Why the media coverage of the Tim Hortons boycott is a double double failure

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.

This morning Wildrose party leader Brian Jean has joined the Alberta boycott and is demanding the Enbridge ads be reinstated. “I’ll pick up my Tim’s coffee again when they decide to apologize for taking jabs at our industry, which is so important to Albertans,” Jean is quoted on CBC.ca.

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.


The only media that so far has managed to get it half right is Jason Kirby writing in MacLean’s who notes that the trouble began on May 18 when Enbridge put up the Tim Hortons ad on their own website. (Did I mention that Enbridge is both incompetent and arrogant?) and it was immediately noticed by those individuals and activists that monitor the Enbridge website.

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.

Post in the Kitimat Politics Facebook group.
Post in the Kitimat Politics Facebook group.

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).

Elections Canada map showing just how big the two northern BC ridings are.  (Elections Canada)
Elections Canada map showing just how big the two northern BC ridings are. (Elections Canada)

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.

Update: Rex Murphy, writing in the National Post,  has now joined the fray, no longer making a secret of his absolute disbelief in climate change and support for Enbridge. However, if you read his column, it is scathing in its contempt for the working men and women of British Columbia who want sustainable environmentally safe resource projects. It appears that to Murphy the only people in this country who actually work for a living in Canada are in Alberta and Newfoundland and no where else.   Kitimat has been an industrial town since it was founded in the 1950s, Kitimat rejoiced when former Mayor Joanne Monaghan succeeded in bringing a Timmys to Kitimat and the majority of Kitimat residents voted in the plebiscite against Enbridge.  But, of course, all those facts are irrelevant to Murphy and the other conservative pundits who never come within a thousand kilometres of northwestern BC, who believe we can’t think for ourselves and are easily misled by American environmentalists.  No wonder journalism is in a death spiral.

Error checks

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.”

When is the media ever going to learn that opposition to Enbridge is widespread across most of northern British Columbia, from First Nations to city and regional councils to a plurality of residents? When is the media going to drop the stock phrase “First Nations and environmentalists”? Does anyone remember the vote in Kitimat last April against the Northern Gateway project?

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.

Kitimat air shed hearings

-The environmental hearings on the Rio Tinto Alcan proposal to increase sulphur dioxide emissions in the Kitimat Terrace air shed, after two weeks in Victoria, where there was no media coverage, are now continuing in Kitimat, where again there is little media coverage. CFTK is covering the hearings; otherwise the main coverage comes from the activist group DeSmog, hardly a credible or unbiased source. I made the decision not to cover the hearings either. I can’t afford any longer to sit around for two weeks, unpaid, no matter how vital the hearings are to the community.

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.

Sending the Northern Gateway Pipeline to Prince Rupert: A dumb, dumb, dumb idea—and here are the photos to prove it.

There’s a dumb, dumb, really dumb idea that just won’t go away—that Enbridge could solve all its problems if only, if only, it would send the Northern Gateway Pipeline to Prince Rupert.

Enbridge long ago rejected the idea. Before Enbridge updated its website to make  Gateway Facts, to make it slick and more attractive, the old website had an FAQ where Enbridge explained why it wasn’t going to Prince Rupert.

Did you consider running the pipeline to Prince Rupert where a major port already exists?

We considered Prince Rupert and Kitimat as possible locations. We carried out a feasibility study that took into account a number of considerations. The study found that the routes to Prince Rupert were too steep to safely run the pipeline, and that Kitimat was the best and safest option available.

Current proposed route for the Northern Gateway pipeline. (Enbridge)
Current proposed route for the Northern Gateway pipeline. (Enbridge)

Here in the northwest even the supporters of the Northern Gateway roll their eyes when they hear the old Prince Rupert story come up again and again – and it’s not just because these people support the Kitimat plans for Northern Gateway, it’s because those supporters (not to mention the opponents) have driven along the Skeena from Terrace to Prince Rupert.

There just isn’t any room for a pipeline. It’s a game of centimetres.

A rainbow hugs the mountains near the Telegraph Point rest area on the Skeena River between Terrace and Prince Rupert, Sept. 29, 2014.  Traffic is seen on the narrow corridor between the mountains and the river (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A rainbow hugs the mountains near the Telegraph Point rest area on the Skeena River between Terrace and Prince Rupert, Sept. 29, 2014. Traffic is seen on the narrow corridor between the mountains and the river (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Alternatives to Kitimat?

Now the new premier of Alberta, Jim Prentice, who should know better if he’s going to lead that province, is hinting that Kitimat isn’t the only possible solution for the Northern Gateway.

Without specifying Prince Rupert, according to Gary Mason reporting in The Globe and Mail, Prentice was speculating about an alternative to Kitimat.

Asked whether he believes the Gateway terminus should be relocated to Prince Rupert or another destination, Mr. Prentice said, “Everything I’ve heard from the Haisla who live there is they don’t agree with the terminal being in Kitimat.” Is it possible to get First Nations approval if there is no support at the planned terminus site? “It’s pretty tough,” the Premier said.

A couple of days ago, the Prince Rupert’s Mayor Jack Mussallem told The Globe and Mail in Mayor, port authority say no room for Northern Gateway pipeline in Prince Rupert

Prince Rupert has a thriving local fishing industry that employs hundreds of people and is critically important to the local First Nations. He is convinced the community would not be willing to put that at risk.
“Overwhelmingly people in my community are much more comfortable with liquefied natural gas, with wood pellets, with coal, than any oil product,” he said.

The Prince Rupert Port Authority also rejected the idea

A spokesman for the Prince Rupert Port Authority said Wednesday there is currently no room for Enbridge to build at the port even if it wanted to. “We are fully subscribed,” Michael Gurney said. There are two large vacant lots within the port authority’s jurisdiction, but both are locked by other energy companies, earmarked for LNG projects.

So not only is there no room on the road to Prince Rupert, there is no room in Prince Rupert.


Let’s just consider for a moment that if Prince Rupert was the ideal location for the Northern Gateway terminal (which it is not), what would be needed to get the project going today.

The Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel would have be reconstituted or a new JRP created by the National Energy Board. That’s because the bitumen comes from Bruderheim, Alberta, crossing provincial boundaries and thus it’s in federal jurisdiction.

Even under the fast track rules imposed on the NEB by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, new environmental and social impact studies would be required, starting from scratch. So add another five years of paperwork before a single shovel goes into the ground.

The pipeline would have to cross the traditional territory of First Nations that, so far, have not been part of the negotiations, mostly the Tsimshian First Nation as well as the Nisga’a First Nation which has a treaty establishing local rule over their territory.

Traditional leaders of the Gitga'at First Nation lead a protest march through the streets of Prince Rupert, February 4, 2012. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Traditional leaders of the Gitga’at First Nation lead a protest march through the streets of Prince Rupert, February 4, 2012. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

In February 2012, the largest anti-Enbridge demonstration outside of the Lower Mainland took place in Prince Rupert, with the elders of the Tsimshian First Nation welcoming the elders and members of the Gitga’at First Nation, at Hartley Bay, which had organized the protest.

While Kitimat Council long stood neutral on the issue, the councils at Prince Rupert, Terrace, Smithers as well as the Kitimat Stikine Regional District and the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District had voted to oppose the Northern Gateway.

Audio Slideshow; No to Tankers Rally, Prince Rupert, February 4, 2012

The Skeena Route

The Skeena is one of the greatest salmon rivers on the planet. The Petronas LNG project has already run into problems because its planned terminal at Lelu Island would also impact the crucial eel-grass which is the nursery for young salmon leaving the Skeena and preparing to enter the ocean. Note that northern BC is generally in favour of LNG terminals, if the terminals are in the right place, so expect huge protests against any bitumen terminal at the mouth of the Skeena.

When I say there isn’t room for a pipeline along the Skeena, it also means that there isn’t any room for the pipeline corridor right-of-way. Enbridge, in its submissions to the Joint Review Panel, said it requires a 25 metre wide right of way for the pipeline corridor. (For the record that’s just over 82 feet).

Along that highway, as you will see, there’s barely enough room for the CN mainline and Highway 16 (also known as the Yellowhead Highway) and on a lot of places both the highway and the railway roadbed are built on fill along the side of a cliff.

Now I’ve said this all before, two years ago, in a piece for the Huffington Post, Get Over it! A Pipeline to Prince Rupert Is Bust

Albertans’ desperate desire to see the Northern Gateway go to anywhere to what they call “tide water” keeps coming up like the proverbial bad penny. The latest came when Jim Prentice speculated about a new route for the Northern Gateway.

I knew I had an appointment coming up in Prince Rupert on Monday, September 29. So I decided that only way to prove to people sitting in Calgary, Edmonton and Fort McMurray playing with Google Maps that the pipeline to Prince Rupert was a really dumb idea was to shoot photographs to show just why the Northern Gateway will never go to Prince Rupert—at least along the Skeena.

As you drive out of Terrace, you pass two large swing gates (also called by some “Checkpoint Charlie” gates after the Cold War era crossing in Berlin.) At the first rest stop west of Terrace, there are another set of gates at the Exstew. There’s a third set of gates just outside Prince Rupert.

A logging truck passes the avalanche gates at Exstew on Highway 16, Sept. 29, 2014.  (Robin Rowland)
A logging truck passes the avalanche gates at Exstew on Highway 16, Sept. 29, 2014. (Robin Rowland)

The swing gates are avalanche gates and, in the winter, Highway 16 can be shut down if an avalanche closes the highway or the danger from avalanche is too great to allow motorists to proceed. When you drive the highway from Terrace to Prince Rupert in the winter (the signs were covered up when I drove Monday) you are warned “Avalanche danger Next 13 kilometres. No stopping.”

The Exstew avalanche gates, (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
The Exstew avalanche gates, (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The drive along the Skeena from just west of Exchamsiks River Provincial Park all the way to Tyee where the highway turns inland to reach northwest to Prince Rupert on Kaien Island is one of the most spectacular drives on this planet. The highway snakes along a narrow strip of land with steep mountain cliffs on one side and the vast river on the other.

The problem is that apart from locals and tourists, none of the “experts” whether journalist, think tanker, bureaucrat or politician have, apparently ever driven from Prince Rupert to Terrace.

When both Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau were in the northwest earlier this summer to “engage” with the local people, apart from short boat trips down Douglas Channel, they flew everywhere. Scheduling you know. Stephen Harper has never visited northwest BC and probably never intends to. His cabinet members fly in for photo ops and then are on the next plane out of town.

Of all the visiting journalists who have come to the northwest only a couple have bothered to drive around the region. Most fly-in fly-out. These days, most often budget-strapped reporters never leave their offices, interviewing the same usual suspects by phone on every story.

On Monday, I took most of the photographs on my way back from Prince Rupert to Terrace after my appointment, so the sequence is from west to east. There are also very few places along the river where you can safely stop. There are concrete barricades on both sides of the highway to prevent vehicles either going into the river or onto the narrow CN right-of-way.

There are, however, two rest stops and a number of small turnoffs on the highway, the turnoffs mainly intended for use by BC Highways, but which are also used by tourists, fishers and photographers.


The first image was taken at one of those highway turnoffs just east of Aberdeen Creek. This is what the highway and rail corridor are like all along the Skeena, the highway, bounded by concrete barricades, the CN rail line and then the towering mountains. Note where the telegraph and telephone lines are—further up the cliffside.


A closer view of the highway and rail corridor just east of Aberdeen Creek.


Here is the view of the Skeena River from the Aberdeen Creek turnoff. You can see to the east, a mountain and the narrow strip of fill land that supports the highway and the rail line.


You see the broad width of the mighty Skeena, the Misty River, as it is called by the Tsimshian First Nation and by everyone else who lives in the northwest and on the right side of the image, the highway and rail corridor built on fill.

Any room for a pipeline?


There’s another turnoff on the other side of the headland east of Aberdeen Creek, looking back the way we came.


The final small turnoff is just by the Kylex River. Again you can see how narrow the highway and rail corridor are.


A few kilometres further along—as I said the highway snakes and curves its way along the riverbank–  you come to the Basalt Creek rest area. So this telephoto image shows a logging truck heading west,   taken from Basalt Creek, looking back at the highway.

Again you can see both the highway and CN line are built on fill. Is there any room for a pipeline?

Any room for a 25 metre pipeline right-of-way?

Between Basalt Creek and Telegraph Point, a few kilometres to the east, again the highway and rail line hug the narrow strip between the river and mountains.


This shot, taken from Telegraph Point, in October 2013, shows a CN intermodal container train heading to Prince Rupert. The container trains and the coal trains usually have between 150 and 180 cars. If a winter avalanche took out a train, there would be environmental damage, but that damage would be insignificant from coal or containers compared to a train of railbit tankers carrying diluted bitumen.

At Telegraph Point, the second of the three rest stops between Prince Rupert and Terrace, again there is just a narrow strip between the mountain, the highway and the river.



Across the highway from the rest stop, you can again see the narrow corridor, the first shot looking west the rail line close to the cliff face, the second, east, with the waterfall, which you don’t see during the rest of the year, fed by the fall monsoon.


telegraphmarch2013Two shots from the same location, Telegraph Point, taken in March, 2013, of a CN locomotive hauling empty coal cars back to the fields around Tumbler Ridge. (No waterfall in March)



Alternative routes

Everyone has assumed that if Northern Gateway changed its route, the most likely choice given the configuration of the pipeline at the moment is to follow the Skeena.

There are alternatives. The Petronas LNG project and its partner TransCanada Pipelines have proposed a more northern cross-country route, which would go north from the Hazeltons, avoiding the Skeena 

Proposed natural gas pipeline. (TransCanada)
Proposed natural gas pipeline. (TransCanada)

The BG Group and Spectra Energy are also contemplating a pipeline…although details on the website are rather sparse.

If Enbridge wanted to try a northern route, similar to the one TransCanada contemplates for Petronas, Northern Gateway would again run into trouble.

It would require reopening or creating a new Joint Review Panel, many more years of environmental and social impact studies of the route, even under Stephen Harper’s fast track system. The TransCanada/Petronas pipeline would also cross the traditional territory of the Gitxsan First Nation and if Enbridge tried that the company would have to deal with the fact that it signed a controversial agreement with Elmer Derrick that was immediately repudiated by most members of the Gitxsan First Nation and eventually dropped by Enbridge.

So why does this idea of a pipeline to Prince Rupert keep coming up?

In most cases, the idea of the pipeline to Prince Rupert is always proposed by Albertans, not from any credible source in British Columbia, or the suggestions come from desk bound analysts in Toronto and Ottawa both in think tanks and in the newsrooms of dying newspapers who have never seen the Skeena River apart from a tiny handful who have looked at Google Street View

(Yes you can Google Street View Highway 16 along the Skeena, I recommend it if you can’t do the drive)

Perhaps the worst example of this failure of both analysis and journalism came in the Edmonton Journal on July 7,2014, when it published a piece by Bob Russell, entitled Opinion: Make Prince Rupert the terminus, which went over the same old inaccurate arguments.

The overland route currently proposed by Enbridge is fraught with environmental issues because it goes over coastal mountains and streams before entering Kitimat’s port. This port will also be the base of perhaps as many as four liquefied natural gas terminals, which will result in the channel always busy with LNG ships outbound and returning from many Asian ports.

There are existing rights of way for the major highway, the Yellowhead, and CN Rail line from Edmonton to the Port of Prince Rupert, so this eliminates the issue of transgressing First Nations lands. The technical issues of narrow passages can be overcome with engineering. In fact, the pipeline can be buried in the roadway at some restricted locations if absolutely necessary, but two different engineers have assured me that for the most part, the right of way should be able to handle the pipeline. A vital factor, of course, is to reduce the impact by eliminating the need for two pipelines.

The clue is how the Edmonton Journal describes Russell;

Bob Russell has an extensive background in planning and was a member of the Edmonton Metro Regional Planning Commission. He has flown the Douglas Channel, visited Kitimat and toured the Port of Prince Rupert.

This is so typical of the Albertan attitude toward northwest British Columbia,  people fly in for a couple of days, make a quick observation, and fly out again and present themselves as experts on the region. (Some “experts” on Kitimat, very active on Twitter have apparently never left Calgary).

It obvious that the “two engineers” who assured him “the right-of-way could handle of pipeline” have no idea what they’re talking about. As the photos show there is barely enough room for a highway and a rail line much less a 25 metre wide pipeline corridor.

If the pipeline was to be built as Russell proposed, the only highway between Prince Rupert and the rest of Canada would have to be closed for years, there are no detours.  All so a pipeline can be buried under the asphalt not in solid ground, but in the fill on the side of a riverbank in an avalanche zone?

Of course, closing a highway up here won’t inconvenience anyone in Edmonton or Calgary, will it?

Would CN be happy with years of disruption of their lucrative traffic to Prince Rupert with grain and coal outbound to Asia and all those containers coming in to feed Chinese products to the North American market? (you can be sure Walmart wouldn’t be happy about that, not to mention prairie farmers including those from Alberta)

Russell’s statement

There are existing rights of way for the major highway, the Yellowhead, and CN Rail line from Edmonton to the Port of Prince Rupert, so this eliminates the issue of transgressing First Nations lands.

Is also inaccurate.

I was told by First Nations leaders during the Idle No More demonstrations in the winter of 2013, that, a century ago, when the Grand Trunk built the railway along the Skeena , they did just that, built it without consulting the First Nations along the route, sometime digging up native cemeteries and sacred spots.

While apparently CN has worked in recent years to improve relations with the First Nations along the rail line, according to those leaders some issues of right-of-way remain to be resolved.

If there were any plans to build a diluted bitumen pipeline along that route, that would likely mean another court battle adding to those already before the Federal Court, a court battle that would cost Enbridge, CN, the federal government, environmental NGOs and the First Nations more millions in lawyers’ fees.

It’s doubtful if in the long gone (and perhaps mythical) days of “get it right” journalism that the Russell opinion piece would have passed the scrutiny of an old fashioned copy editor and fact checker.

In 2012, the Edmonton Journal (in a story no longer available on their website) also cited former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed and former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge, as also favouring Prince Rupert.

Dodge, who was in Edmonton Tuesday to deliver a speech on the global economic outlook at MacEwan University, said Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat looks like even more of a long shot.
“I think the project to Kitimat looks, objectively, more risky. So why hasn’t much greater effort gone into looking at Prince Rupert and taking (bitumen) out that way? My guess is, the easiest place to get B.C. to buy into the project would be to go to Rupert.”
Dodge’s views echo those of former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed, who also favours looking at an alternate pipeline route to Prince Rupert, where ocean-going supertankers can navigate more easily.

Back in 2012, I finished my piece for the Huffington Post by saying:

So why do people insist, despite the evidence, that the Northern Gateway go to Prince Rupert? It’s no longer an pipeline; it’s emotion and ideology. Ideology in that opposition to the Northern Gateway is seen by conservatives as heretical opposition to free enterprise itself. Emotion among those who see promoting the oil patch as an issue of “Alberta pride” and even Canadian patriotism.
For the promoters of the pipeline to Prince Rupert, ignoring the science of geology and the study of geography across all of northwestern B.C. is no different than repeatedly knocking your head against the Paleozoic metamorphic greenstone of the mountain cliffs along the Skeena. It only gives you a headache.

Things haven’t gotten much better in the past two years. In fact they’re getting worse as opposition to pipelines mounts.

It seems that in 2014  the Alberta and the federal government policy in promoting pipelines Northern Gateway, KinderMorgan’s TransMountain, Keystone XL, Line 9 Reversal and Energy East (slick PR and smiling representatives at open houses, politicians at strictly controlled photo ops) is to ignore facts on the ground and to refuse to deal with the concerns of local people from coast to coast.

There could, perhaps, be a more inclusive and truly science-based pipeline planning process that could see pipelines go on optimum routes but that isn’t happening.

The policy  for the oil patch and its politician supporters when it comes to pipelines is facts and geology don’t really matter. So they put on ruby slippers, knock their heels together three times and send pipelines down a yellow brick road to an Emerald City (while telling the locals to ignore the man behind the curtain)

Related links

The Save Our Salmon website has a different view, arguing that federal government and the energy companies have a plan to create an energy corridor for bitumen pipelines to Prince Rupert.

The Supreme Court decision on Tsilhqot’in Rights and Title is a shot across the bow of the Alberta bound National Energy Board

The response to the Joint Review Panel decision on the Northern Gateway, beginning in December and continuing until this Canada Day,  both in the public and in the media  is sharply divided by the Rocky Mountains.

A lof of  Albertans,   most of  the energy companies and many in the media, especially the Toronto-based business press,  keep telling Canadians that the NEB is an independent, quasi-judicial body, that carefully weighs the scientific and other evidence before coming to a conclusion.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands up in Question Period and from his prepared script also claims the  JRP and NEB are independent bodies.

Most of  those writing about the  attitude of the National Energy Board have never attended a single  hearing,  As for the Joint Review,.  those from the major media who  did attend  were only there for  the opening and closing sessions.

Members of the Joint Review panel make notes at Kitamaat Village (Robin Rowland)
Members of the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel, left to right, Kenneth Bateman, chair Sheila Leggett and Hans Matthews make notes at the June 25, 2012 hearings at the Haisla Recreation Centre, Kitamaat Village. A map of Douglas Channel can be seen behind the panel. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)


In British Columbia, those attended the Northern Gateway Joint Review sessions saw a strange and arcane bureaucratic system with rules of evidence and procedure often tilted toward a proponent in the energy sector.

Those rules of evidence were created for the cosy club atmosphere of the NEB in Calgary where mostly there are friendly hearings attended only by the proponents and energy sector lawyers. Those same rules were infuriating to those in northwest British Columbia trying and failing to persuade the JRP to take seriously many of  the concerns of the region. The rules of evidence and procedure were baffling to lawyers practicing in BC; even the highly experienced lawyers from the BC Department of Justice were chewed out by the JRP in Prince George for not following proper procedures.

Most egregious was the JRP’s refusal to consider the late evidence on the growing number of humpback whales in Douglas Channel.

Humpback whale in Douglas Channel
The tail fins of a humpback whale are seen in Douglas Channel near Bish Cove, as a fishing boat speeds toward Kitimat harbour in a rain storm on Aug. 21, 2013. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The JRP seemed to believe that time stopped at the evidentiary deadline, and although it acknowledged that Northern Gateway was a 50 year project,  the panel didn’t need to know anything new.

A careful reading of the two volumes of the Joint Review Panel report and decision clearly shows that JRP finding was not, as one columnist called it, a triumph of science over emotion, but a proceeding that was biased from the outset to find in favour of Enbridge. It is clear that even though the Joint Review Panel did impose 209 conditions on Northern Gateway, reading those almost 500 pages one sees time and time again that Northern Gateway’s evidence and assurances were accepted at face value, while the panel treated the evidence and testimony from opponents with a much higher level of skepticism.

Moving to Calgary

One of my sources once told me that the “NEB is nothing more than an extension of the Petroleum Club.” In the 1991 budget, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney moved the NEB headquarters from Ottawa to Calgary as a political gift to Alberta.

At that time the move was also seen as practical, Alberta was still complaining no one in Ottawa was listening to it. So if the Conservative government moved the NEB to Calgary, it would be there listening to the oil patch.  NEB offices were scattered across the country, consolidating them in Calgary seemed, at the time, to be a way of saving taxpayers’ money and enhancing internal communications.

Seen now, about 25 years later, it’s clear the NEB move from its Ottawa headquarters and regional offices to Calgary was a disaster waiting to happen. Over the past quarter century, despite its claims of independence, the NEB and its staff have become so embedded in the oil patch energy culture of Calgary that (probably subconsciously) the NEB  has shown that it is largely incapable of really taking seriously the culture of British Columbia on issues such as the Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan projects. The NEB Calgary culture is also colliding,with the concerns and culture of other parts of the country as diluted bitumen pipelines head eastward.

That embedding in Alberta isn’t going to change. It might have been a good idea to move the NEB headquarters back to Ottawa but it’s too late for that. The NEB this week is moving to new quarters in Calgary  at a cost to taxpayers of a staggering $21 million.

The Conservative omnibus bills that gutted environmental protection and speed up the review process has made things much worse–at least until this week.

Now the Supreme Court has sent a shot across the bow of the full steam ahead National Energy Board, compelling the board to put much more weight on the concerns of First Nations.

The decision upholding the Tsilhqot’in claim to its traditional territory means the NEB and any future joint review panel (whether involving multiple federal agencies or federal agencies and a province) are going to have to take the concerns of First Nations and indeed all Canadians a lot more seriously—and the future of the planet as well, as described in the first part of this analysis. Chief Justice Beverly McLaughlin wrote that on First Nations` traditional territory:

that it is collective title held not only for the present generation but for all succeeding generations. This means it cannot be alienated except to the Crown or encumbered in ways that would prevent future generations of the group from using and enjoying it.

“Future generations” is the key phrase.

Future generations could undermine that whole world view of the Joint Review Panel, since the panel so casually dismissed the fears of a major disaster on the coast, saying it was “unlikely” and could be “mitigated.”

The JRP basically had a so-what attitude to British Columbia, arguing that since parts of the British Columbia environment had already been degraded any future environmental problems would be minimal and could be “mitigated.”

Public interest

While in the introduction to its definition of the Public Interest, the JRP says

If approved and built, the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project could operate for 50 years or more. Sustainable development was an important factor in our environmental assessment and our consideration of the public interest. The project would have to meet today’s needs without compromising the ability of future generations.

Sounds like that might match the Chief Justice. But, as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details. And just a few paragraphs later, the JRP says:

Our assessment of the project’s effects on residents and communities Considering Northern Gateway’s project design, its commitments, and our conditions, we concluded that the project’s potential effects on people’s land, water, and resource use could be mitigated. We were not persuaded that construction and routine operations of the project would have a negative effect on the social fabric of communities in the project area. We also were not persuaded that the project would adversely affect the health and well being of people and communities along the route or in coastal areas. We found that the net overall economic effects of the project would be positive and would provide potential benefits and opportunities to those individuals and businesses that choose to participate in the project.

“Trust Enbridge”

The JRP’s attitude toward a major disaster was “trust Enbridge.”

We found that some level of risk is inherent in the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, and that no party could guarantee that a large spill would not occur. We found that a large spill, due to a malfunction or accident, from the pipeline facilities, terminal, or tankers, is not likely.

We found that Northern Gateway has taken steps to minimize the likelihood of a large spill through its precautionary design approach and its commitments to use innovative and redundant safety systems, such as its commitments to address human error, equipment failures, and its corporate safety culture. These commitments and all others made by the company

Oh well, the ecosystem will recover eventually—a conclusion that could be reached only by ignoring the evidence from Prince William Sound, site of the Exxon Valdez spill.

We found that, in the unlikely event of a large oil spill, there will be significant adverse environmental effects, and that functioning ecosystems recover through mitigation and natural processes.

We found that a large oil spill would not cause permanent, widespread damage to the environment. The extent of the significant adverse effects would depend on the circumstances associated with the spill. Scientific research from past spill events indicates that the environment recovers to a state that supports functioning ecosystems similar to those existing before the spill. We found that, in the unlikely event of a large oil spill, there would be significant adverse effects on lands, waters, or resources used by residents, communities, and Aboriginal groups.

We found that, in rare circumstances, a localized population or species could potentially be permanently affected by an oil spill. Scientific research from a past spill event indicates that this will not impact the recovery of functioning ecosystems.

In other words, some communities, probably aboriginal communities, would have be sacrificed in the public interest and the economics of Alberta while the economy of that part of British Columbia would be destroyed.

Will the JRP have to start over?

The environmental law community and First Nations leaders are already taking a look at another paragraph in the Supreme Court judgement. Paragraph 92 in lawyer speak.

Gerald Amos
At the celebration of the Supreme Court decision, on June 26, Gerald Amos welcomed the suggestion from lawyers that the ruling could force a re-examination of Northern Gateway. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

One of the many reports comes from West Coast Environmental Law which noted in an e-mail

[T]he Tsilhqot’in decision, Canada’s highest court brings home the implications of this for Enbridge and other project proponents:

Once title is established, it may be necessary for the Crown to reassess prior conduct in light of the new reality in order to faithfully discharge its fiduciary duty to the title-holding group going forward.

For example, if the Crown begins a project without consent prior to Aboriginal title being established, it may be required to cancel the project upon establishment of the title if continuation of the project would be unjustifiably infringing.

And what about the overhaul of environmental legislation in 2012 to smooth the way for pipeline and other industrial development?

The court notes: “Similarly, if legislation was validly enacted before title was established, such legislation may be rendered inapplicable going forward to the extent that it unjustifiably infringes Aboriginal title.”


In other words, the Supreme Court decision resets everything.

It could nullify the recent decision by the Prime Minister to permit the Northern Gateway to go ahead. Or it could mean, especially given the number of court challenges just to the JRP, that, in light of the Tsilhqot’in decision the panel will be ordered by a court to go back to the drawing board and reconsider its findings.

Then there are the pending challenges to the Harper decision allowing the Northern Gateway to go ahead. Sources told Northwest Coast Energy News that the first of a number of court challenges were to be filed last week. It is likely that after the holiday weekend, lawyers will be rewriting their filings and their briefs in light of the Tsilhqot’in decision and presenting the Federal Court with those challenges some time in July.

The justices of the Supreme Court did allow a public interest exemption on the use of First Nations land for a larger purpose, but there must now be genuine consultation and the public interest will likely have be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, it can’t just be the whim of a prime minister with a tame, unquestioning caucus who decides what is in the public interest.

Who consults whom?

In the decision, Chief Justice McLaughlin wrote:

Governments and individuals proposing to use or exploit land, whether before or after a declaration of Aboriginal title, can avoid a charge of infringement or failure to adequately consult by obtaining the consent of the interested Aboriginal group

and later

The right to control the land conferred by Aboriginal title means that governments and others seeking to use the land must obtain the consent of the Aboriginal title holders. If the Aboriginal group does not consent to the use, the government’s only recourse is to establish that the proposed incursion on the land is justified under s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Compare that again with what the JRP said. As with the environmental impact it begins by saying:

The Panel finds that the magnitude, extent, and potential impacts of this project required an extensive program of public consultation. The Panel considers thorough and effective consultation to be a process that is inclusive of, and responsive to, all potentially-affected groups and individuals.

Then the JRP says:

The Panel notes that, among potentially-affected parties, there were differing perspectives on what constitutes a thorough and effective process of consultation. There were also different views among some parties about how consultation should occur, and their roles and responsibilities during consultation.

And then:

The Panel believes that it is critical for all parties to recognize and understand their respective roles and responsibilities for achieving effective dialogue during consultation. The Panel noted the principles of thorough and effective consultation at the beginning of this chapter. The Panel finds that these principles require that a process must provide timely, appropriate, and effective opportunities for all potentially-affected parties to learn about a project, provide their comments and concerns, and to discuss how these can be addressed by the applicant.

So what does it mean?

The JRP starts off by giving Northern Gateway a slap on the wrist:

The applicant [Enbridge] must be genuinely responsive. Affected parties have an ongoing and mutual responsibility to respond to opportunities for consultation, to communicate concerns they may have, and to discuss how these can be addressed.

But then it goes on in the same paragraph:

Consultation requires trust, mutual respect, and relationship-building. All parties have an obligation to seek a level of cultural fluency, in order to better understand the values, customs, needs, and preferences of the other parties involved in the consultation process. All parties may be required to adjust their expectations in response to the information, concerns, and interests raised and considered through the process. The Panel observed that this approach did not always occur in this proceeding.

Get the phrase “all parties.” It is clear here that the JRP is taking on the First Nations and other opponents for not seeing Northern Gateway’s point of view, since it accepts, as seen below, Northern Gateway’s contention that it is doing a good job with consultation,

And the word “trust.”  Again the Alberta-bound JRP (the panel had no members from British Columbia, two from Alberta, one from Ontario)  are saying “trust Enbridge.”

Unfortunately after a decade of operating in the northwest,  and despite its spin, Enbridge has failed time and time again to establish trust with First Nations  and it has equally failed to establish trust with a significant number non-aboriginal residents of the northwest.

The companies developing LNG projects have, for the most part, established a level of trust.

The joke up here  is now so old it’s a cliche (but still unknown to the eastern media) where an LNG executive says, “We look at what Enbridge did and do the exact opposite.”

The Panel accepts Northern Gateway’s view that consultation is a process which should ensure that all parties are better informed through consultation, and that it involves being prepared to amend proposals in light of information received. In this regard, the Panel notes that Northern Gateway made numerous changes to the design and operation of the project in response to input provided by the public, landowners, governments, and stakeholders

In fact, Northern Gateway is still fumbling the ball.

It is true that Northern Gateway did change its plans and put another $500 million into the plans for the project–after a lot of public pressure  and growing controversy  during the JRP hearings over its plans.

Sheila Leggett
JRP Chair Sheila Legget during the final arguments in Terrace, June 17, 2013. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Equally telling was Northern Gateway’s dismissal in its final arguments (arguments accepted by the JRP)  that there was no earthquake hazard in the region, despite two major earthquakes at Haida Gwaii and southern Alaska just months earlier,  both of which shook Kitimat.

In the final oral arguments, Northern Gateway’s lawyer Richard Neufeld summarily dismissed the fears of the Haida and Heiltskuk First Nations about destruction of the herring spawning beds because, he said,  first, the chances of a tanker disaster were unlikely and second, even if there was a tanker disaster it was even more unlikely that it would occur during the spawning season. (Not that the spawning  season matters, herring beds in San Francisco Bay are still damaged years after a spill there).

Now with the Tsilhqot’in decision, Enbridge can no longer summarily dismiss those fears. The companies who have proposed liquefied natural gas projects  are meeting with anyone, including avowed opponents, and opening dialogues, even if both sides continue to disagree. Despite its spin, accepted by the political pundits and eastern business media, those who live in the northwest know Northern Gateway’s consultations and engagement, so far,  have mostly been with friendly groups and friendly audiences.

The Supreme Court decision is going to change that attitude in the coming weeks. If Enbridge wants Northern Gateway to go ahead, the company is going to have to genuinely engage with First Nations. Given all the damage created by Enbridge over the past decade, that engagement is unlikely to change anything.

The Supreme Court decision is going to have one more consequence.

Eventually, in a few years,  the decision will negate that stupid attitude from the conservative media and some in the business community that the people of northwestern British Columbia are against all development.  That was never true but it’s a convenient excuse for those columnists and conservatives not to question their own assumptions.

If the reporters and columnists had bothered to come up here, if the press-release dispatching business leaders had  bothered to leave their executive suites, they’d know what northwestern BC wants is responsible and sustainable development, not quick in and out profits.

The Supreme Court decision means that any future industrial development in the northwest will be much different from anything seen in the past because First Nations must be involved from the beginning.

Given its sorry track record, it is unlikely that Enbridge will be part of that development. but others will  profit, yes profit, from that failure.

In the coming years it is also likely that there will be a new approach to development from the National Energy Board after they begin to see their narrow oil-patch friendly approach and rulings struck down by the courts quoting the Tsilhqot’in decision.

Conservative government approves Northern Gateway project

As expected, the federal government has approved the Northern Gateway project.  In a news release this afternoon, Natural Resources Canada said that the “Government of Canada”  had accepted the 209 conditions set by the Joint Review Panel for the Northern Gateway.

In recent years, Stephen Harper’s government has usually issued news releases headlined “the Harper government.” The  headline on the NRC website also emphasizes the 209 JRP conditions and not the approval of the overall project, which is mentioned formally in the last line instructing the National Energy Board to issue the ” Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity.”


Government of Canada Accepts Recommendation to Impose 209 Conditions on Northern Gateway Proposal
Proponent must demonstrate how conditions will be met, undertake further consultations with Aboriginal communities as part of next steps in regulatory process

Natural Resources Canada

The Honourable Greg Rickford, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, today issued the following statement outlining the Government of Canada’s decision after the Joint Review Panel’s independent review of the Northern Gateway Pipelines proposal to construct and operate two parallel pipelines to transport crude oil between Bruderheim, Alberta and Kitimat, British Columbia, and a marine terminal at the port of Kitimat. The proposal was submitted by Northern Gateway Pipelines Limited Partnership to the National Energy Board (NEB) for an environmental assessment and regulatory examination in 2010. This constituted the beginning of the regulatory process.

The Joint Review Panel for the Northern Gateway Project was an independent body established by the Minister of the Environment and the National Energy Board to review the project. The Panel’s rigorous science-based review included feedback from over 1,450 participants in 21 different communities, reviewing over 175,000 pages of evidence and receiving 9,000 letters of comment. The NEB is responsible for regulating some 73,000 kilometres of pipelines transporting crude oil, natural gas and petroleum products across Canada.

“In December 2013, the Joint Review Panel found that construction and operation of the Northern Gateway Pipelines project is in the public interest, subject to 209 conditions being met by the proponent. After carefully reviewing the report, the Government accepts the independent Panel’s recommendation to impose 209 conditions on Northern Gateway Pipelines’ proposal.

“Today constitutes another step in the process. Moving forward, the proponent must demonstrate to the independent regulator, the NEB, how it will meet the 209 conditions. It will also have to apply for regulatory permits and authorizations from federal and provincial governments. In addition, consultations with Aboriginal communities are required under many of the 209 conditions that have been established and as part of the process for regulatory authorizations and permits. The proponent clearly has more work to do in order to fulfill the public commitment it has made to engage with Aboriginal groups and local communities along the route.”

The National Energy Board will now issue Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity.



Harper’s Northern Gateway strategy and why it will end up in a muddy mess

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.

Tanker protocols
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?

Mason says:

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.

Who pays?

The one factor that the urban media seems to ignore, is the big question.

Who pays?

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?

Highly unlikely.

But will the Harper government, with its bean counting obsession on balancing the budget be willing to pay for all that is needed?

Highly likely.

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.

Genetics show stronger pine beetle evolving; stream flow increases in infected forests: studies

A new study, based at the University of Alberta, released this week, indicates that natural selection may be making the mountain pine beetle more tolerant of colder temperatures and that the beetle may be evolving the ability to fly longer distances.

A second study, from the Colorado School of Mines, also released this week, is tracking how the extent of pine beetle infected or killed trees in forests is changing ground water and stream flows.

The mountain pine beetle infestation has wreaked havoc in North America, across forests from the American Southwest to British Columbia and Alberta. Millions of hectares of forest have been lost, with severe economic and ecological impacts from a beetle outbreak ten times larger than previous ones.

Dust from beetle killed wood is believed partially responsible for the explosions at the Lakeland Mill in Prince George and the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake. The explosion in early 2012 at the Babine Forest Products mill killed two workers and injured another twenty. The Lakeland Mill explosion killed two workers and injured twenty four others.

As part of the fight to contain the mountain pine beetle, scientists recently sequenced the pine beetle genome.

Using that genome, Jasmine Janes and colleagues at the University of Alberta, with assistance from the University of British Columbia and the University of Northern British Columbia, used genetics to track how the pine beetle was able to expand its range so rapidly. The study was published in Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Studied at molecular level

While teams of researchers have tracked the path of the pine beetle across BC on the ground, how the beetle spread so easily “is only beginning to be understood at the molecular level,” the study says.

Pine beetles were collected from 27 sites in Alberta and British Columbia. The University of Alberta scientists were especially interested in how the pine beetle was able to jump across the Rockies, something that earlier researchers believed would not happen.

By looking at the genetic markers, the team concluded that the pine beetle may have been able to spread by adjusting its cellular and metabolic functions to better withstand cooler climates and facilitate a larger geographic dispersal area.

In an e-mail to Northwest Coast Energy News, Janes said the research looked at genomic signatures to find out how the beetle had been able to spread into Alberta – where did it come from, what route did it take and how did it overcome the physical and climatic barriers that we had always assumed?

The research discovered that there are two genetically different populations of pine beetles, one from the south of British Columbia and Alberta and one in the north. Another group of pine beetles, found near Valemount, “were harder to classify as being from either north or south genetically. The beetles in this area were showing higher genetic diversity.”

The pine beetle has always been around and killed older trees (called “low quality hosts”), helping to renew the ecosystem. There were also larger five-year infestations that occurred on a 20 to 40 year cycle. The current pine beetle “epidemic” in BC has gone on now for more than 20 years, with the pine beetle “observed in previously unrecorded numbers” over a much wider area

It is generally believed that climate change has help the pine beetle survive milder winters.

The study notes:

Successful establishment of mountain pine beetle on pure jack pine in northern Alberta has raised concerns that the mountain pine beetle will continue to expand its range into the vast boreal forest of jack pine that extends across North America from the Northwest Territories to the Atlantic Coast.

The teams concludes that one group of the beetles originated in southwestern BC perhaps from Whistler or Manning Park. Then the beetles spread north up the west coast of BC toward Houston “with rapid population size increases in central and northern BC and then dispersed long distances with prevailing winds toward the east and Alberta.”

Some of the beetles from southwestern BC appear to have taken a different route, moving more slowly eastward in the south of BC toward Crowsnest Pass area and then moving northward along the base of the Rockies, Janes said, adding. “Our research suggests that these two routes have then met in the middle again, around Valemount and that is why we see the genetic patterns across the landscape that we observed.”

Selective pressure

The second part of the research was answering the question of how the beetles were able to do this. How could they withstand the colder temperatures to spread further north and east?

To answer the scientists used the same genetic markers (single nucleotide polymorphisms) to conduct “selective sweeps” of the beetle genome. The sweeps look for unusual genetic markers that could indicate the beetles are under “selective pressure.”

The study looked at specific functions in the beetle: the genes that govern “actin filaments” that “control muscle contractions like shivering and moving wings”; “the synthesis of cholesterol that provides energy for metabolic activities” and transport of ions across cell membranes.

Normally, female pine beetles can only fly short distances to find a new host tree to lay eggs. They can travel longer distances if they are up in the tree canopy and are then carried by the wind. Stronger pine beetles that can fly longer distances show the threat is likely evolving.

The study concludes that Canadian Mountain Pine Beetle range expansion:

may continue as populations are currently exhibiting signals of selection. These signals suggest ongoing adaptation of metabolic and cellular processes that could potentially allow them to withstand colder temperatures, shift developmental timing and facilitate longer dispersal flights.

Janes said further research is required to fully validate and understand these signatures of selection, but it does suggest that the beetle is adapting and that is why it “may have been able to breach the Rocky Mountains”

Water and trees

Precipitation samples
Colorado scientists collected precipitation samples to determine their unique chemical fingerprints. ( Lindsay Bearup/Colorado School of Mines)
In Colorado alone, the mountain pine beetle has caused the deaths of more than 3.4 million acres of pine trees. The new research findings show the consequences of an obvious observation: Dead trees don’t drink water

The Colorado study asked how all those dead trees are changing stream flow and water quality?

“The unprecedented tree deaths caused by these beetles provided a new approach to estimating the interaction of trees with the water cycle in mountain headwaters like those of the Colorado and Platte Rivers,” said Reed Maxwell a hydrologist at the Colorado School of Mines.

Maxwell and colleagues have published results of their study of beetle effects on stream flows in this week’s issue of the journal Nature Climate Change.

As the trees die, they stop taking up water from the soil, known as transpiration. Transpiration is the process of water movement through a plant and its evaporation from leaves, stems and flowers.

The “unused” water then becomes part of the local groundwater and leads to increased water flows in nearby streams.

“Large-scale tree death due to pine beetles has many negative effects,” says Tom Torgersen of the US National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Geosciences and program director for the NSF’s Water, Sustainability and Climate program.

“This loss of trees increases groundwater flow and water availability, seemingly a positive,” Torgersen says.

“The total effect, however, of the extensive tree death and increased water flow has to be evaluated for how much of an increase, when does such an increase occur, and what’s the water quality of the resulting flow?”

Under normal circumstances, green trees use shallow groundwater in late summer for transpiration.

Red- and gray-phase trees–those affected by beetle infestations–stop transpiring, leading to higher water tables and greater water availability for groundwater flow to streams.

The Colorado study shows that the fraction of late-summer groundwater flows from affected watersheds is about 30 per cent higher after beetles have infested an area, compared with watersheds with less severe beetle attacks.

“Water budget analysis confirms that transpiration loss resulting from beetle kill can account for the increase in groundwater contributions to streams,” write Maxwell and scientists Lindsay Bearup and John McCray of the Colorado School of Mines, and David Clow of the U.S. Geological Survey, in their paper.

Dead trees create changes in water quality

“Using ‘fingerprints’ of different water sources, defined by the sources’ water chemistry, we found that a higher fraction of late-summer stream flow in affected watersheds comes from groundwater rather than surface flows,” says Bearup.

“Increases in stream flow and groundwater levels are very hard to detect because of fluctuations from changes in climate and in topography. Our approach using water chemistry allows us to ‘dissect’ the water in streams and better understand its source.”

With millions of dead trees, adds Maxwell, “we asked: What’s the potential effect if the trees stop using water? Our findings not only identify this change, but quantify how much water trees use.”

An important implication of the research, Bearup says, is that the change can alter water quality.

The new results, she says, help explain earlier work by Colorado School of Mines scientists. “That research found an unexpected spike in carcinogenic disinfection by-products in late summer in water treatment plants.”

Where were those water treatment plants located? In bark beetle-infested watersheds.


The TRIA project (a collaboration of researchers at the University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, University of Montreal, University of Northern British Columbia). The TRIA project investigates the physiology, genetics and ecology of all three players in the mountain pine beetle system – the pines (lodgepole and jack pine, and their hybrids), the beetle and the fungus (several types).

The Colorado study is funded by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Water, Sustainability and Climate (WSC) Program. WSC is part of NSF’s Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability initiative.

Joint Review Panel tells northwestern BC to bear the “burdens” of Northern Gateway for the good of Canada


Joint Review Panel cover
Cover of Volume 1 of the Joint Review Panel ruling on Northern Gateway


If you read both the 76 pages of Volume One of the Northern Gateway Joint Review decision and the 417 pages of Volume 2, a total of 493 pages, one word keeps reappearing. That word is “burden.”

The JRP panel asks “How did we weigh the balance of burdens, benefits, and risks?”

And it says:

Many people and parties commented on the economic benefits and burdens that could be brought about by the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project. In our view, opening Pacific Basin markets wouldbe important to the Canadian economy and society. Though difficult to measure, we found that the economic benefits of the project would likely outweigh any economic burdens.

The JRP notes:

The Province of British Columbia and many hearing participants argued that most of the project’s economic benefits would flow to Alberta, the rest of Canada, and foreign shareholders in oil and pipeline companies. They said British Columbia would bear too many of the environmental and economic burdens and risks compared to the benefits.

But, as the panel does throughout the ruling, it accepts, with little, if any, skepticism, Northern Gateway’s evidence and assertion:

Northern Gateway said about three-quarters of construction employment would occur in British Columbia, and the province would get the largest share of direct benefits from continuing operations.

It does touch on the “burdens” faced by the Aboriginal people of northern BC and others in the event of a catastrophic spill.

In the unlikely event of a large oil spill, we found that there would be significant adverse effects on lands, waters, or resources used by Aboriginal groups. We found that these adverse effects would not be permanent and widespread. We recognize that reduced or interrupted access to lands, waters, or resources used by Aboriginal groups, including for country foods, may result in disruptions in the ability of Aboriginal groups to practice their traditional activities. We recognize that such an event would place burdens and challenges on affected Aboriginal groups. We find that such interruptions would be temporary. We also recognize that, during recovery from a spill, users of lands, waters, or resources may experience disruptions and possible changes in access or use.

And the JRP goes on to say:

We recommend approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, subject to the 209 conditions set out in Volume 2 of our report. We have concluded that the project would be in the public interest. We find that the project’s potential benefits for Canada and Canadians outweigh the potential burdens and risks….

We are of the view that opening Pacific Basin markets is important to the Canadian economy and society. Societal and economic benefits can be expected from the project. We find that the environmental burdens associated with project construction and routine operation can generally be effectively mitigated. Some environmental burdens may not be fully mitigated in spite of reasonable best efforts and techniques…. We acknowledge that this project may require some people and local communities to adapt to temporary disruptions during construction.

As for the chance of a major oil spill, again the JRP talks about burdens:

The environmental, societal, and economic burdens of a large oil spill, while unlikely and not permanent, would be significant. Through our conditions we require Northern Gateway to implement appropriate and effective spill prevention measures and spill response capabilities, so that the likelihood and consequences of a large spill would be minimized.

It is our view that, after mitigation, the likelihood of significant adverse environmental effects resulting from project malfunctions or accidents is very low.

And concludes:

We find that Canadians will be better off with this project than without it.

In the Joint Review ruling is one fact. Northern British Columbia must bear the “burden” of the Northern Gateway project for the good of Alberta and the rest of Canada. The JRP accepts, without much questioning, Northern Gateway’s assurances that environmental disruptions during construction will be minimal and that the chances of a major spill from either a pipeline or a tanker are minimal.

Canadians as a whole may be better off with the Northern Gateway. Whether the people who live along the pipeline and tanker route will be better off is another question, one which the Joint Review Panel dismisses with casual disdain.

Cover of JRP ruling
Cover of Volume 2 of the Joint Review rulng on Northern Gateway

The politics of the Joint Review Panel

There are actually two Joint Review Panel reports.

One is political, one is regulatory. The political decision by the three member panel, two from Alberta and one from Ontario, is that the concerns of northwestern British Columbia are fully met by Enbridge Northern Gateway’s assurances. There is a second political decision, found throughout both volumes of the report, and the reader sees the Joint Review Panel has the notion that many parts of the environment have already been degraded by previous human activity, and that means the construction and operation of the Northern Gateway will have little consequence.

Here is where the Joint Review Panel is blind to its own bias. With its mandate to rule on the Canadian “public interest,” the panel makes the political determination that, in the Canadian public interest, northwestern BC must bear the “burden” of the project, while other political issues were not considered because, apparently those issues were outside the JRP’s mandate.

…some people asked us to consider the “downstream” emissions that could arise from upgrading, refining, and diluted bitumen use in China and elsewhere. These effects were outside our jurisdiction, and we did not consider them. We did consider emissions arising from construction activities, pipeline operations, and the engines of tankers in Canadian territorial waters.

During our hearings and in written submissions, many people urged us to include assessment of matters that were beyond the scope of the project and outside our mandate set out in the Joint Review Panel Agreement. These issues included both “upstream” oil development effects and “downstream” refining and use of the products shipped on the pipelines and tankers…Many people said the project would lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental and social effects from oil sands development. We did not consider that there was a sufficiently direct connection between the project and any particular existing or proposed oil sands development or other oil production activities

If someone in Northwestern British Columbia favours the Northern Gateway project, if they believe (and many people do) what Enbridge Northern Gateway says about the economic benefits, then it is likely they will accept the burden and the further environmental degradation imposed by the Joint Review Panel on this region of British Columbia.

If, on other hand, for those who are opposed to the project, then the decision to impose the burden on this region is both unreasonable and undemocratic (since no one in northern BC, in the energy friendly east or the environmental west has been formally asked to accept or reject the project). For those opposed to the project, the idea that since the environment has already been disrupted by earlier industrial development, that Canadians can continue to degrade the environment with no consequence will only fuel opposition to the project.

As for the assertion that green house gas emissions were not part of the Joint Review Panel’s mandate, that is mendacious. The panel made a political decision on the role of the people of northwestern BC and the state of northwestern BC’s environment. The panel made a political decision to avoid ruling on the role of Northern Gateway in contributing to climate change or the larger world wide economic impact of pipelines and the bitumen sands.


The Joint Review Panel is supposed to be a regulatory body and should be pipeline, terminal and tanker project go ahead after the expected court challenges from First Nations on rights, title and consultation and from the environmental groups, then those 209 conditions kick in.

While the Joint Review Panel largely accepts Enbridge Northern Gateway’s evidence with little questions, in some areas the panel does find flaws in what Northern Gateway planned. In a few instances, it actually accepts the recommendations from intervenors (many from First Nations, who while opposed to the project, successfully demanded route changes to through environmentally sensitive or culturally significant territory.)

When it comes to regulations, as opposed to politics, the Joint Review Panel has done its job and done it well. If all 209 conditions and the other suggestions found in the extensive second volume of the ruling are actually enforced then it is likely that the Northern Gateway will be the safe project that Enbridge says it will be and actually might meet BC Premier Christy Clark’s five conditions for heavy oil pipelines across BC and tankers off the BC coast.

But and there is a big but.

The question is, however, who is going to enforce the 209 conditions? In recent conversations on various social media, people who were quiet during the JRP hearings, have now come out in favour of the pipeline project. Read those comments and you will find that the vast majority of project supporters want those conditions strictly enforced. Long before the JRP findings and before Premier Christy Clark issued her five conditions, supporters of the Northern Gateway, speaking privately, often had their own list of a dozen or two dozen conditions for their support of the project.

The people of northwestern BC had already witnessed cuts to Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard in his region even before Stephen Harper got his majority government in May 2011.

Since the majority government Harper has cut millions of dollars from the budgets for environmental studies, monitoring and enforcement. The Joint Review Panel began its work under the stringent rules of the former Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Act, both of which were gutted in the Harper government’s omnibus bills. Government scientists have been muzzled and, if allowed to speak, can only speak through departmental spin doctors. The Joint Review Panel requires Enbridge Northern Gateway to file hundreds of reports on the progress of surveying, environmental studies, safety studies, construction plans and activities and project operations. What is going to happen to those reports? Will they be acted on, or just filed in a filing cabinet, perhaps posted on an obscure and hard to find location on the NEB website and then forgotten?

Will the National Energy Board have the staff and the expertise to enforce the 209 conditions? Will there be any staff left at Environment Canada, Transport Canada, Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard where the conditions demand active participation by government agencies, or ongoing consultation between federal agencies and Northern Gateway? Will there actual be monitoring, participation and consultation between the project and the civil service, or will those activities amount to nothing more than meetings every six months or so, when reports are exchanged and then forgotten? Although Stephen Harper and his government say the Northern Gateway is a priority for the government, the bigger priority is a balanced budget and it is likely there will be more cuts in the coming federal budget, not enhancements to environmental protection for northwestern BC.

The opponents of the project might reluctantly agree to the 209 conditions if Harper government forces the project to go ahead. It will be up to the supporters to decide whether or not they will continue their support of Northern Gateway if the 209 conditions are nothing more than a few pages of Adobe PDF and nothing more.


Editorial: Once again the National Energy Board shows its contempt for British Columbia

Second Update December 10- NEB refuses to release JRP report in BC

The Globe and Mail reports Dec. 10, 2013

The National Energy Board says releasing its decisions in Calgary is standard practice regardless of where in Canada the project is located, and it will not make an exception for its report on the controversial $6.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.

Apparently the NEB doesn’t trust reporters in BC to act as professionals. Also, as usual the stock market is more important than the people of BC.

NEB spokesperson Sarah Kiley told the Globe the board ruled out simultaneous lock-ups in Alberta and British Columbia.

“As far as hosting multiple media lock-ups, we need to make absolutely sure that the report is not inadvertently released before the markets close,” Ms. Kiley said. “This becomes more challenging if there are multiple events due to things like the need to ship reports.”

Because the ruling will affect markets, she said the report must be kept confidential until they close on the day of release.


A couple of years ago, on a visit to the Lower Mainland, I was speaking to man who was considering making a 10 minute comment before the Northern Gateway Joint Review panel. In the end, this man, who is by no means a radical environmentalist, just someone worried about the future, decided not to testify, telling me: “The National Energy Board is nothing more than an extension of the Petroleum Club.”

Once again today, the National Energy Board showed its contempt for British Columbia and proved my source’s belief that it is nothing more than an extension of the Petroleum Club.

Vancouver radio station News 1130 made a routine inquiry to the NEB about a reporters’ “lockup” on the day that the JRP decision is released. A “lockup” allows the media to read an embargoed report a few hours in advance so that  at the moment it is officially released, it can print or broadcast an accurate account of a government report.

News 1130 was told by the NEB that there would be no lockup in British Columbia, only reporters in Calgary, the home of the NEB, will have that opportunity, because “logistics did not work out for a lock-up” in Vancouver.

(Reporters who work along the actual pipeline route in the north are even farther off the NEB radar. The Calgary lockup will leave northerners to figure out what the JRP decision actually means from reports from Alberta-based journalists. The history of the past few years has proven that most Alberta-based reporters have little interest or knowledge of the concerns of northwest British Columbia.)

Before the JRP hearings began in January, 2012, a well-known northern First Nations leader predicted all this in a background conversation. He noted that there was no representation from British Columbia on the Joint Review Panel. The JRP had two members from Alberta, chair Sheila Leggett, and member Kenneth Bateman, while the “First Nations member,” Hans Matthews, was from Ontario. The First Nations leader, who would have to appear before the JRP, privately called them “flatlanders” with no knowledge of B.C.

He was right.

Even before that conversation, the Joint Review Panel blundered in its first appearance in Kitimat, the preliminary hearing at Riverlodge on August 30, 2010, by offending the Haisla Nation with a schedule of appearances crafted in Calgary that ignored that Kitimat is on Haisla traditional territory and put then Chief Counsellor Dolores Pollard well down on the schedule. That hearing was held up for about half an hour while the JRP scrambled to undo their mistake.

While the JRP did finally learn to respect the customs of BC’s First Nations, and the panel was often hamstrung by arcane and obsolete rules of procedure, the panel too often proved far too inflexible in understanding the issues along the pipeline route and up and down the coast.

The most recent example was the JRP’s refusal to consider the recent evidence from both scientists and Fisheries and Oceans about the growing importance of humpback whales in Douglas Channel. The JRP’s excuse was that the window for evidence had closed. If the Northern Gateway actually goes ahead, Enbridge speaks about the 30-year-life of the project. Yet the JRP’s continuing inflexibility acts as if all the key issues can be decided by the December 30 deadline and after that everything will be just fine.

In the past few weeks, report after report has been released on projects that will change the lives of the people of the northwestern British Columbia. The media of the northwest, all with very limited budgets, have been ignored time and time again.

Take another example from today. In March, the federal government flew its First Nations negotiator Douglas Eyford and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver to Terrace to announce the beginning of the Eyford’s meetings with BC First Nations (while at the same time Oliver didn’t bother to visit Kitimat). This morning, the Eyford report was released at a press event in media-rich Vancouver. For the release of the report, the northwest didn’t count.

On Tuesday, the federal government also used Vancouver to release a report on tanker traffic. While Vancouver is also vulnerable to tanker problems, the feds considered their message could be carried best by the mainstream major metro media. Again, no one bothered with the northwest, where the tankers will be sailing along the coast and up and down Douglas Channel.

A few weeks ago, BC Premier Christy Clark announced her agreement with Alberta Premier Alison Redford on the compensation issue, one of her five conditions for heavy oil development in the province. Clark solved the political dispute with Alberta by handing off the compensation issue from the province to the energy industry with absolutely no guarantee that the energy companies will actually offer compensation for crossing BC. Northern reporters could listen in to an audio feed of the news conference from the BC government website, but could not ask questions.

In the 21st century, of course, these news conferences are not about presenting factual information; the news conferences are about getting out a government message track, so questions from reporters who actually know about issues are not wanted.

The Joint Review Panel (with the NEB one of the “joint” partners) is supposedly, on paper, a quasi-judicial body, independent of the government.

If the JRP wants to salvage even a bit of its crumbling credibility for its Northern Gateway decision, it will show that it respects British Columbia. The means holding two additional lockups. If Terrace was good enough for the final arguments, and a central location for the northwest, one lockup should be held in Terrace, so northerners can read reporting by northwest-based reporters. The second, of course, should be in Vancouver for the province’s major media centre.

Given the record of the past two years, don’t hold your breath, time and time again the bureaucratic priorities and the fact that the NEB is thoroughly embedded in the energy culture of Alberta, it is likely that the release of the report sometime in the coming weeks will be Alberta-centric and will prove my source right, that the NEB is nothing more than that extension of the Petroleum Club.


Update: The Globe and Mail has confirmed News1130’s report in National Energy Board sidestepping B.C. on Northern Gateway.

The board plans to hold a media lock-up in Calgary, but does not have similar plans to brief reporters in British Columbia, says an official with the independent federal agency established to regulate international and interprovincial issues around the electrical utility, gas and oil sectors.

Board spokesperson Sarah Kiley said Thursday that the board recognizes there is an interest in B.C. in the subject, and said there is no final plan yet.

The Globe was unable to get a statement from the Liberal government of BC but for the opposition,Spencer Chandra Herbert (Vancouver-West End) said, the energy board should not be hiding out in Calgary when they announce what they are going to do, regardless of whether they approve or reject the project.

“You would think they would have the ability and respect for B.C. to host it here and explain whatever decision they make here to B.C. media and intervenors,” he said.

“We’re worthy of that respect.”

Cullen calls Clark Redford pipeline deal “a bust hand”

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.

BC Alberta agree on five energy conditions: Twitter reaction