In the recent BC provincial election, Green party leader Andrew Weaver drew unprecedented attention when he found his relatively small party holding the balance of power in a coalition with the New Democrats. Weaver, like his friend and colleague Katharine Hayhoe, is a Christian and world class climate scientist, and has been vocal in his commitment to ecologically sustainable public policy. Earthkeepers: Christians for Climate Justice blogger Gord Coulson interviewed him by phone on December 8th, 2017. In Part I, we learned about his faith, the status of the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion (Trans Mountain) approval, and how we can preserve a healthy future for our children and for the planet. In Part II we ask Dr. Weaver about the Kinder Morgan approval process, the economic validity of the project, his proposed Species at Risk legislation, and his hopes for the future.
GC: I read your testimony to the NEB [National Energy Board] as well as Elizabeth May’s, Dr. Farmers, Tsleil-Waututh and some others. Putting it all together it seemed like the decision was pre-ordained, yet the NEB is still presented as this competent decision-making body for the most part. The Liberals have promised to reform it, but not for Kinder Morgan apparently. So what exactly is going on here?
AW: I don’t know. My guess is that there’s an awful lot of horse trading that’s been going on. I’m quite disappointed in the way the federal Liberals have handled this file. I’m extraordinarily disappointed the way the former premier, Christy Clark’s government, handled this file. In my view, what transpired was this. Mr. Trudeau wanted to help out Alberta under Rachel Notley—she’s a very progressive government—he’s quite concerned about the emergence of a Kenney government, and wanted to get a pipeline to be able to export their produce–but not the Energy East pipeline. Why not the Energy East pipeline, which makes some sense? Because it goes through Quebec. And Quebec is vehemently opposed to this—even though we have refineries on the coast of eastern Canada that are importing heavy oil from Venezuela, for example, to refine it. We could be supplying our own refineries with our own heavy oil. But that wasn’t going to happen. And rather than upgrading, or refining in Alberta, the cheapest way to do it is to ship it through BC.
So I think it was a horse trade. And then Premier Clark would come along and say, in my view, hang on here, this is going to be rich for us to take this one on, so you’re going to have to approve Site C [dam project]. And Petronas [Energy East pipeline]—we’re going to horse trade that off. And so it was a political decision.
I participated in the NEB process, and I have never participated in a more bizarre process before. The request for information that I did, and I know Dave Farmer very well—he’s a former colleague—we would request for simple information, like references, and we would get stymied, time and time again. I pointed out in the whole process that the entire oil spill response was predicated on there being 20 hours of sunlight, but there’s no latitude south of Tuktoyaktuk that ever has 20 hours of sunlight!
GC: Plus, it [the diluted bitumen] was supposed to float on the surface as well [when it actually sinks].
AW: Yes. The model [Kinder Morgan used] was justified by some dude who fell off a BC ferry and they tracked [him]… it was just… you couldn’t make this stuff up. And I was asking for more thoughtful and substantive analyses and the response was the NEB has enough information on which to base its decision. The testimony I gave to the NEB—I felt like it just fell on deaf ears.
Dave Farmer is one of the world experts on small scale mixing processes in the ocean and he has also pointed out that some of the oil spill response modeling used what’s called a hydrostatic model. It’s technical, but it’s inappropriate to talk about [water] flow in highly turbulent tidal regimes [as BC coastal waters are] where there are internal waves and frontal systems, using a hydrostatic model. And so we raised questions about this and were just simply ignored. So to me, I felt the process was rigged from the get-go, and others clearly did as well, because people like Robyn Allan [a prominent economist and KM opponent] pulled out. I believe the former CEO of BC Hydro, former CEO of ICBC—they started pulling out because they felt this process was rigged as well.
GC: The National Observer this morning announced that NEB has allowed Kinder Morgan to bypass Burnaby municipal bylaws. How should we react to that?
AW: The general population should be very, very troubled by this. And the reason why? It is essentially a National Energy Board, coming in top down, and overruling the jurisdictional responsibilities of a municipal government to look out for the best interests of the citizens which elected it. Not only that, it’s doing that over the provincial government as well, which through the Local Government Act grabs the powers [granted] to the municipal governments in various areas. This is so outrageous that people should be up in arms over this. It’s totally inappropriate.
Can you imagine if this happened in Quebec? Could you imagine if the federal government did this in Quebec? Could you imagine if they did this in Alberta? Well, I can imagine because Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father, in creating the National Energy Policy, caused a near revolution in Alberta when that was brought in. Ironically it was Justin’s father who brought it in. Any time the federal government comes down heavy in Quebec we have outrage, and threats of separation. So this is just utterly inappropriate. People should be concerned about this kind of top down, “we know best in Ottawa” approach to what’s going on here.
GC: The Liberals promised to reform the NEB and I believe they talked about restoring the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency as well. Do you know if there’s progress being made on that?
AW: I don’t. Yes, I do remember those statements being read. I’m troubled that nothing has changed. Very troubled that nothing has changed.
GC: So you’re not as optimistic as you were that Kinder Morgan is going to be stopped then?
AW: Oh, I’m optimistic—there are two very significant legal challenges out there.
[GC – According to a Green Party spokesperson, Dr. Weaver is likely referring to Squamish Nation vs. BC in provincial supreme court, and a federal supreme court case against Kinder Morgan where BC was granted Intervenor status]
First of all, it doesn’t make sense to build it because the price of oil is $56 [per barrel]. Secondly, the interventions that the province has done in terms of the environmental assessment process are pretty compelling. The fact that we proposed to ship diluted bitumen in coastal waters is–give my head a shake—why are we doing this? The State of Washington is concerned about this. We’re not talking about shipping oil and gas. We’re talking about shipping diluted bitumen and nobody needs that.
This is how absurd this whole process is. Vancouver Airport is proposing to build—I forget where they are in the construction [process]—a new facility to import jet fuel from Asia. We’re proposing to export diluted bitumen to Asia, so that they can refine it there, and we can re-import refined products.
GC: That’s called dumb isn’t it?
AW: It’s called…yah. Essentially, we’re taking all the environmental risk, all the environmental damage, and none of the benefits.
If there was such a market demand, why aren’t we refining the products in Alberta and shipping the refined products? There would be a substantially reduced opposition for environmental reasons if we were talking about shipping diesel, and gasoline, and jet fuel, propane. No, but we’re talking about shipping diluted bitumen. And that stuff should just be kept out of our coastal waters.
GC: I noticed that you tabled the Endangered Species Act of 2017 and it had its first reading. I was shocked that half the species in BC are at risk. What’s your feeling on the chances of it being voted into law? And how will it benefit BC?
AW: I am convinced that there will be species at risk legislation happening either in 2018 or 2019. I’m 99% convinced that British Columbia will have species at risk legislation. I know that the BC NDP have brought in legislation as private members bills historically. I’ve spoken directly with Minister [of Environment and Climate Change Strategy] Heyman about this. We’ve added some substantial modifications of the legislation the NDP brought in. I know that George Heyman—let me give you his exact quote, which was in response to my bringing in the bill:
“I think Mr. Weaver is simply reminding us that he has a point of view that we have an agreement to bring in a bill, and he’d like to get on with it,” Heyman told reporters. “I share that view.”
So we’re going to get that. It’s going to happen.
GC: How will this benefit BC where the federal Species at Risk Act won’t, and if passed, will it have any effects on projects like Kinder Morgan?
AW: We’re the only province that doesn’t have a species at risk legislation, and it will allow us to provide legislation for provincial action. We wanted to have more proactive legislation so that we can start to step in and deal with stuff before it gets to triggering federal species at risk [legislation]. For example, we’ve got a couple of caribou herds in the southern region where there’s a dozen or so caribou left in these herds. So this triggers species at risk federally, so there’s a requirement to protect vast quantities of range land for these few caribou. But it would be far more effective if we actually had legislation that enabled us not to get to this problem in the first place. So it’s more proactive as opposed to reactive. And that’s one of the things we think will be able to help here.
GC: It looks like we’re just coming to the end of our time here, so a final question. Do you see signs of hope for climate justice in BC and Canada, and what still needs to be done?
AW: I do. I believe in the goodness of people. And I truly believe that the overwhelming majority of citizens on this planet believe that inter-generational equity is an important issue. It is very difficult for those struggling to put food on their table to make this a priority when they’re living day to day. But I believe those of us, particularly in wealthier nations, and particularly those who have the ability to show leadership, will do so and are doing so right now. And I’m excited about the potential for British Columbia. I am an optimist.
I would say that Christian values lend oneself to optimism, as opposed to negativity, because you ultimately believe in the goodness of people. You believe that hard work and ensuring that what you’re doing is in the best interest of others as well takes us to a good place. So I’m optimistic.
GC: Thank you very much for your time, Dr. Weaver. We applaud the good work that you do.
AW: Thank you so much.