About 52 million years ago what is now the Bulkley Valley was home to a tiny hedgehog and an ancient ancestor of tapirs, who lived on the shores of a placid lake surrounded by a lush upland forest.
The newly discovered fossils at Driftwood Canyon near Smithers are significant advance in the study of the ancient history of the region. That’s because while the Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park is known for beautifully preserved fossils of leaves, fishes and insects, these are the first mammalian remains found at the site.
The fossil hedgehog and tapir are even more significant because at the time they lived near an upland lake, Earth was going through a period of rapid global warming, now called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.
In the past couple of years, climatologists and paleontologists have started to play closer attention to the Thermal Maximum period in hopes of understanding what could happen during climate change today.
Driftwood Canyon first became famous in 1977 with the discovery of oldest known ancestor of salmons, Eosalmo driftwoodensis, which lived in an Eocene lake at Driftwood Canyon.
Today’s study says the ancient hedgehog is a species hitherto unknown to science. It is named Silvacola acares, which means “tiny forest dweller,” since this minute hedgehog likely had a body length of only two to two and half inches or five to six centimetres, about the size of an adult human thumb.
“It is quite tiny and comparable in size to some of today’s shrews,” said Dr. Jaelyn Eberle of the University of Colorado, lead author of the study. She speculated Silvacola may have fed on insects, plants and perhaps seeds.
Did it have quills like contemporary hedgehogs? “We can’t say for sure,” Eberle said. “But there are ancestral hedgehogs living in Europe about the same time that had bristly hair covering them, so it is plausible Silvacola did too.”
The delicate fossil jaw of Silvacola was not freed from the surrounding rock as is typical for fossils. Instead it was studied using an industrial high resolution CT (computed tomography) scanner at Penn State University so it could be studied without risking damage to its tiny teeth.
Hedgehogs are no longer found naturally in North America. Modern hedgehogs and their relatives are restricted to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Hedgehogs have become quite the rage as pets in North America in the past several years. The most common hedgehog pet today is the African pygmy hedgehog, which is up to four times the length of the diminutive Silvacola.
The other mammal, about the size of a medium-sized dog, discovered at the site, is Heptodon, is an ancient relative of modern tapirs, which resemble small rhinos with no horns and a short, mobile, trunk or proboscis.
“Heptodon was about half the size of today’s tapirs, and it lacked the short trunk that occurs on later species and their living cousins. Based upon its teeth, it was probably a leaf-eater, which fits nicely with the rain forest environment indicated by the fossil plants at Driftwood Canyon,” Eberle said.
Most of the fossil-bearing rocks at Driftwood Canyon formed on the bottom of an ancient lake and are well-known for their exceptionally well-preserved leaves, insects, and fishes.
“The discovery in northern British Columbia of an early cousin to tapirs is intriguing because today’s tapirs live in the tropics. Its occurrence, alongside a diversity of fossil plants that indicates a rain forest, supports an idea put forward by others that tapirs and their extinct kin are good indicators of dense forests and high precipitation,” she said.
Forests, lakes, rivers
Fossil plants from the site indicate the area seldom experienced freezing temperatures and probably had a climate similar to that of Portland, Oregon, located roughly 1,126 kilometres or 700 miles to the south.
The current and previous studies have shown the hedgehog and tapid lived on the shores of a lake surrounded by a mixed conifer-broadleaf forest with redwoods, such as Metasequoia and Sequoia, cedars, fir, larch, golden larch, spruce, pine as well as rare ginkgoes. There were also broadleaf deciduous trees such as alder, birch, sassafras, elms, and relatives of the oak family. In the lake were Azolla, a floating fern, which are frequently found as preserved mats in the fossil shale of the cliff at Driftwood, which together with the fine preservation of the insects indicate a quiet water lake.
The remains on the hedgehog were found in the fossil lake bed while the tapir was found in river sediments.
The paleoclimate has been reconstructed suggesting the region had a mean annual temperature of between 10 degrees C and 15 degrees C, with minimal winter freezing and annual precipitation of about 100 centimetres a year. Today, the mean annual temperature for Smithers is 4.2 degrees C with 50.85 centimetres of precipitation a year
“Driftwood Canyon is a window into a lost world – an evolutionary experiment where palms grew beneath spruce trees and the insects included a mixture of Canadian and Australian species. Discovering mammals allows us to paint a more complete picture of this lost world,” said Dr. David Greenwood of Brandon University, a co-author of the study.
“The early Eocene is a time in the geological past that helps us understand how present day Canada came to have the temperate plants and animals it has today. However, it can also help us understand how the world may change as the global climate continues to warm.”
The Driftwood Canyon site is the northernmost of a series of Eocene lake sites spanning about 1000 kilometres that reach south from Smithers to Republic in northern Washington that the scientists call the Okanagan Highlands, with a mixture of temperate and tropical plants and animals and a high diversity of insects and plants.
While Driftwood Canyon is now among sites considered a key indicator of climate change 50 to 53 million years ago, the Harper government has cut almost all the funding for research into paleontology, not just at Driftwood Canyon but across the country, because looking for fossils doesn’t usually fit into the Conservative policy of only funding science that promotes industry.
“Within Canada, the only other fossil localities yielding mammals of similar age are from the Arctic, so these fossils from British Columbia help fill a significant geographic gap,” said Dr. Natalia Rybczynski of the Canadian Museum of Nature, a co-author of the study.
Other fossils of this age come from Wyoming and Colorado, some 4,345 kilometres or 2,700 miles to the south of the Arctic site of Ellesmere Island. In addition, sources have told Northwest Coast Energy News that the provincial budget for Driftwood Canyon, despite its significance, is the same as other small parks of that size, with virtually no security to prevent fossils leaving the park, either in the hands of professional looters or if they are picked up and taken home by visitors.
There are consistent reports that looted fossils from Driftwood Canyon are regularly showing up at fossil shows in the United States.
Sources have told Northwest Coast Energy News that the provincial government has ignored requests to improve security at Driftwood Canyon because it is considered a small (just 21 hectares) low priority park off the main tourist routes, rather than a significant fossil site.
The mammal fossils were discovered in 2012 before the budget cuts and are now in the Royal British Columbia museum in Victoria. The fieldwork was supported by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
The study “Early Eocene mammals from the Driftwood Creek beds, Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park, Northern British Columbia ” was published in the July 8, 2014 edition of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
A high turnout is expected Saturday for the non-binding plebiscite where residents of the District of Kitimat can, perhaps, say yes or no to the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. In some ways, it all depends on how people interpret the convoluted question.
Warren Weychasen, Kitimat’s Deputy Administrative Officer said Thursday 910 people voted during advance polls on April 2 and April 9, compared to 470 over the two days of advance voting in the 2011 municipal election.
Even who can vote has can be the matter of heated debate. Members of the Haisla Nation who live in Kitamaat Village feel strongly that they should have a voice, even though legally they live outside the municipal boundaries. “It’s our land they’re talking about,” one Haisla member, who wouldn’t give his name, said Friday as he was getting off the Village bus at City Centre.
The District also decided to allow residents of Kitimat who have been here longer than 30 days to vote, even if they are not Canadian citizens.
Another group that can’t vote, many from outside the northwest region, are living at the Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization Camp or at smaller camps for the developing LNG projects. An informal poll of those workers at City Centre Friday showed that if camp workers had been allowed to cast a vote, many would have voted “yes,” something the opponents of Northern Gateway said they feared would overwhelm local residents.
The $6.5 billion project would see two pipelines, one carrying oil sands bitumen from Alberta to the port of Kitimat, and a second carrying a form of natural gas used to dilute the bitumen from Kitimat to Alberta. The bitumen would then be loaded onto tankers for shipment to Asia along environmentally sensitive areas of the British Columbia coast.
Northern Gateway’s campaign has concentrated on the promise of 180 permanent direct local jobs worth $17 million and more spinoff jobs for contractors and suppliers. The company also promises that the District will receive $5 million in property taxes.
Northern Gateway also emphasized its commitment to safety and the environment, saying that the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel that held two years of hearings on the project, has made many of the company’s voluntary commitments a mandatory part of the conditions for granting permission to go ahead.
The main opponent, Douglas Channel Watch, maintains that the risk from either a tanker accident or pipeline breach is too high for the small number of jobs Northern Gateway will bring to the community.
Even the question, as chosen by the District of Kitimat Council, is controversial, because it focuses on the 209 conditions placed on the project by the Joint Review Panel:
Do you support the final report recommendations of the Joint Review Panel (JRP) of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and National Energy Board, that the Enbridge Northern Gateway project be approved, subject to 209 conditions set out in Volume 2 of the JRP’s final report?
After the district council decided on that question, debate on the wording continued through several council sessions in January and February.
Public delegations, some from Douglas Channel Watch, told council that there should be a simple yes or no question.
On January 13, Donny van Dyk, Northern Gateway’s local manager for coastal aboriginal and community relations, told council that the company preferred a series of simple questions, because “We avoid an adversarial feeling plebiscite and we generate dialogue and debate amongst the plebiscite but also so we as a proponent can come away with value and create a better project.”
Council rejected a proposal for a series of simple of questions, leaving voters to decide on whether or not they supported the Joint Review recommendations. That raised the question of whether voters would make their choice on some of the provisions of the report and not the project itself.
What does it mean?
That means that even Council is unsure of what the vote will mean.
The main reason for holding the non-binding plebiscite is that it fulfills a promise from an all candidates meeting during the municipal election in November 2011, where every candidate agreed to “poll” the citizens of Kitimat on Northern Gateway.
After the new council took office, on Jan. 16, 2012, it voted to hold some sort of poll or vote to find out whether the community supports the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project. At the time, it was unclear after the vote how the survey would take place.
For the almost two years of the Joint Review Panel, the District of Kitimat did little more than act as spectators when the JRP was in town, claiming its neutrality policy precluded participation.
The District could have participated without violating the neutrality provisions, but chose not to do so. It’s now clear that decision angered the Haisla Nation, as Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross said in a letter to the media, “the District stood by and did nothing”
The debate in the District of Kitimat Council on March 3 showed that even members of council were uncertain what the vote would mean.
Councillor Corinne Scott said, “As much as we wanted to know what the feeling of the community is, all we know so far is that we’re split. What the percentage of split is, we don’t know,” said Scott.
Councillor Phil Germuth said the vote is not on the project itself, but on the Joint Review decision. “We’re asking about 209 conditions that nobody understands fully. Even Enbridge doesn’t fully understand them.”
Councillor Edwin Empinado said once the results are known, that would give the District “more bargaining power” in future dealing with company and the federal government, a sentiment echoed by Douglas Channel Watch which admits the vote will do little more than send a message to Ottawa.
It was Northern Gateway’s decision to put major resources into the campaign that raised the profile of what was originally intended as way of discovering the feeling in the small community. With the ruling from the Joint Review Panel that Northern Gateway is in the national interest and the final decision in the hands of the federal cabinet, it is equally uncertain what effect, if any, the vote will have on Ottawa.
Throughout the hearings, most people in Kitimat kept their views to themselves. When the campaign began in earnest, which in turn, triggered a fierce and often acrimonious debate on social media, mainly on the Facebook group Kitimat Politics, showing the divide in the community, although it appears from the comments that there are more opponents than supporters on the forum. The e-debate on Kitimat Politics is continuing up to the last minute Friday night and will likely get hotter once the results are known.
The adversarial feeling that van Dyk had said the company wanted to avoid was amplified in the past month when Northern Gateway began an aggressive public relations campaign with newspaper ads, glossy brochures and a door-to-door campaign by employees, some brought in from Alberta.
When news of Northern Gateway’s campaign effort spread on social media, which in turn prompted a counter campaign using the hashtag #adsforkitimat. Ads created by people from across BC were posted on Facebook and YouTube.
Douglas Channel Watch positioned itself as the David vs. the Enbridge Goliath.
On Monday, Murray Minchin of Douglas Channel Watch told Council, “When Kitimat and northern BC residents found out how many resources Enbridge was pouring into their Kitimat plebiscite advertising campaign, some of those citizens made unsolicited donations to Douglas Channel Watch. This has allowed our small group to mount an advertising campaign of our own.” Minchin said donations went up after the group launched a website adding, “People began handing us money on the street while we were putting up lawn signs. Somebody, anonymously, left a $2,000 money order in one of our member’s mailboxes.
On Thursday, Douglas Channel Watch released its advertising budget showing that the organization spent $10,970.00 on print media ads, $792.92 on supplies, and has an outstanding debt of approximately $2,600.00 in radio ads, for a total of $14,362.92. Minchin challenged Enbridge to release its own ad budget.
Ivan Giesbrecht, a spokesperson for Northern Gateway said in an e-mail to the media that the company “will discuss our advertising spending after it’s over [the plebiscite] this weekend.” Late Friday, Giesbrecht released partial figures to the Northern Sentinel, saying the company had spent $6,500 in print and $3,100 on radio advertisements during the campaign.
Those figures don’t include the glossy brochures Northern Gateway distributed in the community, sponsored posts on Facebook, or the signs the dot the streets of Kitimat.
Douglas Channel Watch did put up signs. Many were recycled from earlier protests, came from Friends of the Wild Salmon or were created by volunteers from as far away as Smithers.
Giesbrecht told the Sentinel said the company felt that the discussion in the community about which side of the vote has spent more had “become a distraction” from the real issues. But instead of a discussion on jobs and taxes, on Friday night there was a raging debate on Kitimat Politics on Facebook about the Gateway release on its spending and what was missing from those figures.
On a cold and rainy Tuesday afternoon, Northern Gateway hosted an Open House and barbeque at the Rod and Gun. Northern Gateway not only outlined the jobs they say the project would create, but emphasized how far along the company is coming in meeting BC Premier Christy Clark’s condition for a “world-class” tanker spill prevention and response system.
Janet Holder, Enbridge Vice President of Western Access described what she and Northern Gateway staff called “super tugs,” 50 metres long. “One will be tethered to the tanker, one will be following the tanker,” Holder said. “So there will be two escorts whenever that tanker is in Canadian waters. The important thing about the tugs is not just they can move that tanker if it get into difficulty. It also contains emergency response equipment right with the tankers. We’ll also have strategically placed barges with emergency response equipment along the shorelines. We will be bringing in an enormous amount of equipment before we even start operating.”
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.” The tugs will also have firefighting capability. “The salvage capability that BC describes as ‘world-class,’ Northern Gateway is bringing that to the north coast,” McHugh said.
The plebiscite has raised tensions between the District of Kitimat and the nearby Haisla First Nation, which adamantly opposed to Northern Gateway.
Haisla chief counsellor Ellis Ross wrote a scathing letter to local media, saying, in part:
Deciding to hold a referendum at this late date is a slap in the face to all the work done by the Haisla Nation on this project. The Haisla Nation dedicated time and money toward testing Northern Gateway’s evidence and claims about safety and environmental protection, while the District stood by and did nothing.
The review process for this project has already left town, with the District taking no position on the project. Still undecided on what its views are on the project, the District now proposes to conduct a poll, instead of examining the facts in the JRP process. A poll to vote on a JRP report that we view as wrong to begin with including the flawed process itself!
On Sunday, the Haisla Senior Women were playing the Prince Rupert Thunder in finals of the annual Kitimat Open Basketball Tournament which has the aim of promoting “Cultural Warming” among everyone living in northwestern BC. At half time, members of the Haisla Nation distributed black T-shirts labelled with “No Enbridge” to spectators in the bleachers. After the Haisla won the game, 67 to 45, as Kitimat mayor Joanne Monaghan was called on to congratulate the winners, she was greeted by chants of “No Enbridge, No Enbridge.”
At Tuesday’s Open House, one of the audience asked Enbridge officials, including Janet Holder, “Why are you ignoring the Haisla?”
Donny van Dyke responded, “We are actively working to strengthen that relationship….” Then when the questioner persisted, van Dyke said, “With this question perhaps it’s better to take it offline.” Then he asked, “Are there any other questions?”
For years the District of Kitimat has been officially neutral but voting over the past years shows that council is evenly split on Enbridge issues with swing votes sometimes going one way and sometimes another on what are often four to three votes.
The federal cabinet has until mid-June, 180 days after the release of the Joint Review decision to approve the panel’s findings. It is expected by most observers that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will give the go ahead. That doesn’t mean the project will start immediately, the Joint Review findings already face about a dozen court challenges from First Nations and environmental groups.
Minchin said Saturday’s non-binding plebiscite “is not going to affect the Prime Minister’s decision per se. But it’s very important for Enbridge to squeak out a win here in Kitimat. It’s just my feeling that this proposal is associated with way too many risks for very little gain.
“If it comes back as a ‘no’ from Kitimat, it’s a clear signal back to Ottawa that they really need to rethink their priorities. For the amount of bitumen that would be coming here and exported as a raw product’ that same amount of bitumen would provide a couple of thousand direct jobs in Alberta. It seems crazy to be shipping off all our raw resources without any upgrading, it’s like raw log exports.”
Enbridge Vice President Janet Holder, speaking at the Open House said, “This is not a pie in the sky type project, it is real, we do have the shippers behind us, we have First Nations behind us.”
No matter what happens Saturday, both sides will continue to push their positions.
Holder said she would not speculate on the outcome of the plebiscite, “We’re going to communities throughout British Columbia, talking to citizens, providing the information, listening to their concerns. We’re just continuing with that outreach and we’ll continue with that outreach over the next year.”
How Kitimat voters cast their ballots depends on factors that go beyond the simple environment versus economy and jobs argument, so the outcome of Saturday’s plebiscite is far from certain.
In 2010, West Fraser’s Eurocan paper mill closed, with the loss of 500 jobs, a devastating blow to Kitimat’s economy. The Eurocan closure, the earlier closure of a Methanex plant and cutbacks at the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter and the abandonment of mills and mine across the northwest in recent years have left many people skeptical of corporate promises of jobs. Others believe the Northern Gateway project, along with proposed Liquefied Natural Gas projects in Kitimat and Prince Rupert will bring a much needed boost to a struggling economy.
Even though Kitimat has been an industrial town since the aluminum smelter was built in the 1950s, most residents fish in the Kitimat River, boat on Douglas Channel and hike or hunt in the back country, which means environmental concerns are always high on the agenda. There are fears even among some supporters of Northern Gateway of an environmental disaster.
Northern Gateway, which has admitted that its relations with northern communities started off badly in the early stages of the project, has a lot of catching up to do, no matter what the outcome of the plebiscite.
Nathan Cullen, NDP MP for Skeena Bulkley Valley and Opposition Finance Critic came to Kitimat last week to assist Douglas Channel Watch with its door-to-door campaign. “There will be PhDs written on how Enbridge blundered this,” Cullen told reporters at the time.
(Spelling of van Dyk was corrected. We regret the error)
Skeena Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen says at least two of the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel’s 209 conditions may already be outdated.
In a news release January 15, 2013, Cullen said, “The requirement of $950 million in spill insurance was recently called into question as reports surfaced of cleanup costs at the sites of Enbridge’s 2010 Michigan spill surpassing $1.035 billion.”
Cullen is referring to a study by Environment Canada Emergencies Science and Technology,Fisheries and Oceans Canada Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research and Natural Resoures Canada on bitumen that was completed in November and released this week.
The study found
. Like conventional crude oil, both diluted bitumen products floated on saltwater (free of sediment), even after evaporation and exposure to light and mixing with water;
. When fine sediments were suspended in the saltwater, high-energy wave action mixed the sediments with the diluted bitumen, causing the mixture to sink or be dispersed as floating tarballs;
(The use of the term “tarball” in this report follows convention in the literature and refers to the consistency of floating, heavily-weathered oil. It does not describe the chemical composition of the product.)
. Under conditions simulating breaking waves, where chemical dispersants have proven effective with conventional crude oils, a commercial chemical dispersant (Corexit 9500) had quite limited effectiveness in dispersing dilbit;
. Application of fine sediments to floating diluted bitumen was not effective in helping to disperse the products;
. The two diluted bitumen products display some of the same behaviours as conventional petroleum products (i.e. fuel oils and conventional crude oils), but also significant differences, notably for the rate and extent of evaporation.
The Panel acknowledges the variety of opinions from experts regarding the behavior and fate of oil spilled in aquatic environments. These experts generally agreed that the ultimate behavior and fate of the oil would depend on a number of factors, including the volume of oil spilled, the physical and chemical characteristics of the product, and the environmental conditions at the time.
The Panel finds that likely oil behaviour and potential response options can be predicted from knowledge of the type of oil spilled and its physical and chemical characteristics. Details of oil behaviour and response options cannot be specified until the actual circumstances of a spill are known.
The Panel is of the view that, if placed along a spectrum of: tendency to submerge; persistence; and recovery difficulty, dilbit would be on the higher end of the spectrum, similar to other heavy oil products.
The Panel accepts evidence from previous spills showing that, in response to circumstances at the time, the behaviour of heavier oils, including conventional oils and synthetic crudes, can be dynamic. Some oil floats, some sinks, and some is neutrally buoyant and subject to submergence and overwashing.
Although the project would transport different types of oil, the majority of the evidence presented during the hearing process focussed on whether dilbit is likely to sink when spilled in an aquatic environment. In light of this, the Panel has chosen to focus its views on dilbit. The Panel heard that the fate and behaviour of dilbit has not been studied as much as that of other oils.
Although there is some uncertainty regarding the behavior of dilbit spilled in water, the Panel finds that the weight of evidence indicates that dilbit is no more likely to sink to the bottom than other heavier oils with similar physical and chemical properties.
The Panel finds that dilbit is unlikely to sink due to natural weathering processes alone, within the time frame in which initial, on-water response may occur, or in the absence of sediment or other particulate matter interactions. The Panel finds that a dilbit spill is not likely to sink as a continuous layer that coats the seabed or riverbed.
“It hasn’t even been a month since the JRP released their 209 conditions, and it seems like we’re already seeing some of them become obsolete,” Cullen said.
“Throughout the review process, the JRP continually ignored the situation in Michigan as it unfolded before our eyes. They saw the spill caused by Enbridge’s negligence, which was worsened by Enbridge’s incompetence, and how it brought untold damage to the local ecosystem and cost over $1 billion US. But the 209 conditions didn’t reflect what we learned about Enbridge’s history or its culture, or what we’ve learned about diluted bitumen at all.”
The Joint Review process was set up to deliver a positive verdict, according to Cullen, regardless of what the real life case studies in Michigan had already shown. “To say that it won’t cost as much – if not more – to respond to a spill in a remote corner of northwestern BC during winter than it was in Michigan in the middle of July is ridiculous,” Cullen said.
“What’s even more astonishing is that we asked repeatedly for these studies on the behaviour of diluted bitumen in the marine environment to be part of the Joint Review Panel’s assessment. That the government waited until after the JRP had given its conditional yes to release these findings is not only appalling but also highly suspect.
Cullen says there are two key questions that the Harper government now must answer. “What kind of protection is the government providing when it lowballs on the insurance for oil spills? And what kind of oversight is it giving Canadians when the verdict is given before the evidence is released?”
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.
Skeena Bulkley Valley MP and NDP House leader is calling today’s framework deal between BC Premier Christy Clark and Alberta premier Alison Redford, “a bust hand.”
In a statement released late Tuesday, Cullen said:
MP Nathan Cullen called the BC-Alberta framework agreement struck this morning regarding Enbridge “political window-dressing” that draws a blind on truth and transparency and deals a bust hand to British Columbia.
“When it comes to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, everything is negotiable for Christy Clark, including principals and promises made leading up to last May’s provincial election,” Cullen said.
“The reality is that none of the five conditions Ms. Clark made such a big deal about 16 months as being necessary for Enbridge to put a pipeline through our province were even remotely addressed in today’s announcement.
“The best we got after overnight negotiations and months of high drama is the ‘possibility of progress’ and a bizarre blessing that somehow allows BC to negotiate directly with Enbridge.
“Today’s agreement does absolutely zero to protect BC’s environment and economy from a bitumen disaster,” Cullen said.
“It’s a shameful political ploy that greases Ms. Clark’s real agenda, which is to pump oil through BC regardless of environmental or economic costs.
“Six months into a new mandate and Premier Clark has turned her back on promises to stand up for BC and demand a higher standard from industry.”
Cullen noted Enbridge’s social licence to operate is clearly tied to safe oil transport, effective spill response, and First Nations consent, conditions on which today’s agreement is silent.
Cullen vowed to continue fighting the Enbridge pipeline and to work toward sustainable resource development that is supported by Skeena-Bulkley Valley communities.
“There is no need to scare people,” about tankers, Transport Minister Denis Lebel told the House of Commons on Thursday, March 28.
Lebel was answering a question from Skeena Bulkley Valley MP and NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen.
The official transcript from Hansard records Cullen’s question about the federal government’s unexpected declaration that Kitimat would become a public port.
Mr. Speaker, last week, in their panic to ram a bitumen pipeline through to British Columbia’s north coast, the Conservatives simply decreed that they would take over the Port of Kitimat. Rather than picking up the phone and talking with the local council or the Haisla Nation, the government parachuted in a minister from Toronto to make the announcement. There was no consultation, no respect, just bulldozers.
We see again the fundamental disrespect the government has for first nations here today. Now the Conservatives are scrambling, saying that they will consult after they have clearly made up their minds, the exact approach they take on the pipeline. When will the government start to respect the people of the northwest?
Lebel replied in French, and as is usual in Question Period did not answer Cullen’s question.
Mr. Speaker, last week we announced the creation of an expert panel. These people will work together to think of how to improve things.
We have a very good system for dealing with oil spills. We will continue to move forward and keep everyone safe.
Canada has not had any major oil spills in its history. There is no need to scare people. We will continue to work on measures.
I thank all members of the panel led by Mr. Houston for their ability to find solutions.
This Youtube video shows Cullen’s question and Lebel’s response. The live translation is a little different, but the effect is the same.
Cullen later issued a news release commenting
Cullen’s question came on the heels of reports that neither Kitimat Council nor the Haisla Nation were consulted in advance of the federal government’s decision to take over the Kitimat port. The move represents an apparent ongoing tendency by the Conservative federal government to offer consultation with communities and First Nations, but only after they’ve already made their decision.
Cullen later reflected that, regardless of one’s position on the Northern Gateway pipeline, open and prior consultation is crucial to fostering good governance and the trust of the general public. By contrast, said Cullen, “the Conservatives are writing the book on how to ignore communities and First Nations, and damage public faith. This is just the latest chapter.”
a large, relatively shallow lake in south-central Quebec, Canada, in the Laurentian Highlands. It is situated 206 kilometres north of the Saint Lawrence River, into which it drains via the Saguenay River. It covers an area of 1,053 km2 (407 sq mi), and is 63.1 m (207 ft) at its deepest point.
It is unlikely there will ever be a Very Large Crude Carrier on Lac St. Jean.
In its earliest statements the Harper Conservatives were careful to say that there had never been a tanker disaster on the west coast. Now, in its Orwellian fashion, the government is now saying “Canada has not had any major oil spills in its history.”
That statement, of course, ignores the Arrow tanker disaster off Chedabucto Bay, Nova Scotia on February 4, 1970, which the Environment Canada website, (as of April 1, 2013), describes this way
the calamity had reached catastrophic proportions. Out of the 375 statute miles of shoreline in the Bay area, 190 miles had been contaminated in varying degrees.
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.”
Both the Conservative government of Stephen Harper and Enbridge Northern Gateway have “poisoned the well” against industrial developers in the northwest of BC and that is increasing resistance to all projects, Skeena Bulkley Valley MP and NDP House Leader told reporters Thursday, February 14.
Cullen was speaking during a regular conference call held with northwest BC media and was promoting his current Renewal Northwest tour of the riding.
“[There is a] huge amount of investment in the northwest,” Cullen said. The Renewal Northwest tour, he said, is intended to “bring the public into it, knowing good from bad, right from wrong.because some of these projects that will be excently suited for the northwest and others pose far too many risks. And how do you make that decision?”
“It’s a conversation a lot of people have been itching to get at.” Cullen said because in northern British Columbia a significant number of people have resisted development, whether it’s the proposed Northern Gateway pipline or fracking in the Sacred Headwaters of the Skeena, Stikine and Nass Rivers.
“Once you get past the conversation of what you don’t want, comes the conversation of what we do want.” Cullen said. “That means good jobs that fit in with our local ecology and our own values. It’s never been really been brought altogether.”
“To be honest most of the developers I talk to, most ofthe people looking to do mining or a gas pipeline or some other project are also looking for those same guidelines. What is it that the northwest wants? How is it that we can the social licences we call it to operate here?
“I’ve spoken to a number of these proponents and a lot of them realize that the well has been poisoned in part by the Harper government who has tried to bully people and call them names and shut down their voices. People get their backs up when they do that. It’s won them no friends.” Cullen said.
“In the case of Enbridge, a lot of those proponents will privately talk to you about how much harder it is to have a conversation in a community after Enbridge has been through town and offended people or just presented something in such a way that people get very resitant.
“I think that there has to be some repair work that has to be done. People do not have faith in the Harper government to protect some of these other values.
“Some of these companies have an up hill struggle based on recent community experience from which the likes of Enbridge has made them quite aware.
“A lot of them are picking up best practices.which is ‘don’t do what Enbridge did,’ do something smarter, more inclusive, and less abrasive. So people are learning there’s a path. We just have to describe what that path looks like.”
(An executive of one company planning an LNG development told Northwest Coast Energy News some months ago, “We’re looking at what Enbridge did and doing the opposite.”)
On the other hand, Cullen believes Enbridge is continuing to go in the opposite direction.
“Enbridge has been learning from the Harpter government doing these omnibus revisions to their pipeline and routing plans, dumpng huge amounts of paper, including increasng the amount of bitumen increasing the threat. All the time the federal government doesn’t seem to mind, Consistently British Columbia residents remain opposed and consistently opposed, with very at all supportive, I think the last poll had 11 per cent strongly support the project.”
“This is a continuation of a pattern from this government, they are now trying to muzzle people , they don’t actually control and folks are resisting cause it goes against every princple of what good science is you put it out into the public sphere for debate and learning,” Cullen said. “It shows that the government isn’t interested in those facts.
“So it gets worse and worse. It goes back to an earlier question about what it’s like to work in the northwest , the well is poisoned by the Harper government when it comes to any of these questions because thy do things like this and people lose any confidence that the government’s impartial. Well, it’s obviously not, It’s only looking for one answer with anything to do with oil and gas in particular. Anyone who presents anything like science or evidence to the contrary is just shut down and muzzled and I am glad to see the scientific community shows backbone and resists.”
The members of the Northern Gateway Joint Review must now justify their jobs and the existence of the panel, now that the government will likely overrule any recommendations they make about the controversial pipeline, Nathan Cullen, NDP House Leader and MP for Skeena Bulkley Valley said Friday, April 20.
Ever since the Joint Review hearings began in Kitimat in January, witnesses have repeatedly challenged the panel about the fairness of the proceedings, whether or not the panel is rigged in favour of the pipeline and whether or not the government will listen to the panel.
Chair Sheila Leggett has always ruled the questions out of order or cut off the witness.
Now that the government has said that it doesn’t have to abide by any decision or provisions from the Joint Review Panel, Cullen says that the panel members must make it clear where they stand.
“I think it’s a fair question. It was always there though. You’ve been to the hearings, people have been asking the question does any of this matter? Are you guys actually going to listen and is anyone going to listen to you, the panel, is the government going to listen?
“So the question has been out there and unfortunately it’s been confirmed in the negative. I don’t want dissuade people from showing up. Because it is about our voice, it’s about being able to express yourself publicly.”
Cullen said that he believes that people must continue to participate in the hearings, even if they are cut short by the government, because what the Conservatives really want is for people to abandon the political process.
Cullen was answering several questions from northwestern reporters during a regular conference call, where the reporters noted that many residents of the BC northwest are wondering if attending the hearings are worth it.
“This is a forum that we’re paying for, it’s apparently going to continue on. So when I sit in front of the panel, which I’m planning to still do, I’ll have a question for them, which is: ‘Did you know this was coming? And now that it’s happened do you feel that you’re even credible? Do you still exist, if your mandate has been ripped away from you?’
“If I was one of the panel members, those are answers I’d be wanting from the minister, [Minister of Natural Resources] who assigned them all, who appointed them all because they are great and smart people who should be making a decision, [Now] the government doesn’t think they’re so smart after all.
“It’s like ripping a judge off the bench half way through the trial. You must have a reason. Either you don’t like the evidence that was coming forward or you didn’t like the judge or you never believed in the process. I don’t know which one of those are true for the government, but one of them is.
“Things have changed, normally you wouldn’t have a judge asking questions about a judge’s mandate because it is obvious that the judge has authority.
“Well, the judge’s authority just got absolutely stripped away. So is that a question for the judge? I think so.
“I don’t really expect them to answer, they’re going to have to say something to somebody about why they’re still there. Why are we still spending this money if the government is going to listen to science or to the opinions of the people who are impacted?
“The public still has a right to speak , despite what this government thinks. I’ve always said that the people impacted by this project should be the ones making the final decision, and not a prime minister from Calgary,” Cullen said.
“In terms of our voices, I don’t know if it’s in the hearing or in the general discourse of our country, that’s what they want you to do, they want young people to turn away, they want people to say that none of this matters, it’s all very cynical. I am committed to not allow myself to feel that cynicism and just double down in our efforts. It’s about a pipeline, but it’s about so much more. It’s about whether we get to participate in the way our country functions. And we do and we will despite the Conservative view of the world might be.
“It’s a question that everyone who wants to participate will answer for themselves. I think the nature of the forum will change, [now] it’s a way to connect with neighbour with neighbour.”
The Northern Gateway Joint Review process has been “utterly destroyed” by the Conservative government, Skeena Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen told reporters Friday, April 20, adding a warning those who were waiting for the JRP to complete its hearings before making up their minds, “all those people like the premier and others who said there’s a good process in place, that excuse has been ripped away.”
Earlier that week, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver announced that the government that would introduce legislation to “streamline” the review process for major resource developments that would include such provisions as limiting the time and the number of participants and allowing the cabinet to overrule any decision or recommendation from the National Energy Board.
Cullen, who was just named Opposition House Leader, was holding his regular conference call with northwest BC reporters.
He called the changes proposed by the Conservative government for environmental assessment, ”brutal,” adding, “the already weakened rules have become fundamentally more weak.” He said it seems that the government is going to further weaken the role of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in checking environmental impacts.
The bill, which has yet to be tabled in the Commons, will download federal responsibility for the environment to the provinces, which Cullen said could be subject to a constitutional challenge.
On the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway project, which would see twin bitumen and condensate pipelines from Alberta to Kitimat, Cullen said, while the government’s Northern Gateway policy was not mentioned in the news conference or briefing documents, it was buried deep on the website and that indicated “it will not be up to the NEB anymore, they will retroactively apply these new rules it will now become a purely political decision. The prime minister, with all his wisdom, is going to make the final decision on the pipeline, totally undermining the process we are in now across the region.”
(The key bureaucratic phrase actually reads: “Establish clearer accountability for decisions on major pipeline projects in the national interest by giving government authority to make the “go/no go” decisions, based on the recommendations of the National Energy Board.” )
Cullen said he is already hearing that people in the northwest are frustrated and angry by the announcement. “They feel that they’ve been duped and the credibility of the panel has been destroyed by this government. And so all those people like the premier, who said the process was what they were waiting for, that process has now been utterly, utterly, destroyed.”
Cullen was inferring any decision to support or oppose the pipeline is now back in the courts of BC Premier Christy Clark and groups like District of Kitimat Council and Terrace Chamber of Commerce who have, up until now, remained neutral, waiting for the final report from the Joint Review Panel.
We want the objective panel of experts to assess the concerns of affected parties and contrast them with procedures and equipment being positioned to mitigate any and all perceived risks. It is important that all voices are heard and all questions are asked and answered.
“The process was always threatened, a lot of people suspected that Stephen Harper would not accept a ‘no’ when it comes to this pipeline and now that’s been made explicit. And all those people like the premier and others who said there’s a good process in place that excuse has been ripped away,” Cullen said.
Cullen said he believes that people should still participate in the hearings but the panel now has to justify its existence.
“At the same time.“ Cullen said, “the government has shut down the oil response group in Vancouver and moved it 5,000 kilometres to Quebec, they’ve cut funding on our ability to protect the coast, even after the auditor general has pointed out that the current ability to protect our waters is lacking, so it looks that they are going to do everything and anything to approve this pipeline and put at risk so much of what we care about. It’s a shame but I don’t think it will lessen the resolve of people.”
Cullen called Joe Oliver’s statement that there would be more money for enforcement of environmental regulations a “shell game.”
“They cut they cut $80 million and put back $13 million and tried to pretend that’s an increase.
There is less protection for our ocean environment. At the same time, they’re pushing two major pipelines to the west coast and increasing the risk dramatically. Shutting down the operations in Vancouver, while trying to put a pipeline right into Vancouver, smacks of some sort of hypocrisy or arrogance. I mean they’re claiming budget cuts, but the prime minister is spending more on is own office, and they’re not making a single dollar cut to the F-35, which are in the billions. It’s peanuts they’re pretending to save here and it’s putting very important things at risk in our oceans.”
He expects the bill changing the rules for resource development to be introduced next week. But, Cullen added, that it is clear that government has been planning this for sometime, a fact that further undermines the credibility of the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel. “What the government has just said is, ‘We simply don’t care. We’ve already made up our minds before hearing any testimony.’ I think they’ve made up their minds in advance of this but now it’s obvious that it was always true. You don’t put legislation like this together in a week. The bill that they are going to introduce and the press conference they had last weekend were months in the making. I know how Ottawa works. This has been around for a long time and they knew this for a long time. It’s entirely cynical.”
He expects the government will try and ram the legislation through the House and one of his jobs as NDP and Opposition House leader will be to slow it down.
“I think the very cynical anti-democratic move by the government is only going to increase the number of Canadians that will be opposed to this. So getting the message out specifically, getting people rallied around this cause and letting the government know they’re not going to steamroll us…. Continuing to try to bully us into submission is about the dumbest tactic imaginable, but I guess that’s the only one available to them. If the only tool you have the toolbox is a hammer, I guess every problem is a nail.
“Fundamentally this is a question of trust, do we trust that this government will protect the environment when it comes to oil and gas projects? And I can’t imagine an oil pipeline that Steven Harper doesn’t love. Maybe if the project went right through his living room, he may have some questions about it, but outside of that, there isn’t been a single thing that the oil industry has wanted from this government that they haven’t got, not one thing. So do you trust them to protect fisheries, do you expect them to protect us from oil spills? The answer has got to be no.”