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 Haisla Nation celebrated the signing of an incremental treaty agreement with the British Columbia government Tuesday at the Haisla Recreation Centre in Kitamaat Village. The treaty will see the return of Haisla lands on the shore of Douglas Channel of Lots 305 and 306 south of the Kitamaat Village, designated Indian Reserve #2 and Indian Reserve #3, also known as the Walsh Reserve, thus connecting the two reserves.
In a news release, the BC Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation said that under the agreement, approximately 120 hectares of Crown land will be transferred to the Haisla Nation.
The land lies in the heart of the Haisla Nation territory and will support the community’s goal of expanding housing, commercial and public space for its members, and opening new business opportunities.
The release went on to say, “The agreement continues the productive relationship between the Haisla Nation and B.C., which is furthering economic development opportunities and improving social conditions.”
It took decades for the land to be returned to the Haisla.
At the ceremony, Allan Donovan, the Haisla’s lawyer said, “We are here to celebrate the achievement of something that should have happened when the Haisla reserves were set aside in 1889. At that point, the reseve commissioner noted the Haisla reserves were the smallest and least desirable in the whole nation.
“But he left it at that, but in the years and decades afterward, the Haisla sought to extend their reserve holdings and their lands and have done so with an increasing degree of success.
“The actual negotiations to see the lands returned actually started over 60 years ago with limited success. But the Haisla are always persistent when it comes to issues of land, when it comes to issues of justice.
“In the 25 years since then there have been a number of attempts over the years This time with Haisla leadership and cooperation from the government of British Columbia, that dream has become a reality. The land has been returned to the rightful owners, joining up these two reserves.
The ministry said the British Columbia introduced incremental treaty agreements “to help speed up the treaty process by building goodwill among parties and bringing the benefits of treaty faster to First Nations. These agreements also provide increased certainty on the land base and with natural resource development.”
At the ceremony, John Rustad, the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation said that so far the province has signed 18 incremental treaty agreements with various BC First Nations.
“This is a relationship building step between the Haisla Nation and the province, to lay foundations for things we can continue to do in the future,” Rustad said, “Over the past number of years now the Haisla and the province have made great strides and have a very good relationship (at least I believe a very good relationship, … As we move forward in developing our relationship.”
Rustad noted that representatives of the Shell-led LNG Canada project, Chevron and AltaGas were at the Recreation Centre to witness the ceremony.
“It’s about embracing those opportunities and ways to find a balance between environment and economics. No one has been better than the Haisla in being able to do that, working with the companies working with the province, working with their neighbors to create opportunity.
“It is through hard work and through partnerships that is truly a path forward toward building a prosperous future.
“We are very proud as a province to be working with the Haisla as a partner,” Rustad said. “We have our difference, we have things we may not agree on but I also believe very strongly that as we work together the steps to ensure prosperity for all of British Columbia but also especially for the prosperity of the Haisla nation This agreement between the Haisla and the province is an example of some of the things we can do right and we can try to correct the situations that have existed for such a long period of time, to find a way to build a prosperous future.”
Stop dwelling on the past
Ellis Ross, the Haisla elected Chief Counsellor told the Haisla and their guests. “It’s time to stop dwelling on the past and start building the future. All the pieces are there Everybody wants to help us get to a better place. Our partners from LNG Canada are here.Chevron is here. It’s everyone working together for the future, to bring the pieces of the puzzle to ensure our future generations.
“We don’t have to beg to be part of the BC agenda. We should be equal particpants.in everything in our territory. That’s what we should be focused on Stop getting distracted with the minor little differences, where infighting stopped us from the promises that have been promsed us for the past forty or fifty years.”
He said the Haisla started working with the Christy Clark government in 2009.
“We both took different approaches to our relationship We both agreed there is a common goal to be achieved if we just put aside our differences. I am not sure how many people know this but the provincial government actually helped us acquire the hospital lands (the site of the old “pink lady” hospital across from the City Centre mall)
“In terms of the water lot that the Haisla own, we’re the only First Nation in Canada that owns water lots and that ‘s because of the provinical government support for us.”
He also thanked the province for helping the Haisla lease land with an option to purchase near Bish Cove (Beese in traditional Haisla terminology) and worked with the federal government so that the Minette Bay lands could also be added to the reserve lands. He said Haisla staff consult on a regular basis with provincial officials.
“Our staff are working on permits for the benefit of the Haisla as well as everybody else. I think the Haisla are a working definition of what reconciliation actually means and it matters to the average Haisla citizen…
“There are different definitions out there about what reconciliation means. Everyone has a different definition Right how BC and the Haisla are proving that reconciliation is possible without getting into politics.
“It’s agreements like this what we’re talking about today that truly set the stage for the future of the Haisla people.
“We’re not going to be around in a hundred years but in a hundred years the future if Haislas are still talking about the same issues they talked about 50 years ago, we as leaders failed today.
“This is only one of the many agreements that we sign with the provincial govt and with LNG Canada and with Chevron and everybody else that’s willing to sit down and work out some sort of agreement with us.
“In fifty, a hundred years I am sure our descendants won’t be talking about poverty, they won’t be talking about unemployment, they wont be talking about extra land so we can build more houses. they’ll be talking about issues we can’t even understand yet but they won’t be dealing with the issues we’re trying to deal with today.
“What is the next agreement? The only thing that makes this possible is two parties sitting down and saying ‘let’s get an agreement for the betterment of all.’”
– Quick Facts:
Haisla Nation has approximately 1,840 members, with 700 people living in Kitamaat Village, at the head of Douglas Channel, about 10 kilometres south of Kitimat.
The incremental treaty agreement provides for the early transfer land to Haisla Nation, ahead of a final agreement with the Haisla.
The Province and Haisla Nation have collaborated on a number of initiatives, including facilitating negotiations for the Haisla to purchase former District of Kitimat hospital lands; the purchase of MK Bay Marina; and transfer of foreshore lots in the Douglas Channel
In 2012, Haisla Nation and the Province signed the Haisla Framework Agreement allowing for the purchase or lease of approximately 800 hectares of land adjacent to Indian Reserve No. 6, intended for LNG development. The framework agreement also commits the parties to land-use planning around the Douglas Channel, helping to create certainty and allowing other projects in the area to proceed.
Haisla is a member of the First Nations Limited Partnership, a group 16 First Nations with pipeline benefits agreements with the Province for the Pacific Trail Pipeline. Haisla and the Province also have a forestry revenue sharing agreement and a reconciliation agreement.
Haisla Nation is a member of Marine Planning Partnership for the North Pacific Coast, which provides recommendations on stewardship and sustainable economic development of the coastal marine environment.
Over the past decade, the Haisla Nation has engaged in 17 joint ventures with industries seeking to support economic activity for the region
(Source Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation)
Updated with later results. Also , Romeo Saganash of the NDP was declared elected after original publication of this story, so his name has been dropped from the list of NDP stars who lost seats.
Skeena Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen retook the riding in landslide in the federal election, Monday October 19. As one of the party’s few clear winners in a disastrous night for the NDP, Cullen immediately had to face questions from local reporters about a possible leadership bid.
As of noon October 20, with 217 out of 219 polls reporting, Cullen had 51.2 per cent, 11,545 votes ahead of Conservative Tyler Nesbitt with 24.7 per cent and Liberal Brad Layoton with 18.7 per cent.
The Liberals did much better nationally, winning a clear majority, with elected in 184 seats. The Conservative government was knocked back to 99 seats to form the official opposition, while the NDP had to settle for 44 seats. Elizabeth May of the Green Party retained her seat and the Bloc Quebecois has 10.
Even though current NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said he plans to stay on as leader, the party will certainly review his leadership after the party lost half its seats from the all time high of 95.
The very first question Cullen was asked in a victory teleconference with northwest region reporters from across the huge riding was about his leadership ambitions. Cullen finished second to Mulcair in the NDP leadership contest three years ago.
“The leadership is the farthest thing from my mind tonight,” Cullen replied. “The first preoccupation I had here was in Skeena and how we would do and that feels very good.”
While Cullen said he was disappointed by the NDP results, he added, “I am encouraged that Mr. Harper’s platform was rejected for a much more progressive one.” Stephen Harper resigned as Conservative leader after his party’s loss.
Cullen said, “I want to go see my kids again and have a normal meal, maybe. and get off the road. We put almost 20,000 kilometers on the car. It was a long, long campaign. Tonight, I’m focused on phoning my colleagues, old ones and new ones and seeing how everybody’.s doing.”
Asked about his leadership ambitions a second time later in the teleconference, Cullen said, “I am not considering any of that right now. I want to go back to my family and my home, maybe hang out with my kids a little bit.I just ran a two and half month campaign, I’m not really looking to run another one right away.”
Sounding like a leader
At the same time, however, Cullen was sounding like a potential leader, calling on the NDP to get back to basics.
“I think we attempted to tack to the centre on a number of things, particualy fiscal policy,” he said. “This was obviously an election about change and rejection of the Conservative approach,” adding, “Three weeks ago there was a different narrative and that shows it was a very tumultuous electorate, people were changing their minds,making their minds up late, We just didn’t have that finishing push. maybe the length of the election, contributed to that.”
“We actually suffered from high expectations. To get more than 30 seats, that was [once] considered a real breakthrough. Now going from about a hundred down to the thirties or forties is disappointing.
“We were effective when we were 19. We’ve been able as a caucus to fight for attention on the issues that we’ve considered important. We’re going to have to go back to basics. We have to go back to the real campaign tactics that we’ve used before and can’t rely on the platform of offcial opposition or government to get things done. We’ve had practice at that, we know we’re good at it. We have to rebuild ourselves to be ready in four years time, when we go back to the polls and present alternatives to Canadians, particularly if the Liberals are not able to meet the very high expectations in place right now.”
Asked by one reporter if the result would have been different he had succeeded in his leadership bid, Cullen replied, “That was three years ago [when] I ran. We did better than expected but I was very confident of Tom’s leadership. And again until a few short weeks ago, many, many people were talking about Tom Mulcair as the next prime minister. The difficult thing about politics; it can go up, it can do down. It’s fate sometimes.”
Northern Gateway “finished”
Turning to local issues, Cullen said that it is now likely the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline will be stopped. “The efforts of Enbridge to build their pipleine to Kitimat are finally finished, since the new government has said it will reject it.”
As for the proposed Liquified Natural Gas projects, Cullen said, “We have to do LNG properly” adding that the Liberals “are a little harder to pin down on LNG” which was not in their national platform, although local Liberal candidate Brad Layton was in favour of LNG development. “So we’ll find out, we’ll find out in the next number of weeks, where they stand as a government.”
Cullen said that on other issues, there was agreement among most candidates in the campaign over revisiting environmental assessment and an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. One issue that came to the forefront during the campaign, he said, was federal subsidies for northern coastal ferry service.
“We’ve been able to make the concerns and issues we have here in the northwest into national issues, missing and murdered women, Enbridge Northern Gateway and the need to reinvest in our communities,” Cullen said. “They’re all things that I’ve been pushing for, that the Liberal party has now made into their mandate. The real issue isn’t that the issues get raised but whether we hold their feet to the fire or ensuring what they said in the elction is what they actually do in government and that will be the biggest trick with them having that majority.”
Progressive potential for a leader
If the NDP does decide on a leadership review, Cullen is one of the few front bench stars left. Deputy leader Megan Leslie, foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar and incumbents Nycole Turmel, Peter Stoffer, Jack Harris, Andrew Cash, Mathieu Ravignat, and Ève Péclet all lost their seats.
The reasons for the NDP defeat are “going to take a number of days, if not weeks to sort out. There were issues like national pharamcare and our child care plan that didn’t get enough attention,” Cullen said.
“I think there were very negative politics around the niqab Mr. Harper and Mr. Duceppe played that stalled our momentum. I’m very proud of the principled stand the party continued to take, even if it meant costing us votes. We’re not just a party that’s willing to win at all costs at the expensive of our values and our princples. I think some of those distractions and negative politics hurt but it will be in a lot of exit polling and polling in the next few weeks to understand what didn’t go right for us.
“I think the positive thing that we take from this is that the country overwhelmingly decided on progressive platforms, the Liberals presented a program that was broadly progressive. We were not able to outshine them in the broad narrative in the campaign.
“I take some comfort in the fact if anything we were criticized for being too centrist in our fiscal policy. It’s an intereting criticism to make that we were too careful with the books, or too careful with not runing deficits. As for what the party does, that’s a conversation that after any difficult loss, that takes a number of months to happen and that’s natural.
“There is some reflection. I don’t expect to spend a lot of time on that reflective phase. I have a lot of work to do, there’s a lot things we need to do for the northwest and spending too much time navel gazing is not on my agenda for the next months.”
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.
Members of Unifor 2301 rallied in front of the Rio Tinto offices at City Centre Mall in Kitimat, Wednesday, October 7, to protest against what they called “precarious work” and health and safety issues at the Rio Tinto BC Operations aluminum smelter.
The rally was part what the union calls a “Rio Tinto Global Day of Action” aimed at Rio Tinto operations in North America, Europe, Africa and Australia. Unifor 2301 is part of the “Rio Tinto Global Union Network,”
Sean O’Driscoll, president of the local, concentrated on what he said was an increasingly tense relationship with Rio Tinto over health and safety issues. O’Driscoll told a group of supporters that relations with the company over health and safety have gone down hill since Rio Tinto took over Alcan. He said the CAW, predecessor to Unifor, had negotiated a strong health and safety agreement with Alcan that Rio Tinto is now trying to weaken down to minimum government imposed standards.
O’Driscoll said that the list of grievances between the union and management are growing and that instead of trying to solve the grievances, RIo Tinto has filed a grievance of its own claiming the union has filed too many grievances.
The main reason for the rally was a worldwide protest over what the union calls “precarious work,” the use of short term, usually poorly trained workers, what most industries call call “casuals” to save money. The other issue at the protest was increasing contracting out.
O’Driscoll also pointed to the controversial issue of increased sulphur dioxide emissions from the upgraded smelter. Unifor has joined environmental groups in a successful court challenge to the BC Environmental Assessment Agency’s approval of the emission plan.
A Portuguese man was fined $1 in Terrace Provincial Court Wednesday Sept. 2 and ordered to donate $5,000 to the Heritage Conservation Trust Fund for hitting a swimming deer on the head off Bish Cove in Douglas Channel on May 14.
Rodolfo Lopes, previously misidentified in court documents as Martins-Lopes, pleaded guilty in to one count under the BC Wildlife Act of harassing wildlife with a motor vehicle.
Evidence in the case showed that Lopes hit the deer on the head with a jig or gaff in an attempt to bring it on board. The deer managed to escape and make it to shore.
Such donations are permitted under the BC Wildlife Act. The money, which Lopes originally paid in bail, will be allocated to conservation efforts in the Kitimat region.
Other charges against Lopes, a former supervisor at the Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization Project, including one count of causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal under the Criminal Code were stayed by the Crown.
Provincial Court Judge Terence Wright also prohibited Lopes from approaching wildlife for the next two years unless required by his employment.
Lopes did not return from Portugal for the hearing. Vancouver lawyer Don Sorochan, QC, appeared on his behalf.
Crown counsel Corinne Baerg said Lopes was a supervisor at Brasco, one of the subcontractors at KMP, and had hired a fishing guide to help celebrate both the end of their work at the aluminum smelter modernization project and Lopes’ planned wedding in August.
After a day of what was apparently unsuccessful fishing, Lopes and five others were on board the boat, returning to Kitimat, when a deer was spotted swimming in Douglas Channel.
According to the submission, the guide then took the boat “ running up alongside” the deer. At that point Lopes hit the deer on the head with what some witnesses said was a jig and others said was a gaff in attempt to haul it on board. The deer was able to free itself, swam to shore and disappeared into the bush.
After Conservation Officers were told about the incident by residents in Kitimat who saw a video of the fishing trip on Facebook, one of the men on the boat voluntarily surrendered cell phone video and other evidence was seized under a search warrant. The video was not shown in court.
Because Lopes was not a Canadian resident he was arrested and spent time in custody before being granted bail and was permitted to return to Portugal.
In his defence submission, Sorochan said Lopes was not familiar with Canadian hunting and wildlife laws and was totally dependent on the “advice of his professional guide.” Sorochon told the court that the incident had become exaggerated by people gossiping on social media.
Sorochan told the court that Lopes began with Brasco as a bricklayer in 1996 and had quickly risen to supervise construction projects all over the world. The lawyer called the attempt to get the deer “a naive impulse” by a man who was trying to be macho in an unfamiliar setting.
He submitted letters of reference for Lopes from Brasco, another company and a Kitimat union.
Wright, in confirming the proposed sentence, said that given the circumstances, the fine and donation was the “appropriate penalty.”
Wright noted that it was not possible to ascertain how badly injured the deer was. He also noted that Lopes did not have a criminal record and his employer had praised his work in many parts of the world.
Andreas Handl, who runs Kitimat’s Kingfish Westcoast Adventures, was scheduled to appear in a Kitimat court Thursday, Sept 3, but the appearance was adjourned until October.
He is charged under the B.C. Wildlife Act with harassing wildlife with a motor vehicle and hunting wildlife while swimming, as well as causing unnecessary pain and suffering under the Criminal Code.
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.