That is where Justin Trudeau sits right now — a man astride a mountain of ice cream.
His sometimes critics, including yours truly, are dismissed by his supporters the way Trudeau himself disposed of Stephen Harper, who, despite fawning attempts by media enablers to airbrush the dark decade, remains an anchor dragging down the Conservative party’s attempt to reinvent itself.
The aversion by Trudeau supporters to even consider criticism is understandable. After all, it was Trudeau who delivered Canada from the one-man misrule of a northern Republican misfit. It certainly was not the mainstream media. By and large, they did for ten years what they do best – suck up to power and gladly accept tens of millions of dollars in questionable government advertising that oozed partisan messages.
Trudeau also has another very important thing going for him. Canadians want to believe that he is what he appears to be – the Un-Harper who will restore Canadian values to a country that had dangerously lost its way. So Canadians will be slow to give up hope in the young leader.
That said, it would pay the new government to remember T.S. Eliot’s wise words. “Our beginnings never know our ends.”
At this apex of Trudeau’s popularity, it is easy for his followers to imagine that the mountain of ice cream will never melt. But it will, it always does.
Until now, the new government has largely followed a careful course. It has answered an absurdly pro-Conservative press by ignoring the partisan bric-bats and emphasizing its mandate. The goal is to reestablish faith in the political system by keeping promises, regardless of what the wounded courtiers of the defeated regime say.
But last week, the Trudeau government broke a promise to one of its key constituencies — environmentalists — that many see as a betrayal of what was said on the campaign trail. In campaigning, Trudeau earned kudos for saying that while governments grant permits for mega-projects, it is communities who give permission. Which made last week’s acceptance of the environmental assessment of a highly contentious LNG project near Squamish, B.C. such an affront to many. The community and ardent environmentalists who had supported Trudeau, and who passionately oppose the project, are still shaking their heads.
There is good reason for disbelief and the sense of betrayal on the part of environmentalists. For one thing, Squamish has accomplished something of an economic renaissance since its paper mill closed, not before having all but destroyed glorious Howe Sound with its disregard for the environment. Since then, the spectacular region has transformed itself into a world famous ecological destination with breath-taking views, dazzling walking trails, rope ladders, and cleaner air. Even the salmon have begun to return, and with them all sorts of other marine wildlife.
All of that is put at risk by the LNG plant and for what — a marked increase in fracking as a source of natural gas and approximately 100 jobs in Kitimat once the construction phase is done.
Then there is the issue of the players. The financier behind Woodfibre LNG is Indonesian billionaire Sukanto Tanoto, a man who has been described as the worst steward of the environment on the planet. In the past, he has hired militias to clear indigenous peoples from their lands, while his logging company – APRIL, clear cut entire swaths of Indonesia’s rainforests to feed his main pulp mill. Sixty percent of the fibre supply to that mill is rainforest wood – a number that makes a mockery of any claim of following good conservation practices. Tanoto is simply a robber baron and a deadbeat to boot.
The Vancouver Sun has reported that a palm oil conglomerate owned by Tanoto was also found guilty of tax evasion in 2012 and agreed to pay a $200 million fine. Not exactly a solid corporate citizen.
In giving Woodfibre LNG the green light, the government said the project underwent “a thorough, science-based environmental assessment that considered public and indigenous input and views.” That’s true, except that the project was assessed under the post-C-38 regulations, the bill that gutted traditional safeguards for the environment and transferred the task of environmental review to the provinces.
The Trudeau government had committed to undoing the damage of Harper-era environmental policy, but approved the Kitimat project before resetting the legal framework. Under Harper’s Bill C-38, the environmental review process was eviscerated, whereas under the previous regulatory regime, the public process had been far more rigorous. Opponents were allowed to express alternate opinions, stakeholders could submit briefs and also cross-examine witnesses at the hearings. Had critics been able to fully register their arguments, it is far less likely this project would have won federal approval.
As Green Party leader Elizabeth May has noted, Transport Canada has no regulations for the LNG industry. She believes that it is reckless to establish a “highly dangerous” LNG industry in B.C. without considering the possibility that a pierced hull in a ship carrying the commodity could go off “like a bomb” in some circumstances.
And that’s not all, as she made clear in a recent article:
“Or the LNG can leak out and pool above the water. In the case of a leak over ocean water, the volume of LNG grows once escaped from its frozen condition on board. Such a cloud could be enormous, covering a very large area… Then it can still go off like a bomb. Protecting adjacent populations, especially populated areas from such extremely unlikely events, is the responsibility of the governments.”
This point was made to Environment Canada in an email to the minister’s chief of staff, Marlo Reynolds, by environmentalist and Bowen Island resident Thomas Rafael.
Rafael said he attempted to warn Environment Canada before it made its decision. He made clear that Ottawa was operating in a regulatory vacuum when it came to LNG spills over water and that the province’s review was silent on hugely important issues.
“This is a very real danger over which Transport Canada and the Canada Shipping Act have no regulations whatsoever. Woodfibre LNG and the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Report address LNG spills over land. However LNG spills over water as recognized by Sandia and the U.S. Government were never even mentioned in the BC EA Report. These spills can occur accidentally or intentionally.”
The Americans know this. Consider the regulatory regime in the United States. The U.S. has a setback or “exclusion zone” that prevents any vessel from getting close to LNG tankers. These setback zones can extend to 1.5 kilometres in all directions from the carrier. Canada’s shipping rules contain no such exclusion zones.
The U.S. also regulates how close LNG tankers can come to populated areas on their travel routes. That way, in the event of a catastrophic accident, toxic gas clouds cannot form and endanger whole communities — the way the escape of methane from a storage facility recently forced thousands of residents in Aliso Canyon, California from their homes.
Yet for one LNG project proposed for B.C., Kitimat, Transport Canada got the danger zone wrong. Its report cited a footnote allegedly from the Sandia National Laboratories in the U.S. calling for avoiding critical infrastructure or populated areas within 250-750 meters. Rafael checked that footnote and found out that Transport Canada goofed.
“When you go to the footnote, the zone considered to be at risk is not the 250-750 meters claimed in the TERMPOL report,” she wrote. “In fact, Sandia estimates the danger zone at up to 1,600 meters. Transport Canada will have to explain how and why they cited an erroneous margin for safety.”
And then there is the problem of marine degradation associated with the just approved LNG plant. Any process that condenses methane from a gas to a liquid creates heat as a significant by-product. That makes the choice of a cooling system vitally important. There are two choices — either a Closed Loop Cooling System, (CLC) or Once Through Cooling (OTC).
CLC is the gold standard recognized world-wide, largely because it is considered more environmentally friendly. Woodfibre LNG originally proposed using this technology, complete with cooling towers. But in a bid to cut costs, the company has now reverted to OTC, which according to Rafael returns the now hot and contaminated seawater back into the ocean. As he wrote in his email to Environment Canada, “Woodfibre is now proposing to spew 408 million litres of chemically laden, 10-degree hotter, dead seawater back into Howe Sound EVERY DAY for 25 years.”
So why did the Trudeau govenrment approve Woodfibre LNG so quickly? Sources say that senior levels of the civil service continue to press the Harper-era policies that they themselves had a hand in formulating — including the gutting of environmental regulations with Bill C-38. These same bureaucrats tried unsuccessfully in Paris to convince the minister that there was no science to justify trying to avoid the 2-degree Celsius temperature rise from global warming. They were overruled in Paris, so why would this profoundly unenvironmental decision be made this time?
Part of the reason is that Trudeau is suffering from the defect of his best point. In his mandate letters to his ministers, he tried hard to re-establish the public service as a respected and important part of the governing process. Harper never wanted input from public servants; Trudeau has made clear he does. But that means Harper-era holdouts with partisan leanings still can have a hand in skewing the new government’s agenda. That would explain the green light for a project that what looks to be calling out for a big red stop sign.
Whatever else you may call the decision to approve the LNG plant, it is hardly visionary governing. It’s not just the polar ice-caps that will melt as a result. It’s also Trudeau’s mountain of ice-cream.
Author: Michael Harris