Art owners don’t have the moral right to do whatever they want to an artist’s work.
BACK IN AUGUST, many local residents were surprised, some might say appalled, to learn that a secret message, “ACAB”, had been inserted into a street mural commissioned by the City of Victoria as a gesture of reconciliation and inclusiveness. The mural painted at Bastion Square by a group of 17 artists was a depiction of the slogan “More Peace, More Justice” but inserted into the “S” on “Justice” was the acronym ACAB. This may not be a household term to many, but we soon learned it represented an anti-police protest term “All Cops are Bad,” or more pejoratively “All Cops are Bastards.” ACAB is reported to have originated in the UK in the 1920s. It became popular in punk rock circles in the 1980s and 1990s, and more recently has become quite widespread during anti-racism protests in the US.
Not surprisingly, Victoria City Council and Chief Constable Del Manak were not impressed. Manak called the code word disrespectful and offensive. Council voted to paint it over. But then the artists staged a sit-in and it was decided to negotiate. The negotiations resulted in the entire letter “S” being painted over with black paint, and the following words inserted in its place. “This letter has been censored by the City of Victoria influenced by the Victoria Police Department. In doing so, Victoria is contributing to the silencing of Black and Indigenous voices and experiences across this land.”
The “More Peace, More Justice” mural in Victoria’s Bastion Square
This was a compromise of sorts, but certainly not one to calm troubled waters. The mural got plenty of attention—most of it unfavourable. A number of irate citizens weighed in, including one who decided to spray-paint over the revised wording. Some pointed out that since the City had commissioned the work, it had the right to amend it without negotiating with the artists. One local artist wrote to the Times-Colonist who printed the letter under the title “Who owns an art installation?” The writer said, “I have sold a number of pieces of both my own and commissioned work. I could not imagine incorporating a political message of my belief into a piece of commissioned work, without the knowledge of the purchaser. It would be unprofessional, as well as morally unethical.”
No arguments there. But then he continued, “I was angered to read that the artists responsible for the work were involved in “weeks of negotiations with the city” as to how to deal with the offensive acronym…I have been fortunate enough to purchase a few pieces of original art in my lifetime. Since I bought and paid for them, they belong to me. I can do whatever I wish with them…Since the city owns this installation, the city should not really have to consult with anyone as to what happens with the piece.”
Let’s examine that statement. As much as it may sound logical that if you own something, you can do whatever you want with it, in the case of art the situation is not so clear. First, Canada no longer follows the “work for hire” doctrine (applicable in the US), so just because a work is commissioned by someone, that does not mean that the purchaser owns the copyright. It is retained by the artist, and in this case the copyright is presumably held by the two artists who painted the letter “S”, or perhaps collectively by the entire group of 17 artists. And if they hold the copyright, they can exercise their “moral rights” to prevent unauthorized alteration of their work.
In Canada, the right to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification is known as the “right of integrity”. One copyright expert has described it this way: “The right of integrity is the right of the author to object to any changes of his work that may harm his reputation as an author. This harm would be a question of fact that would have to be determined in court through the testimony of witnesses. For example, painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa (if the Mona Lisa was still protected by copyright) would likely be a violation of Da Vinci’s moral rights.”
The best-known moral rights case in Canada involved the artist Michael Snow. Snow’s work Flight Stop, a representation of sixty geese, hangs in the main galleria of the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto. Commissioned by the Centre’s developers in 1979, in 1982 the geese became entangled in a legal controversy over Snow’s moral rights. Just before Christmas of that year, the management of the Centre decided to bedeck Snow’s geese with red ribbons and use photos of the bedecked geese on promotional items. Snow objected, claiming that the addition of the ribbons altered the character and purpose of the work and negatively affected his artistic reputation. Mall management disagreed, and the case went to the Ontario High Court, which ruled in Snow’s favour. The Eaton Centre was given three days to remove the ribbons, which they did. Snow had made his point and asserted his moral rights.
Now to return to the “More Peace, More Justice” street mural in Victoria, and its hidden ACAB message. It seems to me that the City of Victoria was wise to have entered into discussions with the artists rather than peremptorily disfiguring the work, no matter how noble it felt its cause was. Perhaps the Council actually took some legal advice on the matter? Maybe a group of 17 young artists would not have had the staying power to take the City to court, but who knows? A rich benefactor may have stepped up. It would have been very messy, although the “compromise” that was worked out was not so clean either.
Anyway, I hate to disappoint anyone who may think that an owner or collector can do whatever he or she wants with a piece of purchased art. It isn’t so. In the end, as unsatisfactory as the outcome may have been to a number of people, the City of Victoria undoubtedly did the right thing by negotiating and coming to a compromise solution agreed to by the artists.
Hugh Stephens, a Victoria resident and former executive with Time Warner, writes a weekly blog (www.hughstephensblog.net) on international copyright issues. This story originally appeared in his blog as “Victoria’s “More Peace, More Justice” Mural and the ACAB Controversy: Who Was “Morally Right”?
Statement of solidarity with Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations taking steps to end unfair, discriminatory trespassing by Western Forest Products on their lands.
SIERRA CLUB BC and Kwakwaka’wakw hereditary chiefs are standing in solidarity with Mike Maquinna, the Council of Chiefs of Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation and with affected communities of Tsaxana and Gold River. We denounce the reprehensible actions and sustained disrespect shown to the Mowachaht/Muchalaht people with the blatant trespassing on Ahaminaquus IR 12 by Western Forest Products (WFP) and the tacit provincial government approval evidenced by inaction on the matter.
For the entire 50-year lifespan of Sierra Club BC’s existence, the province of B.C. and successive logging operations have committed offenses under sections 30 and 31 of the Indian Act, namely trespassing. This is a shameful act that illustrates the arrogance WFP shows to the forest and the people who steward them.
If WFP wishes to log within Mowachaht/Muchalaht territory or any other territories they need to respect that the Mowachaht/Muchalaht are the keepers of the land, and therefore entitled to fair compensation. Moving forward, the Province and companies like WFP need to ensure all commercial operations seek out Free, Prior and Informed Consent in ways that uphold community-based sovereignty of First Nations on their territory.
In a statement, Hereditary Chief David Mungo Knox, Walas Numgwis, with the support of Hereditary Chief Calvin Hunt, Nas’am’yus, said, “WFP has shown Kwagu'ł people their true colors. They care about their shareholders more than the forests and Indigenous people who steward them. It pains me to see WFP violating Mowachaht/Muchalaht territory as they also do here. We speak with one voice when we raise our voices in thanks to the Mowachaht/Muchalaht for asserting their rights.”
Chief Rande Cook, ‘Namgis Hereditary Chief An’anxwisa’gamayi, with the support of ‘Namgis hereditary Chief William Wasden Jr., Waxowidi; ‘Namgis hereditary Chief Ernest Alfred, Kwakwaba’las; Musgamagw Hereditary Chief K’odi Nelson, Maxwayalis who all have a traditional connection to the Mowachaht/Muchalaht said “The sacred Nimpkish River connects Kwakwaka’wakw and Nuu-Chah-Nulth people through ‘Namgis territory. The government and industry try to divide us so they can exploit our resources and lands but we have deep roots and family ties to the West Coast. The Mowachaht/Muchalaht struggle to be seen and respected, it is also a Kwakwaka’wakw struggle to be seen and respected and vice versa. A violation of Nuu-chah-nulth law is a violation against all Indigenous people. We know the damage that Western Forest Products has caused and we will remember the silence of the province who let it happen.”
Half a century of blatant trespass is a profoundly disturbing indication of colonial racism. It’s past time for WFP to pay reparations and for the colonial governments to prioritize this once and for all.
Mark Worthing is Sierra Club BC’s Coastal Projects Lead.
Let’s think about the world we are leaving our grandkids as we head to the BC election.
Walking School Bus – Grandparents and parents walking kids to school
JUST OVER A MONTH AGO we woke to a thick, smokey haze settling over Victoria and neighbouring communities. Shockingly, the BC coast recorded some of the world’s worst air quality caused from the Washington and Oregon state fires.
Environment Canada recommended citizens “reduce or reschedule strenuous activities outdoors and children and the elderly should salso take it easy.”
September 8 was my granddaughter’s birthday. It’s hard enough for an eight-year-old to forego the typical birthday party because of COVID-19, but as our family bubble locked up inside on one of the last days of summer it left me feeling like the climate and health Armageddon was on our doorstep.
Not only was the afternoon picnic spoiled but we all sheltered inside for over a week as our southern neighbours experienced some of the worst fires in history and our air quality index went to 10+ or “very high risk”.
In fact, Washington wildfires burned over 289,000 ha (713,000 acres), 181 homes were lost, and one death occurred as a result. The 2020 fire season saw more individual fires than in any other recorded year.
California wildfires continue to burn and so far, have consumed more than 1.62 million ha (4 million acres), a record for the most acres burned in a single year.
The 2020 Oregon wildfire season was one of the most destructive on record with fires killing at least 11 people, burning more than 400,000 ha (1 million acres) of land, and destroying hundreds of homes.
On the same smokey day of September 8, the LA Times published a powerful editorial “Wildfires and soaring temperatures—the hellscape scientists warned us about is here,” explaining why we must change direction. “We need to end this reliance on fossil fuels if we’re going to have any hope of mitigating the damage we have already done to the global environment, and to ourselves.”
Forests are our best ally in fighting climate change, and they enhance our environment by storing carbon, halting land degradation, providing fuel to substitute fossil fuels, and fixing nitrogen to reduce the use of fertilizers. Not to mention—they are rich in biological diversity of animal and plant species making BC one of the most beautiful places in the world.
The Sierra Club BC tells us “old-growth temperate rainforests have the largest carbon storage capacity per hectare on Earth.”
BC is twice the size of California. We occupy 95 million hectares (235 million acres) of land. Almost 64 percent of this land is forested and 10 percent is remaining old growth. It would be an incredible loss to see it all go up in smoke, but it’s a real threat with the effects of climate change upon us.
In our own province, the 2017 and 2018 wildfires burned more than 1.2 million hectares, eight times more than the ten-year average. Four of BC’s 2017 fires caused an estimated 190 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.
And BC forest fires are not accounted for in our GHG inventory. Only emissions that may be within government control are counted. One could argue our climate impact can be controlled by the government.
For Our Grandkids, a group of Victoria grandparents declare “Our first duty as grandparents is to protect our children and grandchildren. We’d storm a burning building to save them, no matter the consequences. Sadly, their house IS on fire. Climate change and injustice pose a direct threat to our kids unless we change course. Part of being a grandparent today is to help make the change we need.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to net zero between 2040 and 2055 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The BC government has pledged to reduce emissions by 80 percent from 2007 levels by 2050 through its CleanBC Plan.
However, just one month before the smoked filled skies, the BC government released data that 2018 gross emissions totalled 67.9 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent. An increase of 7 percent since 2007 and an increase of 2.2 Mt from 2017 (and remember, this does not include 190 million tonnes of CO2 emissions from the 2017 wild fires).
These numbers push the province further away from its targets of a 40 percent reduction from 2007 levels by 2030. BC is now 14 percent further from its 2030 target than it was in 2007.
The BC Government’s CleanBC Plan is worthy of praise but it’s unclear how increasing the production and distribution of liquified natural gas (LNG) fits within the targets of the plan.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reports that increasing production for LNG Canada would “add a total of 13 megatonnes per year, including the company’s estimate of 3.96 megatonnes from the terminal itself. Including LNG Canada, emissions from oil and gas production would exceed BC’s 2050 target by 160 percent, even if emissions from the rest of the economy were reduced to zero by 2035! If Kitimat LNG and Woodfibre LNG were also built (both of which have 40-year export licenses approved by CER), total LNG emissions would amount to 22.6 megatonnes and BC’s 2050 target would be exceeded by 227 percent, even if all other sectors of BC’s economy reached zero emissions by 2031!”
Kate Lawes, mother of teens and volunteer for Parents 4 Climate says, “Parents cannot see the possibility of a positive future for their children if billions of dollars continue to be spent on subsidies supporting the fossil fuel industry.” She asks, “When will our province stop subsidizing fossil fuels and put the money toward immediately reducing GHG’s to provide a greener future for the children of BC and the world?” She continues her plea with “If not, then why?”
LNG production may stimulate our economy, but it’s not sustainable, it’s not healthy, it’s not ethical, and in fact, it’s not even smart. It’s certainly not clean!
Kate and her cohorts with Parents 4 Climate, the BC Sustainable Energy Association, and For Our Grandkids have a few questions to ask their provincial candidates.
“We want to know what our MLA’s are going to do to ensure a Clean and Just economy” reads the intro to their 5-question survey for all the candidates running on lower Vancouver Island.
Answers to those questions will be posted here by October 18.
If I make it to the ripe, old age of 90 in 2050, my grandchildren will be in their late thirties, perhaps with children of their own. By then, let’s hope “Beautiful BC” has not burned to the ground and it’s safe to be outside breathing fresh, clean air, and eating fresh, clean food. I pray the future generations will be full of optimism and dreams built on clean and sustainable lifestyles.
Reduced emission targets are not just political promises, but obligations under the Climate Change Accountability Act and Carbon Neutral Government Regulation.
An election is a chance to hold politicians accountable. It’s a time to ask candidates their vision of the future and how they will uphold climate change legislation and regulation.
It’s your right to ask and future generations are counting on a new approach to economic recovery that considers green and social causes.
Kathryn Molloy is a grandmother, mother, climate activist, a volunteer with For Our Grandkids and the former executive director of both Sierra Club BC and Heritage BC.
BC to destroy old-growth caribou habitat, sabotaging restoration efforts nearby
DAYS AFTER THE PROVINCE announced a new provincial approach to old-growth forests, conservation groups are blowing the whistle on plans to log more than three square kilometres of intact rainforest north of Revelstoke, destroying endangered southern mountain caribou critical habitat. While B.C. quietly advances plans to log the old-growth, the province is trumpeting spending of more than $33,000 to restore caribou habitat nearby.
The B.C. government is taking two steps forward and three steps back by attempting to create habitat while also obliterating old-growth habitat that caribou have been known to use. It’s a net loss. The government is sabotaging itself and caribou, not to mention wasting taxpayer money, by logging right next door.
On the ground investigation from Wildsight, Echo Conservation Society and the Wilderness Committee in the Argonaut Valley has revealed the planned logging will destroy a large area of primarily old-growth rainforest, with massive cedars and hemlocks over 50 metres tall and many hundreds of years old. This comes right after a provincial review of old-growth forests found that a paradigm shift is necessary to manage B.C.’s old-growth forests. The authors recommended 14 steps to preserve the remarkable old-growth found in the province including immediately deferring logging in old forests where ecosystems are at high risk of irreversible biodiversity loss. Argonaut Creek is one of these areas where biodiversity and old-growth forest is at risk.
The Upper Argonaut Valley (Photo courtesy of Wildsight)
“The rainforest in the Argonaut Valley is an incredible place, with giant ancient cedars,” says Echo Conservation Society Executive Director Thomas Knowles. “B.C.’s interior rainforest is a hidden ecological jewel along the eastern edge of the province, but we’re letting it slip away to logging.”
This rainforest is critical habitat for endangered southern mountain caribou, which have recently disappeared from the southern part of their range in the Kootenays after two herds were lost in the Purcell and Selkirk mountains.
“Mountain caribou have already been wiped off the map in southern B.C., mostly because of the destruction of their habitat through logging,” says Wildsight Conservation Specialist Eddie Petryshen. “The North Columbia herd is the southernmost herd left in B.C. with the best chance at survival but they won’t survive if we keep clearcutting the old-growth forest they need.”
These cutblocks are being auctioned off by BC Timber Sales, which is the provincial government’s own logging agency. The groups are calling on the provincial government to cancel the auction of these primarily old-growth logging blocks and restore the five kilometres of already-constructed road.
If B.C. won’t protect this critical caribou habitat, then federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson must use his powers under the Species at Risk Act and issue an emergency protection order to protect irreplaceable caribou habitat.
The proposed clearcuts fall within the 150-member North Columbia herd’s critical habitat under Canada’s Species at Risk Act and tracking data shows that caribou use the area. Logging and other industrial activity is largely blamed for the severe decline of southern mountain caribou to less than 1,200 animals. This population of deep-snow caribou survive by eating lichen from trees in the winter and are disappearing not just because of the loss of the old-growth forests they rely on, but also because of an increase in predators because of changes in forest ecosystems and backcountry roads that come with logging.
This summer, the B.C. government announced $1.1 million in funding for caribou habitat restoration. Splatsin First Nation is leading a restoration project in the area and the province has devoted over $33,000 to this effort. Yet at the same time, the province is auctioning off cutblocks less than two kilometres from the area being restored. In past years, the province has also spent significant sums on maternal penning for caribou in the North Columbia herd, culling predators like wolves and other measures.
“Habitat restoration is an incredibly important aspect of recovery,” says Knowles. “But it makes no sense to restore habitat, build maternity pens and kill predators for caribou and then turn around and cut down the old-growth forest they need to survive.”
With less than 5 percent of the inland rainforest still standing as old-growth, conservation groups are asking why the province is allowing any logging of the little old-growth that remains
“British Columbians want their old-growth forests protected, not logged,” says Petryshen. “So why is B.C. planning to log one of the few remaining valleys of old-growth in the rainforest north of Revelstoke?
Charlotte Dawe is Conservation and Policy Campaigner for the Wilderness Committee.
A report card on government’s access to information timelines
GOVERNMENT’S INFORMATION IS THE PUBLIC’S INFORMATION. More than a glib phrase, this principle was unanimously enshrined by BC’s legislature in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) more than 25 years ago. FIPPA gives each of us the right of access to a public body’s information within a prescribed time frame, subject to carefully prescribed exceptions.
To be meaningful, any access to information system must work in a timely way — access delayed is, in many cases, access denied. And any time an access response is outside the legislated timeline, government fails to respect the law.
For these reasons, my office has, for many years, conducted periodic assessments of the provincial government’s timeliness in responding to access requests. This report examines timeliness since the previous assessment released in September, 2017. This report uses the same point scoring system as past timeliness assessments to ensure valid comparisons. This report also applies other metrics, which offer further insights into government’s performance.
The positive news is that response times, as measured by government’s point scores of the last three years, are their highest since 2012/13. This is welcome. But it must not obscure what continues to be a blight on the access to information system and a threat to the public’s confidence in it: between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2020, government took it upon themselves, in over 4,000 cases, to extend the response time for an access request without any legal right to do so.
Timeliness of access is a vitally important principle. Surely it should go without saying that respect for the law is even more important.
This untenable situation has spanned multiple governments over many years. My worry is that, over time, a culture of acceptance has grown around this issue, affecting government’s attitude toward the problem, and also, to be frank, the approach my office has taken. This must end.
To be clear, I acknowledge the rising volume of access requests, especially in the past two fiscal years, as illustrated in this report. The all-time highs for requests undoubtedly present challenges and I credit the dedicated public servants, particularly those in the Information Access Operations office, who work very hard to keep pace. The fact is, however, that the public service must have the resources necessary to keep pace with demand and to comply with the law.
Other tools exist that can improve the situation, so this report makes recommendations that could assist the work of the government’s access experts. Ministries must also prioritize proactive disclosure to ensure commonly sought records are more readily available. In addition, as noted in my s. 71 report published earlier this year, government must establish additional categories of records to make information more easily accessible. I also encourage access applicants to, wherever possible, try to ensure the scope of their requests accurately targets only the information they truly need.
In summary, while I am encouraged by the improvement in government’s response scores, I am deeply troubled by the large number of cases left unanswered within the time limits set out in FIPPA. This state of affairs cannot continue without bringing British Columbia’s access to information law into disrepute.
Michael McEvoy, Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia
Read the report:OIPC Timeliness Report.pdf
With no success at reducing local emissions in the CRD, maybe it’s time to try something different.
By Peter Gose and Zeb King
THE RECENT DISCOVERY that the CRD is “not even close” to meeting its emission targets (Times Colonist, Aug. 11, 2020) shows that nibbling around the edges of the climate crisis will not get the job done. Existing measures like active transit, charging stations and building retrofits are fine, but do not address the core of the problem. Worse still, they continue the illusion that the solution lies in individual lifestyle decisions. Instead, we need to ask where the bulk of our emissions come from and develop a social infrastructure that eliminates them. The CRD study reveals that automobiles are the single largest source (46 percent) of the region’s emissions. Any real solution must begin by getting cars off the road.
What we need is an electrified, expanded, high-quality public transit network that is fare-free. Any of these changes is welcome and ultimately all are necessary but we see eliminating fares as the crucial first step that will put people in bus seats, build ridership, and so make the case for expanded service. For decades, our leaders at the Transit Commission have tried the reverse approach of improving service levels within the existing fare model and have failed to build a system that reverses automobile dependency. Maybe charging fees for a service you want people to use is counterproductive. It’s time to try something different. How about getting rid of fares to encourage use of public transit as an environmentally responsible alternative?
So our call is to temporarily put aside all the technological discussions about how great our transit system could be if only it was fully electrified to eliminate carbon emissions and featured amazing apps. None of that matters unless ridership dramatically increases. For now, we even suggest parking the hope of extending service to currently neglected areas. Yes, these should be goals, but they put the cart before the horse. Demand must come first and can surge even with the existing service if we only remove fares as a regressive user fee. Once public transit has a larger user base, the Commissioner’s dreams of an improved bus fleet and levels of service will have a natural constituency. If we want the CRD to act fast in “getting close” to meeting its emissions targets, fare-free public transit is where we have to start.
Our belief in fare-elimination as the first step in a transformative sequence is grounded in historical experience. When the University Pass was applied to every student at UVic in the 1990s, ridership increased dramatically. In fact, it was such a success with packed buses that transit had to scramble to improve service, put on more buses and thus increase frequency. This wasn’t the “wait for service changes” approach. It was about unleashing demand which forced service improvements. We simply propose up-scaling this proven approach to the entire system.
How would we pay for fare-free transit? The short answer is by following through on the logic of our existing system, in which provincial and municipal taxes already pay around 75 percent of the costs. By eliminating the fare-box and topping up the difference with increased taxes, we will acknowledge that public transit depends on public funding, and end the charade that a regressive user fee that suppresses ridership is how we actually pay for it. Instead, we would adopt a progressive funding formula, one that is based on the ability to pay through our tax system. We do not charge user fees to take elevators in buildings, walk on sidewalks, drive on roads, borrow books from libraries, put out fires or for medical services: why, especially during a climate crisis, should user fees exist for public transit? More to the point, if we fail to address the climate crisis now, exponentially greater costs await us in the coming decade. There is no economic case against effective climate action.
The CRD cannot just passively audit its own failure to meet emission targets. Mayor Lisa Helps has called for “bold suggestions” but our proposal for expanded, fare-free public transit is hardly that. It merely applies to public transit a full public funding formula that we successfully use for other essential services. Neither business as usual nor green austerity, our proposal would reduce emissions dramatically while also creating a more inclusive society for low-income people, safer neighbourhoods with reduced traffic, and a higher quality of life for everybody. It is a collective solution whose time has come.
Peter Gose, (Professor Emeritus, Carleton University) and Zeb King, Central Saanich Councillor
The Caledonia housing project in Fernwood is causing a land use conflict, pitting educational needs against housing.
HOW DID VIC HIGH’S seismic upgrade become subordinate to the Capital Region Housing Corporation’s (CRHC) agenda? In a telephone conversation with the Regional Director of the Ministry of Education’s Capital Management Branch, Damien Crowell, on June 9, 2020, he confirmed that School District 61 had access to government funding to offset the $2.6M shortfall associated with Vic High’s upgrade. Yet the School District chose to lease over two acres of Vic High land for sixty years to the CRHC for the proposed Caledonia project, charging a cut-rate price of $4.1M total. The issue has divided our community in a futile “housing vs education” conflict. For all that, the 1,000 students who will attend the seismically upgraded Vic High are the ones who will pay the price if this questionable deal moves forward.
There are many things wrong here. But for the purposes of this article, I will focus on how the project’s need for more space than originally thought has impacted a long-planned and needed rejuvenation of Vic High’s stadium and track.
In a recent article in the Times-Colonist, “Thanks for the Memories: Saying Goodbye to Vic High’s Old Stadium,” the omission of one word—metric—previously used to describe the Revitalized Stadium plans for a new track, is the mark of a scandalous cover-up that through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, has been laid bare.
Emails starting on August 1, 2017 between former School District 61 Secretary-Treasurer, Mark Walsh, and Capital Region Housing Corporation (CRHC) Development Manager Paul Kitson regarding the proposed Caledonia Housing Project on Vic High land, reveal that poor planning led to the undisclosed decision to cancel Vic High’s promised metric track—a track that requires a significantly larger footprint than the current yard track.
The western extent of the old track is outlined within the field area of the new track. The western extent of the new metric track would be the brown area (lanes) on the left, plus the white area.
Site plans for Vic High’s Revitalized Stadium were not taken into consideration when the CRHC prepared the September, 2018 Urban Design Brief for the proposed housing. Consequently, the design took shape without reference to the expanded area required for Vic High’s metric track, leading to a land-use conflict that has been hidden from the public.
The issue went unnoticed until late March, 2019, almost two years into negotiations. Only after the CRHC took steps to apply for rezoning did they discover that the Caledonia project would require a setback for a fire lane running between Grant and Gladstone Streets along the whole of the western boundary with Vic High property.
The discovery put the CRHC in a bind because their design left no leeway, an issue that should have sent them back to the drawing board. However, the CRHC resolved to take more land from Vic High, planting their flag, so to speak, on land designated for the education of 1,000 students.
The red area approximates the area of land the housing project would need for a fire lane, but that a metric-size track would need as well.
In an email to Walsh dated March 29, 2019, Kitson wrote the following: “I met the City planner today. They asked us [to] include on our site plan something related to [the] proposed track. It helps them decide on variations to setback requirements. Do you have anything that could help such as: 1. Are seating stands being proposed, what kind and location? 2. How far will the track be moved, if at all? Also, I mentioned that we are proposing a 4.5m easement [later increased to 8 metres] on the Vic High property, which needs your approval?”
In Kitson’s email, “setback” and “easement” seem to be interchangeable terms, an underlying problem that persists. There are legal issues surrounding the use of Vic High grounds to satisfy the CRHC’s rezoning requirements, not least of which is that the land in question was already slated for Vic High’s metric track.
So, what was the School District’s response? On April 4, 2019, Walsh failed to report plans to expand Vic High’s current track: “At this point, we have not incorporated an expanded track in our planning. We will be
meeting with a small group to discuss Vic High next week. Jim Soles is the lead on the technical aspects of the project but at this point has little information on what the final design of the field space would be. I do not anticipate significant seating.”
Little information? The Revitalized Stadium plans were known to the School District since 2012 and confirmed in presentations to its operations committee and board in January, 2018. To suggest that School District staff had “little information on what the final design of the field space would be” in April, 2019, doesn’t hold water.
Moreover, neglecting to reference the Revitalized Stadium plans did not give the School District permission to cancel plans for Vic High’s metric track. Similarly, the CRHC’s assumption that they have the right to take land from Vic High to satisfy rezoning requirements is an infringement on Vic High students.
Nonetheless, the School District offered to “grant” the area required for the setback to the CRHC without financial compensation, despite claims of funding shortages, and at the expense of Vic High’s metric track, without public consultation. Was the School District eager to please the CRHC as they are an apparent “partner” in an undisclosed plan to lease parcels of land belonging to as many as 29 schools in SD61?
Walsh’s email presents another curiosity: What “small group” was scheduled to meet with the School District to “discuss Vic High?” Here’s a not-so-wild guess: the Vic High Alumni Association Executive. Regardless, the Alumni did not have the authority to cancel the metric track either.
Changes to Vic High’s Revitalized Stadium project require public consultation. In 2012, the School Board passed a motion in support of the Alumni’s vision and the School District has actively assisted them in their fundraising efforts. The City of Victoria committed to matching funds of up to $250,000 in 2014. In 2015, MLA Carole James outlined the plans, the donations and grants and sang praises for the project in the BC Legislature. By 2018, the public had donated $150,000. Additionally, the Vic High Alumni Association continues to request donations based on the original plan; therefore, the original plan must be delivered.
Here’s the real kicker: After wheedling more land from Vic High, the CRHC produced an image that describes the land (referenced as an “8m easement”) as part of “SD61 Land Remaining After Housing Agreement.” Technically, the land would remain in the hands of SD61 as it’s an easement. However, the document further describes the area as “for educational purposes,” even though the CRHC had already described it as a fire lane and public greenway in their rezoning application. To suggest that this is for educational purposes is disingenuous, especially because it prohibits the construction of Vic High’s promised metric track that is expressly for educational purposes.
Shockingly, the CRHC shared this problematic image with the School District who then shared it with the public at the November 12, 2019 public consultation, two weeks before trustees voted on the land transfers that triggered the proposed lease. Apparently, the CRHC was motivated to do so after a citizens’ group presented data to trustees showing that CRHC plans would put Vic High’s land-to-student ratio below Ministry of Education standards. (By their own admission, the School District did not consider area standards before engaging in negotiations with the CRHC.)
The image suggests that the proposed housing does not encroach upon the area needed for Vic High’s promised sports infrastructure—but it does. By withholding information about the impact of the proposed housing on Vic High’s metric track, the public was denied an opportunity to voice an opinion about the loss of vital infrastructure for Vic High’s students. The CRHC’s confusing image, and the School District’s retention of information, apparently to effect an outcome in favour of the Caledonia project, should nullify the results of the trustees’ vote that has allowed the Caledonia project to proceed.
Transparency issues go right to the core of the proposed Caledonia project. Recall that the rationale for the project rests on the need to offset a funding shortfall of $2.6M for Vic High’s seismic upgrade, and gains its legitimacy from the assertion that the preservation of Vic High’s heritage is more expensive than a new build.
However, the timeline of the negotiations for the proposed lease is out of sync with this claim; on Aug 1, 2017, when negotiations began, the model for Vic High’s seismic upgrade had yet to be determined, and a funding shortfall was impossible to claim. The proposed lease seems to be motivated by the intent to yield general revenue.
Additionally, the Project Definition Report for Vic High’s seismic upgrade doesn’t support the claim of higher “heritage” costs. The difference between “heritage” Option 3 and a new build is less than $1M and the new build option doesn’t include a theatre. However, the most important detail is that as early as 2005, consultants told the School District that a new build wasn’t a viable option, for a number of reasons. In fact, the budget for a new build was developed for the sake of comparison.
Above all, School District records show that the model for Vic High’s seismic upgrade was contingent on “full funding” from the Ministry of Education. According to the Project Definition Report, the cost of Vic High’s upgrade is $77.1M (without the additional cost of the Neighbourhood Learning Centre that receives separate funding). Remarkably, on June 27, 2019, Minister of Education, Rob Fleming, announced exactly $77.1M in funding for Vic High.
So, is there a $2.6M funding shortfall for Vic High’s seismic upgrade that warrants the lease of over two acres of Vic High grounds for 60 years? To date, the School District refuses to respond to FOI requests for the source of the shortfall, claiming that this information jeopardizes the bidding process for construction.
The School District has also stalled on FOI requests for site plans for Vic High’s Neighbourhood Learning Centre. Currently, an investigator from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is investigating this issue.
Even under the best of circumstances, the Caledonia project was scheduled to be completed in 2023. COVID-19 has slowed the process even further. The compounding crisis of mismanagement presents an opportunity to leverage a better plan: redirect the $50M already allocated for the construction of 158 Caledonia units to purchase and renovate existing structures now. This plan would also have the benefit of a lower carbon footprint. The BC government has recently purchased hotels to assist unhoused populations. Let’s apply a similar concept to the affordability crisis by providing housing starting now for families and individuals who are struggling to make ends meet.
Students and their families need both stable, affordable housing and fully resourced public schools to meet the many challenges of our uncertain world. Redirecting the $50M meets both needs and offers immediate relief during a worsening crisis.
Esther Callo is the parent of two Vic High graduates and served on the Vic High Parent Advisory Council for five years. She has a BA (Hons) from UVic and is a passionate advocate of public education. She is part of the citizens' group Vic High Spaces and Ethical Engagement, whose website has a wealth of documentation: https://www.vichighsaee.ca
Mountains of plastic from failed synthetic playing fields aren't being recycled.
EARLY IN AUGUST Early in August the Greater Victoria School District replaced the prematurely failed artificial turf playing field at Oak Bay High. Initially it’s hard to understand why synthetic fields are required, especially when you consider the surface is composed of 12.7 tonnes of petroleum-based turf carpet with 40 tonnes of tiny thermoplastic elastomer pellets spread on top.
Can 52 tonnes of plastic possibly be better than a real grass field?
Upon closer examination it becomes apparent these fake fields are actually essential to the all-weather, all-season needs of burgeoning local sports programs. In addition to use by school students, Bays United Football Club has 1,600 enthusiastic local participants age five to sixty who use this particular field for over 2,000 hours each year. Natural fields simply could not withstand this intensity of use.
If one is prepared to accept that premise, there is an additional factor that is truly unacceptable. These fields have short lifespans and must be replaced every 8 to 10 years.
In addition to the Oak Bay High field, the City of Victoria is replacing the worn-out synthetic field at Topaz Park next year. These two local fields will be added to 750 other end-of-life fields that are replaced each year in North America. This represents a mountain of carpet. There is no recycling facility on this continent.
The scrapped, prematurely-failed playing field carpet at Oak Bay High. (Photo by Angus Matthews)
This is where the “don’t ask, don’t tell” part comes in. The School District and the City have either not asked or won’t tell where and how the carpet is actually being recycled. (The pellets can be reused.) The manufacturer that replaced the failed Oak Bay High field on warranty reports that they transfer the turf to a Vancouver company who ships it to Asia for recycling. The recycling company apparently provides a certificate that seems to satisfy the School District. But there is no real information about a location, process, or facility where the recycling takes place. No address, no photos, no proud evidence of having done the environmentally responsible thing. It’s not even clear what country the facility may be located in. They have variously stated China, the Philippines or Malaysia. How can our school board and city council condone shipping discarded plastic turf thousands of kilometres across the Pacific to become an unknown burden in a developing country?
Europe also has a huge problem managing synthetic turf. Zembla TV, a Netherlands-based investigative journalism program, exposed the synthetic turf industry’s dirty big secret. In a 2018 documentary, their team followed truckloads of synthetic turf to giant, unregulated, turf mountain stockpiles instead of the promised recycling facilities. There is only one known recycling facility for synthetic turf and its located in Denmark, not across the Pacific.
The Synthetic Turf Council is the industry advocacy and standards organization. In their 2015 report entitled “Removal, Recovery, Reuse and Recycling of Synthetic Turf,” it states, “In fact, when compared to the $30-60,000 cost of landfilling an 80,000 square foot sports field, it is unlikely that the cost of transporting the synthetic turf and/or infill farther than 200 miles will be considered feasible. Therefore, it will be important to investigate all of the reuse, recycling, and power generation options in the region.”
The CRD’s Hartland landfill may be the only responsible disposal site in this particular case. For the future there is another option. Before buying another plastic field, tell—don’t ask—the synthetic turf industry to resolve their disgraceful lapse in environmental responsibility.
Angus Matthews is a retired college administrator who discovered plastics from the Oak Bay High field in nearby Bowker Creek in October 2019.
Victoria City staff are challenging Old Town planning principles and policies. Is that opening the door for more aggressive proposals like those submitted for the Northern Junk Properties?
ON JUNE 11th, 2020 Victoria City Council considered an application for the redevelopment of the 1860’s buildings, commonly known as the Northern Junk Properties, on Wharf Street, south of the Johnson Street Bridge. The proposal would see four storeys added to each of the one-storey heritage buildings. This is not an approach that is supported by the adopted standards for heritage restoration and rehabilitation where the goal is to showcase the authenticity of heritage buildings. Nor is this approach supported in the City’s 2019 “Old Town Design Guidelines.”
Artist's rendering of Reliance Properties proposal for the Northern Junk Properties, which City council recently declined to send to a public hearing
City staff, in supporting the application, stated that: “The current Official Community Plan moves away from taking an ‘archival’ approach to heritage within Old Town and sets out a vision to create a living and breathing Old Town, where buildings, old and new, are occupied, vibrant and are actively contributing to the liveability and well being of the community as a whole.’”
This statement suggests that prior to the current Official Community Plan being adopted in 2012, projects that had been developed in Old Town, over many decades, had not achieved these goals while, at the same time, respecting and responding to the principles related to heritage conservation and rehabilitation.
This is a very puzzling conclusion since Victoria’s Old Town is considered one of the most vibrant, desirable, diverse and attractive areas of the city where people are able to live, work and recreate. In addition, it enjoys an international reputation for the quality of its heritage buildings and their sensitive rehabilitation—all achieved while respecting and responding to the principles associated with heritage preservation, rehabilitation and adaptive reuse.
Over many years, often at times when few, if any, residential units were being built in downtown Victoria, housing projects were consistently being developed, through the conversion of heritage buildings, or infill developments, in Old Town. These units range from non-profit housing to seniors’ housing to apartments and condominiums. Not only do these buildings provide housing on their upper floors but their main floor spaces house retail, restaurant or entertainment venues, all contributing to the vitality and liveability of the neighbourhood. In addition, they were developed in compliance with City policies.
The fact that the Northern Junk buildings have sat in a derelict state for an unprecedented period of time was also used as an impetus to move the proposal forward. Factually this is not correct as prior to the City developing heritage policies, incentives, etc, dating back as far as the 1970s, there were many buildings in Old Town that had sat under-utilized for many decades. Supported and encouraged by the City’s commitment to its architectural heritage, one by one, we saw new life being brought to these buildings.
Reliance Properties drawings of the existing 1860 buildings on the site
The Northern Junk buildings, part of a long-held portfolio of properties owned by one family, would likely have been rehabilitated many years ago, if they had been made available for sale earlier. When the properties were made available for sale, circa 2008, the first site to be redeveloped was the Morley’s Soda Works building located in Waddington Alley. Purchased by Le Fevre and Company at the then market rate, it was in a state of serious dilapidation with its roof in a state of collapse and trees growing up through the building. It was in a more deteriorated condition than the Northern Junk buildings. Yet Morley’s was rehabilitated and redeveloped into housing by this for-profit developer, with a modest one-storey roof top addition added, barely visible from its land-locked location.
Jon Stovell, the president of Reliance Properties, the current owner of the Northern Junk properties, expressed surprise and frustration when Council referred the current application back to staff, rather than advancing it to a Public Hearing. The instruction from Council was to bring the proposal more in line with the “Design Guidelines for Old Town.” What are the factors that have led to this frustration? A lack of clarity on the part of City Council and the Planning Department? A lack of vision on the part of the developer in terms of what would constitute an appropriate and welcomed development of the site? A lack of clarity on whether, or not, the City-owned lands to the north of the site would be made available to the developer?
One only has to leaf through some of the proposals brought forward by Reliance to come to the conclusion that a vision is lacking. A proposal that included the City-owned land resulted in a development comprised of 126,000 square feet. The current proposal, excluding the City lands, amounts to 44,434 square feet. Another concept saw a 12-storey tower (where 5 storeys is the maximum permitted ) constructed on the City lands. All of this begs the question, how much is enough to make the project economically viable?
The question that is also being asked is why are we seeing the Old Town planning principles and policies challenged in such dramatic ways recently. Other than the controversial 1989 development of the Eaton Centre projects in Old Town, both new construction and rehabilitation, have moved forward successfully over many decades. Some have attributed these new challenges to Victoria being identified as ripe for development for non-local companies. Could it be that the more aggressive approach brought to land use issues in Vancouver, for example, has made its way across the water? Could it be that the confrontational, and challenging, style that has seen success in Vancouver is being tested here? Could it be that City Council and the Planning Department have not provided clear guidance, supported existing planning principles and pointed out that Victoria has a successful formula, and an enviable track record, in supporting developments that “enhance the city and create a living and breathing Old Town where buildings, old and new, are occupied, vibrant and are actively contributing to the liveability and well being of the community as a whole.”
As a community activist, Pam Madoff was elected to Victoria City Council in 1993. She served for 25 years, advocating for quality architecture and urban planning, arts and culture and heritage restoration and rehabilitation. She continues to do all of these things—without having to sit through Council meetings.
The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has released its report on the extent to which public bodies are meeting the requirements of Section 71 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The text below has been excerpted from that report. There's a link to the report at the bottom of this page.
IT IS OFTEN SAID that information is the oxygen of democracy. To that end, we desperately need a hyperbaric chamber that will boost our access to information systems in a way that improves the accountability of public bodies.
Public institutions work hard to fulfil the legal obligations under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). I also know that, at times, they face challenges in doing so. The recent onset of COVID-19 is one of those challenges. And yet the pandemic itself is a good illustration of why access to information is so important. The public want to understand how their institutions are responding to the crisis, and ultimately hold those institutions accountable for their actions.
So how can government work to ensure an effective and efficient access to information system? One way is to get ahead of the issue by not waiting for citizens to ask for records. This is especially the case where certain types of records are frequently requested. Public bodies can save themselves and the public time by proactively disclosing these records in a deliberate and obvious manner. Proactive disclosure is especially relevant during times like the current COVID- 19 pandemic.
This idea of proactive disclosure is more than just a helpful suggestion or a best practice. It is a legal obligation under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).
FIPPA was amended in 2011 to require public bodies to create categories of records that are proactively disclosed to the public. Both creating such categories and clearly communicating their existence to the public are critical components of meeting this statutory obligation.
The question posed by this investigation report is, “What have public bodies done to make good on this obligation?” In some cases, progress has been made. In other instances, not much. In general, much more needs to be done.
This report follows several other proactive disclosure reports from my office that explained both the necessity and the means for public bodies to be open and transparent. This report makes a fuller accounting of what public bodies are actually doing, providing a clearer roadmap for future action. I hope all public bodies will find it to be of assistance.
Michael McEvoy is the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC. The full Investigation Report on Section 71 is below: IR 20-01 S. 71 report June Final.pdf
BC's minister of forests refers to forests as "feedstock." Why does he use an agricultural term to describe a forest?
A new logging road under construction in the Inland Rainforest (Photo by Taylor Roades)
IN Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell describes a dystopian society in which language is used to control people. In Orwell’s fictional world, vocabulary is constrained and new words are created in order to simplify and manipulate people’s understanding of the world around them. Orwell suggested that the well-known connection between language and worldview could also be used to manage human behaviour.
Not having worked in industrial forestry, it was only three years ago that I started hearing the word “fibre” used instead of “forest” with confusing frequency. This word appears on industry and government websites and it is used regularly by timber company representatives. Last week, BC Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson described the lands he is in charge of as “feedstock” in my community newspaper. One could be forgiven for thinking that the timber industry, with the Province’s help, is attempting to replace the notion of a forest—and everything that word means —with vague abstractions.
The term fibre conjures up Metamucil, while feedstock summons the mental image of food for livestock. Why are government and industry employing these euphemisms, rather than just saying forest? The purpose is two-fold: to change how we view these complex living systems and to prevent us from acting to defend them.
If forests can be rebranded as stands of consumable objects (which the terms fibre and feedstock achieve), then the work of obtaining social license to destroy them has already been done. If an ecosystem is merely feedstock for a pellet plant, what on Earth else would you do with it? If a tree falls in a fibre, no one will hear it because it doesn’t exist.
Natural forests, including those that have burned or are full of decay fungi, provide food and medicines and mitigate floods. Forests also store and sequester carbon in soil and plant tissues, and old forests are particularly good at this. Beetle-killed forests provide critical structures for wildlife.
The founding belief of modern forest management—that natural forests are a commodity—is among the root causes of declining ecosystem health in B.C. Under this belief system, old growth is in the way of plantations that can provide a predictable flow of wood and revenue. Burned or beetle-killed forests are waste. Paired with corporate control over public lands, the conceit that people can and should manage complex ecosystems has led us to where we are today.
Emerging research confirms that BC’s productive old-growth forest is all but gone. Companies are being awarded licenses to cut down remaining primary forests to feed pellet plants. The Council of Forest Industries, whose member companies have levelled most of the economically valuable old growth on the coast and in the interior, are demanding that the province set aside the remainder in a “working forest landbase” (read: make available for logging), according to their Smart Future report.
As a part of their ongoing efforts to ensure continued access to BC’s last primary forests, those in power are trying to reduce these ecosystems to objects so that the public won’t fight for them. We will not abide lies of omission that obscure the truth of what natural forests are and we won’t stop defending them. Natural forests will always be more than fibre or feedstock; and in nature, there is no such thing as waste.
Michelle Connolly, MSc, Conservation North, Prince George
Michelle Connolly surveys a clearcut in the Inland Rainforest. Old growth cedars in the interior are often considered “waste” by the forestry sector. (Photo by Mary Booth)
AS THE GROWING SEASON RAMPS UP IN BC, it’s abundantly clear that this year will challenge farmers and food suppliers in a multitude of ways. The effects of COVID-19 will likely continue to ripple through our food systems for months, especially in urban areas where food supply chains tend to be longer and more complex. To get to our tables, many products go from farm to processing plant to large retailers; what happens when any one of those links is disadvantaged by the current pandemic?
In Canada, farmers currently have to make tough decisions because it is difficult or impossible for them to access the labour pool of temporary foreign workers that they rely on to cultivate and harvest many of their crops. Farther afield, some countries are considering limiting their exports of certain key crops. According to Bloomberg News (March 25 2020), Kazakhstan—an important global exporter of wheat—just banned exports of the product; in a similar vein, Vietnam has put a hold on new export contracts for rice. These are just two examples of the ways that COVID-19 is stressing the food system that we all depend upon.
I am an optimist at heart, and I have a lot of faith in the ability of our local and global community to adapt to the challenges that we will see this year. The Canadian federal and provincial governments have been acting quickly and decisively to ensure that all food supply related jobs are seen as essential services and supported as such. That said, it would be short sighted in the extreme if we didn’t consider the various ways that COVID-19 will continue to affect our food systems even once we have managed to “flatten the curve.”
I am a farmer and writer on Salt Spring Island; the responses that I’m seeing from small farmers on the island make me optimistic that with some careful planning and creative adaptations, small farmers will be able to fill some of the gaps in our local food supply.
Small farmers here face a different set of challenges than industrial growers. Many supply directly to restaurants, which is currently not an option. They also rely more heavily on sales outlets like farmers markets, which may be temporarily closed or have greatly reduced traffic. Here on Salt Spring, as in many other small BC towns, tourism is an important part of the economy and usually plays a significant role in keeping small farmers and artisans in business.
Farmers now have to find alternate sources of income to ensure the survival of their business. Many are starting a CSA program this year, or expanding existing ones: Community Supported Agriculture is a sales model in which people pay upfront for a weekly share of farm produce—the influx of money at the start of the growing season provides a guaranteed income for the farmer, and the customer benefits from a consistent supply of fresh local produce all season long. Duck Creek Farm on Salt Spring has expanded their CSA from 22 to 80 members, and may continue to accept new members if their crops do well. Down the road, the Hastings House Country Hotel farm—which usually provides organic vegetables for the hotel restaurant—is considering starting a CSA to share their produce with local consumers while the hotel is closed.
Online programs also offer a valuable sales outlet that many farmers (and consumers) are making use of for the first time. SPUD.ca, for example, is a BC and Alberta based business that curates local, organic food directly from producers; customers put in an online order and the food is delivered to their door. SPUD, like most other food delivery services, is currently experiencing an unprecedented amount of business.
On Vancouver Island, the Cowichan Online Farmers Market, which delivers produce to Duncan and Victoria, saw a dramatic increase in orders in late March—so much so that they are hiring employees and expanding their business model (The Tyee, April 9 2020).
On Salt Spring, the website Local Line is being used for the first time by a plethora of local farmers. The website is designed to help farmers market their produce directly to consumers: they input their available inventory, and customers can order online with an option for contactless pickup or delivery.
These are just a handful of examples of existing delivery programs that provide a direct connection between farmers and consumers. None are new, but all are experiencing a massive surge of popularity as their services help maintain the essential connection between people and food, in this case local food.
As well as working to increase access to local food right now, many farmers on Salt Spring are thinking about how to increase food security in the near future. Duck Creek Farm, for example, has plans to increase their fall and winter storage crops, such as beets and carrots. They are also making plans to save seeds this year for the first time, with the expectation that seeds will be either scarcer or more expensive next year.
Increased government funding is also helping support growers in their work. Salt Spring Island Community Services has secured enough funding for additional staff to expand their one-acre farm plot, which provides fresh fruits and vegetables for the local food bank. The food bank currently serves about 100 people a week, and the expectation is that that number will rise dramatically this year as people who are prevented from working due to COVID-19 struggle to make ends meet.
As of right now, we are all reacting as best we can to the COVID-19 crisis. The challenges are far from over, but we are already starting to see the potential seeds of lasting change as people from every industry, government department and the community put their heads together to respond and adapt. I’m optimistic that our collective response will be not only reactive, but also proactive. This is not the first time that the world has been rocked by a global crisis, and nor will it be the last. We have an opportunity to build lasting connections that can strengthen our communities against future challenges as well.
First and foremost on my mind is the ever-present and growing challenge of climate change. Much like the current pandemic, climate change transcends borders and has the potential to greatly impact our global food supply chains. The effects of climate change—which include increasingly severe droughts, increased risk of flooding, and more changeable weather patterns, to name just a few—already affect growers around the world and those effects are only going to increase. If we take one thing from this pandemic, let it be the remembrance that local food security is important for the long-term resilience of our communities as the effects of climate change threaten food supplies in years to come.
COVID-19 has sparked a growing support for farmers as we remember the importance of the service they provide: whatever is happening in the world, we all need to eat. Increased funding and more active consumer support for local growers are two trends that I see right now that make me optimistic for the future of food in Canada. Seeing farmers work hard to fill any gaps in our local food system, to save seeds for next year and to diversify their business models is also an inspiration. This pandemic is unquestionably disrupting many lives for the worse, but it also seems to be galvanizing actions that can benefit our communities in the long run if we continue to appreciate their value.
Hilary Thomson is a farmer and writer based on Salt Spring Island. When not digging in the dirt, she and her partner can be found traveling the Pacific Coast by sailboat. Her work can be found online at 48 North Magazine, Waterborne Magazine and Bootsnall Travel Website.
In light of new global conditions, Canada's federal government needs to rethink its commitment to build the Trans Mountain Expansion Project
NEW FACTS HAVE EMERGED since the NEB approved the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX) on May 29, 2016 which make it likely that an expanded pipeline will not be needed or will ever be used, providing compelling reasons why the federal government should push the pause button on its construction.
There are three pipeline projects which will address Alberta’s need for pipeline capacity. The first is Enbridge’s Line 3 and additional mainline optimizations which will soon add 450,000 bbl/day. The next pipeline to be completed will be Keystone which will add another 830,000 barrels per day (bbl/day). And finally there is TMX which will add 690,000 bbl/day.
On March 31 Premier Kenny announced Alberta would take a $1.5 billion equity stake in Keystone and provide it with a $6 billion loan guarantee to help finance the constructions costs. He stated: “We are hopeful the Trans Mountain Expansion will get done. This is our insurance policy.” In other words, he wants to ensure the Keystone is built so that if TMX is not built for any reason, Alberta producers will have their needed pipeline capacity with the Keystone.
When the federal government decided to buy Trans Mountain and the rights to build TMX there was considerable doubt Keystone would ever be completed. The landscape has changed so much since then that premier Kenny and his government felt confident that Alberta tax dollars would be well spent to provide Keystone a financial backing that will likely guarantee completion of its construction.
This leaves the question as to whether TMX will be needed, because if Keystone is the “insurance” for a TMX failure it is also true that if Keystone is built and built before TMX is completed, as presently scheduled, TMX will not be necessary.
This was the conclusion of a June 2019 Report of an Evaluation of the TMX project conducted by Dr Thomas Gunton and Dr Chris Joseph of SFU. Using the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) 2018 supply forecast and an “under construction” forecast based on projects that were under construction at the time of writing the report, Gunton and Joseph concluded that the construction of TMX along with the other two mentioned pipelines would create significant surplus pipeline capacity.
In particular they concluded that a combination of Enbridge expansions and the Keystone pipeline would accommodate demand until 2035 emphasizing “there is no likely scenario” in which building both Keystone and TMX would be required before 2035.
They went further to say that there is considerable uncertainty regarding future oil markets and oil production and that stronger climate change policies to meet our Paris commitments and new fuel regulations that would impact heavy oil demand would likely result in future oil production being lower than the CAPP estimate and that the Enbridge expansions may alone be sufficient to meet Western Canada production needs.
That being the case it would be an irresponsible use of taxpayer‘s money to commence construction on a $12.6 billion project for which there may be no need. The federal government should stop construction now and wait and see if Keystone proceeds to completion, as most people now expect will happen notwithstanding legal hurdles that have to be overcome. To postpone the commencement of construction will not affect the ability of Alberta producers to get their product to market given the considerable extra capacity that will be provided by the Enbridge Line 3 and related projects.
If Keystone does proceed to completion, TMX can then be shelved most likely for all time. If on the other hand in the next six months Keystone is stopped in its tracks the federal government could commence construction after doing its due diligence to ensure the pipeline is still needed and will definitely be used.
When Gunton and Joseph concluded that Enbridge expansions alone might be sufficient to meet western producer’s needs it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. We are now realizing that patterns of human behaviour may never return to the pre-COVID “normal”, and that permanently changed patterns will lower demand for oil to much lower levels than was predicted before the crisis. Lower demand will naturally affect the amount of oil that will be produced in the oil patch.
Lower demand for oil during COVID has had a material impact on the price of oil apart from the Saudi/Russia price war impact which saw the price go slightly below $5/bbl at one point. As this is written, which is post oil war, the price of Western Canadian Select (the benchmark of diluted bitumen produced out of the oil sands) went briefly into negative territory. The past month the price has been largely below $10. The price in Asia would be lower still because of the higher transportation costs. Experts are saying that even when we recover from the virus we may see oil priced at $20. This in turn will greatly affect oil production from the oil sands and bring into question the need for any of the three major pipeline projects.
All of these developments make it a real possibility that even in the long run the Enbridge expansions alone will be sufficient to meet producer needs. And if that proves to be the case TMX would have to be shelved even if Keystone never proceeds to completion.
But let us also consider the possibility that Keystone is not built but the Enbridge expansions don’t begin to meet producer needs. Due diligence would still require the feds to assess whether, if the TMX was constructed, there would be a market for Alberta oil to justify its construction. The feds must not only be satisfied there will be a market for Alberta heavy oil but that it can be sold at a profit over the long term. Current prices will not cover the cost of production and transportation. They are not sustainable for any length of time.
Gunton and Joseph estimated the toll costs of the TMX at $10.78/bbl based on a projected construction cost of $9.3 billion. Since the federal acquisition of Trans Mountain, construction cost estimates have skyrocketed to $12.6 billion, which would take the toll cost to $14.60/bbl($10.43US).
It is hard to find information on shipping costs from Canada to Asia but assuming the tanker is a Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) the cost of shipping oil from the United States to North Asia is currently around $5US which happens to be $1.20 more than the cost of transporting a barrel from the Middle East to North Asia. I would imagine this might be indicative as to what the costs are for Canadian shipments to North Asia.
As to production costs, the Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI) in its July 2019 report calculates the plant gate cost of crude bitumen for greenfield steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) projects to be $40.61 ($28.72US). Costs for mining and upgrading projects are higher. To transport bitumen to Asia, there is an additional cost to transport the bitumen to Edmonton (where the TMX commences) and to blend it with diluents to allow the product to be piped through the TMX and then a shipping cost is required to get it across the Pacific. And this would only be done if they received a price on a sustained basis that would leave producers with a reasonable profit.
For new projects, the Alberta government has estimated the cost of production for SAGD projects to be $50 to $80/bbl. Tech Corporation recently walked away from its proposed Frontier project citing as one of its reasons the need for oil to be $75 US. One can quickly see that Alberta producers would need a price that would be multiples of the estimated $20 post COVID-19 price. This is a pretty high bar in a world which is awash in oil with a diminishing demand for oil as we transition away from fossil fuels.
A further problem lies with the fact that oil producers have made commitments to Trans Mountain to pay tolls to pay for the initial estimate of $7.4 b in construction costs for the TMX, but they have not made any commitment to pay for tolls to cover the estimated $12.6 billion in costs. Nor is it likely they ever will give their OK until they have the confidence the price of oil will go back to its old heights and stay there.
This leaves the federal government in the dilemma of whether to subsidize the $5.2 billion difference which might be political suicide with a public that is seriously worried about the GHG fallout of an expanded oil sand production and the negative impact on Canada’s ability to meet Paris commitments. Even if the feds decided to subsidize the $5.2 billion difference with tolls appropriate for a $7.4 billion project Western Producers still need much higher oil prices to make their operations economically viable.
Trans Mountain was touted as being needed to provide Alberta with access to the Asian market. One must first determine whether Asian countries want Alberta’s heavy oil when they have as their main source Middle East light crude which is a better quality oil which is cheaper to produce, cheaper to transport to Asia, and cheaper to refine. What we must ask ourselves is, given the fact Canadian producers have always had access to the Asia market with the ability to ship their heavy oil via the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, why are they not using it more than they have? Perhaps it might have to do with the fact there is little demand in Asia for Alberta’s heavy oil.
David Huntley, a professor emeritus in physics at Simon Fraser University has been monitoring tanker traffic from Burnaby’s Westbridge Terminal for years and told Briony Penn, a writer for Focus magazine, in September 2019, that only 20 crude oil tankers have left Westbridge Terminal for China since 2014 and that most of the tankers have been headed for California. To that I would add that even though oil producers have made commitments to use 80 percent of the TMX capacity once built, no contracts have so far been signed with Asian buyers.
As to the California market, based on 2017 data, only 3.4 percent of California’s foreign crude imports came from Canada. That same year, half of the state’s imports came from Saudi Arabia, Ecuador and Columbia which can all produce at far lower costs than Alberta.
The bottom line is that the construction of TMX may not translate into significant sales in Pacific markets. The evidence so far demonstrates there is very little proven interest in Alberta’s more expensive heavy oil. Further, there is considerable doubt that future oil prices will ever reach a level where it would be economic for Western Canada producers to use TMX. The feds should insist on seeing evidence of buyer contracts and foreseeable sustainable oil prices going forward before giving the green light to construction.
In summary, it would be irresponsible for the federal government to ignore the changing landscape as outlined and proceed with construction with a project that will never be used if Keystone is completed. At the very least, TMX must be postponed to see what happens to Keystone. If Keystone is scrapped it would be irresponsible of the federal government not to exercise due diligence to ensure that not only is there a need for TMX given Enbridge expansions, but there would be a sustainable market for Alberta oil in the Pacific if TMX is built.
William Pearce is a retired lawyer formerly employed with the BC Ministry of Attorney General. He has had a lifetime interest in environmental and global issues and is president of the Victoria chapter of the World Federalist Movement of Canada.
OVER THE LAST MONTHS, mayor and council, in an effort to speed up re-zoning regulations, have entered on a path that bypasses neighbourhood Land Use Committees. This is, as they see it, more efficient, and saves months of haggling with neighbours over up-zoning. It focuses on densifying “corridors,” arterial roads, rather than the health of neighbourhoods as a whole. Emphasis on these corridors sees "small urban villages" in terms of business rather than community connection and aspiration. As a community association board member, I've sat at the table while City bureaucrats tell us what they've decided rather than opening up back and forth conversations. There is much talk about “vibrant” processes and community engagement from local government. In the end, it is top down and the engagement appears to be merely window dressing.The thing is, it isn't just land use committees that are being side-lined, it is we, Victoria's citizens and residents.
All of us understand the pressures to create innovative ways to increase density, but in the process, we feel our interests, our vision, and our ideas bypassed as the City's processes unfold. Victoria is a lovely and livable city, a tourist destination, a place where many people aspire to live. However, the current push from the City seems bent on destroying what makes Victoria special. The City itself has become our official and prime development corporation. Empty Downtown towers are not a draw. Upscale condos on the former Truth Centre property are the waste of an uncommon opportunity to create a shared green space which might have been used to create "amenities" for people—a cultural centre, a nature park, or a combination of such ideas. Might the City have listened to the many people who grieved the loss of the wonderful old trees and the park-like space? Might we have talked about how to buy the property and turn it into a people place? Unfortunately, under the present process, visionary ideas will be shut down before they have a chance to be heard.
In this pandemic time, when we are all preoccupied with staying home and staying safe, I fear what City council might allow to slip through, all in the guise of progressive development. Victoria residents are full of vital ideas for how we want our city to adapt. We need to slow down and hear each other out. We do not need to decimate Land Use Committees which may indeed prolong our processes but may also give rise to ideas that are intrinsic to the spirit of our communities. They also keep citizens in the loop and allow us to have a crucial and integral part in Victoria's future.
In recent times, we've seen major developments approved, developments that are in opposition to Official Community Plans, through the use of amendments to community plans. Thus we whittle away citizens' interest and commitment to taking ownership of our neighbourhoods. I am quite sure that Mayor Helps and council want what is best for the city. If many of us are distressed by some of what’s coming down the pike, we need opportunities to talk about it, not a swift by-pass. Without that, we foster a disengaged citizenry which may play out in apathy or real anger. Neither is to be desired. Mayor and council need to remember that it is we, the people, not the developers, who have to live with their decisions.