Cuthand: Modern-day treaty needed to end unrest

The party of Diefenbaker, Clarke and Mulroney is now acting like a right-wing fringe supporting vigilantism and racism.

Columnist Doug Cuthand

Columnist Doug Cuthand Liam Richards / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The crises around the pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory and the subsequent outpouring of support nationwide have isolated the Conservatives and placed them as the odd man out in the House of Commons.

On Tuesday, Prime MinisterJustin Trudeau’s speech was heckled by the Tories to the point that the speaker had to appeal for calm. When Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer spoke to rebut the prime minister’s comments, his speech was negative and clearly on the side of the pipeline developers. He called for the prime minister to end the pipeline protests and that the protesters should “check their privilege,” whatever that meant.

Meanwhile the other parties in the House including the Bloc Quebecois, the NDP and the Greens all supported the position that the government must proceed with dialogue and negotiations to settle the matter. They got together to discuss it further, but the Conservatives were not invited. It was obvious that Scheer would have nothing to offer and be a distraction.

The Conservatives’ position was clear: They wanted the government to take action to remove the blockades. While the Conservatives constantly refer to the rule of law, there is a long-standing practice in Canada that police forces are independent and not to be directed by politicians or a political party. To do otherwise would lead to a slippery slope toward a police state and totalitarianism.

Speaking of the rule of law, the Conservatives have ignored the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled that most of British Columbia has never been ceded by treaty and the title remains with the First Nations. In this case, the rule of law is on the side of the Wet’suwet’en.

West of Edmonton, a group of vigilantes took it upon themselves to take down a blockade of a railway right of way. This drew a tweet from Conservative leadership hopeful Peter MacKay, “Glad to see a couple Albertans with a pickup truck can do more for our economy in an afternoon than Justin Trudeau could do in four years.” This support for vigilantism was later taken down, but it is a reflection of the attitude that is prevalent in the Conservative camp.

Which leads me to ask, “What happened to the Conservatives?” The party of John Diefenbaker, Joe Clarke and Brian Mulroney is now acting like a right-wing fringe supporting vigilantism and racism. I doubt that those gentlemen would be welcome in today’s Conservative Party.

In the past, relations between the First Nations and the Conservative Party were usually positive. Mulroney supported the Treaty Land Entitlement Agreement for Saskatchewan which addressed a long-standing injustice over treaty land and was the largest land settlement in southern Canada.

In 1962, Diefenbaker extended voting rights to First Nations. His minister of Indian Affairs was Helen Fairclough who was Canada’s first female cabinet minister. Many First Nations voters, particularly in Saskatchewan, were Conservative party supporters.

Things changed for the worst in the 1980s and ’90s when the Reform Party came to prominence. It was a western-based party and its members discovered that attacking chiefs and First Nations was red meat to their base, so they pursued it. Rather than look at the potential of First Nations support, they chose to exploit us and our leadership.

The Reformers rebranded, and the Canadian Alliance united with the Progressive Conservatives. The Progressive was dropped, and the party became more like the old Reform Party. Gradually the Progressives or Red Tories were either forced out or left. The Conservatives are now a parochial right-wing party with roots in the West.

Canada is a nation that is built on the rule of law and common sense. Before a railway could be built across the new nation, the government had to make treaty with the First Nations of the plains. This process stopped in the mountains because the American settlers in British Columbia refused to see the need to deal fairly with the First Nations.

Today Canada is paying the price and the politicians and those in power know it. Now Canada must make a modern-day treaty that is fair to all sides or we will continue to have confrontation and unrest as the people defend their land against outside development. SOURCE


TAKE ACTION! Stop Teck’s mega tarsands mine

Image result for Stop Teck's mega tarsands mine

Mining giant, Teck Resources, is trying to sneak the largest ever open-pit tarsands mine through a weak environmental review — before the Trudeau government can strengthen the rules.

The $20-billion Teck Frontier Mine would rip up huge swaths of pristine boreal forest, destroy critical habitat for caribou and bison, and spew out toxic pollution equivalent to 35 million new cars on the road.[1-2]

The project’s currently being reviewed under a weak, Harper-era process that’s likely to rubberstamp the project despite the massive environmental risks — but we have a unique opportunity to stop it.

Here’s the thing: right now, Trudeau’s finalizing a new set of rules for how tar sands projects like Teck get approved or rejected — but there’s a real risk they remain weak, and let projects that are already under review, sidestep the new ones.

A massive petition could convince Trudeau to put the Teck Frontier Mine through a rigorous environmental review — one so strict that the mine could never get approved.

Trudeau is expected to unveil his new environmental review process any day now, so we need to act fast. Will you sign the petition to make sure the largest-ever tarsands mine doesn’t get approved without a proper environmental review?

Trudeau’s already facing some of the fiercest backlash on the climate file since his time in office this week, making him extra vulnerable to pressure from the public.  

A last minute flood of signatures from tens of thousands of voters across the country could ensure that any new review process is fit for the 21st-century: climate-science-based, includes rigrous environmental and Indigenous rights assessments, and applies to projects already under review.

This is the kind of robust process that toxic projects like Teck’s could never pass. With Trudeau’s set to announce his new rules within days, we have to act now. Sign the petition.


PETITION: Stop Canada’s tar sand apocalypse!
What is Teck Frontier and how to reject a tar sands mine in 7 easy steps
Stop the largest tar sands project in history – petition


Canadian doctors demand more research into health impacts of Teck mining project

Over 170 doctors signed on, asking federal government not to approve project

Dr. Courtney Howard is president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and is one of over 170 doctors who signed the letter. She is currently working Yellowknife. (The Canadian Medical Association)

More than 170 doctors are calling on the federal government to withhold approval for a huge oilsands project in Alberta, just south of the Northwest Territories border, and requesting that more research be done on its potential impact on human health.

Earlier this month, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, expressing concerns about the project’s potential health impacts.

Vancouver-based Teck Resources Ltd. is aiming to build the Frontier mine about 100 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

The fate of the proposed $20.6-billion Teck Frontier oilsands mine is set to be decided by the federal government next week. It is estimated to take up 29,217 hectares of land near Wood Buffalo National Park.

Over 170 doctors sign on

Yellowknife doctor Courtney Howard is president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and is one of over 170 doctors who signed the letter

Dr. Howard said there has been local demand for more research on the health impacts of oilsands for years.

“The local communities downstream from the mine have been asking for a comprehensive cumulative assessment of the health impacts of the oilsands for over a decade,” she said.

‘Grave consequences for the future’

Dr. John O’Connor, a physician in Fort McMurray who signed the letter, is one of the voices who has been asking for further research into the environmental health impacts for over a decade.

“I would still like to see an independent health study, a comprehensive health study,” he said. “Unfortunately with all the calls over the years…these recommendations have been ignored.”

In 2006, Dr. O’Connor raised concerns about rates of cancers downstream from major petroleum refineries in Fort Chipewyan, Alta.

Dr John O’Connor, a physician in Fort McMurray, has been asking for comprehensive research into the health impacts of the oilsands for over a decade. (Submitted by Dr. John O’Connor )


At the time, Health Canada physicians filed complaints against O’Connor with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, accusing him of causing undue alarm.

An investigation done by the college found that O’Connor “made a number of inaccurate or untruthful claims with respect to the number of patients with confirmed cancers and the ages of patients dying from cancer.”

But in 2009, O’Connor was cleared of causing undue alarm, and a study the same year from the Alberta Cancer Board found that cancer rates were indeed higher than expected in Fort Chipewyan, by 30 per cent.

Subsequent studies have challenged those findings.

In 2010, the Royal Society of Canada concluded that there was no credible evidence of “environmental contaminant exposures from oilsands reaching Fort Chipewyan at levels expected to cause elevated human cancer rates.”

And in 2014, a follow-up study from the Alberta government found the community didn’t have higher overall rates of cancer.

Comprehensive study needed

Dr. O’Connor said he said he would like to see an independent and comprehensive health study of the project, regardless of whether it gets approved.

“The Teck project, if it does go ahead, will have grave consequences for the future — especially in the North,” he said.

Those who signed the letter agree the assessment that was done of the project was not comprehensive in its explanation of what the health effects will be on future generations, and a comprehensive study is still needed.

Those who signed on also assert that the link between climate change and health is conclusive.

“Climate change is a health emergency and we need to treat it like a health emergency,” said Dr. Howard.

The project is expected to generate 4.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, and would operate for 41 years if approved.

The Frontier oilsands mine is a proposed 292-square-kilometre open-pit operation, located between Fort McMurray and Fort Chipewyan, pictured above, in northeast Alberta. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Health assessment of project

In July, a joint federal-provincial review panel gave conditional approval to the Frontier mine, finding it was in the national interest.

The review estimates that 7,000 jobs will be created in building the mine, and 2,500 workers will be needed to operate it.

The report completed a human health risk assessment of the project, and found that “the project is not likely to result in an increase in cancer risk.”

“Although we find that there will be significant adverse project and cumulative effects on certain environmental components and Indigenous communities … we consider these effects to be justified.” MORE

As Nobel prize winners, we demand Justin Trudeau stop the Teck Frontier mine

All new projects that enable fossil fuel growth are an affront to our state of climate emergency. It is a disgrace Canada is considering them

There is no room for expansion of the fossil fuel sector. There is no room for the Teck Frontier tar sands mine.’ Photograph: Patrick Doyle/Reuters

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Freeland,

The year 2020 has already become one defined by devastating impacts of climate change. While we celebrated the ambition of countries – including Canada – that demanded the enshrinement of 1.5C in the Paris climate agreement, it is increasingly clear that even this is a compromise with deeply tragic implications for the world’s climate-vulnerable regions.

The importance of leadership in the coming few years cannot be understated. Governments are lagging scandalously behind what science demands, and what a growing and powerful people-powered movement knows is necessary.

There is enough carbon embedded in already operating oil, gas and coalfields and mines to take us beyond 2C, let alone 1.5C. The implications of this are clear: there is no room for expansion of the fossil-fuel sector. There is no room for the Teck Frontier tar sands mine.

Projects that enable fossil-fuel growth at this moment in time are an affront to our state of climate emergency, and the mere fact that they warrant debate in Canada should be seen as a disgrace. They are wholly incompatible with your government’s recent commitment to net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. And with clear infringements on First Nations rights, such projects fly in the face of rhetoric and purported efforts towards reconciliation.

The response to the climate crisis will define and destroy legacies in the coming years, and the qualifications for being on the right side of history are clear: an immediate end to fossil-fuel financing and expansion along with an ambitious and just transition away from oil and gas production towards zero carbon well before mid-century.

As recipients of the Nobel Prize, we call on you and your cabinet to act with the moral clarity required by the state of this crisis and reject the proposed Teck Frontier mine proposal.


Hans Deisenhofer, Chemistry (1988), Gerhard Ertl, Chemistry (2007), Edmond Fischer, Chemistry (1992), Joachim Frank, Chemistry (2017), Dudley Herschbach, Chemistry (1986), Roald Hoffmann, Chemistry (1981), Roger Kornberg, Chemistry (2006), Roderick MacKinnon, Chemistry (2003), John E Walker, Chemistry (1997), Kurt Wüthrich, Chemistry (2002), Edmund Phelps, Economics (2006), John Coetzee, Literature (2003), Elfriede Jelinek, Literature (2004), Alice Munro, Literature (2013), Elizabeth H Blackburn, Medicine (2009), William C Campbell, Medicine (2015), Mario Capecchi, Medicine (2007), Andrew Fire, Medicine (2006), Louis Ignarro, Medicine (1998), Brian Kobilka, Medicine (2012), Erwin Neher, Medicine (1991), Richard J Roberts, Medicine (1993), Michael Rosbash, Medicine (2017), Gregg Semenza, Medicine (2019), Thomas Sudhof, Medicine (2013), Jack W Szostak, Medicine (2009), Shirin Ebadi, Peace (2003), Leymah Gbowee, Peace (2011), Tawakkol Karman, Peace (2011), Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Peace (1980), Jose Ramos-Horta, Peace (1996), Mairead Maguire, Peace (1976), Kailash Satyarthi, Peace (2014), Muhammad Yunus, Peace (2006), Jody Williams, Peace (1997), Philip W Anderson, Physics (1977), Barry Barish, Physics (2017), Sheldon Glashow, Physics (1979), David Gross, Physics (2004), Brian Josephson, Physics (1973), David Politzer, Physics (2004), Takaaki Kajita, Physics (2015)



Open letter by 41 Nobel Prize winners demands Trudeau stop Teck Mine

A list of 41 Nobel Prize winners have signed a petition urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to stop the Teck Frontier mine in Alberta.

The petition, published in an open letter via The Guardian, is signed by Peace Prize winners, made up of 10 winners in chemistry, three in literature, 12 in medicine, nine Peace Prize winners, and seven physicists.

The letter argues that the enabling of the fossil fuel industry’s growth is “an affront to our state of climate emergency,” going so far as to call it a “disgrace” that Canada is even “considering them.”

“The response to the climate crisis will define and destroy legacies in the coming years, and the qualifications for being on the right side of history are clear: an immediate end to fossil-fuel financing and expansion along with an ambitious and just transition away from oil and gas production towards zero-carbon well before mid-century,” the letter argues.

When asked about whether or not the Teck Mine Project would come to fruition, the PM told reporters that his government was deciding whether or not the mine would be in the nation’s best interest.

The mine is set to bring in roughly 7,000 workers during construction, as well as 2,500 full-time workers upon its completion.

Additionally, Finance Minister Bill Morneau revealed that a potential aid package was in the works if the Trudeau government were to decide against the mine.

Power & Politics

.@VassyKapelos asks @Bill_Morneau if the government is considering an aid package for Alberta?

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The mine’s potential construction has caused somewhat of a schism within the Liberal Party, as environmentally-minded MPs rally against the project.

“There will be a big fight inside cabinet over this,” said the source familiar with the difficult situation to Reuters.

The mayors for both Edmonton and Calgary made their ways to Ottawa recently, calling for the mines to be built. Alberta premier Jason Kenney also backed the mine, citing the job creation and the project’s backing by Indigenous communities. Kenney stated that there was no reason to reject the mine, as there had been ten years of reviews to green-light the project.


What the Teck Mine Will Destroy

Old growth, wetlands, wildlife. Everything the review panel added up and wrote off.


Directly over the proposed Teck Resources Frontier mining pit. Photo by Garth Lenz.

Any day now, the Trudeau government is expected to render its verdict on the $20-billion Teck Resources Frontier mine proposed to push Alberta’s industrialized oilsands landscape farther north.

There’s been a lot of published debate about whether the economics of the big dig make any sense. Less covered has been the environmental toll the project will exact should it proceed.

Last July, the Joint Review Panel assessing the impacts of the project released a 1,335-page report after holding public hearings.

Despite finding “significant adverse effects,” the panel declared that the mammoth project was in the public interest.

It added that the mine “would maximize the value of a product which is essential to everyday life” and provide income for Indigenous peoples of Alberta and Canada. Assuming, that is, oil prices reach $95 a barrel.

Oil prices currently now sit at $50 a barrel, so that public interest to be traded against natural destruction is far from materializing.

In the meantime, here’s what the panel said the mine will destroy or imperil:

The project will destroy 292 square kilometres of the boreal forest, most of which is prime waterfowl habitat. For reference, that’s nearly three times the size of the city of Vancouver.

The report adds, “The project is likely to result in a significant adverse effect to biodiversity, primarily as a result of the loss of wetlands and old-growth forests.”

There will be a high to moderate loss of habitat for migratory birds whose populations are already dwindling.

Directly over the Teck Frontier mining lease, where a bridge is proposed to cross the Athabasca River. Photo by Garth Lenz.


According to the report, “more than 40 per cent of the old-growth forest within the regional study area will be removed and will not be recreated for more than 100 years after reclamation.”

In addition, the project “has the potential to make an incremental contribution to already existing significant adverse cumulative effects to woodland caribou.”

“Significant adverse effects” are expected for Roland Lake bison herd, a small population of disease-free genetically distinct wood bison.

Directly over the proposed Teck Resources Frontier mining pit. Photo by Garth Lenz.


In its first decade of operation the project will use about 105.2 million cubic metres of water — about 100 billion liters of water, or 100 small lakes.

The project will destroy or alter fish habitat for 1.5 million square metres in the Red Clay Creek and Big Creek watersheds, as well as the Athabasca River.

It will affect the traditional land use, rights and culture of 14 First Nations.

Total greenhouse emissions are estimated at 4.1 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year — about the amount generated by 400,000 homes or 800,000 passenger vehicles, or one large coal-fired power plant.

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‘Significant adverse effects’ are expected for Roland Lake bison herd, a small population of disease-free genetically distinct wood bison.Photo via Wikimedia. 

The project could “affect groundwater quantity and quality through spills, seepage of process-affected waters, and dewatering and depressurization of surficial deposits and overburden.”

The project will replace peatlands and wetlands with bodies of open water and man-made hills.

Parks Canada is concerned that the project’s effects “might impact the survival, health and breeding success for migratory waterfowl, and may contribute to the overall decline in migratory waterfowl in the Peace-Athabasca Delta and the Wood Buffalo National Park.”  [Tyee] SOURCE


Alice Munro, dozens of Nobel Prize winners denounce Teck oilsands project

Decision on Teck oilsands mine coming next week: Jim Carr

Carr insists he’s not signalling approval: ‘Canadians will decide if they agree’

Liberal MP Jim Carr says “Canadians will decide” whether the federal government made the right call on the Teck Frontier project. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The prime minister’s point man for the Prairies said today the fate of the proposed Teck Frontier oilsands mine will be decided next week, setting the table for another potential showdown over an oil and gas project in this country.

Liberal MP Jim Carr said the nearly $21-billion project represents a complex challenge for the federal government, one that demands a balance between the interests of Alberta — which sees the project’s thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue as critical to the province’s future — and environmentalists who insist that approving the project would make a mockery of the Trudeau government’s international commitments on climate change.

“I believe that when the decision is made, the arguments will be advanced why it is in the public interest and the national interest,” Carr said in an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio’s The House. “And always and ultimately, Canadians will decide if they agree.”

Map showing the location of the Ronald Lake Bison Range in relation to the Teck Resources Oilsands Frontier mine. (CBC News Graphics)


Carr insisted he was not signalling that cabinet is ready to approve the project, although he acknowledged that the decision the government announces in the coming days — whatever it is — will be a tough sell.

Former Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr says the fate of the proposed Teck Frontier oilsands mine will be decided next week, setting the table for another potential showdown over an oil and gas project in Canada. But his Liberal colleague, MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, warned that Canada won’t reach its 2050 net-zero emissions target if the project is approved. 13:24

“It’s complex. It’s full of issues that are important to Alberta and the country,” he said. “As always, there are the balances and trade-offs and the consideration of environmental stewardship while living up to international obligations.”

Canada has committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 — a target that Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith insists will remain out of reach if Teck Frontier is approved.

‘A pretty easy ‘no’ — Erskine-Smith

There is no clear picture of how this project, which lasts until 2067, fits within our net-zero commitment,” Erskine-Smith said in a separate interview with The House. “When you look at this project, when you look at the climate commitments specifically, I think it’s a pretty easy ‘no’.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been warned already about the political risks of killing the project. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has lobbied hard for its approval, warning Trudeau that a rejection could give a boost to separatist sentiments in the province.

“Here in Alberta, it would interpreted as a rejection of our most important industry and it could raise roiling western alienation to a boiling point — something I know your government has been attentive to since the election,” Kenney wrote in a Feb. 5 letter to Trudeau.

“The rejection would send a signal to the international investment community that Canada’s regulatory system is arbitrary, subject to moving and invisible goal posts and that even the best evidence can be trumped by narrow politics.”

Supporters and opponents of an oilsands mine proposed by Teck Resources rally outside the Calgary company’s offices Jan. 22, 2020. (Julie Prejet/Radio-Canada)


The Frontier mine has received regulatory approval already, even though the review panel concluded there would significant adverse environmental affects.

This week, federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson wrote to his Alberta counterpart urging him to introduce regulations to enforce a 100-megatonne cap on greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands introduced by the province’s previous NDP government.

Adding to the stakes was a warning issued by Teck Resources on Friday that it would take a writedown of more than $1 billion if Frontier is rejected.

Carr said that’s just another factor to consider.

“You know that’s their point of view. There are lots of points of view,” he told CBC News. “The one point of view that will determine the fate of the project is the government’s assessment of Canada’s interest.”

Erskine-Smith said he doesn’t believe the project is profitable at current prices for oil — or that the Liberals would escape unscathed politically if cabinet approves it.

“In terms of political backlash I think there will be great concern in my community that we are not taking our climate change obligations seriously,” he said.

“We have obligations to the world, to future generations, and we have to do our part in tackling climate change.” SOURCE

GAIL LETHBRIDGE: Reconciliation — Trudeau uttered the word, but didn’t do the work

Bruce MacKinnon's editorial cartoon for FEb. 21, 2020. VIA rail, CN rail, layoffs, rail yard, protests, blockade, Wet'suwet'en Nation, climate activists.

Bruce MacKinnon’s editorial cartoon for Feb. 21, 2020.

Like you, I’ve been watching the protest blockades this week and feeling more and more annoyed.

But strangely, I wasn’t sure who or what exactly was getting my goat.

Was it the RCMP for occupying unceded First Nations lands in British Columbia?

Not exactly.

Was it the First Nations hereditary chiefs for demanding the RCMP get off their land so they could have a say on who puts gas pipelines there?

Not really.

Is it the protesters thousands of miles away who were strangling a nation’s transportation grid by blocking trains in solidarity with the hereditary chiefs?

A bit, yes, but that wasn’t the thing that was bugging me the most.

And then it occurred to me. Do you know who was really making me angry? Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

It’s not just that he spent the first days of this protest swanning around in Africa putting on the diplomatic charm offensive to get Canada a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

That didn’t help, but it’s more than that.

And it’s not just the question of whether he did or didn’t enforce court injunctions to end blockades.

What’s bothering me is that he should have seen this whole train wreck coming a mile away. It was a locomotive steaming down the tracks towards us.

We’ve heard Trudeau talk about his commitment to Aboriginal issues and how reconciliation is the most important issue of his prime ministership.


So how could he let something like this happen? And then let it ratchet up to the point it has?

He should have been talking with Aboriginal communities on pipeline routes, negotiating and figuring out how he was going to combine reconciliation with running the country.

If there was going to be a problem — and there obviously was — he should have been anticipating it right from the word “go” when he came into office with an agenda of reconciliation.

These hereditary chiefs in B.C. are not just making this stuff up. They have a 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision to back up their claims. If there is no treaty, the land is unceded. They have to be consulted about what happens on their lands.

Even if the elected chiefs and some other hereditary chiefs are in favour of this particular pipeline because it will produce jobs and prosperity, there are important constitutional principles at stake.

And now people are losing their jobs because we can’t get exports out or imports in. Container lines are diverting cargo to other ports.

Propane rations are hammering made-in-Nova-Scotia businesses like Acadian Seaplants. How are we going to get the cars out of the autoport, Michelin tires sent out to markets and P.E.I. frozen french fries exported?

And then we end up with fingers being pointed in all directions, accusations being made, jobs being lost, First Nations communities being divided and an economy held at ransom to this whole mess.

Is this really the prime minister’s vision of reconciliation?

I doubt it, but here we are.

Reconciliation is not just a word. It’s a historic challenge that required the prime minister himself to get out to those unceded lands a long time ago, roll up his sleeves, sit around the coffee table all day and all night and work things out with his Aboriginal partners in reconciliation — before something like this happened.

But he didn’t. And even if he gets the trains rolling this time, this thing isn’t over. It will happen again in one way or another because Trudeau didn’t do his homework. SOURCE

Clearing the air on Teck Frontier: Here are the expected benefits — and harms — of the oilsands project

Cabinet’s difficult decision made more precarious as project becomes a litmus test for climate and unity

In this file photo from Jan. 22, 2020, supporters and opponents of an oilsands mine proposed by Teck Resources rally outside the Calgary company’s offices. (Julie Prejet/Radio-Canada)

A lot of ink is currently being spilled over the federal government’s upcoming decision to approve — or not — Teck Resources’ Frontier oilsands mine project.

Premier Jason Kenney and members of his cabinet insist that the Frontier project is critical to Alberta’s economic prosperity. The Mining Association of Canada’s Pierre Graton stresses that Teck completed a  “world-class, independent and rigorous assessment” and that the project was determined to be in the public interest by the joint review panel (JRP) that reviewed it.

Environmental groups argue that approval is fundamentally inconsistent with Canada’s climate change commitments.

The project is being framed as both a test of Prime Minister Trudeau’s resolve to combat climate change, and a referendum on the federal government’s support for Alberta’s economic interests and its commitment to national unity.

Our purpose here is not to take sides, but rather to lay out the facts and relevant legal context as clearly as possible so that Albertans — and indeed all Canadians — can come to their own informed views about the desirability, or not, of this project and what, if any, larger importance to attach to the federal cabinet’s eventual decision on the future of the mine.

The JRP did indeed conclude that Frontier is in the “public interest,” but that conclusion speaks only to the provincial side of the story.

Under the federal regime enacted by the previous Conservative government (the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012), the JRP was restricted to determining whether the project is or is not likely to result in “significant adverse environmental effects.”

The JRP concluded that such effects are likely, and further, that they “weighed heavily” upon its assessment.

‘Justified in the circumstances’?

Although Premier Kenney has said that approval should have been automatic, the legislation plainly requires that cabinet first determine whether such effects are “justified in the circumstances.”

How significant are the adverse environmental impacts?

Frontier is among the most destructive oilsands projects assessed to date.

The project is large, both in production and surface disturbance, and the JRP concluded that numerous significant adverse environmental effects were likely, including on wetlands, old-growth forests, wetland and old-growth reliant species at risk (including Canada lynx and woodland caribou), the Ronald Lake bison herd, and the asserted rights, use of lands and culture of Indigenous groups who use the project area.

Map showing the location of the Ronald Lake Bison Range in relation to the proposed Teck Frontier oilsands project. (CBC News Graphics)


Further, these effects will be exacerbated when combined with other existing, approved and planned projects in the area.

Both its surface water management and mine closure plans are currently prohibited by Alberta’sWater Act, in addition to being based on unproven long-term solutions.

Frontier’s remediation and reclamation plans, which like all of its predecessors must address the contentious issue of the project’s tailings, are marked by a high degree of uncertainty.

Teck’s plan would see 240 million cubic metres (about 100,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools) of fluid fine tailings accumulate on the landscape by 2037.

Tailings ponds and other oilsands reclamation liabilities are a serious problem in Alberta. The JRP acknowledged these concerns and the possibility that, without regulatory reform, “the province is at risk of having to pay substantial amounts of public money.”

Substantial is right.

Billions in liability, even after end of mine’s lifespan

Teck estimates that reclamation liabilities on the site will peak at $4.3 billion in 2037, and that $2.9 billion of reclamation liability will remain when the mine ceases production in 2066.

Teck’s reclamation plan requires “45 to 65 years or more” of post-closure care. Sixty-five years after the mine’s expected closure would be the year 2131.

These plans are directly relevant to cabinet’s decision, since tailings ponds affect migratory birds and endangered species, and are known to seep into groundwater and adjacent waterways, all of which fall under federal jurisdiction.

Tailings drain into a pond at the Syncrude oilsands mine facility near Fort McMurray in this file photo. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)


Teck’s mine closure plans also call for end-pit lakes to remain on the landscape. These lakes, filled with water drawn from the Athabasca river, are expected to be completely integrated into the local water system, including discharges into the Athabasca River that would require federal permits.

The problem is that we still don’t know if this is going to work.

In what can only be described as a traditional oilsands shrug, the JRP found that the information provided by Teck was sufficient “given end-pit lakes are many years away for the Frontier project and the understanding of end-pit lakes is improving with ongoing research.”

One read of the recent Alberta Energy Regulator decision for Syncrude’s Mildred Lake Mine tailings plan will tell you that our understanding is indeed improving, but not always in a positive way: “The sustainability of [one of the end-pit lakes on the site] with or without tailings placed in the pit is uncertain,” the regulator found. Hope is not an environmental management plan.

Greenhouse gases will also weigh heavily on cabinet’s decision.

How Frontier actually compares on emissions intensity

The JRP did not make a final determination with respect to the project’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, estimated at 4.1 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year.

“Determining Canada’s ability to meet its international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is not part of the panel’s mandate,” we are told. That may well be true, but determining whether these emissions are significant or not definitely was part of its mandate, and its omission here hampers cabinet’s decision-making, which is supposed to be informed by the JRP’s expertise.

How emissions-intensive would this project be? Teck’s CEO Don Lindsay recently claimed that “it’s not dirty oil,” since “the carbon emissions are half the industry average in North America per barrel.”

Don Lindsay, CEO of Teck Resources, is seen in this file photo. (Lyle Stafford/Reuters)


This claim was quickly picked up by Premier Kenney. Frontier barrels, he claimed, would be “half the carbon emissions of the average North American petroleum project.”

These statements are wrong, and mischaracterize Teck’s own claims that Frontier will be among the lowest GHG intensity oilsands projects, with a lower emissions intensity than about half of all oil refined in the United States.

A careful read of the evidence directionally supports Teck’s claim — Frontier would rank around the middle of the pack for barrels consumed in the U.S. — but both Lindsay’s and Kenney’s claims that it would be half the intensity of the average barrel consumed are incorrect.

In this case, a middle-of-the-pack ranking means Frontier barrels would be just about “average” emissions intensity, not half the average.

What about the other side of the ledger?

Thousands of jobs, billions in taxes

If built, which Teck itself has admitted is uncertain even with approval, Frontier is estimated to generate $70 billion in government revenues and create 7,000 full-time jobs.

Teck uses highly dubious economic impact analysis to justify the project. That notwithstanding, the same analysis, were it to be re-done today, would almost certainly generate lower values.

The figures in the application are based on 2011 oil market projections, and forecast oil prices have declined significantly since that time. While some have argued that the investment could be viable if average oil prices are above $65 WTI (assuming very small discounts on heavy crude oil), that still positions the project as a multibillion-dollar bet on pipelines being built and oil prices being much higher than we see today for most of the next 50 years.

So what if prices aren’t high? Isn’t that for the company to deal with? Shouldn’t the government let the market sort it out?

Not so fast.

Whether Frontier’s significant adverse environmental effects are “justified in the circumstances” appears to depend largely on the positive economic ones. The JRP is explicit: “the economic benefits for Alberta and Canada and the expected social and economic benefits for Indigenous communities outweigh the adverse environmental effects.”

The environmental damage doesn’t change with the oil price, but economic benefits do. As oil prices change, so do the taxes, royalties and returns to investors that inform the benefit side of the equation.

These likely benefits have dropped — a lot.

Updating those forecasts

Moving from a 2011 oil price forecast to a current equivalent would reduce expected revenues from the Frontier project (all else equal) by about a quarter, while reducing taxes, royalties and return on capital each by about a third.

If oil prices follow the $65 plus inflation break-even cited by the Canadian Energy Centre, that would reduce revenues by almost two thirds, and taxes, royalties and returns to investors by about three quarters.

At today’s oil prices, plus inflation, revenues would be reduced by three quarters relative to 2011 forecast levels, and taxes, royalties and returns on capital would be reduced by about 95 per cent.

Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)


Cabinet’s decision is far from automatic. It must weigh the project’s significant adverse environmental effects against its (relatively uncertain) benefits and determine whether the former are justified.

Proponents also expect it to render a decision that will be able to withstand judicial scrutiny in the event of a legal challenge. While Canadian courts generally take a deferential approach to such decisions, the case law does suggest that significant changes in the original circumstances surrounding the project or material defects in the underlying report can undermine cabinet’s decision, if not taken into account.

At its core, it’s a problem as old as our environmental assessment system itself: elected officials must decide whether a project’s benefits outweigh its significant environmental harms. Whatever cabinet decides, we should all be able to agree that we’d be worse off if such decisions ever became merely automatic.  SOURCE

‘Walk the walk’: Wet’suwet’en chiefs sue Ottawa to force Crown to act on climate change

Lawsuit argues that courts should impose mechanisms on government to live up to climate commitments

Protesters in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs protested this week outside the Victoria legislature. A federal court claim from two of the chiefs now accuses Ottawa of neglecting its duty to protect Canadians from climate change. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

With conflict erupting over a natural gas pipeline in northwestern British Columbia, two Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are suing Ottawa in a bid to force the federal government to take action on climate change.

If the claim filed in federal court this week by leaders of the Likhts’amisyu Clan succeeds, Ottawa would be forced to revisit the approval of projects like the $6-billion, 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline, if they kept Canada from meeting international commitments to lower greenhouse gas levels

“What the Likhts’amisyu are saying to the federal government is that you’ve talked the talk, now it’s time to walk the walk,” said Richard Overstall, the lawyer for the chiefs.

“And allowing these high greenhouse gas emitting projects to continue for 40 years isn’t walking the walk.”

‘A threat to their identity’

Although the hereditary chiefs who filed the suit — Dini Ze’ Lho’Imggin, also known as Alphonse Gagnon and Dini Ze’ Smogilhgim — are also opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline, Overstall claimed the timing of the federal court claim is a “coincidence” in terms of protests which have erupted across the country.

The two chiefs represent a pair of houses that comprise one of five Wet’suwet’en clans. According to the lawsuit, each is responsible for the welfare and territory of house members.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs take part in a rally in Smithers B.C. Two chiefs have now launched a federal court claim in a bid to force the Crown to act on climate change. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)


The lawsuit describes global warming as an “existential threat” that has specific impact on the rights of the Wet’suwet’en as guaranteed under Section 7 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms: the right to life, liberty and security of the person.

“It is a threat to their identity, to their culture, to their relationship with the land and the life on it, and to their food security,” the statement of claim reads.

“It is a responsibility because large fossil-fuel infrastructure projects are proposed to cross their territories.”

‘Unwillingness’ to act

The court claim says the federal government has assured Canadians since at least 1988 that “it would establish laws and policies to meet its international climate commitments.”

Those promises culminated in a promise under the Paris climate agreement in 2015 to keep global warming well below 2 C above pre-industrial levels.

Map of the planned Coastal link LNG Pipeline, where it will interesect with Wet’suwet’en territory. (CBC News)


But the chiefs claim the Crown has “repeatedly failed and continues to fail to fulfil its constitutional duty” to protect their charter rights “due to its unwillingness to establish and to implement the laws, policies and actions needed” to ensure that Canada lives up to its word.

“Already, the plaintiffs have experienced significant warming effects on their territories,” the lawsuit reads.

“These effects include pine bark beetle infestations, forest fires, and salmon population declines, in part attributable to climate change.”

The chiefs claim Ottawa has deliberately “fettered its law-making power” — tied its own hands — “by failing to pass environmental assessment legislation that would allow the executive branch to cancel or significantly amend its approval of a high greenhouse gas emitting project in the event that Canada can demonstrably not meet its international global warming commitments or its obligations to the citizens of Canada.”

Groundbreaking claim?

The chiefs want a declaration from the court that the Crown has a constitutional duty to act to keep global warming between 1.5 C and 2 C above pre-industrial levels.

They also want a declaration that Canada has an obligation to meet those targets under a section of the Constitution that requires government to maintain “peace, order and good government.”

And they’re seeking a requirement for Ottawa to prepare “a complete, independent and timely annual account of Canada’s cumulative greenhouse gas emissions” with the ability to cancel approval for projects that threaten climate goals.

While the suit has the possibility to be precedent setting if it succeeds, Overstall points out the courts have told Parliament to strike down parts of statutes in the past as well as “reading in” certain clauses to existing legislation in order to meet constitutional requirements.

He also pointed to a lawsuit announced last year by a group of 15 youths across Canada as another example of the intersection between the charter right to security of the person and the threat of climate change.

“I think all of these would be groundbreaking, because global warming and its effect on Indigenous people and young people and everybody, is groundbreaking in itself,” Overstall said.

The Crown has yet to file a response to the claim. SOURCE