Former BC Minister of Environment Comments on Latest Woodfibre LNG Public Comment Period


I am surprised that even for a brief moment I thought things would change under the new government. I thought that fossil fuels would be passé after the Paris Agreements, that the Prime Minister' the Department of Environment, the Cabinet and Liberal Caucus were serious about immediately cutting back on fossil fuels into the atmosphere. Obviously this meant no more LNG and that Woodfibre LNG would therefore not proceed. I also thought that we would have better representation from our MP than hitherto so that we would get ample notice of any government activity that affected our constituency. Obviously I was wrong on all counts and, all of all people, I ought to have known better.

I am not going to deal with the technical issues because there are others, including Eoin and Anton, much better equipped to do that. I want to deal with the politics from my own experience in that field.

Trial lawyers, of which I was one for 15 years, have a rule, the violation of which is usually fatal, saying "never ask a question in cross-examination unless you know what the answer is going to be or you don't care"

If there were a manual for these matters in government, it would say

 Avoid all formal public comment if you can but if you can't,  when consulting the public, don't ask them anything unless you know what they're going to say or you don't care. If circumstances force you to have some sort of public hearing, for God's sake give the buggers no real chance to gather their information and make cogent representations

Cynical? Not a bit but demonstrably true,

This Maxim has obviously been followed here and in that the Justin Trudeau government must be congratulated for having read their Talleyrand who said about the Bourbons, "they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing"

Unfortunately, we cannot afford to boycott this process because it will be said that the people in Howe Sound don't care. The question is what do we do? 

First, we must make it clear that the process is grossly unfair from the start for the reasons I have just given.

Next, we make it clear that we understand from experience that any environmental assessment hearing is also unfair right from the get-go. The government that sets it up has already made up its mind and this is simply a show hearing so it can say that the public were heard. The National Energy Board demonstrates that daily and we know this from experience with the recent joint Federal-Provincial EAO into approving Woodfibre LNG. There is no point lecturing us on the fairness of this government in consulting the people and seeking their advice because this process is scarcely independent of the government no matter what you plead; this is two government agencies  "cooperating" with one another and then asking the public to give their blessing. 

Next, surely if this government is to be taken seriously with all that time effort and money they spent on the recent Paris conference, they would not be considering any LNG plant anywhere in the country.

The fiction, perpetuated by political leaders including our premier, is that LNG is the least harmful to the atmosphere of all the fossil fuels. I'm not quite sure why that would make anybody feel good but in fact it's not true. Recent science has indicated conclusively that LNG, from the time it is extracted as gas to the time it's sent into the atmosphere, it's the worst of the fossil fuels for the atmosphere and climate change. That being the case why are we considering at this at all

Why, then, should the citizens of Howe Sound dignify a process which violates solemn agreements made by almost all the countries in the world at Paris?

Which is it to be? The Paris agreement or the governments of Trudeau and Clark's politically laden policies for more and more fossil fuel production? 

There has been, since the beginning of this whole    exercise, a demonstrable lack of democracy and a lamentable lack of investigation into the affairs of Woodfibre LNG. This committee might think it inappropriate of me to suggest that before they go further, it should carefully examine Woodfibre LNG as a company but why shouldn't that happen? We will all, if this ghastly project is approved, be subject to how they behave themselves fiscally and environmentally. The only evidence we have now comes from the nature of the ownership and their record elsewhere and it is, putting it mildly, appalling. 

Fiscally, the owner is a convicted big-time tax evader and the company a serial destroyer of tropical jungle's. Without getting in to the evidence at this point, this question is what comes to mind – why are we examining the technical aspects of an LNG plant before we know whether or not the ownership of that plant is trustworthy to the point we should place our environment and finances in their hands?

This is not an idle question at all. There has been absolutely no Due Diligence done by either government into Woodfibre LNG and yet they have reached the stage where they're perhaps an environmental assessment away from success!

This, surely, is unacceptable. 

The object of this entire exercise is to make it appear as if a fair hearing took place before the decision was made by the government to do what it damn well pleases. 

I must say that I'm not without experience in this area. I attended a number of environmental assessment hearings, joint federal/provincial run by the province, and as I have said elsewhere, I would rather have a root canal without anesthetic then go through one again. As a retired trial lawyer, who had during his career concerns about the way our formal justice system with all its checks balances and traditions sometimes works, I scarcely come to this a wide-eyed idealist. Having said that, I think it fair to say that an old Soviet Union show trial was no less fair then the environmental assessment hearings that I attended. Of coarse the trappings were all there – but it would have been a great deal more honest if the Chair had simply said, "this is an opportunity for you to say what you want but nobody is going to pay the slightest bit of attention to you unless you agree with the company and the government."

Looking at the record of previous governments in these matters it's hard not to conclude that the results of this exercise are a foregone conclusion.

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon)


Showing 2 reactions

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  • Duncan Bray
    commented 2016-02-15 20:16:33 -0800
    well put Rafe, as usual … the whole thing is well beyond ridiculous
  • Margaret Fraysse
    commented 2016-02-13 17:09:15 -0800
    How true.