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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How to Sort the Wheat from the Chaff in the High-Stakes Game of Canadian Voter Approval

The next few months should see a marked increase in the amount of media coverage and advertising attacking opponents of pipeline and tanker projects, according to leaked documents obtained by our colleagues at Greenpeace.  “Promote. Respond. Pressure,” reads the 3-part strategy of U.S. public relations firm Edelman, whose leaked strategy for increasing Canadians’ acceptance of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline includes the creation of fake grassroots groups in support of the pipeline and a variety of tactics to divert the resources of opponents from the issues.

Edelman’s point person on the file is D.C.-based Michael Krempasky, whose past works include promoting the U.S. “Tea Party”, Walmart and the Koch brothers’ interests in general. Other team members include some of the brains behind climate change denial propaganda. It is not surprising that the techniques to watch for will be familiar to anyone acquainted with the above campaigns:

1) Astroturfing:  Jargon for the creation of fake grassroots support groups, this technique has been employed in countless campaigns in Canada and the U.S.  Look for groups with names like, “Canadians for Job Security” or “Families for the Future”; names seeking to evoke immediate identification with shared Canadian values.  If the message sounds oddly supportive of the petrostate, check to see who funds the group and when they were started.  Real grassroots groups usually tell you this on their websites.

2) Third party endorsements:  Sadly, they’re going to try to use university professors, again (borrowed tactic from the tobacco lobby). When tobacco propaganda was at its zenith, it was almost impossible to tell who was on the payroll—that only came out later.  New voices entering the public debate, especially to criticize the work of civil society organizations speaking out against tarsands development, should be carefully scrutinized to see if that person has a credible history of research and publication on the subject.

3) Diversion tactics: The most effective, in terms of wasting scarce charitable resources, are lawsuits and complaints to regulatory authorities such as Revenue Canada. Since the federal government is currently all tooled up for extra auditing of charities, I would expect a few complaints to be filed.  Lawsuits such as the one recently filed by Kinder Morgan against activists on Burnaby Mountain are also often effective in suppressing criticism and wearing down the opposition.

It is no co-incidence that this campaign is set to roll out in advance of the Canadian federal election next year. With the dollar plummeting along with the price of oil, there will be a concerted effort to convince Canadian voters that the petrostate is not the cause of the problem, but our salvation. Come what may, consider the source and follow the money.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Simushir: Lessons Learned?

By Karen Wristen

I was glued to the computer all weekend, watching the agonizingly slow progress of the tugs steaming out to the west coast of Haida Gwaii, to rescue the disabled container ship Simushir. Early Friday, it was reported that the ship had lost power only 19 nautical miles off the coast of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Cultural Area, in heavy seas with winds gusting up to 75 kph.

The National Park Reserve is one of this coast’s treasures. From an ecological perspective, it is an area of incredible biodiversity. Off the west coast, the ocean floor drops away sharply to depths of over 760 meters, while near shore, the continental shelf is home to rich kelp forests and eelgrass beds. These two, quite different ecosystems existing in such proximity mean the region is home to creatures from the deepest ocean right through to the skies—millions of seabirds either live there or use it as a rest stop in their long migrations.
Map of Haida Gwaii habitats at risk

The sad legacy of past oil spills is that we’re learning more every day about how oil affects different species and the news is not good. The iconic oiled seabird is just the tip of the iceberg: long term and genetic damage has now been linked to oil exposures for species as diverse as birds, otters and whales. There was a lot riding on the wind and waves this weekend; and on the progress of the several tugs headed for the Simushir.

The Simushir was carrying about 400 tonnes of bunker C fuel as well as some diesel. That’s not much, compared with the supertankers that are proposed for this coast; but it was still enough to lay waste to the west coast of Haida Gwaii. Carried along on the Alaska current, the oil would have worked its way northward, oiling steep rocky shores and the innumerable inlets and bays along this rugged coast.

Russian-flagged container ship Simushir was first reported adrift 19 km off Gowgaia Bay, South Moresby Island (Gwaii Haanas). Photo: DND Pacific Maritime Command

“Cleanup” would have been impossible in these conditions—with 4-6 meter seas and high winds, none of the conventional oil spill response equipment could have been deployed effectively. Booms would have been useless against the waves crashing ashore. Most of the oil would come ashore, fouling habitat before anything could be done. The area is far too remote and rugged to contemplate deploying crews to attempt to remove oil from the rocks and beaches.

Against this scenario, the Simushir was helpless. The nearest tug proved, happily, to be just 17 hours away and that was the Coast Guard’s Gordon Reid—a patrol vessel underpowered to tow a vessel the size of Simushir. And remember, Simushir is less than a third the size of a supertanker. The Gordon Reid might have been anywhere on the coast that day; it is pure luck that it was in Hartley Bay.
The Gordon Reid

I have nothing but respect and gratitude for what the crew of the Gordon Reid accomplished, with an underpowered boat and tow lines too light for the job. In that awful weather, they managed to get tow lines aboard the Simushir on three separate occasions, only to see them snap under the enormous strain of wind and waves. Nevertheless, they managed to put a little more sea room between the ship and shore, giving the crew some respite from an experience that was surely harrowing.

Still, the Canadian boats were forced to stand by and watch, waiting for an American commercial tug to put the vessel under tow. It was again pure luck that the tug Barbara Foss was heading into Prince Rupert when the emergency unfolded: the tug is usually stationed in Juan de Fuca Strait. Had it not been for this good fortune, the Simushir would have had to await a rescue tug from Alaska.
The Barbara Foss

Leaving Rupert by mid-day Friday, the Barbara Foss encountered Hecate Strait on one of its bad days: 6-8 meter waves and a southeast wind that blew fitfully in the 30-40 knot range, according to Environment Canada. It took the high-powered tug until Sunday to reach the drifting vessel and during all of that time, the Simushir remained at risk from a change in the wind.

A south or southeast wind was keeping the Simushir offshore for most of Friday, but when storms of this intensity blow through they generally bring changing wind patterns. A shift to westerly was predicted and that would have driven the ship toward shore. Depending on wind speed, the Gordon Reid might, or might not, have been able to keep her off the rocks. The best they’d been able to do when towing with the wind was 1.5-2 knots. It’s unlikely that they’d have made any headway at all towing against the wind.

Tugs like the Barbara Foss are expensive and the crew’s training is highly specialized for ocean rescue and ship salvage. In years past, it may have been good sense for Canada to rely on our neighbour to provide rescue services—they were the ones with the commercial vessel traffic that needed the rescue capacity and so why not let them pay for it, and borrow it when needed? But the volume of shipping passing through Canadian waters has increased dramatically over the past decade and capacity to respond to it has not. If anything, capacity has been decreased by federal cuts to Coast Guard.

To be clear, we have never had towing capacity for ships of the size that now regularly ply our waters. Response times being what they are from the U.S., it is now clear that we need that capacity. It’s also clear that we need some public dialogue on where to locate any new tug. I would vote for Haida Gwaii—it’s right on the shipping route and closest to the worst waters on our coast.

In addition to a salvage tug, we need:
  • Agreement on “places of refuge”—protected areas where ships in distress can shelter, potentially putting those areas at risk of a spill;
  • A legislated zone of protection, through which ships do not pass—wide enough to ensure that if they lose power like the Simushir did, they cannot drift into shore before a tug can get to them;
  • Investment in recruitment and training for coast guard rescue capacity; and
  • A ban on oil tankers on the North Coast.

Friday, October 17, 2014

New ways to pay for MPAs

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are ocean places that are set aside like parks and are one of the most effective methods to conserve and protect the ocean. MPAs provide sanctuary for sea life so that food-webs can recover and thrive. When planned and managed effectively, MPAs shield ecosystems from harmful human practices such as destructive fishing practices, offshore oil and gas drilling and other industrial activities; coastal and estuarine areas serve as carbon sinks that can mitigate the impacts of climate change; they benefit the economies of coastal communities through businesses such as marine tourism and sustainable fisheries.

If we hope to keep benefiting from the ocean and its resources then we need to come up with ways to pay for the cost of establishing and managing MPAs over the long term.

Canada falls short

Canada maintains an international commitment through the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect ten percent of our national waters. Yet nationally, only one percent of our oceans and Great Lakes fall within a federally designated MPAs; on Canada’s Pacific coast, slightly more than three percent of the ocean is protected by MPAs.

In 2013 the Green Budget coalition estimated that the Government of Canada needed to invest a minimum of $35 million every year for three years in order to establish MPAs in five percent of Canada’s oceans. In June 2014 the government countered with a one-time investment of $37m to establish MPAs on all three coasts. Clearly there is a significant gap between the funds the federal government is willing to invest in MPAs and what is required to keep our oceans healthy and coastal communities prosperous.

Financing options for MPAs

Without government funding for MPAs, where will the money come from to support and maintain health oceans? Other countries have experimented with innovative financing mechanisms in support of marine protected areas and with enormous potential benefits at stake, Canada should be open to evaluating alternate financing models too.

Living Oceans evaluated a handful of supplementary or alternate financing options. These alternate models include:
•    public private partnerships
•    private donations
•    user fees
•    payments for ecosystem services
•    community-based management
•    selling offsets

All of these alternate funding strategies have potential to contribute to the protection of Canada’s oceans—but many of them have significant costs too. All of them require a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis before being proposed or adopted as financing tools for specific MPAs in Canada.

To find out more about the MPA funding options please download our new report: Sustainable Financing Options for a Marine Protected Area Network in British Columbia.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Another Swipe at Charities

This time it’s the Province of B.C. trying to gag us, with a new “Societies Act” containing a section that invites anyone to sue us if they think we’re not acting in the public interest.

Acting in the public interest is not actually my job. Mine is to advocate for protection for the ocean and for communities that depend on ocean resources. I happen to think that this is in the broader public interest as well; but the folks who want to send oil tankers through the 4th most dangerous body of water in the world probably don’t agree. Prime Minister Harper certainly doesn’t agree. And like it or not, for the moment, he’s the guy who actually does get to say what the public interest in oil tankers is. Come election time, we all get to tell him if he was right or not.
The people who definitely don’t get to say what the public interest is are the ones who are looking to profit from endangering public resources, like the ocean. But they are the ones most likely to take up this new invitation to sue.

When I worked as an environmental lawyer, I reviewed dozens of lawsuits against everyday citizens and non-profit societies who were speaking out effectively against development proposals or in favour of regulation of industry. Many of these were clearly what are called “SLAPP suits”: strategic lawsuits against public participation.  Advocacy chill is their purpose; they achieve this by grinding meritless cases through the courts, costing valuable charitable dollars and time and usually, along the way, getting a court order preventing the defendant from continuing to speak out.

One thing that SLAPP suits always suffer from is a shortage of really good law to hang their hats on—it’s hard to accuse someone of a civil wrong when all they’re doing is exercising the right of free speech. Most of the suits allege some kind of slander or libel; some use more complex and arcane law. This proposed provision of the new Societies Act is like a gift: here’s your civil wrong and it’s so vaguely worded that you can be in court for years, grinding away at those nasty activists.

The worst thing about the new section, though, is that it seeks to take the determination of what is in the public interest out of the public domain, where it belongs. Governments are supposed to make that determination, based on what they hear from the many voices advocating their own views of public interest. They are accountable to the electorate for whatever they deem to be in the public interest. Under this new proposal, a judge would be asked to decide what is in the public interest, based on whatever evidence the person who sues chooses to bring forward, and whatever evidence the non-profit being sued can gather to respond to it.

Let’s just sketch that out. Say, for example, Enbridge decides to sue Living Oceans, saying that its Northern Gateway pipeline is in the public interest and our advocacy against it offends this new rule.  Enbridge gives the court its deeply flawed economic analysis and magic job numbers, says “health care and education” about a thousand times, points out that I drive a car and rests its case. Living Oceans can’t actually afford to hire an economist to counter the economic evidence, so we respond with what we have: the scientific evidence that ocean ecosystems do not recover from oil spills in places where highly toxic oil continues to enter the environment, as it would do if the weathered, diluted bitumen were to sink to the ocean floor.

Now how is a judge to determine whether or not we were acting in the public interest based on that evidence? What of the First Nations’ rights and title, the opposition of the labour movement, the views of local communities, farmers and ranchers; or for that matter, the health care and education administrators who are apparently going to see all that Enbridge tax revenue pouring into their coffers? Do we invite them all into the courtroom to say their piece, or do we just ask the government to say what they deem the public interest to be in this case?

If we just ask the government to tell the court what’s in the public interest, then free speech just came to a screaming halt in the Province of B.C. and no non-profit can ever criticize the government again. If instead, we invite into the courtroom all of the many players whose rights and interests must be considered in order to determine what the public interest is, then we’ve just asked a judge to do the government’s job. The judge is an appointee, who is not accountable to voters. Either way, it's wrong.

The proposed section 99 of the new Societies Act attacks one of the fundamental freedoms of democracy, the right of free speech. I expect that, if tested, it would prove unconstitutional for that reason. The Province’s rationale for the proposal—that the public needs to be able to hold non-profits to account for failing to act in the public interest—confuses entirely whose job is whose. The public needs to be able to hold its governments to account for failing to act in the public interest. Non-profits are supposed to help articulate aspects of the public interest that often get overlooked. The public can listen and support the non-profit, or not. Neither they, nor the government, need the right to stop us from speaking.

The government will accept comments on the proposed bill until October 15.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The ocean needs a climate leader

By Karen Wristen

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s address to the Climate Summit in New York last week was poignant:
“Climate change is a defining issue of our age, of our present. Our response will define our future. To ride this storm we need all hands on deck. We need a clear vision. The human, environmental and financial cost of climate change is fast becoming unbearable. We have never faced such a challenge, nor such an opportunity...”

Laurent Fabius, Jane Goodall, Al Gore, Ban Ki Moon and Ségolène Royal join an initial count of 310,000 people marching in New York city to demand action on global warming ahead of the Ban ki Moon climate summit. Photo: Greg McNevin.
Ban brought world leaders together at this Summit to encourage a display of the kind of leadership he speaks of when he calls for “all hands on deck.” And displays there were: the summit is knee-deep in celebrities and former politicians urging a legally binding deal to be struck at the next major UN climate negotiations in Paris in 2015. Days before the Summit, more than 340 global institutional investors representing over $24 trillion in assets called on government leaders to provide stable, reliable and economically meaningful carbon pricing that helps redirect investment, and to end fossil fuel subsidies. Leaders in both developed and developing nations acknowledged the economic loss that inaction will bring and embracing the stimulus of greening the economy.

Missing from the action was Canada’s Prime Minister. Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq attended in his place, announcing (to a nearly empty room) new regulations to curb emissions from vehicles and the electricity sector. She made no mention of Canada's oil and gas sector, now responsible for one-quarter of the nation’s emissions and two years overdue for the promised announcement of regulations.

The current federal government pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol in December 2011, shortly before embarking on the most comprehensive dismantling of environmental legislation in the history of the modern world. Meanwhile, the ocean continues to absorb much of the carbon in the atmosphere, but at tremendous cost. By 2100, it will be more acidic than it has been in 20 million years.

The next major UN climate negotiations are scheduled for December 2015. The next federal election is scheduled for October 2015. The ocean needs us to send a climate leader to Paris and it needs us to make a legally binding commitment to carbon reduction.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cleaning up Sea Otter Cove

By Will Soltau

“Hey Will, there’s a Japanese skiff washed ashore near Cape Palmerston!” That was what my friend Mike called to tell me last March.

“I know.” I said, “I spotted it in January of 2013. It’s pretty beat up.”

“No,” Mike replied, “this is another one and it’s in good shape. We could salvage it!” And so we did.

I blogged about the salvage adventure last June and vowed in that blog to return to Sea Otter Cove for a shoreline cleanup. Sea Otter is a small, shallow cove on the west side of Vancouver Island in Cape Scott Provincial Park. There are a few rough trails to outside beaches from the cove but it is accessible only by water. Rich with wildlife because of its high-value habitat, it is aimed at the open Pacific like a catcher’s mitt so it also collects a substantial amount of marine debris.

We began planning the project and started fundraising. Two week’s worth of food and accommodations would be needed for the team of volunteers and a large skiff to transport them and what they collected from the debris strewn beaches.

Removing the collected debris from the cove would require a landing craft and helicopter.

It would take a huge effort on the part of the volunteers to clean the cove and surrounding areas and a considerable amount of money to do it safely. Funding for the project came from the generous contribution from the Government of Japan and its people. We also gratefully acknowledge the support of the Province of British Columbia, Ministry of Environment, the Vancouver Aquarium, the BC Parks’ Enhancement Fund and all those individuals and local businesses who donated food, supplies, equipment and time as well as all the individual donors who believe in us and what we do.

Two weeks of cleanup work netted over 2,600 kilograms of debris from Sea Otter Cove and the surrounding beaches. Only 41 percent went to landfill with the rest being either recycled or repurposed.

I would humbly like to think we made a difference for the better because I’m pretty sure no one has ever tried to tackle a remote cleanup on this scale since plastic was invented - at least not before at Sea Otter Cove. Still, even while we were there, I watched new debris objects washing in with every rising tide. Knowing that the consumption of plastic and the amount of plastic waste is increasing every year, I’m left wondering if what we did was nothing more than a drop in the ocean and how soon we might have to return to Sea Otter Cove to do it all over again.

Once everyone was home safe and sound and the debris responsibly disposed of, I felt relieved. I checked my voice-mailbox. There was a message from Mike. “Hey Will, there’s a Japanese skiff washed up at the bottom of the Hecht Beach trail. It’s pretty trashed. Not really salvageable but thought you might be interested.”

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Raft Cove and Cape Palmerston cleanups

By Carmen Pendleton

Cleaning up the remote beaches of northwest Vancouver Island is an ongoing challenge. This summer the Clear the Coast campaign is focusing on a large expedition to Sea Otter Cove in early August. In addition to this we are also monitoring collector bags at remote beach locations.

Clear the Coast's Will Soltau lowers a
collector bag from a tree at Cape Palmerston.
Collector bags are made of retired fishing net that is sewn into a large sack. A rebar hoop is threaded through the top of the bag and they are hung from trees at remote beaches. We knew that there were at least three full collector bags at the Cape Palmerston recreation area that needed to be removed. As luck would have it the Vancouver Island chapter of the Surfrider Foundation was also doing a remote beach cleanup nearby at Raft Cove and agreed to share helicopter time. This is an area where we had maintained collector bags last summer so we were interested to see the condition of that beach this summer.

We set off on the first ferry Monday morning and, after a short stop in Port McNeill for supplies and radios, we were headed to the west coast. On the way we also stopped at the local landfill to drop off 20 kilograms of Styrofoam from our last cleanup on Malcolm Island. I know it doesn’t sound like much but it was a full truckload! Shortly after the landfill, we hit the logging roads. About 70 bumpy kilometers later we made it to the Raft Cove parking lot for our first hike of the day!

A hike of about 40 minutes through mud and tree roots brought us to the long sandy expanse of Raft Cove. It was another 20 minutes walk along the beach to where the Surfrider group had piled some of their debris. After dropping off a radio we chatted with them about data collection, debris and how their trip had gone. They mentioned that the area around where our collector bags were placed last year had been fairly clean and they had focused their attention on other areas, which was great to hear. After a well deserved lunch break we were back on the trail and hiking up to the truck to drive over to Cape Palmerston.

A helpful kayaker helped Carmen Pendleton and Will Soltau move
the third collector bag of marine debris to the pick up point.
The short drive and hike to the beach at Cape Palmerston was followed by a longer hike to the cabin, where we had been told there were three full collector bags. When we arrived at the cabin, however, we could only see two bags. This lead to a search along the beach where we found the third bag about 500 metres from the cabin, where we needed it to be for the helicopter lift the following morning. Luckily, a kayaker had just arrived at the beach and volunteered to help us move the bag which was so full it took the three of us about 45 minutes to move it to the cabin.

We spent the night camped at Cape Palmerston and after a good rest were ready for the excitement of the helicopter. Tuesday morning was perfect weather for the helicopter and after a short delay, the three bags of debris were picked up and deposited about a metre from our truck. Nice aim! There was too much debris to fit in the truck so we’ll be back later to load up the rest of it as well as the collector bag from the campsite. Thanks to all of the volunteers who pitched in to help Clear the Coast!

To stay up to date with the adventures of the Clear the Coast team follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Chilcotin is Tsilhqot'in

By guest blogger Tim Lash Tim Lash

The unanimous Supreme Court of Canada ruling on the Tsilhqot'in case from 1983 is good news. Here's my ridiculous opinion. 

1. For us to realize a diverse and fair society in Canada, each culture needs its own sources of authority and legitimacy affirmed in Canada-wide institutions we all share. Reconciliation requires respect (if not, the reconciled co-existence won't spring back when there's occasional or mid-term subordination of some by others). Our society evolves, under pressures. The Supreme Court of Canada, and Parliament when it's working right, are our best institutions for marrying human respect with the authority of Canadian law.

2. Our mainstream civil law culture, so far, mostly respects property and exclusive ownership (rather than say, community, or ecological dependence). So affirming Tsilhqot'in title—not just hunting and fishing rights—gives the Tsilhqot'in a new deep source of respect in our culture. With title, they don't just have opinions about the resources they depend on. They make decisions about the land they own.

3. This Supreme Court decision is primarily about First Nations who haven't signed things over in treaties. But I imagine its long run effects will support respect and reconciliation Canada-wide.

4. The Court recognizes nomadic use as a valid human relation to natural resources, as an entitling relationship that confers legal standing. This is elevating. It raises legal eyes up from "fenced farm, fixed frontiers" cultures, to cultures that are more attuned and responsive to larger-scale shifting patterns of living nature. Like climate, weather, geographic range of animals and plants, forest succession, natural 'disasters.' We're going to need this legal shift.

5. I don't see exactly how, yet, but this decision is going to give more legal value to "the commons." The timing of this SCC decision, at the same time as the Global Ocean Commission's report "Mission Ocean" calling for new UN and national action for the commons of the High Seas is fortunate, in a conservation and sustainability worldview.

6. Next evolution: This Tsilhqot'in decision still gives a lot of weight to geographic exclusion of others as a test for their own legitimate decision powers about natural resources. Two potential paths for strengthening the roles of nature and of community inclusion in our individual-based decision rules are by elaborating 
7. Like other best decisions by the Supreme Court, this one is beautifully and clearly written. The opening section, pp 5 to 11, explains the reasoning in easy-to-understand human terms.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Pipelines and Temporary Foreign Workers

by Karen Wristen 

Canada wants more Pinoy skilled workers.
Photo: The Filipino Post
A blogger friend of mine put me on to an interesting story about temporary foreign workers that surprised me. It’s not that it’s a surprise that foreign pipeline workers are being recruited; it’s just that I thought they’d be coming from China, not the Philippines. And I didn’t know just how active a role Canadian institutions were playing in training and certifying them.

In July, 2012, school started in Cebu City, Philippines, with the Canadian Consul to the Philippines, Robert Lee, gracing the opening ceremony. It was the first Canadian Welding Bureau school to be set up outside of Canada, enrolling 120 students who would go on to be certified according to Canadian standards, eight months later. Consul Lee was reported to have said, “I want to make it my legacy sending world class Filipino welders to Canada before my retirement few years from now.”

By January, 2014, there were three centers accredited by the Canadian Welding Bureau operating in Cebu: Brilliant Metal Works, Zoie Training Center and Primary Structures Educational Foundation. “The welders that we are training in Canada right now are not sufficient to fill that vacuum that’s why the Canadian government is looking of hiring temporary workers from outside, and right now, the Philippines is a very favorable place to hire the welders,” said Bob Montes, according to an article reported in the Filipino Post.

The following notice was published April 28, 2014 by the Canadian Welding Bureau on the website of the UA (The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada or "UA" as it is commonly known is a multi-craft union whose members are engaged in the fabrication, installation and servicing of piping systems.)

"There have recently been publicized reports that the Canadian Welding Bureau (CWB) is recruiting Filipino welders to fill welding jobs here in Canada, and in particular, to fill vacancies in the BC shipbuilding industry. These statements are incorrect. For the record, the CWB is not in the business of recruiting welders, either from the Philippines or elsewhere, or involved in any job placement schemes, contracts or agreements to enter Canada."

A search of the CWB website today reveals that it operates test centres in China, Vietnam, Egypt, Suriname, Philippines and the USA--as well as in Canada. There is no indication on its website that it is actively involved in recruiting workers; its business is training and certifying them to Canadian standards.

With all the pipeline building going on in the world today, it has been apparent for some time that there is a shortage of the types of skilled trades required. Clearly, that shortage is going to be filled by foreign workers, rather than by an intensive recruitment of Canadian trainees. This fact calls into question yet again the benefits claimed by pipeline proponents for Canada as a whole.

A portion of the benefits case for the Northern Gateway Pipeline was based on the tax revenues Canada would gain from direct employment, plus the employment created when those employees spend their money--known as induced and indirect employment. With temporary foreign workers in the mix, what proportion of the labour force will be resident—and paying taxes—outside Canada? Does the induced and indirect job creation calculation differ for workers whose home and assets are located elsewhere? Do temporary workers spend their money in Canada at the same rate and for the same goods and services as resident workers? The case for income tax revenues begins to look pretty soft.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Trash into treasure

By Will Soltau

Last fall Kerri, our Office Administrator blogged about how her husband Tyler found treasures amongst the trash while taking part in a shoreline cleanup. The two treasures—a glass ball and a bottle with a message inside—found on the same day is a rare occurrence indeed. Finding either one evokes an uncommon combination of feelings mixing amazement at finding such a rarity with awe that such fragile beauty could survive the turbulent elements of the beach. Toss in a dash of wonder over from where it came and how it ended up in front of you. I say this from personal experience having myself found a few glass balls. That is the lure that hooks a person on beachcombing.

The problem these days is that beachcombing means wading through tonnes of trash to find a treasure. If only that trash could be turned into treasure, an incentive like that would make our work a little easier. Refining the ocean plastic into useable oil, using it as raw material in 3D printers and certifying it as an ocean-friendly ingredient in packaging material are a few potential global solutions that we have been involved with. All are still in their infancy and none have really gotten very far off the ground yet. But then there are the home-made solutions at the local level. Repurposing is a popular incentive to beachcombers and artists. Colorful crab buoys and plastic balls are ubiquitous yard art in many coastal towns. In really remote communities anything useable is snatched up quickly. Large plastic oyster floats get repurposed as flotation in docks.

A recent example of turning what could have easily become trash into treasure is this (obvious) Japanese skiff that was found recently by a surfer friend of mine on the rocks at a very remote part of Vancouver Island’s west coast.

It was a little beat up but not broken beyond repair. He knew if he left it where it was, the skiff would soon get pounded to pieces by the tide and surf. So my surfer friend floated it a few miles to a nearby sand beach where it was less exposed to the elements and tied it up to a tree. Later, other friends of mine stumbled upon it while beachcombing large oyster floats and sent me some photos and a report for our interactive Clear the Coast map. Already knowing how it had gotten to where it was, I made introductions all around and we went back to gather more identification so we could report it to the powers-that-be. A third trip out for patching made it seaworthy enough for salvage.

Now ready for removal, I brought in a third friend of mine to tow the little skiff off the beach with his fishing boat. The first attempt had to be scuttled when the seas wouldn’t cooperate and we returned to town empty handed. But while waiting out the weather we came across huge accumulations of trash while beachcombing in Sea Otter Cove. We vowed to return for a cleanup there but that’s another story.

Eventually the weather improved enough to launch the skiff and it was moved to a more secure location where it sits today while the search for its owner in Japan continues.

Who knows what will become of this so-called treasure. The point is that even though the Japanese skiff was found in a very inaccessible location, it was worth our time and effort to remove it before it got trashed. If only the same were true with all the other trash on our shores.

Reducing the amount of debris entering the ocean is a key objective of our Clear the Coast Campaign. It’s a no-brainer. Cleaning up what’s already out there to restore our shores is number two. It’s also the right thing to do but it’s a huge job. Lots of folks are interested in volunteering their time to help clean up a beach (and maybe find a glass ball). Getting them out to remote shorelines where debris accumulates, then safely bringing them and what they collect back again takes a healthy dose of vitamin M. We need your support. That’s why we are actively fundraising to clean up Sea Otter Cove—a habitat rich area of northwestern Vancouver Island. Please check it out. There are some cool perks available if you donate.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Humpbacks and humans deserve better

It just gets worse, the deeper you dig.

Bad enough that the government’s down-listing of humpback whales was accomplished just in time to make way for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. Now it appears that the ‘independent scientist’ retained to write the science advice for the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) was in fact the same person retained by Enbridge, and now Kinder Morgan, to provide evidence in support of their pipeline and tanker projects.

Just say you’re the government and you’re looking for a humpback whale expert to write an opinion about the state of their recovery for COSEWIC. Do you ask one of the 19 researchers who just last year completed and published a comprehensive investigation of the North Pacific humpback populations? Or do you ask Andrea Ahrens, a Stantec employee with a M.Sc., living in Gainsville, Florida, whose sole contribution to humpback literature is a paper, published in 2008, that analyzes humpback whale population numbers using photographs? And who happens to have been retained by both Enbridge and Kinder Morgan.

From Ms. Ahrens’ Linked In profile: “She serves as an advisor for the Canadian North Pacific Humpback Whale Recovery Team, co-authored the Draft Recovery Strategy, and wrote the COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Humpback Whale in Canada.” You guessed correctly.
Vital feeding areas for Humpback Whales around Gill Island are designated as critical habitat. This area is also part of the proposed tanker route. Humpbacks are the species of whale most commonly reported to be struck by ships in B.C.

Odd that she didn’t mention her retainers when writing an opinion piece for the Vancouver Sun defending the humpback decision. Equally odd that Andrew Trites’ spirited but not especially scientific defence of the COSEWIC decision and his former student (“Let’s say every whale in the Douglas Channel is run over; you would probably never even notice it in terms of the recovery of whales on this coast.”) refers repeatedly to the independence of COSEWIC.

Trites and Ahrens may insist that there is no conflict in working for both the government that is supposed to protect whales and the companies whose ambitions will harm them. And perhaps there is none: the government has repeatedly signaled an overriding ambition of its own, to approve pipeline and tanker projects that will impact whale habitat. You would expect them to be a little more forthcoming about the author behind the downlisting recommendation, though, if it were truly so innocuous.

At Living Oceans we believe the public—and the whales—deserve better.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Everything is Connected

By Morag Carter

It’s my first week on the new job. I’m thrilled to join Living Oceans Society as the new Marine Planning Director. I’m really excited to learn a whole new environmental issue. But, as we say frequently in the trade—everything is connected, and today my immediate past as a climate and energy activist collided with my new role at Living Oceans.

The third National Climate Change Assessment (NCA) was released in the U.S. yesterday. The findings are stark, but predictable. Climate change is not some far off ephemeral thing that we have the luxury of planning for. According to this new report Americans are feeling the impact of climate change now with the likelihood that there is worse to come.

 Arctic ice is melting much faster than earlier predicted.

The report is a comprehensive assessment of the state of the climate in the U.S. Drawing on the work of more than 300 experts and a 60 member federal advisory committee, the report was extensively reviewed.

Not surprisingly the NCA confirms the earlier predictions for the impacts of climate change and notes that the only real surprise is that some changes, including sea-level rise and the decline in Arctic sea ice have outpaced earlier predictions.

The report looks at various regions and sectors including oceans and coastal zones.
The overall finding of the oceans analysis is that "ocean waters are becoming warmer and more acidic, broadly affecting ocean circulation, chemistry, ecosystems, and marine life. Rising sea surface temperatures have been linked with increasing levels and ranges of disease in people and marine life."

There are six key ocean and marine findings in the report;
  • The rise in ocean temperatures over the last century will persist into the future, with continued large impacts on climate, ocean circulation, chemistry and ecosystems.
  • The ocean currently absorbs about a quarter of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, leading to ocean acidification that will alter marine ecosystems in dramatic, yet uncertain ways. 
  • Significant habitat loss will continue to occur due to climate change for many species and areas. 
  • Rising sea surface temperatures have been linked with increasing levels and ranges of diseases in humans and marine life including corals, abalones, oysters, fishes and marine mammals. 
  • Climate changes that result in conditions substantially different than recent history may significantly increase costs to business as well as disrupt public access and enjoyment of ocean areas.
  • In response to observed and projected climate impacts, some existing oceans policies, practices and management efforts are incorporating climate change impacts. These initiatives can serve as models for other efforts and ultimately enable people and communities to adapt to changing ocean conditions. 
According to the NCA, more than 50% of Americans now live in coastal zones. Yet coastal communities are incredibly vulnerable to climate change. Again the report is clear. “Coastal lifelines, such as water and energy infrastructure, and nationally important assets, such as ports, tourism and fishing sites are increasingly vulnerable to sea level rise, storm surge, erosion, flooding and related hazards.”

When the science is this clear, it demands a response that is equally assertive. If we are to protect our oceans and coastal communities we need to reduce our carbon footprints and to support government and industry action to lower carbon emissions, and we also clearly need to build a solid adaptation framework for affected regions and sectors.

With the IPCC telling us we have 15 years to act to prevent catastrophic acceleration of climate change, the very last thing we should be doing is building 50-year infrastructure to carry oil across an already stressed ocean.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Humpback recovery at risk

By Karen Wristen

I’ve long wondered why, amid the carnage of the omnibus bills we’ve seen since the current federal government took office, the Species at Risk Act was spared. “No appetite to tackle that one,” is the only answer I’ve heard from those who are on speaking terms with Cabinet. Is it the sting we feel when Canada is cited as an international pariah for failing to meet its commitments; or are there a lot of animal enthusiasts among the Conservative support base? I don’t know, but I have been grateful that at least one piece of environmental legislation stood intact.

A humpback breaching in Barclay Sound. Photo: Jeff Reynolds
My gratitude in the case of humpbacks was especially poignant. The need to protect them while their numbers recover from the ravages of whaling had them listed as a “threatened” species and that presented a major legal hurdle to the approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. So long as they were “threatened”, the government had a legal obligation to identify and protect the habitat that is critical to their survival. And part of that habitat just happens to lie among the network of narrow channels leading to Kitimat.

The Act required a Recovery Plan for humpbacks, due in 2010. When it still hadn’t materialized in 2012, several of our colleagues took the government to court. Long after the Enbridge hearings had closed, in October of 2013, the government issued the Recovery Plan. I was pleased to see that, in the final draft, it continued to identify the approach to Kitimat as the whales’ critical habitat and the tanker traffic as a major threat to their continued recovery.

During the Enbridge hearings, the Joint Review Panel had been spared the impossible task of reconciling the legal protection due to critical habitat with the company’s plans to send hundreds of tankers and tugs through that habitat every year. The habitat had not yet been legally designated as “critical habitat”, so there was no need to address the protection provisions of the Act. Enbridge got away with the suggestion that it would ‘monitor’ the whales, send spotters out to look for them and come up with a ‘marine mammal protection plan.’ The JRP applauded this voluntary undertaking, noting that it was inevitable that some whales would still be struck by tankers; they just couldn’t say how many and didn’t seem to think it would be a problem.

If you’ve ever watched whales or seen a supertanker maneuver, you’ll likely know how unlikely that scheme was to work. Sure, you can send out spotters; but the fact that they see whales in Whale Channel doesn’t mean they won’t pop up in Lewis Pass just after the captain’s altered course. And there’s precious little room up there to change your mind once committed to a course, anyway. The interests of whales and big oil were literally on a collision course.
Vital feeding areas for Humpback Whales around Gill Island are designated as critical habitat. This area is also part of the proposed tanker route. Humpbacks are the species of whale most commonly reported to be struck by ships in B.C.
The solution, for the Canadian government, has just become evident: on Saturday, April 19 it published notice of its intention to change the status of Northern Pacific humpbacks from ‘threatened’ to ‘species of special concern.’ This eliminates the need to protect the richly productive habitat that these whales depend on throughout the summer, to build the reserves of energy that will carry them through their long winter migrations. It puts at particular risk the young whales, whose smaller lungs require them to surface more frequently for air.

To be fair, it is true that humpback recovery is a success story. Hunted nearly to extinction, over the last 50 years they have slowly but steadily rebounded to about half of their estimated pre-hunt population. To be clear, we know so little about them that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was unable to set a recovery target for them in its Recovery Plan, so we have no idea if their recovery to date is adequate to ensure resilience to future threats and keep the population growing. We cannot say, with any certainty, how many humpback whales is ‘enough.’

If the government thought that releasing this decision on the Easter long weekend would minimize the media coverage it received, it was sorely mistaken. I hadn’t quite finished my breakfast on the Tuesday morning following, when media began calling; it didn’t stop all day long. By Wednesday morning, we found that news of this decision had been reported in the U.S., England, Italy, Germany, Russia, India and Pakistan. Reuters picked up the story, so it’s probable that it was reported elsewhere as well.

The reasons for international interest are no doubt diverse; the politics of whales and whaling on the international stage are byzantine. Most developed-world countries continue to oppose whaling and support the International Whaling Commission ban, so seeing Canada move to reduce protection for humpbacks would be newsworthy in that context. Our lackluster progress on our commitments under the Convention on Biodiversity is also getting the spotlight, so a decision that appears contrary to the purpose of the Species at Risk Act, the main vehicle for delivering our CBD commitments, is bound to attract attention—just not the sort of attention Canada has historically attracted.