Trudeau's LNG Approval Raises Troubling Questions For Progressive Voters in B.C.

As a progressive voter, it was disappointing to watch the sunset press conference, hastily organized on the banks of the Fraser River earlier this week, to announce the federal approval of Petronas's Pacific Northwest LNG project. Hosted by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change (cue the irony), the event welcomed an industrial project that would trample First Nations' rights and title, and make it virtually impossible for B.C. to meet its legislated greenhouse gas emission targets.

As the news sunk in, I couldn't help but feel my own faith in the Trudeau government fading like the sun that was setting behind his Ministers.

Just under a year ago, I wrote an opinion piece, identifying where progressive British Columbians in the Lower Mainland should strategically vote Liberal to defeat Stephen Harper. The Liberals ended up winning in all but two of the 11 ridings I recommended (the other two going to Conservatives Alice Wong and Dianne Watts in Richmond Centre and South Surrey-White Rock, respectively).

In making my case, I listed 10 reasons why a progressive voter in the Lower Mainland could feel positive about voting Liberal based on their election platform and party policy, including a new relationship with First Nations, evidence-based scientific decision-making, and action on climate change.

Unfortunately, the Trudeau cabinet approval of Pacific Northwest LNG sharply calls into question the government's commitment to these policies, and progressive voters in B.C. must now seek and deserve answers to two simple questions:

1.    How is this approval consistent with establishing a new relationship with First Nations based on respect and meaningful consultation?

2.    How is this approval consistent with evidence-based scientific decision-making and action on climate change?

With regard to the first question, Lelu Island, the site of the proposed LNG plant, is subject to complicated and unresolved First Nations titleholder claims. This makes approval inconsistent with the government's legal responsibilities to First Nations, let alone its moral obligations. In Question Period, the Prime Minister glossed over opposition questions about the government's respect for First Nations, and he spoke of "folding in" consultation with indigenous leaders. Was this a slip of the tongue or a true glimpse into Trudeau's actual views on meaningful consultation?

On the issue of climate change and scientific decision-making, this approval gives Petronas, wholly owned by the Malaysian government, nearly a third to as high as 75 - 87% (depending on whose numbers you use) of the total allowable emissions for B.C. in 2050, assuming we are going to meet our legislated climate target of 13 megatonnes that year. This leaves little to no room for the emissions of other sectors of the economy, or for British Columbians personally, making it virtually impossible to achieve our targets. How will Canada meet its international climate commitments if our provinces don't meet theirs?  

In response to the public outrage this approval has generated, Trudeau and his Ministers have repeated a non-sequitur about growing the economy and protecting the environment (not possible when we're talking about expanding fossil fuel infrastructure in the context of climate change), and platitudes about conducting resource development in the "most sustainable manner possible" (it's either sustainable or it isn't).

This approval violates some very closely held progressive values, and in the absence of answers and real action on these troubling questions, the hope of thousands of progressive voters in B.C. who helped elect this government, may go the same way as his Ministers' press conference: off into the sunset.

How a New Generation Is Fighting to Survive Climate Change

Earlier this year I had a chance to be interviewed by Geoff Dembicki for a new book he’s writing called “Are We Screwed?” for Bloomsbury US. It focuses on how millennials are fighting climate change with new political and economic strategies. Some of my own efforts as a citizen will be discussed in the book, and were mentioned in Geoff’s recent talk at TEDxEastVan. The Tyee also has an article/transcript of Geoff’s talk here.

Gitga'at First Nation Records the Soundscape Of Its Marine Territory to Protect Against Shipping and Tanker Noise

Baseline acoustical research initiated to study potential risk of increased marine traffic disturbing wildlife along the Douglas Channel, as well as cultural-use impacts on indigenous Territory

HARTLEY BAY, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwired - May 12, 2016) - The Gitga'at First Nation and researchers from UBC and Michigan State University have completed a first of its kind study along Douglas Channel and adjacent waters in Gitga'at marine Territory, in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. The channel has been proposed as an oil tanker shipping route for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

The results of the community-led study, published in the open-access scientific journal Global Ecology and Conservation, present a 'baseline' of the diverse acoustic-ecological conditions of Gitga'at Territory. This baseline is informed by over 357,000 discreet sound recordings, taken at eight locations in Gitga'at Territory over a 14-month period.

"This study builds on our multi-faceted ecological and cultural monitoring program and establishes baseline sound conditions against which the Gitga'at can assess future potential shipping and tanker traffic proposals in our territory," said Chris Picard, Science Director, Gitga'at Lands and Marine Resources Department. "It gives us a critical tool for protecting and managing our Territory and marine resources against the cumulative effects of industrial development."

While government and industry have just started talking about the need for more ecological monitoring in the face of greater proposed development on the coast, the Gitga'at and partners are actually busy doing it. This is critically important as more and more 'soundscape ecology' research reveals that increases in industrial noise can cause significant disturbance to wildlife, and cultural-use impacts.

"The Gitga'at people have a long history of protecting our territory and the cultural and social values, and the marine resources that sustain our nation," said Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor and Hereditary Chief of the Gitga'at First Nation. "Effective noise control policies are just one of the administrative tools we are considering to protect the Great Bear Rainforest and BC's coastal waters for all British Columbians."

The study considers an array of ecological sites along the Douglas Channel as well as Otter Channel and Wright Sound, recording captured acoustic signatures of marine mammals, ravens, and eagles, boat and aircraft noise, as well as wind, waves and rain.

"The frequency and intensity of anthropogenic noise in Gitga'at Territory is currently very low, suggesting a low degree of disturbance by human activities," said Stuart Gage, Professor Emeritus with Michigan State University's Global Observatory for Ecosystem Services & Remote Environmental Assessment Laboratory. "The potential increase in boat traffic due to the establishment of a new shipping channel through Gitga'at Territory would likely cause significant disturbance of the biophony in the region."

The study is one of the first indigenous-settler collaborations of its kind in the rapidly expanding field of soundscape ecology, and involved Gitga'at high school students, two of whom are listed as co-authors.

"This baseline project was a tremendous opportunity to learn from and work with Gitga'at," said Max Ritts, a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography at UBC. "One of the most interesting developments was working alongside students from the Hartley Bay Elementary School, who performed essential tasks as field technicians. This wasn't an initial part of the proposal but emerged over the course of our engagement. I think the idea that scientific monitoring should adapt to the emerging interests of the community isn't always easy for science to incorporate, but it is necessary. We were fortunate to have Gitga'at Leadership guide us through this process."

Full research article:

Contact Information

Chris Picard Science Director Gitga'at Lands and Marine Resources Department 778.884.2402

Max Ritts PhD Candidate Department of Geography, University of British Columbia 778.884.6580

Still Kicking: The Importance of Media Releases as Storytelling Workhorses

That's the title of the presentation I'll be giving to the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) in Vancouver next week. If you're interested in attending, you can register here. I'll be talking about media releases not just as tools of media relations, but also as tools for organizing and empowering organizations and communities. Here's a preview of what I'll be discussing:

First Nations Legal Challenge Aims to Enforce and Uphold BC Government’s Decision-Making Power Over Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline

Province must exercise its decision-making power over a project that threatens BC’s natural environment, coastal communities and Aboriginal rights and title. VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA (Jan. 13, 2015) - The Coastal First Nations and the Council and hereditary leadership of the Gitga’at First Nation are launching a constitutional challenge against the Province of British Columbia seeking to compel the Province to exercise its decision-making power over the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. The Petition, being filed today in British Columbia Supreme Court, says the Province is required to review the impacts of the project and make a decision as to whether it should proceed and, if so, on what conditions.

The proposed heavy oil and condensate pipelines would stretch 660 kilometres across British Columbia, and would cross approximately 850 streams and rivers. Under British Columbia’s Environmental Assessment Act, such a project requires an Environmental Assessment Certificate to be issued after a process of considering the environmental, economic, social, or health effects.

The Petitioners are represented by Joseph Arvay, Q.C., one of Canada’s most influential lawyers and an expert in constitutional, aboriginal and administrative law.

At the heart of the lawsuit is an argument that the Province failed to consult with First Nations and failed to follow the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Act when it entered into an “Equivalency Agreement” with the federal National Energy Board (NEB), in which the Province abdicated its power to review the project’s environmental effects and to impose more stringent environmental protections.

“The Province signed the Equivalency Agreement without any consultation with First Nations, even though the Northern Gateway project could have devastating impacts on our rights and way of life,” said Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor of the Gitga’at First Nation. “Our territories are within the shipping route that would be used by hundreds of tankers each year. In abdicating its decision-making power, the Province is putting coastal communities at risk of the severe and irreversible harm of oil spills and oil tanker traffic.”

The Gitga’at First Nation and Coastal First Nations are bringing a direct challenge against the Equivalency Agreement, which they argue was made in violation of their constitutionally protected rights and the Environmental Assessment Act itself.

“This lawsuit is about protecting Aboriginal rights and title, and giving the BC government an opportunity to take action that is consistent with its own opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline,” said Art Sterritt, Executive Director of the Coastal First Nations. “We believe the Province has erred in law by avoiding responsibility for a project that its lawyers argued before the NEB should not be approved because of unacceptable risks to British Columbia’s communities and natural environment.”

The lawsuit contends that while the Province was entitled to reduce duplication and overlap by participating in the federal assessment process, it was not entitled to abdicate its decision-making power over the project.

Contact Information:

Art Sterritt Executive Director Coastal First Nations Office: 604-696-9889 Cell: 604-868-9110

Andrew Frank Communications Officer Gitga’at First Nation 604-367-2112

Media Advisory: Forensic Auditor to Present Analysis of Lubicon Lake First Nation’s Cree Development Corporation

PEACE RIVER, ALBERTA (September 5, 2014) Attention News Editors:

Media are invited to a public presentation by forensic auditors from MNP LLP in Peace River on Monday, September 8 at 1:00pm.

What: A forensic auditor from MNP LLP will present results and analysis from a forensic audit into the operational transactions, assets, liabilities and revenue sources of the Lubicon Lake First Nation’s Cree Development Corporation covering the period March 1, 2006 to Feb. 28, 2012.

A Q&A session will follow the presentation.

Chief Billy Joe Laboucan will be available for interviews.

When: Monday, September 8, 2014 at 1:00 pm MT

Where: Belle Petroleum Centre in Peace River, Alberta.

Contact: Lubicon Lake Band Andrew Frank Communications Specialist 604-367-2112

Gitga’at First Nation Releases Photos of Damaged Coal Carrier In Prince Rupert Harbour

Nation says recent grounding events show the limits of "world class" ship safety; nation reserves the right to determine what ships are allowed to transit through its territorial waters. HARTLEY BAY (July 23, 2014) - Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor of the Gitga’at First Nation, was returning from a commercial fishing trip early this morning when he saw the listing 228-metre Amakusa Island bulk carrier being towed into Prince Rupert harbour for repairs.

The double-bottomed ship sustained a large six-metre gash in its hull that flooded two ballast tanks when it ran aground in Prince Rupert's outer harbour last week.

Photos of the ship are available here:

"This incident shows us just how shallow the federal government and industry's promises of "world class" ship and tanker safety are," said Clifton. "In each of the past two groundings in Prince Rupert, a BC pilot was on board, and while these pilots are accomplished mariners, they are not immune to human error."

The Gitga'at First Nation has launched a court challenge of the federal cabinet's decision to approve the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and tankers project, and is seeking a declaration of Aboriginal title that would affirm that the waters and routes of marine travel through the core of Gitga'at Territory are Gitga'at's to use, and it is for the Gitga'at to collectively decide what uses their lands, waters and resources can be put to.

"With the sinking of the Queen of the North, our nation knows only too well the true costs of human error," said Clifton. "It's for that reason that we reserve the right to decide what uses our waters can be put to."

Gitga'at territory encompasses approximately 7,500 square kilometres of land and water, including a major portion of Douglas Channel, which is the proposed route oil tankers would have to travel to get to and from Kitimat.

Contact Information:

Andrew Frank Communications Officer Gitga’at First Nation 604-367-2112

How Ottawa's pipeline plans could kill BC's "golden goose"

By all accounts, the development of British Columbia's liquified natural gas (LNG) industry is both delicate and extremely time sensitive. There is a global race to get LNG to market, and purchasers in Asia and elsewhere want stable, long-term contracts. All of this has made the BC government unusually receptive to the opinion and concerns of First Nations in Northern BC, whose territories  include both the gas fields themselves, as well as the possible transport routes (by land and water) over which the gas must be transported.

To get an idea of just how touchy the BC government is on the LNG file these days, witness the recent 72hr environmental policy flipflop and public apology by senior government ministers for having introduced (without consultation) new environmental assessment exemptions for sweet natural gas processing plants and ski hill developments. Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs captured the anger many First Nations leaders felt over the lack of consultation: “In a stunningly stupid move, the province has effectively declared war on all B.C. First Nations and jeopardized all LNG discussions throughout the entire province of B.C."

First Nations reaction was completely understandable given the lack of consultation by the BC government, but it also signals a wider sentiment based not only on historical wrongs and grievances, but also the tone deaf and often antagonizing tactics of the federal government and resource companies who are seeking to build heavy oil pipelines to the West Coast, and to develop mineral and gas deposits in Northern BC, in the absence of treaties with any of the dozens of First Nations who live there. First Nations are not anti-development, but they do have the right to determine what responsible and sustainable resource development looks like for them.

Given this context, it's not surprising that the BC government is now publicly signalling its dissatisfaction with the way the federal Conservative government is pushing pipelines in BC (the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline in particular).

In today's Globe and Mail, Gary Mason quotes an unnamed source who is apparently familiar with discussions between the two governments: "'It's becoming an issue,' said a source with knowledge of the situation. 'As Ottawa pushes the two oil pipelines one of the unintended consequences could be that First Nations communities on the natural gas pipeline routes could simply say no to natural gas if the feds are going to push the pipelines on B.C.'"

This is a real danger I have written about and discussed in public forums. If First Nations feel continually harassed and are antagonized by the federal Conservative government in its blind quest to build the Northern Gateway pipeline, how will that affect the relationships First Nations are willing to have with other governments and communities? Put simply, are we willing as British Columbians and Canadians to allow the federal Conservative government to further undermine BC First Nations' trust and good will, thereby jeopardizing fledgling relationships and other forms of natural resource development in Northern BC?

In his article, Mason goes on to say that "cross threading" is the new term being used inside the B.C. government to describe the emerging problem of the federal and provincial governments' energy interests being out of sync. To carry the nuts and bolts analogy further, I think BC needs to ask itself if its willing to allow the federal government to forcibly strip away what little trust currently exists between First Nations and other levels of government, all for an ill-conceived pipeline that is opposed by the majority of British Columbians, and was most recently rejected by Kitimat, which had the most to gain from it materially.

Trust is the prerequisite for any relationship, and the development of natural resources in Northern British Columbia will not proceed smoothly, orderly, or in some cases perhaps at all, if the federal Conservative government forces pipelines on First Nations.

Conservative Government Celebrates Earth Day By Removing Habitat Protections For Humpback Whales

The title of this post is a bit tongue in cheek, but could the timing be worse?

Stephen Harper's cabinet, in its quest to significantly diminish legal hurdles for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, has quietly removed legal protection for Humpback whales and their critical habitat, by taking them off the "threatened" animals list under the Species At Risk Act (SARA). The changes, which were made despite opposition from a majority of academics, conservation groups and First Nations who were sent consultation letters on the proposed de-listing, were published in the Canadian Gazette over Easter weekend and became public today (April 22), which also happens to be Earth Day.

The de-listing appears to be in direct response to a Federal Court ruling earlier this year that found Ottawa had missed mandatory deadlines to release plans for Humpback whale habitat protection. At the time of her ruling, Justice Anne Mactavish said the government's failure could have an impact on approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline. Rather than protecting the whales' critical habitat, Ottawa has, to quote the Canadian Press, "changed the rules."

The de-listing, which will be viewed as an attack on whales and the environment by First Nations, conservation groups and the general public, is the clearest sign to date that Stephen Harper is going for broke in attempting to force the Northern Gateway pipeline through British Columbia, despite steadfast and widespread opposition from First Nations and the general public.

At a time when government relations with First Nations are already inflamed over backdoor changes (since rescinded) to environmental legislation in BC (witness the recent ejection of BC government officials from a liquified natural gas conference), the Harper government's decision on Humpback whales is completely tone deaf, and threatens not only the social license for the Northern Gateway pipeline (which frankly appears beyond salvage given its recent rejection by the community that had the most to gain from it materially), but also threatens to impede other resource projects in Northern BC and elsewhere.

The Harper government's move to delist Humpback whales is one more in a pattern of poor decisions that have undermined Mr. Harper's own "responsible resource development" agenda. As the Toronto Star's Les Whittington notes, "...watching these energy debates unfold, many observers have concluded the federal government and industry failed to anticipate the depth of opposition to new oil pipelines and completely mishandled attempts to seek aboriginal co-operation on Northern Gateway."

In uncharacteristically candid commentary, TD Bank chief economist Craig Alexander is frank about the mishandling of pipeline development (all the more significant as TD is a major investor in oil sands projects and infrastructure): "The energy companies made a fundamental mistake. They felt that selling the public on these projects was going to be far easier than it actually turned out to be. There were mistakes made about how to get buy-in from the public and from some governments on the merits of these projects. And they may not have fully incorporated some of the environmental issues into their planning process.”

Does the Harper cabinet's decision to delist Humpback whales help get buy-in from the public? Does it signal that environmental issues are an important part of the planning process? Or does it reveal a self-defeating impatience and aggression that undermines trust and goodwill with key publics?

"The Harper government appears to have been impatient with a range of issues around the creation of energy megaprojects. It has streamlined approval processes, narrowed the qualifications for intervenors in regulatory hearings and given the federal cabinet the final say on approving construction. Among environmentalists, then natural resources minister Joe Oliver’s 2012 suggestion that greens were trying to “hijack” the regulatory process to achieve their “radical ideological agenda” is seen as a spark that contributed to the explosion of opposition to West Coast pipelines and more oil tankers."

British Columbians, and Canadians need to decide how far they will let Mr. Harper's wanton approach to resource development harm future prospects for harmonious resource development and partnerships with First Nations and other communities in Northern BC and elsewhere that are truly responsible, sustainable and supported by local communities. We will have a chance to make that decision in the next federal election scheduled for October 2015.