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

It appears that the Stephen Harper’s strategy for approving Northern Gateway has been revealed on background to The Globe and Mail’s Gary Mason. (Either it’s a revelation or a trial balloon).

It comes down to the idea that Harper will approve Gateway “in the national interest,” count on a vote split between the NDP and Liberals in British Columbia to avoid any consequences to the Conservative majority and then leave it up to Enbridge to actually get the job of building the pipeline and terminal project done.

Mason quotes “ a senior member of Mr. Harper’s government,” and while Mason doesn’t say what part of Canada the source is from, (unlikely in my view the source is from BC) what the member told Mason reveals that the Harper government is still mired in it the Matrix-world that has always governed its policy on Northern Gateway.

The first step, apparently coming in the next few days, is that the Harper government “rigorous” new tanker protocols for traffic along the west coast.

Tanker protocols
So the obvious question is, will these protocols be new or will the government simply be reannoucing paper policies that they did in the March 2013? How many of the recommendations of the tanker task force is the government actually going to accept?

Even if the protocols are new, just who is going to enforce those policies?

Mason says:

Even if Gateway and the Kinder Morgan expansion went ahead, he argued, B.C. would still only see about 60 per cent of the annual oil tanker traffic the neighbouring state of Washington deals with. And yet Washington has an exceptionally clean record when it comes to the safe transport of oil in and out of its harbours – this, he noted, while operating under marine safety regulations that are not as rigorous as the ones Ottawa intends to put in place for the shipment of oil along the West Coast.

There are a lot big problems with that statement.

First, there’s an organization that the Mason’s source may have heard of known as the United States Coast Guard. The United States rigorously enforces its “weak” regulations, while Canada’s Coast Guard is plagued by staff shortages and budget cuts.

Second, the State of Washington also rigorously enforces its environmental regulations, not only on the coast but across the state. I have been told by retired British Columbia forestry and environmental officials (not to mention Fisheries and Oceans) that there are often more state environmental watch dogs in most Washington State counties than in all of northern British Columbia where the Northern Gateway is supposed to be going.

The September 2013, report by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration on the export of Canadian bitumen sands through the US shows that the Washington Department of Ecology is working on strengthening regulations for both pipelines and (where it’s in state jurisdiction) tanker traffic. The same report says the state of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is updating its plans and possible regulations in anticipation that bitumen filled tanker traffic from Kitimat would come close to the coast en route to Asia.

Third, the coast of northern British Columbia is more rugged and stormy than the waters off Washington.

Who pays?

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

Who pays?

Who pays to enforce the 209 conditions that the Joint Review Panel imposed on the Northern Gateway project?

If the Harper government announces new tanker regulations in the coming days, who pays to enforce those regulations?

There were no provisions in the February budget for enforcing the 209 conditions. Rather there were continuing budget cuts to the very departments that the JRP ruled must be involved in the studying, planning, implementation and enforcement of the 209 conditions, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans and Transport Canada.

So while Mason says “The federal government will play its part in meeting the five conditions laid out by the B.C. government for support of the project,” the response must be “Show me the money!”

During the recent plebiscite campaign, Northern Gateway finally revealed its plans for the “super tugs” that will escort tankers along the coast and up Douglas Channel.  Owen McHugh, a Northern Gateway emergency manager said, “Adding these four or five tugs to the north coast provides a rescue capability that doesn’t exist in this format. So for any large commercial vessel that is traveling on our coast, this capacity to protect the waters of the north coast.”  Those tugs and Northern Gateway’s plans to station teams at small bases along the coast means that the company is, in effect, creating a parallel, private, coast guard on the BC Coast.

What about the Coast Guard itself? The Harper government has been gutting Coast Guard resources along the coast even before it had its majority. It closed and dismantled the Kitsilano Coast Guard station in Vancouver. There is more dependence on the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue volunteers, who have to raise money locally for modern rescue boats which cost up to $750,000. The money that government was “generously” giving to RCMSAR had to be split up to 70 stations in 42 communities along the coast as well as its administrative and training staff.

And speaking of boats, what about Coast Guard vessels on the coast? As the Globe and Mail has reported, the government’s shipbuilding program is already over budget  and behind schedule. The aim is  Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships  and new destroyers. With the crippling of HMCS Protecteur that has raised the concerns about the already troubled supply ship program.

Does anyone notice what is missing from that list? What’s missing are  better Coast Guard vessels just to police all the expected tanker traffic on the west coast (whether LNG or bitumen) and no mention of dedicated spill response vessels, which under the “polluter pay” policy will likely be left to private contractors (and hope that the ships are available at the time of a spill)

How will we know?

Then there is the question of how will people even know if the 209 conditions are being enforced; whether or not the reports demanded by the Joint Review Panel are going be sitting on the National Energy Board server and ignored.

There is every indication, given the government’s obsession with secrecy that until there is a disaster the Canadian public will never know what’s going on. Harper’s muzzling doesn’t just cover government scientists, it covers the lowest level of bureaucrats, as District of Kitimat Council found out when low level DFO bureaucrats refused to appear publicly before council to discuss the risk to the Kitimat River.

So the scenario is, according to Mason’s source

“I think once this decision is made, Enbridge could have shovels in the ground the next day,” the member said. “They are ready to go. This means the First Nations could start realizing profits from this right away, as opposed to the promised profits from LNG, which may never materialize. I think they need to think about that.”

First, as part of the blunders is that the Conservatives have always made is the assumption that eventually the First Nations of British Columbia can be paid off, ignoring the commitment of the First Nations, especially on the coast, to protect the environment that sustained them for thousands of years.

While the LNG market is volatile, the “member” forgets that most of the First Nations of British Columbia have opposed the Northern Gateway since Enbridge first floated the idea in 2001. The current LNG rush didn’t start until after Japan shut down its nuclear power plants after the March 2011 earthquake, The first major anti-Enbridge rally,  “The Solidarity Gathering of Nations” was held at Kitamaat Village in May 2010.

Writing off BC

It appears that Conservatives, in their election strategy have already written off Gateway opponents:

Still, there is a raw political calculus that needs to be taken into account. Polls measuring support for the pr.oject in B.C. vary, but generally have shown that anywhere from 55 to 60 per cent of the province opposes Gateway and 40 to 45 per cent support it. Isn’t that enough to scare off a government that needs critical votes in B.C. to win another majority?
“Let’s say 60 per cent are against it,” he said. “And that vote splits between the Liberals and the NDP come the next election. Who are the 40 per cent going to vote for?”

As for the cabinet, it has consistently shown its contempt for northwestern British Columbia  and that is unlikely to change.

Mason also speculates that Harper will approve Gateway to stick it to Barack Obama and the delays on Keystone XL. As he points out that’s a political, not an economic decision.

There are civil disobedience classes being held across northwestern BC  this month.  Access to Information requests by the Vancouver Observer revealed increased RCMP surveillance of the anti-Gateway movement.  There has always been talk of a “war in the woods” if the pipeline project is forced on an unwilling population.

So it comes down to a question that Mason and the Conservatives are avoiding. Mason’s source says Northern Gateway is crucial to the national interest:

“At the end of the day, you have to do what’s right, not what’s politically expedient,” he said. “You have to ask: What’s in the best interests of all Canadians?”

So given all that will the Harper government leave Enbridge to tough it out on its own?

Highly unlikely.

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

Highly likely.

There’s lots of marine clay along the pipeline route, laid down by ancient oceans. That brings to mind just one word. Quagmire, not just the wet, sticky BC mud but a political quagmire.

Kitimat Council votes 4 to 1 to oppose Enbridge Northern Gateway

Kitimat Council vote
Four members of District of Kitimat Council voted April 22 to uphold the town plebiscite and oppose Enbridge Northern Gateway. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

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
At one point during the lengthy debate, Councillor Rob Goffinet sat back and buried his head in hands. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

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.


Ottawa’s Northern Gateway consultation with First Nations limited to three simple questions and 45 days: documents

The federal government’s main consultation with First Nations on the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel report is limited to just three simple questions that had to be answered within 45 days, according to documents seen by Northwest Coast Energy News.

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

That despite the fact that the first volume of the JRP report “Connections” is 76 pages and the second volume “Considerations” is 418 pages including the 209 recommendations and appendices and came after two years of hearings and tens of thousands of pages of evidence.

On Dec. 6 and again on Dec. 16, 2013, just prior to the release of the Joint Review Panel report, Brett Maracle, Crown Consultation Coordinator at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for the Northern Gateway project wrote to the First Nations potentially affected by Northern Gateway, saying their response had to be filed within 45 days of the release of the JRP. Since the report was released on December 19, 2013, that made the initial deadline January 31, 2014.

The letter also told the First Nations that if they wanted their positions included in the “Crown Consultation Report” that would be part of the package on Northern Gateway presented to the federal cabinet, that position had to be limited to just two to three pages “given the number of groups involved” with a final deadline of April 16, 2014.

Maracle’s letters used the term Phase IV to define the post JRP consultations, implying there were three earlier stages of consultation, something many First Nations have disputed, especially since the Harper government had earlier maintained that the JRP itself was the constitutionally mandated consultation.

The cabinet has until June 19, 2014, 180 days after the release of the report to approve the issuing of the federal permits for the Northern Gateway project. Consultation with First Nations on projects such as the Northern Gateway is required by the Constitution and has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The three questions outlined in the letter were:

  • Does the Report appropriately character the concerns you raised during the JRP process?
  • Do the recommendations and conditions in the Panel Report address some/all of your concerns?
  • Are there any “outstanding” concerns that are not addressed in the Panel Report? If so, do you have recommendations (i.e proposed accommodation measures) how to address them?

Consultation on implementation

The third question appears to confirm what most political observers have said, approval of the Northern Gateway by the Harper cabinet is a a forgone conclusion, since Maracle speaks of “accommodation measures.” When the JRP approved the Northern Gateway project, the panel said that Enbridge’s proposed “mitigation” measures in case of a spill were adequate, something environmental groups and First Nations are now disputing in court.

It appears from the correspondence seen by Northwest Coast Energy News, that the federal government will only consider further specific consultations with First Nations after the approval of the Northern Gateway and only then on the implementation and construction process, rather than consulting on the project as a whole.

The Haisla have filed a document in response to the JRP that notes that

The Haisla Nation needs to understand Canada’s views of the role that future federal decisions might play for the proposed project. In its December 12, 2013 to Mr. Maracle, the Haisla Nation asked the federal government to provide a comprehensive list of the regulatory permits which would be issued the the federal government decision-makers in Haisla Nation Territory in the event the proposed project is approved and describe the consultation process that would occur prior to decisions being on those regulatory permits, within 45 days of the issuance of the JRP Report.

Mr. Maracle’s January 29, 2014 [reply] suggests that the only future federal decisions on the proposed project which may entail consultation are specific watercourse crossing and fish habitat destruction permits issued by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.


One of the problems reaching back to long before the Joint Review Panel hearings began is that the Harper government policy was what they called a “whole-of-government” approach in its consultations with First Nations, saying: “The Crown is open to discussing how consultation with the framework provided will be carried out.”

In their repose, the Haisla say the federal government never defined how the “whole-of-government” approach to First Nations was going to work and noted:

What Canada should have realized is that it has a very real obligation to consult with the Haisla Nation at the deepest end of the consultation spectrum that cannot be pigeon-holed into a one size fits all approach.

Further, the term whole-of-government is misleading, as this approach actually prohibits the majority of government from engaging in consultation.

The Haisla then say: “Documents we have obtained under an Access to Information Request clearly indicate individual departments were asked not to communicate directly with the Haisla Nation.”

The response goes on to say:

Further questions at federal government witnesses during the JRP process confirmed that federal departments had not met with the Haisla Nation since the commencement of the JRP process. While these witnesses were reluctant to confirm that they had been prohibited from meeting with us, they repeatedly referred to the “whole-of-government” approach to consultation as their reason for not meeting.

Canada’s “whole-of-government” approach clearly limited engagement to a strict process with no opportunity for real engagement.

Earliest stages

The Haisla are telling the Harper government:

It is clear that the Haisla Nation that we are the very earliest stages of consultation with Canada about the proposed project….It is clear to the Haisla Nation that the 45-day period within which Canada has unilaterally determined face-to-face meetings with all the Aboriginal groups potentially affected by the proposed project will occur is not an adequate amount of time to complete a meaningful consultation process.



Haisla ask cabinet to postpone Northern Gateway decision to allow for adequate consultation with First Nations

Haisla consultation reply outlines flaws in Northern Gateway Joint Review report

Haisla response lists evidence rejected by Northern Gateway Joint Review

Haisla ask cabinet to postpone Northern Gateway decision to allow for adequate consultation with First Nations

Haisla NationThe 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

Joe Oliver
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver (front far right) answers questions after his news conference at the Northwest Community College Long House, March 19, 2013. Douglas Eyford is standing behind Oliver. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

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.

It is not too late for Canada to correct the deficiencies in its consultation process, but cannot realistically do so by adhering unilaterally by Canada and laid out in Mr. Maracle’s letter of December 16, 2013

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.


Ottawa’s Northern Gateway consultation with First Nations limited to three simple questions and 45 days: documents

Haisla consultation reply outlines flaws in Northern Gateway Joint Review report

Haisla response lists evidence rejected by Northern Gateway Joint Review

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


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


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

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

And it says:

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

The JRP notes:

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

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

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

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

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

And the JRP goes on to say:

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

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

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

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

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

And concludes:

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

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

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

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

The politics of the Joint Review Panel

There are actually two Joint Review Panel reports.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

But and there is a big but.

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

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

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

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

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


New Fisheries Regulations further gut habitat protection in Canada, study says

Population density
Blacked out fishery. A new study says that fisheries protection in Canada is now tied to economics, meaning areas with lower populations, like the BC northwest, get less fisheries protection. (Fisheries magazine)


New regulations under the Fisheries Act that was revised by the Harper government’s omnibus bills go even further in gutting protection for fish habitat in Canada, according to an analysis by scientists released Friday.

The changes to Canada’s fisheries legislation “have eviscerated” the ability to protect habitat for most of the country’s fish species, the scientists, John Post, at the University of Calgary and Jeffrey Hutchings of Dalhousie University say their new study.

The study says with the Conservative government’s emphasis on prioritizing economic importance over the habitat ecology is “contrary to responsible management practices for the protection of native fishes, the act now inadvertently prioritizes habitat protection for some nonnative species—even hatchery-produced hybrids.” The study says as long as those introduced or other species are part of what the new act and regulations define as “part of a fishery,” those fish are protected, while nearby native species, not part of a fishery, have no protection.

The same economic emphasis downgrades protection for sparsely inhabitated regions (which make up most of Canada) through what the scientists call:


The stipulation that fish be part of, or support, a fishery will have particularly egregious consequences for species that inhabit pristine or near-pristine habitat in Canada’s vast wilderness.

Under the revised FA, fish that inhabit lakes, rivers, and streams that are not regularly visited by humans do not warrant protection. Humans are necessary to render a fish part of a fishery. No humans, no fishery, and no fish habitat protection. This can only be interpreted as meaning that the vast majority of Canada’s freshwater fishes will be deemed to not warrant habitat protection under the revised FA, even if those species are considered part of a fishery elsewhere in their range.


The changes were “politically motivated,” unsupported by scientific advice – contrary to the policy of previous governments – and are inconsistent with ecosystem-based management, fisheries biologists Post and Hutchings say.

Their comprehensive assessment, in a peer-reviewed paper titled “Gutting Canada’s Fisheries Act: No Fishery, No Fish Habitat Protection,” is published in the November edition of Fisheries, a journal of the 10,000-member American Fisheries Society.

The 2012 omnibus bill redefined fish habitat to a fishery in this clause:

No person shall carry on any work, undertaking or activity that results in serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery, or to fish that support such a fishery.

The two authors interpret that as meaning, that while you may be forbidden from harming the fish, there are no barriers to harming fish habitat.

… it will no longer be illegal to harmfully alter or disrupt fish habitat. The revised act only renders it illegal to cause serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational, or Aboriginal fishery or to fish that support such a fishery. “Serious harm” is defined by the act as “the death of fish or any permanent alteration to, or destruction of, fish habitat” (Fisheries Act 2013). A legal opinion prepared for the Environmental Managers Association of British Columbia concluded that serious harm does not prohibit the disruption or temporary alteration of fish habitat, concluding that many situations prohibited under the previous legislation will no longer be covered by the revised act

The new regulations proclaimed in the Canada Gazette in April 2013.

“The biggest change is that habitat protection has been removed for all species other than those that have direct economic or cultural interests, through recreational, commercial and Aboriginal fisheries,” Post says.

Before, “there used to be a blanket habitat protection for all fish species,” he says. “Now there’s a projection just for species of economic importance which, from an ecological standpoint, makes no sense.”

The study goes on to say:

The near elimination of fish habitat protection represents a clear signal that protection of habitat—the single greatest factor responsible for the decline and loss of commercial and noncommercial species on land and in water —no longer merits explicit protection under Canadian fisheries management law.

And later:

The multitude of aquatic systems that do not support a fishery, coupled with the extensive distributions of many Canadian fishes, will mean that habitat protection will not be provided for most fish species in most places.

By applying the “no humans, no fishery” criterion, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans will have an easy time expediting applications for fish habitat destruction resulting from all manner of development. The lack of foresight inherent in the “no humans, no fishery” stipulation is also manifest by the likelihood that aquatic systems that do not support a fishery today (e.g., much of Arctic and northern Canada) might well do so in the future. But investment in future fisheries requires investment in appropriate habitat protection today. How is a fishery to develop down the road if the habitat is already gone?

Although it is well known that the Harper government muzzles scientists from speaking to the media, that apparently doesn’t mean that there isn’t “chatter” (to use the intelligence term) among fisheries scientists themselves. As the study authors report:

 based on personal communications with DFO scientists and divisional managers, it appears that scientists were not consulted at all. By all accounts, DFO scientists and managers were surprised by the degree and types of changes in the revised act. According to one very highly placed science director (in a confidential communication to one of the authors), he was unaware of the March 2012 provisions in the legislation until he heard of the government’s finalized revisions on a news broadcast.


The scientists also quote earlier studies that showed the old Fisheries Act was not unduly holding up development projects.

a key reason for revising the act—a perceived need to expedite or “streamline” environmental reviews (Canada Gazette 2013)—has been shown to lack an empirical basis. There was a perception among some politicians that the act needed to be changed because it was deemed unduly obtrusive and prevented any number of activities from occurring.


The analysis by the environmental group Ecojustice showed that between 2006 and 2011, only one proposal among thousands was denied by the DFO, and only 1.6% of 1,283 convictions under the FA between 2007 and 2011 pertained to the destruction of fish habitat.

Post and Hutchings go on to say:

These scientific analyses run counter to the political discourse, which argues that environmental reviews are unduly lengthy and are bad for economic growth. In fact, review times in Canada were found to be faster, under the previous Fisheries Act, than they were in the United States. The absence of a scientific basis for statutory change in this case is a telling example of how scientific advice can constructively assist decision makers before they revise legislation.


Proponent gets to gather the data

John Post
University of Calgary fisheries biologist John Post.
(Riley Brandt, University of Calgary)

Under the new regulations proclaimed in April, when an individual or company applies for an “application to undertake an activity that requires authorization by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans” …”the primary—if not sole—responsibility for providing accurate information and data rests with the applicant, rather than with DFO habitat scientists and biologists.”

The proponent of a project has to identify whether or not “fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery,” or “fish that support such a fishery,” at the location of the proposed work, will be the responsibility of the proponent/applicant to identify.

The two scientists say there is no way to ask what scientific standards, DFO’s or others will be applied in identifying fish that support a fishery.

There are also questions about who “will determine the scientific validity and appropriateness  of each proponent’s assessment.” It could be, the paper says, the proponent themselves determining the validity of their own studies because:

There does not appear to be a requirement for the DFO to undertake an on-site inspection by DFO scientific staff to verify information provided by an applicant. This change in responsibility explains the 33% reduction in DFO staff responsible for habitat protection reported by various Canadian media in 2012. This reduction in staff can only diminish the scientific integrity and scientific credibility of DFO’s assessments of applications for the authorization of activities under 35(2)(b) of the FA that will result in the destruction of fish and fish habitat.


The study goes on to say:

The regulations confirm that the revised FA will not protect any particular species of fish. Rather, protection will be provided only to “fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery” or “fish that support such a fishery.” This means, to take one of many examples, that Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides) will be protected at a particular location if, and only if, those Largemouth Bass are considered to be part of a fishery at that location. Otherwise, Largemouth Bass will not be protected.

The scientists do acknowledge that:

It can be argued that there are positive elements to the FA revisions, such as (1) statutory recognition of the importance of recreational and Aboriginal fisheries, (2) provision for the establishment of regulations to control aquatic invasive species and prohibit their import, and (3) increased penalties and fines for contravention of the act.


They then add:

 But, in our opinion, the negative consequences to Canada’s aquatic ecosystems generated by the revisions to the act outweigh these benefits, none of which actually required changes to the existing habitat protection provisions of the FA.

The scientists conclude the article by saying

 Being the second largest country in the world, Canada is responsible for 20% of the globe’s fresh water, one third of its boreal forests and associated aquatic environment, and the world’s longest coastline. However, this geographical wealth comes with a responsibility to be internationally respected stewards of this vast environment. Politically motivated abrogation of the country’s national and international responsibilities to protect fish and fish habitat suggests to us that Canada might no longer be up to the task.

“No need to scare people” about tanker disasters, Transport Minister tells Commons

“There is no need to scare people,” about tankers, Transport Minister Denis Lebel told the House of Commons on Thursday, March 28.

Lebel was answering a question from Skeena Bulkley Valley MP and NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen.

The official transcript from Hansard records Cullen’s question about the federal government’s unexpected declaration that Kitimat would become a public port.

Mr. Speaker, last week, in their panic to ram a bitumen pipeline through to British Columbia’s north coast, the Conservatives simply decreed that they would take over the Port of Kitimat. Rather than picking up the phone and talking with the local council or the Haisla Nation, the government parachuted in a minister from Toronto to make the announcement. There was no consultation, no respect, just bulldozers.
We see again the fundamental disrespect the government has for first nations here today. Now the Conservatives are scrambling, saying that they will consult after they have clearly made up their minds, the exact approach they take on the pipeline. When will the government start to respect the people of the northwest?

Lebel replied in French, and as is usual in Question Period did not answer Cullen’s question.

The official translation in Hansard reads.

Mr. Speaker, last week we announced the creation of an expert panel. These people will work together to think of how to improve things.
We have a very good system for dealing with oil spills. We will continue to move forward and keep everyone safe.
Canada has not had any major oil spills in its history. There is no need to scare people. We will continue to work on measures.
I thank all members of the panel led by Mr. Houston for their ability to find solutions.

This Youtube video shows Cullen’s question and Lebel’s response. The live translation is a little different, but the effect is the same.

Cullen later issued a news release commenting

Cullen’s question came on the heels of reports that neither Kitimat Council nor the Haisla Nation were consulted in advance of the federal government’s decision to take over the Kitimat port. The move represents an apparent ongoing tendency by the Conservative federal government to offer consultation with communities and First Nations, but only after they’ve already made their decision.

Cullen later reflected that, regardless of one’s position on the Northern Gateway pipeline, open and prior consultation is crucial to fostering good governance and the trust of the general public. By contrast, said Cullen, “the Conservatives are writing the book on how to ignore communities and First Nations, and damage public faith. This is just the latest chapter.”

Denis Lebel represents that land locked Quebec riding of  Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean. The riding does have Lac St. Jean which is described in Wikipedia as

a large, relatively shallow lake in south-central Quebec, Canada, in the Laurentian Highlands. It is situated 206 kilometres north of the Saint Lawrence River, into which it drains via the Saguenay River. It covers an area of 1,053 km2 (407 sq mi), and is 63.1 m (207 ft) at its deepest point.

It is unlikely there will ever be a Very Large Crude Carrier on Lac St. Jean.

In its earliest statements the Harper Conservatives were careful to say that there had never been a tanker disaster on the west coast. Now, in its Orwellian fashion, the government is now saying “Canada has not had any major oil spills in its history.”

That statement, of course, ignores the Arrow tanker disaster off  Chedabucto Bay, Nova Scotia on  February 4, 1970, which the Environment Canada website, (as of April 1, 2013), describes this way

the calamity had reached catastrophic proportions. Out of the 375 statute miles of shoreline in the Bay area, 190 miles had been contaminated in varying degrees.

The Maritime Musem of the Atlantic wreck site describes a double barreled disaster where the oil was transferred to the Irving Whale, which later sank

There is also this report from a student at St Francis Xavier university.


Analysis: The Harper government’s week of history-making blunders

Analysis: The Harper government’s week of history-making blunders

The Panama registered bulk carrier  Azuma Phoenix is seen tied up at Kitimat harbour seen on the afternoon of Jan 9, 201. In March 2013. the federal government announced it was making the private port of Kitimat into a public port,  (Robin Rowland)
The Panama registered bulk carrier Azuma Phoenix is seen tied up at Kitimat harbour on the afternoon of Jan 9, 2012. In March 2013. the federal government announced it was making the private port of Kitimat into a public port. (Robin Rowland)

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

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).

Screengrab from Transport Canada website

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.

Harper government outlines new tanker safety measures for west coast


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.

Oliver confirms Kitimat to become a public port

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.

Kitimat harbour

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.

Nyce also gave a similar statement to CFTK and other media. A Francophone RTA spokesperson in Quebec did the same for Radio Canada.

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).

Joe Oliver
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver (front far right) answers questions after his news conference at the Northwest Community College Long House, March 19, 2013. (Robin Rowland)

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!”

Transport Canada promises consultation on Kitimat port five days after announcement it will become public


Blunder after blunder after blunder

Blunder No 1. Pulling the rug out from Northern Gateway

Joe Oliver and the Harper government sent a strong political signal to Kitimat on Tuesday; (to paraphrase an old movie) your little town doesn’t amount of a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Not that attitude is new for the people of Kitimat. The Northern Gateway Joint Review panel snubbed the town, bypassing Kitimat for Prince George and Prince Rupert for the current questioning hearings. Publisher David Black has been touting a refinery 25 kilometres north of Kitimat to refine the bitumen, but has never bothered to meet the people of Kitimat.

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.

Construction at Rio Tinto Alcan

There are problems between the people of Kitimat and RTA to be sure; the closing of the town’s only beach last summer was one problem (a problem that was eventually resolved.)

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).

Blunder No 3. The Haisla Nation

Douglas Channel is in the traditional territory of the Haisla Nation. The KM LNG project at Bish Cove is on Haisla Reserve No. 6  legally designated an industrial development by the federal government. Any changes to that project and to the Kitimat waterfront as a whole will require intensive negotiations with the Haisla Nation.

Blunder No 4. The state of Canadian democracy

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.

The government closes the busiest and most effective coast guard station at Kitsilano without consulting a single municipal or provincial official in British Columbia. The government closes two of Canada’s crown jewels of scientific research, the Experimental Lakes Area in Ontario and the Polar Environmental Research Laboratory in Nunavut. Keeping the coast guard station and the two science projects open and funded would be a drop in the deficit bucket at a time that the government is spending countless millions of taxpayers’ dollars in promoting itself on every television channel in Canada.

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?

Transport Canada promises consultation on Kitimat port five days after announcement it will become public

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.

Ottawa surprend Kitimat avec l’annonce de la nationalisation de son port

Google translate of Radio Canada story.

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.

Cullen surprised

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.

Mayor Joanne Monaghan interviewed by Andrew Kurjata on CBC Daybreak North (Friday morning before Transport Canada returned calls to Kitimat)

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.”

Previous stories

Kitimat port announcement surprise to Rio Tinto Alcan, District of Kitimat

Oliver confirms Kitimat to become a public port

Harper government outlines new tanker safety measures for west coast

How “On the Waterfront” could decide the fate of Enbridge’s Kitimat terminal

Water, not oil, is the hot issue this summer in Kitimat

Rio Tinto Alcan reopens access to Kitimat waterfront