District of Kitimat Council voted Monday five to two to create a “working group” of “concerned citizens and community groups” to consider the future of riverbank camping along the Kitimat river. The working group will consider issues such as access to the river, pollution and how to control extended camping along the river.
That vote came after council split five to two again to defeat a motion by Councillor Mary Murphy to stop riverside camping altogether.
A proposal from District staff to put access gates at three locations, the Giant Spruce Road, the Sewage Plant and the Pump House was tabled for the time being. However, the councilors and staff marked the pump house gate as a priority for study by the engineering staff due to concerns that “the risk of fuel, oil and other contaminants (i.e. Illegal dumping ) occurring. This is the source water area for the city’s water supply, reducing access reduces contamination risks.” Staff said that unlike other portions of the riverbank, the District does “have authority under drinking water protection act to protect this area.”
Council also voted to close Hirsh Creek park immediately because the roads at the camping area were washed out by the flood last week.
Councillors noted that many people still go to Hirsch Creek after the gates are closed at the end of the season to walk dogs or hike. This results in a parking jam at the front of the gate and on busy times, cars park on Highway 37 which could endanger pedestrians.
District staff will study moving the park gate down further to a point that the road narrows near the first campsite to allow safe access for dog walkers and hikers.
The main problem facing the District of Kitimat is that most popular sites along the riverbank for campers are on provincially owned Crown land. In 2014, the former BC Liberal government passed a regulation that says people can camp on Crown land for up to 14 days. As some councillors pointed out this restriction regularly abused by some campers who stay on the riverbank for weeks, some apparently camping from Victoria Day to Labour Day.
During the debate it was pointed out that often those camp on the riverbank like to “claim” a camping/fishing spot and try to prevent others from using it. “I know of a couple of fistfights,” Murphy told Council.
As Councillor Rob Goffinet pointed out, whether or not the District could place gates on municipal land to stop access to provincial Crown land would require a legal opinion.
Murphy told Council that she had received emails, blaming Kitimat for “almost drowning” some of the campers. She said that her views may be unpopular among some residents, but added, “I don’t care if I’m unpopular, I want to keep people safe.”
Councillor Larry Walker, who pointed out that he likes of fish along the river, who supported Murphy’s motion told his colleagues to get their act together and “do something about the riverbank.” He later proposed that if council does nothing, perhaps Kitimat should hold a referendum on the future use of the river bank.
The majority on Council were more cautious, while acknowledging problems. They pointed out that the many of the campers both on the east bank and on the west bank at Radley Park patronize local businesses during the summer months.
While there was wide discussion on social media before the council meeting, only three people showed up to give their opinions, mostly concerned about permitting access to the river for people with mobility issues or small children.
There were many comments and questions about how other areas police provincial Crown Land, with some saying that some places restrict access to only a couple of days. However, no one either on Council or staff had any idea of what exactly other locations are doing, if anything.
There were no details of how the working group would operate and who would participate. During the debate it was pointed out that as well as the province, participants would have to include Rio Tinto, LNG Canada and DFO. As well, Council did not set a deadline for the working group to report back.
As Murphy pointed out back in 2014, Fisheries and Oceans refused to attend a Council meeting or make a public presentations on its views of the river bank situation. (DFO snubs District of Kitimat Council for a second time ) while offering to meet with staff “they will continue to meet at an operational level to provide information on DFO’s regulatory role.” That, of course came during the Stephen Harper administration which severely restricted any public participation by the civil service on environmental issues. Whether the Justin Trudeau government has changed that policy remains to be seen.
Was the rain storm an anomoly?
During the debate, Mayor Phil Germuth, pointed to the sudden onslaught of rain during Sunday and Monday September 10 and 11 and called it “an anomaly” which means that Kitimat should not overreact to the storm.
Climate science has repeatedly shown that global warming is increasing the odds of extreme precipitation and storm surge flooding. Refusing to acknowledge this impairs our ability to prepare for future extreme weather and endangers American lives and property.
Scientists can now even evaluate how much climate change has increased the odds of individual extreme events, including rainfall and flooding.
As the 2015 American Meteorological Society report quoted by The Times indicates, those unpredictable and extreme events don’t just include floods but the widespread forest fires in Alaska in 2014 and we all know how bad the fire season has been in British Columbia this year.
As Noah Diffenbaugh of Standford University pointed out in The Times
Being smart about managing exposure and vulnerability is critical to reducing risks. But doing so requires acknowledging that global warming is happening, that humans are the primary cause and that the odds of catastrophes like Hurricane Harvey are increasing.
Tuesday night’s District of Kitimat Council meeting, crowded with striking members of Unifor 2300 deteriorated to what became a shouting match between the bargaining committee and Mayor Phil Germuth.
If the hostility and anger continue, it is quite likely the strike will last for months. The fallout will last much longer. It is often said that the bitterness following a strike is directly proportional to its length and the repercussions can last for a decade or more.
That is not good for the future of Kitimat.
There’s talk of mediation, and that’s a good idea, but mediation only works when both sides are willing to sit down and actually listen and talk through the issues. So mediation doesn’t appear to be practical, at least for a few weeks, until both sides are feeling a lot more pain, which is unfortunate.
Even if mediation isn’t possible at the moment, it’s time for both sides to stop and bring in some outside experts, experts with cool heads and no personal axes to grind, to guide each side in the negotiations.
Do they know what they’re doing? Unifor 2300, apparently not as stunt, but to get their point across, attempted a clause by clause negotiation of certain points at public meeting of council, in front of a partisan crowd. Negotiating in public seldom works, especially if the other side isn’t really listening.
Do they know what they’re doing? It appears that mayor and council didn’t bother to actually take a copy of the union offer and read it, at least so they would know what the District bargaining committee was doing. “Did anybody on council actually look at the whole document? No. We didn’t ask for it, we asked, give us an update,” Mayor Phil Germuth said. (Having been through the 2005 CBC lockout, I know that most union members do look carefully at the proposed changes in a contract, especially if there is trouble on the horizon. Management usually does the same. In this case, council is the responsible body and should have taken the time to actually read the proposals.)
There is too much confusion and contradictory statements from mayor, staff and council over the timeline of when they saw the offer from Unifor, even it was just a summary.
The trouble with a small town like Kitimat is that this has already become too personal, and both sides are losing perspective. That’s why cooler, outside heads are needed.
UPDATE: Deescalation not Escalation
A few moments after this analysis was initially posted, Mayor Phil Germuth issued a open letter, threatening to withdraw the District’s offer:
If the Final Offer is not accepted by the Union by Sunday, April 12, 2015 at 4 p.m. the offer will be withdrawn. The District will then retain the services of an external negotiator who will have the mandate to conclude a Collective Agreement. That negotiator can make decisions on the best way to achieve this goal, including mediation or arbitration.
When this piece was written, our idea of bringing in outside experts was to deescalate the volatile situation, not escalating and making it worse. If the District of Kitimat brings in a hard ball “outside negotiator” that will be a long term disaster for the region, even if a settlement is reached (or forced), because as we say above the long term bitterness could last for a decade or more. When we said an outside negotiator respected by both management and labour, we meant just that, an expert in industrial relations that can deescalate the anger. One has to wonder just who is advising mayor and council on this issue?
In this analysis calling for Unifor 2300 to also bring in outside experts, we were hoping for deescalation, in a small town where the dispute has become very personal. If the District brings in that outside negotiator, Unifor 2300 will have to call headquarters and bring in the “big guns” and call for national support (which has happened in other labour disputes).
Unless there is immediate deescalation, the situation can only get worse.
Get on the phone
That means Unifor 2300 business agent Martin McIlwrath, Unifor Local 2301 President Rick Belmont who does have some experience, and the rest of the bargaining team should get on the phone to Unifor headquarters today and ask that an experienced negotiations facilitator and an experienced researcher get on a plane for Kitimat immediately and stay here for the duration. (McIlwrath has told reporters he has consulted with other labour leaders by phone. That’s not good enough. This situation needs experts here, on the ground).
For Unifor 2300 members, part of your dues goes to union headquarters, so that’s what you’re paying for. A “One Big Union,” which is what Unifor is, has bench strength for situations like this.
For Mayor Phil Germuth and CAO Ron Poole, that means immediately hiring an experienced industrial relations consultant, one who is respected by both management and labour, who can also tell the obviously dysfunctional negotiating team what works and what doesn’t.
A union researcher and the staff of the labour relations consultant could soon find out what (from their perspective) what is economically feasible given the uncertainty of Kitimat’s future.
The Immediate Problem: No picket line protocol
It was very clear at the council meeting on March 2, when there was a loud picket line at the meeting and now with the secondary picketing of the museum and the public library, that Unifor 2300 has failed to establish a proper picket line protocol.
Old time union activists may not like it, but the idea of “never crossing a picket line” is becoming obsolete in the 21st century, especially in situations where there is no longer one single plant gate. These days what usually happens where striking or locked out workers may be picketing office buildings where there are other businesses or where members of other bargaining units may still be working is to establish a picket line protocol.
The accepted procedure these days is to establish a waiting time before entering a location. Often this is even agreed between management and the union (where they are still on speaking terms) before a strike or lockout begins.
In 1999, the CBC management locked out the then technicians’ union, NABET/CEP. The Canadian Media Guild had settled and was bound by the no strike/lockout clause in the collective agreement. That meant everyone else; CMG, non-union staff and management crossed the NABET/CEP picket lines. The protocol was that everyone waited ten minutes before entering the buildings. At shift change the lines could be quite long and sometimes the wait was as long as a half hour (in Toronto, in January, in the snow).
By the time of the 2005 lockout, NABET at CBC had merged with the Canadian Media Guild and everyone was out. Protocols were put in place, management and non-union staff lined up for ten minutes before entering the building.
Similar protocols are put in place elsewhere. There have even been cases where truckers entering a multi-company facility wait for ten or fifteen minutes before being waved through. In some of the recent university disputes, students and non-striking staff have had to wait in line before entering campuses.
The other problem is the secondary picketing of the museum and library. Neither are parties to the core dispute, although they do receive funding from the District. Museum staff are non-union and library staff are members of CUPE. So the employees at both locations are not part of the dispute.
The other problem is that with the library there is collateral damage for the users, especially for students who may want to complete assignments as the school year comes to an end. Students have already been hurt by the teachers’ disputes and this is another burden on their education. Did the Unifor 2300 leadership think about that?
In addition, secondary pickets are usually information or leafleting pickets. If Unifor wants to continue to picket the library and museum, it should be clear that line is for information only. If Unifor continues to insist on picketing the two institutions, (which is unfair to those involved) there should be a wait time protocol. Unifor should call CUPE and agree on one. The museum non-union staff should follow whatever CUPE and Unifor agree to.
If, in the future, Unifor wants to picket council meetings, which is a democratic and elected body, even if it is party to the dispute, and should be free and open to the public, then a proper waiting time protocol should be either negotiated or, if the union moves unilaterally, they must make it clear what the protocol is.
The labour relations earthquake
As we found out this week, with the study of the Haida Gwaii earthquake, a tremor happens when locked in strain is suddenly released. So the Kitimat labour relations earthquake was caused when grievances going back 30 years landed on the table this year.
Why were the grievances, the strain, allowed to build up for three decades? There is obviously blame on both sides. At Tuesday night’s meeting, there were shouts of bring back Joanne Monaghan. Really? Monaghan was a member of council or mayor for most of those 30 years when the problem was building.
Why put all the blame on the current council, which only took office in December? Two members of Council, Larry Walker and Claire Rattée are brand new. Phil Germuth was on council for one term and only became mayor a few months ago. Other council members have been there a lot longer.
Both CAO Ron Poole and Deputy Warren Waycheshen are fairly new as well, but they should have been aware of the problems. As far back as early fall, the District’s senior staff told me they were expecting fairly smooth negotiations. My Unifor sources now tell me, at the same time, the union was conducting extensive research on other collective agreements to look for language to improve the poor work environment at the District of Kitimat.
The responsibility here lies with the line managers of the District. What did they know and when did they know it? Did they tell Poole, Waycheshen, mayor and council that there were problems escalating? If the line managers knew and didn’t tell, they should be fired. If they didn’t know, then their management of their departments is incompetent, or if they were ignoring the problems, as my union sources allege, then they are part of the problem. If everyone knew and did nothing about it, then that raises questions about management incompetence across the board. Again heads should roll. (And staff managers shouldn’t make snide comments in a public meeting about speakers before council, especially if those managers sit beside the media table. It shows they’re unprofessional and bolsters the union’s case).
There is also blame on the union. Labour relations were not an issue during the municipal election. If the problems have been building for 30 years, why wasn’t it an issue?
Members of Unifor 2300 can’t shout “Why did I vote for you?” If what the union calls “a poisoned work environment” has existed for years, why did it never come up during the election or the debates? In any situation where a labour dispute is building, the rumblings inside the shop and outside are obvious months in advance. If the line managers and senior managers were either ignoring the problems or were part of the problem, then it was the responsibility of Unifor 2300 to make it an issue in the election.
Salaries and management
Given the current situation in Kitimat, the current high salaries for senior staff are somewhat justified. Kitimat is not just a small town, it is a small town working with at least four major industrial projects, the Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization Project, Shell-led LNG Canada, Chevron-led Kitimat LNG and the Altagas floating LNG project. This involves negotiations and meetings with both government and corporate officials with even much higher pay grades. There is also the ongoing issue of trying to mend the long history of poor relations with the Haisla Nation.
The workload for senior staff has been increased exponentially in the past four or five years. I am told by sources that burnout is becoming a factor and that staff, both management and union, involved in industrial development, infrastructure and related issues are taking lots of time in lieu, since most don’t get overtime. Some members of the professional staff are members of the Unifor 2300 bargaining unit. That means workload and burnout for those professional members should also be an issue, one that hasn’t, so far, been raised in union media releases.
Here again we see a lack of leadership, both with current management and with the current and previous councils. Any competent manager would have understood that the high salaries for senior staff, however justifiable those salaries may be, would bring questions from the union rank and file and would be a factor in current contract negotiations. (If none of the LNG projects actually proceed, then the salaries for managers and professionals will have to be reassessed).
At Monday’s meeting, Phil Germuth said the District had decided to hire a health and safety manager? Why now? Why not years ago? This is a town that lives and breathes on health and safety briefings. Every time, as a member of the media, I visit the RTA Smelter, the Bish Cove site or any other construction or industrial site, I get a health and safety briefing. If you go fishing, whether it’s on a charter or with a friend, there is safety briefing before leaving the dock. This seems to prove the union’s contention that health and safety was a low priority with the District.
If the District is going to hire a health and safety manager, why not also hire a Human Resources Manager? The current HR staff at the District are “overworked payroll clerks” (to quote a union source). A qualified HR manager would take that burden off the administrative officers, be aware of proper industrial relations procedures and negotiations practices and be the manager who would implement and enforce anti-harassment procedures.
The one group caught in the middle of all this are the summer students. Summer students are hired by many organizations to fill in for vacationing staff and to work on special projects. Summer students should not, as the union is claiming, be used to ensure that casual staff do not get enough hours to qualify for seniority. Reducing the number of summer students, however, is going to have a long term negative effect on the community. Jobs for young people are far too scarce, student loans are becoming such a burden that Millennials who have graduated and those who actually have jobs, can’t afford to buy houses. A lack of summer jobs in Kitimat would be an incentive for young people to leave town or if they are away at college or university, to stay away. Unifor is also not doing the future of the union movement any good by alienating a new generation of potential union members. The summer student program should be restored as much as possible.
Senior and youth health
In a larger community, youth counselling and medically necessary therapeutic pool or gym exercise for seniors and those with disabilities could move to other venues. In Kitimat that is not an option since there are no other locations, so an interim agreement to resume those activities should be high on the agenda—if both sides actually resume talking.
The future of Kitimat’s economy
Today Royal Dutch Shell, the main company behind the LNG Canada project, took over BG Group which had proposed an LNG project at Prince Rupert. The price of oil is bobbing around the $50 a barrel mark. That means David Black’s refinery project, which depended on high oil prices is “vital signs absent.” The long term prospects for the LNG market are good given the increased demand in Asia. The short term prospects are poor, given that the energy sector’s income from oil has dropped and that means those companies have less money to spend on new projects.
The council is being prudent in refusing to lock itself in to long term expenditures based on projects that may never materialize. At the same time, the cost of living in Kitimat, up until recently a mini-Fort McMurray, has skyrocketed. That means the union request for a salary increase should not have been unexpected. It also means that a large number of Kitimat residents, who are paying more for goods and services, many of whom do not have the higher paying project jobs, cannot really afford an increase in property taxes. A compromise on this is essential.
That’s why outside experts, with cool heads, research staff and no personal stake in 30 odd years of hostility, should be brought in to bring both sides to an agreement as soon as possible.
Disclosure: I am the current chair of the Board of Directors of the Kitimat Museum and Archives. My term expires at the end of May. I am a retiree member of the Canadian Media Guild/Communications Workers of America from my time at CBC. When I freelance, depending on whether or not the specific job is covered in a collective agreement (some are, some are not) I work under CMG jurisdiction for CBC and the wire services and under Unifor jurisdiction for Global TV and certain newspapers. In 2005, CBC management locked out employees from August 15 to October 10. During the period of the lockout, my assigned “picket” duty was as one of the CMG’s official photographers.
CORRECTION: This post has been corrected. The events took place on Tuesday, not Monday.
Enbridge Northern Gateway officials are loath (to put it mildly) to speak to the media but sometimes they let things slip. Earlier this summer, at a social event, I heard an Enbridge official (probably inadvertently) reveal that when the company’s engineers came before District of Kitimat Council earlier this year they were surprised and somewhat unprepared to fully answer the detailed technical questions from Councillor Phil Germuth on pipeline leak detection.
The results of the municipal election in Kitimat, and elsewhere across BC show one clear message; voters do want industrial development in their communities, but not at any price. Communities are no longer prepared to be drive by casualties for giant corporations on their road to shareholder value.
The federal Conservatives and the BC provincial Liberals have, up until now, successfully used the “all or nothing thinking” argument. That argument is: You either accept everything a project proponent wants, whether in the mining or energy sectors, or you are against all development. Psychologists will tell you that “all or nothing thinking” only leads to personal defeat and depression. In politics, especially in an age of attack ads and polarization, the all or nothing thinking strategy often works. Saturday’s results, however, show that at least at the municipal level, the all or nothing argument is a political loser. Where “all politics is local” the majority of people are aware of the details of the issues and reject black and white thinking.
The Enbridge official went on to say that for their company observers, Germuth’s questions were a “what the…..” moment. As in “what the …..” is this small town councillor doing challenging our expertise?
But then Enbridge (and the other pipeline companies) have always tended to under estimate the intelligence of people who live along the route of proposed projects whether in British Columbia or elsewhere in North America, preferring to either ignore or demonize opponents and to lump skeptics into the opponent camp. The Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel also lost credibility when it accepted most of Northern Gateway’s arguments at face value while saying “what the ……” do these amateurs living along the pipeline route know?
“I am pro-development,” Germuth proclaimed to reporters in Kitimat on Saturday night after his landslide victory in his campaign for mayor.
On the issue of leak detection, over a period of two years, Germuth did his homework, checked his facts and looked for the best technology on leak detection for pipelines. That’s a crucial issue here where pipelines cross hundreds of kilometres of wilderness and there just aren’t the people around to notice something is amiss (as the people of Marshall, Michigan wondered at the time of the Line 6B breach back in 2010). Enbridge should have been prepared; Germuth first raised public questions about leak detection at a public forum in August 2012. In February 2014, after another eighteen months of research, he was ready to cross-examine, as much as possible under council rules of procedure. Enbridge fumbled the answers.
So that’s the kind of politician that will be mayor of Kitimat for the next four years, technically astute, pro-development but skeptical of corporate promises and determined to protect the environment.
Across the province, despite obstacles to opposition set up by the federal and provincial governments, proponents are now in for a tougher time (something that some companies will actually welcome since it raises the standards for development).
We see similar results in key votes in British Columbia. In Vancouver, Gregor Roberston, despite some problems with policies in some neighborhoods, won re-election on his green and anti-tankers platform. In Burnaby, Derek Corrigan handily won re-election and has already repeated his determination to stop the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline through his town. In Prince Rupert, Lee Brain defeated incumbent Jack Musselman. Brain, who has on the ground experience working at an oil refinery in India, supports LNG development but has also been vocal in his opposition to Northern Gateway.
The new mayor in Terrace Carol Leclerc is an unknown factor, a former candidate for the BC Liberal party, who campaigned mainly on local issues. In the Terrace debate she refused to be pinned down on whether or not she supported Northern Gateway, saying, “Do I see Enbridge going ahead? Not a hope,” but later adding, “I’d go with a pipeline before I’d go with a rail car.”
Kitimat’s mayor and council elections also confirm that Northern Gateway plebiscite vote last April. Kitimat wants industrial development but not at the price of the community and the environment. The unofficial pro-development slate lost. A last minute attempt to smear Germuth on social media was quickly shot down by people from all sides of the Kitimat debate. Smears don’t usually work in small towns where everyone knows everyone.
Larry Walker, an environmentalist with a track record in municipal politics as an alderman in Spruce Grove, Alberta, won a seat. Together with Rob Goffinet and Germuth, that is three solid votes for the environment. The other new councillor is Claire Rattee who will be one to watch. Will the rookie be the swing vote as Corinne Scott was?
Mario Feldhoff who came to third to Goffinet in the overall vote (Edwin Empinado was second) is a solid councillor with a strong reputation for doing his homework and attention to detail and the unofficial leader of the side more inclined to support development. Feldhoff got votes from all sides in the community.
During the debates, Feldhoff repeated his position that he supports David Black’s Kitimat Clean refinery. But as an accountant, Feldhoff will have to realize that Black’s plan, which many commentators say was economically doubtful with oil at $110 a barrel, is impractical with oil at $78 a barrel for Brent Crude and expected to fall farther. Any idea of a refinery bringing jobs to Kitimat will have to be put on hold for now.
LNG projects are also dependent on the volatility and uncertainty in the marketplace. The companies involved keep postponing the all important Final Investment Decisions.
There are also Kitimat specific issues to deal with. What happens to the airshed, now and in the future? Access to the ocean remains a big issue. RTA’s gift of land on Minette Bay is a step in the right direction, but while estuary land is great for camping, canoeing and nature lovers, it is not a beach. There is still the need for a well-managed marina and boat launch that will be open and available to everyone in the valley.
Germuth will have to unite a sometimes contentious council to ensure Kitimat’s future prosperity without giving up the skepticism necessary when corporations sit on a table facing council on a Monday night, trying to sell their latest projects. That all means that Germuth has his job cut out for him over the next four years.
The best analogy is that of the sports star or coach who stays one season too many. Monaghan had set her sights on 40 years in local politics. But in the 2014 mayor’s race she ran up against a strong sentiment that it was time for a change. She probably allowed that career goal to override any political instincts she may have built up over those years where a small town politician has to keep track of the pulse of events.
Monaghan has an impressive track record: municipal councillor since 1980, mayor since 2009. That means Monaghan was mayor during some of the toughest times that Kitimat has faced after the Eurocan pull out.
She served two terms as the head of the Union of BC Municipalities (the first woman) the third woman to be president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. She was Chair of the Regional District Kitimat Stikine for eight years and Vice Chair for nine. She has served on the British Columbia Heritage Trust, the Northwest Community College Board, the Provincial Tourism Council, and the Provincial Transportation Committee. Monaghan is also a member of the Northern Development Initiative, and is chair of the University of Northern B.C. Advisory Committee.
The Canadian International Development Agency sent her to Ecuador on a “Municipal Government Technology Transfer between a community in Ecuador and Kitimat. She also facilitated workshops in “Women in Politics” in South Africa and Ghana.
Monaghan served on many local committees, both community bodies mandated by council as well as volunteer groups.
Her 35 years in local politics mean that she knows everyone in town. Her 35 years in municipal politics allowed her to build up valuable contacts in other municipalities, provincial and federal politics as well as the media.
Joanne Monaghan was a model mayor for a small town, for 35 years she was always available to members of the Kitimat community, always ready to respond to a phone call or an e-mail from a Kitimat resident, working hard on issues from restoring old sidewalks to bringing new industry to the valley. She was always available to show up at a local event, even if it was just for a few minutes.
So want went wrong with her campaign?
Monaghan was successful in bringing Tim Horton’s to Kitimat, an asset to any community. She worked hard to bring other business small and large to Kitimat.
If nothing much ever happened in Kitimat, if it was a small one industry town expanding into tourism, Monaghan would probably have been re-elected on Saturday.
If Kitimat was a town facing one major issue, Monaghan might still be mayor.
What made Joanne Monaghan a great small town mayor was also her weakness, trying to do too much and thus while trying to handle a growing number of cascading important issues, becoming overwhelmed by them.
Kitimat is facing Northern Gateway, three liquified natural gas projects, Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization, the airshed problems from all those projects, the housing crisis, bettering relations with the Haisla, just to name a few, as well as sorting out normal municipal priorities like maintaining sidewalks.
As early as a year ago, a feeling began to grow in Kitimat that Monaghan wasn’t skeptical enough about some of the companies coming to town bearing gifts. Monaghan tended to avoid the tough questions on Northern Gateway, punting issues (to continue the sports analogy) until the Joint Review Panel reported. Monaghan was not alone among council in burying its head in the sand over the Joint Review Panel but as the leader of a group that is supposed to operate with collegial consensus, Monaghan blocked any real involvement by the District in the JRP.
While Monaghan had helped bring Kitimat from gloom after Eurocan to current fragile boom with the KMP and LNG, there was a feeling that hungry for good news, she was too often willing to accept the assurances from the big corporations dealing with council.
At council, other members began to outshine Monaghan. On different sides of most issues, Phil Germuth and Mario Feldhoff, despite both working full time, always came prepared, files full of documents, facts and figures. Rob Goffinet was always ready to ask a skeptical question. Rookie Edwin Empinado wore his idealism on his sleeve, although he sometimes struggled expressing his focus on issues. Monaghan, on the other hand, often seemed unprepared and inflexible on major issues.
Throughout the summer, there was speculation and conversations around Kitimat, about whether Joanne Monaghan would stand for another term as mayor. In a metropolitan city, polling would have confirmed that there was a growing feeling that it was time for a change. If Monaghan noted the warning signs, and they were noticeable in a small town, she chose to ignore them.
When Monaghan said in her campaign literature that she would “stand up to outside influences and special interest groups” who did she mean by “special interest groups?” If she meant Douglas Channel Watch the most prominent “special interest group” in town or the no vote in the plebiscite in general, she narrowed her options, since Trish Parsons was the “pro-development” candidate.
If there was a moment where Monaghan really lost the election, it was her performance in the all candidates debate at Mt. Elizabeth Theatre. Phil Germuth shone in the debate and Trish Parsons was a close second. They were clearly prepared and rehearsed, ready with their statements and with their answers to the questions, winging the questions that were totally out of left field. The generational difference between Monaghan and her rivals was clear on stage. It appeared she hadn’t properly prepared, her answers rambled and she was frequently cut off by the moderator for going over the time limit. A solid debate performance might have brought some of Monaghan’s former supporters back into her camp but that never happened.
Although Parsons performed well in debate, the feeling in the community was that, despite her work with the Chamber of Commerce and community groups, she should have “paid her dues” by at least one term on council before trying for the mayor’s chair. So Parsons was unable to build support beyond her pro-development base.
With Monaghan’s support slipping away and Parsons stalled, the community vote went strongly to Phil to Germuth.
So what is Joanne Monaghan’s legacy? That legacy is that she is the model small town mayor who answered everyone’s phone calls and e-mails, who listened to everyone’s points of view, even those she clearly disagreed with, while also being the model small town mayor who worked hard to tackle district wide issues.
As far as the national media is concerned, Toronto’s notorious Rob Ford created his Ford Nation supporters through a personal touch, by always returning phone calls, making sure Toronto responded to even the most minor complaints. But even before Ford’s personal problems became worldwide media fodder, it was clear that Ford was too often neglecting handling the big picture, the Toronto wide issues, for a constituent’s crack in a sidewalk.
Monaghan was working on that personal touch when Ford was still in high school. Monaghan was smarter than Ford (if Monaghan was a A, Ford was an F), for 35 years she balanced the personal touch with active concern and dogged work for the entire District.
Between 2011 and 2014, Kitimat jumped from the minor leagues to the Premier League, and there was a clear demand for fresh blood to strengthen the political team. The voters decided that the veteran team coach should retire. But Coach Monaghan still does have a shelf full of trophies from those 35 years. If this really was the sporting world, her number should be retired as well and lifted to the rafters.
Phil Germuth won a decisive victory Saturday November, 15, 2014 to become the new mayor Kitimat for the next four years. Incumbent mayor Joanne Monaghan came a distant third with Chamber of Commerce director Trish Parsons in second place.
Germuth outpaced his rivals with 1828 votes, Parsons received 530 and Monaghan 447.
Speaking to reporters at the District offices after the results were tabulated, Germuth said, “Relationship building has to be our number one thing. We really need to build a relationship with the Haisla on all the issues here for industry, in recreation and all the other things.”
Germuth said, “We have to deal with affordable housing, we only just got the land from RTA, so we’re going to start trying to work on that and… do everything we can to support industry who wants to come here.”
“I would definitely want to give a thanks to Joanne Monaghan for her 30 plus years of dedicated service, so many good things have come to this community because of her time on council and her time as mayor. Joanne really deserves a big thank you from the community of Kitimat,” Germuth said.
Reached at her home late Saturday, Joanne Monaghan said, “I’m disappointed that I can’t finish some of the things I started doing. It’s going to be very different for me because I’ve given half my life working for the people of Kitimat, it’s going to be different. so I’m going to have to do something else but what will it be I have no idea, I guess when God takes one thing away He gives you another, so we will have to see what it is.
At first Monaghan said she had no specific comment on Germuth’s win but then she added, “He had the support of the union behind him and usually when you have the union behind you, you usually come out on top.”
Four incumbents are returning to Council, Rob Goffinet, Mario Feldhoff, Edward Empinado and Mary Murphy, Two newcomers took the seats vacated when Germuth stood for mayor and Corinne Scott stepped down. Larry Walker who came to Kitimat to retire and 22 year old art enthusiast Claire Rattee owner of the DivineInk Tattoos & Piercing studio.
Unofficial results were Rob Goffinet: 1997; Edwin Empinado: 1966; Mario Feldhoff: 1918; Mary Murphy: 1577; Claire Rattee: 1381 and Larry Walker: 1129
District of Kitimat Council voted four to one Monday night to officially oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline, terminal and tanker project.
After a lengthy debate, Mayor Joanne Monaghan, Councillors Phil Germuth, Mario Feldhoff and Rob Goffinet voted in favour of the motion. Councillor Edwin Empinado voted against the motion. Councillors Mary Murphy and Corrine Scott were absent due to illness.
Part of the debate was a search for unanimity and that meant simplifying the original motion from Phil Germuth, eliminating references to the Haisla Nation and “neighboring communities,” largely at the insistence of Mayor Monaghan.
Germuth’s original motion read:
That Mayor and Council support the results of the April 12th plebiscite, the Haisla and our neighboring communities by adopting a position of being opposed to the Enbridge Northern Gateway project.
What passed is:
That Mayor and Council support the results of the April 12th plebiscite by adopting a position of being opposed to the Enbridge Northern Gateway project.
Council was in a search for unanimity, so Germuth eventually agreed to a friendly amendment that eliminated the references to neighboring communities. Mayor Monaghan, in the debate, said that Germuth’s full motion was against the spirit of the plebiscite, which she argued was just for Kitimat.
In opening the debate, Germuth specifically told council that it was time for Kitimat to join and support both the Haisla Nation and neighboring communities Terrace, Prince Rupert and Smithers which had earlier voted to oppose the Northern Gateway project.
Germuth noted that Kitimat is an industrial town and does support industrial projects but for him and the people who voted against the project, Enbridge Northern Gateway is the wrong project.
Mario Feldhoff, who earlier in the year had said he supported Northern Gateway, told council that with the plebiscite result, it was time for council to support the will of the majority of Kitimat residents. Feldhoff went on to say that he had reservations about rejecting Gateway. He added that he hoped that newspaper magnate David Black’s plan for a refinery at Onion Flats outside Kitimat would bring thousands of jobs to the region.
Rob Goffinet pointed out residents of Kitimat, if anyone, were experts on the Northern Gateway, after five years of presentations before council from Enbridge Northern Gateway, from Douglas Channel Watch and others. He said that Kitimatians also had the opportunity to read the full report from the Joint Review Panel. Overall, Goffinet said he was in “favour of certain industrial development,” but Northern Gateway failed the test. He called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to respect the decision by the people of Kitimat.
Edwin Empinado asked council to consider five questions, mainly about potential changes in the future for scientific and technical advances. Empinado also worried that saying no to Northern Gateway was beyond the powers of a municipality. He said he would vote against the motion because he preferred council to remain neutral.
Monaghan said she was having difficulty with Germuth’s motion because she felt that it went further than what Kitimat had voted for. She also said she supports the David Black refinery, believing that it would bring much need jobs to the region.
At the point it looked as the motion would pass three to two and council struggled to find a compromise. Feldhoff suggested an amendment dropping the references to the Haisla and neighbors. Goffinet pointed out that if the simplified motion passed, Kitimat would be joining the Haisla, Terrace, Prince Rupert and Smithers anyway. Germuth then agreed to make the amendment “friendly.”
Empinado maintained his position against the motion, saying that the motion would not allow the council to make changes in the future. Empinado stuck by his position that there must be scientific rigour applied to the Northern Gateway issue and his belief that the motion did not allow for future changes.
Feldhoff then said there was nothing in the motion that precluded council for re-examining the issue in the future.
Monaghan then called the motion and it passed with Empinado’s dissenting vote.
Both Feldhoff and Monaghan said that they had been approached by people who did not vote but who were in favour of Northern Gateway. Feldhoff said he hoped that would be a lesson for those who do not turn out at the polls.
Monaghan had opened the debate by asking that it be tabled until Councillors Scott and Murphy could be present. That motion was defeated 4 to 1.
Fisheries and Oceans has once again snubbed District of Kitimat Council, by refusing to appear in public before council to answer questions about key issues.
At the Monday, March 10 council meeting, the snub was on the issue of who is responsible for the Kitimat River, facing “increased usage of the riverbank during future construction periods” as well as concerns raised by council earlier over waste left by campers.
In the fall, DFO also refused to appear before council when the department was asked to do so on the issue of Clio Bay remediation.
A report to Council from the District’s Deputy Administrative Officer, Warren Waycheshen, noted that district administration “was recently advised that Fisheries and Oceans are unable to participate in Council meetings, however, they will continue to meet at an operational level to provide information on DFO’s regulatory role.
Waycheshen’s report noted” “District Staff will continue to correspond with Fisheries and Oceans on riverbank camping, and when another operational meeting can be coordinated, Council will be advised of the date and time.”
In other words, DFO officials will continue to meet with district staff and council, in private, but are not accountable to the Kitimat public for their actions, except through what district staff may report to council.
The rest of the report consisted of quotes form the amended Fisheries Act and what appears to be a printout of a DFO Power Point presentation on how it sees its current role.
So now that the federal government appears to have downloaded responsibility to the District, the riverbank ball is now in the hands of Kitimat Council, whether or not the Council actually has jurisdiction.
Councillor Phil Germuth presented a motion asking that District staff prepare a map showing who exactly owns the land along the Kitimat River and what that land is being used for.
In the debate, Councillor Corrine Scott noted, “The first paragraph says Fisheries and Oceans won’t attend a council meeting. Fine, we’ve got that part. But then that’s it. Everything else is about the fisheries protection program and policy statements and all the rest of it. But it doesn’t actually answer the question about any concerns regarding waste left by campers and whether its okay or whether we should be putting in more garbage cans or that sort of thing.
“That’s what I was looking for from a report. What should the setbacks be? Should there be any setbacks. Should there be any camping? Do we have to have a certain number of receptacles for garbage? I just don’t know. I was expecting more than what we got out of this report.”
Councillors Mary Murphy and Mario Feldhoff noted that the District has done reports on how the riverbank is used.
District Planner Daniel Martin told Council that DFO has said the department has “no real concerns’ about people camping on the river “unless they begin to destroy fish habitat.” DFO told Kitimat staff. “If the District has concern about access to the river, then control access to the river.”
“I know that we have a report, it was a very, very good report,” Scott then said. “That’s not what we’re talking about. I was waiting to hear what Fisheries and Oceans has to say, I know what we’ve got and what we’re doing and what is being monitored. I thought motion was to find out from Fisheries and Oceans if there was some kind of other issues we should know about.” Scott noted that if Martin’s statement had been included in the report, she would have been satisfied. “I was waiting to hear what the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had to say.”
Germuth then pointed out that he wanted to know who the landowners are so if Council descies to control access to the river because, “If we put a gate up on the river, we’re not just controlling access for campers, we’re controlling access for everyone else that wants to go through. I want to know who owns the land, so if we decide to do something, we can chat with landowners.
“We’re not going to get anywhere with DFO,” Feldhoff said. “They’ve been here in the past, and , as I recall, they said they don’t think there is a problem. We may think there’s a problem but they don’t think it’s high enough in terms of priorities. So we might want to reacquaint ourselves with what was going on. There are enough reports to choke a horse, going back at least ten years.”
“Longer that that, I do believe,” Mayor Joanne Monaghan interjected.
Councillor Edwin Empinado agreed with Scott saying, “The response from DFO didn’t really answer the motion [the original question from Council]. Fisheries just gives us the Fisheries Act, their policies, regulations, guidelines, program changes. It doesn’t talk about riverbanks.”
District of Kitimat Council voted Monday night to hold a plebiscite on whether or not the community supports the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway project.
District council and staff will decide the actual question for voters and the date for the plebiscite in the coming couple of weeks.
A staff report described a plebiscite as “a non-binding form of referendum,” as defined by the BC Local Government Act.
The council decision comes after the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel released its decision on December 16, that approved the pipeline and tanker project along with 209 conditions.
After the release of the Joint Review decision, the District of Kitimat issued a news release saying, “Kitimat Council has taken a neutral stance with respect to Northern Gateway. Council will take the necessary time to review the report in order to understand the content and reasons for the decision.”
On January 16, 2012 the council adopted a resolution “that after the completion of the JRP process, the District of Kitimat survey the residents of Kitimat regarding their opinion on the Enbridge Northern Gateway project.” After the JRP decision, the District reaffrimed that it would “undertake a survey of Kitimat residents to determine their opinions of the project now that the JRP has concluded its process.”
District staff had recommended hiring an independent polling firm to conduct the survey, pointing to a pollster’s ability to craft the appropriate questions and provide quick results.
Council quickly shot down the idea. A motion by Councillor Mario Feldhoff to use a polling firm did not get a seconder.
Councillor Rob Goffinet, who made the motion for the plebiscite, noted that even as a politician he doesn’t answer phone calls from unknown numbers. He said, “People do not want a pollster to phone them and do a check list how do you feel on a project. How can we be assured if someone in or out of their home will answer a call from a pollster? I would give total responsibility to every adult citizen of Kitimat who has a point of view to express it in a yes or no ballot.”
Councillor Phil Germuth added, “Those are the same companies that went out prior to the last provincial election and said one party was going to wipe it out and we know what happened there.” Germuth was referring to BC Premier Christy Clark’s come from behind majority victory which was not predicted in the polls.
Germuth told the meeting he believed an unbiased question could be posed in the form of a referendum on the Northern Gateway project. “I have full confidence in our staff that they will be able, along with some assistance from council, to develop questions that are not going to appear biased. It should be very simple, yes means yes, no means no.”
Councillor Mario Feldhoff, who earlier in the evening had, for the first time, declared that he is in favour of the Northern Gateway project, told council that he preferred using a polling firm because it could come back with a “statistically significant” result.
Council voted six to one in favour of the plebiscite. The lone dissenter was Councillor Edwin Empinado who told his colleagues that a mail-in ballot, another of the options presented by staff, would be more inclusive. Empinado said he was concerned that a plebiscite would mean a low voter turnout.
Warren Waycheshen, the district’s deputy chief administrative officer, told council that the plebiscite would have to be held under the provisions of BC’s Local Government Act which covers elections and referenda, but with the plebiscite the council would have more flexibility in deciding how the vote would take place. The act would still cover such things as who was eligible to vote and the use of campaign signs.
The neutrality that council had maintained for at least the previous three years began to break down during Monday’s meeting meeting when Germuth proposed a motion that would have required Enbridge to install within Kitimat’s jurisdiction a detection system capable of locating small volumes of leakage from the pipeline, a measure that is likely beyond the recommendations of the JRP decision.
It was then that Feldhoff became the first Kitimat councillor to actually declare for or against the Northern Gateway, telling council, saying he agreed with the JRP, “The overall risk was manageable and the project was in Canada’s interest. On the whole I am in favour of the conditions and recommendations of the JRP… Not only am I a District of Kitimat Councillor, I am a Canadian. To my mind, opposition to the JRP Northern Gateway report at this stage is yet another case of NIMBY-ism, not in my backyard.”
In the end, at Feldhoff’s urging, the council modified the original motion, so that it called on the District to meet with Enbridge to discuss an enhanced pipeline leak detection system where a leak could “impact the Kitimat watershed.”
It’s not clear what Council will do with the result of the plebiscite, since it is “non-binding.”
In the past two years, Terrace, Prince Rupert and Smithers councils, together with Kitimat Stikine Regional District and the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District, all voted to oppose Northern Gateway. Those were all council votes, taken without surveying local opinion.
Most of the decisions are in the hands of the federal government which has 180 days from the release of the JRP report to approve the project.
District of Kitimat council voted on Monday, April 2, to ask the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel to ensure that the town’s water supply is protected if the controversial pipeline is built. A second motion called on Enbridge to give the district a detailed and public presentation on its provisions to protect the water supply in the case of a pipeline breach along the Kitimat River.
That second motion was passed after a motion from Councillor Phil Germuth holding Enbridge responsible for any disruption to the water supply was defeated by a vote of 4-3. However, council’s new motion did not preclude Germuth asking Enbridge his original questions about liability.
The first motion called on the District of Kitimat to present a written position to the Joint Review Panel based on the district’s status as a government participant emphasizing the potential dangers to the water supply and noting that the mayor and council are “legally responsible to make every effort to ensure the city of Kitimat’s water supply is uninterrupted and of the highest quality.”
After introducing the motion, Germuth said he believed the motion went along with council’s position to remain neutral because nothing in the motion took a position for or against the project.
Councillor Mario Feldhoff said he supported the motion without supporting all the details of Germuth’s full statement, a indication of the more intense debate to come over the second motion.
Mary Murphy also supported the motion, pointing to the potential problems of “transporting hydrocarbons” by both tanker and pipeline.
Councillor Corinne Scott said she would speak for the motion, agreeing that this was a request for information and not saying council was for or against the project, adding “we are all concerned about the potential of what could happen to our water supply.”
Feldhoff agreed that a letter to the JRP was not taking a position, adding, that on receipt of a letter the Joint Review Panel should take a very serious look at the issue of the water supply of Kitimat. Monaghan agreed but said if the council was to write the letter that it be accurate.
Feldhoff then proposed a friendly amendment calling on District staff to write a draft letter to the Joint Review Panel that council could then examine and agree to.
With the amendment, the motion passed unanimously.
Germuth’s second motion was more contentious, calling on Enbridge to provide detailed plans for ensuring the quality of water for the District of Kitimat and accepting “full liability” for the restoration of the Kitimat’s “entire water system” in case of a pipeline breach. Although some councilors had reservations about Germuth’s list of items, they agreed that Enbridge be called to meet council “face to face,” as Monaghan put it, by responding in person rather than by letter.
Enbridge had already responded to the motion from the previous meeting, calling on it to respond to the concerns raised by Douglas Channel Watch about the possibility of avalanche danger in the Nimbus Mountain area.
In an e-mail to council, Michele Perrett of Enbridge maintained that most of the issue had been addressed by Enbridge in either its original filing with the Joint Review Panel or by subsequent responses to information requests to the JRP, adding
Specifically we have filed geotechnical studies and responded to information requests that include information on avalanches, rock fall, glaciomarine clay slides, debris flows and avulsion in the Kitimat area and have reviewed information filed on this subject by intervenors.
The e-mail said that Drum Cavers, a geotechnical specialist would be making a presentation to council on Monday, April 16.
Monaghan noted that Douglas Channel Watch and other groups are limited by council policy to 10 minutes and that Murray Minchin had told council that to be fair, Enbridge’s response should also be limited to 10 minutes. Council agreed that the 10 minute limit is needed to make sure that council meetings finish on time and there was some discussion of allowing Enbridge to make a more lengthy presentation outside of a regular council meeting. That would allow Enbridge to not only respond to the earlier concerns about the Nimbus Mountain avalanche danger but also to the concerns about the town’s water supply.
Some members of council, led by Feldhoff, also expressed reservations about the seven points raised by Germuth; others wanted to possibly add their own concerns to any questions for Enbridge. Feldhoff was not prepared to vote for the original motion without more information.
Feldhoff then asked that the district administration prepare a report on the water supply, saying “I think the concerns may be somewhat overstated at the moment.” Councillor Rob Goffinet also called for a report from district staff on the “ramifications for our water supply,” adding that council should not “engage with Enbridge” until that report was ready.
Germuth’s motion, with all of the original questions, along with the invitation for Enbridge to make a public presentation, was then defeated by a vote of 4-3.
Councillor Scott then moved as part of the presentation that Enbridge was earlier invited to present that water issues be added to the list and that council draft a list of questions for the company, that could include Germuth’s original questions.
Germuth asked if the council could put a time limit on Enbridge’s response because the federal budget calls for limiting to the Joint Review Panel. Feldhoff responded that the new motion concerned council’s concerns just with Enbridge and that council should be respectful of Enbridge and hopefully the company could integrate those questions as well.
Goffinet said he wanted Enbridge to know all of the district’s concerns and so, in effect, this motion would get what Councillor Germuth wanted but by a different route, adding that if Cavers, Enbridge’s geotechnical expert, was unable to answer the question, Enbridge would be asked to return and answer the questions at a later date at a public meeting.
That motion passed unanimously.
Mary Murphy clarified her remarks in an e-mail by saying
I stated I had concerns with all hydro carbons transported along the river coastline…like CN Rail and transporting hydro carbons and the likelihood of a derailment etc, andhow that would also effect our waters. CN Rail is and has been transporting hydro carbons, etc for some time, and have had severe derailments.