Recognition of the mental health impacts of flooding and wildfires in Canada – B.C. offers support

A June 2018 report from the Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation  at the University of Waterloo presents statistics about the rising financial costs of weather-related disasters in Canada, and  profiles the results of 100 door-to-door interviews with households in flooded communities around Burlington Ontario. After the Flood: The Impact of Climate on Mental Health and Lost Time From Work   found that members of households which had been flooded experienced significantly more worry and stress than non-flooded households, and the worry and stress persisted even up to 3 years after the event. After the Flood also reported that 56% of flooded households had at least one working member who took time off work, and that the average time lost was seven days per flooded household (10 times greater than the average absenteeism for non-flooded workers).

The report cites official documents concerning the growing financial costs of disasters for example, the 2016 report from Canada’s Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer ,  Estimates of the Average Annual Cost for Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements due to Weather Events and includes a bibliography of the growing  international public health literature concerning the health effects of weather disasters.

talk in tough times logoOther official recognition of the rising dangers of extreme weather events:  in May 2018, the Province of British Columbia, under the leadership of Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, announced mental health support services for those who might be impacted by re-living their experiences from the record-breaking 2017 wildfire season.   In partnership with the B.C. branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, the program directs people to support services through a Facebook campaign called Talk in Tough Times, and a phone-based support program.

Federally, the  Minister of Infrastructure and Communities announced the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund in May 2018, a 10-year national program that will invest $2 billion in infrastructure projects such as diversion channels, wetland restorations, wildfire barriers and setback levees, to help communities better withstand natural hazards such as floods, wildfires, seismic events and droughts.

Canadian government spends $4.5 billion taxpayers’ dollars to buy Trans Mountain pipeline project and push expansion ahead

justin-trudeauDespite strenuous and prolonged opposition from environmental and Indigenous activists in Canada and internationally, and two days before a deadline imposed by Texas corporation Kinder Morgan, Canada’s Liberal government announced on May 29  that it will  spend $4.5 billion to buy the existing Trans Mountain pipeline and its associated infrastructure, so that a pipeline expansion can proceed under the ownership of a Crown corporation.  The press release is here  ; details of the transaction are here in a Backgrounder  ;  the text of the speech by Finance Minister Bill Morneau is here . Repeating the mantra of the Trudeau government, Morneau claims that the project is in the national interest, will preserve jobs,  will reassure investors and improve the price for Canadian oil by expanding its market  beyond the U.S.  Morneau says the federal government does not plan to be a long-term owner and is in negotiations with interested investors, including Indigenous communities, pension funds (notably the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board)  and the Alberta government.

trans-mountain-pipelineIn fact, the expansion pipeline, if built, would almost triple the amount of dilbit transported from Alberta to the British Columbia coast, from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels a day, and increase tanker traffic off B.C.’s coast from approximately five to 34 tankers a month.  As recently as May 24, an Open Letter coordinated by Oil Change International  and signed by over 200 groups  summed up the situation, stating there is a “….  clear contradiction between Prime Minister Trudeau’s unchecked support for the Kinder Morgan pipeline project and his commitments to Indigenous reconciliation through the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and his obligation to address climate change through the Paris Agreement.”  The letter notes that currently planned Canadian oil production would use up 16% of the world’s carbon budget to keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees, or 7% of the budget for 2 degrees.  Canada has less than 0.5% of the world’s population.

Today’s initial reaction to the government’s decision  has called it “astounding”, “shameful”, and an “historic  blunder”.  From the CBC: “Liberals to buy Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5B to ensure expansion is built”   and “ Bill Morneau’s Kinder Morgan surprise comes with huge price tag, lots of political risk: Chris Hall”.  From  The National Observer   “Trudeau government to buy troubled Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion”   ; “BC Will Continue Legal Strategy to Oppose Pipeline After Federal Purchase, Premier Says”  in The Tyee  .  Toronto’s Globe and Mail posted at least 6 items on the decision , including  an Explainer , and Jeff Rubin’s Opinion: “Morneau had better options for Canada’s Energy sector” .

From  Greenpeace Canada: “Federal government volunteers to “captain the Titanic of tar sands oil pipelines” and risks $4.5B of Canadians’ money in the process” ; and  West Coast Environmental Law reaction points out that “There are currently 14 legal challenges before the Federal Court of Appeal, alleging that the government failed in its constitutional duty to consult First Nations about the Trans Mountain project, and that the federal review had other regulatory flaws. Success in just one of those challenges could derail the underlying federal approvals.”

In the Victoria Times Colonist, “Green Party Leader May calls pipeline decision ‘historic blunder’” ; John Horgan, Premier of British Columbia, released an official statement  , and a jubilant Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is profiled in the CBC story, ” ‘Pick up those tools, folks, we have a pipeline to build,’ Alberta premier says  “.  Reaction from B.C. First Nations leaders is compiled in this CBC story.

Social media reaction, as compiled by CBC , is here  .  The Dogwood Initiative has mounted a  “Time for Bill Morneau to go” online petition here ; SumofUs has an online petition  here,  to urge the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board not to invest in Kinder Morgan.   Direct emails can be sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca .   Opposition continues and the story is not over.

British Columbia sets new GHG reduction targets, reviews environmental assessment process

Amidst the noise and fury of the B.C.-Alberta feud over the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline,  the province of British Columbia is moving forward with reform of its climate change policies. On April 25, the  B.C. Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council released a detailed letter to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy , describing the Council’s principles, supporting much of the government’s current direction, and making recommendations, based on the 2015 recommendations of the province’s Climate Leadership Team. Shortly thereafter, on May 7, a government press release  committed to  a new provincial climate action strategy to be released in autumn 2018, including plans for GHG emission reduction  for buildings and communities, industry and transportation sectors.

With that same press release, the government announced Bill 34, the Climate Change Accountability Act,  which amends the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act (2007), repealing the emissions reduction target for 2020 (generally deemed unachievable)  and sets new targets: reduction of GHG’s by 40% from 2007 levels by 2030, 60% by 2040, and 80% by 2050.  Accountability looms large in the responses to Bill 34.  The Pembina Institute  notes the failure of recent GHG emissions reductions, and calls for “a robust accountability mechanism to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself ”. In addition, Pembina notes that any development of emissions-intensive industries, such as liquefied natural gas, would jeopardize the province’s climate progress.

In “Looking for accountability in BC’s Climate Change Accountability Act”,  West Coast Environment Law reviews B.C.’s emissions reduction progress , summarizes responses by other environmental groups to Bill 34, and recommends how the government can incorporate principles of accountability and transparency in its new policies.  Similar concerns are discussed in “A Carbon Budget Framework for BC: Achieving accountability and oversight”  by Marc Lee, in CCPA’s Policy Notes (May 22).

Another policy issue under review in B.C. is environmental assessment, with a 12-member advisory committee appointed in March 2018, a public discussion paper promised for May, and reforms to come in Fall.  The government portal to the “Revitalization” process is here ;  “B.C. Moves Ahead With Review of Controversial Environmental Assessment Process”  (Mar 8) summarizes the situation.   On May 9,  twenty-three environmental, legal, social justice and community organizations released  Achieving Sustainability: A Vision for Next-Generation Environmental Assessment in British Columbia , which calls for an independent environmental assessment body which will involve the public, and require decision-makers to demonstrate that their decisions are based on science and Indigenous knowledge. A summary, with links to more detailed discussion  is provided by West Coast Environmental Law.  Analysis and practical examples are provided by Sarah Cox in  “Time For a Fix: B.C. Looks at Overhaul of Reviews for Mines, Dams and Pipelines”, which  appeared in April in the newly-named newsletter from DeSmog Canada, The Narwhal.

First Nations communities trading dirty diesel for renewable energy

First Nations’ commitment to renewable energy is described in Growing Indigenous Power: A Review of Indigenous Involvement and Resources to further Renewable Energy Development across Canada  released in February 2018 by  TREC Renewable Energy Co-operative. The report highlights examples of renewable energy projects, describes the potential benefits for  communities,  and outlines supportive policies and programs in each province. In the section on workforce issues, the report states:  “Whether a community is partnering with a developer and/or hiring a construction firm for their own project, it is important to insist, in writing, on a certain number of employment positions. After working with a developer on a wind project, Millbrook and Eskasoni First Nations (Nova Scotia) developed a database of skilled community members and had them join the union, to address employment issues.” The report contains a unique bibliography of articles and reports from lesser-known Indigenous and local sources.

The National Observer publishes frequent updates on the issue of First Nations and renewable energy  in British Columbia, which they have compiled into a Special Report titled First Nations Forward. Highlights from the series include “First Nations powering up B.C.” (Dec. 2017), and most recently,  “In brighter news, a clean energy success story:   Skidegate on the way to becoming a “city of the future”   (April 9). Also in British Columbia, the Upper Nicola Band  in the southern Interior will vote in April on a proposal to build a solar farm project  which, if approved, will be 15 times larger than the current largest solar farm in British Columbia ( a converted mine site at Kimberley ) .  CBC profiled the proposed new project in March. DeSmog Canada also profiled the Upper Nicola Project, and in November 2017 published “This B.C. First Nation is harnessing small-scale hydro to get off diesel.”

How green energy is changing one Alberta First Nation”  in the Toronto Star (April 10)  profiles a solar project at Louis Bull First Nation, south of Edmonton. It  was initiated under the  Alberta Indigenous Solar Program , one of several provincial grant programs to encourage renewable energy and energy efficiency amongst First Nations.  On  April 5, Alberta’s Renewable Electricity Program was announced – a  3-phase program which the government claims will attract approximately $10 billion in new private investment.  By 2030, it is also expected to create about 7,000 jobs in a wide range of fields, including construction, electrical and mechanical engineering, project management, as well as jobs for IT specialists, field technicians, electricians and mechanics. Phase 2 will include a competition for renewable energy projects  which are at least 25% owned by First Nations.

On March 22, the Ontario government announced :  “The federal and Ontario governments are partnering with 22 First Nations to provide funding for Wataynikaneyap Power to connect 16 remote First Nations communities in Northern Ontario to the provincial power grid…..When complete in 2023, the Wataynikaneyap Power Grid Connection Project will be the largest Indigenous-led and Indigenous-owned infrastructure project in Ontario history. It will mean thousands of people will no longer have to rely on dirty diesel fuel to meet their energy needs.”  The Wataynikaneyap Power website offers a series of press releases that chronicle the years-long development of this initiative, in partnership with FortisOntario . The most recent press release on March 22 states that the goal is to establish “a viable transmission business to be eventually owned and operated 100% by First Nations. In addition to the significant savings associated with the avoided cost of diesel generation, the Project is estimated to create 769 jobs during construction and nearly $900 million in socio-economic value.  These include lower greenhouse gas emissions (more than 6.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent GHG emissions are estimated to be avoided), as well as improved health of community members, and ongoing benefits from increased economic growth.”  Also of interest, a 2017 press release from FortisOntario : “Over $2 Million Announced For Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project First Nations Training Program .”

 

B.C. Auditor General reports on B.C. climate policies; B.C. Budget only begins to answer the concerns

B.C. Budget 2018  was released on February 20, highlighting a “made-in-BC child care plan, a comprehensive housing plan and record levels of capital investment.” An 8-page Highlights summary is here. The Budget was released just two days after the B.C. Auditor General’s report,  Managing Climate Change Risks: An Independent audit, which found it unlikely that British Columbia will meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction target and is off track to meet its 2050 target. According to the Auditor General, the existing Climate Adaptation Strategy has not been updated since it was written in 2010, leaving the province without clear priorities, timelines or assignment of responsibilities.  In addition, the Auditor General states that B.C. is not prepared for climate risks such as rising sea levels and increased frequency and intensity of wildfires.  A summary of the Auditor General’s report appeared in The Tyee on February 20.

How will the Budget help to meet the shortcomings of the climate change file?  The Pembina Institute states “B.C. budget = good news for families, businesses, and climate” , giving credit for investments in wildfire preparedness, energy-efficient social housing, and carbon-tax rebates for lower income households, yet calling for a clearer “road map” for energy and low carbon targets. (The Highlights document says that the government will invest a further $72 million in community resilience and recovery, and rural development, to help survivors of the 2017 wildfire season). The Tyee also highlighted the need for more vision and ambition in “NDP Told to Step Up Game on the Environment” (Feb. 22).   The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) describes the proposals for new incentives for large industrial emitters in “BC budget unveils support for industry to prevent ‘carbon leakage’”  . The David Suzuki Foundation response commends investments in transit, but criticizes the failure to extend the carbon tax to include methane gas. And DeSmog blog notes the absence of discussion in Budget 2018 of the single largest publicly funded project in the province – the Site C Dam.