If anyone wanted a snapshot (or for younger folks a selfie) of why the Harper government grounded out at home, never even getting to first base with northwestern British Columbia on Northern Gateway and other resource projects, it can be found in about sixty pages of documents, obtained by Northwest Coast Energy News under the Access to Information Act, documents that outline the planning for former Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s first visit to Terrace in March 2013
The documents reveal the priority for Natural Resources communications staff was mainly finding an appropriate First Nations visual backdrop for Oliver’s speech announcing the appointment of Douglas Eyford as special representative to First Nations, the Harper government’s attempt to smooth relations as it dawned on the government that opposition to Northern Gateway wasn’t just going to disappear.
Despite years of media coverage from both those opposed to and even those who support the Northern Gateway project that highest priority issue was preventing oil spills whether from tankers or pipelines, the Ottawa-based communications planners in Natural Resources Canada were talking about how aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities could respond to oil spills.
For an event that was supposed to engage the First Nations of coastal British Columbia and gain their support for resource projects, all the economic examples are about Alberta First Nations who are working the extraction of bitumen in Alberta, there are no example of how BC First Nations might profit from Northern Gateway (that is if any BC First Nations actually wanted to do so)
When Natural Resources Canada started planning Joe Oliver’s announcement they created what was called a “Message Event Proposal” which even in its title shows how the government and the communications staff think. The message is more important than the event.
The planning documents from Natural Resources, starting on March 5, 2013, indicate that from the beginning the announcement was being treated as a photo op. Invitations to or participation by “stakeholders” are listed as N/A “not applicable,” which meant that meetings, even private meetings, with representatives of northwestern First Nations and other communities either weren’t considered or the communications staff weren’t informed. (If there were such plans they were not part of the access documents released and as far as Northwest Coast Energy News can find out no meetings took place since Oliver left for Ottawa immediately after the announcement)
The Natural Resources communications staff were working on multiple angles in March, as part of what the planning documents call “a suite of events in Vancouver on marine and pipeline safety.”
The first set of those events would eventually take place on March 18, 2013, in Vancouver, and included the announcement, without consulting either Rio Tinto Alcan or the District, that Kitimat’s private port run by Alcan since it was first built would be turned in a federal public port.
That location certainly wasn’t clear at first. The first documents suggested the announcement take place in Vancouver, and then a day later on March 6, the proposed venue, according to the staff, was in either Prince Rupert or Prince George.
According to the internal e-mails, sometime that week what Ottawa bureaucrats call MINO — the minister’s office– decided that the venue should be Terrace. On March 11, e-mails among Natural Resources staff show that the choice had changed to either Terrace or Prince George.
Since the “special representative” whom we now know would be Douglas Eyford, would report directly to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the political level was involved. MINO took over writing Oliver’s speech and the arrangements were copied to the Privy Council Office, the civil service branch that has overall supervision of the federal bureaucrats and works directly with the Prime Minister. So the speech that the communications branch had drafted for Oliver became “can please turn the one we had done for him into the remarks for the new guy?”
Plan B in Prince George
The choice of Terrace left the Natural Resources Ottawa staff hedging their bets, looking for a “potential plan B” in Prince George. The e-mails indicate that Ottawa asked Natural Resources west coast communications officer for a list of suitable locations in Prince George.
The communications officer replied with three locations at the University of Northern British Columbia “a moving bear totem on campus” the main administration building which the e-mail said “ has a strong First Nations focus,” adding “Environment Canada has done…events there. Strong FN visuals.” The third choice was “a new bio energy facility that looks industrial.”
Backups were The College of New Caledonia trade centre and the Prince George industrial park.
E-mails from the staff on Wednesday, March 14 and Thursday, March 15, showed while they were now aware the event would be in Terrace, and probably at Northwest Community College, there was still a lot of uncertainty. “We haven’t been able to contact them to confirm, but as soon as we do, we will let you know the exact details as well as what is required in terms of logistics.”
Remembering that Natural Resources and Transport Canada were also planning the Vancouver event on Monday, March 18, it appears that even as Oliver arrived on the morning of March 19, the minister’s staff both political and bureaucratic were still scrambling.
On March 19, the NWCC staff on site were complaining that as soon as the Ottawa delegation saw the standard arrangements for an event at the Waap Galts’ap community long house they ordered the NWCC staff to immediately rearrange the room, so that the podium was in front of one wall with what Oliver’s staff thought was a better First Nations painting. That rearranging was still going on when I arrived to cover the announcement.
Even after the furniture was rearranged, the start was delayed as Oliver and his staff disappeared into an upstairs room for a meeting before the news conference began, and Oliver announced Eyford’s appointment.
During the question and answer session with the media during the news conference, the students that had essentially been brought in as props for the photo op and to help promote Northwest Community College’s industrial training program, began to ask questions.
One student asked Oliver if Eyford’s appointment was going to replace “all talks” with First Nations about resource projects. The Natural Resources public relations staff tried to cut off one student, since the national media were waiting on a telephone conference call. To his credit, Oliver did answer the student’s question, saying Eyford’s appointment was not intended to “replace the independent, regulatory review.” He went on to explain the Northern Gateway Joint Review would continue its work and report at the end of 2013.
What was Ottawa thinking? You too, can respond to an oil spill.
If the aim was to engage the First Nations and other residents of northwestern BC, it is clear that the concerns of this region hadn’t reached out Ottawa.
It appears from the planning documents for Joe Oliver’s trip to Terrace, that a main concern of everyone in the northwest, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, opponents and supporters of the Northern Gateway pipeline, preventing oil spills also wasn’t on the government radar, rather it was preparing and responding to oil spills.
Guess who would respond?
As part of the measures to strengthen Canada’s Marine Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Regime, the Government of Canada will strengthen the engagement and involvement of Aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities in preparing for and responding to oil spills.
When it comes to a key section on benefits from the Northern Gateway and other resource projects, there is no mention of benefits to British Columbia; rather it appears all the examples of benefits for aboriginal communities come from Alberta, including $1.3 billion in contract work for oil sands companies not including construction, for the year 2010, and $5 billion since 2001. The Message Event Proposal also cites a joint venture between the Bigstone Cree and Bronco Energy, “the biggest oil sands project every undertaken on First Nations reserve lands.”
Overall the plan was to “Promote Canada’s commitment to achieving its goals under its plan for Responsible Resource Development, including increased consultations with Aboriginal peoples.”
The “media lines’ issued by Natural Resources also outlined the Harper government’s attitude to the Northern Gateway, noting that Eyford’s appointment was independent of the Northern Gateway Joint Review, and went to indicate that the JRP was “conducting a rigorous, extensive, open, science-based assessment.” It adds that “we will continue to rely on the integrity of this process,” again showing how out of touch Natural Resources was (at least in talking points) since by March 2013, there was growing consensus in the northwest that the JRP had lost its credibility.
The media lines also show that the Harper government believed that “Aboriginal consultations are fully integrated into the review process to ensure meaningful consultation occurs,” a position that most First Nations in British Columbia reject, insisting on meaningful consultations between the Crown and the First Nation.
When Eyford presented his report to the Prime Minister in December, 2013, Eyford called for stronger action to engage First Nations opposed to new oil and gas pipelines.
“It’s never too late to engage and do so in a process of good faith negotiations… “This won’t be an easy process. I hope my report is perceived as providing objective and blunt advice to all the parties engaged in this process.’’
The 53 page report contained dozens of recommendations mainly concerned with a more open and principled dialogue with First Nations.
“The development of West Coast energy infrastructure provides an opportunity to forge partnerships and build relationships. There is a strong interest and real opportunity for Canada and aboriginal Canadians to more effectively collaborate to address their respective interests.’’
Editor’s note: On the port issue, an RTA spokesperson noted that talks with the federal government are continuing. He noted that all the Kitimat port facilities are privately owned, by Rio Tinto Alcan or by LNG Canada and there are “multiple stakeholders” involved.
One small step for the Supreme Court of Canada, one giant leap for mankind.
A barely-noticed* part of the unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision on Thursday recognizing the rights and title of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation to their traditional territory may—may— change the way resource companies operate, not just in Canada but around the world.
The ruling isn’t just about consultation, reconciliation and accommodation, it’s about the future.
A close reading of the decision, written by Chief Justice Beverly McLaughlin says the Crown, in its relations with First Nations, cannot “deprive future generations of the benefit of the land.”
While the ruling applies only to First Nations, it upholds the First Nations’ concept of “stewards of the land” for the future and thus could protect the environment for all future generations, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, in Canada and perhaps around the world.
The ruling says:
Aboriginal title, however, comes with an important restriction — 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. Nor can the land be developed or misused in a way that would substantially deprive future generations of the benefit of the land. Some changes — even permanent changes – to the land may be possible. Whether a particular use is irreconcilable with the ability of succeeding generations to benefit from the land will be a matter to be determined when the issue arises.
While the Supreme Court ruling was about a case in British Columbia, where previous decisions have shown that in that province, aboriginal title was not extinguished at the time of European settlement and, what the court calls, “declaration of sovereignty,” by the colonial powers, the decision is already seen as applying to First Nations across the country where they can prove long term use of the land.
Already there are those in the business community and among the conservative pundits who are raising the alarms about First Nations blocking resource development.
Perhaps, just perhaps, some big corporations are quietly approving the Supreme Court decision because it gives responsible companies a roadmap for their operations, that roadmap will, as the years go by, reduce, not increase, uncertainty.
Some companies, including the world’s biggest corporations are now thinking about the future. It is likely those companies are already planning new procedures and practices that will comply with the Supreme Court’s requirement of consultation and consent on First Nations’ traditional territory.
In May, at an LNG event in Vancouver, I was speaking to a high ranking energy executive whose responsibilities cover half the planet.
“Everything has changed in the past five years,” he told me. “Once all we had to do is talk to presidents and prime ministers, now we listen to everybody.”
What changed, he said, was the rise of social media, Facebook and Twitter. “In one case five women in one small town shut down a project that would have been worth millions.” (He would not tell me the specifics and assured me it was true but he wasn’t prepared to give the details because it wasn’t his company that was involved).
“Not all my colleagues agree with me,” he said, “But in the end it’s good for business, if we genuinely engage with a community, we actually save on costs and get into profit sooner.” He said that smart companies in the energy sector have staff constantly monitoring social media, not to identify “enemies” but so top management can be aware of growing issues that may complicate their future operations.
This company generally, so far, has good relations with First Nations in British Columbia (although its record elsewhere in the world has been questionable at times in the past).
If truly responsible resource and other companies either willingly or are compelled to change their practices and investment decisions on First Nations’ land so that those projects consider future generations, and still make a profit, (which my source says they can) then it is likely that the companies will then adopt those practices in other parts of Canada where Rights and Title are not an issue and then around the world.
To use a marketplace phrase, it isn’t going to be “an easy sell.” For more than half a century now, the world has been plagued by the idea from Milton Friedman and other economists that a corporation has only one responsibility to its bottom line and “shareholder value.” With companies that still follow the no responsibility culture, comes the race to the bottom and the environmental degradation we have seen increasing in recent years.
As The Globe and Mail reported, the Business Council of British Columbia, an intervenor, said in its submission
Business groups say the Tsilhqot’in’s approach to title threatens the economy. “A territorial approach undermines the ability of corporations, and indeed First Nations, to ensure the global competitiveness that is required to attract capital … within natural resource sectors dependent on the land base,” a coalition of B.C. business groups, intervening in the case, told the Supreme Court in its written argument.
For years now global competitiveness has been used an excuse for deliberately ignoring or turning a blind eye to practices that “substantially deprive future generations of the benefit of the land.”
Even if no high court in any another country matches or cities the Supreme Court of Canada decision, (and they should for the rights of all indigenous people) smart companies will increasingly recognize their responsibility not to “deprive future generations of the benefit of the land.”
If those companies don’t change, as the years go on and the environmental crisis worsens, courts in other nations will likely cite the Supreme Court of Canada and force those companies to be responsible.
In the long term, in the future cited by the Chief Justice, those companies that do work toward a true “benefit of the land” for everyone will have a competitive advantage, perhaps not in the coming years, but certainly in the coming decades.
To use another phrase, respecting the rights and title of First Nations and the stewardship of the land will be a “net benefit” to Canada in the 21st century, even if the bean counters don’t believe it.
Legal recognition of the concept of stewardship by a high court might also save the planet from total disaster.
*(Barely-noticed: I can only find one media account that mentions in passing, an op ed opinion piece in the Globe and Mailby Vancouver lawyer Albert Hudec Aboriginal court ruling won’t resolve real-world resource issues)
The Haisla Nation are calling on the federal cabinet to postpone its decision on the Northern Gateway project to allow time for adequate consultations with First Nations, according to the Haisla response to the Joint Review Panel, seen by Northwest Coast Energy News.
The Joint Review Panel report and recommendations were released on Dec. 19, 2013 and the cabinet has 180 days from that point to recommend approval of the project.
The Haisla argue that Section 54 of the National Energy Board act allows the Governor-in-Council, the federal cabinet, to extend the timeline if it wants to, if recommended by the Minister of Natural Resources.
So far, the Harper government has refused to extend the deadline. The Haisla response document says Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross spoke to Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver on the telephone requesting the extension, but, according to the document, all Oliver did was point to the legislation that calls for the 180 day response to a joint review report.
The Haisla response document also has a long lists of what the Haisla say are flaws in the Joint Review Panel report.
In correspondence with the Haisla, Brett Maracle, Crown Consultation Coordinator at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for the Northern Gateway project, says:
the process set out by the Government of Canada in the Aboriginal Consultation Framework was finalized after receiving and carefully considering input from Aboriginal groups….The Government of Canada believes the process outlined in the Aboriginal Consultation Framework provides for a deep level of meaningful consultation with Aboriginal groups with Phase IV being the final step prior to a decision being made on the Project.
The Haisla dispute there has been any “deep level of meaningful consultation,” citing in the document a long list of attempts to engage the federal government with little or no response.
In their response, the Haisla Nation Council says:
Canada, has, to date, refused to engage in meaningful consultations with the Haisla Nation. Instead Canada has unilaterally imposed what it calls a “deep level meaningful consultation” process which is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons…
The document lists attempts by the Haisla to engage with ministers and government departments including requests for a meeting with then Environment Minister Peter Kent, prior to the opening of the JRP formal hearings in Kitamaat Village in January 2012. Although the Haisla requested a meeting with Kent, several times in 2011, no meeting ever occurred. It was not until April 19, 2012, four months later that Kent replied to the Haisla saying he had asked the President of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to meet with the First Nation prior to the start of the JRP hearings. However, it was apparently impossible to schedule such a meeting in December, 2011.
To which the Haisla reply:
For over six years, Canada ignored Haisla Nations requests for meetings. Once the JRP’s oral hearings process commenced, Canada further closed the door on any opportunity for a meeting until the JRP Report was release. This refusal to consult was baseless. The ongoing JRP process was not a rational or justifiable basis for Canada’s refusal to consult…
Canada has yet to meet with the Haisla Nation to discuss the proposed project, other than to tell the Haisla Nation it is only engaging through the JRP process for now. This is not consultation. It is, perhaps, at best an initial step towards a consultation process.
Ignoring the Eyford report
In March 2013, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver flew to Terrace for a photo op to announce the appointment of Douglas Eyford to consult First Nations on the Northern Gateway project. Oliver then flew back to Ottawa without meeting anyone in the region. Eyford’s report Forging Partnership Build Relationship was released in November, 2013.
The Haisla say:
Mr. Eyford’s Report recommended that Canada should consider undertaking early engagement to address Aboriginal interests that may not be dealt within a regulatory process. The Haisla Nation has been seeking such early engagement from Canada since the proposed project was first announced.
Mr. Eyford’s Report also recommended that Canada should engage and conduct consultations n addition to those in regulatory processes, as may be required, to address issues and facilitate resolutions in exceptional circumstances. The Haisla Nation also asked for this, identifying early that this proposed project was an exceptional circumstance due to the significant potential impacts on the Haisla Nation.
The Haisla Nation Council response was sent to Brett Maracle, Crown Consultation Coordinator at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for the Northern Gateway project. The Haisla also sent copies of the response to Joe Oliver, the Minister of Natural Resources, Gaetan Caron, Chair of the National Energy Board, Leon Aqlukkaq, Minister of the Environment, Bernard Valcourt Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, BC Premier Christy Clark, Steve Thomson, BC Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources and Mary Polak, BC Minister of the Environment.
The possible effects of a bitumen spill on Pacific waters were not considered in the oil response preparedness report released last week by the Harper government, the background data study reveals.
The consulting firm that did the study for Transport Canada, Genivar Inc, had no reliable data on the effect of a bitumen tanker disaster—because, so far, there has been no major ocean disaster involving diluted bitumen.
Instead, Genivar, based its findings on potential hazards and response on existing data on crude oil spills.
The Genivar study, however, does warn, that if the Enbridge Northern Gateway project does go ahead, the spill risk from diluted bitumen carrying tankers in Douglas Channel and along the north Pacific coast will jump from “low” or “medium” to “very high.” If the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline goes ahead, then the risk in Vancouver also jumps to “very high.”
The question of how bitumen might behave in the cold and choppy waters of the North Pacific was hotly debated during the Northern Gateway Joint Review hearings earlier this year. Enbridge Northern Gateway based its position on laboratory studies, studies that were challenged by environmental and First Nations intervenors, pointing both to the unknowns of the ocean environment and the continuing problems Enbridge has in cleaning up the spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.
The Genivar report, Risk Assessment for Marine Spills in Canadian Waters Phase 1: Oil Spills South of 60th Parallel, was completed in November, then passed on to the “expert panel” that released their own report: A Review of Canada’s Ship-source Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Regime — Setting the Course for the Future. That second report was based not only on the data provided by Genivar but on the expertise of three panel members, their visits to some locations and input from government, industry, First Nations and municipalities.
The actual data report was not posted; it had to be requested through the Transport Canada website, which is how Northwest Coast Energy News obtained the background study.
High risk for Kitimat
The expert panel found “a very high risk” of oil spills in two areas of the Pacific Coast, in the north around the ports of Kitimat and Prince Rupert and in the heavy ocean traffic area of southern British Columbia, especially Port Metro Vancouver and into Washington State.
The expert panel made 45 recommendations that covered a wide range of issues including eliminating the present $161-million liability limit for each spill and replacing it with unlimited liability for polluters, annual spill training involving the Canadian Coast Guard, Environment Canada, provincial and local authorities and the private sector, increased and improved annual spill training exercises, basing risk assessment on local geography and conditions and faster emergency responses to spills.
The expert panel calls for greatly increased research on the ocean environment at a time that Harper government has been gutting environmental research across Canada, while spinning that its policies are “science based.”
The science and technology around both the movement of oil and spill response has advanced significantly over the past several decades. We feel that while some aspects of the Regime have kept pace with these developments, in some areas, Canada has fallen behind world-leading countries like Norway and France. This can be attributed to a general lack of investment in research and development as well as the lack of coordination between industry and government over research priorities.
The Government of Canada should work closely with industry to establish a national research and development program for oil spill preparedness and response. The program should be co-funded by industry and the Government, and the research priorities should be set through a collaborative process that involves academia, where possible. Like the Regime itself, we view this program as a partnership between industry and government.
We envision that this program would also seek to leverage the work being done internationally on oil spill preparedness and response. The program should seek to establish partnerships with other world-leading countries in order to stay current on international advances and new technologies.
The expert panel, however, does not say how the federal government is expected to pay for meeting BC Premier Christy Clark’s condition for a “world class” spill prevention and response system at a time that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is determined to balance the budget and the Harper government is continuing to cut back government services.
On bitumen, the Genivar data study says:
Modified bitumen products represent the majority of the “crude carried as cargo” in
Pacific sub-sector 5. They are not modelled as a separate category in this spill behaviour analysis but are represented as “persistent crude”.
Changes in spill behaviour depend to some extent on the environmental conditions at the time of the spill, as described in greater detail below. However, over the range of wind and sea conditions typically experienced in the Canadian marine environment, changes in oil properties are not overly sensitive to variations in climatic values, so a single set of wind and sea conditions will be used in the analysis.
The idea that “changes in oil properties” not being sensitive to variations in climate was also frequently challenged before the Joint Review Panel.
On the increase in traffic volume if the Northern Gateway project goes ahead, the Genivar report says.
Enbridge Inc. has proposed to construct a marine terminal at Kitimat, B.C. and a dual pipeline from the terminal to oil sands production in northern Alberta. The terminal would handle up to 193,000 barrels/day of imported diluents (i.e., low-gravity condensate) that would be piped to Alberta and used to dilute bitumen to enhance its flow properties. The diluted bitumen would then be piped to Kitimat at rates up to 525,000 barrels/day that would be shipped by tanker to export to markets in Asia and California.
At full capacity, the import of diluent and export of diluted bitumen would total up to 35 Mt/year. This amount is comparable to the currently-shipped volume in the Pacific sector related to volumes being exported from Vancouver and related to volumes being exported from the Alaskan to Washington State trade.
It goes on to say that the current tanker traffic on the north Pacific coast “has negligible risk in the near shore and intermediate zones, but significant potential spill frequency in the deep-sea zone related to the Alaskan trade.” Similarly, according to Genivar the environmental risk in the region “currently ranges from ‘medium’ to “very low” from near shore to deep-sea zones, respectively…. mainly driven by a combination of physical and biological features.”
The increase in traffic from Northern Gateway would likely increase the environmental risks. The the near shore risk from would jump from “very low” to “very high.” For the largest spill category, deep-sea risk would likely increase from “low” to “medium.”
No data on recreational or traditional First Nations fishery
To study the effect on an oil spill on the fishery, Genivar used data from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as the provinces to gauge “the port value of commercial fishing and the value of the fish, shellfish and aquaculture” in each zone it studied and then compared it to the the national averages for commercial fishery. Those figures included any commercial fishery by First Nations.
But Genivar noted, there is no reliable data on either the recreational fishery or the First Nations traditional, food, social and ceremonial fishery, saying:
It is important to highlight that this indicator does not consider recreational or traditional fishing. The importance of this industry is notable and an oil spill could damage the recreational fishing stock as well. However, the absence of comparable data and the fact that this study is restricted to federal and international data, and some provincial data from Quebec and Ontario for commercial fisheries, limits the ability to include recreational fishing… Nevertheless, as an absolute index, it will provide an overall vulnerability in the event of an oil spill.
The ongoing impact of cutbacks at Fisheries and Oceans has had a continuing impact on the northwest, especially in the controversial halibut recreational fishery, where DFO has admitted that it is basically guessing the size of each year’s recreational halibut catch.
Genivar also notes that lack of reliable data on the effect on a oil spill on tourism. The consultants go so far as to say one of the indicators they will use to measure the effect of any oil spill on tourism would come from “data extracted from the 2011 National Household Survey at the census division level and the accommodation and food services data will be used.”
The “National Household Survey” is also known as the long form census and it is the National Household Survey that the Harper government made voluntary rather mandatory, decreasing the reliability of the data. Global News recently analyzed those who had contributed to the survey and found that it poor people, the very rich and people in low population areas were least likely to fill out the voluntary census—which means the data for northwest BC is likely highly unreliable from the 2011 survey even though “The census divisions in coastal regions will be selected for each of the sub-sectors. This method will express the economic vulnerability of each sub-sector to a potential collapse in tourism following a spill.”
Despite the importance of cruise ship traffic on the west coast, Genivar notes, “In Canada, data for passenger vessels were unavailable.”
It also notes that “this study does not specifically take into account national parks and other landmarks, since their influence on tourism is indirectly included in the tourism employment
intensity index” so that Genivar could create what it calls the Human-Use Resource Index (HRI), even though that index appears to be based on incomplete data.
Cullen has issued an open letter to Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and Fisheries Minister Gail Shea that says:
21 November 2013
This is an open letter regarding the 21 October 2013 report, entitled Recovery Strategy for the North Pacific Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Canada, from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on a recovery strategy for humpback whales in Canada. As you are likely aware, it is part of the DFO’s mandate to help this species recover from a century of whaling that nearly drove the species into extinction. The report identified four areas of “critical habitat” for humpbacks, one of which is at the mouth of the Douglas Channel, the gateway from Kitimat to the Pacific Ocean. The report also identified vessel traffic and toxic spills as two of the greatest threats to the recovery of this species.
Thus, it was with shock and dismay I recently learned of the decision by the federal joint review panel for the Northern Gateway project to ignore the report as evidence in its ruling, as though vessel traffic and the potential for toxic spills were not two of the primary environmental concerns surrounding this proposal.
It is particularly stunning given that the report, submitted to the panel last week, was authored by a federal government agency, and yet the federal government is now saying it refuses to take into account its own information when ruling on this project. It begs the question of why we even have a federal government agency devoted to ensuring the health and viability of our fisheries and our waters when the research and recommendations they produce are ignored by the very same federal government.
The purpose of the joint review panel hearings is to weigh the available scientific evidence in determining whether this project will negatively impact habitat and endangered species. The purpose of the work of the DFO is to ensure that information is considered when the government is weighing projects which will impact habitat and endangered species. The decision by the JRP to ignore the DFO report is not only wasteful indifference; it’s a double-play failure and abrogation of the duty of both of your departments to protect endangered species and our natural environment.
I wish I could feign some measure of surprise on this matter. But like many Canadians, I have come to see this kind of negligence as not only a passing tendency of the Conservative government but as a very intentional aspect of the government’s resource and environmental policy.
When the government of Canada ignores its own science on endangered species protection, it’s no wonder why Canada has lost all credibility on environmental stewardship among both its own citizens and the international community.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver made a brief visit to the Kitimat area on Tuesday July 23, 2013, meeting Haisla Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross. In the original planning for the visit, Oliver was not scheduled to meet with District of Kitimat Council or other members of the community, snubbing Kitimat in only his second visit to the region since he was appointed minister after the 2011 federal election.
A half hour meeting with available members of the District of Kitimat Council was squeezed in only after intense lobbying from Mayor Joanne Monaghan.
The Natural Resources department public relations staff also chose to ignore (or exclude) local media, with the exception of the Northern Sentinel. Northwest Coast Energy News, Kitimat Daily, CFTK and CRFN were not informed and did not accompany Oliver on his hour long tour of Douglas Channel.
After the meeting, Natural Resources Canada issued a news release saying that he had concluded “a successful visit to Kitimat,” hosted by the Haisla:
Minister Oliver discussed opportunities to increase First Nations’ participation in resource development and received a tour of the Douglas Channel hosted by Chief Councilor Ellis Ross.
“I am privileged to have been invited by the Haisla Nation to gain their perspective, listen to their concerns and discuss our plans for Responsible Resource Development and our initiatives to strengthen environmental protection,” said Minister Oliver. “Resource development presents a tremendous opportunity for First Nations groups like the Haisla. Our government has also been clear that development will only proceed if it is safe for the environment…”
“Responsible resource development has the potential to create significant new opportunities for Aboriginal peoples across Canada,” said Minister Oliver. “The Government will make every effort to ensure that…
Aboriginal peoples in Canada have the opportunity to share the benefits of energy resource development in the years ahead, while ensuring that projects are developed in a manner that has the highest regard for safety and the environment.”
“The safe and responsible diversification of our energy markets is a priority for the Government of Canada,” said Minister Oliver. “Our energy industry must remain competitive to ensure communities across Canada continue to benefit from our natural resource wealth.”
The Northern Sentinel reported that Oliver mainly concentrated on liquified natural gas development and tried to avoid questions about the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. Oliver repeated the federal government’s position on safety outlining the programs announced last march to expand pipeline expansion and increase penalties for safety violations.
On LNG, Oliver told the Sentinel, “These are decisions made by the private sector, it’s not us telling us don’t do this project…they’re going to figure that out themselves,” he said.
On the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines Project, Oliver told the Sentinel, “We have a very strong interest in seeing the markets diversify, and that includes moving oil to Asia,” he said. “However, we’re not going to stomp over the regulatory process. It’s subject to regulatory review, the joint review panel will be coming to its conclusion this December. We’re waiting for what they have to say…I know people have a view of what our opinion is but we don’t offer an opinion before we hear from the regulator.”
He added that once the review is done, “At that point we’ll know more because they will have a done a comprehensive, scientific audit.”
Councillor Mary Murphy told Northwest Coast Energy News that she was told by a Haisla friend early Tuesday morning that Oliver was coming to visit Kitamaat Village and immediately informed Mayor Joanne Monaghan.
Monaghan said, “I called his office in Ottawa and said I wanted a meeting as well seeing he was here. After an all day back and forth until three o’clock he said he would come at four for half an hour.”
Councillor Corinne Scott said. “As none of us were aware of the Minister being in Kitimat, we scrambled to have Mary, Rob, the Mayor and I available to meet with him, along with [DOK Chief Admnistrative Officer] Ron [Poole] and [Economic Development Officer] Rose Klukas.”
Councillors Mario Feldhoff, Phil Germuth and Edward Empinado were unable to attend because they working at the time and could not get away with such short notice. Sources tell Northwest Coast Energy News that even pro-development members of the local business community were not informed about Oliver’s visit.
Murphy described the meeting “as very beneficial to us.” A couple of other sources, familiar with accounts of the meeting, however, both told Northwest Coast Energy News there was barely enough time after formalities to ask questions of the minister before he dashed out the door for the airport.
When the story of the Stephen Harper government is told, historians will say that the week of March 17 to 23, 2013, is remembered, not for the release of a lacklustre federal budget, but for day after day of political blunders that undermined Harper’s goal of making a Canada what the Conservatives call a resource superpower.
It was a week where spin overcame substance and spun out of control.
The Conservative government’s aim was, apparently, to increase support for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project with a spin campaign aimed at moving the middle ground in British Columbia from anti-project to pro-project and at the same time launching a divide and conquer strategy aimed at BC and Alberta First Nations.
It all backfired. If on Monday, March 17, 2013, the troubled and controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway project was on the sick list, by Friday, March 23, the Enbridge pipeline and tanker scheme was added to the Do Not Resuscitate list, all thanks to political arrogance, blindfolded spin and bureaucratic incompetence. The standard boogeymen for conservative media in Canada (who always add the same sentence to their stories on the Northern Gateway) “First Nations and environmentalists who oppose the project” had nothing to do with it.
Stephen Harper has tight control of his party and the government, and in this case the billion bucks stop at the Prime Minister’s Office. He has only himself to blame.
All of this happened on the northern coast of British Columbia, far out of range of the radar of the national media and the Ottawa pundit class (most of whom, it must be admitted, were locked up in an old railway station in the nation’s capital, trying interpret Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s spreadsheets).
The story begins early on that Monday morning, at my home base in Kitimat, BC, the proposed terminal for Northern Gateway, when a news release pops into my e-mail box, advising that Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver would be in nearby Terrace early on Tuesday morning for an announcement and photo op.
I started making calls, trying to find out if anyone in Kitimat knew about Oliver’s visit to Terrace and if the minister planned to come to Kitimat.
Visitors to Kitimat
I made those calls because in the past two years, Kitimat has seen a parade of visitors checking out the town and the port’s industrial and transportation potential. The visitors range from members of the BC provincial Liberal cabinet to the staff of the Chinese consulate in Vancouver to top executives of some of the world’s major transnational corporations (and not just in the energy sector). Most of these visits, which usually include meetings with the District of Kitimat Council and District senior staff as well as separate meetings with the Council of the Haisla Nation, are usually considered confidential. There are no photo ops or news conferences. If the news of a visit is made public, (not all are), those visits are usually noted, after the fact, by Mayor Joanne Monaghan at the next public council meeting.
It was quickly clear from my calls that no one in an official capacity in Kitimat knew that, by the next morning, Oliver would be Terrace, 60 kilometres up Highway 37. No meetings in Kitimat, on or off the record, were scheduled with the Minister of Natural Resources who has been talking about Kitimat ever since he was appointed to the Harper cabinet.
I was skeptical about that afternoon’s announcement/photo op in Vancouver by Transport Minister Denis Lebel and Oliver about the “world class” tanker monitoring.
After all, there had been Canadian Coast Guard cutbacks on the northwest coast even before Stephen Harper got his majority government. The inadequacy of oil spill response on the British Columbia coast had been condemned both by former Auditor General Sheila Fraser and in the United States Senate. The government stubbornly closed and dismantled the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. It’s proposing that ocean traffic control for the Port of Vancouver be done remotely from Victoria, with fixed cameras dotted around the harbour. Leaving controllers in Vancouver would, of course, be the best solution, but they must be sacrificed (along with any ship that get’s into trouble in the future, on the altar of a balanced budget).
The part of the announcement that said there would be increased air surveillance is nothing more than a joke (or spin intended just for the Conservative base in Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Toronto suburbs,that is not anyone familiar with BC coastal waters). Currently the Transport Canada surveillance aircraft are used on the coasts to look for vessels that are illegally dumping bilge or oil off shore. As CBC’s Paul Hunter reported in 2010, Transport Canada aircraft were used after the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster to map where the oil was going after it erupted from the Deepwater Horizon.
Given the stormy weather on the west coast (when Coast Guard radio frequently warns of “hurricane force winds”) it is highly unlikely that the surveillance aircraft would even be flying in the conditions that could cause a major tanker disaster. Aerial surveillance, even in good weather, will never prevent a tanker disaster caused by human error.
I got my first chance to look at the Transport Canada website in late afternoon and that’s when a seemingly innocuous section made me sit up and say “what is going on?” (I actually said something much stronger).
Public port designations: More ports will be designated for traffic control measures, starting with Kitimat.
(Transport Canada actually spelled the name wrong—it has since been fixed—as you can see in this screen grab).
Kitimat has been one of the few private ports in Canada since the Alcan smelter was built and the town founded 60 years ago (the 60th anniversary of the incorporation of the District of Kitimat is March 31, 2013).
The reasons for the designation of Kitimat as a private port go back to a complicated deal between the province of British Columbia and Alcan in the late 1940s as the two were negotiating about electrical power, the aluminum smelter, the building of the town and the harbour.
For 60 years, Alcan, later Rio Tinto Alcan, built, paid for and operated the port as a private sector venture. For a time, additional docks were also operated by Eurocan and Methanex. After Eurocan closed its Kitimat operation that dock was purchased by the parent company Rio Tinto. The Methanex dock was purchased by Royal Dutch Shell last year for its proposed LNG operation.
The announcement that Kitimat was to become a public port was also something that the national media would not recognize as significant unless they are familiar with the history of the port. That history is known only to current and former residents of Kitimat and managers at Rio Tinto Alcan.
The port announcement came so much out of left field; so to speak, that I had doubts it was accurate. In other words, I couldn’t believe it. I went to Monday evening’s meeting of District of Kitimat Council and at the break between the open and in-camera sessions, I asked council members if they had heard about Kitimat being redesignated a public port. The members of the district council were as surprised as I had been.
Back from the council meeting, I checked the Transport Canada news release and backgrounders. I also checked the online version of Bill C-57, the enabling act for the changes announced earlier that day. There was no mention of Kitimat in Bill C-57.
Tuesday morning I drove to Terrace for Joe Oliver’s 9 am photo op and the announcement at Northwest Community College (NWCC) that the government had appointed Douglas Eyford as a special envoy to First Nations for energy projects, an attempt on the surface to try and get First Nations onside for the pipeline projects, an appointment seen by some First Nations leaders as an attempt by the Harper government to divide and conquer.
As an on site reporter, I got to ask Oliver two questions before the news conference went to the national media on the phones.
In answer to my first question, Oliver confirmed that the federal government had decided to make Kitimat a public port, saying in his first sentence: “What the purpose is to make sure that the absolute highest standards of marine safety apply in the port of Kitimat.” He then returned to message track saying, “we have as I announced yesterday and I had spoken about before at the port of Vancouver we have an extremely robust marine safety regime in place but we want to make sure that as resource development continues and as technology improves, we are at the world class level. As I also mentioned there has never been off the coast of British Columbia a major tanker spill and we want to keep that perfect record.”
For my second question, I asked Oliver if he planned to visit Kitimat.
He replied. “Not in this particular visit, I have to get back [to Ottawa] There’s a budget coming and I have to be in the House for that but I certainly expect to be going up there.”
The question may not have registered with the national media on the conference call. For the local reporters and leaders in the room at Waap Galts’ap, the long house at Terrace’s Northwest Community College, everyone knew that Kitimat had been snubbed.
Back in Kitimat, I sent an e-mail to Colleen Nyce, the local spokesperson for Rio Tinto Alcan noting that Joe Oliver had confirmed that the federal government intended to make the RTA-run port a public port. I asked if RTA had been consulted and if the company had any comment.
Nyce replied that she was not aware of the announcement and promised to “look into this on our end.” I am now told by sources that it is believed that my inquiry to Nyce was the first time Rio Tinto Alcan, one of Canada’s biggest resource companies, had heard that the federal government was taking over its port.
The next day, Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan told local TV news on CFTK the Kitimat community was never consulted about the decision and she added that she still hadn’t been able to get anyone with the federal government to tell her more about the plan.
Who pays for the navigation aids?
Meanwhile, new questions were being raised in Kitimat about two other parts of the Monday announcement.
New and modified aids to navigation: The CCG will ensure that a system of aids to navigation comprised of buoys, lights and other devices to warn of obstructions and to mark the location of preferred shipping routes is installed and maintained. Modern navigation system: The CCG will develop options for enhancing Canada’s current navigation system (e.g. aids to navigation, hydrographic charts, etc) by fall 2013 for government consideration.
Since its first public meeting in Kitimat, in documents filed with the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel, in public statements and advertising, Enbridge has been saying for at least the past four years that the company would pay for all the needed upgrades to aids to navigation on Douglas Channel, Wright Sound and other areas for its tanker traffic. It is estimated that those navigation upgrades would cost millions of dollars.
Now days before a federal budget that Jim Flaherty had already telegraphed as emphasizing restraint, it appeared that the Harper government, in its desperation to get approval for energy exports, was going to take over funding for the navigation upgrades from the private sector and hand the bill to the Canadian taxpayer.
RTA not consulted
On Thursday morning, I received an e-mail from Colleen Nyce with a Rio Tinto Alcan statement, noting:
This announcement was not discussed with Rio Tinto Alcan in advance. We are endeavoring to have meetings with the federal government to gain clarity on this announcement as it specifically relates to our operations in Kitimat.
On Friday morning, Mayor Monaghan told Andrew Kurjata on CBC’s Daybreak North that she had had at that time no response to phone calls and e-mails asking for clarification of the announcement. Monaghan also told CBC that Kitimat’s development officer Rose Klukas had tried to “get an audience with minister and had been unable to.” (One reason may be that Oliver’s staff was busy. They ordered NWCC staff to rearrange the usual layout of the chairs at Waap Galts’ap, the long house, to get a better background for the TV cameras for Oliver’s statement).
Monaghan told Kurjata, “I feel like it’s a slap in the face because we’re always being told that we’re the instrument for the whole world right now because Kitimat is supposed to be the capital of the economy right now. So I thought we’d have a little more clout by now and they’d at least tell us they were going to do this. There was absolutely no consultation whatsoever.”
By Friday afternoon, five days after the announcement, Transport Canada officials finally returned the calls from Mayor Monaghan and Rose Klukas promising to consult Kitimat officials in the future.
Monaghan said that Transport Canada told her that it would take at least one year because the change from a private port to a public port requires a change in legislation.
Transport Canada is now promising “extensive public and stakeholder consultation will occur before the legislation is changed,” the mayor was told.
On this Mayor Monaghan commented, “It seems to me that now they want to do consultation….sort of like closing the barn door after all of the cows got out!”
There are a tiny handful of people in Kitimat openly in favour of the Northern Gateway project. A significant minority are on the fence and some perhaps leaning toward acceptance of the project. There is strong opposition and many with a wait and see attitude. (Those in favour will usually only speak on background, and then when you talk to them most of those “in favour” have lists of conditions. If BC Premier Christy Clark has five conditions, many of these people have a dozen or more).
Oliver was speaking in Terrace, 60 kilometres from Kitimat. It is about a 40 to 45 minute drive to Kitimat over a beautiful stretch of highway, with views of lakes, rivers and mountains.
Scenic Highway 37 is the route to the main location not only for the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline but three liquefied natural gas projects, not to mention David Black’s proposed refinery half way between Terrace and Kitimat.
Why wouldn’t Kitimat be a must stop on the schedule for the Minister of Natural Resources? In Terrace, Oliver declared that Kitimat was to become a public port, run by the federal government. Although technically that would be the responsibility of Denis Lebel, the Minister of Transport, one has to wonder why the Minister of Natural Resources would not want to see the port that is supposedly vital to Canada’s economy? You have to ask why he didn’t want to meet the representatives of the Haisla Nation, the staff and council of the District of Kitimat and local business leaders?
Oliver has been going across Canada, the United States and to foreign countries promoting pipelines and tanker traffic, pipelines that would terminate at Kitimat and tankers that would send either bitumen or liquefied natural gas to customers in Asia.
Yet the Minister of Natural Resources is too important, too busy to take a few hours out of his schedule, while he is in the region, to actually visit the town he has been talking about for years.
He told me that he had to be in Ottawa for the budget. Really? The budget is always the finance minister’s show and tell (with a little help from whomever the Prime Minister is at the time). On budget day, Oliver would have been nothing more than a background extra whenever the television cameras “dipped in” on the House of Commons, between stories from reporters and experts who had been in the budget lockup.
According to the time code on my video camera, Oliver’s news conference wrapped at 9:50 a.m., which certainly gave the minister and his staff plenty of time to drive to Kitimat, meet with the representatives of the District, the Haisla Nation and the Chamber of Commerce and still get to Vancouver for a late flight back to Ontario.
On Tuesday, Joe Oliver’s snub pulled the political rug out from under the Northern Gateway supporters and fence sitters in Kitimat. Oliver’s snub showed those few people in Kitimat that if they do go out on a limb to support the Northern Gateway project, the Conservatives would saw off that limb so it can be used as a good background prop for a photo op.
Prince Rupert, Terrace and Smithers councils have all voted against the Northern Gateway project. Kitimat Council, despite some clear divisions, has maintained a position of absolute neutrality. Kitimat Council will continue to be officially neutral until after the Joint Review report, but this week you could hear the air slowly leaking out of the neutrality balloon.
Oliver may still believe, as he has frequently said, that the only people who oppose Northern Gateway are dangerous radicals paid by foreign foundations.
What he did on Tuesday was to make the opposition to Northern Gateway in Kitimat into an even more solid majority across the political spectrum.
Blunder No 2. Rio Tinto Alcan
It doesn’t do much for the credibility of a minister of natural resources to thoroughly piss off, for no good reason, the world’s second largest mining and smelting conglomerate, Rio Tinto. But that’s just what Joe Oliver did this week.
I am not one to usually have much sympathy with rich, giant, transnational corporations.
But look at this way, over the past 60 years Alcan and now Rio Tinto Alcan have invested millions upon millions of dollars in building and maintaining the Kitimat smelter and the port of Kitimat. RTA is now completing the $3.3 billion Kitimat Modernization Project. Then without notice, or consultation, the Conservative government—the Conservative government—announces it is going to take over RTA’s port operations. What’s more, if what Transport Canada told Mayor Joanne Monaghan is correct, the federal government is going to start charging RTA fees to use the port it has built and operated for 60 years.
Too often RTA’s London headquarters acts like it is still the nineteenth century and the senior executives are like British colonialists dictating to the far reaches of the Empire on what do to do.
No matter what you think of RTA, it boggles the mind, whether you are right wing, left wing or mushy middle, that the federal government simply issues a press release–a press release– with not even a phone call, not even a visit (even to corporate headquarters) saying “Hey RTA, we’re taking over.”
There’s one thing that you can be sure of, Rio Tinto Alcan’s lobbyists are going to be earning their fees in the coming weeks.
(One more point, even if there wasn’t a single pipeline project planned for Kitimat you would think that the Minister of Natural Resources would want to see what is currently the largest and most expensive construction project in Canada, a project that comes under his area of political responsibility).
It took five days, from the time of the minister’s news conference on Monday until Friday afternoon, for officials in Transport Canada to return phone calls from Mayor Joanne Monaghan and Rose Klukas, to explain what was going to happen to the Port of Kitimat.
This week was yet another example of the decay of Canadian democracy under Stephen Harper. Executives from Tokyo to Houston to the City of London quickly return phone calls from the District of Kitimat, after all Kitimat is where the economic action is supposed to be. At the same time, the federal government doesn’t return those calls, it shows that something really is rotten in our state.
Blunder No 5. LNG
There are three liquefied natural gas projects slated for Kitimat harbour, the Chevron-Apache partnership in KM LNG, now under construction at Bish Cove; the Royal Dutch Shell project based on the old Methanex site and the barge based BC LNG partnership that will work out of North Cove.
None of these projects have had the final go ahead from the respective company board of directors. So has the federal government thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into these projects? Will making Kitimat a public port to promote Enbridge, help or hinder the LNG projects? Did the Ministry of Natural Resources even consider the LNG projects when they made the decision along with Transport Canada to take over the port?
And then there’s…..
Kitimat has a marina shortage, especially since RTA closed the Moon Bay Marina. The only one left, the MK Bay Marina, which is straining from overcapacity, is owned by the Kitimat-Stikine Regional District. That means there will be another level of government in any talks and decisions on the future of the Kitimat harbour. There are also the controversial raw log exports from nearby Minette Bay.
Although Transport Canada has promised “extensive public and stakeholder consultation,” one has to wonder how much input will be allowed for the residents of Kitimat and region, especially the guiding and tourism industries as well as recreational boaters. After all, the Harper government is determined to make Kitimat an export port for Alberta and the experience of the past couple of years has shown that people of northwest count for little in that process. Just look at the Northern Gateway Joint Review, which more and more people here say has no credibility.
Big blunder or more of the same?
I’ve listed five big blunders that are the result of the decision by the Harper government to turn Kitimat into a public port.
Are they really blunders or just more of the same policies we’ve seen from Stephen Harper since he became a majority prime minister?
This is a government that has muzzled scientific research and the exchange of scientific ideas. The minister who was in the northwest last week, who has demonized respect for the environment, is now squeezing the words “science” and “environment” anywhere into any message track or speech anyway he can.
That’s just the point. Joe Oliver’s fly-in, fly-out trip to Terrace was not supposed to have any substance. Changing the chairs at the Waap Galts’ap long house showed that it was more important to the Harper government to have some northwest coast wall art behind Joe Oliver for his photo op than it was to engage meaningfully with the northwest, including major corporations, First Nations and local civic and business leaders.
Joe Oliver’s visit to Terrace was an example of government by reality television. The decision to change the private port of Kitimat into a public port was another example of Harper’s government by decree without consulting a single stakeholder. The problem is, of course, that for decades to come, it will be everyone in northwest British Columbia who will be paying for those 30 second sound bites I recorded on Tuesday.
Epilogue: Alcan’s legacy for the socialist Prime Minister, Stephen Harper
If an NDP or Liberal government had done what Harper and Oliver did on Monday, every conservative MP, every conservative pundit, every conservative media outlet in Canada would be hoarse from screaming about the danger from the socialists to the Canadian economy.
That brings us to the legacy left by R. E. Powell who was president of Alcan in the 1940s and 50s as the company was building the Kitimat project.
As Global Mission, the company’s official history, relates, in 1951, Alcan signed an agreement with the British Columbia provincial government, that “called upon the company to risk a huge investment, without any government subsidy or financial backing and without any assured market for its product.”
According to the book, Powell sought to anticipate any future problems, given the tenor of the times, the possible or even likely nationalization of the smelter and the hydro-electric project.
So Powell insisted that the contract signed between Alcan and the province include preliminary clauses acknowledging that Alcan was paying for Kitimat without a single cent from the government:
Whereas the government is unwilling to provide and risk the very large amounts of money required to develop those water powers to produce power for which no market now exists or can be foreseen except through the construction of the facilities for the production of aluminum in the vicinity and….
Whereas the construction of the aluminum plant at or near the site of the said waterpower would accomplish without risk or to the GOVERNMENT the development power, the establishment of a permanent industry and the new of population and….
(Government in all caps in the original)
…the parties hereto agree as follows (the agreement, water licence and land permit)
Powell is quoted in the book as saying:
I asked the political leaders of BC if the government would develop the power and sell the energy to Alcan and they refused. We had to do it ourselves. Someday, perhaps, some politician will try to nationalize that power and grab it for the state. I will be dead and gone but some of you or your successors at Alcan may be here, and I hope the clauses in the agreement, approved by the solemn vote of the BC legislature, will give those future socialists good reason to pause and reflect.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the federal government had very little to do with the Kitimat project. With the declaration that Kitimat will be a public port, the federal government comes to the party 60 years late. But one has to wonder if the late Alcan president, R.E. Powell, ever considered that the “future socialists” he hoped would “pause and reflect” would be members of Canada’s Conservative party, Stephen Harper, Joe Oliver and Denis Lebel?
Five days after the announcement that the private port of Kitimat will become a public port under federal jurisdiction, Transport Canada is now promising to consult District of Kitimat officials as the Douglas Channel waterfront transitions to a public port.
Both Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan and Economic Development Officer Rose Klukas, after numerous calls and attempts over the past few days, finally spoke to different Transport Canada officials Friday.
According to the mayor, both were told that Kitimat will not become a public port for at least one year because the change from a private port to a public port requires a change in legislation. (Something Transport Canada may only just be realizing since Bill C-57, introduced Monday to cover all the changes for what the Harper government calls a “world-class” tanker policy makes no mention of Kitimat).
Transport Canada is now promising “extensive public and stakeholder consultation will occur before the legislation is changed,” the mayor was told.
On this Mayor Monaghan commented, “It seems to me that now they want to do consultation….sort of like closing the barn door after all of the cows got out!”
Transport Canada says that beause there are no federal lands in the Kitimat harbour, the amending legislation will only cover navigable waters in Kitimat.
Transport Canada will appoint a harbour master and the cost of that office will be “paid by offsetting fees charged to ships coming into the harbour.”
But it looks like the fees charged to incoming ships by the federal government could be causing a headache for Rio Tinto Alcan. Claudine Gagnon, an RTA spokesperson based in Shawnigan, Quebec, told Radio Canada, the French language network of the CBC, that the company is trying to assess the impact of the announcement on its operations in Kitimat. Among other things, the change in the port’s status could result in higher transportation costs for the company.
At this point, Transport Canada officials told the District is unlikely that there will be Port Authority in Kitimat like the one in Prince Rupert.
Asked about the port announcement during a post budget news conference on Thursday, Skeena Bulkley Valley MP and NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen said, “I’m as surprised as everybody in Kitimat is. I’ve been phoning around to local leaders to find out if anyone had been consulted or spoken to about this. And it’s a shock for everyone including people from Alcan.
“This doesn’t make any sense at all. The conversation around a public port is a good one and one we need to have and we’re open to the idea, but what a terrible start to the process, when a minister flies in from Ottawa, announces something, doesn’t tell any of the local government about it and then expects everyone to pop the champagne corks. You want to get this thing right. You want to make sure the public interests are met.
“There’s a real arrogant feeling, when a minister flies in from Toronto and says this is how it’s going to be and there’s no need to talk to anyone in the region about it.
Cullen was also asked about the provisions in the safe tankers announcement on Monday by Transport Minister Denis Lebel and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver that the federal government appears to be taking over responsibility for navigation aids on the British Columbia coast, something that until now, Enbridge Northern Gateway has said they will pay for.
“Suddenly taking costs away from a multi-billion dollar oil company, seems to be what this Conservative Canadian government wants to do. It’s so wrong, I can’t describe it any better than that,”Cullen said, “that we’re supposed to be picking up the tab for Enbridge’s project, while all the while running huge deficits and not getting the training support and cuts to health care programs that continue.”
This announcement was not discussed with Rio Tinto Alcan in advance.
We are endeavoring to have meetings with the federal government to gain clarity on this announcement as it specifically relates to our operations in Kitimat.
Monaghan told CFTK she still hasn’t been able to get anyone with the federal government to tell her more about the plan.
Since today, Thursday, is budget day, it is likely that federal officials would be unavailable for further comment until next week.
Who pays for upgrades?
Another point that is unclear from Monday’s announcement is whether or not the federal government fully intends to take over the navigation aids and enhancements on Douglas Channel and the BC Coast. If so, that means that the Canadian taxpayer would become, at a time of budget cuts, responsible for millions of dollars that Enbridge Northern Gateway has consistently said that the company will pay for.
Joe Oliver, the Minister of Natural Resources, has confirmed that the federal government intends to make Kitimat a public port.
Oliver was in Terrace, March 19, 2013, to announce the appointment of Vancouver lawyer Douglas Eyford as “Special Federal Representative on West Coast Energy Infrastructure.” Eyford’s job will be to “engage aboriginal communities in British Columbia and Alberta that are most likely to have an interest in West Coast energy infrastructure.”
Oliver replied: “The news release was accurate. What the purpose is to make sure that the absolute highest standards of marine safety apply in the port of Kitimat. And we have as I announced yesterday and I had spoken about before at the port of Vancouver we have an extremely robust marine safety regime in place but we want to make sure that as resource development continues and as technology improves, we are at the world class level. As I also mentioned there has never been off the coast of British Columbia a major tanker spill and we want to keep that perfect record.”
No visit to Kitimat
Oliver was also asked if he intended to visit Kitimat during his visit to the northwest (Kitimat is a 40 minute drive from Terrace). Oliver replied, “Not in this particular visit, I have to get back [to Ottawa] There’s a budget coming and I have to be in the House for that but I certainly expect to be going up there.”
The federal budget will be released on Thursday.
At Monday’s meeting of District of Kitimat council, some members quietly expressed frustration, to say the least, that Oliver, the man responsible for pushing the Northern Gateway pipeline through British Columbia to Kitimat had not bothered to include the town in his visit to the northwest.
Members of the District of Kitimat council, which on paper at least, is responsible for the port of Kitimat (even though it is really run by Rio Tinto Alcan) also expressed frustration that no one in Ottawa gave the council advance notice of the government decision to take the port public.
Asked for comment on Oliver’s statement, Rio Tinto Alcan officials in Kitimat also seemed unaware of the government announcement and promised a statement in the near future.
Oliver’s announcement in Vancouver Monday about a “world class” marine safety system and today’s announcement about the appointment of Douglas Eyford, appear to be a campaign by the Harper government to establish a stake in the middle ground in the pipeline debates, in hopes of undermining the opponents of the projects.
Skeena Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen, in a news release, expressed reservations about Eyford’s appointment.
“The primary concern with the appointment, Cullen said, is that Mr. Eyford will report to the Prime Minister, not to Parliament or the public. “So, if Mr. Eyford’s report is in any way unfavourable to the Conservative pipeline agenda, what assurances do we have that his report will make its way into the public eye?
“It is also unclear how the appointment would affect Eyford’s work as the chief government negotiator for the federal government’s comprehensive land claims process, and what kind of effect his absence will have on that process.”