B.C. Budget delivers $902 million to fund Clean B.C. initiatives

BC government news open micThe government of British Columbia tabled its Budget on February 19- officially detailed in  Making Life Better- A Plan for B.C. 2019/20 — 2021/22 .  As summarized by the National Observer article, “B.C. provincial budget funds nearly $1 billion for climate action” , it included $902 million  over the next three years to support the 2018 Clean B.C. Plan . Here are some of the big-ticket items:  $107 million for transportation initiatives – mostly providing incentives for zero-emission vehicle purchases (up to $6000 per vehicle) and funding for new charging stations;  $58 million for making homes and commercial buildings more energy efficient – as a result, homeowners can get up to $14,000 for energy efficiency improvements such as  switching to high-efficiency heating systems or upgrading their doors or  windows. $168 million is dedicated to funding  an incentive program to encourage large industrial polluters to reduce their emissions; $15 million is dedicated to help remote communities transition to clean energy solutions, and  $299 million is unallocated as yet. In addition to the Clean B.C. funds, the budget includes $111 million over three years to fight and prevent wildfires, another $13 million for forest restoration, and $3 million for the BC Indigenous Clean Energy Initiative, to help First Nations communities build clean energy projects.

Reaction has generally been positive – for example, from Clean Energy Canada . The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. Office, in “Nine things to know about the B.C. Budget” commends the  $223 million which is  budgeted to increase the climate action tax credit for low- and middle-income earners, but says, “action needs to be ramped up further—and fast”.  CCPA’s  Special  Pre-budget Feature  included an essay by Marc Lee “Expand climate initiatives to reflect the urgency of the crisis”  (Feb. 1). Lee had called for the  reinstatement of  annual increases to the carbon tax, beginning in 2019 with an increase of $10 per tonne – but no such policy was announced. (Lee had also called for more realistic budget allocations for wildfire response, which was addressed).

Finally, the Pembina Institute response is generally positive, though it calls for an independent panel to publicly monitor accountability and report on progress annually, echoing the Op-Ed “wish list” it had released before the budget was handed down.  . That had  stated: “B.C.’s Climate Change Accountability Act needs more teeth. What’s required is a transparent process whereby the government forecasts carbon pollution (including reduction goals for each sector), tracks and publicly reports on our progress, submits this data for independent verification, and adjusts policies as necessary.”   Other key items which Pembina had called for include  stronger regulations than those announced in January to limit methane pollution, and a strategy to use clean electricity to power the controversial LNG production which threatens to make the province’s GHG emissions targets unreachable.

Updated: Agreement reached between RCMP and Wet’suwet’en First Nation protesters after arrests in B.C.

witsewen protestDespite the high praise for British Columbia’s new Clean B.C. strategy released  on December 5,  B.C. has a problem – supporting the $40 billion LNG Canada facility makes it almost impossible for the province to reach its GHG reduction targets. (Marc Lee his most recent critique in “BC’s shiny new climate plan: A look under the hood”.)  And on January 7, the headlines began screaming about another problem related to LNG Canada, as the RCMP began to enforce an injunction granted by B.C.’s Supreme Court, arresting fourteen members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

The Wet’suwet’en  built a fortified barrier on a remote forest service road near Houston, B.C., about 300 kilometres west of Prince George, to prevent construction workers from TC Energy (formerly TransCanada Corp.) and their pipeline subsidiary Coastal GasLink. The company maintains that they have signed agreements with all First Nations along the pipeline route, but those agreements have been made with elected chiefs and councils of the five Wet’suwet’en bands. The hereditary chiefs maintain that the agreements do not apply to traditional lands.  The Vancouver Sun provides good local coverage atFourteen people arrested after RCMP break down anti-pipeline checkpoint“;   The Tyee explains the background and issues in “Nine Things You Need to Know about the Unist’ot’en Blockade” ; The Energy Mix  writes “Negotiations Seek ‘Peaceful Solution’ At Unist’ot’en After RCMP Arrest 14 Blocking Coastal Gaslink Pipeline” (Jan. 9) .

First Nations viewpoint appears in a series of posts at APTN News, including: “An act of war’: Gidimt’en clan prepares for police raid on Wet’suwet’en Territory” (Jan. 5);  “Researchers say RCMP action against Wet’suwet’en would place corporate interests over Indigenous rights” (Jan. 6) ; and “RCMP set up ‘exclusion zones’ for public and media as raid on B.C. camps start (Jan. 7) . According to those reports, “The Gidmit’en Clan, whose members are at the second check point, have called any RCMP raid an “act of war.”

haisla-nation logoNot all First Nations oppose the LNG Canada project.  In a summary of a Canada 2020 conference in Ottawa on December 13 , First Nations speakers  included Larry Villeneueve, Aboriginal Liaison with Local 92 of LiUNA, (involved in four training sites in western Canada for a skilled Indigenous workforce); Phil Fontaine, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, now Co-Chair of Indigenous Affairs Committee at LiUNA; and Crystal Smith, Chief Councillor of the Haisla Nation.  In An open letter to opponents and critics of LNG development   on the Haisla Nation website, Crystal Smith writes: “We urge you to think strongly about how your opposition to LNG developments is causing harm to our people and our wellbeing. Opposition does nothing towards empowering our Nation, but rather dismisses our Rights and Title and works towards separating our people from real benefits.” As this issue has heated up, on January 8 she posted “Investing in ourselves is not selling out” .

Rallies in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en resistance have been coordinated through a Facebook campaign, International Solidarity with Wet’suwet’en , and reports indicate turnout across Canada, including Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Halifax, Montreal, New Brunswick, Whitehorse, and Calgary.  The APTNews  (Jan. 9) includes photos and video;  Regional CBC outlets have also covered the story:  “Protesters across Canada support Wet’suwet’en anti-pipeline camps  (Jan. 8);  “Protesters, counter protesters gather in downtown Calgary after B.C. pipeline arrests” ; “Protests in Regina, Saskatoon show solidarity with B.C. First Nation fighting pipelines”  (Jan. 8).  The National Observer reports that the Prime Minister was forced by protesters to change the time and venue of his address to First Nations leaders in Ottawa on January 8th. Prime Minister Trudeau is visiting Kamloops on January 9 but has declined to visit the protest camp.

UPDATES: On January 9, the National Observer reported on a press conference with B.C. Premier Horgan, at which he asserted that “his government believed it had met its obligations to consult with Indigenous nations in approving TransCanada’s Coastal Gaslink project by receiving the “free, prior, and informed” consent that is referenced in United Nations declarations on indigenous rights.”  He sees sees “no quick fix” to the issue and did not set out any path forward.

An “uneasy peace” was reached between the RCMP and the Wet’suwet’en protesters on January 9, allowing workers access to the  Coastal GasLink pipeline construction site in order to avoid a second RCMP raid on the protest camp. According to  “‘Peaceful Resolution’ to Unist’ot’en Blockade Allows Access, Not Construction, Chiefs Say” in The Energy Mix (Jan. 11)  and a related CBC report, “it’s a temporary solution to de-escalate things while everyone figures out their next moves.”

What comes next? Construction of the Coastal Gas Link pipeline is certainly not settled, not only because of the issue of  Wet’suwet’en permission to build on heriditary lands  (that issue explained here ).  There is also dispute over whether or not the pipeline falls under provincial or federal jurisdiction – an issue to be addressed by the National Energy Board in April. Read Andrew Nikoforuk in “Is Coastal GasLink an Illegal Pipeline?” in The Tyee (Jan. 11) or  “Coastal GasLink pipeline permitted through illegal process, lawsuit contends” in The Narwhal .

An analysis in The Energy Mix, “Pipeline Investment ‘Goes Palliative’ in Wake of Unist’ot’en Blockade”  (Jan. 13) compiles responses to the blockade from several media outlets, and sketches out two themes. The first, Canada has provided yet another example of how unattractive and uncertain it is to energy investors; the second: First Nations concerns are represented by  both hereditary and elected leaders. “As long as they [the government]  are willing to resort to force instead of diplomacy, we haven’t even begun to engage in meaningful reconciliation.”

 

New B.C. Plan weds a clean economy with economic growth and worker training

cleanbc logoBritish Columbia’s long-promised climate plan, CleanB.C.  was released on December 5. The press release summary is here , details are in a 16-page Highlights Report . Top-line summary: the CleanBC plan is at pains to emphasize that it is a plan for economic growth as well as a cleaner environment.  B.C.’s existing carbon tax will increase $5.00 per year from 2018 to 2021, with rebates for low and middle income British Columbians and support for clean investments in industry.  CleanB.C. repeats some already announced initiatives, such as the the zero-emissions vehicle sales mandate and ZEV consumer incentives,  and the requirement for new buildings to be  “net-zero energy ready” by 2032.  Publicly-funded housing will benefit from $400 million to support retrofits and upgrades.  Cleaner operations by industry will target a 45% reduction of methane emissions from upstream oil and gas operations , and incentives “will provide clean electricity to planned natural gas production in the Peace region”.  There is also support through “a regulatory framework for safe and effective underground CO₂ storage and direct air capture “.

CleanB.C. recognizes the needs of workers.  From the Highlights: “As new jobs and professions emerge, post-secondary education and training need to keep pace. The Province is working with employers, Indigenous communities, labour groups and postsecondary institutions to analyze the labour market and identify: -where the strongest job growth is likely to be, – what skills are needed to meet the demand, – what specific training we need to develop and deliver in our communities, and – what support students and apprentices need to excel in these programs. As a first step, we are investing in two key sectors where we already know demand is strong and growing – cleaner buildings and cleaner transportation:  – Developing programs like Energy Step Code training and certification and Certified Retrofit Professional accreditation – Expanding job training for electric and zero-emission vehicles.” The government also states it is developing a  CleanBC Labour Readiness Plan, which is part of the reason that  Unifor responded with “Unifor supports introduction of Clean B.C. Plan”.  Laird Cronk, president of the  BC Federation of Labour calls the new strategy an “historic opportunity” to develop a sustainable economy, and states: “We’re committed to working together on just and fair transition strategies to protect existing workers and to ensure that new employment opportunities created by the CleanBC plan are good, family- and community-supporting jobs.”

The general acclaim for Clean B.C. is compiled in a Backgrounder at the B.C. government website, with statements from politicians, environmentalists, business leaders, First Nations, labour unions, and academics- among them,  Marc Jaccard from Simon Fraser University, who states:  “This plan returns B.C. to global climate leadership.” From other sources:  Clean Energy Canada:  “CleanBC marks a turning point for B.C.’s environment and economy”  (Dec. 5);  The Broadbent Blog , which singles out the exemplary commitment to equity and reconciliation with First Nations people; the Pembina Institute, “B.C. climate plan sets a course to Canada’s clean future”   and  “Five bright spots in B.C.’s new climate plan”, which highlights the importance of the accountability mechanism.   The David Suzuki Foundation   calls it a “Big Step Forward”, but points out that there is more to be done – a Phase 2 is needed.

The Phase 2 of further initiatives (and implementation legislation ) are promised. The  Government clearly admits that the initiatives announced on December 5 will only  achieve 18.9 Mt GHG reduction, leaving a 25% gap with what is required by the  legislated target for 2030 ( 25.4 Mt GHG from a 2007 baseline).

The response from West Coast Environmental Law  applauds and endorses CleanB.C. and its accountability measures, but raises the elephant in the room question:  “We know that the Province needs to go further: the map set out in CleanBC is not complete, nor does it go far enough. Some recent decisions, for example on LNG, are difficult to square with this climate plan”.  This big LNG question also appears in “Critics question B.C.’s LNG pursuit in wake of climate plan announcement” (updated on December 6), stating that “ the already-approved LNG export facilities — LNG Canada and Woodfibre in Squamish — would take up almost all of B.C.’s allowable carbon footprint under the current targets.”  The government’s current LNG Framework   was released in March 2018 , allowing the approval of a controversial  $40-billion LNG project centred in Kitimat  in October 2018.  At that time, the Green Party leader linked his Party’s support for the clean growth strategy and promised the Greens “would have  more to say” about LNG after the Clean Growth strategy was finalized.

The Fossil fuel industry in Alberta: public opinion, and mapping ownership

Parkland provincesapart_coverIn Provinces Apart? Comparing Citizen Views in Alberta and British Columbia,  released by the Parkland Institute on October 25, the authors re-visit the data from a survey conducted in February – March 2017, and conclude that what differences exist between citizens of Alberta and British Columbia are attributable more to their political self-identification than to their province, age, or educational status. While the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion was certainly an active issue at the time, the survey pre-dated the bitter political battle and subsequent media attention which ensued from the federal government’s purchase of the project, and the Court decision which suspended construction. After a brief review the political events of the most recent Trans Mountain controversy, the authors conclude “the governing and opposition parties in both provinces have exacerbated this partisan divide.”

In those calmer days when the survey was conducted, citizens’ views on political influence, the fossil fuel industry, climate change, and the role of protests in a democracy were not as divergent as stereotypes tell us.   Findings of particular interest: 53% of respondents in Alberta and  69% in B.C. agreed that “we need to move away from using fossil fuels;” 76% in Alberta and 68% in B.C. thought the petroleum industry has too much influence over governments, (fewer than one-third said the same about either environmentalists, labour unions or Indigenous groups).

Parkland 2018 who_owns_fossil fuel coverThe Parkland Institute also published Who Owns Canada’s Fossil-Fuel Sector? Mapping the Network of Ownership & Control   in October, as part of the Corporate Mapping Project, in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. and Saskatchewan, and the University of Victoria.  The analysis covers the period from 2010 to 2015, and demonstrates that the production, ownership and control of the fossil fuel industry is highly concentrated: “The top 25 owners together account for more than 40 per cent of overall revenues during this period.”  At 16%, foreign corporations are the largest type of majority owners (led by ExxonMobil) ; asset managers and investment funds are the 2nd largest; banks and life insurers are the third-largest type of owner (approximately 12% of revenues), with the big five Canadian banks (RBC, TD, Scotiabank, BMO and CIBC) among the top investors. The federal Canadian government, combined with provincial governments, own 2%.  The report provides a wealth of information, including names and ranks of specific companies in the network of ownership and control, points out the importance of divestment campaigns, and “identifies the need to shift from fossil-fuel oligarchy to energy democracy, in which control of economic decisions shifts to people and communities, such as through public ownership of renewables and much greater democratic participation in energy policy.”

For more insight into Alberta and its energy economy, the Parkland Institute is hosting a conference, Alberta 2019: Forces of Change   from November 16 – 18. Presentations include: Opening Keynote, “In the Eye of the Storm”, by Lynne Fernandez (Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives- Manitoba); “The Alberta Economy in Context” by Angella MacEwen; “Just Transitions in the Belly of the Beast” by Emily Eaton ( University of Regina); and “Boom, Bust, and Consolidation: Corporate Restructuring in the Alberta Oil Sands” by Ian Hussey (Research Manager at Parkland Institute).

bluegreen alberta 2018Also from Alberta:  the 2018 event from BlueGreen Canada,  Just Transition and Good Jobs for Alberta 2018 was held in Edmonton on October 22 and 23, with active participation and sponsorship of USW, Unifor, and the Alberta Federation of Labour.  This is the third annual event –  summaries from 2017  and 2016  are here.

B.C. LNG project approved despite emissions, fracking

lngcanadakitimat1_160204Described as one of the largest infrastructure projects ever in Canada, a $40-billion liquefied natural gas project in northern British Columbia was approved on October 1, and the five investors – Royal Dutch Shell, Mitsubishi Corp., Malaysian-owned Petronas, PetroChina Co. and Korean Gas Corp. –  have stated that construction on the pipeline and a processing plant will begin immediately. According to the CBC report , the project is expected to employ as many as 10,000 people in its construction and up to 950 in full-time jobs. The processing plant will be located in Kitimat, which is within the traditional territory of the Haisla First Nation, and which is in favour of the project, as are the elected councils of 25 First Nations communities along the pipeline route.  The B.C. Federation of Labour also supports the project, as stated in its press release: “The Federation and a number of other unions have been part of the LNG process since 2013….As a part of the former Premier’s LNG Working Group, and the new government’s Workforce Development Advisory Group with First Nations and LNG Canada, labour pushed for many of the work force provisions that are reflected in today’s final investment decision”.

That leaves environmental activists in opposition. Although B.C.’s Premier announced the project with as “B.C.’s new LNG Framework to deliver record investment, world’s cleanest LNG facility”  , the project’s emissions will represent more than one-quarter of B.C.’s legislated targets for carbon pollution in 2050.  Both the Pembina Institute and Clean Energy Canada   note how difficult it will be to reach B.C.’s targets for clean growth (currently under a consultation process), and Pembina warns of the dangers of fracking and of methane emissions associated with natural gas.  Reflecting years of opposition, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives wrote   “LNG is incompatible with B.C.’s climate obligations” (July 11). As far back as 2015, CCPA B.C. published  A Clear Look at B.C. LNG: Energy Security, Environmental Implications, and Economic Potential ,  by David Hughes.   An October 2  Maclean’s published an Opinion  piece, “Will LNG Canada increase greenhouse-gas emissions? It’s complicated.”  which considers (and rejects) the idea that B.C. LNG  might have a global benefit if it displaces coal use in China .

And finally, the issue of fossil fuel subsidies, which Canada and other G20 countries have promised to phase out.  In  “LNG Canada project called a ‘tax giveaway’ as B.C. approves massive subsidies” in The Narwhal,  author Sarah Cox reports that a senior B.C. government official “pegged the province’s total financial incentives for the project at $5.35 billion”, including break on the carbon tax, cheaper electricity rates, a provincial sales tax exemption during the project’s five-year construction period, and a natural gas tax credit.

The B.C. Green party, which has to date supported the current minority NDP government through a Confidence and Supply Agreement , maintains an online petition called  LNG is not worth it  . Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver issued this statement on October 1, expressing disappointment and stating:

“The government does not have our votes to implement this regime…..Despite our profound disappointment on this issue, we have been working closely in good faith with the government to develop a Clean Growth Strategy to aggressively reduce emissions and electrify our economy. The B.C. NDP campaigned to implement a plan to meet our targets and reaffirmed that promise in our Confidence and Supply Agreement. We will hold them to account on this. We will have more to say once that plan becomes public later this year.”