Why approving Site C could sink NDP

by Damien Gillis

cabin photo: Diane Perry

It’s getting down to the wire for the NDP-led government to announce its decision on Site C Dam. The corporate media and some big guns for labour have been making a sales push to throw the beleaguered project a lifeline and many fear they could succeed. That would be the biggest mistake the NDP could make. They didn’t create this monster, but they will own the consequences if they keep it alive.

There are three reasons given for carrying on with Site C: 1. We’d be throwing away four billion if we killed it; 2. We’ll eventually need the power; 3. The jobs!!! All of these are bogus and the cost of getting this wrong, for ratepayers and taxpayers (YOU), is astronomical.

A bottomless hole

Even if you buy the overstated remediation costs for the project, even if you accept the far-fetched premise of $4 billion lost (experts like the head of the Site C Joint Review Panel peg it closer to $3 billion), you’d have to consider the cost of not cancelling Site C. For once, let’s be frank. Even the BC Utilities Commission, when it found the project could easily exceed $10 billion, even go as high as $12.5 billion (up from Hydro’s estimate of $5 billion-6.6 billion in 2007), wasn’t fully appreciating how bad this could get.

money bucket
graphic by Damien Gillis

Just look at Newfoundland’s yet unfinished Muskrat Falls project, estimates for which have more than doubled from $6.2 billion to $12.7 billion. At $6.7 billion spent, many there say it’s past the point of no return (familiar), but Site C isn’t nearly that far along, so it should be viewed differently. The net result for Newfoundlanders will be an additional $150 a month in electrical costs per homeowner – forever! Newfoundland has a smaller population to absorb its cost overruns, but we’ve got our own share of problems to compound the damage from Site C. Think of the lawsuits from First Nations whose treaty rights are being undeniably violated (while both the provincial and federal governments tout UNDRIP – i.e. they know better).

But the biggest issue is the shaky ground on which the project is being built – literally. Way back in 2009, I interviewed a longtime farmer in the region, Dick Ardill. His family has been in the Peace going back as far as mine, the Beatties, who lost their ranch to the first big dam there, WAC Bennett. Dick must have been well into his eighties when I spoke to him, with a lifetime of practical knowledge of the soil and slope stability in the valley. He told me then the biggest reason not to build the project was the unstable land. He’d seen firsthand the Attachie slide of 1973 and many others over the years. The mixture of shale, clay and alluvial soils made for an awful place to put an earthen dam.

Slumping around the Williston Reservoir, circa 2008

The 80-kilometre section of the valley, from Hudson’s Hope to the foot of Fort St. John, where Site C was proposed was in some ways worse in this respect than where the Bennett Dam and Williston Reservoir were built (the Williston gobbled up far more land than originally contemplated, due to slumping, including my grandfather’s property above the planned reservoir). Granted, the Williston Reservoir behaves differently than would Site C, which is more a massive run-of-river project than a storage reservoir with large swings in water levels, but a 1991 report by geologist Norm Catto for the Ministry of Energy and Mines had this to say about the eastern Peace Valley, which includes the area where the dam itself is proposed:

“Thus, all of the major terrain units present in the eastern Peace River region are subject to slope failure. Extreme caution should therefore be observed in any effort to exploit or utilize river valley slopes.”

This report appears to have been ignored by Hydro in evaluating Site C.

Cracks in the dam

Flash forward to the tension cracks formed around the dam site and the hundreds of millions of dollars of cost overruns already attributable to these very stability issues and you see that old Dick knew what he was talking about. And here’s the thing: there’s no bottom to this problem. Like a highly leveraged 2008 stock deal, we have no idea how deep this hole gets. Ten billion? How about 15? Or 20?

tension cracks Site C geology
Site C Dam construction site with tension cracks highlighted (PVEA)

If everything went perfectly according to plan (the opposite of what has happened thus far), Hydro intended to have the dam paid off by 2094! That’s now blown, so what are we talking? 2120? 2150? How many generations of your descendants will be paying for this mistake? And what’s the interest on $20 billion amortized over a century, at much higher interest rates than we currently enjoy? (The BCUC rightly chastised BC Hydro for assuming low rates in perpetuity). In other words, what’s the real cost of this project? I could take a stab and say $60-80 billion, and you could say that’s just a wild-eyed guess. Then I would reply, “Exactly – I’m using BC Hydro’s methods.” (For the sake of argument, though, at a rate of 5%, $20 billion, paid off over 100 years, comes to roughly $100 billion in principal and interest. Just sayin.’)

Oh, and remember the NDP wants to do all this while freezing Hydro rates. LOL! If they’re serious, they’ll have to raise taxes or make massive cuts to social services. They can’t have their cake and eat it too.

According to Moody’s, the single biggest threat to our Triple-A credit rating is BC Hydro-related debt. In other words, Site C – piled atop all the sweetheart private power contracts and financial blunders the crown corp committed under the Liberals’ direction – will cost us our rating. Then up goes the province’s cost of borrowing – for all our debt – and the house of cards comes tumbling down. We’re worried about (at most) $4 billion in sunk costs, remediation and cancellation fees? Chump change!

But that’s not the worst of it. Dr. Vern Ruskin (PhD, MCom, BSc, Retired PEng [BC]) warned the BCUC of serious safety concerns, partly due to the above stability issues around the dam site. Dr. Ruskin is no less than the former director of BC Hydro’s planning division, responsible for planning, designing, budgeting and contracting more than 10 dams in BC, including WAC Bennett, Peace Canyon and Site C in its early stages. Among other things, Dr. Ruskin warned that changes made in 2011 to the original dam design pose increased risk of dam failure, as do these recent tension cracks and the instability they suggest.

The BCUC did not consider these concerns of Dr. Ruskin because dam safety was outside of the terms of reference for its review. But there is no reason the NDP-led government should ignore Dr. Ruskin. The enormous consequences of a dam failure – potential human injury and loss of life, widespread property damage – would make these financial concerns seem trivial by comparison.

“We’ll eventually need the power”

Here’s a thought: For the last decade, our population has been growing; we’ve been building bigger houses and acquiring more gadgets, but our power consumption has remained flat. Is it so wild a concept that 10 or 20 years from now same thing could be true? Our gadgets are getting more efficient, our building codes more stringent and we’ve seen an exodus of heavy industry, which once consumed a third of our total electricity. Wait, are we stopping raw log exports tomorrow? Did I miss the memo about a whole bunch of pulp mills reopening? Are there dozens of new mines breaking ground this year? Will BC defy global economics and magically produce an LNG industry after all the years of failure?

But let’s play this out, for the sake of argument. Say in 20 years we do need more electricity. We sure as heck wouldn’t be building Site C to supply it. At the rate renewables of all stripes are dropping in cost, we’d avail ourselves of the latest, best technology, which wouldn’t be a 70-year-old idea for a mega-dam. No less than the head of the Site C Joint Review Panel, Harry Swain, the BCUC itself, and other eminent energy experts not tied to Site C, Hydro or the government, have come to the same conclusion. We won’t need the power for a very long time and if and when we do, Site C will not be the best option, either environmentally or in terms of cost.

One final point that connects to the cost issue: since we don’t need this power, it will have to go into our grid and across our borders to customers in Washington State and Alberta. In real terms, it will cost over $110/megawatt hour (MWh) to produce, yet the going rate to sell this power has been hovering around $35/MWh for years. You do the math. Every megawatt produced carries a loss to the ratepayer.

But the jaaaawwwbs!!!

A few quick notes:

1. BC’s big unions aren’t getting these jobs; a different, quasi-union called the Christian Labour Association of Canada already has the lion’s share of this gig. It is also noteworthy that one of BC’s biggest unions, the BCGEU, has come out against the project so there is a divide within labour on the issue.

2. We keep hearing 2,000 jobs – balderdash. With a series of layoffs and a significant decline in vehicles and visible work on the property – much of that related to these tension crack issues – local sources suggest the real number of workers is far lower than Hydro and the government claim, pegging the number at 500 or less. These jobs are temporary and have come under criticism for allegedly unsafe conditions.

3. If we’re prepared to spend large quantities of tax dollars and hydro fees simply for a make-work project, there are far better ways to employ far more British Columbians for far less money, as a new analysis from UBC’s Program on Water Governance underscores.

This jobs argument is the weakest link of the pro-Site C camp and the NDP should treat it as such.

NDP deciding its own future

If Site C proceeds, this could be the one and only time John Horgan and his NDP cabinet are sworn in by the Lieutenant Governor (Photo: Province of BC / Flickr)

The costs to ratepayers and taxpayers, along with all the other impacts on farmland, First Nations and the environment, are impacts Site C would have on British Columbians, fauna and flora. But the NDP would be wise to consider the impacts the project would have on them, politically. Had the BCUC come out with rosy outlook for the project, that would perhaps have given them some cover to continue forward. It didn’t. Now, the ball is in the current government’s court and it is not only deciding the future of Site C, but its own future.

NDP in deep
Jonathan Ramos cartoon

Many in the environmental community appreciate the moves the NDP has made thus far: (partially) banning the grizzly hunt, (sort of) taking a stand against Kinder Morgan, reviewing professional reliance, reviewing Site C. Yet I have spoken with many colleagues and seen scores of comments on social media to the effect that if the NDP proceeds with Site C, they will abandon the party.

On the flip side, if the NDP kills Site C, will it lose labour votes? Will union lobbyists Bill Tieleman or Jim Quail turn their backs on the party? Hardly. It’s unclear what the Greens will do in the short term, but this delicate, temporary arrangement will be severely strained and, in the long run, Site C will further drive a wedge through the Left, causing the NDP to lose votes in the next election. This will all be compounded by the fiscal woes that will accompany this inevitable boondoggle. Just look to Ontario and Newfoundland to see the political fallout from poorly made decisions on large-scale energy projects.

Green MLA Sonia Furstenau said it best in the legislature [in late November]: “Up until now, this has been a BC Liberal boondoggle. The cost overruns, the ballooning debt, the questionable need for such a costly project: this is the Liberals’ mistake alone. But if the government decides to continue with Site C, they will become responsible for the impacts. It will be on the shoulders of this government.”

Indeed, if this government chooses to flood the Peace Valley (again), we may look back in years, drowning in unbearable power bills and debt, and realize that 2017 was the NDP’s high watermark. Then came the flood.

Posted November 29, 2017 by Damien Gillis in Economics. Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues, especially relating to water, energy and saving Canada’s wild salmon. He is co-founder of the online publication the Common Sense Canadian.

ICAN 2017 Nobel Peace Prize winners

ICAN press conference

photo: Prize winners International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) holds press conference at UN Headquarters, led by Beatrice Fihn (centre), Executive Director of ICAN. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Statement by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)

It is a great honour to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017 in recognition of our role in achieving the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This historic agreement, adopted on 7 July with the backing of 122 nations, offers a powerful, much-needed alternative to a world in which threats of mass destruction are allowed to prevail and, indeed, are escalating.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is a coalition of non-governmental organizations in one hundred countries. By harnessing the power of the people, we have worked to bring an end to the most destructive weapon ever created – the only weapon that poses an existential threat to all humanity.

This prize is a tribute to the tireless efforts of many millions of campaigners and concerned citizens worldwide who, ever since the dawn of the atomic age, have loudly protested nuclear weapons, insisting that they can serve no legitimate purpose and must be forever banished from the face of our earth.

It is a tribute also to the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the hibakusha – and victims of nuclear test explosions around the world, whose searing testimonies and unstinting advocacy were instrumental in securing this landmark agreement.

The treaty categorically outlaws the worst weapons of mass destruction and establishes a clear pathway to their total elimination. It is a response to the ever-deepening concern of the international community that any use of nuclear weapons would inflict catastrophic, widespread and long-lasting harm on people and our living planet.

We are proud to have played a major role in its creation, including through advocacy and participation in diplomatic conferences, and we will work assiduously in coming years to ensure its full implementation. Any nation that seeks a more peaceful world, free from the nuclear menace, will sign and ratify this crucial accord without delay.

The belief of some governments that nuclear weapons are a legitimate and essential source of security is not only misguided, but also dangerous, for it incites proliferation and undermines disarmament. All nations should reject these weapons completely – before they are ever used again.

This is a time of great global tension, when fiery rhetoric could all too easily lead us, inexorably, to unspeakable horror. The spectre of nuclear conflict looms large once more. If ever there were a moment for nations to declare their unequivocal opposition to nuclear weapons, that moment is now.

We applaud those nations that have already signed and ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and we urge all others to follow their lead. It offers a pathway forward at a time of alarming crisis. Disarmament is not a pipe dream, but an urgent humanitarian necessity.

We most humbly thank the Norwegian Nobel Committee. This award shines a needed light on the path the ban treaty provides towards a world free of nuclear weapons. Before it is too late, we must take that path.

Support and congratulations to ICAN

“If Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr were alive today, they would be part of ICAN.”
Martin Sheen Actor and activist

 

“I salute ICAN for working with such commitment and creativity.”
Ban Ki-moon Former UN chief

 

“Governments say a nuclear weapons ban is unlikely. Don’t believe it. They said the same about a mine ban treaty.”
Jody Williams Nobel laureate

 

“Because I cannot tolerate these appalling weapons, I whole-heartedly support ICAN.”
Herbie Hancock Jazz musician

 

“We can do it together. With your help, our voice will be made still stronger. Imagine peace.”
Yoko Ono Artist

 

“I can imagine a world without nuclear weapons, and I support ICAN.”
Dalai Lama Nobel laureate

 

“With your support, we can take ICAN its full distance – all the way to zero nuclear weapons.”
Desmond Tutu Nobel laureate

 

“Let’s act up! Ban nuclear weapons completely and unconditionally.”
Ai Weiwei Artist and activist

The figures on the Site C dam that count: why our electricity rates will skyrocket

View of the Peace River Valley

photo: view of Peace River which would have been flooded by Site C Dam courtesy www.peacevalley.ca/future. Photo by Don Hoffmann and Andrea Morison

by Reimar Kroecher

Estimated cost of building Site C Dam: $9 billion. BC Hydro sells $9 billion worth of bonds to investors to pay for the construction of Site C Dam. At interest rates of 2% paid on these BC Hydro bonds, the yearly interest bill will be $180 million; at 3% it will be $270 million; at 4% it will be $360 million.

Site C dam has a life expectancy of 90 years. After that, it is worthless. $9 billion needs to be depreciated over 90 years. Depreciation per year is $100 million.

The total cost of interest plus depreciation per year will be $280 million at interest rates of 2%; $370 million at interest rates of 3%; $460 million at interest rates of 4%. The total cost of Site C electricity is completely dependent on interest rates, over which BC Hydro has no control.

BC Hydro’s claim that Site C power can be produced at a given low fixed cost is pure public relations fabrication. The total revenue produced by selling Site C power may well be zero since there does not seem to be a market for it.

More likely, the power will be exported at a price that does not even come close to covering the total cost mentioned above. The resulting deficit will be made up by huge increases in residential electricity rates.
Easily overlooked is the fact that the $9 billion debt will never be paid off. As BC Hydro bonds mature, they will be paid off by selling new bonds to pay off the old bonds, thus passing the debt on to future generations.

Now retired, Reimar Kroecher taught economics at Langara for 32 years.

Environmentalism a way of being

photo of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

I’m often introduced as an environmentalist. I prefer to be called a father, grandfather, scientist or author, as these terms provide insight into my motivation. Environmentalism isn’t a discipline or specialty like law, medicine, plumbing, music or art. It’s a way of seeing our place in the world and recognizing that our survival, health and happiness are inextricably dependent on nature.

We’re clever animals – so smart we think we’re in command. We forget that our inventions have created many crises. Atomic bombs represented an incredible scientific and technological achievement, releasing the power within atoms. But when the US dropped them on Japan in 1945, scientists didn’t know about radioactive fallout, electromagnetic pulses or the potential for nuclear winter. Those were discovered after we used the weapons.

Swiss chemist Paul Mueller won a Nobel Prize in 1948 for his discovery that DDT was a potent insecticide. Many years after the compound was put into widespread use, biologists discovered a previously unknown phenomenon: biomagnification up the food chain.

When people started using chlorofluorocarbons, no one knew they would persist in the environment and float into the upper atmosphere where the sun’s ultraviolet rays would cleave away chlorine-free radicals. As a geneticist, I only learned about the protective ozone layer when other scientists reported that chlorine from CFCs was breaking it down.

Our knowledge of the biological, chemical and physical components of the biosphere and their interconnections and interactions is too limited to enable us to anticipate the consequences of our inventions and intrusions.

What we need is humility. Clever as we are, nature is far more creative. Over 3.8 billion years, every species has had to evolve ways to find food, water and energy, and to dispose of wastes, find mates, reproduce, avoid predators and fend off parasites and infections… If we had the humility to learn from nature, using an approach called “biomimicry,” we would find far more and better solutions.

The Canadian Cancer Society recently reported that half our population will develop cancer. This isn’t normal, but it shouldn’t surprise us. After all, we have synthesized hundreds of thousands of new molecules that have never existed on Earth. Most have never been tested for their biological effects and tens of thousands are now used in products and enter our waste stream.

When we dump this vast assortment of new molecules into air, water and soil, we can’t anticipate how they might interact within living organisms or what their long-term consequences might be. Throwing more money into cancer treatment and research will not alone stem the disease. To arrest the cancer crisis (and it is a crisis), we must stop using the biosphere as a garbage can or sewer for these new molecules.

Along with humility, we should be grateful for nature’s generosity, something I’ve learned from Indigenous peoples. They acknowledge the source of their well-being: clean air, clean water, clean food and clean energy. In the urbanized industrial world we inhabit, we tend to think the economy is the source of all that matters to us. It’s time to see with new eyes.

Excerpted from Environmentalism is a Way of Being, Not a Discipline. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Mayday! This is Spaceship Earth

spaceship earth

Houston, we have a problem.

by Bruce Mason

It was a summer of fire, smoke and hard rain. Of nightmarish hurricanes and awakened dead reckoning. All connected and predictable, in fact, meticulously forecast for decades. Equally predictable is how quickly we forget the lessons and how easily we fall into death traps, exacerbating rather than mitigating. And it’s all down to a tiny, but global, cabal of fossil fools and liars and their financiers, followers, cheerleaders and enablers.

In late August, the real costs and consequences of inaction were on full public display, complete with smoking guns and dark, watery scenes of crimes against Nature, as fires and floods increased exponentially.

Surely, it’s time to stop naming hurricanes after people. How about Hurricane Exxon, Koch, Chevron and Shell, amongst the 90 companies responsible for two thirds of human-caused catastrophe? The 1 percent scooping virtually all new income, world-wide, while playing a losing game of chicken with Mother Nature.

Forty years ago they knew and fully understood the science, spent billions on government and so-called Think Tank disinformation, promoting the very technologies warming the planet, making disasters inevitable.

Just as the US National Weather Service introduced new colours on satellite maps to show the unprecedented magnitude of the 50+inch Houston downpour, we must make adjustments to fathom the cataclysmic scale of our collective problems.

“Global warming” morphed into “climate change” and “climate sceptics” have become “climate deniers.” It’s now time to call it what it really is: “climate crisis.” The World Health Organization conservatively warns it will be killing millions within a decade if left unchecked.

It’s tragically ironic that Harvey and its aftermath touched down in Houston, pounding the very centre, and quintessential symbol, of fossil fuel. A handful of scientists huddled in a small section of Mission Control, not underwater, to bring three astronauts – two American, one Russian – back to Earth.

As the trio of anxious space travellers slipped into gumboots on Texas tarmac, stark space images of dystopian flooding and fires were fresh in their minds, including BC’s continuing “season” of 1,000 fires. One million hectares – an area the size of half of Vancouver Island –burned, and in LA’s biggest-ever fire, it was much the same, while deadly smoke eerily returned: Seattle, to Denver, and Greenland, linking up, obscurring, more and more of the planet.

“It looks like an atomic bomb when you see the big billows of smoke,” 150 Mile House fire-chief Stan McCarthy reported, expressing his heartfelt concern for firefighters’ mental health.

The astronauts also witnessed historic rainfall affecting 41 million people in Asia, more in Africa; Europeans dubbed their searing heatwave “Lucifer” and regions of Australia were suddenly uninhabitable. Bangladesh was two-thirds underwater as floods ravaged Northern India, Nepal, the basin of the Himalayas and the financial capital of Mumbai, crossing the border into Pakistan.

Those particular events were all but missed in the America-centric corporate media, not wanting to “politicize” human catastrophe. “Unprecedented” and “record-breaking” became clichés, flavours of the week or hour, amid endless echo-chambers that all regulation is harmful and stunts economic growth.

Instead of clarity, we’re handed a prism of suffering; heroic man vs. nature narratives carved from the rubble, with no view or discussion of causes, let alone policy. Our attention capriciously re-focused on panicked speculation of nuclear war and endless examples of democracy, devolving into distracted idiocracy. Ignorant hubris, staring into an eclipse with naked eyes, praying for blind luck.

As flood waters subside, disease is becoming rampant. Irma has struck and other hurricanes are poised to strike, as more of the West catches fire. We are literally witnessing the end of the world as we know it. Look around. Where are the birds, insects? Why are trees and plants dying. Five-hundred-year floods don’t necessarily happen once every five centuries. They are events with a one-in-500 chance of occurring in any given year. Houston has now had three in the past three years.

While Fort McMurray burned, Justin Trudeau shilled for his elite donor class, who are now little more than arsonists. Their disaster capitalism is sure as hell amplifying damage, fundamentally altering everything in its insatiable, predatory path. As a species, we must take hold of our destiny and plan for something infinitely better.

“Talking honestly about what’s fuelling this era of serial disasters –even while they’re playing out in real time – isn’t disrespectful to people on the front lines,” observes Naomi Klein. “In fact, it’s the only way to truly honour their losses, and our last hope for preventing a future littered with countless more victims.”

Pope Francis pleads, in God’s name, “Listen to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor, who suffer most because of the unbalanced ecology.” We must re-visit consequence, the only way to break the cycle of ignorance and denial. Stop refusing to hold the negligent accountable, strike back with adequate force at toxic climate denial and corruption. The costs of engaging and heeding scientific guidance are nothing compared to the probability and gravity of coming loss, not even close.

Our strength is collective. It resides in the vast majority of people for whom homelessness is just an injury, an illness, a bad season, bad luck or one pay cheque away. We aren’t as disposable as the 1% treats us. It’s time to fight back against the greed, pipemares and other fossil fuel evils. To stand up for a better BC, in a better world.

Shining bright in darker times

photo of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

Are we entering a new Dark Age? Lately, it seems so. News reports are enough to make anyone want to crawl into bed and hide under the covers. But it’s time to rise and shine. To resolve the crises humanity faces, good people must come together.

It’s one lesson from Charlottesville, Virginia. It would be easy to dismiss the handful of heavily armed, polo-shirted, tiki-torch terrorists who recently marched there if they weren’t so dangerous and representative of a disturbing trend that the current US president and his administration have emboldened.

Racism, hatred and ignorance aren’t uniquely American. Fanatics acting out of fear… are everywhere. But whether they’re religious or political extremists or both, all have much in common. They’re intolerant of other viewpoints and try to dehumanize those who are different; they believe in curtailing women’s and minority rights even though they claim to oppose big government; they espouse violence; and they reject the need for environmental protection.

Charlottesville was a tipping point, not so much because hatred and ignorance were on full display (that happens all too often), but because so many people stood up and spoke out against it and against President Donald Trump’s bizarre and misguided response.

The effects spilled into Canada, most notably with the implosion of the far-right and misnamed media outlet, The Rebel. The online platform, born from the ashes of the failed Sun News network, is a good illustration of the intersection between racism, intolerance and anti-environmentalism. Rather than learning from Sun News’s failure that racism and extremism are unpopular and anti-Canadian, Rebel founder Ezra Levant ramped up the bigoted and anti-environmental messaging, with commentators ranting against feminists, LGBTQ people, Muslims and Jews (Levant is Jewish), along with rejecting climate science and solutions to environmental problems!

The Rebel’s Faith Goldy was at Charlottesville, sympathetically “reporting” on the band of mostly male white extremists. When a racist drove his car into a crowd of anti-Nazi protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and seriously injuring others, it was too much for some of Levant’s long-time supporters.

Rebel staff and commentators, including a co-founder, cut their ties. Norwegian Cruise Line cancelled a scheduled Rebel fundraising cruise, hundreds of advertisers pulled out and principled conservatives dissociated themselves. Trying to salvage the site’s ragged reputation, Levant fired Goldy.

Meanwhile, the White House is in disarray and [doing] damage control around the president’s unhinged tweets, the ongoing Russian-influence investigation, constant firings, including chief strategist Steve Bannon, and legislative paralysis, not to mention a stupid belligerence that brought us to the brink of nuclear war!

At first, it appeared the tide of intolerance, emboldened racism and anti-environmentalism was rising, but now it’s looking more like the last desperate efforts of a minority of small-minded people… Canada and the US have checkered racist and colonialist pasts, but for all our faults, we’ve been evolving. Thanks to many people with diverse backgrounds from across the political spectrum who have devoted themselves to civil rights, feminism, Indigenous causes, LGBTQ rights, the environment and more, we’ve made many gains. We have a long way to go, but we must keep on and not let fear, hatred and ignorance block our way.

If we and our children and their children are to survive and be healthy in the face of crises like climate change and terrorism, we must stand together in unity and solidarity without fear. Like the many who gathered in Barcelona the day after recent horrendous terrorist attacks, the people who stood up to racists in Charlottesville, those who reject the anti-human agendas of media outlets like The Rebel and the many people worldwide who march and speak up for climate justice, we must come together to shine a light on the darkness.

We must use our voices, actions and humour to confront these anti-human undercurrents. We must confront our own prejudices and privilege.

Love conquers fear and hate. We must show those who want to bring us down or take us back to darker times that we outnumber them by far, everywhere.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster and author. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington. David Suzuki’s latest book is Just Cool It!: The Climate Crisis and What We Can Do (Greystone Books), co-written with Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Our lieutenant governor’s “Three Rs”

Judith Guichon

by Bruce Mason

Photo: 2017 Canada Day Citizenship Ceremony at Government House, in which Her Honour presided over the swearing-in of 150 new citizens. Photo by Rachel Rilkoff of Government House.

For a short time in late June, all eyes, and much speculation, focused laser-like on Hon. Judith Guichon, BC’s 29th lieutenant governor. Representing the Queen is mostly ceremonial, but the urgent, unenviable task of making a vitally important decision thrust Guichon onto a red-hot seat, under a glaring spotlight. The corporate media pack sniffed, chowed down and quickly moved on to another flavour shortly after she denied then-premier Christy Clark’s desperate, self-serving, 90-minute plea for a snap election.

Judith Guichon, BC’s busiest lieutenant governor in decades, was etched into our history then calmly carried on with her own personal goal, which includes visiting 150 schools and pledging to use her position to educate about what we must learn if we are to have a future worth living.

She calls them “my three R’s: respect, responsibility and relationships.” Guichon lives and breathes the belief that we have a responsibility to respect the land, and to honour that relationship in order to leave a healthy planet for future generations..

In January of this year, while accepting an honorary doctorate from Vancouver Island University, she explained why she had taken the job in 2012: “There’s an increasing gap in understanding between urban and rural populations. Since we both need each other, I thought this was an excellent opportunity for me to bridge that gap. And it was such a wonderful opportunity to learn something new.”

Christy Clark had welcomed her, saying, “She has a deep appreciation for the history and traditions of BC and has spent a lifetime ensuring that we all stay connected to our roots.” In retrospect, our former premier underestimated and misunderstood Guichon’s overriding “appreciation” and “lifetime” of work.

Sure, Guichon had been recommended by then-prime minister Stephen Harper and had donated a modest total of $1,350 in 2005 and 2009 to Gordon Campbell’s liberals. Her friends and neighbours note that she leans right, as most of them do, obvious in the recent election, supporting fiscal responsibility and economic diversification. All of which had little influence over doing the right thing.

Before she was appointed in 2012, Guichon lived in the Nicola Valley in BC’s interior and owned and operated the Guichon Ranch, as the family of her late husband, commercial pilot Lawrence Guichon, had done since 1878. The couple took over in 1979, the fourth generation to run the ranch. They studied holistic management, focused on environmental stewardship and practised and promoted sustainability that emphasized natural habitat, such as letting cattle graze longer and using less feed. They are credited with introducing healthy techniques to the ranching community.

While growing a small parcel of land and a few head of cattle into a sprawling property with thousands of livestock, a general store, post office and a hotel, Judith Guichon, with a neighbour, started a recycling society in Merritt. She played the flute in the Nicola Valley Community Band and spoke up on water issues, served on health boards and task forces on species at risk, ranching and agri-food. She also developed her signature biodiversity program.

After her husband died tragically in a motorcycle accident in 2003, she wrote, “The love of my children enabled me to carry on. To say that I would not have endured without them is not overstating the case.” Her current husband Bruno Mailloux and four adopted children carry on while she nears the end of her five-year term.

Personally, I never had any doubt that she would do the right thing and I wish I could shake her hand and share a few words, again. Two years ago, in a reception line at the end of her tour of the Gabriola Island Medical Centre, she asked if I wrote the book, Our Clinic, that had just been presented to her. It tells the story of how a community of 4,000 residents and a volunteer army of 170 built a multi-million dollar urgent care health clinic and heli-pad on donated acreage, without raising any taxes. Christy Clark’s liberals chipped in a total of $100,000 at the last-minute.

A short time later I received a hand-written letter – remember those – from Guichon: “It will be my pleasure to tell your story where I go because it is incredible, an absolutely amazing feat that I hope others can learn from. My own projects are about healthy land and healthy communities. We all have a responsibility to leave them in as good or better state for those who follow.”

Just as she did as a rancher, Hon. Judith Guichon broke the mould of lieutenant governor by making a decision to invite the NDP and Greens to form government in the best interests of the people of the province. And her story, the real story, is the one to record, share and act on.

Reflections of Canada – now that the party’s over

Canada reflections

by Bruce Mason

It’s been 150 years since the old province of Canada was carved up into Quebec and Ontario and joined by the hip to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in Confederation. We’re spending a cool half billion – plus security, promotional items, provincial expenditures and other unforeseen costs – to celebrate. Never mind the big bucks spent on beer, flags and assorted props and memorabilia. Some of us even learned to utter “sesquicentennial.”

The feds picked up the tab for 500 “projects” – 3,285 were pitched – for everything from the Gros Morne Summer Music Festival in Newfoundland and Labrador to a giant game of snakes and ladders in Calgary and Ontario’s six-story high, 11 ton rubber duck, which cost $150,000 to rent and transport to six cities. In the Lower Mainland, the SkyTrain stopped running to an overflowing Canada Place. There were so many parties and goers that a mobile application and website, Passport 2017, was created, to the tune of $1.3-million, to help us find nearby events in all this glorious and much-touted diversity.

Refelections of Canada book cover
The provocative book includes a foreword by Governor General David Johnston

But one of the biggest surprises had to be the number of citizens who opted to utilize, at least part of the day, to reflect on the current state of their nation. I spent July 1 with a remarkable book I had been saving for the occasion. It’s been getting a bit of a buzz in the press and deservedly so. Reflections of Canada: Illuminating Our Opportunities and Challenges at 150+ Years delivers on its promise on the book jacket “…to communicate a complex and engaging landscape of what Canada is at this point in its history. This is a book of lively, respectful and thoughtful debate.”

The book is a product of UBC’s Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. Founded in 1996 through a donation from Peter Wall (of iconic Wall Centre fame) of $6.5 million shares in the Wall Financial Corporation, it was worth $15 million at the time. It was the largest single private donation in the university’s history. The institute is a significant community of scholars; more than 450 faculty associates “address fundamental research questions through collaborations that transcend disciplinary boundaries.”

The book includes a foreword by Governor General David Johnston, a preface from UBC president Santa Ono and an introduction by the editor, followed by a poem, “Diverse by Design,” from George Elliott Clarke, who will soon be an artist-in-residence at the Institute.

However, it is the first of 41 easily accessible essays that sets the tone and hits the reader right between the eyes. This is a collection that is more provocative than celebratory and “Practising Reconciliation” starkly lays out our collective “horrific reality.” It is conversation between three scholars who work in partnership to locate the burials of children who died at the Indian Residential School on Kuper Island, now called Penelakut Island, in the Salish Sea. And if you still don’t get reasons for the urgent need for Reconciliation, you will find them here in a handful of pages.

The book covers the state of Canadian democracy, environmental challenges, changes to our health-care system, income and other inequalities, the Arctic, arts and culture, technology and even relations with China. In “The Hygiene Hangover,” UBC microbiologist Brett Finlay and public-health physicians Perry Kendall and David Patrick address the unfortunate consequences arising from Canadians’ zeal for cleanliness, which include a sharp rise in asthma rates and other auto-immune diseases.

If you experienced the viral video of Trudeau’s explanation of quantum computing, you will enjoy Philip Stamp’s, “A Quantum Parable,” which offers a different take on the topic from PM Justin Trudeau. While Canada has been a global leader in quantum computing, it could be on the verge of hemorrhaging high-tech talent by not supporting Burnaby-based D-Wave, an innovative pioneer in the field. Stamp likens it to Avro, the Canadian company that manufactured the world’s most advanced fighter plane in the late 1950s: the CF-105 Avro Arrow. At its peak, the company employed 50,000 people, but after the program was cancelled by the Diefenbaker government, it led to a massive “brain drain.”

There is much more to recommend in Reflections of Canada. In the months that still remain in 2017, on the beach, in the fall and during the onslaught of an uncertain Canadian winter, this is a must-read for a sober analysis and for answers to ubiquitous questions, such as “What’s happening?”, “What now?” and “Will Canada grow into it’s legacy of hope and leadership in the world?

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.

Remembering Gwen Barlee

Gwen Barlee

Activist, ally, mentor, leader, friend

Gwen BarleeThe Wilderness Committee is deeply saddened by the passing of Gwen Barlee on June 21, 2017. As one of Canada’s leading environmental advocates, Barlee worked as the Wilderness Committee National Policy Director since 2001 and she was an invaluable member of the organization’s executive leadership. For more than 15 years, Gwen guided both this organization and its community of allies through many hard-fought environmental campaigns.

She touched hundreds of lives as a mentor, ally, activist, leader and friend. Wild rivers, forests, meadows, all creatures big and small including western toads, mountain caribou, sage grouse, killer whales, spotted owls and bees, these were Gwen’s passions. She stood for the public good, defending parks and waterways against all those who would exploit them for personal profit.

Her loss has left a hole in our hearts. But her positive impact on environmental preservation in BC is undeniable. Through the Gwen Barlee Memorial Fund, her legacy will continue. The Wilderness Committee will continue Gwen’s work. Will you join us? We have established the Gwen Barlee Memorial Fund to honour Gwen’s memory and to continue the vital public policy work that was Gwen’s passion:

Parks: Gwen fought fearlessly to protect the wild. She defended BC parks from industrial development and devastating government funding cuts. In her sights was the protection of key contiguous lands for a new national park in the South Okanagan Similkameen. This fund will continue her work preserving the wild nature of BC and Canada’s parks.

Wildlife: Gwen stood up for some of Canada’s most endangered species on the ground and in the courts. Advocating for endangered species legislation in BC was one of her most important causes. This fund will ensure Gwen’s work continues, fighting for at-risk species from grizzlies to wild bees and pollinators and all those in between.

Wild rivers: Gwen’s ferocious defence of wild rivers was one of her defining campaigns. When corporations dammed and diverted BC’s wildest rivers for costly, irresponsible private power projects, Gwen joined forces with community groups and citizens to stop the BC government’s “ruin-of-river” policies. We will keep up that fight in her memory.

Freedom of Information: Strategic use of provincial and federal Freedom of Information laws was Gwen’s trademark tactic. She created persuasive campaigns based on data gleaned from the government’s own files. She held decision-makers’ feet to the fire, releasing facts to the public to increase government accountability on environmental matters. This fund will support a new generation of environmental activists conducting investigative research.

Strong environmental and economic policy: Gwen’s activism was motivated by the public good. Whether it was eliminating provincial park user fees so that everyone could enjoy the park or opposing the Site C dam to protect family farmland and First Nation sacred grounds, as well as managing hydro rates, Gwen always believed the best environmental policy should be the best policy for people. Help us continue that legacy.

Gwen was a strong leader and a tireless activist for social change

Over the past 16 years, Gwen distinguished herself as an extraordinarily talented and determined defender of Canadian wild nature, especially in her home province of BC. She showed a passion beyond compare for the defence of the land and the species that call it home. She was a YWCA Women of Distinction nominee in 2016.

She was a fierce defender of species at risk. Gwen laboured for years to push the case for standalone endangered species legislation for British Columbia. She was instrumental in convincing the BC government to set aside tens of thousands of hectares of land for the protection of the northern spotted owl, one of Canada’s most endangered species. She continued to call for an even greater amount of protected forest habitat, not just for the spotted owl, but for other species at risk including BC’s southern mountain caribou, marbled murrelet and goshawk.

Gwen fought for the establishment and protection of provincial and national parks. She helped stop government plans to put large private resorts in provincial parks. She was a ferocious defender of wild rivers since the mid-2000s against the government’s policy of giving them away for private power projects. She helped mobilize thousands of BC residents to protect the Upper Pitt Watershed, Bute Inlet rivers and Glacier and Howser Creeks from industrial power projects.

What distinguished Gwen as an environmental advocate was her research ability and her commitment to enhancing government accountability, upholding the right for British Columbians to scrutinize government activities and promoting transparent, fair and inclusive decision-making through filing freedom of information (FOI) requests.

She worked hard to create unique alliances of people and facilitate a common vision for coming together on environmental issues. Whether working with union leaders, park rangers, First Nations communities, beekeepers or kayakers, she was committed to working with people who loved BC’s spectacular wilderness and wildlife.

www.wildernesscommittee.org


An invitation to honour Gwen Barlee

Wednesday, July 26

6pm reception, refreshments, appetizers, cash bar.
7PM tributes. Vancouver Rowing Club, 450 Stanley Park Drive.

On behalf of Gwen’s family and friends, the Wilderness Committee invites people to honour the life and legacy of their colleague, partner, activist, friend, sister and daughter. Please join us in remembering her compassion, determination, tenacity, humility, fearlessness and strength.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Wilderness Committee’s Gwen Barlee Memorial Fund.

Clean tech, green jobs, and disruption

workers in a wind turbine factory

by Bruce Mason

There’s light at the end of the tunnel and it’s solar powered and unstoppable. Fossil fools, who still have their heads buried in tar-sands and other 20th century technologies, can’t see it and risk being totally blind-sided. But for those who “get it,” the bozone layer is lifting around the world, particularly in places where new, common-sense, but revolutionary, vision is promoted and nurtured.

One way to grasp the inevitable and transformative nature of this powerful emergent force is through the term “disruptive technology.” It refers to new approaches that overturn traditional business methods and practices. History dubs these pivotal times as ages, such as stone, bronze, iron and information. We’re taught how the industrial age quickly displaced agriculture and how steam speedily overpowered previous forms of harnessing energy. In our lifetime, we’ve actually witnessed, first-hand, the Internet overtaking snail-mail and the virtual disappearance of video rentals and industries, from media to music, which have been forced to cope, in desperation, with changed and challenging realities.

Just five years ago, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) completed its first survey of renewable energy jobs. In 2012, five million people were employed in the sector worldwide. In their just released report, that number doubled to 9.8 million for 2016.

The countries with the largest renewable jobs are Brazil, China, Germany, India, Japan and the US. Remember when knuckle-dragging “Drill Baby, Drill” advocates rationalized turning their backs on reducing emissions, citing that China and India, highly populated and underdeveloped, weren’t up to the task so why did they have to be? Well, coal-rich China, which now has the largest share of renewable energy jobs – 3.5 million – is home to the world’s largest floating solar farm.

As Donald J. Trump touts massive job growth in something called clean coal, India cancelled plans for that form of filthy energy in favour of plummeting solar prices. In fact, 62 percent of the renewable jobs are located in Asia where much of solar panel manufacturing is taking place. And IRENA predicts renewable energy jobs will number 24 million by 2030, outpacing the loss of fossil fuel jobs.

Closer to home, where we don’t make the top renewable job list, Justin Trudeau approved Kinder Morgan with the statement, “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.” That’s news to oil-rich countries such as Saudi Arabia, which just launched a $50-billion investment in renewable energy.

In Vancouver, IRENA director-general Adnan Amin explained the massive global transition to renewable energy: “They’re doing this not because they’ve suddenly become climate advocates or they’re against oil, but because they see the future in a very different way and they know that energy in the future is not going to be what it is today.”

So-called “leaders,” from presidents and prime ministers to governors and premiers, are tone-deaf if they think voters are torn over the transition to clean energy. In BC, for example, the “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” mantra is now discredited oligarchy propaganda. A new poll from from Abacus Data indicates that two-thirds of Canadians favour prioritizing economic growth in ways that don’t involve fossil fuels. And Americans don’t lag far behind in the recognition of the urgent and essential need to tank fossil fuels.

A leading light in analyzing and predicting the impact of clean disruptive technology is Stanford economist, Tony Seba. In a jaw-dropping, comprehensive, two-hour viral video , he dramatically illustrates our future in the first few minutes. From a photograph of a New York’s Fifth Avenue, taken in 1900, he asks his audience to pick out the automobile in the packed crowd of horse-drawn vehicles. Then, in a picture from 1913, in the same location, it is just as difficult to spot the one horse amidst the automobiles that materialized in just 13 years. The experience is highly recommended.

New York City, 1908
New York City 1908. Where are the cars?

Seba earned his reputation through his spot-on predictions of the solar boom. His current projections, based on technology cost curves, business model and product innovation, include: 1) By 2030, all new energy will be provided by solar or wind. 2) All new mass-market vehicles will be electric and autonomous (self-driving) or semi-autonomous. 3) The car market will shrink by 80%. 4) Gasoline, natural gas and coal will be obsolete (nuclear is already obsolete). 5) Up to 80% of highways and parking space won’t be needed. 6) And not only will the auto insurance industry be disrupted, car ownership and the taxi industry will be obsolete.

Streets of Detroit, 1910
Detroit 1910. Where are the horses?

Not fanciful when you consider expensive automobiles now sit idle, on average, 20 hours a day and electric vehicles are price competitive, especially when you factor in maintenance. Just before going to press, Common Ground had a conversation with Guy Dauncey, an author – his latest book is Journey to the Future: A Better World Is Possible – and activist. Dauncey has developed a positive vision of a sustainable future and he is translating that vision into action. “Guess how many people in the Lower Mainland have joined the handful of car-sharing opportunities?” he asked. “The answer is 120,000!”

Dauncey had another question: “What if BC and Canada – like Norway – had governments that not only subsidized the purchase of electric vehicles, but also provided HOV lane access, free parking and free charging (from street light lampposts)?”

Our economy no longer provides what most of us, unlike Christy Clark, consider real, good jobs. Fighting climate change supports families, sustains communities and provides a more equitable distribution of wealth, which our current economy no longer provides.

In his most recent book, Just Cool It!, David Suzuki (co-author Ian Hanington) writes, “The economy is a human invention, a tool that can be changed when it no longer suits our needs. The environment is the very air, water, land and diversity of plant and animal life we cannot live without. Why not work to build a healthy prosperous economy that protects things?”

Drawing on new innovations such as grid power systems, biochar soil technologies and algae-based biofuels, the authors outline practical, forward-thinking solutions for not only resolving the climate crisis, but also to create more meaningful work to directly benefit more people. All that is missing is that people demand change and action, as they apparently have just done in BC. When finally this happens, the results will be monumental.

When looking for a new job, start by changing your mindset and searching for something society needs. And think disruptive. In the aftermath of the provincial election, it’s past time to demand that elected public servants not only take big money out of a reformed electoral process, but that they also take disruptive action in order to catch up and build a better, re-imagined, BC.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.

Lead photo: Inside a wind turbine factory.