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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

PNCIMA – A Betrayal of Public Trust

Public Trust: it's the cornerstone of democratic government; the concept that power held by elected officials is entrusted to them by their constituents to use in the best interest of the people they represent. Betrayal of this trust can take the form of bribery and corruption, as these result in individuals or groups gaining special access to power that rightfully belongs to the whole electorate.

Of course, it isn't always that black and white.

Take PNCIMA for example. It's pronounced pen-SEA-ma, and stands for the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area. If you read this blog on a regular basis, you've no doubt read a post or two about this unusual term that refers to both a spectacular region of the BC coast and a process on the cutting edge of marine conservation.

Even if you don't follow the blog, you may have heard about PNCIMA in the news over the past month under headlines like Federal government scraps PNCIMA funding agreement, NDP cries foul and Ottawa threatened by oceans planning. These news headlines arose because the version of PNCIMA that we on BC's North and Central Coasts have come to know over the past half-decade is no more, and those of us who have invested time and effort into this process are now reeling, having had the rug pulled out from under us by Ottawa. Just listen to the CBC Daybreak interview with Des Nobles, who represents the Central Coast Regional District in PNCIMA, to get a sense of the disappointment this has caused.

The decision by the federal government to scale back the process by withdrawing from a funding agreement that was supporting this process is, in fact, nothing short of a betrayal of the aforementioned public trust. Up until three weeks ago, the people of Canada had a process that was being informed by coastal communities and regional stakeholders (fishing, tourism, conservation, First Nations, industry, regional districts, etc.) and by an independent scientific team. Now, the collective voices of our coast no longer have an avenue for dialogue, as the regional forums, workshops, and working groups have been canceled. Not only will this lack of depth and width of opinion weaken the final planning product tremendously, but it also decreases the odds of public support for what will now be a top-down plan imposed on the coast by Ottawa (see my post on public engagement in marine protection).

Enter the shipping industry, which has been looking for a way to quash PNCIMA from the start. They peddled conspiracies about biases in the process (that don't deserve repeating and would have put some of the anti-Obama 'birther' theories to shame). Shipping lobbied for additional seats in the Integrated Oceans Advisory Committee (IOAC), the stakeholder group set up to inform the PNCIMA process, and Enbridge was given a spot as an alternate despite not being an ocean-based stakeholder. The Port Authority of Prince Rupert was later granted a seat on the Steering Committee, which oversees the whole process. All of this seat grabbing in order to compensate for a perceived bias.

Meanwhile, if this were not enough, Stephen Brown, president of the BC Chamber of Shipping and representative of the shipping industry at the IOAC, registered as a lobbyist with the federal government to ensure his sector was not impacted by any decisions to come out of the PNCIMA process. In the world of collaborative processes, as in football, this would be known as an “end run”.

You might wonder why the shipping sector was so scared of PNCIMA that it needed to see it get erased. Steven Brown wrote all about it an article (PDF copy) for the BC Shipping News (an industry periodical). He suggested that the involvement of private funding in the process was connected to US financial interests who wanted to use the PNCIMA process to restrict the export of Tar-Sands oil to anywhere other than the US (I’m not making this up, folks). The article is filled with dubious sources, illustrations taken out of context, and what could only be considered deliberate misinformation.

The picture below is a microcosm of the inaccuracies found in the article. Note the resort and marina that have "suddenly appeared" on the Scott Islands which are home to one of the most significant sea bird colonies in Canada, but not (to my knowledge) to any permanent human settlement.

'Scott Island', near Ladysmith in the southern Gulf Islands (not to be confused with the 'Scott Islands', off the northwest tip of Vancouver Island)

As the article winds down, Mr. Brown states “...the marine industry in B.C. feels entirely justified in raising its concerns to the highest levels of government...” which it would appear is exactly what they did. Two weeks later, DFO announced that it was pulling out of the funding arrangement and, well here we are.

Welcome to PNCIMA-Lite: Brought to you by the same government who only last week reaffirmed their commitment to expanding infrastructure on Canada's Pacific Coast to ship goods to Asia. Oh, and with the Keystone XL pipeline debate heating up and threatening exports of Tar-Sands oil to the US, Canada is increasingly eying-up markets overseas (more specifically, over the Pacific Ocean). Ironically, in scaling back PNCIMA the federal government may have opened a whole other can of worms for Canada's export of oil to Asia, but I'll let my fellow blogger, Andrew Gage, make that case.

What is particularly sad about this scenario is that the PNCIMA process was actually about healthy oceans, communities, and economies for our coast. The coastal communities finally had a process through which they could make regional decisions about fisheries and marine protected areas, locating alternative energy sources like wind and tidal energy, community economic development, the creation of standards and thresholds for pollution and mechanisms to address species at risk. It was never about Enbridge. The Joint Review Process was always the battleground for that initiative (and if you want to provide an oral statement on your opposition to the pipeline you can sign up to do so before Oct 6th, 2011).

It would appear that the real threat to the shipping industry and their clients in the Tar Sands comes from allowing coastal community residents to provide input into an integrated marine plan. As a result of industrial lobbyists, the Prime Minster has effectively denied the Canadians from the North and Central coast a voice about what is allowed to occur in their waters.

So if you've read this far and you are as disheartened as I by this subversion of democracy, please send the Prime Minster a message.

Finally, for those who still believe that an investment of a few million dollars in the marine environment of BC constitutes foreign interference in Canada's self-governance, consider the $15 BILLION that Chinese petroleum companies have sunk into the Tar Sands over the past year and a half. No significant foreign influence there.

More to come on that issue in future posts.


  1. thanks for helping untangle this web.

  2. It's so frustrating. We all need to do all we can to spread to word about this issue and as Canadian citizens, we need take back the ocean as ours - something to appreciate and preserve, not something to exploit.

  3. Thank you for the excellent summary of the incredibly disheartening sequence of events! The title of your post is spot on.