Climate Emergency

One of the big topics we discussed at Council last week was a report from staff entitled “Response to Climate Emergency”. This policy-rich, wonky, but still preliminary report had its profile raised by a variety of delegates coming to speak to Council, urging aggressive climate action. That many of the delegates represented generations of people who will be around and most impacted by the climate crisis was not lost to anyone in the room.

If you want to read the report, it is here (because of the way our Council agendas work, you need to scroll down to page 81 of that big, ugly agenda package). I want to summarize some of what is in there, and talk a little about what I see as the risks and opportunities ahead. When we declared a Climate Emergency, we were asking our staff to show us the tools we could apply if we want to act like it is an emergency and shift our emissions towards the Paris targets. Now it is up to Council to give them the authorization and resources to use those tools.

When New Westminster (or any local government) talks about greenhouse gas emissions, we talk about two types of emissions. “Corporate” emissions are those created by the City of New Westminster as a corporation – the diesel in our garbage trucks, the gasoline in our police cars, and the fossil gas used to heat water in the Canada Games Pool or City Hall. This is managed through a Corporate Energy and Emissions Reduction Strategy or CEERS. For the sake of shorthand, that is currently about 4,000 Tonnes (CO2equivilent) per year. “Community” emissions are all of the other emissions created in our community – the gas you burn in your car, the gas you use to heat your house, the emissions from the garbage that you and your neighbors toss out, etc. These are managed through a Community Energy and Emissions Plan or CEEP. And again in shorthand they amount to more than 200,000 Tonnes (CO2equivelent) per year.

When Council supported the Climate Emergency resolution, it included the targets we want to hit for emissions reductions to align with the commitments that Canada made in Paris, and with the global objective of keeping anthropogenic climate change under 1.5C. This means reducing our emissions by 45% by 2030, 60% by 2040, and 100% by 2050. These targets are for both our Corporate and Community emissions.

Clearly, the City has more control over its corporate emissions. The two biggest changes will be in re-imagining our fleet and renovating our buildings. We can accelerate the shift to low- and zero-emission vehicles as technology advances. Passenger vehicles are easy, but electric backhoes are an emergent technology, and the various energy demands of fire trucks are probably going to require some form of low-carbon liquid fuels for some time. The limits on us here are both the significant up-front capital cost of cutting-edge low-emission technology, and the ability to build charging infrastructure. Rapidly adopting low- and zero-carbon building standards for our new buildings (including the replacement for the Canada Games Pool) will be vital here, but retro-fitting some of our older building stock is something that needs to be approached in consideration of the life cycles of the buildings – when do we renovate and when do we replace?

Addressing these big two aggressively will allow us some time to deal with the category of “others”. This work will require us to challenge some service delivery assumptions through an emissions and climate justice lens. Are the aesthetic values of our (admittedly spectacular) annual gardens and groomed green grass lawns something we can continue to afford, or will we move to more perennial, native and xeriscaped natural areas? How will we provide emergency power to flood control pumps without diesel generators? Can we plant enough trees to offset embedded carbon in our concrete sidewalks?

Those longer-term details aside, corporate emissions are mostly fleet and buildings, where the only thing slowing progress is our willingness to commit budget to it, and the public tolerance for tax increases or debt spending in the short term to save money in the long term.

Community emissions are a much harder nut to crack. Part of this is because the measurement of community emissions, by their diffuse nature, are more difficult. Another part is that a local government has no legal authority to (for example) start taking away Major Road Network capacity for cars and trucks, or to regulate the type of fuel regional delivery vehicles use.

We do have a lot of control over how new buildings are built, through powers given by the Provincial “Step Code” provisions in the Building Code. A City can require that more energy efficient building be built, recognizing that this may somewhat increase the upfront cost of construction. We can also relax the energy efficiency part in exchange for requiring that space and water heating and cooking appliances be zero carbon, which may actually offset the cost increase and still achieve the emissions reductions goals. The retrofit of existing buildings will rely somewhat on Provincial and Federal incentives (that pretty much every political party is promising this election), but we may want to look at the City of Vancouver model and ask ourselves at what point should we regulate that no more new fossil gas appliances are allowed?

Shifting our transportation realm will be the hard one. The future of personal mobility is clearly electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and shared vehicles. Somehow the Techno-optimists selling this dream fail to see what those words add up to: clean, reliable public transit. Yes, we are going to have to look at electrification of our private vehicle fleets, and getting chargers for electric vehicles into existing multi-family buildings is an economic and logistical barrier to complete adoption, but ultimately we need to reduce the number of motorized private vehicles moving through our City, because that is the only way we can make the use of alternatives safer, more comfortable, and more efficient.

Denser housing, more green spaces, better waste management built on the foundation of reducing wasteful products, and distributed energy systems linked by a smarter electricity grid – these are things we can build in the City that will get us to near-zero carbon. We can layer on resiliency of our systems and food security decoupled from fossil-fuel powered transglobal supply chains, but that is another couple of blog posts. If you are not getting the hint here, we are talking about transforming much of how we live our lives, because how we have lived our lives up to now is how we ended up in this emergency despite decades of seeing it coming.

The barrier to community emissions reductions is less about money and more about community drive / tolerance for change. Every time we (for example) take away 5 parking spots on 8th Street to provide a transit queue-jumping lane, it will be described by automobile reliant neighbours as the greatest indignity this Council ever imposed on residents. Building a separated bike lane network so our residents can safely and securely use emerging zero-carbon transportation technology like e-assist bikes and electric scooters will be vilified as causing “traffic chaos”, and opponents will somehow forget that “traffic chaos” has been the operating mode of New Westminster roads for 50+ years.

The questions will be: Do we have the political will to do what must be done? Will our residents and businesses, who overwhelmingly believe that climate action is necessary, be there to support the actions that may cause them some personal inconvenience, or challenge their assumptions about how their current practice impacts the community’s emissions profile?

The delegates who came to Council asked us to act, and I threw it back at them: they need to act. As helpful as constant reminders of the need to do this work are, we need to bring the rest of the community on board as well. We passed the Climate Emergency declaration, and now we have a toolbox we are ready to open. To some in our community still mired in denial, that toolbox looks like the Ark of the Covenant from the first Indiana Jones movie. How will we shift that perception?

Shit is about to get real. We need climate champions in this community to turn their attention towards educating and motivating their neighbours – the residents, business and voters of this community – that these actions are necessary and good. Political courage only takes us to the next election, real leadership needs to come from the community. Let’s get to work.

Bikeways now

We have had a couple of presentations to Council by the reinvigorated HUB Chapter for New Westminster. I have been a long-time supporter of HUB (through membership and donations), used to serve as a community representative on the Advisory Committee for Bicycles, Pedestrians and Transit (ACTBiPed), am now Chair of that committee, and even have my name attached to the city’s Master Transportation Plan as a community member of the Master Transportation Plan Advisory Committee, so I feel pretty close to this issue. I thought it was time to write a bit of an essay on where I think we are, and where we need to be going as a City when it comes to transportation. And it isn’t all good.

I need to start this by interject one of my usual caveats about how everything you read here is my opinion, coming out of my brain (or other internal organs, commonly spleen) and not official communication from the City. I am one member of a Council of 7, and they may or may not share my opinions on this stuff. There are staff in the City doing their jobs with much more engineering and planning expertise than me who may cringe in reading my relatively uninformed take. So nothing here should be taken to represent the thoughts, feelings or ideas of anyone or any organization other than myself.

The same goes for my random tweets that sometimes get picked up by the media. I was recently critical on-line of a change in the BC Parkway along my regular-job commuting route that made cycling along the parkway less safe for cyclists and pedestrians. After getting re-printed, I felt the need to state that I recognize New West has some work to do on this front as well, but I like to hope that despite our being slow at improvement, we are not actively making things worse. It is the pace of improvement that I want to lament now.

I am a little frustrated by our lack of progress on building a safe and connected cycling network in New Westminster. I understand a little more now in my role about why we have been slower to act than I like, but I think it is time for us to stop looking at lines on maps and start building some shit.

Up to now, work on the Master Transportation Plan implementation has emphasized things that I think needed to be emphasized in our transportation space – curb cuts, making transit stops accessible, and accelerated improvement of pedestrian crossings. these are good things that deserved investment to remove some of the barriers in our community that represented some obvious low-hanging fruit. We have also staffed up a real Transportation department for the first time, so we have engineers and planners dedicated to doing this work, and they have been doing some really great work.

We have built some stuff! There are areas we have improved, and though they are better than what was there previously, I cannot believe anyone would look at some of this infrastructure and see it as truly prioritizing cycling, and (more to the point) few of them meet the mark that we should be striving for – All Ages and Abilities (AAA) bike routes that an 8 year old or an 80 year old would find safe, comfortable and useable. As I am learning in this role, each project has its own legacy of challenges – resistant neighbours, limited funding, tight timelines to meet grant windows, unexpected soil conditions. Every seemingly bad decision was made with the best intentions as the least-bad-of-many-bad-options. But we need to do better, and that means spending more on better. 

So, much to HUB’s points, there are a few projects I think the City needs to get done soon, and I hope we can find the capital to make happen, even if they are not as sexy as some region-defining transportation links, they are fundamental if New Westminster is going to take the next steps towards being a proper 21st century urban centre:

7th Ave upgrades The existing temporary protected bike lanes on 7th Ave between Moody Park and 5th Street are getting torn up right now as scheduled water main and service works are happening under that street. I am adamant that permanent protected AAA bike lanes need to replace them. This is the part of the established Crosstown Greenway that sees the most non-active traffic, and is probably the least comfortable part as it also sees its fair share of rush hour “rat runners”. The rest of the Crosstown Greenway could use some enhanced traffic calming, pavement re-allocation, and cyclist priority in some intersections, but it is this 300m section where true separated lanes are the only way all users will feel safe.

Connection to the High School Related to this, the new High School will be ready for students a year from now, and we have not done anything to assure that students of the school can safely connect to Crosstown Greenway and the adjacent neighbourhoods. The sidewalks along 6th and 8th are barely adequate now for the mass of students that pour out of the school when a bell rings, and the new site is going to be more constrained for parent drop-off and pickup, so the City needs to build safe connections. In my mind, that means separated bike route along 8th Street to Moody Park and widened sidewalks along 6th Street to 7th Ave, but I’ll leave the engineers and transportation planners to opine on what we need to build – I just want to get it built so that the new school is one that encourages students to walk, roll, bike, or scoot there.

Agnes Greenway Bikeway Another major construction project in town will be starting the fall (hopefully), and is scheduled to be completed in 2023. At that time, the Pattullo, which is the second-worst crossing of a river in the Lower Mainland for bikes (Knight Street is worse, and the tunnel doesn’t count) will be replaced with what could be the best active transportation crossing in  the entire region – and it will see a concomitant increase in use. There is a lot of work being done in the City with the Ministry of Transportation to assure people landing in New West by bike or scooter have decent connections to the existing network. At the same time, we need to fix the crappy connections people trying to move east-west past the bridge now have to deal with. Agnes Street should be that connection for most of our Downtown, should provide proper AAA connections for all downtown residents to QayQayt Elementary, and can be the foundation for the much-needed-and-never-quite-done Downtown-to-Uptown grade-reduced route. This is as key to New Westminster’s Active Transportation future as the Burrard Street Bridge and Hornby Street bikeways were to Vancouver a decade ago. We need to see that vision, do it right, and make this the one gold-plated piece of bikeway infrastructure to hang all of our other dreams upon.

Uptown/Downtown connection Much like the Burrard Bridge example, the connections to the Agnes Bikeway are as important as the Bikeway itself. The Agnes Bikeway will only be transformational if it connects safely to the “heart” of downtown, which is and will continue to be the corner of Eighth Street and Columbia. It also needs to connect to a proper AAA route across Royal. HUB and ACTBiPed have talked at length about potential lower-grade routes from Columbia to Royal using the same thinking as “The Wiggle” in San Francisco, and a preferred route has been identified. However, the solution above and below Agnes are both going to require difficult engineering choices and potentially more difficult political ones.

Priorities set, that brings us to the bad part. Roads are expensive, and completely re-configuring how a road works is really expensive. Moving curbs, adjusting drainage, digging up the road, bringing in proper fill materials, asphalt, concrete, street lights, power poles, moving trees, epoxy paint – it all adds up. Right now cities like Vancouver budget about $10 Million per kilometre of separated bike route installation on existing roads. Long-term maintenance costs are likely lower than the driving-lanes-and-free-car-storage we have now on these routes, but there is no getting around that up-front ding to the budget.

Using the thumbnail estimate from Vancouver, the priorities above could total up to $20 Million, and my dream is to see this happen within the timeframe of our current $409 Million 5-year capital plan. About $155 Million of that is utility upgrades (water, sewer, and electrical), and another ~$100 Million is for the replacement of the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre. Somewhere in the remaining $150 Million we need to think about the cost of reducing the fossil fuel requirements of our fleet, pay for the current City Hall upgrades and the completion of the animal care facility in Q’Boro, among other projects. We have serious costs coming up – those $150 Million are already committed. And everyone who doesn’t love bikeways is going to hate them more when I suggest $20 Million over 5 years is about a 1% tax increase. I already get grief from some cohort in the City because I “talk too much about bikes”.

Fortunately, we are not alone. TransLink is investing in Active Transportation like never before, both in its role as the regional Transportation Authority, but also in recognizing that people are more likely to buy a ticket for SkyTrain if their 15-minute walk to SkyTrain is replaced with a safe and comfortable 5-minute bike ride. The Province recently released their Active Transportation Strategy, and at least one Federal Party in the upcoming election is hoping to see more federal money pointed at more sustainable transportation options as a campaign plank. Time to strike while the irons are hot.

In New Westminster, I’m going to be making the case that in the year 2019, the creation of safe AAA-standard active transportation infrastructure is not a “nice to have”, but is an essential part of our Climate Emergency response and the most notable missing piece of infrastructure in New Westminster’s quest to be the most accessible and livable city in the Lower Mainland.

UBCM 2018

Apologies to regular readers (Hi Mom!) that I have not been putting a lot of content on this blog recently. The campaign is in full swing, we are still doing our regular City Council stuff, and I have another job that keeps me occupied. Hopefully back to regular programming in later October. In the meantime, I am talking more about campaign stuff on my campaign Facebook page, and on the my campaign website and trying to keep this page about City stuff that isn’t campaigning.

However, I thought it apropos to provide a quick update on the annual Union of BC Municipalities meeting. I was not able to attend this year, mostly due to work and Council commitments. I did go up there on September 10th (disclosure: on the City’s dime) to attend the BC Municipal Climate Leadership Council quarterly meeting, and the Minister’s breakfast that is hosted by that Council (of which I am a member). It was a productive meeting, and we were able to discuss the BCMCLC’s response to the Province’s Clean Growth Intentions Paper, which was both supportive of the work the province wants to do, and suggestive of some further steps the province could take to support local governments in reaching the aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals that are required to meet Canada’s Paris targets.

I then returned to Whistler on Wednesday (not on the City’s dime this time) to attend the Lower Mainland LGA meeting (I am a vice president) and to present the annual Community Energy Association awards to communities taking exceptional efforts to reduce their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. In my role as Chair of the CEA, it was my honour to share the awarding duties with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. I also had the opportunity to give one of the awards to the Mayor of Nelson for their Solar Garden project –and let her know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, demonstrated by New Westminster copying their model for our own Solar Garden project.

The good news coming out the UBCM is that some resolutions we sent to be debated were passed by the membership of UBCM. These were:

B-8: Alert Ready Emergency Alert System

… be it resolved that UBCM works with the Province of British Columbia to provide access to the Alert Ready (emergency alert) system to local governments in order to allow them to broadcast critical and potentially life threatening alerts to residents of their respective communities using the framework of the Alert Ready System.

B-54: Cannabis and Harmonizing Smoking Regulations

… be it resolved that UBCM urge the Provincial Government of British Columbia to extend the prescribed distance from a doorway, window, or air intake in which a person must not smoke tobacco, hold lighted tobacco, use an e-cigarette or hold an activated e-cigarette from 6 meters to 7.5 meters and prohibit smoking in all public parks by amending the Tobacco and Vapour Control Regulations and by ensuring the corresponding distances prescribed in the Cannabis Control and Licensing Regulations are the same.

And:
B-102: Updating the BC Motor Vehicle Act to Improve Safety for All Road Users

… be it resolved that the provincial government be requested to support modernization of the Motor Vehicle Act, addressing the recommendations in the Road Safety Law Reform Group of BC Position Paper entitled “Modernizing the BC Motor Vehicle Act” to enhance safety for all road users.

I have to admit, I’m pretty chuffed about that last one.

CLI 2017

Concomitant to being on City Council, I am involved with more than a few other projects. Two of these are membership in the BC Municipal Climate Leadership Council, and Board Member of the Community Energy Association. These two organizations collaborated last week to put on the first Climate Leadership Institute conference in Richmond. If you are a New Westminster resident, you paid for me to attend, so here is my report on what you got for your 1/3 of a penny each.

(I feel I need to mention here that it was a pretty intensive program, and I have dozens of pages of notes, so I need to do quite a bit of distilling. Everything below if my filtered impression of the program, and may not reflect another person’s experience, and every quote is a paraphrase from memory or scribbled notes!)

This was an interesting 2.5-day event that brought together local government elected officials from across BC, municipal staff working in energy and emissions policy, and subject matter experts across the broad spectrum of energy efficiency and climate change policy. The format was a repeated pattern of a keynote presentation, a panel discussion, then an intensive break-out conversation where the participants could share their local successes and challenges related to the topics covered by the panels. This schedule drove collaborative thinking, shared learning, and more than a little inspiration.


The first session was on communications – how do we lead productive conversations on this politically difficult topic? Aside from some pretty useful self-reflection on how we are communicating personally and on the social media (Do we spout facts, or talk about our beliefs? Are we open to being wrong? Are you silent for fear of being judged?) we heard from some organizations who are learning how to effectively lead conversations: the Pembina Institute, the BC Sustainable Energy Association, Clean Energy Canada. We also discussed current communication challenges related to climate policy: How do you talk to a denier – or do you even bother? Does “Decongestion Charging” mean anything to anyone? With so much bad info on Social Media, how to react?

My takeaways from this were not profound, except in that I recognize I have shifted a bit on this blog and in public from speaking my passions to speaking facts and pragmatics. I think there is a space for the latter – I strive to be factual – but it is the first part that matters, and makes people want to listen to or read my ideas. I gotta get that passion back…


The second session was opened by former Premier and Mayor of Vancouver Mike Harcourt. He gave a pretty interesting “inside basebell” historic run-down of the politics of Greater Vancouver’s regional transportation and infrastructure planning, from Expo86 to today. He spoke of the politician’s paradox – the need to have a long term vision and also deliver in the short term to get re-elected so that vision can be realized. In the end, we all fail, but can move the baton forward, and good work can get done (or undone) by those with the ability to project a vision.

This led to a panel discussion on policy creation an implementation within complex (and often political) organizations. It was less about specific ideas (although some ideas I’ll talk about later arose here), and more about how to champion ideas through an organization as complex as a City. Do we make climate action part of a strategic plan? What happens when your strategic plan gets old (as happens quickly in this fast-moving tech-driven policy area)? What point to making new plans if you haven’t the budget or political capital to see it implemented? We also talked quite a bit about how we measure and report out the results of climate policy, in order to assure our staff are accountable to our council, and our Council is accountable to the public that elect them.


The third panel brought together energy managers from North Vancouver, East Kootenay, Richmond, Campbell River and our own New Westminster to talk about initiatives unique to each community that was making a difference in the their community in reducing energy use or emissions. We were presented a variety of policy tools, technology approaches, and strategies – including the successes and the challenges. I did note that New Westminster’s Urban Solar Garden got quite a bit of interest from other regions and communities.

We had a couple of powerful presentations on the future of global energy systems and on bringing the changes home to our communities in meaningful ways. I really need to write a separate blog post about this, because it takes us to interesting places. In short, the world’s energy economy is changing much faster than we ever thought possible. Canada’s National Energy Board, the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry and approves pipelines recently shifted their prediction of the year when Canada will hit peak oil. Last year, they said after 2040; this year they say 2019. Think about the meaning of that on every aspect of our economy. It’s happening, the only question is whether we will be ready. I’m looking at you, Jason Kenny.


On the last day, there were break-out sessions that explored in depth some of the topics not yet covered by the conference (in my case, we talked about food security, and the role that food systems play in our community energy and emissions goals). We also had presentations from the Provincial Government, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and the Real Estate Foundation of BC, all of who outlined grant opportunities local governments can use to develop studies, to implement new programs, or even for capital costs that will result in reduced energy use and emissions.

Finally, a theme I took away from the entire conference was one of timescales. On one hand, we need to think long-game in energy reduction and community emissions. We cannot replace our vehicle fleet in a year, or our building systems in a decade. On the other hand, things are moving fast. Electrical vehicle technology is growing at an exponential rate, as is building insulation and energy system technology. The prices for what was until recently “bleeding edge” technology are dropping fast, as China invests heavily in solar systems and vehicle tech is pushing storage systems forward. Where putting off infrastructure improvement was once fiscally prudent, the pay-back time for more efficient systems is shifting that equation.

As much as we need to think long-term, there has never a better time than now to take real action.

UBCM 2017- Day 2

This is part 3 on my reporting out on what I did at the 2017 UBCM conference. Part 2 is here.

My third day at UBCM had less of an educational component, more of a political one.

One aspect of UBCM is an opportunity for Local Government elected types and staff to meet with Provincial Government elected types and staff, so we can raise important issues, lobby for support for our initiatives or programs, or learn about how provincial government programs are going to impact us. These meetings are arranged ahead of time, and with hundreds of local governments in attendance and only so many provincial folks to go around, the scheduling is pretty difficult. Meetings are generally 15 minutes to a half an hour, and rarely result in immediate action on issues – especially this year with a new government so early in their mandate.

Part of having a collaborative approach on Council that extends to working with senior governments, we split up responsibilities for these meetings among the Council Members attending UBCM, with the Mayor taking the lead at most meetings. I was able to take part in meetings regarding transportation topics, on the future of childcare in New West and the provincial role in supporting it, and on several community energy and emission reduction initiatives.


Several members of New West Council and a few of our planning staff also had a sit-down meeting with representatives of AirBnB. Clearly, AirBnB are working all levels of government in Canada to assure their business model is not regulated out of existence, and (unlike Uber), this is an area where Local Governments can exercise some regulatory control, through Zoning and Business Licensing. They came prepared to talk to any city who would listen, including providing local stats. In New Westminster (according to AirBnB, there are 130 active hosts, with the average host opening a room for 54 nights a year, for a total length of stay of between 4 and 5 days. The case they were making is that AirBnB contributes to the local economy (guests frequent local restaurants, pubs, and stores) and make housing more affordable for some people, by providing a “mortgage helper”.

We were pretty frank with AirBnB, we are concerned about the impact on our affordable housing stock, about violations of our business license and zoning laws, and about some livability concerns expressed by community members. We had a good discussion about other jurisdictions (such as Nelson and Tofino) and the strengths and weaknesses of their attempts at regulating this platform. It should be no surprise that some concerns that AirBnb raise about different regulatory models are very different that the concerns we hear in some parts of the community. There is also, I think, a bit of a disconnect between AirBnB’s interest in operating within a better regulatory framework, and the limits they put on how they could help local government with that framework- often citing (debatable) privacy issues.

This is a topic I am interested in, and am not getting a lot of traction in my calls for the City to take a more proactive approach. I think there is a role for supporting expanded BnBs in our community (Really, AirBnB is just a platform, not the core business), especially as we have so few Hotel Rooms, no “Hotel Tax” to support our Tourism efforts, and so many heritage and cultural aspects that should make us a popular destination. But with our rental vacancy rate below 0.5%, renovictions burgeoning on crisis, and so many challenges maintaining our affordable housing stock, the answers here are not easy.


Wednesday was also the first day of Resolutions for UBCM 2017 – but I’ll talk about those in a follow-up post.

The afternoon saw several “Provincial Cabinet Town Halls” which were an interesting model for engagement by the new government. There were four Panels (Health and Safety; Investing in People; Infrastructure and Economic Development; and Job, Resources, and Green Communities), each headed by 5 or 6 members of the new Provincial Cabinet. They gave a brief intro to their Mandate Letters, and where they see their files helping Local Government, then the floor was opened in a Town all style for us to grill them on any topic we liked.

I attended the Jobs, Etc. session, where the Ministers of Agriculture, Energy & Mines, FLNROrd, Environment, and Jobs&Trade were in attendance. The introductory conversations were pretty high-level, with Minister Popham clearly excited about protecting the ALR, Minister Mungall equally excited about the future of mining and green energy in the province, and Minister Donaldson proud of the provincial response to the wildfires of the summer (and giving significant props to his predecessor John Rustad for working hard to not let the transition impact firefighting efforts).

Questions given to the Ministers were wide-reaching, including yet another visit from the same Mayor from a certain agriculture-focused municipality clutching pearls over marijuana taking over prime farmland already overwrought with freeways and million-square-foot factory greenhouses (though she didn’t put it that way), to concerns about the future of northeast BC’s ample natural gas resources.

On that final point, I recognized a place where our senior governments are sending mixed messages. Where the Federal Government (in defending the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion) is saying downstream greenhouse gas emissions of pipeline products are not our problem, because they are burned elsewhere, the BC Government (including, alas, the new government) are insisting that we need to support LNG because it will reduce overall emissions in the downstream by offsetting coal in the target markets. Am I the only one who sees the contradiction here?

Post-election Idea #2

The recounts and brokering are still ongoing, and I’m doubly assured none of the provincial leaders read this blog, so I’m going to continue spitballing big ideas that make for interesting conversation, and would support (in my mind) a strong Green-NDP alliance that could rule for a full term. After dispatching electoral reform, I present another vision for the province’s future:

Idea 2: Ministry of Energy and Climate Change

The science on climate change is clear. The causes are known, the implications are serious, and a wide suite of potential policy solutions have been developed and debated. Yet little progress is being made outside of select northern European countries. Under Gordon Campbell, BC was looking to take a lead on this file, but that leadership has slowly eroded for a decade. What now?

For too many reasons related to policy implementation, we need to stop thinking about climate change as an environmental issue, to be managed under the Ministry of Environment. Fundamentally, climate change is an economics issue. The impacts of it come with economic costs and the policies needed to combat its cause are economic policies. At the same time, the Ministry of Energy And Mines marries together two policy areas that will become less aligned as we work towards a post-carbon economy, as our federal government is suggesting is our goal.

Energy and Mines is currently without a Minister. Bill Bennet retired going into this election, and the Legislature will need to sit to put another Minister in place. I would argue that the file is large enough to split into two ministries.

I am one of those people who thinks the fact we had one of the largest environmental spills in Canada’s history on this Minister of Mines’ watch should have been a resignation-level event (and the fact no charges were laid in the spill raises questions about the competence of the Minister of Environment, but I digress). This event shook public confidence in the safety of our mines, just as Environmental Assessments to support new mining projects are ongoing and four new mining projects are pushing forward. The whims of the global metals market and speculative investment have always driven the pace of development in BC mining, but returning public confidence in the industry and its oversight should be job #1 for the Minister of Mines, and could be a full time job.

By taking the “Energy” part of the file out and placeing that new ministry in charge of Climate Change policy, the province can leverage its greatest advantage when it comes to sustainable energy policy and technology development: BC Hydro.

Hydro has a solid grid, and oodles of energy storage capacity in the existing dams across the province (I’m going to avoid wading into the Site C issue here). BC’s electricity is plentiful, cheap, and provides a significant boost to provincial revenues through cross-border sales. We also have a massive potential for solar, wind, geothermal, and other alternative energy production. The storage afforded us by large-reservoir dams connected to an integrated grid also provides the “battery” we need to make these less-consistent power sources viable and reliable through pumped water storage. BC Hydro also has an incredible reservoir of human talent in power technology (through Powertech), managing energy markets (through Powerex), and forecasting demand (through the BCUC). To be world leaders in sustainable energy, BC needs an integrated and coordinated effort that looks at our entire energy regime – from how we power our cars to how we provide cost-competitive power to industry and manage residential rates. Coordinating these efforts under a single ministry would facilitate this process.

And yes, managing our domestic supply of hydrocarbons is also a fundamental part of that long-term planning. The mandate of the Ministry of Mines (facilitating the safe extraction of resources to supply markets domestic and international) is harder to reconcile with long-term planning for a de-carbonization of our energy supply.

Most importantly, BC can again look to be leading the country on climate change policy, which will help keep the Greens on side through what might be rocky political days ahead.

Sharpshooter politics

You may have heard of anecdote of the Texas Sharpshooter. He is generally portrayed as a cocky fella standing in a farmyard shooting at the side of the barn. Once his bullets are exhausted, he walks over to the barn, identifies the tightest cluster of bullet holes, and draws a bulls-eye around them. He then speaks glowingly of his targeting skills.

We just witnessed the Premier of British Columbia play Texas Sharpshooter with our coastline.

About five years ago, the Premier was in a tough political situation with the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project. She didn’t know which way the political winds were going to blow as she approached her first election. She needed to telegraph general support to satisfy her political contributors, but didn’t want to be caught wearing that approval if things went south. So she pragmatically hedged her bets. She said she would approve the project only if 5 conditions are met. In other words: “I could be convinced”.

At first, the conditions sounded reasonable and concise: Federal environmental assessment approval, Adequate spill protection for land and sea, First Nations agreement, and financial benefit for BC. Five bullets shot towards the barn. It took 5 years for her to finally saunter over there and draw the targets, now declaring them hit.

The problem with what she describes as her “consistent and principled” stand on this project is that it wasn’t any stand at all. One of the conditions was a sure thing (the NEB approval of the project, and I could go on another entire rant about that one – I have in the past!), but the other 4 had no actual measures! They were phantom targets, a blank barn wall waiting for bulls-eyes to be painted.

To use “World-Leading” as the measure for the spill prevention and response plans is, of course, ridiculous. It would be difficult for the nations of the world to have a spill-prevention-off or an Oil Clean Olympics. That said, I have worked on both the Federal (marine) and Provincial (land-based) consultations as part of my previous job. I have reviewed what other jurisdictions do, have read and critiqued position papers, have attended workshops and spill response exercises, and have conferred with experts local and international. That there are major gaps and unaddressed concerns with the spill prevention and response plans is not a controversial opinion.

?

No plan is perfect, but for them to earn the moniker “World Leading”, I would think you would at least meet the standard set out by Washington State, and it is clear these plans fall far short of those measures. There are places in the world where shipping Afrimax tankers full of diluted bitumen is against the law – a spill prevention measure that really can’t be exceeded. We do not measure up to many other jurisdictions yet, not even close.

But it’s OK. The Premier has drawn the target around the collection of half-baked plans the Province, the Feds and Kinder Morgan have, and has determined they meet her vague test of “World Leading”.

The First Nations condition included the meeting of legal and constitutional requirements, which will be measured by a judge, I guess, but also included undefined opportunities and benefits for First Nations. Despite the Premier’s confidence, we don’t know if the legal and constitutional issues are fully addressed, as many of the groups along the route appear to still be opposed to the project, nor has it been made clear who or what opportunities or benefits agreements have been made. This was tweeted out by a reliable newsgatherer during the announcement:shaneKM

So I guess the target was 50% of First Nations. Nice to find out after.

Finally, the economic benefit to BC was also never provided a measure. It sounds like the Premier negotiated with Kinder Morgan to assure pipeline jobs go to British Columbians first (which probably violates NAFTA and TILMA, but I digress), and Kinder Morgan will contribute $25-50 Million a year to fund various local environmental programs in the Province, providing the Premier many opportunities to stand in front of banners with her Haida print shawl in the future. The amount is significant, unless you compare it to the $1.5 Billion subsidy to oil pipelines recently announced by Trudeau.

Again, this target was never defined or openly discussed until the day it was announced as being hit. If it sounds like I wanted more, maybe it is because hard negotiations to get money out of oil companies is apparently a BC Liberal strength when it serves their purposes. But that’s just politics.

Recently, a poll was released that showed 54% of BC are in favour of the pipeline. My Facebook algorithm keeps spamming my feed with that poll, and it always seems a shockingly small number to me. This was a poll conducted by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, an organization with extremely deep pockets that has served as the primary public speaker in favour of the project. Not only have they and others spent hundreds of millions of dollars on print, internet, radio and tv ads trying to convince us this pipeline is a great idea, They no doubt were able to frame the poll questions in as favourable a light as possible to push towards their desired result. Yet they still only got 50% plus the margin of error in support. Describing this support as anything but tepid would be disingenuous.

However, the Premier has clearly done the math. The ridings in Greater Vancouver and Vancouver Island that most opposed to this project were not likely winnable next election anyway. This approval may even boost Green Party support enough in areas like North Vancouver to assure a few quiet, obedient Liberals can still squeeze through. The great thing about drawing your targets afterwards – the real strength of Texas Sharpshooter politics – is the flexibility. We can have no doubt if polls showed an electoral advantage to opposing this project, those targets would have been drawn on another part of the barn, and our “consistent and principled” Premier would be standing in opposition to the project now. Like she was only a year ago:

Capture

Cazart!

Cursory apology for not writing enough or answering my queued “Ask Pat”s. Things will change in January, I’m not promising much until then. However, something this newsworthy requires comment, and I’m not going to sleep tonight until I write something down. No time for editing, let’s go.

“Cazart!” is a word invented by the Doctor of Gonzo Journalism, Hunter S. Thompson. He defined it as “Holy Shit! I should have known.” However that definition lacks the sense of fatal acceptance and calm that the second clause must be spoken with in order to hit the true feeling. It is the shock of surprise at something that was always obvious; we knew it was coming, but perhaps we hoped against.

To quote the esteemed Doctor himself:

“Cazart” goes far beyond mere shock, outrage, etc. If Bill had a better grip on semantics, he would have told you it meant “Holy Shit! I might have known!” Fatalism, I’d say. It’s a mountain word, but not commonly used……In contemporary terms, we might compare it to the first verbal outburst of a long-time cocaine runner who knew he was bound to be nailed, eventually, but when it finally happens he instinctively shouts “Cazart!”

A good friend of mine succinctly summed up in a tweet much of my thoughts  – not just about the approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Extension Project, but about the way we continue to dance around the edges of serious issues in this province and this country:

Stickers

The profundity of that comment needs a whole new blog post. so instead, I’m going to write about the completely predictable failure represented by the approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Extension Project.

I am not a distant observer of the Trans Mountain project. I worked on the Environmental Assessment National Energy Board Review. I read and critiqued the Project Description, and the reams of correspondence from stakeholders, intervenors, commenters. I was a participant the Review Process, and could see how the cards were stacked. I attended the protest camp at Burnaby Mountain and wrote about the impacts on New Westminster. I spent a bunch of time converting tonnes to barrels to cubic metres to understand the throughputs of the existing and planned pipelines, what it means for tanker traffic, for our domestic fuel supply in the Lower Mainland, and for Pacific Northwest refineries. I attended emergency planning drills at the Westridge Terminals when they ran boom boats around showing how easy a clean-up was (a very different experience that folks up in Bella Bella had with the Nathan E. Steward spill). I have talked with my colleagues from across the Pacific Northwest at the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance. I attended the Trudeau government “Panel Review” that was meant to get to the bottom of the conflict about the project, and found it wanting.

All this to say my opposition to this project is not uninformed, knee-jerk, or equivocal. Providing a Texas-based tax-avoidance scheme the right to threaten what is most sacred to British Columbia, “Splendor Sine Occasu”, makes no economic, social, environmental, moral or practical sense. It is a betrayal of our communities, of the nations that were here before us, and of the generations that will (hopefully) come after. It is a failure to lead and a failure to dream.

I admit that I believed that when Trudeau’s refreshed Canada walked into the Paris meeting and said “we’re back”, we were telling the world that we were ready to lead again. I hoped (dreamed?) we were ready to take a role respective of our technological and economic advantages, catch up with true global leaders, and begin beating our energy swords into plowshares. At the least, we would begin respecting our commitments to ourselves and the world. Instead, it is clear we are going to continue to subsidize the industry that provides all those fragile eggs to Alberta’s wobbly basket. We will subsidize it directly through our tax dollars, we will subsidize it through infrastructure investments like 10-lane bridges that lock a generation into unsustainable fossil-fuel-dependent transportation choices, subsidize it through forsaking future opportunities and risking the ultimate destruction of everything we value in our spectacular BC coast.

It doesn’t really matter if that destruction comes from a single “72-hour spill response time” incident or from gradual and inexorable rises in temperature and sea levels. We have sold our legacy, forgiven our opportunity, failed to find a vision that would allow it to exist.

Justin Trudeau was elected because people saw something akin to a new vision. We had enough of the stuffy old white guy with the 19th century solutions, and were not compelled by the other stuffy old white guy and his 20th century solutions. Dickens and Steinbeck (respectively) had nothing on Copeland and Klosterman. The promise was a new direction from the new generation. Fresh ideas and approaches, more personal politics, dare I say “Sunny Ways”. Traditional ideas like fearing deficits, letting oil companies tell us what’s what, or keeping your sleeves buttoned at your wrists were tossed aside. Canada’s back, baby, with a sexy swagger. We convinced ourselves that we could dream more hopeful dreams, that our ambitions to be something better would be realized.

Alas, before the election ballots were counted, long-time observers were asking how soon the Liberals would course-correct to the right with hackneyed neo-liberal (made so quaint now by a Trump-based reality) policy decisions that blur the distinction between them and the Conservatives they campaigned far to the left of. Campaign left, govern right, stay the course. It has worked for the Natural Governing Party because that’s the Canadian way, and has been since… well, I’m too young to know any other form of Liberal.

They campaign to govern, and govern to campaign. Perhaps under P.E. Trudeau that meant serious discussions about Public Policy, the Role of Government, and the Meaning of Nationhood. In 2016, public policy is a hassle, because it is hard to sound bite and some noisy people or potential donors might not like the results. The need to break promises of last election are an issue only for the crisis communications department; after all, they present opportunities to become promises for next election! Voter cynicism? A political machine this size, if properly greased, can work that to their advantage. For one more cycle, anyway.

When Trudeau II showed up on the scene, many voters jaded by a series of abusive relationships received a glimpse of a new beginning. The honeymoon is now over for people in BC concerned about the environment, about our natural legacy. It is important to note that we are a little late to the game out here on the West Coast.  The honeymoon already ended for Civil Liberty types, as Ralph Goodale seems to support giving rights to CSIS that the Courts denied them making fights over C-51 antiquated. It already ended for human rights activists as selling citizen-crushing machines to brutal dictators became unavoidable in bureaucratic doublespeak. From the stall on electoral reform, to the laissez faire on TPP and the claw-back of public pensions… the reasons for buyer’s remorse are broad and all-encompassing.

Cazart, indeed.

Naturally, we are seeing the same thing here in BC, and it extends far beyond this pipeline (that we know Christy Clark is coyly equivocal about, as she schemes to assure its development as long as she gets a tidy deficit-reducing revenue cut). The same failure to lead / failure to dream leaves us in a place with an economy that is ostensibly the Greatest on Earth, except for the shocking number of homeless, the working poor being made destitute, then the destitute dying of addiction or violence with no apparent support or escape alongside the creeping failure of our public education, public health, and public transportation systems. Even the financially stable are seeing the cost of living creep up through faux-taxes hidden in the costs of basic services while local governments are scrambling to find the funds to putty over the cracks in the social net that has made us a civil society – if not the Best Place on Earth.

It’s an election year, so casual political observers are going to forget about disability claw-backs, about the past-critical housing crisis, about forgotten promises to make schools safe, about privatization of public assets to meet short-term budget goals, about feet-dragging over regional transit funding, about tax breaks for private schools and forgotten promises to provide family doctors. Instead, we are going to hear a few populist news stories about how the Liberals are claiming a lead in housing or education or health care (“It is time to invest”) and we are going to be distracted from the abject failure to provide not only those things for the last 15 years, but any form of public good through their neo-liberal trickle-down economics. Some of us might be convinced they care about us and a brighter future is just around the corner…

That’s the winning formula when winning the job is more important that doing the job. How long until they, too, disappoint us? Will we say “Cazart”?

ASK PAT: Electrical utility

Chelsea asks—

Why does New Westminster have its own electrical utility? What benefits does it deliver to residents and businesses? Seeing as every time Hydro raises its rates to pay for new infrastructure or repairs we have to raise ours too.

Reason I ask is that as a single homeowner living in an apartment, I pay a flat rate that is higher than BC Hydro’s step 1 rates, and I never use enough electricity to move me into step 2 if we were on BC Hydro. So basically…families and people who use a lot of power over a two-month billing period are getting a discount compared to BCH, and I’m paying more.

We also don’t get the benefits of online access to our electricity consumption or basic things like e-bills. It’s nice that I could still pay my bill in person at City Hall if I chose…but I think I’d take being able to see my usage online, just like my cellphone bill or my cable/Internet.

I could have sworn I already wrote this blog post and drawn the graph below, but I can’t find anything in my archives, so I guess I just dreamed about it, or half-wrote it then moved on. So thanks for the reminder!

First off, we have our own electrical utility because we have always had our own electrical utility. It started in 1891, which makes it 70 years older than BC Hydro, and even 7 years older than Hydro’s grandfather, BC Electric Railway Company. Though most local municipal power systems across BC were amalgamated into BC Hydro (or West Kootenay Power, now FortisBC, or other entities), a few still remain independent.

The most obvious benefit is that the City makes money selling electricity. We purchase it at wholesale rates from BC Hydro, and we sell it at retail rates similar to what BC Hydro charges users in adjacent communities (more on this below). The difference between the two is about $8 Million a year. Some of that goes to pay for the operation of the utility (maintaining all those poles and wires, and the staff to do so) and contingency funds to pay for asset replacement as the system ages, but a significant portion of it goes into the City’s coffers, where it effectively offsets property taxes.

There are a few other benefits as well. We generally have more reliable power service and faster response during storm events, because we have dedicated crews and contractors who concentrate on dealing with New West issues while BC Hydro is sometimes stretched a little thin during large storm events. We also, by owning so much of our own utility assets, can leverage that for things like installing a fibre network (happening now) and district energy utilities (coming soon, I hope).

Historically, our Electrical Utility has emphasized reliable service and economy, and has (how can I put this politely…) lagged behind a bit on customer service innovation like on-line billing. They don’t have much of a web presence, and mostly operate out of a non-descript building adjacent to our works yard. Even finding out how our rates work can be a bit of a challenge with the City’s website, as most customers would not think to search for Schedule A of the Electrical Utility Bylaw to get answers. Really, in 2016, they shouldn’t have to. This is a place where a little Community Engagement effort would go a long way.

Now onto the rates issue. The City’s policy has been to maintain retail rates similar to BC Hydro retail rates, and overall when all of our different residential, commercial, industrial, and other rates are combined together, you find this is the case. However, the actual structure of how we charge is slightly different, and ultimately, some people pay a little more than they would on BC Hydro, some pay a little less.

As you have discovered, our base rate for residential users (the amount you pay to have an account, regardless of electrical use) works out to be a few cents higher per 2-month billing period (New West charges $11.92 per 2-month period, BC Hydro charges $0.1835 per day). We then charge a flat $0.0993/ kWh of use, where BC Hydro charges $0.0829 for the first 1350kWh per billing period (2 months) and $0.1243 for any above 1350kWh. So, although collectively, we pay about the same rate, residential users (like you and I ) who use less electricity probably pay more per unit relative to BC Hydro rates, that people who use a lot. To graph it out, it looks like this:

graph1

According to BC Hydro, the average BC household uses about 900kWh of electricity every month. If this average holds true for New West, then the average household is paying about $5.80 per month more than they would in a BC Hydro service area, or almost $70 more per year. Strangely, if you are an efficient apartment dweller and use half that amount of electricity, your monthly New West premium is even higher – at $93 per year.

If you use about 1130kWh per month, then your rates are the same as BC Hydro, and the more you use, the more your savings go up. At twice the average, 1800kWh/month, you would get about a $200 per year discount off BC Hydro rates by living in New West.

As our rate structure is flat, you are not subsidizing larger users – we all pay the same for each unit of electricity in New West. However, comparison to BC Hydro’s stepped rate structure gives the impression that we are encouraging consumption, but not doing enough to actively discourage it. If you add the base and metered values together, here is the true cost of what you pay for every kWh of electricity, based on your usage:

graph2

For context, my (admittedly back-of-the envelope) estimate is that the average New West household saves about $160 a year in Property Taxes (or, depending on your viewpoint, receives $160 worth of extra services from the City they don’t need to pay for through taxes) because we have an electrical utility and the profit it earns for the City. That might make you feel better, except that property taxes index with the value of your home, so again, the big-house-owner probably gets more benefit than the apartment dweller.

In summary, I don’t think this is good. I support the concept of City using the Electrical Utility to provide a financial benefit to the residents that own the utility, and offset their taxes. I support using “similar to BC Hydro” as the benchmark for our retail rates. However, I think the impression of benefitting larger users that is created by our flat rate structure sends the wrong message. I remember asking some questions about this back when I was still pretty new to the job, and I seem to remember getting a report that more of less confirmed what the graph above shows.

I’m not on the Electrical Commission, and I’m not sure when the next rate review will occur, but I’ll see what I can do.

The TransMountain Panel

For reasons probably not relevant to this discussion, I attended a couple of the “Trans MountainPipeline Expansion Project Ministerial Panel” public meetings in Burnaby and Vancouver.

For those who have not been keeping track, here is the TL;DR background condensed to a single run-on sentence:

An American tax-dodge scheme called Kinder Morgan bought a 50-year-old oil pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, and now wants to replace and twin it, tripling capacity, and shipping mostly diluted bitumen for quick export via daily Aframax tankers berthing in Burrard Inlet, which previously would have required an Environmental Assessment, but the Harper Government changed the rules in 2012, giving an Oil and Gas Regulator/Booster in Calgary called the National Energy Board the ability to review and approve the project, which they unsurprisingly did in May 2016 despite significant local and First Nations pushback, causing the new Trudeau government to say “hold yer horses, Cowboys” and strike a new “ministerial” panel that will be doing further stakeholder, community, and first nations outreach to “seek additional views that could be relevant to the Government’s final decision on the project”, a panel whose validity is being questioned by many critics, as its Chair was, until recently, working with Kinder Morgan.

I went to the meetings as an observer, not a presenter, so this post is made up of my impressions of the presentations of others. You may not agree with them (me?), and although the public meetings are pretty much wrapped up now, you can still take part by sending your comments or filling out a questionnaire here.

panelRoom2

The roundtable I attended in Burnaby took place in one of those familiar hotel convention rooms, all crystal chandeliers and pukey carpets, which was essentially empty for most of the day, with many more seats than participants. Right from the get-go, it was hard to determine what the actual plan for the day was.

The morning session was meant to feature “Environmental NGOs” (I counted three), with two later sessions featuring “Local Governments” (a total of four, including New Westminster, who were well represented by City staff). There was no fixed agenda, so there was no idea who was presenting when, and any member of the public was apparently able to sign up and get their time at the microphone after the pre-designated speakers were finished. There was a polite request that each of the speakers would have 5 minutes, but there was no timekeeping, and some presenters went on for better than a half an hour.

In her introductory remarks, the Chair instructed the audience that this was meant to be an “informal dialogue”. They appeared to have perfectly nailed in the “informal” part, but the dialogue was distinctly lacking. In three sessions totalling almost five hours, I can recall a single instance where a Panel Member asked a follow-up question of a presenter. Even when directly asked questions by presenters, the Panel members seemed unable (unwilling?) to answer, but more on that later.

panelvan

The Vancouver event was crowded and went well into the night, where the lack of any formal organization led to the inevitable. There was a significant presence of the patchouli and gorp crowd that, as usual, had a frustratingly hard time keeping on topic. Concerns were expressed about everything from Site C to salmon farming to LNG. At one point, a gentleman came to the microphone cradling what was, apparently, a plastic doll swaddled in a blanket and finished his talk with a short a cappella folk song of sorts. Perhaps I missed the point. No, I’m almost positive I missed the point.

However, there were also several compelling arguments offered, including the failure of the NEB process to address significant concerns with this project, questions about the ability of the Federal Government to respond to a significant spill in the Canadian half of the Salish Sea (the risk of which will clearly increase if this project is approved), and questions about how Canada will meet its stated GHG emission goals if Oil/Tar/Bituminous Sands developments proceed at the pace outlined in the business case for this project. The one question hanging over the entire proceeding was clearly “Why?” How is accelerating the extraction of a non-renewable resource for rapid export in the “National Public Interest”?

It was the sparsely-attended Burnaby event that was actually more interesting. Mayor Corrigan of Burnaby, love him or hate him, can be a hell of an effective orator, and he was on his game this day. He spoke clearly without notes for about a half hour, and despite his reputation for, uh… being outspoken, he was respectful and calm for the length of talk. He started by talking about the history of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, and how 50 years ago Burnaby consented to a cooperative-owned pipeline to supply the 5 refineries around the Burrard Inlet because of the important local jobs and domestic supply needs it represented. He also spoke of the history of Burnaby gifting Burnaby Mountain to the University, then buying large portions of it back 40 years later to protect the conservation area that had become so important to Burnaby and the region.

panelCorr

He went through how his Council and Staff evaluated the Kinder Morgan proposal to “twin” the pipeline, primarily for export, and in comparing the significant costs and limited  offsetting benefits, determined it was not in the interest of the City. They then learned about the National Energy Board, a non-elected body in Calgary made up of (mostly) former energy executives, who would be tasked with reviewing the project to determine if it was in the “national public interest.” They identified fairly quickly that there is no national plan to develop our hydrocarbon industries or to manage our non-renewable resources over the short or long term, making determination of how any project fit within something called the “national public interest” a very difficult thing to determine. At no point was there an explanation of what the “national public interest” was, nor a discussion of how one would measure it. For a Municipal Politician, whose job it is to plan and make those plans a reality, the complete lack of planning or even a clear definition of a goal, was shocking.

Further, going through the process with the National Energy Board, the City of Burnaby (along with most everyone else involved) soon discovered that the hearing process was cumbersome, chaotic, and lacking in some pretty fundamental protections that a formal hearing should have, such as the ability to cross-examine witnesses and test the evidence that has been presented to assure it was credible and had merit. In challenging the process, Burnaby discovered that Kinder Morgan’s legal fight was funded by a special surcharge on the pipeline use approved by the NEB, a source of funds not available to local governments and other stakeholders in the process, and that the NEB was not made up of a broad representation of citizens from across BC and Canada who can fairly evaluate what is reasonable to the general public, but are drawn from within the Oil and Gas industry and friends of the (at the time) oil-soaked federal government.

After discussing some of the technical and safety concerns the City of Burnaby has, and the inadequate responses to these risks provided in the “conditions” to the NEB approval, Corrigan compared these to the inferred benefits: maintaining some jobs in Alberta to accelerate the removal of harder- and harder-to-extract oil reserves so they can be exported faster for the benefit of a few multinationals,with little or no long-term evaluation of Canada’s long-term petroleum needs. Are the needs of future generations included in “the national public interest”?

He summed up by calling the Panel out for what they really are – a political body comprised of two former politicians and a former Deputy Minister – and the review for what it is – a political process to correct the fundamental flaws of the NEB process that Prime Minster Trudeau recognized prior to his election. In summary, the Mayor quoted the Prime Minister, stating “Government can grant permits, but it’s communities that grant permission.”

He then put a period on that point: “Well, we don’t.”

I was also fortunate to have heard Kai Nagata from the Dogwood Initiative ask some rather pointed questions to the Panel, for which he received respectful non-answers. To paraphrase heavily from my memory, the exchange went something like this:

Q: Who was invited to speak? Is there a list of which organizations were sent invitations? What efforts were taken to get the word out to impacted parties, so they can take time from their summer schedules to take part? Was there any vetting of the people who wished to take part?
A: There is no list. Everyone was invited. Anyone can speak.

Q: So you are taking anything from anyone. How are you vetting the information received? With no opportunity for cross-examinations, how are you assessing the strength of evidence? What measures are you taking to determine if the voices you are hearing represent a fair cross section of stakeholders, or the general public. What processes have you brought to weigh the evidence you have received, and where is that process explained?
A: We are here to listen, and we will produce a report summarizing what we hear.

Q: There does not appear to be any official recording or video of these hearings, nor does it appear that official transcripts are being produced. Some presenters have provided you written materials, how will the record of these hearings be entered in to the official record, and how with the public know what transpired here? What process exists to assure the public input is fairly reflected in the report you provide to the Minister, or that the written evidence you have received has been vetted for accuracy?
A: We are here to listen, and we are taking notes, there are no official transcripts.

Q: So with no formal process to solicit input or assure the presenters are representative of the community, no vetting of the information you hear, no process to determine the validity of evidence, and no official record of what transpires – how will this Panel, to quote the Prime Minister “restore public trust and confidence in Canada’s environmental assessment processes”?
A: Hrrm…

I don’t mean to come down hard on the Panel Members. They were hastily called up and thrown into a hastily assembled process, with a mandate that may appear simple, but suffers from a lack of definition or process. Their job is to report to the Minister with some ideas or impressions of whether this project, a narrowly defined pipeline delivering and extra 600,000 barrels a day of products to the Pacific Coast primarily for export through Burrard Inlet, is in the “National Public Interest.” Unfortunately, they have not been provided the tools to define, never mind measure, such an ethereal concept. This “informal” and apparently ad-hoc process is not going to get them any closer to that definition.

Nor will this process restore the public trust in the way the Prime Minister anticipated. The only question remaining is whether he has the political courage to stop this project based on this failure, because it has not moved him any closer to receiving a mandate to approve it.