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Russ Francis

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  1. The BC government’s concerted efforts at message control nearly overwhelm its new climate plan. THE GOOD NEWS IS that the BC government has now stated publicly that it really, really cares about climate change. While jurisdictions from Ontario to Brazil are thumbing their respective noses at the looming annihilation of life as we know it, the BC government released plans to move towards a low-carbon economy. While there are numerous holes in the plan, the “CleanBC” document, released December 5, 2018, is substantial. It lays out a road map as to how the Province will attain its legislated target of a 40 percent cut in GHG emissions from 2007 levels by 2030. Despite the government’s unfathomable decision in 2018 to bend over backwards for the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry, considerable credit is due for pulling together so many parts of the climate puzzle. CleanBC is “aimed at” reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) while creating more jobs and economic opportunities, according to the news release’s opening blurb. It is now standard government jargon for policies to aim at doing something, rather than to actually do it. If a plan merely aims at a reduced GHG emissions target but ends up missing it, the government can still say it carried out the plan: it tried. Under 2018’s Climate Change and Accountability Act, BC set a reduction of 25.4 megatonnes (Mt) in annual GHG emissions by 2030, compared with 2007. CleanBC—if implemented according to projections—is expected to take us to an 18.9 Mt reduction, leaving another 6.5 Mt yet to be found. That’s far from the only big “if” in the plan. For instance, the plan claims that taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it, known as “carbon capture and storage” (CCS), will help reduce annual GHG emissions to the targeted levels in 12 years. It’s a great idea, but one that has yet to work, other than in small demonstration projects. As British author George Monbiot put it in a November column in The Guardian Weekly, the only proven CCS process that works on the required scale is allowing trees to return to deforested land. And that means some big changes in the way most people live, of which the most important, globally, is eliminating meat and dairy from our diets—a suggestion that rates not even a passing mention in CleanBC. Rapid deforestation, as in the Johnson Strait area (above), continues in BC despite the provincial NDP government's good intentions to reduce carbon emissions. Given the immediacy and seriousness of climate change, one has to wonder why natural gas remains in the CleanBC picture for the foreseeable future. After all, methane, the prime component of natural gas, is one of the very worst of all GHGs, between 25 and 36 times worse than carbon dioxide in its global warming potential, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Making the indefinite continuation of the huge natural gas industry even more troublesome are fugitive emissions: those from the production, processing, transmission, storage and delivery of methane not used to generate useful energy. They include leaks, deliberate venting into the atmosphere, line cleaning, and other emissions that do not make it to the other end of the pipeline. How big are such fugitive emissions? According to government figures, BC’s oil and gas industry released 3.47 Mt of fugitive emissions in 2016, a figure that even the government suggests is unreliable. A group of scientists from the David Suzuki Foundation and St Francis Xavier University used a “sniffer truck” to measure actual emissions at more than 1,600 well pads and facilities in the huge Montney gas field in northeastern BC, which is planned to supply LNG Canada’s Kitimat plant. The scientists’ results, published in the January 2018 issue of the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, point to actual methane emissions that are at least 2.5 times higher than what the BC government reports. Doubtless stung by the Suzuki work, the Province realizes it may have drastically under-reported fugitive emissions. According to the CleanBC report, the government is now working on ways to more accurately gauge fugitive methane releases, relying on—you guessed it—actual field measurements with sniffers. Speaking in an interview, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives senior economist Marc Lee said of the volume of fugitive emissions: “We have no idea what they really are.” A large part of the CleanBC exercise appears to have involved branding. The very name, “CleanBC,” with no space between Clean and BC, along with a multi-hued green and blue stylized logo at the top of every page in the CleanBC documents, suggest that it is indeed intended as a brand. Answering questions from Focus, an environment ministry spokeswoman said that while the reports themselves were produced in-house, “strategic brand development and initial creative development and production” cost approximately $65,000. Following a competitive bidding process, the contract was let to NOW Communications Inc, whose clients include mostly trade unions and the NDP in BC and other provinces. (During the 1990s, NOW attracted news media attention after the then-NDP government paid it $4.5 million from 1991 till March 31, 1995 for communications work. However, then-Auditor General George Morfitt found that the government appropriately managed NOW contracts, apart from “a limited number of significant exceptions.”) The December 5 news release itself indicates just how much message control went into the issuance of the strategy. Of the six-page release, a scant one-and-a-half pages were devoted to the actual plan. The last four pages contained nothing more than effusive reactions to the plan from just about every segment of society, beginning with comments from three Americans-—the governors of California, Oregon and Washington. This unusual release was doubtless pushed by the all-powerful Government Communications and Public Engagement (GCPE) unit. Why go to so much effort to collect comments on the plan? Isn’t that what news outlets would do anyway? Not any more. These days, nearly all major news outlets have little more than skeleton crews, following repeated layoffs and buyouts. Beat reporters are few and far between. But newspapers still have to fill the space between the ads, and if copy is provided, ready to cut and paste into stories, publications can retain the appearance of distributing actual content. The obvious benefit for the government in this arrangement is that it gets to control the message and the reactions. Should California governor Jerry Brown, for example, have stuck in a snarky comment about the insanity of the BC government’s recent push for LNG, the control freaks at the communications unit would have edited it out. My suspicion is that rather than sending pre-release drafts of the 66-page CleanBC report to the busy governor of a state with more than eight times BC’s population, GCPE concocted a two-sentence comment and asked Governor Brown’s communications staff if it could attribute the “quote” to him. Brown himself may not have even seen his “quote.” Repeat for the other 22 CleanBC quotees. Besides the usual environmentalists, among the 23 reverential authors were representatives of giant mining company Teck Resources Ltd and the Business Council of British Columbia, which represents around 250 of the province’s largest corporations. In her statement distributed with the news release, Teck senior vice-president Marcia Smith called CleanBC “a tremendous economic opportunity.” Meanwhile, Teck is doing its bit for climate change, if in the wrong direction. As Judith Lavoie reported in the July/August 2018 Focus, the company is developing the $21-billion Frontier Oil Sands project near Wood Buffalo National Park in northeastern Alberta. Expected to begin operations in 2026, the reputedly largest-ever open-pit tar sands mine is expected to produce 260,000 barrels of bitumen every day. And as if to rub it in the noses of the NDP-Green government, Teck plans to be a client of the BC government-opposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. According to a report in the May 5, 2017 Globe and Mail, Teck has booked capacity on the expanded pipeline, which the federal government bought from Kinder Morgan in 2018. In his message fronting the full CleanBC report, Premier John Horgan credits the government’s own Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council. And guess who is one of the council’s two co-chairs? Teck’s Marcia Smith, no less. Yet if it weren’t for Teck and innumerable other similar players, Earth would not now be in what writer Monbiot calls a “death spiral,” requiring not gradual changes in our way of life, but a complete and immediate upheaval of the current economic system. Fossil fuels don’t belong in the new world. “At the end of the day, this is carbon, safely ensconced underground for eternity,” said the CCPA’s Marc Lee. Instead: “We are putting that out into the atmosphere.” The professionally produced CleanBC documents are studded with lovely colour photographs of mostly young people staring at a waterfall, wearing hardhats and looking busy, or riding bikes along a trail through a springtime meadow. Nary a burned tree, nor sky darkened by forest fire smoke, nor flooding river in sight. Not one of the smiling models in the photographs displays the slightest concern for the catastrophe that is about to hit us unless we move much faster than the CleanBC requirements. We need to switch very quickly onto something like a war footing. Increasing the proportion of zero-emission new car purchases by 2030 is a step forward, but a minuscule one: a drop in BC’s annual emissions by 1.6 Mt—or six percent of BC’s legislated cuts. Happy sailors dancing on a sinking ship. For more on CleanBC, see: https://cleanbc.gov.bc.ca For details on carbon capture and storage, see: https://www.carbontracker.org/ccs-important-but-not-a-get-out-of-jail-free-card Russ Francis is a former BC government analyst. In his spare time, he takes care of an aging Alaskan Malamute, a yearling banana slug (free range), and a contrabass rackett.
  2. Canada’s biggest-ever white elephant may never produce one gram of LNG—if we’re lucky. ON OCTOBER 2, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier John Horgan and LNG Canada CEO Andy Calitz announced the joint venture foreign partnership would go ahead with its “green” greenhouse gas (GHG)-spewing facility in Kitimat. In the days leading up to that announcement, several government news releases provided hints of what was to come in the effort to make it somehow compatible with realizing climate action targets. This is an old trick: When a government is planning to announce a significant project certain to be unpopular with a substantial portion of the population, not to mention climate scientists, chuck a few popular, green crumbs out the door beforehand. Sure enough, on September 24, a mere eight days before LNG-Day, a news release told of a $10 million top-up for the existing Clean Energy Vehicle (CEV) Program. If the government will chip in $5,000 to help buy a Tesla Model 3 or a Nissan Leaf, what’s not to like? The additional 2,400 CEVs expected under the top-up should avoid a total of 144,000 tonnes of GHG emissions over the vehicles’ lifespans, which government documents typically estimate as 15 years. In other words, 9,600 tonnes annually. Four days later, the government told us of another green-oriented taxpayer handout. On September 28, barely making it under the wire before the announcement, came the EfficiencyBC program, a revamp of an earlier version. In its present incarnation, each homeowner can collect up to $14,000 in incentives to upgrade heating systems, windows and doors. Commercial businesses can receive up to $200,000. The $24-million federal-BC program is expected to result in GHG reductions totalling 490,000 tonnes, accumulated through 2030. Over 12 years, that averages to approximately 40,800 tonnes annually. Increasing home and business energy efficiency is a praiseworthy, job-intensive move. And like the CEV program, even voters who are not especially green love getting subsidies for upgrades that will save them money. So will the CEV and energy efficiency programs make up for the extra 8.14 megatonnes (Mt) of GHGs emitted annually by the Kitimat plant when fully operational? Hardly. Together, the CEV program and energy efficiency program add up to a total of 50,400 tonnes of annual avoided emissions. This is less than two-thirds of one percent of LNG Canada’s annual BC emissions once fully operational. To look on the bright side, that leaves a mere 99.33 percent to go. And while the $34 million in federal and BC funds for the two programs may not be peanuts, they amount to just one-half of one percent of the $7 billion cost of the federal-BC tax and hydro giveaways to LNG Canada. But one really, really important goal will have been reached: Increasing the chances that the NDP will be re-elected in 2021. Maybe. The BC government’s promised climate action strategy, purportedly aimed at reducing the province’s GHG emissions targets as laid down in last spring’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act, is expected in late November or early December. I would be surprised if the CEV and building efficiency programs were not part of the strategy. In 2015—the last year for which figures are available—BC’s emissions totalled 61.6 Mt. Under the Act, these would need to drop to 38.8 Mt by 2030, 25.9 Mt by 2040, and 12.9 Mt by 2050. So the rest of the strategy is going to have to make a much bigger dent in emissions than encouraging a few more electric vehicles and heat pumps. And even those targets in the Act may not be nearly sufficient to keep the planet liveable, as we shall see below. The Province’s account of BC’s emissions in 2015. Total emissions were 63.3 megatonnes. The Province estimated offsets at 1.7 megatonnes, reducing the official count to 61.6 megatonnes. Under the accounting rules for GHGs, emissions from burning fossil fuels are counted in the country where they are ignited. As mentioned, LNG Canada will release 8.14 Mt annually in BC once operational. However, the global result of LNG Canada proceeding to full operation is 76 Mt, when the 68 Mt of GHGs produced by burning the natural gas in Asia are counted. After all, the BC government has insisted that a prime reason for approving the Kitimat plant is to help reduce global emissions. The reasoning, if it can be called that, is that since natural gas burns cleaner than coal when used in aging plants to generate electricity, displacing the coal with natural gas will reduce emissions worldwide. It’s a convenient argument, made by virtually all supporters of LNG. The only difficulty with the argument is that it’s complete hogwash. In its October 2 statement, LNG Canada said the following: “LNG Canada will provide natural gas to countries where imported gas could displace more carbon intensive energy sources and help to address global climate change and air pollution.” [Emphasis added.] “Could displace”? If the foreign-owned partners are so sure, why didn’t they say “will displace”? Will there be clauses in every gas sale from the Kitimat plant demanding that an equivalent coal plant be shut down when a new natural gas-fired one starts up? LNG Canada had yet to respond by Focus’ deadline to an emailed request as to whether sales contracts would contain such clauses. Nor did they return a phone message in time. Sierra Club BC senior forest and climate campaigner Jens Wieting agreed there is no requirement that coal plants will shut down to be replaced by gas ones. “There is no such mechanism,” he said in an interview, adding that LNG’s relatively low cost when used for purposes such as generating electricity may have a secondary negative effect on the planet. “The real risk is that LNG will compete with renewable energy,” said Wieting. Construction having begun at the Kitimat plant, LNG Canada projects finishing the plant in around six years. Does that make it a done deal? Not quite. For all the hoopla, for all the tens of billions of dollars in private and public funds poured into it, the Kitimat plant may never produce one gram of LNG, making it, to paraphrase Trudeau and Horgan, Canada’s largest-ever white elephant. First, the projected completion date for the plant leaves plenty of time for the appeal by Smithers environmentalist Mike Sawyer—now before the National Energy Board—to force a review by the energy board of TransCanada Pipelines Ltd’s proposed 675-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline, designed to ship gas from Dawson Creek to Kitimat. A decision is expected by the end of the year. If the board rejects his application, he plans to take it to the Federal Court of Appeal. “There’s a real possibility they’ll have to shut the whole bloody thing down,” Sawyer said in an interview with Focus. In case anyone suggests Sawyer is tilting at windmills, let’s not forget that in 2017, Sawyer surprised experts by winning a similar case concerning a different pipeline, when the appeal court ruled that TransCanada’s since-abandoned Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline required federal approval. The second threat to LNG Canada ever operating is admittedly more speculative: It is that our government, industry and societal leaders—at last awakened perhaps by the October 8 release of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report—take the radical actions urgently required to decarbonize the economy. The report summary for policy makers, Global Warming of 1.5°C, makes for some disturbing reading. For instance, the goal of limiting global warming in 2050 to 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels is too high if we are to avoid a range of catastrophes. Since those 1850-1900 levels, the globe has already warmed by 1° Celsius, and on current trends will probably pass 1.5° some time between 2030 and 2052. If we do reach 2° Celsius, it is very likely that there will be at least one ice-free Arctic summer each decade, that much more permafrost will thaw, coral reefs will all but disappear, food production will drop significantly, and heat waves, flooding and droughts will all become worse. Based on an earlier draft of the IPCC report, Hannah Askew, an environmental lawyer and now the executive director of Sierra Club BC, wrote to Horgan, Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman, and Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Minister Michelle Mungall. In her September 20 letter, Askew called for sharp cuts in BC emissions, warning that “2°C would be a nightmare; and 3°C or more would likely precipitate a breakdown in the global economy and human civilization as we have known it.” If we cut net global emissions to zero by 2050, however, it is possible to avoid the 2° increase. The needed actions will be drastic: Nothing less than a U-turn is called for. As of last year, global carbon dioxide emissions were going the wrong way. Energy-use emissions of carbon dioxide hit an all-time high in 2017, according to a June 13, 2018 Bloomberg News report, supported by data from the International Energy Agency. Despite this, worldwide at least, there are some signs of hope. On October 10, two days after the IPCC report summary’s release, Members of the European Parliament voted to boost the European Union’s emission cuts by 2030 from 40 to 55 percent. At the Vancouver October 2 announcement, a cargo-cult atmosphere prevailed in the room, the carefully-chosen rah-rah crowd repeatedly applauding as untold goodies were promised. As with the original Melanesian cargo cults, the anticipated bringers of incredible gifts from afar are all foreign entities. The other defining characteristic of cargo cults may also be present in the case of LNG Canada: Those life-changing goodies, bringing eternal joy and happiness for all, may never show up. If things go well, the $40 billion plant will become a giant dust-catcher, a stranded asset, a tribute to the present government’s vision-free attitude toward the planet’s future. That would be the best outcome of all. Russ Francis formerly taught energy policy at the University of Western Ontario, and has toured Fortis BC’s largest LNG plant, at Mount Hayes, northwest of Ladysmith. He has been published widely.
  3. Russ Francis

    Voting for democracy

    The horrors of proportional representation? Faster climate action, more women elected, lower debt, increased voter turnout. THE SITUATION SOUNDS AS THOUGH it were tailor-made for scare-mongering by defenders of BC’s current First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system. Nearly a month after the New Brunswick election, it is far from clear which party will form the government. Two longstanding, mainstream parties are just one seat apart, neither with a majority. Two much smaller parties each hold a handful of seats. One, populist and right-of-centre, was formerly regarded as fringe. An agreement between either of the two smaller parties and one of the mainstream ones would resolve the impasse. But weeks of uncertainty have produced no such agreement. One week before the legislature was to resume, the continuing standoff between the two main parties meant that the legislature may be unable to elect a speaker. In that case, another general election would be called. But this is not an example of the kind of untold disasters that anti-democrats love to claim befalls jurisdictions under Proportional Representation (Pro Rep). Rather, it occurred in New Brunswick after the general election last September 24—under FPTP. Liberals won 21 seats, Tories 22, Greens 3, and People’s Alliance 3. The People’s Alliance supports economic conservatism and opposes parts of the Province’s official bilingualism and language duality policies. And until this September, it had never won more than 2.1 percent of the popular vote nor elected an MLA . After the September election, however, it potentially held the balance of power, though neither the Liberals nor the Tories wanted to link with them. As of Focus’ deadline, a new general election appeared likely. All this could have been avoided had New Brunswick been operating under a Pro Rep electoral system, as the accompanying table (below) shows. Under Pro Rep, New Brunswick would now have a Liberal majority government, with a workable three-seat margin. And the NDP, which was wiped out in the seat count despite winning just over 5 percent of the popular vote, would have ended up with two seats in the 49-seat legislature. To be sure, minority governments not only occur under Pro Rep, they are more likely except in special circumstances, such as when the electorate is evenly divided between just two parties. But it’s false to suggest that FPTP inevitably results in stable, majority governments, while Pro Rep does not. Look at both New Brunswick and, to a lesser degree, BC. Stephanie Smith presides over the 76,000-member BC Government and Service Employees’ Union, which represents the majority of non-executive BC government staff. “You don’t have to look far to find examples of how our current first-past-the-post system delivers skewed results that essentially waste votes,” she said in an email to Focus. “I’m not sure why anyone would say no to having a stronger voice and more robust democratic institutions,” Smith added. The FPTP system is so completely undemocratic it’s hard to believe it has any defenders at all. But it does. Consider Bob Plecas and Lawrie McFarlane. Both are former BC deputy ministers. Also on the status-quo side are former Glen Clark sidekick Bill Tieleman and former (unelected) NDP Premier Ujjal Dosanjh. And, naturellement, those well-known defenders of democracy, the Fraser Institute. Plecas and Tieleman are both directors and founders of the No BC Proportional Representation Society. McFarlane was deputy minister of health during the 1990s NDP government. He said in an email that he knows of no deputy minister in favour of Pro Rep. “For that matter,” McFarlane said, “I don’t know a single former colleague from government who supports it. That doesn’t mean there is no support, only that the people I know are opposed.” In a Times Colonist December 29, 2017 column, McFarlane wrote that Pro Rep could result in perhaps a half dozen parties, some of them representing single issue constituencies such as anti-abortionists. Because the commitment of such parties may be to single agendas, they have little room to compromise, he wrote. “This isn’t a legislature, it’s a chamber of irreconcilable differences.” Admittedly, Pro Rep can allow parties without a hope under FPTP to hold seats. However, the risk of minuscule parties blocking any chance of compromise is partly alleviated by the proposed 5 percent popular vote threshold for a party to be awarded any district seats for the only Pro Rep system currently in use, the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system. (For details, see the Elections BC site.) What do FPTP’s defenders find so loveable about the system? Research on the respective electoral systems provides a hint. Netherlands-born political scientist Arend Lijphart compared 36 democracies over 55 years and found that Pro Rep countries outperformed FPTP ones in 16 of 17 measures of sound government and decision-making. His work is summarized on the Fair Vote Canada website, from which this information was taken. Countries with Pro Rep electoral systems have lower income inequality, faster climate action, more renewable energy, lower national debt, enhanced civil liberties, higher voter turnout and more women elected. No wonder the Fraser Institute hates Pro Rep, except maybe the bit about debt. But why do deputy ministers dislike it, assuming McFarlane is right about that? Evert Lindquist is the editor of Canadian Public Administration, and teaches in the University of Victoria’s School of Public Administration, where he has served several terms as director. Among his numerous research specialties are the public service and government transitions. Responding to emailed questions from Focus, Lindquist said he knows of no published research regarding senior government executives’ attitudes towards electoral systems. However, he said that all other things being equal, one would expect deputy ministers and other public service executives to prefer more certainty to less, and more clarity in direction to less. “Adding even more ongoing, rolling negotiations (which of course is already a part of their jobs) is not something they would likely prefer,” added Lindquist, “unless they thought it might provide more opportunities for dispassionate advice to be heard and considered.” Even if deputy ministers might prefer FPTP, Lindquist said a switch to Pro Rep should not be career-changing for them. “Preferences are one thing, but could they adapt and function well in such an environment? Yes, of course.” Over the coming few weeks, BC voters have the chance to ensure the first general election after June 30, 2021 will be held under Pro Rep. All BC households were due to receive a voter’s guide by late October, and registered voters a voting package by November 2. Voters can answer either one or both of two questions: (1) Choose between FPTP and Pro Rep (2) Choose between 3 Pro Rep systems, only one of which (MMP) is currently in use. Completed mail-in ballots must be received by Elections BC no later than 4:30 pm, November 30. For more information, see: www.elections.bc.ca/referendum/ Formerly a political columnist and reporter, Russ Francis recently returned to journalism after a stint as a BC government analyst. During his 10 years with the government, he worked in strategic policy, legislation and performance management for a number of ministries.
  4. The company for which Victoria MP Murray Rankin testified as an expert witness won tribunal ruling in May. TAXPAYERS COULD BE ON THE HOOK for more than $580 million after a court rejected Canada’s appeal of a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) tribunal ruling. In a written ruling released May 2, Federal Court of Canada Justice Anne Mactavish turned down Canada’s appeal of a NAFTA tribunal’s finding, in favour of Delaware company Bilcon. The company was planning a quarry and marine terminal on the Bay of Fundy. As Judith Lavoie reported in the October, 2015 Focus, after a joint review panel recommended against allowing the project—a decision supported by the Nova Scotia and federal governments—Bilcon filed a claim under NAFTA’s Chapter 11, which governs so-called investor-state dispute settlement issues. Victoria MP Murray Rankin testified for Bilcon as an administrative law expert. On March 17, 2015, the tribunal decided in favour of Bilcon. Two years of appeals and legal wrangles later, Bilcon asked for reparations of US$443 million, or approximately C$580 million. In addition, the company asked that Canada pay all fees, costs and disbursements. Though the submission is marked “confidential,” it is publicly available on the website of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The NAFTA panel has yet to rule on the size of that claim. In her recent ruling on Canada’s appeal, Mactavish found that the court had no power to intervene in the tribunal’s decision. Her ruling followed hearings on January 29 and 30, 2018 in Ottawa. Though Canada could have appealed Mactavish’s decision to the Federal Court of Appeal, it failed to do so within the 30-day time limit. Why would Ottawa let sit a ruling that paints such gloomy prospects for the value of environmental panels reviewing foreign-owned resource projects, not to mention hefty compensation bills? One environmental expert believes the government was reticent for fear of upsetting its current negotiations with the US over the free trade agreement itself. Gretchen Fitzgerald is national program director of Sierra Club Canada Foundation. “It’s touchy, obviously, with the US right now,” said Fitzgerald, who attended the January court hearings. Sierra Club Canada Foundation was an intervener in the government’s appeal, supporting Canada’s position, along with East Coast Environmental Law. Fitzgerald said that by failing to appeal to the higher court, the government is telling foreign investors that they need no longer fear Canadian environmental review boards and the like: “The corporations can have expectations of approval when they start investing.” Despite deciding against Canada, Mactavish noted that the tribunal’s ruling raised significant policy concerns. These include “potential chill” in the environmental assessment process, Mactavish wrote. Bilcon’s March 10, 2017 submission can be viewed online at: https://pcacases.com/web/sendAttach/2123. Other Bilcon documents available here: https://www.italaw.com/cases/1588 Formerly a political columnist and reporter, Russ recently returned to the fold after a stint as a BC government analyst. During his 10 years with the government, he worked in strategic policy, legislation, and performance management for a number of ministries.
  5. Russ Francis

    A false dichotomy

    As LNG Canada’s Final Investment Decision looms, a fatal error sits stubbornly at the heart of the government’s case for LNG. THIS SPRING, the BC government told us of its innovative plan to save the planet: Burn more fossil fuels. After what Premier John Horgan openly admitted were extensive consultations with the big players in the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) industry, his government announced reduced carbon tax and electricity charges, kiboshing the LNG export tax, and providing a temporary exemption from provincial sales tax. These cuts were worked out in consort—“jointly conducted,” a so-called backgrounder assured us—with the biggest still-active player, LNG Canada. The consortium is made up of wholly-owned subsidiaries of five foreign companies (Petronas, Royal Dutch Shell, PetroChina, Mitsubishi, and Korea Gas Corporation). The March 22 backgrounder added that this financial analysis “corroborated evidence and information from internationally recognized LNG analysts that BC has a competitiveness issue.” Internationally recognized LNG analysts? Anyone from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives? David Suzuki Foundation? Navius? Pembina Institute? Sierra Club? Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions? The document didn’t say. More likely a bunch of corporate carbon-heads who can’t see the future through the haze of thick forest fire smoke that now almost routinely covers large parts of the province every summer. It isn’t hard to imagine that the “joint financial analysis” went something like this: BC Government to LNG Industry: What do you want? LNG Industry: We’ll take no LNG export tax, a sales tax holiday, reduced carbon tax, and hydro at half what the hoi polloi pay! BC Government: Done! And thanks for the insightful analysis! What the March 22 government release called a “new framework for natural gas development [that] puts [the] focus on economic and climate targets,” BC Green Leader Andrew Weaver referred to as giving away BC’s Crown-owned natural gas. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the BC NDP will do anything the industry wants to get LNG here,” commented Weaver in an interview. “They have taken ‘sellout’ to a whole new level.” An “Update and Technical Briefing” on the framework presented March 22 by Don Wright, Premier John Horgan’s deputy minister, claimed that economic development, climate action and First Nations reconciliation are “parallel and mutually dependent priorities.” The thrust of the presentation was that economic development necessitates creating huge carbon-intensive LNG plants. The rule of thumb for government briefing notes is to provide three options. The first is the status quo: Do nothing. The second and third list possible actions to deal with the situation at hand. There are few issues for which there is only one active option. But Wright’s 35-page PowerPoint briefing offered just two choices. Slightly paraphrased, they were: 1. Don’t give away the climate farm to a group of multinational fossil fuel companies. But, as a result, accept that First Nations reconciliation will stall, BC’s climate action will become inaction, and we’ll all be in the poorhouse. 2. Turn over taxpayers’ fossil resources to foreigners for next to nothing, so we can make nice with First Nations, get really, really tough on climate change, and start rolling in money. The outcome? Concluded the presentation: “After extensive analysis and deliberation, government has elected to proceed with Option 2.” One doesn’t have to look far to spot the false dichotomy in Wright’s presentation. Lynda Gagné is a University of Victoria economist with a longstanding interest in the environment. Economic development should not be about producing and consuming more resource- and energy-intensive goods and services, said Gagné, who teaches in the School of Public Administration. “Our economic system already draws far more out of the Earth than it can sustain,” she said in an emailed response to questions, “and more business-as-usual development can only worsen the situation and eventually lead to a crash.” Meaningful climate action is widely regarded as incompatible with a large LNG facility. Marc Lee, senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, pointed out that the facility will make it far more difficult for BC to meet its emission targets. In an August 2, 2018 submission to the BC Government’s Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council, Lee estimated that LNG Canada’s emissions from fracking, processing, transportation and liquefaction for the Kitimat project will add from 9 to 12 megatonnes (Mt) of CO2 annually to BC’s emissions (in 2015, 63 Mt). An LNG plant in Australia The government claims the facility, when it’s finally built out with four units, called “trains,” will emit 8.14 Mt. Yet in 2015, BC’s existing oil and natural gas industry emitted 12 Mt (mostly from natural gas-related activities). Here’s the problem: The Province’s renewed climate targets are for 13 Mt of total emissions in 2050, just when LNG Canada would be humming along at full tilt, in all its 8+ Mt CO2/year glory. That 13 Mt target is for everything: heating, transportation, industry, mining, deforestation, cattle burping, human breathing—the works. Yet 8 + 12 = 20, therefore the emissions from natural gas production and the one LNG facility alone are 54 percent above the 13 Mt target for everything. Concluded Lee: “Any way you slice it the rest of BC’s economy would have to fully decarbonize very quickly in order to accommodate emissions from LNG Canada and stay within the new legislated targets.” Nor is it received truth that First Nations reconciliation and fossil fuels are inextricably linked. While a number of First Nations support TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline, needed to ship gas to LNG Canada’s facility, several Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, in contrast to the elected Wet’suwet’en band, oppose the route. Unist’ot’en protesters plan to block the pipeline construction at their camp, which their website refers to as indigenous re-occupation of Wet’suwet’en land. UVic’s Gagné questions the government’s connecting First Nations reconciliation with more carbon-intensive development: “Reconciliation and addressing climate change can only be done by recognizing the limits we face.” A new report by a 16-strong international team of experts bolsters Gagné’s concerns. “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene,” published August 9 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pulled together ten climate change processes—such as the reduction of northern hemisphere spring snow cover that amplifies regional warming, and CO2 release from boreal forest dieback, including through forest fires. The researchers suggested that when such positive feedback loops are considered together, the longstanding glacial-interglacial cycle might be replaced with a runaway “hothouse earth” beyond human control. To avoid this, said the researchers, we may need to act on multiple fronts, including decarbonizing the global economy. SO WHY DID THE NDP make such generous concessions, ones that boost the risk of an uninhabitable planet? One reason might be the current seat distribution. The NDP’s presence in the legislature is concentrated in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island: It holds just four seats outside BC’s southwest corner. The NDP-Green government’s 44 seats versus the Liberals’ 42 means we are just a few heartbeats away from a different government. The Liberals could even add to their seat count following this fall’s municipal election, in which New Democrat MLA Leonard Krog is expected to win the October 20 Nanaimo mayoralty election. Krog would then resign his legislature seat, prompting a by-election. Though the Nanaimo riding has been traditionally NDP-safe, the Greens have promised to run a strong candidate, possibly splitting the non-Liberal vote. A Liberal win in Nanaimo would put the NDP-Green alliance and the Liberals in a 43-43 dead heat. Depending on how independent Speaker Darryl Plecas rules, there is a real threat to the NDP-Green government in the months ahead. Horgan’s solution? Continue to impress Islanders and Lower Mainlanders with vehement opposition to the unpopular Kinder Morgan project, while simultaneously regaling the pro-resource-development Hinterlanders with cries of “Jobs ahead! Damn the GHGs!” And because the Liberals will likely vote in support of LNG development, the NDP doesn’t have to worry about the Greens being opposed. To hear the NDP government tell it, the proposed LNG Canada facility at Kitimat will have as many as 10,000 construction jobs in 2021. (Though permanent jobs would be only “up to 950.”) And LNG Canada has agreed that local residents will have first dibs at that work, promised Deputy Minister Wright. But some of those 10,000 jobs may already be disappearing. David Seaton, the chairman and CEO of Texas-based Fluor Corporation, one of the two main contractors, has boasted to investors that his company has cut on-site jobs for the LNG Canada contract by more than one-third: “[W]orking with the client, we were able to leverage our supply chain and fabrication capabilities, allowing us to reduce needed on-site [labour] by over 35 percent, which is probably the largest risk on that project,” Seaton told an August 2 investors conference call, according to a company-edited transcript. Seaton added later that the LNG Canada contract was a “big win” for his company. Veteran Earth scientist David Hughes is the author of Canada’s Energy Outlook, a 180-page report recently published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. He has also analyzed in detail BC’s prospects for LNG. Asked which of the two estimates of LNG Canada construction jobs is more credible, Hughes replied: “I would tend to believe Fluor.” In Lee’s submission, he pointed out that greening the economy can be job-intensive. For instance, a 10-year, $2.2 billion program to make homes—especially older homes—more energy-efficient would support 12,000 direct jobs. The Greens’ Weaver dreams of a new BC economy that could even involve a Tesla Gigafactory in Kitimat, rather than an LNG plant. He adds that he has already spoken to the company about the prospect. “It’s not about saying ‘no’ to LNG,” said Weaver. “It’s about saying ‘yes’ to the new economy.” As well as the likely mayoralty win by Krog, several other events this fall may alter LNG’s political landscape. LNG Canada said it is anticipating making a “final investment decision” in the next few months. About the same time, the government will release an updated BC climate plan. How the two work together—or don’t—could shake things up as well. Should the foreign-owned LNG Canada facility actually go ahead, us locally-owned British Columbians had better start eliminating our emissions. And take only very small breaths. Formerly a political columnist and reporter, Russ recently returned to the fold after a stint as a BC government analyst. During his 10 years with the government, he worked in strategic policy, legislation,’ and performance management for a number of ministries.
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