As a progressive voter, it was disappointing to watch the sunset press conference -- hastily organized on the banks of the Fraser River earlier this week -- announcing the federal approval of Petronas' Pacific Northwest LNG project. Hosted by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change (cue the irony), the event welcomed an industrial project that would trample the rights and title of First Nations and make it virtually impossible for B.C. to meet its legislated greenhouse gas emission targets.
As the news sunk in, I couldn't help but feel my own faith in the Trudeau government fading like the sun that was setting behind his ministers.
Just under a year ago, I wrote a blog post in this space identifying where progressive British Columbians in the Lower Mainland should strategically vote Liberal to defeat Stephen Harper. The Liberals ended up winning in all but two of the 11 ridings I recommended (the other two going to Conservatives Alice Wong and Dianne Watts in Richmond Centre and South Surrey-White Rock, respectively).
Jim Carr, Catherine McKenna, Christy Clark and Dominic LeBlanc at a news conference in Richmond, B.C., after the federal government announced approval of the Pacific NorthWest LNG project on Tuesday. (Photo: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
In making my case, I listed 10 reasons why a progressive voter in the Lower Mainland could feel positive about voting Liberal based on their election platform and party policy, including a new relationship with First Nations, evidence-based scientific decision-making and action on climate change.
Unfortunately, the Trudeau cabinet approval of Pacific Northwest LNG sharply calls into question the government's commitment to these policies, and progressive voters in B.C. must now seek and deserve answers to two simple questions:
1. How is this approval consistent with establishing a new relationship with First Nations based on respect and meaningful consultation?
2. How is this approval consistent with evidence-based scientific decision-making and action on climate change?
With regard to the first question, Lelu Island, the site of the proposed LNG plant, is subject to complicated and unresolved First Nations titleholder claims. This makes approval inconsistent with the government's legal responsibilities to First Nations, let alone its moral obligations.
First Nations protesters gather while occupying Lelu Island near Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada, on Aug. 24, 2016. Facing five major energy initiatives in B.C., Prime Minister Trudeau will choose which constituency to abandon. (Photo: Ben Nelms/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
In question period, the prime minister glossed over opposition questions about the government's respect for First Nations, and he spoke of "folding in" consultation with Indigenous leaders. Was this a slip of the tongue or a true glimpse into Trudeau's actual views on meaningful consultation?
On the issue of climate change and scientific decision-making, this approval gives Petronas, wholly owned by the Malaysian government, nearly a third to as high as 75 to 87 per cent (depending on whose numbers you use) of the total allowable emissions for B.C. in 2050, assuming we are going to meet our legislated climate target of 13 megatonnes that year.
The hope of thousands of progressive voters in B.C. who helped elect this government may go the same way as Trudeau's ministers' press conference: off into the sunset.
This leaves little to no room for the emissions of other sectors of the economy, or for British Columbians personally, making it virtually impossible to achieve our targets. How will Canada meet its international climate commitments if our provinces don't meet theirs?
In response to the public outrage this approval has generated, Trudeau and his ministers have repeated a non-sequitur about growing the economy and protecting the environment (not possible when we're talking about expanding fossil fuel infrastructure in the context of climate change), and platitudes about conducting resource development in the "most sustainable manner possible" (it's either sustainable or it isn't).
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna speaks to reporters on Parliament Hill with Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)
This approval violates some very closely held progressive values, and in the absence of answers and real action on these troubling questions, the hope of thousands of progressive voters in B.C. who helped elect this government may go the same way as Trudeau's ministers' press conference: off into the sunset.
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LNG stands for "liquefied natural gas." Natural gas gets chilled to -160 degrees Celsius so that it can be converted into liquid form. After it has been liquefied and compressed, it takes up much less space — about 1/600th less than natural gas. (Pictured: B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaking after an event for FortisBC's Tilbury LNG facility expansion project in Delta, B.C., on October 21, 2014.)
LNG is odourless, non-toxic, non-corrosive, and less dense than water. It is a by-product of decaying organic matter in rock layers formed below the earth’s surface millions of years ago. As the matter decays, the gas is trapped or isolated in the rock formations, which prevent it from surfacing.
Natural gas is a cleaner fossil fuel than coal, but carbon is still emitted when natural gas is burned, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
As of December 15, 2014, the provincial government had 21 proposed LNG projects lined up, mostly in Northern B.C. or along the south coast and on Vancouver Island.
Outlined in the LNG Strategy One Year Update, released in 2013, the provincial government has three key priorities to achieve the goal of three LNG facilities by 2020: Keep B.C. competitive in the global LNG market, maintain B.C.’s leadership on climate change and clean energy, and keep energy rates affordable for families, communities, and industry.
The province wants to use the estimated revenue (about $100 billion) from LNG projects to diminish provincial debt, reduce cost burdens for families and local communities, and support services such as education. Premier Christy Clark (pictured) said last year British Columbians would begin seeing revenue from LNG in 2017.
Groups opposing LNG development in B.C. cite risks for fire, low demand for imported LNG, and greenhouse gas concerns, according to non-profit organization Dogwood Initiative.
Environment Minister Mary Polak (pictured) brought in legislation requiring LNG to meet emission standards in October 2014 in order to make the industry much cleaner. Otherwise, corporations could face penalties. The target for greenhouse gas emissions is set at one-third below 2007 levels by the year 2020.
A factsheet by the B.C. government suggests the vast majority of run-off from rivers is untouched by industries. However, four Skeena River First Nations near Prince Rupert oppose the Petronas LNG project due to fears of what it could do to the salmon habitat, CBC News reported. (Pictured: Skeena River)
Premier Christy Clark said that B.C.’s natural gas supply is estimated at over 2,933 trillion cubic feet. With industry extracting about four trillion cubic feet of natural gas each year, that means B.C. has over 150 years of natural gas in supply, CTV News reported.
Malaysian energy giant Petronas delayed construction of an LNG terminal in Prince Rupert in December 2014, saying conditions weren't right to follow through with the project at the time. The $36-billion dollar deal would bring LNG across the Pacific in tankers to the Asian market. (Pictured: Petronas towers in Malaysia)
The provincial government signed an economic partnership agreement with two First Nations along the planned pipeline route for Kitimat LNG last April. Haisla Nation Chief Ellis Ross held a summit to address the job possibilities LNG developments near Kitimat would bring, and voiced his hopes that people from the area would be the first ones considered for these jobs. (Pictured: Kitimat)
In December 2014, Premier Christy Clark denied the NDP’s claims that she was planning on hiring temporary foreign workers to build LNG plants. “We believe that British Columbians have to be first in line for these jobs, but it's also true that there will be some need for some temporary workers to come in and support these projects when there are peaks in production and construction because we simply don't have enough people," she said. (Pictured: Clark tours FortisBC's existing Tilbury LNG facility before the groundbreaking for an expansion project in Delta, B.C., on October 21, 2014.)
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