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
Kitimat voters in the upcoming municipal election should carefully, very carefully, consider who are the best candidates that will, as much as humanly possible, produce a “world class” municipal mayor and council.
Northwest Coast Energy News will not endorse any individual for mayor or council in the 2014 municipal election.
However, this election is probably the most important in the District’s history and so this editorial will outline the issues facing the District of Kitimat.
When that council takes office in January 2015, it must have one item high on the agenda. Plan B. That’s B for Bust. In the past few days, just as the nomination process closed for municipal candidates, the world’s commodity markets began showing a sharp downturn and that commodity downturn will be a factor, like it or not, during the years that the new council will be in office.
The term “world class” has been bandied about a lot recently, especially by BC Premier Christy Clark and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But that “world class” term has largely been political spin. For Clark it gives her government a hall pass if they decide, in the end, that Northern Gateway isn’t worth the trouble. For Stephen Harper, “world class” is nothing more than a propaganda term.
When it comes to Kitimat, however, it is wise to take the term “world class” seriously. How many small town councils have to deal with the world’s second largest corporation, Royal Dutch Shell, the twelth, Chevron and, if Glencore takes over Rio Tinto, the tenth? How many small town councils have to deal daily with federal and provincial governments, governments that while praising Kitimat for its potential really want to bury it by taking for themselves much of the advantages that industrial development could bring here?
There is already one world class local council in the region, just down the road in Kitamaat Village, the Haisla Nation Council, which shows that with strong, intelligent and determined leadership, a small group can come out ahead in tough negotiations with giant transnational corporations and the governments. Yes, rights and title do give the Haisla Nation a negotiating and legal advantage, but a paper advantage is useless without vision and as Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross has said in interviews, the abiity to learn from mistakes and apply those lessons. We’ve heard people say that if Ellis Ross ever chose to run for mayor of Kitimat (which he wouldn’t because he is focused on improving the lives of the Haisla) he would win in a landslide.
The present council has had a couple of major failures, both with the Northern Gateway project. The first was the failure to participate in any way with the Joint Review process. Council chose to be neutral, and stubbornly maintained that neutrality meant sitting out the entire Joint Review hearings rather than participating in such a way that the Kitimat was properly represented during the hearings without taking a stand one way or another. The Haisla intervenors ablely not only represented the interests of the Nation, by default the Haisla often represented the interests of the entire district before the JRP. The second was the plebisicite which had a convoluted question and protracted disageement on how the plebisicite should be managed.
The question for voters is have those candidates for mayor and council who are part of the present adminstration shown a willingness to learn from those mistakes and do better in the next four years?
Which candidates for mayor and council have the intelligence, determination and vision to quide Kitimat during the next four years. Which candidates have the negotiating saavy and yes (whether male or female) cojones to get the best deal for the District in the coming years?
Access to the ocean
The big issue in this election, whether or not we are in a boom or a bust, is action to ensure that the residents of Kitimat have unimpeded access to the ocean for both casual recreation and for boaters. That means Kitimat needs a tough, determined council that is willing to really represent the residents in in the water access issue.
When it comes to the Regional District’s actions on the sale of MK Marina, the District of Kitimat has acted like a wimp. The attitude seems to be well, Kitimat has only one vote on regional council and the rest of the region doesn’t really care, so there’s nothing we can do about it. True leadership would be finding an imaginative way to make sure the interests of the people of Kitimat in gaining access to the ocean are not lost in regional council indifference.
It also means that there must be better relations with the Haisla Nation and a way around the fact that Rio Tinto controls far too much of the waterfront.
There’s also the long term problem that the federal government decreed two years ago, without consulting either the District or Rio Tinto, that the private port would become a public port. We’ve heard nothing about that since but the Harper government’s potential interference with the port of Kitimat cannot be ignored.
That may mean hiring additional staff. This site has said time and time again the District needs its own in house staff city solicitor who can deal with all the issues that come up, rather than depending on occasional legal advice from a lawyer on retainer. If the district can hire smart planners and economic development officers, it should also bring back the position of “harbour master” which existed on paper some years ago and that way there would be one district staffer who could use that title (even if conflicts with the feds) to work full time on ocean access.
One thing is certain, all members of the current District Council have had a huge work burden during the past three years, a work burden far beyond anything that is normal for a small municipal council in a town of 8,000 people. That work burden will likely increase during the next four years.
Experience counts. Voters should ask which councillor and mayoral candidates have handled that work burden the best? Which of the candidates, new or old, are genuinely willing to take on that burden, which will range from negotiating (within the powers of a municipality) with some of the world’s giant corporations, many with a century of more of negotiating experience, while at the same time dealing with perennial issues like snow clearing in the winter, garbage collection during bear season and deciding which of Kitimat’s unique system of sidewalks need to be fixed this year?
There are at least two positions on council that are up for grabs by new comer candidates. Who ever wins those positions will change the makeup of council, may even change the voting pattern (which during the current situation was often four to three one way or another, with Corrine Scott who is not running again, often, but not always, casting the deciding vote). So the voters should listen carefully and decide no matter what their position on all issues, who are the candidates that will strengthen the overall council.
One issue candidates
While we won’t know for certain until the debates, there appear to be a number of one issue candidates running, candidates that, it seems, want to refight both sides of the Northern Gateway plebisicite.
Unless these candidates show a wider vision the voters should reject those candidates.
On the “pro development” side there is a strange notion that if Kitimat could only elect a council that welcomes any industry, any time, then the world will beat a path to our door. That’s not only a fantasy, it’s a bad negotiating tactic as Christy Clark has found out. Clark in her provincial election campaign put all her political eggs in the LNG basket and (to mix metaphors) now the LNG industry is calling her cards and Clark has very little in the pot and a very weak hand. The big corporations would love a council that comes begging, cap in hand and will take any handouts the company may offer. Just look at Petronas and what it is demanding (not asking) from British Columbia.
On the other hand, a candidate who is stubbornly on the environmental side is also a danger to the future of the district, since that candidate may also be an impedement to tough negotiations needed to protect the district’s environment including the Kitimat airshed, the Kitimat River and the Kitimat Arm.
Electing a council that is unbalanced either on the pro development side or the pro environment side will solve nothing and will only increase the polarization in the community.
Electing one issue candidates who care only about one side or the other energy debate while it may give some voters satisfaction, will likely mean that these candidates, if elected, will not be working hard on the day-to-day municipal issues like water, sewerage, snow clearing, how many books the library has or unraveling the recycling condundrum.
So cast your ballot for those candidates best suited to take on the world, while at the same time making sure the sidewalks are safe.
You might not be seeing it at the gas pumps at the moment, but you soon will, the price of gas has gone down by 30 per cent since June.
Prices of key commodities, oil, coal and iron ore are dropping. And the weakness in the market for two of those commodities oil and iron ore should be setting off the alarm bells in Kitimat and the northwest.
The declining price of oil will soon affect all those energy-related projects that are supposed to bring an economic renaissance to northwest British Columbia.
As for iron ore, people might ask, what does iron ore have to do with us, there are no iron mines or steel mills around here.? However, in the highly integrated world economy, Rio Tinto is one of the world’s largest producers of iron ore, the decline in iron ore prices is affecting Rio Tinto’s bottom line and that is why, analysts say, the company may be vulnerable to a take over by the little known commodities giant Glencore.
The oil industry has always experienced very long, slow and deep cycles in supply, demand and prices: the current downturn is no exception.
Kemp says the current up cycle began around 2002, with rising oil prices. The financial collapse in 2007 and 2008 briefly interrupted the cycle but now according to Kemp and other analysts there is a glut of oil on the market and prices are falling world wide.
High prices meant not only new plays, especially in the Alberta bitumen sands, but also stronger efforts to save money by increasing energy efficiency and, yes, turning to cheap natural gas.
There are also new factors at play. In the past when there was a downturn in oil prices, OPEC led by Saudi Arabia, would limit supply to keep the price at a profitable level. However, the flood of oil on to the market from shale oil plays, mainly in the United States but also in Canada, has meant that OPEC can’t do that anymore. Too much competition. So the analysts say, the Saudis and other OPEC members are actually starting a price war to retain market share.
When Kemp was writing last week, he said the key marker, North Sea Brent crude:
if prices are adjusted for inflation (using average U.S. hourly earnings), Brent prices are at the lowest level in real terms since October 2007, exactly seven years ago.
There has always been a lot of skepticism among long term residents of Kitimat who have seen boom and bust cycles before and so they, rightly as it turns out, have been wary of industrial promises. Then there’s the current housing debate which may soon see the out of region speculators and developers caught with their pants down in the midst of a Kitimat January blizzard.
The commodity downturn also shows the foolishness of the politicians, business people and commentators who kept saying that BC is a “natural resource economy” and restrictions on corporations and strong environmental requlations will only hurt that economy. Who needs diversification? Who needs a fishing guide anway? It is fairly clear already that Christy Clark’s promises of a debt free province have as much credibility as speculating in Dutch tulip bulbs.
As for the idea among some here that if Kitimat had only voted in favour of Enbridge Northern Gateway, the gates to ecomonic paradise would open, that is foolishness. You can be certain when the Saudi princes decided on a price war to keep themselves in the luxorious lifestyle which they believe they are entitled, they didn’t consider whether Kitimat voted for or against Northern Gateway.
Part of the impetus behind constructing new pipelines to carry bitumen from northern Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast, Kitimat on the Pacific, or even all the way across the country to Saint John, N.B., was to help close the substantial discount between Canadian oil and world prices. Well, crude’s recent drop into the $85‑a‑barrel range has basically collapsed the once wide‑open spread that had existed between West Texas Intermediate and Brent crude with hardly any new lengths of pipe being laid into the ground at all.
Rubin went on to note that the decision by the Saudis to launch the price war has changed everything.
For pipeline companies with major proposals on the table, such as TransCanada and Enbridge, falling oil prices are a game‑changer of the same magnitude that rising prices were a decade ago. Back then, soaring prices created an urgent need to build new pipelines to connect North America’s burgeoning supply to coastal refineries and world markets.
We’re now in a different world. At the root of today’s problem is global demand that is no longer growing quickly enough to support the prices necessary to keep expanding expensive unconventional sources of supply such as the oil sands. Lower prices will effectively strand those reserves regardless of the transportation options that may become available. Even if President Obama approved Keystone XL or the National Energy Board gave the green light to Energy East, falling commodity prices mean that soon there might not be enough oil flowing out of northern Alberta to fill those new pipelines.
This week’s near disaster with the Russian container ship Simushir, where the coast of Haida Gwaii was saved by a change in the wind direction, hasn’t helped either.
Will the refinery fade to black?
Economists have always been skeptical about David Black’s plan for the Kitimat Clean refinery and Black has admitted that he also had not much support for the refinery idea either from the hydrocarbon indusry or from government.
But now comes the flaw in Black’s business plan. According to the website, the Kitimat Clean project is based on North Sea Brent Crude priced at $110 US a barrel. The refinery would take advantage of the “discount” on deliveries of Alberta bitumen crude which the site estimated at $35 a barrel. Black’s site says the refinery would be profitable if it could purchase bitumen at a $23 discount, making $12 a barrel over the world price.
Unfortunately, as of this writing, 11 am on October 20, the price of Brent Crude is now $85.79 and dropping slightly. West Texas Intermediate Crude, the other bench mark is even lower at $82.79 a barrel.
It looks like the drop in oil prices wipes out Black’s plan for profitability, since Brent Crude is already $25 a barrel cheaper than Black had projected.
What’s that got to do with the price of gas?
The falling price of crude oil is also going to have a major impact on the liquified natural gas projects in the northwest. The current economic situation will soon see the short term players and speculators cut and run, leaving, it is hoped, a couple of long term players in the west coast LNG terminal market. However the volatility in the dropping oil market may mean that the all important Final Investment Decisions are delayed yet again.
That’s because, at the moment, in Asia, the price of natural gas is calculated as a per centage of the price of crude oil, what is called the Japan Cleared Customs price. And as the LNG Journal has reported the price of LNG in Japan has dropped to the 2009 level.
East Asian Delivered LNG Indicator Price hit its lowest level since 2009 at $12.30 million British thermal units with European Brent crude oil prices collapsing to $82.85 per barrel. The East Asia LNG price is based on the Japanese Crude Cocktail method of assessing long-term contract cargo prices for Japan, based on oil which last hit current levels and then slipped below $80.00 per barrel during 2009.
The idea of LNG exports, especially since the Japanese earthquake in 2011, is that the companies can make a big profit by buying natural gas at low North American prices, exporting and then selling at the higher Asia price. In a free market world, however, the Asian countries and companies have, for the past few years been balking at buying at the higher JCC price and attempting to buy at the much lower North American Henry Hub price which at this writing was $3.72 MMBTu. Today’s JCC LNG price was $12.75, still higher than the North American price, but as LNG Journal notes, at a five year low.
Weaker oil prices may put proposed LNG projects “to sleep for a number of years,” Fereidun Fesharaki, chairman of Facts Global Energy, an industry consultant, said in a phone interview. “For the projects that are already under construction, it hits their pocketbooks seriously.”
Prices below $80 a barrel may be a “disaster” for some projects, said Fesharaki, who forecasts Brent may decline to $60 a barrel before the end of the year, then rebound to about $80 by the end of 2015.
“There’s no doubt if we were to see the type of crude oil prices we’re seeing now continue they would be looking at lower LNG prices,” Daniel Hynes, senior commodity strategist at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd., said by phone. “On face value, it would put pressure on margins.”
Long term LNG prospects
On the other hand, long term prospects for LNG exports are good. Demand in the Asian markets is still growing.
According to the Nikkei Asian Review, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry projects that by 2020, 70 per cent of Japan’s LNG will come from Australia and North America. That doesn’t mean that Canada won’t have rivals, the projections say that the United States, which is just starting many of its LNG export projects could be Japan’s third largest customer with Canada in fourth place.
There are big benefits to getting LNG from North America and Australia. The unlikeliness of pirate attacks is one. There is also less political uncertainty. And then there is the price. U.S. shale gas, for example, costs about 20% less than what Japan currently pays for LNG.
With the Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization Project construction phase winding down, with some uncertainty about the future of Rio Tinto itself and with more possible delays in the Final Investment Decisions for LNG Canada and Kitimat LNG, Kitimat needs a Plan B (and a Plan C or D or E).
The idea of a retirement community is no longer viable, costs of housing, even if they drop, are just too great.
Kitimat’s second strength has always been tourism and fishing. In 2015, there must be stronger efforts of support both fishing and tourism, which, in the long term will support that regions economy through good times and bad.
That means the new council must be firm in demanding (yes demanding) full access to the Kitimat waterfront and that includes a well-managed marina or marinas that have the capacity for recreational, adventure and fishing guiding and industrial use.
The District of Kitimat must come up with a plan that will promote the advantages of the region as a tourist and fishing destination. While the Chamber of Commerce has being doing a good job, up to now as the main promoter of tourism, Kitimat’s public image across Canada and the world is soley industrial and the District should assume more responsiblity for changing that image. The economic development staff at the district have been working largely on large scale industry. It should devote more time and money to the natural wonders of the area.
The plan B should also mean balance. Balance between industry and environment. The sneering contempt for those who want to protect the environment of the northwest is short sighted thinking, because a large proportion of the economy will depend for decades to come on attracting visitors to the wild beauty of of this part of British Columbia. That means, as much as it can within municipal powers, the new council must strengthen environmental protection in Kitimat.
Back in the 50s, Kitimat was planned for a future, a future that didn’t exactly work out when the price of aluminum slumped in the early 60s. Now we’re facing a slump in energy prices, so those plans will change. The plan B must include, as much as possible, creating a mainstay base that will smooth out the boom and bust of the commodities cycle.
The motto on the Kitimat snowflake logo is “A marvel of nature and industry.” The new council should make sure that motto is applied during the coming years.
A high turnout is expected Saturday for the non-binding plebiscite where residents of the District of Kitimat can, perhaps, say yes or no to the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. In some ways, it all depends on how people interpret the convoluted question.
Warren Weychasen, Kitimat’s Deputy Administrative Officer said Thursday 910 people voted during advance polls on April 2 and April 9, compared to 470 over the two days of advance voting in the 2011 municipal election.
Even who can vote has can be the matter of heated debate. Members of the Haisla Nation who live in Kitamaat Village feel strongly that they should have a voice, even though legally they live outside the municipal boundaries. “It’s our land they’re talking about,” one Haisla member, who wouldn’t give his name, said Friday as he was getting off the Village bus at City Centre.
The District also decided to allow residents of Kitimat who have been here longer than 30 days to vote, even if they are not Canadian citizens.
Another group that can’t vote, many from outside the northwest region, are living at the Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization Camp or at smaller camps for the developing LNG projects. An informal poll of those workers at City Centre Friday showed that if camp workers had been allowed to cast a vote, many would have voted “yes,” something the opponents of Northern Gateway said they feared would overwhelm local residents.
The $6.5 billion project would see two pipelines, one carrying oil sands bitumen from Alberta to the port of Kitimat, and a second carrying a form of natural gas used to dilute the bitumen from Kitimat to Alberta. The bitumen would then be loaded onto tankers for shipment to Asia along environmentally sensitive areas of the British Columbia coast.
Northern Gateway’s campaign has concentrated on the promise of 180 permanent direct local jobs worth $17 million and more spinoff jobs for contractors and suppliers. The company also promises that the District will receive $5 million in property taxes.
Northern Gateway also emphasized its commitment to safety and the environment, saying that the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel that held two years of hearings on the project, has made many of the company’s voluntary commitments a mandatory part of the conditions for granting permission to go ahead.
The main opponent, Douglas Channel Watch, maintains that the risk from either a tanker accident or pipeline breach is too high for the small number of jobs Northern Gateway will bring to the community.
Even the question, as chosen by the District of Kitimat Council, is controversial, because it focuses on the 209 conditions placed on the project by the Joint Review Panel:
Do you support the final report recommendations of the Joint Review Panel (JRP) of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and National Energy Board, that the Enbridge Northern Gateway project be approved, subject to 209 conditions set out in Volume 2 of the JRP’s final report?
After the district council decided on that question, debate on the wording continued through several council sessions in January and February.
Public delegations, some from Douglas Channel Watch, told council that there should be a simple yes or no question.
On January 13, Donny van Dyk, Northern Gateway’s local manager for coastal aboriginal and community relations, told council that the company preferred a series of simple questions, because “We avoid an adversarial feeling plebiscite and we generate dialogue and debate amongst the plebiscite but also so we as a proponent can come away with value and create a better project.”
Council rejected a proposal for a series of simple of questions, leaving voters to decide on whether or not they supported the Joint Review recommendations. That raised the question of whether voters would make their choice on some of the provisions of the report and not the project itself.
What does it mean?
That means that even Council is unsure of what the vote will mean.
The main reason for holding the non-binding plebiscite is that it fulfills a promise from an all candidates meeting during the municipal election in November 2011, where every candidate agreed to “poll” the citizens of Kitimat on Northern Gateway.
After the new council took office, on Jan. 16, 2012, it voted to hold some sort of poll or vote to find out whether the community supports the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project. At the time, it was unclear after the vote how the survey would take place.
For the almost two years of the Joint Review Panel, the District of Kitimat did little more than act as spectators when the JRP was in town, claiming its neutrality policy precluded participation.
The District could have participated without violating the neutrality provisions, but chose not to do so. It’s now clear that decision angered the Haisla Nation, as Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross said in a letter to the media, “the District stood by and did nothing”
The debate in the District of Kitimat Council on March 3 showed that even members of council were uncertain what the vote would mean.
Councillor Corinne Scott said, “As much as we wanted to know what the feeling of the community is, all we know so far is that we’re split. What the percentage of split is, we don’t know,” said Scott.
Councillor Phil Germuth said the vote is not on the project itself, but on the Joint Review decision. “We’re asking about 209 conditions that nobody understands fully. Even Enbridge doesn’t fully understand them.”
Councillor Edwin Empinado said once the results are known, that would give the District “more bargaining power” in future dealing with company and the federal government, a sentiment echoed by Douglas Channel Watch which admits the vote will do little more than send a message to Ottawa.
It was Northern Gateway’s decision to put major resources into the campaign that raised the profile of what was originally intended as way of discovering the feeling in the small community. With the ruling from the Joint Review Panel that Northern Gateway is in the national interest and the final decision in the hands of the federal cabinet, it is equally uncertain what effect, if any, the vote will have on Ottawa.
Throughout the hearings, most people in Kitimat kept their views to themselves. When the campaign began in earnest, which in turn, triggered a fierce and often acrimonious debate on social media, mainly on the Facebook group Kitimat Politics, showing the divide in the community, although it appears from the comments that there are more opponents than supporters on the forum. The e-debate on Kitimat Politics is continuing up to the last minute Friday night and will likely get hotter once the results are known.
The adversarial feeling that van Dyk had said the company wanted to avoid was amplified in the past month when Northern Gateway began an aggressive public relations campaign with newspaper ads, glossy brochures and a door-to-door campaign by employees, some brought in from Alberta.
When news of Northern Gateway’s campaign effort spread on social media, which in turn prompted a counter campaign using the hashtag #adsforkitimat. Ads created by people from across BC were posted on Facebook and YouTube.
Douglas Channel Watch positioned itself as the David vs. the Enbridge Goliath.
On Monday, Murray Minchin of Douglas Channel Watch told Council, “When Kitimat and northern BC residents found out how many resources Enbridge was pouring into their Kitimat plebiscite advertising campaign, some of those citizens made unsolicited donations to Douglas Channel Watch. This has allowed our small group to mount an advertising campaign of our own.” Minchin said donations went up after the group launched a website adding, “People began handing us money on the street while we were putting up lawn signs. Somebody, anonymously, left a $2,000 money order in one of our member’s mailboxes.
On Thursday, Douglas Channel Watch released its advertising budget showing that the organization spent $10,970.00 on print media ads, $792.92 on supplies, and has an outstanding debt of approximately $2,600.00 in radio ads, for a total of $14,362.92. Minchin challenged Enbridge to release its own ad budget.
Ivan Giesbrecht, a spokesperson for Northern Gateway said in an e-mail to the media that the company “will discuss our advertising spending after it’s over [the plebiscite] this weekend.” Late Friday, Giesbrecht released partial figures to the Northern Sentinel, saying the company had spent $6,500 in print and $3,100 on radio advertisements during the campaign.
Those figures don’t include the glossy brochures Northern Gateway distributed in the community, sponsored posts on Facebook, or the signs the dot the streets of Kitimat.
Douglas Channel Watch did put up signs. Many were recycled from earlier protests, came from Friends of the Wild Salmon or were created by volunteers from as far away as Smithers.
Giesbrecht told the Sentinel said the company felt that the discussion in the community about which side of the vote has spent more had “become a distraction” from the real issues. But instead of a discussion on jobs and taxes, on Friday night there was a raging debate on Kitimat Politics on Facebook about the Gateway release on its spending and what was missing from those figures.
On a cold and rainy Tuesday afternoon, Northern Gateway hosted an Open House and barbeque at the Rod and Gun. Northern Gateway not only outlined the jobs they say the project would create, but emphasized how far along the company is coming in meeting BC Premier Christy Clark’s condition for a “world-class” tanker spill prevention and response system.
Janet Holder, Enbridge Vice President of Western Access described what she and Northern Gateway staff called “super tugs,” 50 metres long. “One will be tethered to the tanker, one will be following the tanker,” Holder said. “So there will be two escorts whenever that tanker is in Canadian waters. The important thing about the tugs is not just they can move that tanker if it get into difficulty. It also contains emergency response equipment right with the tankers. We’ll also have strategically placed barges with emergency response equipment along the shorelines. We will be bringing in an enormous amount of equipment before we even start operating.”
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.” The tugs will also have firefighting capability. “The salvage capability that BC describes as ‘world-class,’ Northern Gateway is bringing that to the north coast,” McHugh said.
The plebiscite has raised tensions between the District of Kitimat and the nearby Haisla First Nation, which adamantly opposed to Northern Gateway.
Haisla chief counsellor Ellis Ross wrote a scathing letter to local media, saying, in part:
Deciding to hold a referendum at this late date is a slap in the face to all the work done by the Haisla Nation on this project. The Haisla Nation dedicated time and money toward testing Northern Gateway’s evidence and claims about safety and environmental protection, while the District stood by and did nothing.
The review process for this project has already left town, with the District taking no position on the project. Still undecided on what its views are on the project, the District now proposes to conduct a poll, instead of examining the facts in the JRP process. A poll to vote on a JRP report that we view as wrong to begin with including the flawed process itself!
On Sunday, the Haisla Senior Women were playing the Prince Rupert Thunder in finals of the annual Kitimat Open Basketball Tournament which has the aim of promoting “Cultural Warming” among everyone living in northwestern BC. At half time, members of the Haisla Nation distributed black T-shirts labelled with “No Enbridge” to spectators in the bleachers. After the Haisla won the game, 67 to 45, as Kitimat mayor Joanne Monaghan was called on to congratulate the winners, she was greeted by chants of “No Enbridge, No Enbridge.”
At Tuesday’s Open House, one of the audience asked Enbridge officials, including Janet Holder, “Why are you ignoring the Haisla?”
Donny van Dyke responded, “We are actively working to strengthen that relationship….” Then when the questioner persisted, van Dyke said, “With this question perhaps it’s better to take it offline.” Then he asked, “Are there any other questions?”
For years the District of Kitimat has been officially neutral but voting over the past years shows that council is evenly split on Enbridge issues with swing votes sometimes going one way and sometimes another on what are often four to three votes.
The federal cabinet has until mid-June, 180 days after the release of the Joint Review decision to approve the panel’s findings. It is expected by most observers that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will give the go ahead. That doesn’t mean the project will start immediately, the Joint Review findings already face about a dozen court challenges from First Nations and environmental groups.
Minchin said Saturday’s non-binding plebiscite “is not going to affect the Prime Minister’s decision per se. But it’s very important for Enbridge to squeak out a win here in Kitimat. It’s just my feeling that this proposal is associated with way too many risks for very little gain.
“If it comes back as a ‘no’ from Kitimat, it’s a clear signal back to Ottawa that they really need to rethink their priorities. For the amount of bitumen that would be coming here and exported as a raw product’ that same amount of bitumen would provide a couple of thousand direct jobs in Alberta. It seems crazy to be shipping off all our raw resources without any upgrading, it’s like raw log exports.”
Enbridge Vice President Janet Holder, speaking at the Open House said, “This is not a pie in the sky type project, it is real, we do have the shippers behind us, we have First Nations behind us.”
No matter what happens Saturday, both sides will continue to push their positions.
Holder said she would not speculate on the outcome of the plebiscite, “We’re going to communities throughout British Columbia, talking to citizens, providing the information, listening to their concerns. We’re just continuing with that outreach and we’ll continue with that outreach over the next year.”
How Kitimat voters cast their ballots depends on factors that go beyond the simple environment versus economy and jobs argument, so the outcome of Saturday’s plebiscite is far from certain.
In 2010, West Fraser’s Eurocan paper mill closed, with the loss of 500 jobs, a devastating blow to Kitimat’s economy. The Eurocan closure, the earlier closure of a Methanex plant and cutbacks at the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter and the abandonment of mills and mine across the northwest in recent years have left many people skeptical of corporate promises of jobs. Others believe the Northern Gateway project, along with proposed Liquefied Natural Gas projects in Kitimat and Prince Rupert will bring a much needed boost to a struggling economy.
Even though Kitimat has been an industrial town since the aluminum smelter was built in the 1950s, most residents fish in the Kitimat River, boat on Douglas Channel and hike or hunt in the back country, which means environmental concerns are always high on the agenda. There are fears even among some supporters of Northern Gateway of an environmental disaster.
Northern Gateway, which has admitted that its relations with northern communities started off badly in the early stages of the project, has a lot of catching up to do, no matter what the outcome of the plebiscite.
Nathan Cullen, NDP MP for Skeena Bulkley Valley and Opposition Finance Critic came to Kitimat last week to assist Douglas Channel Watch with its door-to-door campaign. “There will be PhDs written on how Enbridge blundered this,” Cullen told reporters at the time.
(Spelling of van Dyk was corrected. We regret the error)
In a letter to Northwest Coast Energy News, Murray Minchin says accusations that Douglas Channel Watch is “anti-development” is far from the truth:
Things are heating up in Kitimat as the April 12th Enbridge plebiscite gets closer. Assumptions have been made, and accusations hurled at Douglas Channel Watch for being an anti-development organization, and nothing could be further from the truth.
Our group formed because of our shared concerns regarding Enbridge’s history of spills and their Northern Gateway dual pipeline and supertanker port proposal. We have not stood in the way of any other project currently being proposed in Kitimat.
Many of us believe the tar sands should be refined in Alberta, thereby creating thousands of jobs for Canadians. Royalties and taxes garnered could fund research for better, cleaner energy solutions. The stone age didn’t end because they ran out of stones, it was because of the bronze age…we could utilize our tar sands in a wiser, forward looking way which could put Canada at the very forefront of cleaner energy systems into the future.
When you lay down on an issue, you get stepped on. Douglas Channel Watch prefers to stand firm with our conviction to protect the place we love, stare Enbridge and the Federal Government right in the eyes, and ask the hard questions while also demanding solid evidence, and will not apologize for doing so.
The JRP figures temporary foreign workers can build pipelines in Canada, that Enbridge’s project should be for the export of unrefined, raw, diluted bitumen, and that the Exxon Valdez and Kalamazoo spills, if they happened in BC’s salmon rivers or onto our pristine north coast, would be “justified in the circumstances”.
I, and many others, intend to send a massive, clear message to Ottawa that Enbridge’s Northern Gateway is a bad deal for Kitimat, for BC, and for all of Canada. They need to rethink their priorities, and why we are voting NO! to Enbridge.
At the moment the site redirects to the web designer site, as that company continues to build the site.
Full operation of the website is expected to begin in the next few days.
Douglas Channel Watch is playing catchup. Enbridge Northern Gateway launched a plebiscite vote yes website YesforKitimat, a couple of weeks ago.
Skeena Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen and the New Democratic Party also have a campaign website, largely aimed at the rest of the province, Take Back Our Coast promoting rallies in Campbell River, Powell River, Courtney, Duncan, Victoria and Vancouver.
The two major Kitimat LNG projects are also about to launch new websites. Shell’s LNG Canada held focus groups and discussions in Kitimat a few weeks ago as part of the company’s planning for its new website, which LNG Canada public relations staff said would be more engaging for the residents of the region. At the recent open house, Chevron, which is building the KM LNG project at Bish Cove also said they were redesigning their website.