Alberta First Nations band wins right to trial over oil sands’ effect on treaty rights

A small First Nations band in Alberta has racked up a big win against the energy industry, clearing the way for a trial over whether its treaty rights are being infringed upon as industrial development such as the oil sands expands.

The Beaver Lake Cree Nation argues the so-called cumulative effects of oil sands and other industries such as mining and forestry violated their treaty rights. The provincial and federal governments grant permits which allow for development. Beaver Lake Cree Nation launched a legal battle five years ago and now Edmonton and Ottawa have lost their attempt to have it tossed out.

The cumulative effects argument is a touchy topic in Alberta and if the Beaver Lake Cree Nation comes out on top, it could force the governments to revamp the way they review and approve industrial projects – namely the oil sands. In short, it could put a damper on a key driver of the Canadian economy.

“This case is about limiting the development of the tar sands,” lawyer Drew Mildon, who represents Beaver Lake Cree Nation, said in an interview.

Energy, mining and forestry projects are typically judged case-by-case, but Beaver Lake Cree Nation argues the overall effect of numerous projects hinders their traditional way of life. The Beaver Lake Cree Nation believes its ability to hunt, fish, and trap have been dented because of roughly 300 projects in which about 19,000 permits have been granted, according to a judgement from the Court of Appeal of Alberta delivered April 30.

Canada, the judgement said, handed out at least seven of these permits, with the remaining falling to Alberta. The land involved covers a “large portion” of northeast Alberta – both inside and outside of any reserve. It includes the Cold Lake Weapons Range.

“The basic question of the case is: Are the cumulative impacts of the tar sands development in their territory risking the treaty rights or rendering them meaningless? Because you can’t do that,” Mr. Mildon, who works for Woodward & Co. and is based in Victoria, said. “They’re constitutionally protected.”

The judgement means the case can go to trial, which Mr. Mildon expects to begin winding its way through the legal system this fall. He believes the appeal judgement demonstrates the Beaver Lake Cree Nation has a viable case.

“Usually in big cases like this that really threaten development . . . . the process is usually to try burn the First Nation out at the early stages by outspending them, and that tends to happen through a bunch of pre-trial motions,” he said.

“It’s big news to get to this stage.”

Originally, the case was even larger in scope as the Beaver Lake Cree sought to revoke the authorizations for past and current developments on lands in northeastern Alberta. But the court shot that down. Mr. Mildon said his clients are now seeking compensation for losing hunting and fishing rights due to those past and current projects.

“But really the question is how does the First Nation get more management control over future infringements?”

The 800-person Beaver Lake Cree are footing most of their own legal bills, Mr. Mildon said, with significant start-up donation from England’s Co-operative Bank and others.

For First Nations, one-size energy policy will never fit all

Since his appointment three months ago as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s envoy for First Nations and energy issues in Western Canada, Doug Eyford has mostly stayed out of the public eye.

He has been spending almost half his days on the road, seeking to identify First Nations concerns about the development of oil and gas pipelines across B.C. Then he will recommend ways to accommodate them.

His report is not due until November, but in an interview with The Globe and Mail, he says one thing is already clear: A one-size-fits-all policy won’t solve the challenges ahead. There is reason for optimism, however. The B.C. government’s work to enlist the support of aboriginal communities on a natural gas pipeline, Pacific Trail, could hold the key to success.

Joe Oliver [Minister of Natural Resources] tells me you are making progress – can you bring us up to speed? I haven’t heard much since your appointment was announced.

That has been deliberate. I’m not holding public meetings with the people I’m seeing. I’m having discussions with First Nations representatives, project proponents and representatives from the B.C. and Alberta governments. I’m able to tell you the dialogue has been respectful and constructive.

Relationship-building is key – it’s an essential element for governments to make progress on First Nations’ issues, and that’s the consistent message I’m hearing.

There was some skepticism when your appointment was announced about whether First Nations would talk to you, because of their suspicions about the agenda of the Harper government.

I’ve certainly encountered very willing participants to sit down and discuss this issue. Everyone that I’ve asked to meet with, has agreed to meet. There have been challenges in setting up the meetings – you can often travel 12 hours for a 90-minute meeting with one group. I’m doing my best. I expect by late summer I will have met with all of the groups that are directly affected on the pipeline routes.

Have there been any surprises, or a single event that gives you a sense of the challenge in meeting your mandate?

The biggest challenge – not for me but for government – will be to address the diversity of views from the various communities. It’s difficult to identify a consensus view among First Nations groups. Each has different perspectives based on geography, traditions, capacity and experience with economic development in their traditional territories. My preliminary view is that trying to address that diversity of views with one government policy is probably not the most pragmatic way for governments to proceed.

Does the B.C. government have a role in moving this file forward?

What the province did on the Pacific Trail Pipeline initiative, to me, is an indication of how governments can, in a creative and flexible way, address First Nations issues and also provide incentives for First Nations to become partners in energy projects. And B.C. has demonstrated with its reconciliation protocols on forestry a different way for governments to involve First Nations communities in economic development.

I’m trying to find a diplomatic way to ask this, but, do they get it in Ottawa? There seems to have been a miscalculation, on the part of Enbridge, at least, on how to proceed in B.C. How does Ottawa view this challenge?

I think there is a general understanding of the nature of the challenge in relation to these projects.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

What Canadian media are missing about climate change

A Q&A with UBC Sociology Prof. David Tindall on his presentation at Congress

By April van Ert, Faculty of Arts

Are national newspapers giving Canadians the information they need to make informed decisions about climate change?

New research by the University of British Columbia and Memorial University on how Canada’s media reports on climate change suggests that our national newspapers – the Globe & Mail and National Post – are failing to provide their readers with a complete picture of global warming and climate change issues in Canada.
David Tindall, UBC Dept. of Sociology

David Tindall, UBC Dept. of Sociology

Sociology professors David Tindall of UBC and Mark Stoddart of Memorial University studied the papers’ reporting on climate change issues from 1997 and 2010. In addition to stark editorial differences, they found that both outlets underemphasized climate change impacts and responses at the local, provincial and non-governmental levels. That’s a problem, says Tindall, as local successes and challenges play a key role in motivating people to take action on climate change.

Tindall, a participant in former U.S. vice president and Nobel laureate Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, spoke with ArtsWIRE writer April van Ert ahead of presenting the research at Congress, Canada’s national humanities and social sciences conference, which takes place in Victoria from June 1 to June 8.

AE: What was the motivation for researching how the Globe & Mail and National Post are covering climate change stories?

DT: The paper we’re presenting in Victoria will be presented in one of three different sessions on climate change at Congress. With this paper, we want to contribute to the sociological understanding of climate change by focusing on discourse and what is more or less likely to make it into the media.

AE: What were your findings in researching how these two newspapers cover climate change?

DT: The Globe & Mail tended to focus on issues like government responsibility for dealing with climate change while the National Post has been more likely to focus on those who challenge the science behind anthropogenic climate change. The National Post also is more interested in the economic cost of tackling climate change. However, both newspapers focus mostly on the national level or even to a certain extent the international level. The result is that progress happening at local levels is underplayed.

When people don’t hear about the progress being made on provincial or local levels, they tend to become more pessimistic about getting involved in environmental groups or changing their own behavior. I think if we emphasized what was being done locally and provincially, that might lead to more optimism and a greater willingness to become involved in the environmental movement as individuals.

AE: What is the significance of looking at climate change policy and adaptation from a national or international perspective?

DT: The truth is that in Canada, we really haven’t made much progress at all nationally in terms of policies to deal with climate change. Canada initially embraced the Kyoto Protocol but didn’t really implement serious policy measures that would allow us to deal with carbon emissions. The Conservatives then made Canada the first country to reverse its support for the Kyoto Protocol. In contrast, there has been quite a bit of progress at provincial and local levels. By focusing on national policy, these newspapers are not presenting a complete picture of climate change adaptation in Canada.

AE: Is newspaper coverage contributing to climate change cynicism?

DT: Because there has been little progress on the federal level, the reporting is accurate but it does neglect progress at other levels. This certainly can contribute to cynicism but also shows the media isn’t capturing the complexity of climate change governance and policy, which calls for responses at the local and provincial levels as well as at the national and international levels.

AE: Are our attitudes towards climate change impacted by whether we get our news from traditional media or social media?

DT: This content analysis project hasn’t formally considered social media but in another paper I’m working on I found that people who got their information from the Internet were actually more likely to participate in the environmental movement relative to other types of media. I think that is part of the interactive nature of social media. It seems to have a positive effect on their concern and participation. That being said, people concerned with getting “serious news” still turn to traditional sources so outlets like the Globe & Mail and National Post play a key role in influencing our perceptions of climate change and what can be done to slow it.

AE: In light of Canada’s failure to enact meaningful climate change policy, are you becoming cynical about our potential to tackle human-made climate change?

DT: We can’t afford to be cynical about climate change because that implies we’re ready to give up and that’s not an option. I think that if the media emphasized successes at the provincial and local levels, there would be a lot more optimism about addressing climate change in general.

For more on this topic, read UBC Geography Prof. Simon Donner study on U.S. media coverage of climate change
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New Gas, Trade and Tech Ministries in Clark’s Cabinet

David P. Ball
BC premier promises her team will ‘accelerate’ jobs plan and ‘run a tight ship.’

With the industrial clatter and rumble of Port Metro Vancouver as a backdrop, Premier Christy Clark sent a strong pro-business message with the announcement of a cabinet which includes new ministries for natural gas, international trade, technology and innovation.

“British Columbians sent us the most talented group of MLAs that I think have ever sat in the legislature,” she told a large crowd gathered at the port, at an event that, unusually, was paid for by the private sector. As many as 20 groups donated for the event, including the BC Trucking Association ($2,500), BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

“Together, we have the opportunity and obligation to grow the economy, control spending, and put B.C. firmly on track to a debt-free future,” Clark said. “To remain strong in the face of global economic uncertainty, we will accelerate our jobs plan and run a tight ship.”

Occasionally interrupted by the sound of shipping and giant rattling boat chains, Clark appointed a mix of newcomer “fresh perspectives” alongside stalwarts such as Mike de Jong as finance minister and Rich Coleman as her deputy premier.

In a nod to one of the BC Liberals’ key election planks to bolster natural gas, Clark added a new job to Coleman’s existing housing portfolio: minister of natural gas development.

The new department would seize the “economic opportunity of a lifetime,” the premier said, creating thousands of jobs and working with “investors and companies” to develop energy projects. It would also established a “Prosperity Fund” to pay off the province’s debt-load, a government statement added.

“It sends a really strong message to the investment community with regards to these multi-billion dollar projects,” Coleman told The Tyee as the ceremony ended. “We’re going after this opportunity for British Columbians; it’s what’s going to get us to be a debt-free B.C.

“It’s going to take a lot of work, but I think the commitment’s important.”

New jobs-focused ministries

Following the announcement of her executive, which will be formally sworn in on June 10, The Tyee asked Clark how much input the private sector had on the decision to create new ministries focused on industry and trade. She appointed newly elected MLA Andrew Wilkinson to head the new department, Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, which will push for growth in the province’s tech sector, as well as increase citizens’ access to information online.

“We consulted the business community on creating the jobs plan before we introduced it,” Clark replied, adding that technology in particular was a sector identified as a major future job creator, estimating it would add up to 100,000 new positions in the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island. But unlike forestry or mining, the sector lacked a dedicated ministry. “I felt that was something we needed to address,” she said.

A noteworthy announcement is the appointment of first-time MLA Suzanne Anton as minister of justice and attorney general. Anton was a Crown prosecutor until 1999, but told The Tyee she would have to consult others before pledging to reform any aspects of the justice system.

Anton replaced Shirley Bond in that position, who was moved to become minister of labour and jobs. Other appointments include Terry Lake moving from the environment to the health ministry; Mary Polak as environment minister; Bill Bennett to the energy and mines portfolio; and John Rustad as aboriginal relations.

Clark made Bennett responsible for a core review aimed at identifying places to save money and find efficiencies in the government. The BC Liberals had a previous core review starting in 2001 when they first won power.

Rookie MLA Peter Fassbender, who will step down as Langley mayor in July, is the new education minister. Outgoing BC Teachers’ Federation President Susan Lambert called Fassbender’s appointment an opportunity for relations between teachers and government to “move forward.”

“What Minister Fassbender has to do now is bridge the gap between the bargaining table and cabinet and ensure that sufficient resources are brought to the bargaining table, to alleviate the deteriorating conditions in schools and to reduce class sizes, bring in more supports for students with special needs, and respect the profession of teaching so that it can be a competitive one,” she said.

Large number of appointments, notes Dix

“We want to congratulate all 34 ministers and parliamentary secretaries who received positions today,” said Adrian Dix, leader of the New Democratic Party. The Opposition is looking forward to working with them in the legislature, he said.

The Opposition intends to hold the government to its commitments, including balancing the budget, reducing the province’s debt and protecting health care and education, he said.

Given the commitment to balancing the budget and reducing the debt, the number of appointments was surprising, said Dix. “I think 34 ministers and parliamentary secretaries is a lot.”

There are still appointments for a speaker, deputy speaker, government whip and caucus chair to come, so that nearly every Liberal MLA will have an added role and the income that comes with it.

The government’s message of control does not seem to extend to political positions, said Dix.

He also noted that launching a “core review” after being in power for 12 years suggests the government is not confident that the budget is balanced.

Clark said she is committed to balancing the budget for the next four years and that restraint will be key. “There will be those asking us to spend money, those asking us to grow government,” she said, adding those discussions will have to happen in a respectful way, but with respect for taxpayers.

Premier Clark announces her cabinet to a large crowd at Port Metro Vancouver, June 7, 2013. Photo by David P. Ball.

Clark demoted Norm Letnick and Moira Stilwell, returning MLAs who had been ministers before the election.

The cabinet includes just two representatives from Vancouver and one from Vancouver Island. Noting that Margaret MacDiarmid and Christy Clark lost in Vancouver ridings, and Ida Chong in the Capital Region, Dix said, “The voters reduced the government’s representation in Vancouver and Victoria.”

Full list of cabinet members:

Rich Coleman: Natural Gas Development and Deputy Premier

John Rustad: Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation

Amrik Virk: Advanced Education

Pat Pimm: Agriculture

Stephenie Cadieux: Children and Family Development

Coralee Oakes: Community, Sport and Cultural Development

Peter Fassbender: Education

Bill Bennett: Energy and Mines and Minister Responsible for Core Review

Mary Polak: Environment

Michael de Jong: Finance and Government House Leader

Steve Thomson: Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations

Terry Lake: Health

Teresa Wat: International Trade, Minister Responsible for Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism

Shirley Bond: Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour

Naomi Yamamoto: Minister of State for Tourism and Small Business

Suzanne Anton: Justice and Attorney General

Don McRae: Social Development and Social Innovation

Andrew Wilkinson: Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services

Todd Stone: Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure and Deputy House Leader

Full list of Parliamentary secretaries:

Norm Letnick: Intergovernmental Affairs

Greg Kyllo: BC Jobs Plan

Linda Reimer: Communities

Jane Thornthwaite: Student Support and Parent Engagement

Marc Dalton: Independent School Sector

Donna Barnett: Rural Development

Dan Ashton: Core Review

Linda Larson: Seniors

Michelle Stilwell: Healthy Living

Darryl Plecas: Crime Reduction

Laurie Throness: Corrections

John Yap: Liquor Policy Reform

Jordan Sturdy: Transportation

Richard T. Lee: Asia Pacific Strategy

Read more: BC Election 2013

Canada’s offshore oil spill response outdated, audits found

Internal government audits of the Canadian Coast Guard’s capacity to monitor and respond to a marine oil spill found a system that was outdated, disorganized and in need of an overhaul.

But many of the substantial recommendations in the reports have languished, despite pressure on Ottawa to deal with concerns over a potential increase in oil tanker traffic off the British Columbia coast.

Two 2010 audits “each found a number of significant deficiencies in the program’s preparedness capability, and questioned the capacity of the [Canadian Coast Guard] to respond to a significant marine pollution event,” said a March 2012 draft report for the federal Fisheries department.

In particular, the report — obtained by The Canadian Press using Access to Information — found that about 83 per cent of the oil spill response equipment across the country is ready to use, but most of it is outdated.

“Although operationally ready to respond, most of the assets held by the (emergency response) program average 25 or more years in service and have either become obsolete or are coming to the end of their useful life,” said the report of the Environmental Response Capacity Definition Project.

“Maintenance is increasingly difficult as technical support and availability of parts are compromised.”

Last week, the British Columbia government came out formally opposed to Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway project, saying the project didn’t address its concerns, including those involving a potential marine oil spill.

In Canada, polluters are legally required to pay for cleanup, and the shipping industry funds the Canadian Marine Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Regime. The Coast Guard oversees clean-up, and maintains its own capacity for oil spill response.
Northern Gateway concerns

But the lack of dedicated funding has meant the Coast Guard has not been able to “properly life-cycle” equipment, the authors found.

“This has eroded response capacities and has raised questions on the current condition and overall effectiveness of [Canadian Coast Guard]’s response equipment,” said the report.

The B.C. government has estimated the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would deliver oilsands products to a tanker port in Kitimat, B.C., for export to Asian markets, and Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion of its existing TransMountain pipeline into the Port of Metro Vancouver, could increase tanker traffic by more than 1,000 annually off the Pacific coast.

The largest of the vessels, VLCC tankers, can carry up to 200,000 deadweight tonnes of oil.

Canadian regulations require shipping companies, who bear responsibility for responding to an incident, to have the capacity to clean up 10,000 tonnes of oil. Federal briefing notes claim the Canadian Coast Guard has a pollution response capacity in the Pacific region of 8,000 tonnes.

But the audit found that number is substantially less. The national capacity, in reality, is slightly less than 6,900 tonnes due to storage limitations in all regions, the report said.

The authors of the report had difficulty even finding out what the capacity was across the country, as there is no national co-ordinator or national inventory, and records collected from region to region varied from paper to obsolete electronic documents.

The report said that as an organization, the Coast Guard has not even defined an appropriate level of response capacity to meet its mandate.
‘British Columbians would bear the burden’

Ivan Giesbrecht, spokesman for the Enbridge, said the Calgary-based company has made commitments beyond those required under Canadian law.

“Our marine spill response plan will improve existing safety and response readiness on British Columbia’s coastline. Naturally, this is something we hope can improve confidence and public support for our project,” Giesbrecht said in an email response to questions.

Those commitments will become requirements that will be tracked by regulatory agencies, he said.

“The commitments that Northern Gateway has made will not be voluntary after project approval.”

In March, Transport Minister Denis Lebel announced a tanker safety expert panel that is to make recommendations on improvements, among other measures aimed at assuaging public concerns in B.C.

The government announced it would also establish a Coast Guard incident command system.

Melanie Carkner, spokeswoman for Fisheries and Oceans, said in an email that the changes were “the first steps towards the development of a world-class Tanker Safety System for Canadian coasts that will strengthen the safety of Canadians and better protect the environment.”

But Will Horter, of the Dogwood Initiative, a vehement opponent of any increase in oil tanker traffic off the B.C. coast, said a spill is inevitable with the amount of tanker traffic that would ply the Pacific coast.

“Even a ‘world-class’ system doesn’t prevent the kind of risks that British Columbians are concerned about,” Horter said. “British Columbians would bear the burden.”