The District of Kitimat has issued a map clarifying just who owns the banks of the Kitimat River, a subject that has been debated for years, as campers have come and gone as they please.
The map issued by the District staff shows that the District of Kitimat has jurisdiction over much of the land on the east side of the river while Rio Tinto owns much of the western bank–but also does own some of the eastern bank in the lower levels.
District staff are recommending that gates be installed in three areas along the eastern bank on municipally owned land, at the Giant Spruce Road, at the Pump House and at the Sewage plant. That could cut off vehicular traffic while still allowing access for pedestrians and those who wish to fish on the river bank by getting access on foot.
The proposed locations of the gates are marked in red on the map.
You’ll find a larger version of the map, and staffs’ recommendations to District Council in the report.
Both the RCMP and Kitimat Fire and Rescue are warning residents to stay away from the Kitimat River until the high water recedes. As well there are likely new hazards from a possible change in the river’s path due to the high water and as well as from debris in Douglas Channel.
Both detachment commander Staff Sergeant James McLaren and Fire Chief Trent Bossance made a special presentation to District of Kitimat Council Monday night to bring council up to date on the events that began early Monday morning.
The riverbanks are still hazardous, McLaren told Council and he urged that everyone stay away for at least the next two days. Anyone going out to fish in the Kitimat Arm of Douglas Channel, may also face hazards from snags, logs and debris such as floating propane cans. Bossance told Council in reply to a question from Councillor Larry Walker.
As well, Bossance told Council that the sudden deluge that began on Sunday afternoon is “not typical at all like the regular October flooding” that may be seen on the river.
Bossance warned that due to the volume and speed of the water it is likely that some parts of the river bed and river course have changed, and that the sandbars and snag areas that people may be familiar with may have shifted.
The effects of the flood are being monitored by RCMP, Fire and Rescue, Conservation officers, Fisheries and Oceans and provincial environmental officials.
Bossance said that the consensus of those officials is that the flood situation is unique in the history of Kitimat. Environment Canada issued a severe rainfall warning at noon on Sunday.
Bossance told Council that people who were able to leave the riverbank said that they were able to walk out at about one a.m. By 2:30 am, the river had risen so rapidly—about four metres—that by then people were trapped and calling 911 for help. McLaren said the RCMP immediately asked for the assistance of Kitimat Search and Rescue, who then requested assistance from Terrace Swift Water Rescue. Those units rescued twelve people from the riverbank.
A helicopter was called in and rescued two people. The helicopter then made a sweep of the river bank but found no one else in danger.
McLaren told Council that as of 7 pm Monday no one had been reported missing or overdue.
The number of flooded vehicles or vehicles swept into the river is not certain, McLaren said, but the number is estimated between twelve and fourteen ranging from large recreational vehicles to cars. A preliminary assessment by ICBC indicates that the damage or loss of vehicles will be covered but that will have to be confirmed by the vehicle owners.
Bossance said that high tide was not that much of a factor since it occurred at 5:30 am. Most of the high water was runoff from the upper Kitimat River.
Of the fourteen people rescued two were Kitimat residents, the rest from out of town. Emergency social services has assisted those needed to find housing.
The RCMP will continue increased patrols in the river area until the danger has passed.
The British Columbia Environmental Appeal Board has upheld Rio Tinto’s plans for sulphur dioxide emissions in the Kitimat airshed and dismissed the appeal from residents Emily Toews and Elisabeth Stannus.
The 113 page decision was released by the EAB late on December 23. It contains a series of recommendations for further studies and monitoring of the health of Kitimat residents. In effect, the EAB is asking the province (which is all it can do) to spend money and create a new bureaucracy at a time when Kitimat’s medical community is already short staffed and under stress.
By December 31, 2016…. engage with Ministry executive to secure their support for, and action to encourage, a provincially-led Kitimat region health study, based on the development of a feasibility assessment for such a study.
On December 24, Gaby Poirier, General manager – BC Operations
Rio Tinto, Aluminium Products Group released a statement saying:
Based on the evidence and submissions made by each of the parties, the EAB confirmed our permit amendment.
Although it is welcome news for Rio Tinto that the MOE Director’s decision was upheld, and the rigor and cautious approach of the science were confirmed by the EAB, we also recognize that there is more work to do to address community concerns regarding air quality in the Kitimat Valley.
In providing their confirmation, the EAB included a series of recommendations. Over the coming months, we will be working to fully assess them and we will continue to involve the local community including residents, stakeholders and our employees as we do so, noting that some of the recommendations have already started to be implemented.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the residents of Kitimat, our valued stakeholders and our employees for their support during this process. At Rio Tinto, we are committed to protecting the health and well-being of our employees, the community, and the environment as we modernize our BC Operations.
The District of Kitimat in an update on the boil water advisory says it could last until the end of the week. There is no immediate problem because the water is still being treated.
Kitimat Chief Administrative Officer Warren Waycheshen says the turbidity from the high water means that it is not possible to do a full sample on the safety of the water. There are no delays due to the holiday weekend, the labs are open and ready, Waycheshen told Northwest Coast Energy News.
There are no immediate dangers to Kitimat from the high water, he said.
October 11, 2015
The boil water advisory issued by the District of Kitimat will remain in place at this time. Until further notice, continue to boil water for 2 solid minutes before using it for cooking or drinking.
The District of Kitimat, with advice from Northern Health, will not consider terminating the advisory until two samples conclude there is not a health risk. Sampling is not expected to be complete until at least the end of the week of October 12, 2015 and could be longer if the rain continues.
The District is treating the water as usual. There is nothing to suggest contamination is occurring; however, as a precautionary measure please continue to boil water prior to use.
Turbidity in this case means high levels of particulate matter in the river, including sand and possibly salts. Waycheshen said the Kitimat River rose four metres on Saturday, then dropped by about two metres overnight but with the later Sunday afternoon rain the river is rising once again.
The Environment Canada forecast issued at 4 pm Sunday, calls for rain for the next week.
Rain. Amount 15 to 25 mm. Windy. Temperature steady near 8.
Showers. Windy early in the evening. Temperature steady near 8.
Tue, 13 Oct
Showers. High 11.
Cloudy with 70 percent chance of showers. Low 6.
Wed, 14 Oct
A mix of sun and cloud with 60 percent chance of showers. High 13.
Cloudy periods. Low plus 5.
Thu, 15 Oct
Cloudy. High 15.
Cloudy with 60 percent chance of showers. Low 7.
Fri, 16 Oct
Cloudy with 60 percent chance of showers. High 12.
Cloudy with 60 percent chance of showers. Low 7.
Sat, 17 Oct
Periods of rain. High 11.
Wind Warning continues
The Environment Canada wind warning for the north coast was continued this morning but there are currently no alerts in effect for Kitimat.
Wind warning in effect for:
North Coast – coastal sections
The third and final disturbance in this series of storms is moving onto the northern BC Coast. The front will cross the central coast tonight. Southeast winds up to 110 km/h will develop over Haida Gwaii near noon then spread to the North Coast – Coastal Sections and Central Coast – Coastal Sections this afternoon. Winds will shift to southwest with the passage of the front then diminish this evening.
Damage to buildings, such as to roof shingles and windows, may occur. High winds may toss loose objects or cause tree branches to break.
Wind warnings are issued when there is a significant risk of damaging winds.
Waycheshen says there probably has been some flood damage to Radley Park, but at this point District staff are unable to get into the area to assess the damage.
The District of Kitimat has issued a boil water advisory.
Late Saturday evening, the District issued this statement on their website
Due to the significant rainfall, water entering the District of Kitimat’s system is turbid. The District is still treating water, however, until further notice, boil water for 2 solid minutes before using it for cooking or drinking.
The District of Kitimat is working with Northern Health on this matter.
North Coast – coastal sections
The third and final disturbance in this series of storms will approach the North and Central Coasts on Sunday. An intense low is forecast to track west of Haida Gwaii as moves northward. Southeast winds up to 100 km/h will develop over Haida Gwaii midday Sunday and then spread to the North Coast – Coast Sections and Central Coast – Coastal Sections in the afternoon. Winds will diminish Sunday evening as the low moves away from the region.
High winds may toss loose objects or cause tree branches to break.
Wind warnings are issued when there is a significant risk of damaging winds
The Environment Canada web page says Kitimat received 24 mm of rain in the 24 hours preceeding the forecast at 2039 on Saturday.
Sunday’s forecast calls for
Showers. Amount 10 to 20 mm. Windy this evening and after midnight. Low 8.
Sun, 11 Oct Showers. Amount 5 to 10 mm. Wind becoming south 40 to 60 km/h late in the morning. High 10.
Night Showers. Amount 20 mm. Wind south 40 to 60 km/h becoming light near midnight. Low 8.
The headline on Thursday’s CBC.ca coverage of the sudden controversy over a boycott in British Columbia of Tim Horton’s over the Enbridge ads sums up everything that’s wrong about media coverage not only of the boycotts, but of northwest energy and environment issues overall.
“Tim Hortons yanks Enbridge ads, sparks Alberta backlash.” The anger at Tim Hortons across northwest British Columbia over those Enbridge ads, the calls for a boycott have been building for more than two weeks but no one in the media noticed despite widespread posts on Facebook and other social media.
As usual, the concerns of the northwest didn’t really become a story until Alberta got involved and the story has become the “Alberta backlash.” Now, there’s a backlash on social media to the Alberta backlash, with northwestern British Columbians tweeting and posting their displeasure, angry at the usual blinkered views of Alberta-centric coverage of energy issues.
Let’s make one thing clear– despite the outraged cries of the usual suspects like Defence Minister Jason Kenney, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, who represents Calgary Centre-North and Kyle Harrietha, the Liberal candidate for Fort McMurray-Cold Lake that the boycott was aimed at Alberta’s entire energy industry and the province’s views of a manifest destiny as an energy super power, the doughnut boycott was really aimed specifically at Enbridge, and the company’s arrogance and incompetence.
Of course Jean, like most Albertans, isn’t looking at the bigger picture. The question that Jean should really be asking, is the continuing unquestioning support for Enbridge actually harming the rest of the Alberta energy industry by increasing the resistance in northwestern BC to other energy projects? When are Alberta politicians, whether federal or provincial, ever actually going to show even a Timbit of respect for the issues in northwestern British Columbia?
Look at what Enbridge is doing
There is strong support (with some reservations) for the liquified natural gas projects. There is a level of support for pipelines that would carry refined hydrocarbons to the coast, something that the new premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley is seriously considering. But it is so typical of Alberta, the Alberta media and most of the Canadian media, to believe that the boycott was an attack on the entire energy industry.
Ask any executive of an energy company that wants to do business in northwestern British Columbia and they’ll come up with the a joke that is now so old and so often repeated that it’s become a cliché, “We look at what Enbridge is doing and then do the exact opposite.”
The fact is that Enbridge has been dealing with northwestern British Columbia for more than ten years and they still can’t do anything right. Shell, Chevron, Petronas (and before them Apache) and even TransCanada make more efforts to listen to the people, First Nations and non-Aboriginal residents alike, than Enbridge ever has or ever will (despite their claims in their PR campaigns).
While these energy giants may not agree with what they hear, they are respectful and depending on their corporate culture are making genuine efforts to come up with ways to make their projects work. After a decade of blunders, however, Enbridge still hasn’t shown that much respect for anyone here. Those touchy feely ads that appear on television and at Tim Horton’s are just another example of how not to run a public relations campaign.
There are those who oppose any bitumen sands extraction who signed the online petition, but the core of opposition, as always, comes from northwestern BC and the issue is an ill-conceived pipeline.
Enbridge has been successful in one area of its public relations strategy. They’ve convinced Albertans that Enbridge and the Northern Gateway pipeline is an essential part of not only the Alberta economy but Alberta culture. Any attack on Enbridge becomes an attack on Alberta. Hence the unreasoned anger when after Tim Hortons pulled the ads.
The big blame America lie
The other Big Lie we keep hearing from the Harper Government, is that this all orchestrated by American NGOs and activists. Again this shows Alberta-centric contempt for British Columbia. It’s very easy and convenient to keep believing that everyone in northern British Columbia are dumb and stupid and are being led by the ear by those nasty green Americans who have it in for the efforts to make Canada an energy superpower. That idea, promoted by the more conservative Canadian media has always been animal waste. The battle to protect the environment of northwestern British Columbia while at the same time attracting resource projects that have recognized and obtained social licence to operate has always and will always in BC on a case by case, community by community basis.
A morning shock with your morning coffee and Timbits
Social media across northwestern British Columbia, mostly Facebook, began spreading the news within hours of the ads appearing in the local Timmys. There were angry posts from individuals who had walked in Tim Hortons and saw the ads.
Why didn’t the media get the story?
So why wasn’t the story covered by the media at least ten days ago?
That’s because in this age of tight budgets, it’s considered easy and economical to try to all of northern BC cover from either Vancouver or Calgary; that means covering from far away both the coast where the pipelines and tankers may or may not operate to the east near the Rockies where the natural gas extraction is on going
If you look at map of northern BC, and the two federal ridings Skeena Bulkley Valley and Prince George–Peace River–Northern Rockies, the population is about 200,000 spread over an area about half the size of Europe. Both ridings in this region are supposedly vital to the future of the Canadian economy, but you wouldn’t know it from most of the media. (The Globe and Mail is an exception, with more ongoing coverage of northern BC than you will find in either The Vancouver Sun or The Province).
As for CBC, there are just eight radio staff, two in Prince Rupert and six in Prince George to cover all the apparently vital issues across half the province. ( Almost all the staff work mostly for the Daybreak North morning show which dominates the regional rates but it looks like with the latest CBC cutbacks that at least one of those positions will be eliminated). CBC TV and Global cover the region from Vancouver.
At least the Vancouver based media make efforts to cover the north from time to time. The Alberta media, however, especially the Calgary Herald, is hopeless, and so biased against British Columbia and so dismissive of the issues here, that the coverage across Alberta is completely unreliable about 90 per cent of the time—it’s no wonder that the majority of Albertans have no understanding of British Columbia culture and issues.
Then there are the punditi, pontificating from their cubicles in Ottawa and Toronto without a clue, without doing the basic journalism of picking up the phone (or writing an e-mail) to actually find out what’s going on.
Andrew Coyne, for example, made these rather silly two tongue-in-cheek tweets Thursday night. While Coyne’s tweets do often exhibit a sense of humour, his excellent coverage of the decline of our democratic parliament has to be compared with his blind, unchecked ideological assumptions about the issues of the northwest, which are simplistic, cubicle bound and far off the mark. The same can be said for Jeffrey Simpson in his occasional writing about this region. Neither the view from the Hill, where you can see as far as the Queensway, nor from Bloor Street, where you can see part of the Don Valley, are vantage points to understand what is going in northern British Columbia.
So let’s look at the specific errors in the media coverage of the Tim Horton’s story.
Both Shawn McCarthy in the Globe and Mail and Kyle Bakyx on CBC.ca seem to accept without question that SumofUs, was the instigator of the petition. Like many issues in northwestern BC, the Lower Mainland or US based activist groups follow the lead of northwestern BC and jump on the bandwagon, not the other way around. Jason Kirby in MacLean’s says the boycott movement began a week ago. Here in Kitimat, it began within hours of the ads appearing in the local Timmys and was picked up on activist social media groups before the SumofUs petition site.
McCarthy repeats the conventional wisdom: “The Conservatives and oil industry supporters have been waging a public relations war with the environmental groups that oppose expansion of the oil sands and construction of new pipelines.”
CBC.ca quotes Alan Middleton of York University “Enbridge, of course, is not just pipelines and oilsands; they are a whole range of products including heating people’s homes. Tims should have thought about that.” Again a mistake. I lived in Toronto for many years. A company called Consumers Gas supplied natural gas to homes until it was taken over by Enbridge, so Enbridge does heat the homes in Toronto. But what has that got to do with northwestern British Columbia? Why didn’t CBC.ca call the University of Northern British Columbia? Easier to call York (which by the way is where I got both my BA and MA)
McCarthy quotes Rempel as saying, “One has to wonder whether head office talked to their franchise owners in Alberta before making the decision. I imagine those calls are being made this afternoon – certainly there are a lot of people voicing their displeasure.”
The question that should have been asked whether or not Tim Hortons consulted their franchise owners in British Columbia before ordering them to play the ads. People here were “voicing their displeasure” from the moment the first Kitimatian walked into the local Timmys for an early morning coffee and had to stand in line while being told how wonderful Enbridge is.
Of course, if Albertans force Tim Hortons into reinstating the ads, that will only trigger a bigger boycott in British Columbia. As Maclean’s asks, “what were they thinking?”
Jason Kenney, flying in, flying out
As for Jason Kenney, who is quoted by the CBC as tweeting: “I’m proud to represent thousands of constituents who work for Enbridge & other CDN energy companies,” if Kenney aspires to be Prime Minister one day, he had better start thinking about representing more Canadians than just those employed by the energy industry—a mistake that his boss Stephen Harper keeps making.
Jason Kenney did visit Kitimat for a just a few hours in February 2014 for a tour of the Rio Tinto modernization project and an obligatory and brief meeting with the Haisla First Nation council. If Kenney had actually bothered to stick around a few more hours and talk to the community, everyone from the environmentalists to the industrial development advocates, he might not have been so quick on the trigger in the Twitter wars.
Not one of the major media who covered this story, not The Globe and Mail, not CBC.ca, not MacLean’s, no one else, once bothered to actually call or e-mail someone who lives along the Northern Gateway pipeline route in British Columbia, the area where the boycott movement actually began to ask about Enbridge’s track record in this region. The media still doesn’t get it. This morning’s stories are all about Alberta. As usual, my dear, the media doesn’t give a damn about northwestern British Columbia.
That is why the coverage of the Tim Hortons boycott is a double double failure of the Canadian media.
Where else the media is failing northwestern BC
Full disclosure. Since I took early retirement from CBC in 2010 and returned to Kitimat, I have worked as a freelancer for CBC radio and television, Global News, Canadian Press, The National Post, The Globe and Mail and other media.
However, largely due to budget cuts, freelance opportunities, not only for myself, but others across the region have dried up. The media seems to be concentrating more on the major urban areas where there is larger population base and at least more of the ever shrinking advertising dollar. I am now told more often than I was a couple of years ago that “we don’t have the budget.”
Now this isn’t just a freelancer who would like some more work (although it would be nice). If the media these days actually had environmental beats for reporters the boycott of Tim Hortons in northwest BC would have been flagged within a couple of days, not almost two and half weeks and later only when Alberta got hot under its oily collar.
So as well as the Tim Horton’s boycott here are two major ongoing stories from Kitimat that the media haven’t been covering.
100 day municipal strike
-Kitimat’s municipal workers, Unifor 2300, have been on strike since February 28. Three rounds of mediation have failed, the union has refused binding arbitration, the pool, gym and community meeting halls have been closed since February, the municipal parks and byways are now returning to the wilderness. Only essential services are being maintained (but residents still have to pay their property taxes by July 2, taxes that are skyrocketing due to increased assessments for home values based on LNG projects that haven’t started) By the time most people read this the strike will have been on for 100 days. There is no settlement in sight and both sides, despite a mediator ordered blackout, are fighting a press release war on social media. Can you imagine any other place that had a 100 day municipal workers strike with no coverage in the province’s main media outlets, whether newspaper or television? Local CBC radio has covered the strike, as has the local TV station CFTK. (Update: District of Kitimat says in a news release that the mediator has now approved the DoK news releases.)
Of course, in the bigger picture the media concentrates on business reporting. There haven’t been labour reporters for a generation.
So if most Canadians were surprised that there was a boycott of the unofficial national symbol, Tim Hortons, it’s because of that double double media fail and as the media continues to decline, as budgets are cut, as “commodity news” disappears, expect more surprises in the future. Oh by the way Kitimat is vital to the national economy but we can cover it from a cubicle in Toronto.
Final disclosure: I am not a coffee drinker. When I go to Timmy’s I prefer a large steeped tea and an apple fritter.
April 13, 2015
On April 03, 2015 the Union ended negotiations with the District of Kitimat. The District extended another opportunity for the Union to accept the February 26, 2015 Final Offer by April 12, 2015. The Union declined that opportunity.
This morning the Union applied to the Labour Relations Board for the services of a Mediator. The District has agreed to participate in mediation.
The Mediator appointed today asked the parties to set aside May 01 – 04, 2015 as potential dates for initial meetings.
So far, Unifor 2300 has not commented on the announcement. However, Ron Poole said, District Chief Administrative Officer says both sides in the Kitimat dispute are making an effort with the Labour Relations Board to get things started faster, perhaps arranging a weekend meeting before the projected start on May 1.
Northwest Coast Energy News has confirmed postings on Facebook that said the District of Kitimat is using the services of a prominent Vancouver based employment firm, Harris and Co. If the two sides had not agreed to mediation, the law firm would have taken over the negotiations, Northwest Coast Energy News has confirmed.
Wills was hired by Prince George to serve as their chief spokesperson during collective bargaining with the Canadian Union of Public Employees locals 1048 and 399. Wills’ work helped by city to reach an agreement with CUPE after a year of negotiations. However, the city refused a request under for the Freedom of Information Act from the Prince George Citizen to find out how much Wills was paid. The Prince George budget says it pays Harris and Co. $25,000 a year.
According to Wills’ Linked In profile, she speaks fluent Portuguese.
The profile on the law firm website says:
Adriana represents a broad range of clients in both the private and public sectors. These include clients in the forest, manufacturing, service, chemical industries, local government, health care and, educational industries. She provides the full scope of legal services to those clients including: strategic planning; risk management; collective bargaining; policy development; training; and, advocacy. Adriana believes in providing practical solutions to the legal challenges faced by clients.
Wills has been with Harris and Co. since 1992. She is also an activist on mental health issues.
After both sides in the Capilano dispute agreed to mediation, the Capilano Faculty Association agreed to suspend its strike action. The university will resume operations Tuesday. Exams will begin on Thursday, April 16 and end Friday, April 24.
The District of Kitimat employees walked off the job just before midnight on February 28. There is no indication whether or not Unifor 2300 will suspend the strike as the Capilano Faculty Association has)
Tuesday night’s District of Kitimat Council meeting, crowded with striking members of Unifor 2300 deteriorated to what became a shouting match between the bargaining committee and Mayor Phil Germuth.
If the hostility and anger continue, it is quite likely the strike will last for months. The fallout will last much longer. It is often said that the bitterness following a strike is directly proportional to its length and the repercussions can last for a decade or more.
That is not good for the future of Kitimat.
There’s talk of mediation, and that’s a good idea, but mediation only works when both sides are willing to sit down and actually listen and talk through the issues. So mediation doesn’t appear to be practical, at least for a few weeks, until both sides are feeling a lot more pain, which is unfortunate.
Even if mediation isn’t possible at the moment, it’s time for both sides to stop and bring in some outside experts, experts with cool heads and no personal axes to grind, to guide each side in the negotiations.
Do they know what they’re doing? Unifor 2300, apparently not as stunt, but to get their point across, attempted a clause by clause negotiation of certain points at public meeting of council, in front of a partisan crowd. Negotiating in public seldom works, especially if the other side isn’t really listening.
Do they know what they’re doing? It appears that mayor and council didn’t bother to actually take a copy of the union offer and read it, at least so they would know what the District bargaining committee was doing. “Did anybody on council actually look at the whole document? No. We didn’t ask for it, we asked, give us an update,” Mayor Phil Germuth said. (Having been through the 2005 CBC lockout, I know that most union members do look carefully at the proposed changes in a contract, especially if there is trouble on the horizon. Management usually does the same. In this case, council is the responsible body and should have taken the time to actually read the proposals.)
There is too much confusion and contradictory statements from mayor, staff and council over the timeline of when they saw the offer from Unifor, even it was just a summary.
The trouble with a small town like Kitimat is that this has already become too personal, and both sides are losing perspective. That’s why cooler, outside heads are needed.
UPDATE: Deescalation not Escalation
A few moments after this analysis was initially posted, Mayor Phil Germuth issued a open letter, threatening to withdraw the District’s offer:
If the Final Offer is not accepted by the Union by Sunday, April 12, 2015 at 4 p.m. the offer will be withdrawn. The District will then retain the services of an external negotiator who will have the mandate to conclude a Collective Agreement. That negotiator can make decisions on the best way to achieve this goal, including mediation or arbitration.
When this piece was written, our idea of bringing in outside experts was to deescalate the volatile situation, not escalating and making it worse. If the District of Kitimat brings in a hard ball “outside negotiator” that will be a long term disaster for the region, even if a settlement is reached (or forced), because as we say above the long term bitterness could last for a decade or more. When we said an outside negotiator respected by both management and labour, we meant just that, an expert in industrial relations that can deescalate the anger. One has to wonder just who is advising mayor and council on this issue?
In this analysis calling for Unifor 2300 to also bring in outside experts, we were hoping for deescalation, in a small town where the dispute has become very personal. If the District brings in that outside negotiator, Unifor 2300 will have to call headquarters and bring in the “big guns” and call for national support (which has happened in other labour disputes).
Unless there is immediate deescalation, the situation can only get worse.
Get on the phone
That means Unifor 2300 business agent Martin McIlwrath, Unifor Local 2301 President Rick Belmont who does have some experience, and the rest of the bargaining team should get on the phone to Unifor headquarters today and ask that an experienced negotiations facilitator and an experienced researcher get on a plane for Kitimat immediately and stay here for the duration. (McIlwrath has told reporters he has consulted with other labour leaders by phone. That’s not good enough. This situation needs experts here, on the ground).
For Unifor 2300 members, part of your dues goes to union headquarters, so that’s what you’re paying for. A “One Big Union,” which is what Unifor is, has bench strength for situations like this.
For Mayor Phil Germuth and CAO Ron Poole, that means immediately hiring an experienced industrial relations consultant, one who is respected by both management and labour, who can also tell the obviously dysfunctional negotiating team what works and what doesn’t.
A union researcher and the staff of the labour relations consultant could soon find out what (from their perspective) what is economically feasible given the uncertainty of Kitimat’s future.
The Immediate Problem: No picket line protocol
It was very clear at the council meeting on March 2, when there was a loud picket line at the meeting and now with the secondary picketing of the museum and the public library, that Unifor 2300 has failed to establish a proper picket line protocol.
Old time union activists may not like it, but the idea of “never crossing a picket line” is becoming obsolete in the 21st century, especially in situations where there is no longer one single plant gate. These days what usually happens where striking or locked out workers may be picketing office buildings where there are other businesses or where members of other bargaining units may still be working is to establish a picket line protocol.
The accepted procedure these days is to establish a waiting time before entering a location. Often this is even agreed between management and the union (where they are still on speaking terms) before a strike or lockout begins.
In 1999, the CBC management locked out the then technicians’ union, NABET/CEP. The Canadian Media Guild had settled and was bound by the no strike/lockout clause in the collective agreement. That meant everyone else; CMG, non-union staff and management crossed the NABET/CEP picket lines. The protocol was that everyone waited ten minutes before entering the buildings. At shift change the lines could be quite long and sometimes the wait was as long as a half hour (in Toronto, in January, in the snow).
By the time of the 2005 lockout, NABET at CBC had merged with the Canadian Media Guild and everyone was out. Protocols were put in place, management and non-union staff lined up for ten minutes before entering the building.
Similar protocols are put in place elsewhere. There have even been cases where truckers entering a multi-company facility wait for ten or fifteen minutes before being waved through. In some of the recent university disputes, students and non-striking staff have had to wait in line before entering campuses.
The other problem is the secondary picketing of the museum and library. Neither are parties to the core dispute, although they do receive funding from the District. Museum staff are non-union and library staff are members of CUPE. So the employees at both locations are not part of the dispute.
The other problem is that with the library there is collateral damage for the users, especially for students who may want to complete assignments as the school year comes to an end. Students have already been hurt by the teachers’ disputes and this is another burden on their education. Did the Unifor 2300 leadership think about that?
In addition, secondary pickets are usually information or leafleting pickets. If Unifor wants to continue to picket the library and museum, it should be clear that line is for information only. If Unifor continues to insist on picketing the two institutions, (which is unfair to those involved) there should be a wait time protocol. Unifor should call CUPE and agree on one. The museum non-union staff should follow whatever CUPE and Unifor agree to.
If, in the future, Unifor wants to picket council meetings, which is a democratic and elected body, even if it is party to the dispute, and should be free and open to the public, then a proper waiting time protocol should be either negotiated or, if the union moves unilaterally, they must make it clear what the protocol is.
The labour relations earthquake
As we found out this week, with the study of the Haida Gwaii earthquake, a tremor happens when locked in strain is suddenly released. So the Kitimat labour relations earthquake was caused when grievances going back 30 years landed on the table this year.
Why were the grievances, the strain, allowed to build up for three decades? There is obviously blame on both sides. At Tuesday night’s meeting, there were shouts of bring back Joanne Monaghan. Really? Monaghan was a member of council or mayor for most of those 30 years when the problem was building.
Why put all the blame on the current council, which only took office in December? Two members of Council, Larry Walker and Claire Rattée are brand new. Phil Germuth was on council for one term and only became mayor a few months ago. Other council members have been there a lot longer.
Both CAO Ron Poole and Deputy Warren Waycheshen are fairly new as well, but they should have been aware of the problems. As far back as early fall, the District’s senior staff told me they were expecting fairly smooth negotiations. My Unifor sources now tell me, at the same time, the union was conducting extensive research on other collective agreements to look for language to improve the poor work environment at the District of Kitimat.
The responsibility here lies with the line managers of the District. What did they know and when did they know it? Did they tell Poole, Waycheshen, mayor and council that there were problems escalating? If the line managers knew and didn’t tell, they should be fired. If they didn’t know, then their management of their departments is incompetent, or if they were ignoring the problems, as my union sources allege, then they are part of the problem. If everyone knew and did nothing about it, then that raises questions about management incompetence across the board. Again heads should roll. (And staff managers shouldn’t make snide comments in a public meeting about speakers before council, especially if those managers sit beside the media table. It shows they’re unprofessional and bolsters the union’s case).
There is also blame on the union. Labour relations were not an issue during the municipal election. If the problems have been building for 30 years, why wasn’t it an issue?
Members of Unifor 2300 can’t shout “Why did I vote for you?” If what the union calls “a poisoned work environment” has existed for years, why did it never come up during the election or the debates? In any situation where a labour dispute is building, the rumblings inside the shop and outside are obvious months in advance. If the line managers and senior managers were either ignoring the problems or were part of the problem, then it was the responsibility of Unifor 2300 to make it an issue in the election.
Salaries and management
Given the current situation in Kitimat, the current high salaries for senior staff are somewhat justified. Kitimat is not just a small town, it is a small town working with at least four major industrial projects, the Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization Project, Shell-led LNG Canada, Chevron-led Kitimat LNG and the Altagas floating LNG project. This involves negotiations and meetings with both government and corporate officials with even much higher pay grades. There is also the ongoing issue of trying to mend the long history of poor relations with the Haisla Nation.
The workload for senior staff has been increased exponentially in the past four or five years. I am told by sources that burnout is becoming a factor and that staff, both management and union, involved in industrial development, infrastructure and related issues are taking lots of time in lieu, since most don’t get overtime. Some members of the professional staff are members of the Unifor 2300 bargaining unit. That means workload and burnout for those professional members should also be an issue, one that hasn’t, so far, been raised in union media releases.
Here again we see a lack of leadership, both with current management and with the current and previous councils. Any competent manager would have understood that the high salaries for senior staff, however justifiable those salaries may be, would bring questions from the union rank and file and would be a factor in current contract negotiations. (If none of the LNG projects actually proceed, then the salaries for managers and professionals will have to be reassessed).
At Monday’s meeting, Phil Germuth said the District had decided to hire a health and safety manager? Why now? Why not years ago? This is a town that lives and breathes on health and safety briefings. Every time, as a member of the media, I visit the RTA Smelter, the Bish Cove site or any other construction or industrial site, I get a health and safety briefing. If you go fishing, whether it’s on a charter or with a friend, there is safety briefing before leaving the dock. This seems to prove the union’s contention that health and safety was a low priority with the District.
If the District is going to hire a health and safety manager, why not also hire a Human Resources Manager? The current HR staff at the District are “overworked payroll clerks” (to quote a union source). A qualified HR manager would take that burden off the administrative officers, be aware of proper industrial relations procedures and negotiations practices and be the manager who would implement and enforce anti-harassment procedures.
The one group caught in the middle of all this are the summer students. Summer students are hired by many organizations to fill in for vacationing staff and to work on special projects. Summer students should not, as the union is claiming, be used to ensure that casual staff do not get enough hours to qualify for seniority. Reducing the number of summer students, however, is going to have a long term negative effect on the community. Jobs for young people are far too scarce, student loans are becoming such a burden that Millennials who have graduated and those who actually have jobs, can’t afford to buy houses. A lack of summer jobs in Kitimat would be an incentive for young people to leave town or if they are away at college or university, to stay away. Unifor is also not doing the future of the union movement any good by alienating a new generation of potential union members. The summer student program should be restored as much as possible.
Senior and youth health
In a larger community, youth counselling and medically necessary therapeutic pool or gym exercise for seniors and those with disabilities could move to other venues. In Kitimat that is not an option since there are no other locations, so an interim agreement to resume those activities should be high on the agenda—if both sides actually resume talking.
The future of Kitimat’s economy
Today Royal Dutch Shell, the main company behind the LNG Canada project, took over BG Group which had proposed an LNG project at Prince Rupert. The price of oil is bobbing around the $50 a barrel mark. That means David Black’s refinery project, which depended on high oil prices is “vital signs absent.” The long term prospects for the LNG market are good given the increased demand in Asia. The short term prospects are poor, given that the energy sector’s income from oil has dropped and that means those companies have less money to spend on new projects.
The council is being prudent in refusing to lock itself in to long term expenditures based on projects that may never materialize. At the same time, the cost of living in Kitimat, up until recently a mini-Fort McMurray, has skyrocketed. That means the union request for a salary increase should not have been unexpected. It also means that a large number of Kitimat residents, who are paying more for goods and services, many of whom do not have the higher paying project jobs, cannot really afford an increase in property taxes. A compromise on this is essential.
That’s why outside experts, with cool heads, research staff and no personal stake in 30 odd years of hostility, should be brought in to bring both sides to an agreement as soon as possible.
Disclosure: I am the current chair of the Board of Directors of the Kitimat Museum and Archives. My term expires at the end of May. I am a retiree member of the Canadian Media Guild/Communications Workers of America from my time at CBC. When I freelance, depending on whether or not the specific job is covered in a collective agreement (some are, some are not) I work under CMG jurisdiction for CBC and the wire services and under Unifor jurisdiction for Global TV and certain newspapers. In 2005, CBC management locked out employees from August 15 to October 10. During the period of the lockout, my assigned “picket” duty was as one of the CMG’s official photographers.
CORRECTION: This post has been corrected. The events took place on Tuesday, not Monday.
Bob McLeod, who recently retired as the District of Kitimat’s emergency coordinator, told Northwest Coast Energy News: “I think we’ve done quite a bit. One of the biggest issues in the first one was trying to get information out. We’ve come a long way on that. Whether you reach everyone or not, that’s another thing, because you never reach everybody. One of the critical things to me is getting the information out so you avoid all this Facebook, Twitter speculating and rumour. The communications aspect has improved a hundred fold.
“We did more work on the mapping and planning. Over the course of the last year, there were a lot of meetings with industry and various stakeholders, discussing emergency preparedness in general but touching on some of these other things as well.
“One of the things we did was to try to set up some shelter points. We have an agreement with the Baptist Church, the Catholic Church and the Seventh Day Adventists. They’re strategically located and could be gathering points for the various neighborhoods if necessary.
“We’ve also done quite a lot of work on Riverlodge as a group lodging centre, thinking in terms of an earthquake where there may be damage and you have to move people.
“We did look at the evacuation planning and we’ve had a couple of exercises involving that, looking strategically about how can you move people from certain neighborhoods, asking which neighborhoods would be at the most risk if you ended up with a tsunami situation.
As for tsunamis, McLeod said, “From everything we’ve heard and been told, tsunamis in extremely deep water like that is not going to be as dangerous as one in shallower water, but the possibility is still there.
“The thrusts are the killers when it comes to tsunamis, but there is a very good warning system on the tsunamis. We do get very very rapid feedback on the earthquakes.
“The only danger in that regard is if you have a severe earthquake and you have part of a mountain drop into the salt chuck, you’re going to get a massive wave and you’re going to get no warning whatsoever, like the Moon Bay collapse in the seventies.
“The emergency plan is in good shape. We scheduled a number of exercises last year through training programs.
“One of the things I personally push is personal preparedness. I think as a community, we fail greatly at that. That was evident even during the snowstorm. People are not just prepared to look after themselves, it’s unfortunate. You just have to keep chipping away.”
Last week, Northwest Coast Energy News asked Rio Tinto Alcan and the Haisla Nation Council if either could comment on updated earthquake or tsunami response plans. So we have received no answers.