If anyone wanted a snapshot (or for younger folks a selfie) of why the Harper government grounded out at home, never even getting to first base with northwestern British Columbia on Northern Gateway and other resource projects, it can be found in about sixty pages of documents, obtained by Northwest Coast Energy News under the Access to Information Act, documents that outline the planning for former Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s first visit to Terrace in March 2013
The documents reveal the priority for Natural Resources communications staff was mainly finding an appropriate First Nations visual backdrop for Oliver’s speech announcing the appointment of Douglas Eyford as special representative to First Nations, the Harper government’s attempt to smooth relations as it dawned on the government that opposition to Northern Gateway wasn’t just going to disappear.
Despite years of media coverage from both those opposed to and even those who support the Northern Gateway project that highest priority issue was preventing oil spills whether from tankers or pipelines, the Ottawa-based communications planners in Natural Resources Canada were talking about how aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities could respond to oil spills.
For an event that was supposed to engage the First Nations of coastal British Columbia and gain their support for resource projects, all the economic examples are about Alberta First Nations who are working the extraction of bitumen in Alberta, there are no example of how BC First Nations might profit from Northern Gateway (that is if any BC First Nations actually wanted to do so)
When Natural Resources Canada started planning Joe Oliver’s announcement they created what was called a “Message Event Proposal” which even in its title shows how the government and the communications staff think. The message is more important than the event.
The planning documents from Natural Resources, starting on March 5, 2013, indicate that from the beginning the announcement was being treated as a photo op. Invitations to or participation by “stakeholders” are listed as N/A “not applicable,” which meant that meetings, even private meetings, with representatives of northwestern First Nations and other communities either weren’t considered or the communications staff weren’t informed. (If there were such plans they were not part of the access documents released and as far as Northwest Coast Energy News can find out no meetings took place since Oliver left for Ottawa immediately after the announcement)
The Natural Resources communications staff were working on multiple angles in March, as part of what the planning documents call “a suite of events in Vancouver on marine and pipeline safety.”
The first set of those events would eventually take place on March 18, 2013, in Vancouver, and included the announcement, without consulting either Rio Tinto Alcan or the District, that Kitimat’s private port run by Alcan since it was first built would be turned in a federal public port.
That location certainly wasn’t clear at first. The first documents suggested the announcement take place in Vancouver, and then a day later on March 6, the proposed venue, according to the staff, was in either Prince Rupert or Prince George.
According to the internal e-mails, sometime that week what Ottawa bureaucrats call MINO — the minister’s office– decided that the venue should be Terrace. On March 11, e-mails among Natural Resources staff show that the choice had changed to either Terrace or Prince George.
Since the “special representative” whom we now know would be Douglas Eyford, would report directly to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the political level was involved. MINO took over writing Oliver’s speech and the arrangements were copied to the Privy Council Office, the civil service branch that has overall supervision of the federal bureaucrats and works directly with the Prime Minister. So the speech that the communications branch had drafted for Oliver became “can please turn the one we had done for him into the remarks for the new guy?”
Plan B in Prince George
The choice of Terrace left the Natural Resources Ottawa staff hedging their bets, looking for a “potential plan B” in Prince George. The e-mails indicate that Ottawa asked Natural Resources west coast communications officer for a list of suitable locations in Prince George.
The communications officer replied with three locations at the University of Northern British Columbia “a moving bear totem on campus” the main administration building which the e-mail said “ has a strong First Nations focus,” adding “Environment Canada has done…events there. Strong FN visuals.” The third choice was “a new bio energy facility that looks industrial.”
Backups were The College of New Caledonia trade centre and the Prince George industrial park.
E-mails from the staff on Wednesday, March 14 and Thursday, March 15, showed while they were now aware the event would be in Terrace, and probably at Northwest Community College, there was still a lot of uncertainty. “We haven’t been able to contact them to confirm, but as soon as we do, we will let you know the exact details as well as what is required in terms of logistics.”
Remembering that Natural Resources and Transport Canada were also planning the Vancouver event on Monday, March 18, it appears that even as Oliver arrived on the morning of March 19, the minister’s staff both political and bureaucratic were still scrambling.
On March 19, the NWCC staff on site were complaining that as soon as the Ottawa delegation saw the standard arrangements for an event at the Waap Galts’ap community long house they ordered the NWCC staff to immediately rearrange the room, so that the podium was in front of one wall with what Oliver’s staff thought was a better First Nations painting. That rearranging was still going on when I arrived to cover the announcement.
Even after the furniture was rearranged, the start was delayed as Oliver and his staff disappeared into an upstairs room for a meeting before the news conference began, and Oliver announced Eyford’s appointment.
During the question and answer session with the media during the news conference, the students that had essentially been brought in as props for the photo op and to help promote Northwest Community College’s industrial training program, began to ask questions.
One student asked Oliver if Eyford’s appointment was going to replace “all talks” with First Nations about resource projects. The Natural Resources public relations staff tried to cut off one student, since the national media were waiting on a telephone conference call. To his credit, Oliver did answer the student’s question, saying Eyford’s appointment was not intended to “replace the independent, regulatory review.” He went on to explain the Northern Gateway Joint Review would continue its work and report at the end of 2013.
What was Ottawa thinking? You too, can respond to an oil spill.
If the aim was to engage the First Nations and other residents of northwestern BC, it is clear that the concerns of this region hadn’t reached out Ottawa.
It appears from the planning documents for Joe Oliver’s trip to Terrace, that a main concern of everyone in the northwest, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, opponents and supporters of the Northern Gateway pipeline, preventing oil spills also wasn’t on the government radar, rather it was preparing and responding to oil spills.
Guess who would respond?
As part of the measures to strengthen Canada’s Marine Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Regime, the Government of Canada will strengthen the engagement and involvement of Aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities in preparing for and responding to oil spills.
When it comes to a key section on benefits from the Northern Gateway and other resource projects, there is no mention of benefits to British Columbia; rather it appears all the examples of benefits for aboriginal communities come from Alberta, including $1.3 billion in contract work for oil sands companies not including construction, for the year 2010, and $5 billion since 2001. The Message Event Proposal also cites a joint venture between the Bigstone Cree and Bronco Energy, “the biggest oil sands project every undertaken on First Nations reserve lands.”
Overall the plan was to “Promote Canada’s commitment to achieving its goals under its plan for Responsible Resource Development, including increased consultations with Aboriginal peoples.”
The “media lines’ issued by Natural Resources also outlined the Harper government’s attitude to the Northern Gateway, noting that Eyford’s appointment was independent of the Northern Gateway Joint Review, and went to indicate that the JRP was “conducting a rigorous, extensive, open, science-based assessment.” It adds that “we will continue to rely on the integrity of this process,” again showing how out of touch Natural Resources was (at least in talking points) since by March 2013, there was growing consensus in the northwest that the JRP had lost its credibility.
The media lines also show that the Harper government believed that “Aboriginal consultations are fully integrated into the review process to ensure meaningful consultation occurs,” a position that most First Nations in British Columbia reject, insisting on meaningful consultations between the Crown and the First Nation.
When Eyford presented his report to the Prime Minister in December, 2013, Eyford called for stronger action to engage First Nations opposed to new oil and gas pipelines.
“It’s never too late to engage and do so in a process of good faith negotiations… “This won’t be an easy process. I hope my report is perceived as providing objective and blunt advice to all the parties engaged in this process.’’
The 53 page report contained dozens of recommendations mainly concerned with a more open and principled dialogue with First Nations.
“The development of West Coast energy infrastructure provides an opportunity to forge partnerships and build relationships. There is a strong interest and real opportunity for Canada and aboriginal Canadians to more effectively collaborate to address their respective interests.’’
Editor’s note: On the port issue, an RTA spokesperson noted that talks with the federal government are continuing. He noted that all the Kitimat port facilities are privately owned, by Rio Tinto Alcan or by LNG Canada and there are “multiple stakeholders” involved.
It comes down to the idea that Harper will approve Gateway “in the national interest,” count on a vote split between the NDP and Liberals in British Columbia to avoid any consequences to the Conservative majority and then leave it up to Enbridge to actually get the job of building the pipeline and terminal project done.
Mason quotes “ a senior member of Mr. Harper’s government,” and while Mason doesn’t say what part of Canada the source is from, (unlikely in my view the source is from BC) what the member told Mason reveals that the Harper government is still mired in it the Matrix-world that has always governed its policy on Northern Gateway.
The first step, apparently coming in the next few days, is that the Harper government “rigorous” new tanker protocols for traffic along the west coast.
Even if the protocols are new, just who is going to enforce those policies?
Even if Gateway and the Kinder Morgan expansion went ahead, he argued, B.C. would still only see about 60 per cent of the annual oil tanker traffic the neighbouring state of Washington deals with. And yet Washington has an exceptionally clean record when it comes to the safe transport of oil in and out of its harbours – this, he noted, while operating under marine safety regulations that are not as rigorous as the ones Ottawa intends to put in place for the shipment of oil along the West Coast.
There are a lot big problems with that statement.
First, there’s an organization that the Mason’s source may have heard of known as the United States Coast Guard. The United States rigorously enforces its “weak” regulations, while Canada’s Coast Guard is plagued by staff shortages and budget cuts.
Second, the State of Washington also rigorously enforces its environmental regulations, not only on the coast but across the state. I have been told by retired British Columbia forestry and environmental officials (not to mention Fisheries and Oceans) that there are often more state environmental watch dogs in most Washington State counties than in all of northern British Columbia where the Northern Gateway is supposed to be going.
The September 2013, report by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration on the export of Canadian bitumen sands through the US shows that the Washington Department of Ecology is working on strengthening regulations for both pipelines and (where it’s in state jurisdiction) tanker traffic. The same report says the state of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is updating its plans and possible regulations in anticipation that bitumen filled tanker traffic from Kitimat would come close to the coast en route to Asia.
Third, the coast of northern British Columbia is more rugged and stormy than the waters off Washington.
The one factor that the urban media seems to ignore, is the big question.
Who pays to enforce the 209 conditions that the Joint Review Panel imposed on the Northern Gateway project?
If the Harper government announces new tanker regulations in the coming days, who pays to enforce those regulations?
There were no provisions in the February budget for enforcing the 209 conditions. Rather there were continuing budget cuts to the very departments that the JRP ruled must be involved in the studying, planning, implementation and enforcement of the 209 conditions, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans and Transport Canada.
So while Mason says “The federal government will play its part in meeting the five conditions laid out by the B.C. government for support of the project,” the response must be “Show me the money!”
During the recent plebiscite campaign, Northern Gateway finally revealed its plans for the “super tugs” that will escort tankers along the coast and up Douglas Channel. Owen McHugh, a Northern Gateway emergency manager said, “Adding these four or five tugs to the north coast provides a rescue capability that doesn’t exist in this format. So for any large commercial vessel that is traveling on our coast, this capacity to protect the waters of the north coast.” Those tugs and Northern Gateway’s plans to station teams at small bases along the coast means that the company is, in effect, creating a parallel, private, coast guard on the BC Coast.
What about the Coast Guard itself? The Harper government has been gutting Coast Guard resources along the coast even before it had its majority. It closed and dismantled the Kitsilano Coast Guard station in Vancouver. There is more dependence on the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue volunteers, who have to raise money locally for modern rescue boats which cost up to $750,000. The money that government was “generously” giving to RCMSAR had to be split up to 70 stations in 42 communities along the coast as well as its administrative and training staff.
Does anyone notice what is missing from that list? What’s missing are better Coast Guard vessels just to police all the expected tanker traffic on the west coast (whether LNG or bitumen) and no mention of dedicated spill response vessels, which under the “polluter pay” policy will likely be left to private contractors (and hope that the ships are available at the time of a spill)
How will we know?
Then there is the question of how will people even know if the 209 conditions are being enforced; whether or not the reports demanded by the Joint Review Panel are going be sitting on the National Energy Board server and ignored.
There is every indication, given the government’s obsession with secrecy that until there is a disaster the Canadian public will never know what’s going on. Harper’s muzzling doesn’t just cover government scientists, it covers the lowest level of bureaucrats, as District of Kitimat Council found out when low level DFO bureaucrats refused to appear publicly before council to discuss the risk to the Kitimat River.
So the scenario is, according to Mason’s source
“I think once this decision is made, Enbridge could have shovels in the ground the next day,” the member said. “They are ready to go. This means the First Nations could start realizing profits from this right away, as opposed to the promised profits from LNG, which may never materialize. I think they need to think about that.”
While the LNG market is volatile, the “member” forgets that most of the First Nations of British Columbia have opposed the Northern Gateway since Enbridge first floated the idea in 2001. The current LNG rush didn’t start until after Japan shut down its nuclear power plants after the March 2011 earthquake, The first major anti-Enbridge rally, “The Solidarity Gathering of Nations” was held at Kitamaat Village in May 2010.
Writing off BC
It appears that Conservatives, in their election strategy have already written off Gateway opponents:
Still, there is a raw political calculus that needs to be taken into account. Polls measuring support for the pr.oject in B.C. vary, but generally have shown that anywhere from 55 to 60 per cent of the province opposes Gateway and 40 to 45 per cent support it. Isn’t that enough to scare off a government that needs critical votes in B.C. to win another majority?
“Let’s say 60 per cent are against it,” he said. “And that vote splits between the Liberals and the NDP come the next election. Who are the 40 per cent going to vote for?”
Mason also speculates that Harper will approve Gateway to stick it to Barack Obama and the delays on Keystone XL. As he points out that’s a political, not an economic decision.
There are civil disobedience classes being held across northwestern BC this month. Access to Information requests by the Vancouver Observer revealed increased RCMP surveillance of the anti-Gateway movement. There has always been talk of a “war in the woods” if the pipeline project is forced on an unwilling population.
So it comes down to a question that Mason and the Conservatives are avoiding. Mason’s source says Northern Gateway is crucial to the national interest:
“At the end of the day, you have to do what’s right, not what’s politically expedient,” he said. “You have to ask: What’s in the best interests of all Canadians?”
So given all that will the Harper government leave Enbridge to tough it out on its own?
But will the Harper government, with its bean counting obsession on balancing the budget be willing to pay for all that is needed?
There’s lots of marine clay along the pipeline route, laid down by ancient oceans. That brings to mind just one word. Quagmire, not just the wet, sticky BC mud but a political quagmire.
The Haisla Nation are calling on the federal cabinet to postpone its decision on the Northern Gateway project to allow time for adequate consultations with First Nations, according to the Haisla response to the Joint Review Panel, seen by Northwest Coast Energy News.
The Joint Review Panel report and recommendations were released on Dec. 19, 2013 and the cabinet has 180 days from that point to recommend approval of the project.
The Haisla argue that Section 54 of the National Energy Board act allows the Governor-in-Council, the federal cabinet, to extend the timeline if it wants to, if recommended by the Minister of Natural Resources.
So far, the Harper government has refused to extend the deadline. The Haisla response document says Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross spoke to Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver on the telephone requesting the extension, but, according to the document, all Oliver did was point to the legislation that calls for the 180 day response to a joint review report.
The Haisla response document also has a long lists of what the Haisla say are flaws in the Joint Review Panel report.
In correspondence with the Haisla, Brett Maracle, Crown Consultation Coordinator at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for the Northern Gateway project, says:
the process set out by the Government of Canada in the Aboriginal Consultation Framework was finalized after receiving and carefully considering input from Aboriginal groups….The Government of Canada believes the process outlined in the Aboriginal Consultation Framework provides for a deep level of meaningful consultation with Aboriginal groups with Phase IV being the final step prior to a decision being made on the Project.
The Haisla dispute there has been any “deep level of meaningful consultation,” citing in the document a long list of attempts to engage the federal government with little or no response.
In their response, the Haisla Nation Council says:
Canada, has, to date, refused to engage in meaningful consultations with the Haisla Nation. Instead Canada has unilaterally imposed what it calls a “deep level meaningful consultation” process which is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons…
The document lists attempts by the Haisla to engage with ministers and government departments including requests for a meeting with then Environment Minister Peter Kent, prior to the opening of the JRP formal hearings in Kitamaat Village in January 2012. Although the Haisla requested a meeting with Kent, several times in 2011, no meeting ever occurred. It was not until April 19, 2012, four months later that Kent replied to the Haisla saying he had asked the President of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to meet with the First Nation prior to the start of the JRP hearings. However, it was apparently impossible to schedule such a meeting in December, 2011.
To which the Haisla reply:
For over six years, Canada ignored Haisla Nations requests for meetings. Once the JRP’s oral hearings process commenced, Canada further closed the door on any opportunity for a meeting until the JRP Report was release. This refusal to consult was baseless. The ongoing JRP process was not a rational or justifiable basis for Canada’s refusal to consult…
Canada has yet to meet with the Haisla Nation to discuss the proposed project, other than to tell the Haisla Nation it is only engaging through the JRP process for now. This is not consultation. It is, perhaps, at best an initial step towards a consultation process.
Ignoring the Eyford report
In March 2013, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver flew to Terrace for a photo op to announce the appointment of Douglas Eyford to consult First Nations on the Northern Gateway project. Oliver then flew back to Ottawa without meeting anyone in the region. Eyford’s report Forging Partnership Build Relationship was released in November, 2013.
The Haisla say:
Mr. Eyford’s Report recommended that Canada should consider undertaking early engagement to address Aboriginal interests that may not be dealt within a regulatory process. The Haisla Nation has been seeking such early engagement from Canada since the proposed project was first announced.
Mr. Eyford’s Report also recommended that Canada should engage and conduct consultations n addition to those in regulatory processes, as may be required, to address issues and facilitate resolutions in exceptional circumstances. The Haisla Nation also asked for this, identifying early that this proposed project was an exceptional circumstance due to the significant potential impacts on the Haisla Nation.
The Haisla Nation Council response was sent to Brett Maracle, Crown Consultation Coordinator at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for the Northern Gateway project. The Haisla also sent copies of the response to Joe Oliver, the Minister of Natural Resources, Gaetan Caron, Chair of the National Energy Board, Leon Aqlukkaq, Minister of the Environment, Bernard Valcourt Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, BC Premier Christy Clark, Steve Thomson, BC Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources and Mary Polak, BC Minister of the Environment.
In the response, seen by Northwest Coast Energy News, the Haisla are objecting to both the government’s and the JRP’s attitude toward the idea of consultation as well as some of the specific findings by the panel. The Haisla also fault the JRP process for refusing to take into consideration reports and studies that were released after the evidentiary deadlines.
Overall, the Haisla say
The JRP report is written in a way that prevents an assessment of how or whether the JRP considered Haisla Nation concerns and of how whether the JRP purports to address the Haisla Nation’s concerns. Further the JRP Report is lacking n some of the fundamental justification required to understand how arrived at its recommendations.
So what are the Haisla concerns?
In the document filed with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the Haisla say:
The proposed project carries with it an inordinate amount of risk to Haisla Nation Territory. The Haisla Nation is being asked to play host to this proposed project, despite the risk the proposed project poses to the land waters and resources relied on by the Haisla Nation for sustenance and cultural heritage. The risk includes a huge risk to Haisla Nation aboriginal rights to trap, hunt and fish, to gather seafood and gather plant materials. It could result in significant damage to the Haisla Nation cultural heritage—its traditional way of life…..
The terminal site is one of the few areas suitable for terminal development in our territory. It is also home to over 800 Haisla Nation Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs). Northern Gateway proposes to irrevocably alter the land, the use of the land and access to this land for the duration of the proposed project, which is anticipated to be at least 80 years. This irrevocable alteration includes the felling of our CMTS….
By seeking to use Haisla Nation aboriginal title land for the proposed project, Northern Gateway will be effectively expropriating the economic value of this land. Northern Gateway is proposing to use Haisla Nation aboriginal title land for a project with no benefit to the Haisla Nation and which is fundamentally at odds with Haisla Nation stewardship principles.
Obstructed clear understanding
The Haisla say that “Canada has failed to adhere is own framework” for the JRP because in the Aboriginal Consultation Framework says “Federal departments will be active participants in the JRP process to ensure the environmental assessment and consultation record, is as accurate and complete as possible.”
The Haisla say “Canada provided limited written evidence to the JRP” and goes on to say that the “federal governments not only failed to provide relevant information but also obstructed a clear understanding of project impacts.”
Among the evidence relevant to Northern Gateway that the federal government was “unable or unwilling to provide” includes:
Natural Resources had expertise on acid rock damage and metal leaching but did not include evidence on that in their evidence
Fisheries and Oceans did not have a mandate to conduct an assessment of the potential toxicological effects of an oil spill.
Environment Canada did not review or provide information on the spills from pipelines.
The federal government witnesses were unable to answer questions about the toxicity of dispersant.
Environment Canada was asked if it had studies of the subsurface currents and the movement of submerged oil. Environment Canada told the JRP did not measure hydrodynamic data but relies on DFO. DFO cold not provide any witnesses to the JRP with expertise on subsurface currents.
In the formal response on the JRP report, Haisla also say:
The JRP has concluded that the risk of a large spill form the pipeline in the Kitimat River Valley is not likely, despite very significant information gaps relating to geohazards, leak detection and spill response.
The JRP has concluded that a large spill would result in significant adverse environmental effects. However, the JRP appears to base a finding that these effects are unlikely to occur on an unreasonable assumptions about how widespread the effects could be or how long they would last. The JRP has not considered the extent to which a localized effect could impact Haisla Nation.
The JRP relies on the concept of “natural recovery” as mitigation of significant adverse effects. The Haisla Nation asked the JRP to compel information from Northern Gateway about the applicability of its evidence to species found in Haisla National Territory. The JRP, however, refused to compel this evidence from Northern Gateway.
The JRP has accepted at face value that Northern Gateway would shut down its pipeline within 13 minutes in the event of a rupture and has failed to consider the effects of a large spill that is not detected with this timeframe through the control centre (or was in the case of Kalamazoo, is detected by the control centre but is systematically mischaracterized and ignored).
As part of the consultation process the Haisla want 22 changes to the JRP report, changes which echo the Haisla Final Written Argument that was filed at the end of the hearings.
The Panel should find that potential impacts to asserted Haisla Nation aboriginal rights and title from the proposed project are such that project cannot be found to be in the public interest in the absence of meaningful consultation… The current status of engagement and the federal government imposition of a 6-month time limit to complete consultation raise serious concerns that meaningful consultation will not be possible. Therefore the proposed project is not in the public interest.
Among the others are:
The JRP should have determined the significant of adverse effects to rare ecological communities that cannot mitigated.
The JRP should have provided more information to allow a reasonable assessment of the risk of a spill from the pipelines.
The JRP would have considered all factors to contribute to the risk of a spill.
The JRP should have found that Northern Gateway’s assessment of the toxicity of an oil spill because it did not consider the full range of products to be shipped nor did it consider the potential pathways of the effect of a toxic spill, whether from a pipeline, at the marine terminal or in the case of a tanker spill
The evidence had not demonstrated that Northern Gateway’s spill response would be able to mitigate the effects of a spill either at the pipeline, at the Kitimat marine terminal or from a tanker spill.
The JRP did not consider the impact of the Kitimat Marine Terminal on their cultural and archaeological heritage, including culturally modified trees.
The Haisla Nation in their response to the Crown on the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel details four studies, three Canadian and one American that were released after the Joint Review evidentiary deadline had passed, evidence that the Haisla say should be considered in any consideration of the Northern Gateway pipeline, terminal and tanker project. (The American report from the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration was released after the JRP final report)
JRP chair Sheila Leggett’s constant citing of rules of procedure and her stubborn refusal to consider new evidence and studies in a dynamic situation that was changing rapidly was one of the reasons that many people in the northwest said the JRP had lost credibility.
The Haisla say: “It is incumbent upon Canada to consider and discuss the information in these reports as part of a meaningful consultation process…” and then lists “key findings” that have potential impacts on aboriginal rights and title:
The West Coast Spill response for the government of British Columbia which found:
Most oil spilled into the marine environment cannot be cleaned up
There is a disconnect between planning and actual repose capability
Canada’s spill response is “far from world class.”
The Transport Canada Ship Oil Spill Preparedness and Response study:
Douglas Channel will go from low risk to high risk for pills if the project goes ahead
The study recommends preparation for a “true worst case discharge” rather than “the credible worst case discharge” as proposed by Northern Gateway
Canada needed a much more rigorous regulatory regime covering tankers.
The joint federal government technical report on the properties of bitumen from the Canadian Oil Sands:
There are uncertainties on how diluted bitumen would behave in a marine environment.
Northern Gateway did not provide adequate information about sediment levels to allow for proper study of interaction with diluted bitumen
Dispersant may not be effective.
Weathered diluted bitumen would “reach densities at which it will sink freshwater without mechanical or physical assistance.”
The US National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration report on Transporting Alberta Oil sands:
Diluted bitumen has “significant differences from conventional crudes.’ (The JRP used conventional crude as a benchmark in its findings)
The physical properties of diluted bitumen “fluctuate based on a number of factors.
Pipeline operators may not have detailed information related to products in the pipeline at the time of a spill
There is a lack of experimental data on the weathering behaviour of oil sands product which limits the ability of spill response organizations “to understand and predict the behaviour and fate of oil sands products in freshwater, estuarine and saltwater environments.”
The National Energy Board says releasing its decisions in Calgary is standard practice regardless of where in Canada the project is located, and it will not make an exception for its report on the controversial $6.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.
Apparently the NEB doesn’t trust reporters in BC to act as professionals. Also, as usual the stock market is more important than the people of BC.
NEB spokesperson Sarah Kiley told the Globe the board ruled out simultaneous lock-ups in Alberta and British Columbia.
“As far as hosting multiple media lock-ups, we need to make absolutely sure that the report is not inadvertently released before the markets close,” Ms. Kiley said. “This becomes more challenging if there are multiple events due to things like the need to ship reports.”
Because the ruling will affect markets, she said the report must be kept confidential until they close on the day of release.
A couple of years ago, on a visit to the Lower Mainland, I was speaking to man who was considering making a 10 minute comment before the Northern Gateway Joint Review panel. In the end, this man, who is by no means a radical environmentalist, just someone worried about the future, decided not to testify, telling me: “The National Energy Board is nothing more than an extension of the Petroleum Club.”
Once again today, the National Energy Board showed its contempt for British Columbia and proved my source’s belief that it is nothing more than an extension of the Petroleum Club.
Vancouver radio station News 1130 made a routine inquiry to the NEB about a reporters’ “lockup” on the day that the JRP decision is released. A “lockup” allows the media to read an embargoed report a few hours in advance so that at the moment it is officially released, it can print or broadcast an accurate account of a government report.
News 1130 was told by the NEB that there would be no lockup in British Columbia, only reporters in Calgary, the home of the NEB, will have that opportunity, because “logistics did not work out for a lock-up” in Vancouver.
(Reporters who work along the actual pipeline route in the north are even farther off the NEB radar. The Calgary lockup will leave northerners to figure out what the JRP decision actually means from reports from Alberta-based journalists. The history of the past few years has proven that most Alberta-based reporters have little interest or knowledge of the concerns of northwest British Columbia.)
Before the JRP hearings began in January, 2012, a well-known northern First Nations leader predicted all this in a background conversation. He noted that there was no representation from British Columbia on the Joint Review Panel. The JRP had two members from Alberta, chair Sheila Leggett, and member Kenneth Bateman, while the “First Nations member,” Hans Matthews, was from Ontario. The First Nations leader, who would have to appear before the JRP, privately called them “flatlanders” with no knowledge of B.C.
He was right.
Even before that conversation, the Joint Review Panel blundered in its first appearance in Kitimat, the preliminary hearing at Riverlodge on August 30, 2010, by offending the Haisla Nation with a schedule of appearances crafted in Calgary that ignored that Kitimat is on Haisla traditional territory and put then Chief Counsellor Dolores Pollard well down on the schedule. That hearing was held up for about half an hour while the JRP scrambled to undo their mistake.
While the JRP did finally learn to respect the customs of BC’s First Nations, and the panel was often hamstrung by arcane and obsolete rules of procedure, the panel too often proved far too inflexible in understanding the issues along the pipeline route and up and down the coast.
The most recent example was the JRP’s refusal to consider the recent evidence from both scientists and Fisheries and Oceans about the growing importance of humpback whales in Douglas Channel. The JRP’s excuse was that the window for evidence had closed. If the Northern Gateway actually goes ahead, Enbridge speaks about the 30-year-life of the project. Yet the JRP’s continuing inflexibility acts as if all the key issues can be decided by the December 30 deadline and after that everything will be just fine.
In the past few weeks, report after report has been released on projects that will change the lives of the people of the northwestern British Columbia. The media of the northwest, all with very limited budgets, have been ignored time and time again.
On Tuesday, the federal government also used Vancouver to release a report on tanker traffic. While Vancouver is also vulnerable to tanker problems, the feds considered their message could be carried best by the mainstream major metro media. Again, no one bothered with the northwest, where the tankers will be sailing along the coast and up and down Douglas Channel.
A few weeks ago, BC Premier Christy Clark announced her agreement with Alberta Premier Alison Redford on the compensation issue, one of her five conditions for heavy oil development in the province. Clark solved the political dispute with Alberta by handing off the compensation issue from the province to the energy industry with absolutely no guarantee that the energy companies will actually offer compensation for crossing BC. Northern reporters could listen in to an audio feed of the news conference from the BC government website, but could not ask questions.
In the 21st century, of course, these news conferences are not about presenting factual information; the news conferences are about getting out a government message track, so questions from reporters who actually know about issues are not wanted.
The Joint Review Panel (with the NEB one of the “joint” partners) is supposedly, on paper, a quasi-judicial body, independent of the government.
If the JRP wants to salvage even a bit of its crumbling credibility for its Northern Gateway decision, it will show that it respects British Columbia. The means holding two additional lockups. If Terrace was good enough for the final arguments, and a central location for the northwest, one lockup should be held in Terrace, so northerners can read reporting by northwest-based reporters. The second, of course, should be in Vancouver for the province’s major media centre.
Given the record of the past two years, don’t hold your breath, time and time again the bureaucratic priorities and the fact that the NEB is thoroughly embedded in the energy culture of Alberta, it is likely that the release of the report sometime in the coming weeks will be Alberta-centric and will prove my source right, that the NEB is nothing more than that extension of the Petroleum Club.
The board plans to hold a media lock-up in Calgary, but does not have similar plans to brief reporters in British Columbia, says an official with the independent federal agency established to regulate international and interprovincial issues around the electrical utility, gas and oil sectors.
Board spokesperson Sarah Kiley said Thursday that the board recognizes there is an interest in B.C. in the subject, and said there is no final plan yet.
The Globe was unable to get a statement from the Liberal government of BC but for the opposition,Spencer Chandra Herbert (Vancouver-West End) said, the energy board should not be hiding out in Calgary when they announce what they are going to do, regardless of whether they approve or reject the project.
“You would think they would have the ability and respect for B.C. to host it here and explain whatever decision they make here to B.C. media and intervenors,” he said.
Cullen has issued an open letter to Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and Fisheries Minister Gail Shea that says:
21 November 2013
This is an open letter regarding the 21 October 2013 report, entitled Recovery Strategy for the North Pacific Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Canada, from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on a recovery strategy for humpback whales in Canada. As you are likely aware, it is part of the DFO’s mandate to help this species recover from a century of whaling that nearly drove the species into extinction. The report identified four areas of “critical habitat” for humpbacks, one of which is at the mouth of the Douglas Channel, the gateway from Kitimat to the Pacific Ocean. The report also identified vessel traffic and toxic spills as two of the greatest threats to the recovery of this species.
Thus, it was with shock and dismay I recently learned of the decision by the federal joint review panel for the Northern Gateway project to ignore the report as evidence in its ruling, as though vessel traffic and the potential for toxic spills were not two of the primary environmental concerns surrounding this proposal.
It is particularly stunning given that the report, submitted to the panel last week, was authored by a federal government agency, and yet the federal government is now saying it refuses to take into account its own information when ruling on this project. It begs the question of why we even have a federal government agency devoted to ensuring the health and viability of our fisheries and our waters when the research and recommendations they produce are ignored by the very same federal government.
The purpose of the joint review panel hearings is to weigh the available scientific evidence in determining whether this project will negatively impact habitat and endangered species. The purpose of the work of the DFO is to ensure that information is considered when the government is weighing projects which will impact habitat and endangered species. The decision by the JRP to ignore the DFO report is not only wasteful indifference; it’s a double-play failure and abrogation of the duty of both of your departments to protect endangered species and our natural environment.
I wish I could feign some measure of surprise on this matter. But like many Canadians, I have come to see this kind of negligence as not only a passing tendency of the Conservative government but as a very intentional aspect of the government’s resource and environmental policy.
When the government of Canada ignores its own science on endangered species protection, it’s no wonder why Canada has lost all credibility on environmental stewardship among both its own citizens and the international community.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver made a brief visit to the Kitimat area on Tuesday July 23, 2013, meeting Haisla Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross. In the original planning for the visit, Oliver was not scheduled to meet with District of Kitimat Council or other members of the community, snubbing Kitimat in only his second visit to the region since he was appointed minister after the 2011 federal election.
A half hour meeting with available members of the District of Kitimat Council was squeezed in only after intense lobbying from Mayor Joanne Monaghan.
The Natural Resources department public relations staff also chose to ignore (or exclude) local media, with the exception of the Northern Sentinel. Northwest Coast Energy News, Kitimat Daily, CFTK and CRFN were not informed and did not accompany Oliver on his hour long tour of Douglas Channel.
After the meeting, Natural Resources Canada issued a news release saying that he had concluded “a successful visit to Kitimat,” hosted by the Haisla:
Minister Oliver discussed opportunities to increase First Nations’ participation in resource development and received a tour of the Douglas Channel hosted by Chief Councilor Ellis Ross.
“I am privileged to have been invited by the Haisla Nation to gain their perspective, listen to their concerns and discuss our plans for Responsible Resource Development and our initiatives to strengthen environmental protection,” said Minister Oliver. “Resource development presents a tremendous opportunity for First Nations groups like the Haisla. Our government has also been clear that development will only proceed if it is safe for the environment…”
“Responsible resource development has the potential to create significant new opportunities for Aboriginal peoples across Canada,” said Minister Oliver. “The Government will make every effort to ensure that…
Aboriginal peoples in Canada have the opportunity to share the benefits of energy resource development in the years ahead, while ensuring that projects are developed in a manner that has the highest regard for safety and the environment.”
“The safe and responsible diversification of our energy markets is a priority for the Government of Canada,” said Minister Oliver. “Our energy industry must remain competitive to ensure communities across Canada continue to benefit from our natural resource wealth.”
The Northern Sentinel reported that Oliver mainly concentrated on liquified natural gas development and tried to avoid questions about the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. Oliver repeated the federal government’s position on safety outlining the programs announced last march to expand pipeline expansion and increase penalties for safety violations.
On LNG, Oliver told the Sentinel, “These are decisions made by the private sector, it’s not us telling us don’t do this project…they’re going to figure that out themselves,” he said.
On the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines Project, Oliver told the Sentinel, “We have a very strong interest in seeing the markets diversify, and that includes moving oil to Asia,” he said. “However, we’re not going to stomp over the regulatory process. It’s subject to regulatory review, the joint review panel will be coming to its conclusion this December. We’re waiting for what they have to say…I know people have a view of what our opinion is but we don’t offer an opinion before we hear from the regulator.”
He added that once the review is done, “At that point we’ll know more because they will have a done a comprehensive, scientific audit.”
Councillor Mary Murphy told Northwest Coast Energy News that she was told by a Haisla friend early Tuesday morning that Oliver was coming to visit Kitamaat Village and immediately informed Mayor Joanne Monaghan.
Monaghan said, “I called his office in Ottawa and said I wanted a meeting as well seeing he was here. After an all day back and forth until three o’clock he said he would come at four for half an hour.”
Councillor Corinne Scott said. “As none of us were aware of the Minister being in Kitimat, we scrambled to have Mary, Rob, the Mayor and I available to meet with him, along with [DOK Chief Admnistrative Officer] Ron [Poole] and [Economic Development Officer] Rose Klukas.”
Councillors Mario Feldhoff, Phil Germuth and Edward Empinado were unable to attend because they working at the time and could not get away with such short notice. Sources tell Northwest Coast Energy News that even pro-development members of the local business community were not informed about Oliver’s visit.
Murphy described the meeting “as very beneficial to us.” A couple of other sources, familiar with accounts of the meeting, however, both told Northwest Coast Energy News there was barely enough time after formalities to ask questions of the minister before he dashed out the door for the airport.
When the story of the Stephen Harper government is told, historians will say that the week of March 17 to 23, 2013, is remembered, not for the release of a lacklustre federal budget, but for day after day of political blunders that undermined Harper’s goal of making a Canada what the Conservatives call a resource superpower.
It was a week where spin overcame substance and spun out of control.
The Conservative government’s aim was, apparently, to increase support for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project with a spin campaign aimed at moving the middle ground in British Columbia from anti-project to pro-project and at the same time launching a divide and conquer strategy aimed at BC and Alberta First Nations.
It all backfired. If on Monday, March 17, 2013, the troubled and controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway project was on the sick list, by Friday, March 23, the Enbridge pipeline and tanker scheme was added to the Do Not Resuscitate list, all thanks to political arrogance, blindfolded spin and bureaucratic incompetence. The standard boogeymen for conservative media in Canada (who always add the same sentence to their stories on the Northern Gateway) “First Nations and environmentalists who oppose the project” had nothing to do with it.
Stephen Harper has tight control of his party and the government, and in this case the billion bucks stop at the Prime Minister’s Office. He has only himself to blame.
All of this happened on the northern coast of British Columbia, far out of range of the radar of the national media and the Ottawa pundit class (most of whom, it must be admitted, were locked up in an old railway station in the nation’s capital, trying interpret Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s spreadsheets).
The story begins early on that Monday morning, at my home base in Kitimat, BC, the proposed terminal for Northern Gateway, when a news release pops into my e-mail box, advising that Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver would be in nearby Terrace early on Tuesday morning for an announcement and photo op.
I started making calls, trying to find out if anyone in Kitimat knew about Oliver’s visit to Terrace and if the minister planned to come to Kitimat.
Visitors to Kitimat
I made those calls because in the past two years, Kitimat has seen a parade of visitors checking out the town and the port’s industrial and transportation potential. The visitors range from members of the BC provincial Liberal cabinet to the staff of the Chinese consulate in Vancouver to top executives of some of the world’s major transnational corporations (and not just in the energy sector). Most of these visits, which usually include meetings with the District of Kitimat Council and District senior staff as well as separate meetings with the Council of the Haisla Nation, are usually considered confidential. There are no photo ops or news conferences. If the news of a visit is made public, (not all are), those visits are usually noted, after the fact, by Mayor Joanne Monaghan at the next public council meeting.
It was quickly clear from my calls that no one in an official capacity in Kitimat knew that, by the next morning, Oliver would be Terrace, 60 kilometres up Highway 37. No meetings in Kitimat, on or off the record, were scheduled with the Minister of Natural Resources who has been talking about Kitimat ever since he was appointed to the Harper cabinet.
I was skeptical about that afternoon’s announcement/photo op in Vancouver by Transport Minister Denis Lebel and Oliver about the “world class” tanker monitoring.
After all, there had been Canadian Coast Guard cutbacks on the northwest coast even before Stephen Harper got his majority government. The inadequacy of oil spill response on the British Columbia coast had been condemned both by former Auditor General Sheila Fraser and in the United States Senate. The government stubbornly closed and dismantled the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. It’s proposing that ocean traffic control for the Port of Vancouver be done remotely from Victoria, with fixed cameras dotted around the harbour. Leaving controllers in Vancouver would, of course, be the best solution, but they must be sacrificed (along with any ship that get’s into trouble in the future, on the altar of a balanced budget).
The part of the announcement that said there would be increased air surveillance is nothing more than a joke (or spin intended just for the Conservative base in Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Toronto suburbs,that is not anyone familiar with BC coastal waters). Currently the Transport Canada surveillance aircraft are used on the coasts to look for vessels that are illegally dumping bilge or oil off shore. As CBC’s Paul Hunter reported in 2010, Transport Canada aircraft were used after the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster to map where the oil was going after it erupted from the Deepwater Horizon.
Given the stormy weather on the west coast (when Coast Guard radio frequently warns of “hurricane force winds”) it is highly unlikely that the surveillance aircraft would even be flying in the conditions that could cause a major tanker disaster. Aerial surveillance, even in good weather, will never prevent a tanker disaster caused by human error.
I got my first chance to look at the Transport Canada website in late afternoon and that’s when a seemingly innocuous section made me sit up and say “what is going on?” (I actually said something much stronger).
Public port designations: More ports will be designated for traffic control measures, starting with Kitimat.
(Transport Canada actually spelled the name wrong—it has since been fixed—as you can see in this screen grab).
Kitimat has been one of the few private ports in Canada since the Alcan smelter was built and the town founded 60 years ago (the 60th anniversary of the incorporation of the District of Kitimat is March 31, 2013).
The reasons for the designation of Kitimat as a private port go back to a complicated deal between the province of British Columbia and Alcan in the late 1940s as the two were negotiating about electrical power, the aluminum smelter, the building of the town and the harbour.
For 60 years, Alcan, later Rio Tinto Alcan, built, paid for and operated the port as a private sector venture. For a time, additional docks were also operated by Eurocan and Methanex. After Eurocan closed its Kitimat operation that dock was purchased by the parent company Rio Tinto. The Methanex dock was purchased by Royal Dutch Shell last year for its proposed LNG operation.
The announcement that Kitimat was to become a public port was also something that the national media would not recognize as significant unless they are familiar with the history of the port. That history is known only to current and former residents of Kitimat and managers at Rio Tinto Alcan.
The port announcement came so much out of left field; so to speak, that I had doubts it was accurate. In other words, I couldn’t believe it. I went to Monday evening’s meeting of District of Kitimat Council and at the break between the open and in-camera sessions, I asked council members if they had heard about Kitimat being redesignated a public port. The members of the district council were as surprised as I had been.
Back from the council meeting, I checked the Transport Canada news release and backgrounders. I also checked the online version of Bill C-57, the enabling act for the changes announced earlier that day. There was no mention of Kitimat in Bill C-57.
Tuesday morning I drove to Terrace for Joe Oliver’s 9 am photo op and the announcement at Northwest Community College (NWCC) that the government had appointed Douglas Eyford as a special envoy to First Nations for energy projects, an attempt on the surface to try and get First Nations onside for the pipeline projects, an appointment seen by some First Nations leaders as an attempt by the Harper government to divide and conquer.
As an on site reporter, I got to ask Oliver two questions before the news conference went to the national media on the phones.
In answer to my first question, Oliver confirmed that the federal government had decided to make Kitimat a public port, saying in his first sentence: “What the purpose is to make sure that the absolute highest standards of marine safety apply in the port of Kitimat.” He then returned to message track saying, “we have as I announced yesterday and I had spoken about before at the port of Vancouver we have an extremely robust marine safety regime in place but we want to make sure that as resource development continues and as technology improves, we are at the world class level. As I also mentioned there has never been off the coast of British Columbia a major tanker spill and we want to keep that perfect record.”
For my second question, I asked Oliver if he planned to visit Kitimat.
He replied. “Not in this particular visit, I have to get back [to Ottawa] There’s a budget coming and I have to be in the House for that but I certainly expect to be going up there.”
The question may not have registered with the national media on the conference call. For the local reporters and leaders in the room at Waap Galts’ap, the long house at Terrace’s Northwest Community College, everyone knew that Kitimat had been snubbed.
Back in Kitimat, I sent an e-mail to Colleen Nyce, the local spokesperson for Rio Tinto Alcan noting that Joe Oliver had confirmed that the federal government intended to make the RTA-run port a public port. I asked if RTA had been consulted and if the company had any comment.
Nyce replied that she was not aware of the announcement and promised to “look into this on our end.” I am now told by sources that it is believed that my inquiry to Nyce was the first time Rio Tinto Alcan, one of Canada’s biggest resource companies, had heard that the federal government was taking over its port.
The next day, Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan told local TV news on CFTK the Kitimat community was never consulted about the decision and she added that she still hadn’t been able to get anyone with the federal government to tell her more about the plan.
Who pays for the navigation aids?
Meanwhile, new questions were being raised in Kitimat about two other parts of the Monday announcement.
New and modified aids to navigation: The CCG will ensure that a system of aids to navigation comprised of buoys, lights and other devices to warn of obstructions and to mark the location of preferred shipping routes is installed and maintained. Modern navigation system: The CCG will develop options for enhancing Canada’s current navigation system (e.g. aids to navigation, hydrographic charts, etc) by fall 2013 for government consideration.
Since its first public meeting in Kitimat, in documents filed with the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel, in public statements and advertising, Enbridge has been saying for at least the past four years that the company would pay for all the needed upgrades to aids to navigation on Douglas Channel, Wright Sound and other areas for its tanker traffic. It is estimated that those navigation upgrades would cost millions of dollars.
Now days before a federal budget that Jim Flaherty had already telegraphed as emphasizing restraint, it appeared that the Harper government, in its desperation to get approval for energy exports, was going to take over funding for the navigation upgrades from the private sector and hand the bill to the Canadian taxpayer.
RTA not consulted
On Thursday morning, I received an e-mail from Colleen Nyce with a Rio Tinto Alcan statement, noting:
This announcement was not discussed with Rio Tinto Alcan in advance. We are endeavoring to have meetings with the federal government to gain clarity on this announcement as it specifically relates to our operations in Kitimat.
On Friday morning, Mayor Monaghan told Andrew Kurjata on CBC’s Daybreak North that she had had at that time no response to phone calls and e-mails asking for clarification of the announcement. Monaghan also told CBC that Kitimat’s development officer Rose Klukas had tried to “get an audience with minister and had been unable to.” (One reason may be that Oliver’s staff was busy. They ordered NWCC staff to rearrange the usual layout of the chairs at Waap Galts’ap, the long house, to get a better background for the TV cameras for Oliver’s statement).
Monaghan told Kurjata, “I feel like it’s a slap in the face because we’re always being told that we’re the instrument for the whole world right now because Kitimat is supposed to be the capital of the economy right now. So I thought we’d have a little more clout by now and they’d at least tell us they were going to do this. There was absolutely no consultation whatsoever.”
By Friday afternoon, five days after the announcement, Transport Canada officials finally returned the calls from Mayor Monaghan and Rose Klukas promising to consult Kitimat officials in the future.
Monaghan said that Transport Canada told her that it would take at least one year because the change from a private port to a public port requires a change in legislation.
Transport Canada is now promising “extensive public and stakeholder consultation will occur before the legislation is changed,” the mayor was told.
On this Mayor Monaghan commented, “It seems to me that now they want to do consultation….sort of like closing the barn door after all of the cows got out!”
There are a tiny handful of people in Kitimat openly in favour of the Northern Gateway project. A significant minority are on the fence and some perhaps leaning toward acceptance of the project. There is strong opposition and many with a wait and see attitude. (Those in favour will usually only speak on background, and then when you talk to them most of those “in favour” have lists of conditions. If BC Premier Christy Clark has five conditions, many of these people have a dozen or more).
Oliver was speaking in Terrace, 60 kilometres from Kitimat. It is about a 40 to 45 minute drive to Kitimat over a beautiful stretch of highway, with views of lakes, rivers and mountains.
Scenic Highway 37 is the route to the main location not only for the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline but three liquefied natural gas projects, not to mention David Black’s proposed refinery half way between Terrace and Kitimat.
Why wouldn’t Kitimat be a must stop on the schedule for the Minister of Natural Resources? In Terrace, Oliver declared that Kitimat was to become a public port, run by the federal government. Although technically that would be the responsibility of Denis Lebel, the Minister of Transport, one has to wonder why the Minister of Natural Resources would not want to see the port that is supposedly vital to Canada’s economy? You have to ask why he didn’t want to meet the representatives of the Haisla Nation, the staff and council of the District of Kitimat and local business leaders?
Oliver has been going across Canada, the United States and to foreign countries promoting pipelines and tanker traffic, pipelines that would terminate at Kitimat and tankers that would send either bitumen or liquefied natural gas to customers in Asia.
Yet the Minister of Natural Resources is too important, too busy to take a few hours out of his schedule, while he is in the region, to actually visit the town he has been talking about for years.
He told me that he had to be in Ottawa for the budget. Really? The budget is always the finance minister’s show and tell (with a little help from whomever the Prime Minister is at the time). On budget day, Oliver would have been nothing more than a background extra whenever the television cameras “dipped in” on the House of Commons, between stories from reporters and experts who had been in the budget lockup.
According to the time code on my video camera, Oliver’s news conference wrapped at 9:50 a.m., which certainly gave the minister and his staff plenty of time to drive to Kitimat, meet with the representatives of the District, the Haisla Nation and the Chamber of Commerce and still get to Vancouver for a late flight back to Ontario.
On Tuesday, Joe Oliver’s snub pulled the political rug out from under the Northern Gateway supporters and fence sitters in Kitimat. Oliver’s snub showed those few people in Kitimat that if they do go out on a limb to support the Northern Gateway project, the Conservatives would saw off that limb so it can be used as a good background prop for a photo op.
Prince Rupert, Terrace and Smithers councils have all voted against the Northern Gateway project. Kitimat Council, despite some clear divisions, has maintained a position of absolute neutrality. Kitimat Council will continue to be officially neutral until after the Joint Review report, but this week you could hear the air slowly leaking out of the neutrality balloon.
Oliver may still believe, as he has frequently said, that the only people who oppose Northern Gateway are dangerous radicals paid by foreign foundations.
What he did on Tuesday was to make the opposition to Northern Gateway in Kitimat into an even more solid majority across the political spectrum.
Blunder No 2. Rio Tinto Alcan
It doesn’t do much for the credibility of a minister of natural resources to thoroughly piss off, for no good reason, the world’s second largest mining and smelting conglomerate, Rio Tinto. But that’s just what Joe Oliver did this week.
I am not one to usually have much sympathy with rich, giant, transnational corporations.
But look at this way, over the past 60 years Alcan and now Rio Tinto Alcan have invested millions upon millions of dollars in building and maintaining the Kitimat smelter and the port of Kitimat. RTA is now completing the $3.3 billion Kitimat Modernization Project. Then without notice, or consultation, the Conservative government—the Conservative government—announces it is going to take over RTA’s port operations. What’s more, if what Transport Canada told Mayor Joanne Monaghan is correct, the federal government is going to start charging RTA fees to use the port it has built and operated for 60 years.
Too often RTA’s London headquarters acts like it is still the nineteenth century and the senior executives are like British colonialists dictating to the far reaches of the Empire on what do to do.
No matter what you think of RTA, it boggles the mind, whether you are right wing, left wing or mushy middle, that the federal government simply issues a press release–a press release– with not even a phone call, not even a visit (even to corporate headquarters) saying “Hey RTA, we’re taking over.”
There’s one thing that you can be sure of, Rio Tinto Alcan’s lobbyists are going to be earning their fees in the coming weeks.
(One more point, even if there wasn’t a single pipeline project planned for Kitimat you would think that the Minister of Natural Resources would want to see what is currently the largest and most expensive construction project in Canada, a project that comes under his area of political responsibility).
It took five days, from the time of the minister’s news conference on Monday until Friday afternoon, for officials in Transport Canada to return phone calls from Mayor Joanne Monaghan and Rose Klukas, to explain what was going to happen to the Port of Kitimat.
This week was yet another example of the decay of Canadian democracy under Stephen Harper. Executives from Tokyo to Houston to the City of London quickly return phone calls from the District of Kitimat, after all Kitimat is where the economic action is supposed to be. At the same time, the federal government doesn’t return those calls, it shows that something really is rotten in our state.
Blunder No 5. LNG
There are three liquefied natural gas projects slated for Kitimat harbour, the Chevron-Apache partnership in KM LNG, now under construction at Bish Cove; the Royal Dutch Shell project based on the old Methanex site and the barge based BC LNG partnership that will work out of North Cove.
None of these projects have had the final go ahead from the respective company board of directors. So has the federal government thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into these projects? Will making Kitimat a public port to promote Enbridge, help or hinder the LNG projects? Did the Ministry of Natural Resources even consider the LNG projects when they made the decision along with Transport Canada to take over the port?
And then there’s…..
Kitimat has a marina shortage, especially since RTA closed the Moon Bay Marina. The only one left, the MK Bay Marina, which is straining from overcapacity, is owned by the Kitimat-Stikine Regional District. That means there will be another level of government in any talks and decisions on the future of the Kitimat harbour. There are also the controversial raw log exports from nearby Minette Bay.
Although Transport Canada has promised “extensive public and stakeholder consultation,” one has to wonder how much input will be allowed for the residents of Kitimat and region, especially the guiding and tourism industries as well as recreational boaters. After all, the Harper government is determined to make Kitimat an export port for Alberta and the experience of the past couple of years has shown that people of northwest count for little in that process. Just look at the Northern Gateway Joint Review, which more and more people here say has no credibility.
Big blunder or more of the same?
I’ve listed five big blunders that are the result of the decision by the Harper government to turn Kitimat into a public port.
Are they really blunders or just more of the same policies we’ve seen from Stephen Harper since he became a majority prime minister?
This is a government that has muzzled scientific research and the exchange of scientific ideas. The minister who was in the northwest last week, who has demonized respect for the environment, is now squeezing the words “science” and “environment” anywhere into any message track or speech anyway he can.
That’s just the point. Joe Oliver’s fly-in, fly-out trip to Terrace was not supposed to have any substance. Changing the chairs at the Waap Galts’ap long house showed that it was more important to the Harper government to have some northwest coast wall art behind Joe Oliver for his photo op than it was to engage meaningfully with the northwest, including major corporations, First Nations and local civic and business leaders.
Joe Oliver’s visit to Terrace was an example of government by reality television. The decision to change the private port of Kitimat into a public port was another example of Harper’s government by decree without consulting a single stakeholder. The problem is, of course, that for decades to come, it will be everyone in northwest British Columbia who will be paying for those 30 second sound bites I recorded on Tuesday.
Epilogue: Alcan’s legacy for the socialist Prime Minister, Stephen Harper
If an NDP or Liberal government had done what Harper and Oliver did on Monday, every conservative MP, every conservative pundit, every conservative media outlet in Canada would be hoarse from screaming about the danger from the socialists to the Canadian economy.
That brings us to the legacy left by R. E. Powell who was president of Alcan in the 1940s and 50s as the company was building the Kitimat project.
As Global Mission, the company’s official history, relates, in 1951, Alcan signed an agreement with the British Columbia provincial government, that “called upon the company to risk a huge investment, without any government subsidy or financial backing and without any assured market for its product.”
According to the book, Powell sought to anticipate any future problems, given the tenor of the times, the possible or even likely nationalization of the smelter and the hydro-electric project.
So Powell insisted that the contract signed between Alcan and the province include preliminary clauses acknowledging that Alcan was paying for Kitimat without a single cent from the government:
Whereas the government is unwilling to provide and risk the very large amounts of money required to develop those water powers to produce power for which no market now exists or can be foreseen except through the construction of the facilities for the production of aluminum in the vicinity and….
Whereas the construction of the aluminum plant at or near the site of the said waterpower would accomplish without risk or to the GOVERNMENT the development power, the establishment of a permanent industry and the new of population and….
(Government in all caps in the original)
…the parties hereto agree as follows (the agreement, water licence and land permit)
Powell is quoted in the book as saying:
I asked the political leaders of BC if the government would develop the power and sell the energy to Alcan and they refused. We had to do it ourselves. Someday, perhaps, some politician will try to nationalize that power and grab it for the state. I will be dead and gone but some of you or your successors at Alcan may be here, and I hope the clauses in the agreement, approved by the solemn vote of the BC legislature, will give those future socialists good reason to pause and reflect.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the federal government had very little to do with the Kitimat project. With the declaration that Kitimat will be a public port, the federal government comes to the party 60 years late. But one has to wonder if the late Alcan president, R.E. Powell, ever considered that the “future socialists” he hoped would “pause and reflect” would be members of Canada’s Conservative party, Stephen Harper, Joe Oliver and Denis Lebel?
Five days after the announcement that the private port of Kitimat will become a public port under federal jurisdiction, Transport Canada is now promising to consult District of Kitimat officials as the Douglas Channel waterfront transitions to a public port.
Both Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan and Economic Development Officer Rose Klukas, after numerous calls and attempts over the past few days, finally spoke to different Transport Canada officials Friday.
According to the mayor, both were told that Kitimat will not become a public port for at least one year because the change from a private port to a public port requires a change in legislation. (Something Transport Canada may only just be realizing since Bill C-57, introduced Monday to cover all the changes for what the Harper government calls a “world-class” tanker policy makes no mention of Kitimat).
Transport Canada is now promising “extensive public and stakeholder consultation will occur before the legislation is changed,” the mayor was told.
On this Mayor Monaghan commented, “It seems to me that now they want to do consultation….sort of like closing the barn door after all of the cows got out!”
Transport Canada says that beause there are no federal lands in the Kitimat harbour, the amending legislation will only cover navigable waters in Kitimat.
Transport Canada will appoint a harbour master and the cost of that office will be “paid by offsetting fees charged to ships coming into the harbour.”
But it looks like the fees charged to incoming ships by the federal government could be causing a headache for Rio Tinto Alcan. Claudine Gagnon, an RTA spokesperson based in Shawnigan, Quebec, told Radio Canada, the French language network of the CBC, that the company is trying to assess the impact of the announcement on its operations in Kitimat. Among other things, the change in the port’s status could result in higher transportation costs for the company.
At this point, Transport Canada officials told the District is unlikely that there will be Port Authority in Kitimat like the one in Prince Rupert.
Asked about the port announcement during a post budget news conference on Thursday, Skeena Bulkley Valley MP and NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen said, “I’m as surprised as everybody in Kitimat is. I’ve been phoning around to local leaders to find out if anyone had been consulted or spoken to about this. And it’s a shock for everyone including people from Alcan.
“This doesn’t make any sense at all. The conversation around a public port is a good one and one we need to have and we’re open to the idea, but what a terrible start to the process, when a minister flies in from Ottawa, announces something, doesn’t tell any of the local government about it and then expects everyone to pop the champagne corks. You want to get this thing right. You want to make sure the public interests are met.
“There’s a real arrogant feeling, when a minister flies in from Toronto and says this is how it’s going to be and there’s no need to talk to anyone in the region about it.
Cullen was also asked about the provisions in the safe tankers announcement on Monday by Transport Minister Denis Lebel and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver that the federal government appears to be taking over responsibility for navigation aids on the British Columbia coast, something that until now, Enbridge Northern Gateway has said they will pay for.
“Suddenly taking costs away from a multi-billion dollar oil company, seems to be what this Conservative Canadian government wants to do. It’s so wrong, I can’t describe it any better than that,”Cullen said, “that we’re supposed to be picking up the tab for Enbridge’s project, while all the while running huge deficits and not getting the training support and cuts to health care programs that continue.”