UN says Canada’s plan to rescue Wood Buffalo National Park not enough

Massive northern park at risk of landing on ‘World Heritage in Danger’ list

Wood Buffalo, which straddles the Alberta-Northwest Territories boundary, is one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas. (Parks Canada)

The status of Canada’s largest park as a world heritage site remains wobbly after a United Nations body expressed grave doubts about a federal plan to rescue it.

“Considerably more effort will be needed to reverse the negative trends at a time when climate change combined with upstream industrial developments and resource extraction are intensifying,” says a draft decision on Wood Buffalo National Park from UNESCO, which manages the UN’s list of World Heritage Sites.

Further deterioration, it says, “could eventually lead to the inscription of the property on the list of World Heritage in Danger.”

Wood Buffalo, which straddles the Alberta-Northwest Territories boundary, is one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas and breeding grounds for millions of migratory birds from four continental flyways.

With almost 45,000 square kilometres of grasslands, wetlands and waterways, it is the world’s only breeding ground for endangered whooping cranes and home to the world’s largest herd of free-ranging wood buffalo. First Nations depend on the area.

But it has been deteriorating for decades. In 2014, the Mikisew Cree asked UNESCO to examine the park and see if it still merited designation as a World Heritage Site.

The UNESCO report prompted Ottawa to commission a 561-page study that concluded 15 out of 17 measures of ecological health were declining. The effects — everything from low water flows to curtailed Indigenous use — stem largely from changes to area rivers caused by climate change, dams in British Columbia and industry in Alberta.

Canada proposed solutions such as artificially induced spring floods and other water flows. Ottawa also promised more careful environmental reviews of nearby development and better consultation with local Indigenous people.

…But Canada failed to answer concerns about B.C. Hydro’s Site C dam, UNESCO says. It also points out that ongoing oilsands development upstream from the park is of “serious concern.” MORE

The secretive role of SNC-Lavalin in the Site C dam

Site C dam costs likely over $10 billion, completion date in doubt. Photo by Bob Fedderly.

The embattled company is reaping millions in public money from no-bid contracts for British Columbia’s third hydro dam on the Peace River — a project that is already billions of dollars over budget

SNC-Lavalin has received approximately $120 million in direct award Site C dam contracts, obscuring the embattled engineering firm’s role in building the largest publicly funded infrastructure project in B.C.’s history.

For one contract, SNC-Lavalin provided BC Hydro with a “shadow estimate” — number-crunching to confirm BC Hydro’s figure — for its forecasted $8.335 billion price tag for the dam, The Narwhal found after reviewing Site C documents.

The estimate proved to be wildly wrong, missing the mark by $2 billion.

But that hasn’t stopped SNC-Lavalin — which has been banned from World Bank infrastructure contracts for 10 years following allegations of bribery schemes in Bangladesh — from reaping years of no-bid work on the Site C dam for engineering design services.

Direct award contracts allow BC Hydro and other public bodies to decide which companies or consultants get contracts, instead of going through a more transparent and competitive tender process.

On Wednesday, a Quebec judge ruled that SNC-Lavalin must stand trial on charges of fraud and corruption for allegedly paying $47.7 million in bribes to public officials in Libya between 2001 and 2011. The RCMP has also charged SNC-Lavalin, its construction division and a subsidiary with one charge each of fraud and corruption for allegedly swindling almost $130 million from various Libyan organizations.

SNC-Lavalin also grossly underestimated cost of Muskrat Falls dam

SNC-Lavalin also played a major role in the cost estimate for the hugely over-budget Muskrat Falls dam on the lower Churchill River in Labrador, now the subject of a two-year inquiry to determine why the project proceeded. MORE


Nine things B.C. can learn from the Muskrat Falls dam inquiry

Premier Horgan walking a political tightrope on pipeline issue

“It has become quite clear the B.C. Greens will never take down this government.”

John Horgan

Absolutely no one should be surprised that Attorney General David Eby was quick to declare the B.C. government will appeal the decisive court ruling against it over who controls what can flow through an interprovincial pipeline.

But the lack of emotion attached to his pronouncement was telling, another indication perhaps of the B.C. NDP’s chief desire that this issue just goes away, even with that pending appeal.

The NDP continues to walk a political tightrope on the pipeline expansion issue as it tries to placate environmental anti-pipeline activists within the party while at the same time declaring support for the resource industry.

The party has long said it would use “every tool in the toolbox” to fight the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, but as I have noted here before, the toolbox turned out to be a very small one containing a rather weak and tepid “tool.”

That tool was this court case, considered a bit of a Hail Mary pass pretty much from the start. The government provided no legal evidence that a province could control what is a federally regulated entity, i.e. an inter-provincial pipeline.

Nevertheless, the NDP had to do something – anything – to make it look like it was trying to block the pipeline. Environment Minister George Heyman sheepishly admitted early on upon taking office that there was absolutely nothing “legally” the government could do to stop its construction.

Hence, the rather novel court argument about jurisdiction over something the government had to live with. As expected, the B.C. Court of Appeal made short work of it, giving the argument a 5-0 drubbing.

Nevertheless, the NDP has to exhaust its legal options no matter how dim the prospects of ultimate victory are. It may all be a waste of tax dollars, but it is political capital that the NDP is more concerned about.

And an appeal will allow B.C. Premier John Horgan to be able to say, “I did what I could” to stop the pipeline and that will be the end of things.

Some environmental groups will be upset, but they were upset with the decisions to finish the Site C dam and woo the LNG industry into this province and that opposition mattered little at the end of the day.

Some have mistakenly thought that launching the appeal was designed to keep the B.C. Green Party in check to ensure it continues keeping the NDP in power. That is a misread of the reality that has emerged about the relationship between the two parties (for all their criticism and complaining, it has become quite clear the B.C. Greens will never take down this government). MORE


Clean power, right in the heart of fracking country

“Along with other early adopters of clean energy across the country, Don Pettit has helped lay the groundwork for an industry that now attracts tens of billions of investment dollars each year.” 

The Bear Mountain wind project in BC. Photo by Don Pettit

Pettit has noted intrusive, disturbing changes to those rural lands in the decades since he first arrived in Dawson Creek.

“Since then it’s been a steady stream of industrialization… but the biggest shift imaginable has been the arrival of the fracked gas industry. There’s flares blasting away, and they stink, and surveillance cameras with lots of ‘No Trespassing’ signs. Some of my favourite spots are essentially destroyed.”

“Everything was rolling along nicely. We could have had factories producing wind blades, and we were on the verge of launching a major wind industry with thousands of jobs in B.C.. But just as it started to get going they dropped it.”

“Wind prospectors were coming into the region from all over the world. We wanted to tap into that and try to make at least one of these wind facilities at least partially locally owned — which we did. And I think we set a very high standard for community-supported wind development.”

Their ground-breaking work led to PEC’s inaugural green energy project, the Bear Mountain Wind Park, being fully commissioned in 2009, even as fracking activity was peaking in the Peace. B.C.’s first large-scale wind park at 102 megawatts, it stands a few kilometres south of Dawson Creek and continues to power the South Peace region.

And then, in 2010, things inexplicably went south.

Along with other early adopters of clean energy across the country, Pettit has helped lay the groundwork for an industry that now attracts tens of billions of investment dollars each year. A report issued last week by Clean Energy Canada, entitled Missing the Bigger Picture, calculates that the renewable energy sector employed about 300,000 workers in Canada in 2017 and has significantly outcompeted the rest of the economy in growth.

Yet Pettit has noted intrusive, disturbing changes to those rural lands in the decades since he first arrived in Dawson Creek.

“Since then it’s been a steady stream of industrialization… but the biggest shift imaginable has been the arrival of the fracked gas industry. There’s flares blasting away, and they stink, and surveillance cameras with lots of ‘No Trespassing’ signs. Some of my favourite spots are essentially destroyed.”

The potential health benefits of a transition to renewable appear similarly impressive. A 2016 Pembina Institute analysis estimated that by phasing out coal-fired power entirely by 2030, 1,008 premature deaths, 871 ER visits and $5 billion worth of negative health outcomes would be avoided between 2015 and 2035. And unlike the air and water contaminants emitted by coal and natural-gas plants that sicken local populations and warm the planet, Pettit enthuses that solar energy has “no moving parts and no pollution.” in energy price so communities can build business plans. No such program exists in B.C..

“Alberta has a program called community capacity building. It’s about communities wanting to replace some of the power that they’re using with solar, but they can also make them bigger than they need and put extra power into the grid and get paid for it.”

One significant benefit is a locked-in energy price so communities can build business plans. No such program exists in B.C..

When asked what the provincial government could do to promote its spread, he answers without hesitation. Instead of spending billions on Site C to power the fracking industry, which he says would mostly benefit big corporations in the short term, it could offer small, targeted incentives.  MORE

A change in government has done little to alter B.C.’s environmental path

Prior to the 2017 election that would make him Premier of British Columbia, John Horgan stood with opponents of the proposed Site C dam, a hydroelectric project described as a multibillion-dollar boondoggle. To acknowledge his support, protest organizers inscribed Mr. Horgan’s name on a yellow stake, which was planted within the footprint of the megaproject that was the liberal government of the day.

But on Site C and other major environmental issues, Mr. Horgan has not diverged substantially from the path laid down by the BC Liberals.

The environment was never a big part of the BC NDP’s election platform in 2017  The party promised to work on climate action, but made no mention of Site C , or an environmental disaster at the Mount Polley mine. A seismic shift on ecological policies was not part of the New Democrats’ promise to voters.

Now, almost two years after the election, a minority NDP Government that is formally supported by the Green Party has approved construction of the Site C dam. The legislature passed a law on Thursday to secure a massive LNG investment. The mining industry is welcoming new resources from the province. And some of Canada’s oldest trees are heading for auction.

Counting the environmental policies of the NDP and the Liberals is not easy, Green Party MLA Adam Olsen says. “A lot of these decisions are similarly similar.”


On Friday, the premier addressed the convention of the Council of Forest Industries, outlining his government’s work to chart a new course for a strong, sustainable future for BC The forest sector.

That includes logging in the old-growth rain forests on Vancouver Island that are still intact, including some of the biggest Douglas firs in Canada, said Jens Wieting, the Sierra Club of BC. MORE

Editorial: It’s decision time for Weaver and the Greens

VKA-greens-1760.jpgGreen Party MLAs Adam Olsen, left, and Sonia Furstenau, with party leader Andrew Weaver shortly after they were elected. Photograph By DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Now that the B.C. government has offered financial inducements to ensure the construction of a liquefied-natural-gas plant in Kitimat, the question must be asked: How should Andrew Weaver respond?

The B.C. Green Party leader has already expressed disbelief that his NDP partners would usher in what he called the biggest single source of greenhouse-gas emissions in Canadian history.

This is not the first time a promise to protect the environment has been broken by the current government. Shortly after the NDP was elected, Premier John Horgan announced that B.C. Hydro’s Site C dam would go ahead. This reversed his party’s pre-election stance and infuriated Green supporters.

Weaver declined to bring down the government on that occasion, a choice that can be understood. The referendum on electoral reform lay ahead, and had it carried, his party would have been the major beneficiary.

But now that hope is gone, what other reason is there to preserve the marriage? It has become clear that on controversial environmental issues, the NDP will stick with middle-of-the road voters. MORE


Fracking-induced earthquakes prompt call for buffer zones around Site C dam

In November, two wells being fracked caused an earthquake so severe it halted construction at Site C, 20 kilometres away. The incident is prompting locals to question how B.C. regulates the region’s abundant oil and gas activity near schools, hospitals and farms

Image result for fracking earthquakes bc

BC Hydro officials were so alarmed by an earthquake that shook the ground at its sprawling Site C dam construction project in late November, they ordered a halt to all work and got on the phone to British Columbia’s Oil and Gas Commission (OCG).

The 4.5 magnitude earthquake was linked to natural gas company fracking operations and was among the most powerful to rock the region in recent years.

And it raises questions about what other infrastructure — bridges, schools, hospitals, to say nothing of homes — may be at risk from fracking operations.

Two wells ‘in the process’ of being fracked shook Site C dam

Site C is the most expensive public infrastructure project in British Columbia’s history.

Its estimated costs have ballooned to $10.7 billion partly due to delays during early work phases when “tension cracks” opened on the partially excavated slopes along the river. The slopes are notoriously unstable as underscored by a spectacular landslide last fall that threatened the community of Old Fort, just downstream from the dam construction site.

The earthquake began at dusk on November 29 and was felt throughout the Peace region. It shook residents at their dinner tables in communities from Charlie Lake to Pouce Coupe nearly 100 kilometres southeast and points in between including Hudson’s Hope, Fort St. John, Taylor, Dawson Creek, Farmington and Chetwynd.

BC Hydro told the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) that it ordered workers at Site C to down tools when the quake began and that a conference call took place early the next morning between BC Hydro and Oil and Gas Commission officials. MORE

Ben Parfitt: Site C dam to electrify LNG industry is far from clean

In April 2010, when then-premier Gordon Campbell announced that B.C. was resurrecting plans to build the Site C dam, atmospheric scientist Andrew Weaver was along to lend support.

All energy has environmental costs. Hydroelectric power may be clean in the extremely narrow sense that the energy carried in transmission lines does not emit greenhouse gases. But it is dirty in countless ways. Consider just three: flooded farmlands and uprooted farming families, destroyed Indigenous hunting and gathering sites, and mercury-contaminated fish in reservoirs that are themselves sources of greenhouse gasses.

Weaver later became sharply critical of Site C. But unfortunately, his earlier arguments in favour of the project were co-opted by the government to justify providing more allegedly green energy to an expanding natural-gas industry that includes a major liquefied natural gas plant on B.C.’s north coast and a new 670-kilometre pipeline linking the plant to the Peace region where companies drill and frack for natural gas. MORE


Re: article Site C is not a project that support. We worked to convince the NDP that small scale renewables would be cheaper & provide more economic opportunities across BC but they chose to continue with Site C. 1/6 4:53 PM – 4 Mar 2019

Site C dam could still be cancelled at ’11th hour’ if First Nations successful in court Social Sharing

Province, First Nations, BC Hydro enter talks to explore alternatives to legal action

Site C protesters gather after delivering a petition to politicians in Victoria in 2017. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

The Site C dam could still be stopped by an “eleventh hour” court ruling, according to the lawyer representing B.C. First Nations opposed to the massive hydroelectric project near Fort St. John.

The B.C. government, BC Hydro and West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations were in B.C. Supreme Court Feb. 28 to set a 120-day trial, expected to begin in March 2022.

That date means a ruling would come prior to the scheduled flooding of the dam’s reservoir area in 2023 said Tim Thielmann, legal counsel for the West Moberly First Nation.

“The court has left itself the opportunity for an eleventh hour cancellation of the project,” he said. MORE


B.C. under ‘enormous pressure’ to cancel Site C dam: First Nations chief

Wendy Holm: Connecting the dots—SNC Lavalin, the Site C Dam, and continental water-sharing

The proposed Site C Dam, southwest of Fort St. John on the Peace River in northwest B.C.
The proposed Site C Dam, southwest of Fort St. John on the Peace River in northwest B.C.GOVERNMENT OF B.C.

Water has no substitutes. When you need water—for crops, for
households, for industry, for fish and wildlife habitat, for tourism—nothing but water will do. Its value is limitless, and this writing has been on this wall for generations.

Follow the money.  If the value of water is limitless, the incentives to stay in the game are huge. In February 2015, the RCMP laid fraud and corruption charges against SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. for massive fraud ($48 million) and corruption ($130 million) in its procurement of contracts in Libya.

This month, former Canadian attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet following alleged pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to shelter SNC-Lavalin by allowing it to enter into a Deferred Prosecution Agreementa “pay the fine, don’t do the time” manoeuvre that would rescue SNCL from a 10-year ban on Canadian government work if found criminally guilty.

SNC-Lavalin has been one of the principal engineering firms behind the Site C Dam from the outset—the dam that sound economics, science, logic, communities, professionals, First Nations, scholars, international organizations (UN), and good public policy seem incapable of even slowing down.

You’ve got to ask yourself whyMORE