It appears that the Stephen Harper’s strategy for approving Northern Gateway has been revealed on background to The Globe and Mail’s Gary Mason. (Either it’s a revelation or a trial balloon).
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.
So the obvious question is, will these protocols be new or will the government simply be reannoucing paper policies that they did in the March 2013? How many of the recommendations of the tanker task force is the government actually going to accept?
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.
And speaking of boats, what about Coast Guard vessels on the coast? As the Globe and Mail has reported, the government’s shipbuilding program is already over budget and behind schedule. The aim is Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships and new destroyers. With the crippling of HMCS Protecteur that has raised the concerns about the already troubled supply ship program.
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.”
First, as part of the blunders is that the Conservatives have always made is the assumption that eventually the First Nations of British Columbia can be paid off, ignoring the commitment of the First Nations, especially on the coast, to protect the environment that sustained them for thousands of years.
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?”
As for the cabinet, it has consistently shown its contempt for northwestern British Columbia and that is unlikely to change.
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.