May the judgement not be too heavy upon us.
- T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday
WE'RE in the season of Lent and for readers who recall when "fish on Friday" was still a common community virtue, the old idea - politically speaking - of voluntary fasting may still hold merit.
As we inch toward the provincial election in May, B.C.'s oil pipeline debate is now an international story. During a research visit south of the border this past week, I was repeatedly asked at several universities how the province will respond to pressure for the two big pipeline proposals: the northern Enbridge, and the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain line slated to end at Burrard Inlet.
The latter places the two North Vancouvers - city and district - on the firing line. The Enbridge proposal has already been battered from pillar to post, but the real details regarding Kinder Morgan's plans are only now fully coming to light. Almost telepathically, they reflect what Chief Justin George and the Tsleil-Waututh First Nations community on Burrard Inlet have been trying to warn us of since last year: of smoke and mirror sales-talk, of shifting carrying-capacity loads, of longer term ancillary dredging needs in the Second Narrows area. With unexpectedly fierce U.S. environmental opposition to the southern-route Keystone pipeline only growing, expect the Kinder Morgan numbers here to get worse before ever sounding better.
Premier Christy Clark's Liberals have pinned their hopes on another fossil fuel issue, the liquid natural gas boom, to save their election hides. But their record on energy issues is as blotchy as a bad dose of hives.
Economically, in recent years their energy dreams have represented what the nuns used to call "a near occasion of sin," but that's probably being too charitable.
A recent Wilderness Committee report damned short-sighted deals cooked up by the Liberals with private-sector hydropower interest buddies. You'll have heard that it forecast BC Hydro losing more than one billion dollars over the next four years from contracts the Liberals compelled it to buy from private power producers at above-market rates. Never mind that Hydro planners were telling the government we had projected surpluses for the next 10 years.
It's a woeful sign of how badly B.C. Liberals have fallen out of touch. Too long in office will do that to any party. But guess who handles the financial penance for losses sustained by a crown corporation?
Down on your knees, taxpayer!
Adding insult to injury, in 2009 BC Hydro CEO Bob Elton stepped down in controversy over his reported concerns about precisely that kind of screw-up. If it had been the NDP who'd made such juvenile decisions, what would the Liberals be saying about their business acumen? A decade later they still can't shut up in their radio adverts about the NDP's Fast Ferry fiasco. These days it's the Liberals that look as if they couldn't run a hot-dog stand.
So their latest election goodie, the pie-in-the-sky promise touted by Premier Clark and ministerial pit-bull Rich Coleman, of an Alberta-style Heritage Fund bankrolled by royalties on natural gas, with its presumed golden future deserves a skeptical eye. The world is suddenly awash in the stuff.
By contrast, Adrian Dix and the NDP stole a march on the fading Liberals by quietly naming Don Wright, president of BCIT, as projected deputy minister and head of the provincial civil service if Dix wins the election. It's a bold, declarative signal to B.C.'s business and educational communities: the North Shore is deep in providing talent to both sectors.
Wright has bankable senior civil service skills from his time serving the government in Saskatchewan, which had to make huge imaginative leaps after its own oil and gas boom in the Palliser region. With his additional leadership experience in B.C.'s forestry sector, and a Harvard PhD, Wright brings along a Rolodex of diverse, heavyweight international contacts.
North Shore voters should understand that kind of value proposition. Provincially, we'll need this kind of experience in dealing with the corporate energy wolves from south of the border and China who continue to view our province as a hinterland fossil-fuel cash cow.
Not that a LNG Heritage Fund is a bad idea. If the controversial sourcing issues involved - fracking and its chemical impact on provincial water supplies - can be sorted out, and if the province chooses to go with big LNG development options, a dedicated fund makes good sense.
Alberta did this with enormous success, but the vision and longtime guidance for it came from the late Peter Lougheed. Can anyone think of a leader remotely of his stature, personal honour and dignity here in B.C? That's a generational question, likely reaching back to old Socred party days, if not longer. Art Phillips, former mayor of Vancouver, comes to mind but they don't make many like him anymore. Someone would need to get the ball rolling. Carole Taylor, Phillips' wife, seems to have done everything in public life and she remains widely respected in her current role as chancellor at SFU. If she'd consider it, could there be a more fascinating, bipartisan architect for such a fund? Consider it: a former B.C. Liberal Minister of Finance heading up a new Heritage Fund during an NDP administration, purely in the public interest. That's the kind of initiative this politically polarized province badly needs in changing times.
Speaking of fuel, the current North Shore price of about $1.38 a litre wouldn't have anything to do with current pipeline debate headlines, would it? In Alberta it's $1.13.
There's nothing like a little scare about shortages and rising prices to get people thinking about the merits of messy new pipelines.
The real story is that there is no oil shortage. At a downtown event addressing Peak Oil and Sustainability last month, Prof. Mark Jaccard of SFU noted that rising prices have led to motivated exploration and increased oil reserves. He added that definitions of "oil" change over time. The earth's crust teems with carbon: now there's deeper off-shore oil, shale oil, heavy oil. Producing a barrel of oil really costs about $20; much of the added price is inflated through pure speculation. Kind of like B.C.'s private hydropower projects.
The real problem, Jaccard argues, is "peak emissions." What the best scholars are telling us right now is that with a decent climate-change policy "oil prices could fall to $30 a barrel for 30 years." Yet current federal policies, he asserts, are "optional arguments for steering the Titanic."
Lent is about taking time to reflect on what we've been doing wrong and disciplining ourselves. Politically, giving up on outmoded cravings for fast-buck energy dollars is good place to start.