sensitive rivers off-limits to development.

Watch a timelapse animation of increasing water withdrawals for shale gas in Fort Nelson First Nation territory.

Water shortages are no coincidence

For groundwater expert Dr. Gilles Wendling, water shortages in areas of heavy natural gas extraction are no coincidence. Wendling is managing director and director of the technical and professional division of the B.C. Groundwater Association. He’s also president and founder of Global Aquifer Development Foundation, a Canadian charity that helps create groundwater management systems in developing nations.

“The problem is most of the cyclical perception is anecdotal. We are seeing low flows in rivers. We have to take notice of what people are reporting, especially First Nations people who have a close connection with the land,” Wendling says in a recent phone interview.

“Surface and groundwater are intimately connected. Water can travel deep into the subsurface, 1, 2, 3 kilometres is possible. What they’re doing with fracking may affect the groundwater at that depth. If you start reducing groundwater, it can result in a drop of the water at surface. It may shut down springs.”

Wendling said when fracking occurs, holes are often drilled deep below ground to allow for the injection of water to free up natural gas. This water dissipates, leaving conduits from the surface to the natural gas layer that rests sometimes 3 kilometres deep. As the natural gas is extracted, there’s a potential for the creation of high-pressure zones near the surface where shallow water is contained below lakes, rivers, swamps and springs.

This creates a vacuum between low pressure areas at the natural gas reservoir level and the high pressure areas at the more shallow depth where there’s groundwater. “You end up with a depressurization with a drop in the water table of the groundwater shallow aquifers,” Wendling says.

This means subsurface aquifers supporting above-surface water, such as mineral springs, are depleted as the water moves deeper to low-pressure zones created by the fracking.

A fracturing debate

The leading scientific journal Nature published an article last year asking the question, “Should Fracking Stop?”

In the article, Cornell University engineering professor Dr. Anthony Ingraffea and Penn State Geosciences professor Dr. Robert Halwarth argue against natural gas fracking. The academics point out most fracking today occurs to obtain natural gas from shale gas plays. It’s shale gas deposits requiring fracking that make up most of the fields in Northeast B.C.

“Fracking also extracts natural salts, heavy metals, hydrocarbons and radioactive materials from the shale, posing risks to ecosystems and public health when these return to the surface. This flowback is collected in open pits or large tanks until treated, recycled or disposed of,” the authors write in the article “Should Fracking Stop?” (September 15, 2011).

The professors outline water concerns as well, referring to a peer-reviewed study that “[found] about 75 per cent of wells sampled within 1 kilometre of gas drilling in the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania were contaminated with methane from the deep shale formations.” As for drinking-water contamination, municipalities that handled waste from fracking operations have reported serious problems.

The article goes on to say pollution of water is also a problem. “[There] has been contamination of tributaries of the Ohio River with barium, strontium and bromides from municipal wastewater treatment plants receiving fracking wastes. This contamination apparently led to the formation of dangerous brominated hydrocarbons in municipal drinking-water supplies….”

Dr. Terry Engelder, who is a leading authority on the recent Marcellus gas shale play in the U.S., argues in the same Nature article that the benefits of burning natural gas far outweigh the negative effects of extraction using fracking methods. “Global warming is a serious issue that fracking-related gas production can help to alleviate. In a world in which productivity is closely linked to energy expenditure, fracking will be vital to global economic stability…,” Engelder writes.

Engelder admits one of the biggest causes for concern in fracking is water use. “Millions of gallons of water are required to stimulate a well…. Obtaining adequate water for industrial fracking in dry regions such as the Middle East and western China is a local concern, but is no reason for a global moratorium,” he writes.

According to the New York Times article, “Studies Say Natural Gas Has Its Own Environmental Problems” (April 11, 2011) by Tom Zeller Jr., the arguments for natural gas as clean energy are disputed. “The problem, the studies suggest, is that planet-warming methane, the chief component of natural gas, is escaping into the atmosphere in far larger quantities than previously thought, with as much as 7.9 percent of it puffing out from shale gas wells, intentionally vented or flared, or seeping from loose pipe fittings along gas distribution lines,” Zeller writes.

Many are gone

Ahead of the hunters, the forest opens up to reveal a healthy moose lick. There is a thick pattern of wildlife tracks in the muddy clay where water bubbles to the surface. Moose licks are shallow by nature, and are protected from humans by the fact that if a person walks into one, they end up sinking into mud up to their knees. And it isn’t the kind of mud that’s easy to walk out of. Many licks are littered with the boots of hunters who wandered too far into a spring.

The hunters make their way to the top of a perch overlooking the mineral spring. It stretches out before them. It’s one of the largest in the region according to a hunter, who smiles when he looks out over the lick. He’s happy this one remains. Many moose licks are gone.

As effects of global warming increase, it’s not just places such as the Middle East and China that experience the side effects. Already regions across the globe are experiencing unprecedented changes to weather patterns. This includes the consecutive summer droughts in places like the South Peace where the mineral springs are drying up.

With files from Damien Gillis.

Photo of Jumbo Glacier by Trevor Florence

Undemocratic Jumbo Resort Threatens Kootenay Grizzly Bears


The Jumbo Ski Resort planned for the Purcell Mountains has been approved by the provincial government, which has put in place legislation for the area to become a municipality.

The setting up of a municipality is so the government will have someone to work with as the various permits are dealt with (which is Liberalese for “approved”).

The irony, nay hypocrisy, of this seems to have been lost in the debate. This is nothing short of gerrymandering, for there already is a municipality to deal with – namely the several communities in the Kootenays which will be affected by this project This is a refinement of gerrymandering.

This technique came about when a Massachusetts governor, Elbridge Gerry, redrew an election district to suit his political needs. It looked like a salamander so the term gerrymandering entered the political lexicon.

At least there were real people living in Gerry’s new bounderies.

The obvious question here is, do people in the vicinity of developments have any say in the matter? They will be just as involved in, say, Nelson, as if the development were inside their city boundaries  – yet they have nothing to say on whether or not the project should be approved.

Well, not quite nothing, as we shall see.

This is eerily similar to the Ashlu River private power project in the mid-2000s. The proposal was to develop a dam on the river and make electricity. One of the main opponents was Tom Rankin, a rancher through whose property the Ashlu flows. Tom went on to form the Save Our Rivers Society, for which Damien Gillis and I worked the 2009 provincial election.

The regional district held public hearings around the district and learned that the various communities massively opposed this project. The Regional District voted down the proposal 8-1, so the Campbell government passed an amendment to the Municial Act, known as Bill 30, eliminating the right of any municipality to deny a private power licence.

Incidentally, it is of interest to know about the Ashlu that environmentalists claimed that it would – forgive the techical term – bugger up the fish runs returning to spawn.

The company stoutly denied this.

It turned out that the environmentalists were spot on – a marvelous salmon river all but gone.

Now, I alluded (above) that the public will have a chance to say their piece. They will – there will be public meetings to find out what environmental safeguards should be put in place.

The public will have no say as to whether or not there should be the development in the first place – thanks to the Campbell/Clark government the project is a “done deal”.

The opposition to this development is not all from tree huggers by any means. In fact, the diminishing grizzly bears will be further diminished by this project as will other wildlife.

Indeed, government scientists have spoken on this:

“The proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort has the potential for substantial and direct cumulative impacts to the Central Purcell Grizzly Bear population.”
– BC Ministry of Water Land and Air Protection, 2004

“…there will be a substantial impact to grizzly bear habitat effectiveness, mortality risk, and most importantly, the fragmentation of grizzly bear distribution…”
– Matt Austin, Large Carnivore Specialist, Biodiversity Branch, Government of B.C

Nothing anyone can say – not even the most prominent scientists in the world can make a difference – the project has been approved and the appropriate municipality set up, all nice and legal-like.

There is an election coming up in May and what the people are entitled to know is whether or not the NDP would restore to local bodies the right to be heard and listened to when large projects with sensitive environmental issues are involved.

Over to you, Mr Dix.