Current Issues

This year has seen a flurry of changes to legislation in BC, such that it is difficult not to conclude that the BC government is clearing the way for major industrial development. For a volunteer-run organization like BC Nature, it has been hard to keep up with this gadarene rush.

Humpback Whales no longer protected by the Species at Risk Act –

Our Spring 2014 report for BCnature Magazine reported on the rebuke issued by a Federal Court Judge to the federal environment and fisheries ministers for their failure to enforce Canada’s Species at Risk Act regarding the Pacific Humpback Whale and three other species.   On April 22, the federal government dealt with the Humpback Whale by re-classifying it as a “Species at Risk”, which means that it is no longer required to protect the Humpback’s critical habitat on the BC Coast.  While Humpbacks in BC waters have increased significantly since whaling was banned, their population is still about half its pre-whaling size, and many experts consider it premature to remove their “threatened” status.  If the Enbridge Pipeline is approved, the Douglas Channel is the route oil tankers will take to transport the bitumen from Kitimat to the open ocean for export to Asia.  In the confines of the Douglas Channel, Humpbacks will be at risk from being struck by tankers when they surface to breathe, as well as from oil spills.

Protection of BC Parks incrementally eroded – BC Bill 4

BC’s Provincial Parks may also conflict with government plans for pipelines to transport bitumen to the BC coast.  Bill 4, the Park Amendment Act, which passed hurriedly on March 25 without any public discussion, opens up BC provincial parks to research on a number of industrial uses, including pipelines, roads and transmission lines. Opposition to Bill 4 is immense, and on May 14 a petition with 166,000 signatures was delivered to the government in Victoria.  BC Nature also strongly opposes Bill 4, and wrote to the BC Minister of Environment on February 20, urging rescindment of the Bill.

Regulatory framework for the natural resource sector streamlined: BC Bill 5

BC Bill 5, the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act (2014),

which was introduced in February 2014, is intended to streamline the regulatory framework for the natural resource sector as well as help improve the stewardship of British Columbia’s forests, rangeland and wildlife.  We are not so sure about the latter, and sent a letter expressing concern that the legislative amendments appear intended to streamline the regulatory framework to provide improved business certainty for the natural resource sector, without any real concern for the environment.

Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act

would open up farmland to industrial development – Bill 24 – The introduction of the Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act, which would make it easier to remove agricultural land from the Agricultural Land Reserve and use it for industrial purposes, has created a furore in B.C. It is hard not to suspect that the main reason behind Bill 24 is the government’s plan to build the Site C dam on the Peace River in northeast B.C.

Expansion of Aquaculture in Baynes Sound

Baynes Sound on Vancouver Island, the site of the globally significant K’omoks Important Bird Area, is one of the most important areas for wintering water birds in BC.  In March we wrote a letter to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea, urging that a moratorium be placed on aquaculture development there until a cumulative impact assessment could determine the viability of expanded shellfish farming and its broader impacts on the natural ecosystems of the Sound.

Northern Gateway Pipeline

A decision by Ottawa on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline is expected in mid-June, and the federal government appears to be positioning itself to approve the pipeline by changing the laws that might stand in the way.  Such changes include passing regulations in April to allow the pollution of fish-bearing waters without a prior permit, downlisting the status of humpback whales (see above), and passing new safety measures for tankers and tougher regulations for pipelines.  Nevertheless, the risk of collisions remains as well as the risk of long-lasting damage to natural ecosystems of accidental leaks and ruptures.  It is noteworthy that the coast of Alaska still has not recovered from the ecological consequences of the Exxon Valdez disaster 25 years ago.  Among the species which have not recovered from that spill is the Pacific Herring, a keystone species on which 40 others depend, including Bald Eagles, Brown Bears, seals, Humpback Whales, Tufted Puffins and Murres.  While the federal government is changing long-standing legislation to remove roadblocks to its plans to export bitumen across the Pacific to Asia, public opposition and determination to stop this from happening is growing across Canada and particularly in British Columbia.   May 10, designated Defend Our Climate, Defend Our Communities day, was marked in nearly 100 communities across Canada with demonstrations attended by an estimated 10,000 people.

Trans Mountain Pipeline

The hearings into Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby are due to begin in January 2015 under new National Energy Board rules that have eliminated oral cross-examination of witnesses, and limited the duration of the hearings to 15 months. This is very different from the Northern Gateway Pipeline hearings, which included 90 days of cross-examination and allowed more than 1,000 people to make submissions to the Board. If approved, the Trans Mountain project would triple the barrels of bitumen a day shipped out of Burnaby from 300,000 to 890,000 and increase tanker traffic on the Pacific coast to more than 400 supertankers a year.

Site C Hydroelectric Project

On May 8, the proposed Site C dam on the Peace cleared another hurdle on its way to a final decision by the federal Cabinet, with a conditional approval of the project by the Joint Review Panel, .  Excerpts from the summary of the JRP’s report follow:

Any large industrial project carries with it some costs that are not captured in a narrowly economic analysis. The question is whether the benefits from the project outweigh those costs…. The Panel’s mandate required it to weigh both sides, and to present a balance sheet, accounting for its associated recommendations, to allow elected provincial and federal governments to determine if the benefits justify the costs. The decision on whether the Project proceeds is made by elected officials, not by the Panel.

The benefits are clear. Despite high initial costs, and some uncertainty about when the power would be needed, the Project would provide a large and long-termincrement of firm energy and capacity at a price that would benefit future generations…. There are other costs, however… Replacing a portion of the Peace River with an 83-kilometre reservoir would cause significant adverse effects on fish and fish habitat, and a number of birds and bats, smaller vertebrate and invertebrate species, rare plants, and sensitive ecosystems….. The Project … would end agriculture on the Peace Valley bottom lands…. Because of the significant adverse effects identified on some renewable resource valued components in the long-term, there would be diminished biodiversity and reduced capacity of renewable resources, should the Project proceed….The Peace River region has been and is currently undergoing enormous stress from resource development. In this context, the Panel has determined that the Project, combined with past, present and reasonably foreseeable future projects would result in significant cumulative effects on fish, vegetation and ecological communities, wildlife, current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes, and heritage. In some cases, these effects are already significant, even without the Project.

A complete list of the Panel’s conclusions and recommendations to be taken into account under Section 5 of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 is in Appendix 1 of the Joint Review Panel Report.

Northern Gateway Pipeline Video Contest Launched!

A group of artists at The University of British Columbia Okanagan is launching a contest for people to have their say about the Northern Gateway Pipeline. Anyone in BC, across the country or anywhere in the world is invited to enter the People on the Pipeline Contest with a video (maximum three minutes in length) expressing their view of the proposed mega-project in northern BC. The winner of the best video will win $1000 and there are categories for teens and kids too.

“We have been watching the communication strategy around the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline with interest,” says Nancy Holmes, Associate Professor in Creative Writing.

“Enbridge’s ads are everywhere and the amount of money being spent to present one side of the debate is scary. So we decided to give others a chance to express their points of view. A contest is a great way to get people to do this.”

Along with the launch of the contest, UBC Okanagan’s Eco Art Incubator is unveiling a gallery on the People on the Pipeline  that provides a collection of links to a variety of artworks that have been created in response to the pipeline. The gallery on the website is an intrinsic part of the project. “We are displaying all the artworks that we can find that have addressed the Northern Gateway pipeline- gathering these grassroots” expressions in one place,” says Denise Kenney who is one of the leads on the project. The research into the gallery was done by MFA graduate student, Emily Nilsen.

Professor Kenney also directed and starred in We Can’t Hear You! a short two-minute video, that announces the contest and that appears on the People on the Pipeline website. The video was created in collaboration with Holmes, Creative Studies staff member and videographer, Joanne Gervais, and other FCCS faculty members.

Entries to the contest do not necessarily have to have an anti-pipeline perspective. However, the researchers are inviting multiple perspectives to create an opportunity to respond outside contentious polls and political divisions.

Along with a $1000 first prize there will be a $500 people’s choice award- so people can vote for their favourite video. There is also a $250 award for best teen entry, and a $250 award for best kid’s entry. The deadline is July 15 2014.

See for information on this contest


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