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.
Kitimat Unifor local 2301 has succeeded in forcing the Environmental Assessment Board (EAB) to take responsibility for investigating the impact of plans for a dramatic increase of sulphur dioxide (SO2) at the Rio Tinto smelter in Kitimat. The BC Supreme Court has sided with Unifor in a judicial review involving the Ministry of Environment’s approval of the smelter’s expansion without a SO2 “scrubber”.
The project will increase SO2 emissions from 27 tonnes per day to 42 tonnes per day.
“Expanding the smelter without a scrubber is a terrible health risk to my community,” said Sean O’Driscoll, Unifor Local 2301 President. “We’re very pleased that Rio Tinto’s proposal will have to go through an environmental assessment. It’s a shame that it takes a Supreme Court Judge to force the BC Liberal government to do the right thing.”
The decision to approve the smelter expansion without scrubbers will now be sent back to the EAB.
Airborne sulphur dioxide is a well-known cause of respiratory ailments. Excessive SO2 levels in Kitimat are likely already impacting human health. In July 2012 a Community Health Synopsis study published by Northern Health concluded that the incidence of death from bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma is 60 per cent higher in Kitimat than the British Columbian average. Expert evidence known to the Minister of the Environment reveals that increased SO2 can cause serious health problems, including fatal respiratory failure.
In the decision, BC Supreme Court Justice W.F. Ehrcke wrote that it was unreasonable for the EAB to conclude that Unifor’s appeal must be rejected on the ground that the 2014 Letter of Approval to Rio Tinto was not an appealable decision within the meaning of the Act.
Other challenges to the emissions of sulphur dioxide from the Rio Tinto smelter are continuing.
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.
The province of British Columbia has posted a request for bids for an extensive air shed study for Prince Rupert, a study that has much wider scope that the controversial Kitimat air shed study. The maximum cost for the study is set at $500,000.
a study of potential impacts to the environment and human health of air emissions from a range of existing and proposed industrial facilities in the Prince Rupert airshed, further referred to as Prince Rupert Airshed Study (PRAS) in North West British Columbia.
The “effects assessment” should include the “prediction of effects of existing and proposed air emissions of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and fine particulate matter (at PM2.5, called dangerous by Wikipedia ) from “an existing BC Hydro gas fired turbine, a proposed oil refinery, and seven proposed LNG export terminals (Pacific Northwest LNG, Prince Rupert LNG, Aurora LNG, Woodside LNG, West Coast Canada LNG, Orca LNG, and Watson Island LNG).”
In addition to “stationary sources” of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter, “the impact assessment will also include rail and marine transportation sources of these contaminants in the study area.”
The request for proposal goes on to say:
The identified sources will be used for air dispersion modelling to determine how the contaminants in various aggregations (scenarios) will interact with the environment, including surface water, soils, vegetation and humans. Interactions of interest will include:
– water impact mechanisms related to acidification and eutrophication;
– soil impact mechanisms related to acidification and eutrophication; and
– vegetation and human health impact mechanisms related to direct exposure.
Water and soil impact predictions will be based on modelled estimates of critical loads for both media, given existing and predicted conditions in the airshed. Vegetation and human health impact predictions will be based on known thresholds of effects, given modelled existing and predicted conditions (contaminant concentrations) in the airshed.
Although the documents say that the Prince Rupert study will be based on the same parameters at the Kitimat air shed study, the Kitimat study only looked at sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, and did not include particulate matter.
Environmental groups also criticized the Kitimat air shed study for not including green house gases. The proposed Prince Rupert study also does not include green house gases.
A draft report is due by March 15, for review by the province and affected First Nations and subject to peer review. The District of Kitimat was not asked for comment on the study on that air shed study, even though scholars as far away as Finland were asked to review it. It appears that Prince Rupert itself is also excluded from a chance to review the study. The final report is due on May 15.
The province has issued a permit to Rio Tinto Alcan to increase sulphur dioxide emissions from the Kitimat Modernization Project. The Environmental Appeal Board will hold hearings in January 2015. Elisabeth Stannus and Emily Toews, from Kitimat, have appealed against decision to allow RTA to increase sulphur dioxide emissions.