Despite over 9,500 public submissions to the Joint Review Panel for the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline - with a resounding 96% opposed - John Carruthers, the company president in charge of the project, remains confident it will proceed.
Carruthers told reporters outside the final round of hearings in Terrace, BC this week, "I think the chances of it going ahead are very probable."
Either this is desperate, last-ditch posturing - in which case Mr. Carruthers is misleading his shareholders - or, giving him the benefit of the doubt, he believes what he says.
Consider the implications for a moment, given the wholesale rejection of the project from every quarter.
Enbridge has been told, "NO", six ways from Sunday over the past five years.
An unprecedented, unified "No" from First Nations all along the pipeline and tanker routes - backed by others all around the province and beyond. Over 160 altogether. Their resolve has not wavered - even when Enbridge tried to engineer the splintering of this phalanx through a trumped up, discredited deal with a rogue Gitxsan treaty negotiator, the ham-fisted maneuver backfired badly. The "unbroken wall" of opposition promised by chiefs like Jackie Thomas of the Saik'uz Fisrt Nation has held all this time.
Northern municipalities - Prince Rupert, Terrace, Smithers - have passed resolutions telling Enbridge, "No."
Ecologists, biologists, statisticians, fishermen, marine safety and oil spill recovery experts, even respected economists have lined up to tell Enbridge, "No."
The province's Official Opposition and Government have both, essentially, told Enbridge, "No."
In fact, the only person who has said "Yes" to Mr. Carruthers is Stephen Harper - and even his support is wavering these days. His top BC minister, James Moore, responded to the Clark Government's closing statement against the pipeline at the JRP hearings, noting, "there are many pathways for Canadian resources to get out of the country, and we'll see if Enbridge looks at other opportunities." According to CBC, "He said his government supports B.C.'s five conditions for heavy oil pipelines...Moore says his government supports getting natural resources out of Canada, whether through Northern Gateway, or other projects, but any company must be accountable to the people living where it wants to build."
Harper is changing his tune because even he can see what everyone else but Carruthers can: this project is dead in the water.
Mr. Carruthers' confidence is based on his own subjective certainty that Northern Gateway is "a tremendously needed project for Canadians to get full value for their resources which are critically needed and that need is even more urgent than it's been."
This baseless fear-mongering was echoed by Enbridge lawyer Richard Neufeld, who also took the stand Monday to extoll his company's project. If Enbridge were denied, "Canada would be facing, we submit, an economic catastrophe of unprecedented proportions," Neufeld told the Joint Review Panel.
This laughable, self-serving rhetoric flies in the face of the independent economic analysis of former ICBC CEO Robyn Allan and many others who have warned of the economic perils to Canadians from exporting unrefined bitumen to foreign markets. Even the venerable Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) acknowledges that building a petro-economy leads to net economic losses as manufacturing and other sectors are squeezed by artificially inflated currencies.
It is by no means a given that opening up BC's coast to raw fossil fuel exports will do anything but imperil our "Super, Natural" brand and the $13.4 Billion tourism economy upon which it depends.
Mr. Carruthers is confusing what's in the economic interest of Canadians with that of himself and the foreign-owned oil producers who would use his infrastructure to export Canadian jobs and resource wealth to foreign markets. They are not remotely one and the same. When we hear "the economy", we must always ask, "whose economy?"
And what of the inordinate human, environmental and, yes, economic costs of the climate catastrophe this project would help facilitate? Even the US Government is coming to terms with the socioeconomic costs of carbon. Applying their own calculations to the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline yields a prediction of up to half a trillion dollars in carbon-driven social costs.
There is no glut of supply in North America's pipelines, no "bitumen bubble" driving down Tar Sands prices. Canada is a netimporter of oil, for Pete's sake. American buyers pay less for Canadian dilbit and syncrude because they are inferior products to light crude, thus meriting a discounted price.
That will always be the case, whether the customer is China or America. International crude prices may be higher for now, but dilbit will always be discounted - and the minimal additional profits from international markets are sure to wind up in the largely foreign pockets of shareholders, not trickling down the Canadian public, as we are to believe.
Contrary to Carruthers and Neufeld's Chicken Little prognostications, the sky will not fall on Canada's economy should Enbridge face rejection. And what does their opinion count for on this score anyway? They are the project proponent - not independent economists.
That's what makes this all so insulting - the righteous indignation, the holier-than-thou pontificating, the outrageous scare tactics, the thumbing of noses by these gentlemen from Calgary at BC's First Nations and citizens.
If Mr. Carruthers is delusional, as I suspect, then that's his problem I suppose (and that of his shareholders).
If, on the other hand, he's right and his much-maligned project does go ahead, then what does that say about this country in which we live? When 96% of the engaged citizenry and assorted experts who take the time to prepare and submit their thoughts to a two-year National Energy Board hearing speak against the project; when First Nations who hold unceded, constitutionally protected title and rights to these lands and waters remain unequivocally opposed...and it goes ahead, what does that say about Canada?
If that happens, we can all just quit referring to this country as a democracy. Full stop.
But I don't think that's what's going to happen at this stage. I think Mr. Carruthers is full of it.
What has me more concerned these days is the following scenario: Enbridge gets rejected. Instead, we see three or four "gas pipelines" built to BC's coast - sailing past regulatory hurdles while the public and media are distracted by Enbridge. The "gas pipelines" are ostensibly to feed boondoggle LNG projects in Kitmat and Prince Rupert - which never materialize because the economic fundamentals simply aren't there (more on that next column). Said "gas pipelines" get converted to dilbit pipelines, LNG terminals swapped for dilbit terminals. And, presto! It won't be called Enbridge, but - except for Mr. Carruthers - who cares? Same impact on our economy and environment.
Watch this presentation by Caleb Behn, a young, First Nations lawyer-in-the-making from Treaty 8 territory in northeast BC - one of the most heavily industrialized places on earth. The subject of the forthcoming documentary film Fractured Land, Behn discusses the blending of indigenous and colonial law to address the conflict arising from intense resource development, such and natural gas fracking, hydroelectric dams, logging, mining, and industrial roads that permeate his ancestral lands and threaten his family's traditional way of life. The one-hour presentation - shown here in three parts - was co-hosted at the Vancouver Public Library on February 28 by Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada, Amnesty International and the Hul'qumi'numTreaty Group. Behn, who is Dunne Za/Cree on his mother's side and Eh-Cho Dene on his father's, recently completed law school through UVic and is now pursuing his articles at Ratcliff & Company in Vancouver.
BC Premier Christy Clark's decision to oppose formally the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline means the project is all but dead.
The announcement, which came in the form of the BC government's final written submission this morning to the National Energy Board-led review panel for the project, is only mildly surprising. Enbridge has suffered setback after setback throughout the multi-year review and even the Harper government - which retains the final say over the project due to the Liberal Government's secretive handing away of provincial sovereignty on the matter - has backed away from its ardent support for the embattled pipeline builder. In recent months Harper has shifted his focus to pushing through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the US Gulf Coast.
"British Columbia thoroughly reviewed all of the evidence and submissions made to the panel and asked substantive questions about the project, including its route, spill response capacity and financial structure to handle any incidents," Environment Minister Terry Lake noted.
"Our questions were not satisfactorily answered during these hearings."
That leaves one other major expansion route for the Alberta Tar Sands to foreign markets: US energy giant Kinder Morgan's proposal to triple its pipeline capacity to the port of Vancouver. This would result in a twenty-fold rise in tanker traffic through the Salish Sea compared with the early 2000s, before the company purchased the old Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to North Burnaby.
"The position adopted by B.C. on the Northern Gateway Pipeline project as currently proposed is not a rejection of heavy-oil projects," the Clark Government stated in its final Enbridge submission, leaving the door open to Kinder Morgan.
Successful completion of the environmental review process. In the case of Enbridge, that would mean a recommendation by the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel that the project proceed;
World-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems for B.C.'s coastline and ocean to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy oil pipelines and shipments;
World-leading practices for land oil spill prevention, response and recovery systems to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy oil pipelines;
Legal requirements regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights are addressed, and First Nations are provided with the opportunities, information and resources necessary to participate in and benefit from a heavy-oil project; and
British Columbia receives a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits of a proposed heavy oil project that reflects the level, degree and nature of the risk borne by the province, the environment and taxpayers
The Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, much like Enbridge, already fails in most of these areas.
The Coast Salish First Nations, through whose unceded traditional territories the pipeline and tankers would transit, have made their opposition clear over the past year.
Marine safety experts have repeatedly warned that neither the government nor Kinder Morgan are adequately prepared for a coastal oil spill. The company on retainer to provide these services, Western Canadian Marine Response Corporation, acknowledged at a Vancouver City Council meeting two years ago that it was certified to clean up a spill of 100,000 barrels, while these tankers would carry 650,000 barrels - possibly more if the company pushes to dredge Second Narrows and move up to larger Suezmax carriers.
The risks from the tanker route, while different from the proposed Enbridge project, are equally severe. These tankers would pass the economic heart of the province, its major population centres, its most important salmon estuary, important whale habitat, the vital farmland of the Fraser River Delta, the Gulf Islands, southern Vancouver Island and our political capital in Victoria. Throughout this journey, these ships would face daunting navigational challenges. Estimates for the cost of an oil spill in the Vancouver area range up to $40 Billion.
An oil spill on BC's south coast would decimate our "Super, Natural BC" brand, which is at the heart of our $13.4 Billion tourism economy.
As for the economic benefits of the Kinder Morgan expansion to British Columbians...what benefits? A few dozen long-term jobs in the expanded Burnaby tanker terminal? Pitiful royalties and tax revenues for the province?
If the Enbridge pipeline isn't up to Christy Clark's standards, then the proposed Kinder Morgan expansion shouldn't be either.
BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix issued a statement Tuesday, offering an explanation and form of apology for the surprise provincial election loss he presided over recently. In the letter, published below, he accepts responsibility for the loss, acknowledging a common criticism of the campaign - levied often in these pages - that he wasn't tough enough on his Liberal opponents. "We did not do a good job prosecuting the case against the government, based on their record," Dix admits. And yet, he appears to remain committed to the "nice guy" approach that to many observers was his undoing: "I don't believe last week's results are the end of 'positive politics' in BC."
Dix also addresses his surprise opposition to the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline and oil tanker expansion, claiming it was not the policy but the manner in which he unveiled it that hurt the campaign. "I hold to the policy I set out on that pipeline. But, plainly, I didn't handle that issue very well," says Dix.
But in his post-mortem, Dix shows that he still doesn't recognize the specific failures he committed in framing these issues within an economic context. As I have argued before, the several dozen permanent jobs offered by Kinder Morgan's expanded tanker terminal pale in comparison to the risks it poses to our $13.4 Billion tourism economy and the "Super, Natural BC" brand upon which it is based.
Even more baffling is Dix's failure to destroy the Liberals' perceived economic advantage - the single plank upon which they based and won their campaign. The great, lingering mystery for me is the NDP's failure to use the numbers Auditor General John Doyle and our resident economist Erik Andersen have provided the public on our real provincial debt, which has ballooned to $171 Billion from $34 Billion under the Liberals' tenure. Why the NDP chose to ignore this fodder on the principal issue of the election is positively baffling - and Mr. Dix appears to have learned nothing from his mistakes on this front.
The statement below was followed on Wednesday by the revelation that Mr. Dix plans to stay on as the party's leader, promising a full review of his election loss. Based on these initial reflections on the failed campaign, I'm not holding my breath for any enlightened discoveries from this review.
Dix faces an automatic leadership review at the party's next convention in November. Pundits within the party, such as David Shrek, are already predicting that Dix will not survive as leader into the next election in 2017. Not should he. He has already amply demonstrated that he is wholly unsuited to beat his Liberal rivals and remains committed to his losing "Mr. Nice Guy" strategy.
"If you look at the history of the NDP, it doesn't tolerate people who blow a 20-point lead. Leaders in the NDP are not given a second chance,"says former MLA and NDP media commentator Shrek. "(Dix is) a political realist. The only ball in the air is whether he will be the interim leader until the 2016 replacement, or whether somebody else will be."
Adrian Dix's complete May 22 statement:
Shortly before the election we've just had, I met a hearing-impaired young man.
He stopped me, asked for my notebook and wrote me a note. “Are you going to win?” he asked.
I wrote back: “I think we can, if we work hard.”
He wrote me back: “You have to win.” And proceeded to write out why it was so important to him.
We didn’t win. And “disappointment” doesn’t begin to describe how that feels.
Disappointment for the people who needed change, like that young man.
Disappointment for what this may mean for our province.
Disappointment for so many who put their heart and soul into our campaign.
Since May 14th, I have taken some time to reflect, and to consult with my colleagues.
I have spoken to most of our candidates and to many others.
Here are some thoughts:
As leader of the BC NDP, I take full responsibility for this defeat.
Clearly, our campaign was not good enough.
We did not do a good job prosecuting the case against the government, based on their record.
And we did not make a clear enough case to British Columbians about what the consequences would be of re-electing the Liberals.
I don't believe last week's results are the end of "positive politics" in BC.
The answer to the Liberals’ populist right-wing playbook is not to simply adopt it.
But voters expect opposition leaders, in particular, to hold sitting Premiers accountable for their records.
You have to define the problem before you can persuade people of the solution.
I should have done a much better job of this than I did during the campaign.
Second, we did not effectively communicate our platform to voters.
Our party offered a substantive, fully-costed platform that offered real solutions to real problems faced by British Columbians.
I called this the "hard road to victory"—and I still believe politicians owe it to voters to tell them honestly what they propose to do if elected.
We committed to a modest and focused agenda. But we put out detailed proposals in considerable volume and length in a way that didn’t resonate with enough voters.
We therefore failed to demonstrate a clear choice between our vision for the economy, the environment and a more caring society, and Premier Clark, her record, her plan and her team.
Finally, my announcement about our position on the Kinder Morgan pipeline on Earth Day hurt our campaign.
The way I made it raised a number of process issues that stuck with us.
I hold to the policy I set out on that pipeline.
But, plainly, I didn't handle that issue very well.
On all these points, I take full responsibility. No ifs, ands or buts.
So what do we do now?
First, we will undertake a comprehensive review of this election, to learn and act on the painful lessons it has taught us.
I can assure you this review will spare nothing and no one, least of all me.
This will not be a simple internal review.
It must give voice to party members, and listen to those from outside our ranks.
It must address the strategy and tactics we employed in the election. And it must examine the fundamental questions of who we are as a party, and our relationship with the people of BC.
We therefore need to take an unflinching look at our strengths and weaknesses, and what we need to do to improve.
Successful political parties constantly evolve to meet the challenges they face.
And that’s what we must do.
Second, we will prepare for the upcoming legislative session and we will do the job we were elected to do.
The NDP caucus is a strong, experienced team with some remarkable new additions.
We will hold the government to account.
The Liberals committed in this election to balanced budgets, to lower public debt, to high levels of job creation, and to protecting services—in particular health care and education, and supports for seniors and for children.
That’s the contract they signed with British Columbians on election day.
And that’s the contract they must honour.
We will hold them to it – with passion. British Columbians will hold them to it.
I will stay on as leader to ensure that our obligations to our members and the public are met over the next few months.
That our review of what went wrong in the election ensures that lessons are learned.
That the Official Opposition does the job that hundreds of thousands of British Columbians elected us to do, and that we are organized to hold the government to account.
There are some important meetings ahead for our party: caucus meetings, a provincial council meeting in June, and a party convention in November that must craft the blueprint for renewal.
As for the long term, the caucus, the party executive and members of the NDP must start immediately to map out how we win the next election.
I will do whatever is required to see that this happens. I will be guided by the discussion and direction given.
I will put the public interest and the long-term success of the BC NDP ahead of any personal ambitions.
For now, together, we fight for shared prosperity, to reduce inequality, for jobs and a safe environment.
Working closely and in concert with our entire team, I will do just that.
I will do what is right for that young hearing-impaired man and the thousands like him who were counting on us.
Lastly, I want to say a few words of thanks.
To all the candidates who put their heart and soul into this election.
To all the party members and volunteers who worked so hard and gave up so much on the campaign, whether for an individual candidate or for the campaign as a whole.
And to every one of the hundreds of thousands of British Columbians who voted for us.
A May 16 decision by the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) to reject the proposed Raven Coal Mine on Vancouver Island should be seen as a victory for citizen mobilization. The project has sparked widespread protest in communities around the proposed mine and in Port Alberni, where a coal port is proposed to export the product to Asia.
The decision, made known in a letter from the EAO to the project's proponent last week, sends the ironically named Compliance Coal Corporation back to square one with its project - owing to an abundance of unanswered questions in the company's 12,000-page initial submission. The project is a joint-venture between Canadian, Japanese and Korean companies and would see a mine built in the midst of a thriving shellfish industry in Fanny Bay, which employs 600 locals.
Having gone through the early stages of environmental assessment over the past couple years, the project was denied the opportunity to proceed further with its current proposal. A jubilant John Snyder of CoalWatch Comox Valley - a group formed to deal with the threat of the mine - remarked on the verdict, "A review of the screening comments seems to indicate significant gaps in the Application, some of it having to do with public, First Nations, and stakeholder consultation; hydrology issues; and marine baseline studies."
Snyder added, "There’s no doubt that public scrutiny and the concerns voiced by local governments, First Nations, and stakeholders like the BC Shellfish Growers Association, played a role in this decision by the EAO. While Compliance could decide to resubmit another Application, this rejection by the EAO adds to an already significant headwind Compliance is facing in getting their project approved."
Groups like Snyder's and Coal Free Alberni had helped drive hundreds of people out to packed public hearings on the mine - and a near-record 5,000 public submissions addressing a draft document referred to as the AIR/EIS (Application Information Requirement/Environmental Impact Statement). The local K'ómoks First Nation made its opposition known as well.
In a statement issued today by Compliance in response to the BC EAO's decision, CEO John Tapics downplayed the challenges facing the project's future, noting, "The screening review is a scan of the Application for the purposes of determining whether the AIR have been met, and does not constitute an in depth review to determine whether or not issues have been addressed and resolved to EAO’s satisfaction. Receipt of Application screening comments is typical and not unexpected after a first review."
Tapics indicated his company's intention to submit a new draft AIR/EIS document addressing the many unanswered questions in the original: "The Company and its consultants are in the process of reviewing the comments returned by the EAO and plan to provide clarification or additional information and then resubmit the Application for further review once the comments have been adequately addressed."
Regardless of the company's next steps, the initial rejection of the project is strong validation the public campaign against it - which is sure to be even more emboldened to battle Compliance should it follow through with a second pass at building Raven Coal Mine.
The decision, says Wilderness Committee's Island campaigner Torrance Coste, "is just another indication that this mine doesn't belong on Vancouver Island."
The annals of contemporary political history make one thing clear: Elections are invariably won and lost on a single issue - and that issue is most often the economy. To borrow a slogan coined by Bill Clinton's enigmatic campaign strategist, James Carville, "It's the economy, stupid." You can win issues two through ten, but if you screw up the first one, you're toast.
The NDP lost this election for three reasons - all of which relate back to that one central point: 1. Despite compelling evidence in their favour, the NDP failed to destroy the Liberals' economic credibility; 2. Mr. Dix failed to understand the difference between being fair and being nice; 3. Unlike their opponents, the NDP have no sense of storytelling, no simple narrative arc to which they can attach their myriad policy points.
Plainly put, the NDP and leader Adrian Dix lost this election by running a terrible campaign. The out-to-lunch polls and the mainstream media that allowed Clark a free pass on the Liberals' true economic record didn't help matters, but this was Dix's to lose, and lose he did.
There is one invaluable lesson I gleaned years ago from Karl Rove, the mastermind strategist behind George W. Bush's victories. His candidate bears some striking resemblances to Christy Clark, in fact - both highly unpopular at times, neither one the most cerebral of leaders, yet eminently personable, and both able to win elections they probably shouldn't have.
Rove's most important insight was this: You don't attack your opponent's weakness; you attack their greatest strength, because if you take that leg out from under them, they have nothing left to stand on.
For Bush in 2004, that wasn't the economy but rather national security. As his campaign quickly understood, you can't win on national security as a draft dodger running against a decorated war hero. Enter the "Swift Boat Veterans".
Rove also understood - as does Team Obama - the importance of crafting a simple, clear, overarching narrative, to which every press release, photo-op, position paper, soundbite, and campaign ad links back. Christy Clark's campaign did this very well - everything came back to how voters could trust her to run the economy while they couldn't trust "Risky Dix" and the NDP.
This is where Dix fell down. Not only did he choose the wrong issues on which to attack his opponents - he didn't attack, period. The HST, BC Rail, rip-off private power contracts, boondoggle projects like the convention centre, stadium roof and "world's tallest wood building", and, most significantly, the Liberals' abysmal fiscal record. Any and all of these issues - which encompass other things like corruption and incompetence - can be linked back to a master narrative that demonstrates the NDP are really the best choice to lead BC's economy into the future.
But Dix seized on none of these opportunities, preferring instead to run a nice, safe, "no mistakes" campaign. If Ms. Clark and the mainstream media that fawned over her proved anything, it's that it's better to look nice and act tough than look tough and act nice. Why Mr. Dix - not known as a "nice guy" politically prior to this campaign - mistakenly equated being tough on the Liberals' truly appalling record with being a jackass is a mystery to me. Christy Clark, like Danny Williams, Bill Clinton, Pierre Trudeau and many other successful, charismatic leaders before her, demonstrated you can wield a sledge hammer with a smile on your face.
I joined others in pressuring the NDP to take a stronger stand against Kinder Morgan. There are those within the party who will blame this decision for their loss, cursing what they see as succumbing to the unreliable environmental vote. Bollocks. A Justason poll revealed that Dix's Earth Day announcement was positively received by voters. But even if you want to discard that finding based on the wholesale discrediting of the polling profession last night, the decision itself is not the problem. The problem is, again, failing to frame it properly.
Kinder Morgan would bring a few dozen permanent jobs to its updated tanker terminal in Burnaby, and truly paltry revenues to the province. Compare that with our "Super, Natural BC" brand and the $13.4 Billion a year tourism economy and 127,000 jobs it supports - all of which would be put at grave risk by an oil tanker spill. With a proposed 400 tankers a year through Vancouver Harbour, compared with just 20 before Texas energy giant Kinder Morgan bought the existing Trans Mountain line in 2005, we're talking an exponential increase in risk. A simple cost-benefit analysis shows this is a terrible proposition for BC.
Other leaders like Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, and former ICBC CEO Robyn Allan get this and are able to articulate the Kinder Morgan issue effectively in an economic context. Not so with the provincial NDP.
Dix's failure to attack the Liberals' claims of overall economic superiority is even more puzzling. As we've stated in these pages, time and time again - based on information from the Auditor General and the research of independent economist Erik Andersen - the Liberals have raised our real provincial debtfrom $34 Billion to $171 Billion since they came to power. The NDP, by contrast, raised it by $17 Billion over a similar period.
About $100 Billion of that new Liberal debt is hidden in another category called "contractual taxpayer obligations". This is where they hide the estimated (because they're secret, even though you pay for them) $55 Billion in sweetheart, rip-off private power contracts that are causing your power bills to soar; this is where they stash the real costs of public-private partnership contracts for multi-billion dollar bridges, highways and Olympic infrastructure.
This story contains everything the NDP needed to beat the Liberals: corruption, deception, secrecy, gross fiscal mismanagement, controversial IPPs, boondoggle bridges that don't work properly and pile on costs to drivers through tolls...In short, everything they needed to take that one leg out from under their Liberal rivals.
By contrast, they could have offered a bold vision of a stronger, greener economic future for BC - one built on innovation, clean technology, public transit, rebuilding local, value-added manufacturing, supporting our vital film industry and creative sectors, harnessing the true potential of "Super, Natural BC"...Alas, they did some of these things, but in piecemeal fashion - detatched from any central narrative. And they failed to distinguish clearly their own record and vision from those of their opponents.
It's a frustrating feeling sitting on the sidelines, uncomfortable with the NDP but viewing them as the only viable alternative - in our broken, first-past-the-post, parliamentary system - to the worst government in BC history. It's awful feeling so powerless, watching the NDP fuck it up yet again. This isn't their loss alone. This is a travesty for the people and environment of BC. Their incompetence impacts us all.
We need electoral reform. We also need better than the second worst voter turnout in the country - even more pathetic by the standards of most of our fellow western nations. It is a great societal failing that we can't manage to get out more than half our eligible citizenry for half an hour to vote, once every four years. Something needs to change on this front.
While we're at it, we could use an honest mainstream media that digs up the facts and looks out for the public interest - though we can expect to wait about as long for that as the characters in Samuel Beckett's famous play. That's why people like Rafe Mair and I are trying so hard to build an alternate media.
For now, I'd settle for someone taking a fire hose to the backrooms of the NDP and flushing them clean. There are many quality people within the NDP - Adrian Dix included (though not as a candidate for Premier). They've staked out some strong positions that are in line, I would still argue, with the public will on many key environmental and social issues. There are some exceptions, granted - salmon farms, Site C Dam, and a need for more clarity on their position regarding fracking and LNG. My complaints here are less about their policies than about the way they sell them.
There are also some small but heartening positives which progressives can draw from last night. For the NDP, George Heyman and David Eby's victories in Vancouver come to mind - two of the NDP's brightest new prospects, both very strong on environmental and social issues, both worked their asses off running good, tough campaigns and were rewarded for their efforts.
I was also happy to see Independent Vicki Huntington win re-election in Delta South, though sorry to see sitting Independent MLA Bob Simpson from Cariboo North narrowly miss out on another term. Both did a great service to British Columbians as hard-working, competent Independents in the Legislature.
Meanwhile, the Green Party ran a solid campaign and it's encouraging to see them break through with their first provincial MLA in Andrew Weaver. Any NDP'er who dares blame the Green Party for their loss needs to examine both the facts and their own head. The Greens did a smart and noble thing choosing to target their efforts on a few select ridings, rather than feeling the need to run a full slate.
At the end of the day, if the NDP can't look inward and recognize the deep flaws in its brand, its personnel, and the way it campaigns; if there isn't some serious bloodletting following this inexcusable failure, then maybe British Columbians are ready for a new progressive party.
Independent biologist Alexandra Morton has been busy during the BC election, traveling the province to raise the issue of protecting wild salmon from fish farms and viruses. Through dozens of community screenings of a new film profiling her work, Salmon Confidential, and amassing over to 70,000 signatures on a petition to remove open net pen farms from the migratory pathways of wild fish, Morton has effectively planted this issue on the election radar. She's been tough at times on the BCNDP, pushing them to take a stronger stand on the salmon farming industry - with some notable success. Here, as voters prepare to go to the polls, she offers her frank assessment of what is in the best political interests of her beloved wild salmon.
For what it is worth here is my take on this election.
Regarding the Liberals, I don't think they know that our survival depends on a living planet. I have no idea how they have missed the connection, but they have.
Regarding the Greens, look at where they have put their energy, which ridings do they think they can win. Faithfully voting Green, where the Greens did not put effort, is a wasted vote.
Regarding the Independents, if you are lucky enough to be in a riding with a strong independent candidate/MLA, please go with your instincts. No one can "whip" these vital independent voices and in my experience they have been strong, smart supporters of wild salmon.
Regarding the NDP, clearly they felt threatened by supporting wild salmon. This is our fault. We, as British Columbians did not make it clear that wild salmon are critical. We allowed the Norwegians to shout us down. We were so quiet, the NDP did not take us seriously.
Individually, most NDP I spoke to know salmon feedlots have to be removed from wild salmon migration routes. As environment critic Rob Fleming stated this on CBC on March 23, he knows this. Therefore, I think wild salmon have the greatest chance for survival with an NDP government, with Greens in seats. And wild salmon need you, the public, to contact your MLA every single month, year in and year out, to tell them every salmon feedlot needs INDEPENDENT screening for the piscine reovirus and any that test positive have their provincial Licence of Occupation terminated, fish removed, site closed in the public interest.
If the salmon feedlot industry wants to prove the virus only kills salmon in the Atlantic - they are welcome to do that - but they need to get out while they do their experiments.
Former Socred Cabinet Minster Rafe Mair tells it like it is in this powerhouse speech on April 24 in Merritt, at the outset of the BC election campaign. Mair minces no words, zeroing in on the BC Liberals' real economic record, which stands in stark contrast to the one being presented by Christy Clark throughout her campaign.
"Christy Clark has on the side of her bus, 'Debt Free BC'. We owe $171 Billion dollars! Since the Liberals came to power, our per capita share of debt has gone from a little over $5,000 to $40,000 - every man, woman and child...Ask the folks in Greece or in Cyrpus or in Italy what happens when the day of reckoning comes. And the day of reckoning is going to come with this."
Throughout the emotional 10 min address, Mair speaks of his concern for today's youth and future generations. "We have now a situation in British Columbia that keeps me from shutting my mouth. I can't do it - not as an old man. I see the country literally at a watershed. I see the province at a point where if proper decisions are not made promptly, we're condemning our children and grandchildren to eternal debt."
Required viewing for all British Columbians on the eve of the May 14 election.
Conventional wisdom would suggest there's little an Independent MLA can do make an impact on government. Throughout the past term, BC's three sitting Independents - Bob Simpson from Cariboo North, Vicki Huntington from Delta South, and Abbotsford South's John van Dongen - have proven the pundits wrong, injecting new energy and ideas into a Legislature ordinarily dominated by caucus discipline.
All three are running again in Tuesday's provincial election. Joined by a few other Independents with "long - not impossible - odds," as Martyn Brown put it recently in The Vancouver Sun - this unprecedented batch of serious candidates without a political party promises a more interesting contest and intriguing possibilities should their campaigns lead them into office.
With polls tightening in the final days of the campaign, it's not unthinkable that a handful of Independents could hold the balance of power in a minority government.
Among the 38 candidates running as Independents around the province, Arthur Hadland, from Peace River North, is of particular note, posing a serious challenge to incumbent Liberal MLA Pat Pimm. Hadland ran in 2009, losing by just nine points - the next best showing by an Independent to Delta's Huntington. A lifelong resident of the Peace Valley, Hadland is a respected multi-term director of the Peace River Regional District and has been a strong voice against the proposed Site C Dam.
The three sitting Independents have shaken up the Legislature in surprising ways in recent years. From confronting important energy issues in ways neither party would, to torpedoing a recent forestry bill - making effective use of social media - and raising electoral reform in the lead-up to the provincial election, they are showing the power Independents can wield.
Being an Independent poses its challenges, without the benefit of caucus resources for researching and interpreting the avalanche of legislation that comes their way. "You have to look at every bill yourself," Simpson explained a recent all-candidates debate on environmental issues in Vancouver, noting that he doesn't have the luxury of voting along party lines.
Huntington became just the second MLA elected as an Independent in the history of BC's legislature (and first woman to do so) when she narrowly defeated former Attorney-General Wally Opal in Delta South in 2009. Simpson, after being booted from the NDP caucus over mild public criticism of then-leader Carole James, decided to strike out on his own, rather than apologize. The incident would prove the straw that broke the camel's back for James' leadership, paving the way for the party's resurrection under Adrian Dix.
Van Dongen is easily the most controversial of the bunch. The longest-serving BC Liberal MLA in the Legislature until his resignation from the party in March of 2012, he made more turbulent an already rough patch for the Liberals. His path to independence included a pit stop with John Cummins' BC Conservative Party, becoming its only sitting MLA, until a very public falling out six months later that saw him go Independent. His departure and the manner in which it occurred seriously hampered Cummins' efforts to breathe new life into the party - the effects of which linger to this day.
Van Dongen has been a wild card, bringing plenty of palace intrigue to the Legislature. It wasn't just his two defections and the embarrassment of a suspended driver's licence while Solicitor General that produced tabloid headlines. In hiring a private lawyer to investigate the Campbell Government's paying off the lawyers of convicted bribers Dave Basi and Bobby Virk, Van Dongen proved he could still kick up a fuss.
The three sitting Independents would also join forces to push for electoral reform. The six-point platform they announced in February includes some laudable suggestions like campaign finance reform, giving bi-partisan legislative committees real power, moving the fixed election date to the Fall so as to not interfere with the Budget, and free votes in the Legislature, to minimize the stifling effects of caucus discipline.
The fact that high-profile, effective politicians like these folks are choosing the independent path reflects growing discontent with the current party system.
Though few of the province's 38 Independent candidates stand a real chance, any one of these four serious contenders - Huntington, Simpson, Van Dongen, Hadland - could well pull off a surprise victory on May 14. And with what is shaping up to be a tighter-than-expected race between the Liberals and NDP, even a few Independents could wind up holding the balance of power in Victoria.
In any event, their presence enriches this election campaign and an otherwise predictable, often undemocratic Legislature.
For BC Premier Christy Clark, today's series of gaffes perfectly confirm that theory.
Just when her campaign was gaining ground - with new polls showing a much-narrowed 4-7 point gap between the Liberals and front-running BCNDP - Clark's "Debt Free BC" campaign bus has hit a few nasty speed bumps.
First, there was the leak by her opponents of documents allegedly revealing more evidence of tax dollars being spent on campaign activities, as early as 2011. According to the CBC, who broke the story early this morning, "The NDP says the emails it has leaked show a team of B.C. Liberal insiders — Dave Ritchie, Kim Haakstad, Trevor Halford and others — were having meetings about the by-election in Port Moody and preparations to strengthen the current Liberal campaign during regular business hours at the office of team leader Dave Richie: Room 247 in the main legislature."
If true, these actions would be in violation of the B.C. Public Service Act, which forbids conducting partisan activities with public resources. The story comes on the heels of the "ethnic-gate" scandal, which involved similar dynamics and hamstrung the Liberals heading into the election campaign.
Next, there came news of Christy Clark's bewildering ballot-box mix-up, which saw her allegedly spoil her own vote at a photo-op. The National Post described the situation as follows:
Casting an advance ballot in her hometown of Burnaby in front of a throng of media and campaign staff on Wednesday, a confused Ms. Clark writes her own name on her ballot paper. But Ms. Clark doesn’t live in her own riding, a detail which would have rendered her vote invalid.
Quickly realizing the error, Ms. Clark asks for her ballot back. CBC footage shows Ms. Clark then writing down the name of Vancouver–Fairview Liberal candidate Margaret MacDiarmid, but failing to cross out her own name before submitting her ballot paper, leading to further confusion over the legitimacy of her vote.
Harmless gaffe or not, the move hardly inspires confidence in a leader whose job demands being cool under pressure.
To cap it all off is the most serious and damaging of revelations for Clark on what has become a day from campaign hell. Global TV is reporting that a movement is underway within Clark's own party to overthrow her as soon as the ballot boxes close on Tuesday. "It’s called the 801 movement, symbolizing 8:01 p.m., one minute after the election and precisely when the movement plans to begin the process of putting pressure on Clark to step aside," Global reports.
"The movement — made up of party members and business leaders — has already created their own buttons."
It's no secret that Clark has never achieved widespread popularity within her own caucus, but surely this news breaking 5 days before the election can't benefit anyone in the Liberal Party. How will British Columbians feel about casting their ballot for a leader whose own party may be scheming to dump her?
Maybe bad things do happen in threes...then again, as I write this early in the afternoon, there's plenty of time yet to make it four.