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Super Industrialized BC

We need a real political debate about oil, gas and water. Who will step up?

By Rafe Mair 26 May 2014 |

Rafe Mair writes a column for The Tyee every other week. Read his previous columns here. He is also a founding contributor to The Common Sense Canadian.

Not too long ago I opined that the NDP, under its new leadership, no longer represents those in the environmental movement or those fighting massive unchallenged changes to our way of life.

This was not intended as a slur on John Horgan. It wasn't a knock on him personally nor his obvious talents.

I do not know Mr. Horgan, yet everything that I have heard about him indicates that he will be a very fine leader. The fact that he has his party's strong backing is a rare privilege for the leader of that fractious lot.

I worry about Horgan because to win, he must cozy up to big business, thus moving the NDP to the right. I'm not opposed to development. The problem as I see it is there will be no opposition party to seriously challenge what is clearly going to happen. I was seriously questioning his perceived policies on development. He favours LNG development and is very fluffy on the question of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, which will more than double the bitumen delivered to a far greater number of tankers in Vancouver's harbour.

I have no doubt that Horgan will prove to be a very presentable leader and I believe he is already very competitive with Madam Photo-op and her BC Liberals. In my mind, by the time the next election rolls around the Liberals' LNG policy will have proven to be farcical and this issue will be very fertile political ground for Horgan and the NDP.

Power brings with it responsibilities to those who have powerful supporters. They expect a payoff. John Horgan will have the NDP in the position where they must support development, and particularly the oil and gas industry.

Oil, gas and water

Things have become more complicated in the last couple of years. It was not that long ago that we faced some challenges in the forms of the Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan pipelines. Untold numbers of pipelines for LNG and natural gas have been added to these. The onslaught from industry seems unstoppable. The federal government makes no pretense at independence in the matter, and regarding Kinder Morgan, refuses to allow cross-examination of experts called on behalf of industry.

To the governments of Canada and British Columbia the process of gaining licenses is simply a matter of time, and in their minds a waste of time as environmentalists make their noises.

I hold the view that we are looking at massive changes to British Columbia -- changes that will not necessarily be for the good. We will no longer be a province of beauty but one of heavy industry ever expanding. If I am wrong, a fair debate on all the issues will disclose that. With Mr. Horgan seeking support of the very people we want to question, it's not likely that the opposition is going to be of much help.

This will leave the environmentalists relying on the Green Party, which as admirable though it is, has no chance of gaining power. I need hardly say that when it comes to governing, power is the name of the game.

Those who watched The Passionate Eye on CBC about 10 days ago on the question of the worldwide supply of water would have been horrified at what they saw. We in British Columbia have not felt the pressure of water shortage yet because of the great supply we have along with our small population. It will, however, come -- sooner than we expect. It has been estimated that the world now has 60 per cent of the water it's going to require for the 21st century. That's pretty scary.

Agriculture will suffer most because it is the biggest user. The fact is, however, we will all be short of water in due course, and that goes to the very root of how we live.

It's not hard to imagine how the pipelines of the future will be bringing desalinated saltwater from the oceans into the middle of the continent in order to provide farmers with the water they must have in order to supply us with the food we need.

What was truly horrifying to me about this program is the obvious lack of preparation in British Columbia for the day that this will be a big problem for us. We are whistling past the graveyard pretending that we're alright and always will be.

Drifting along

We have had a lackadaisical attitude towards water from the day the province came into being. Back in my day as minister of environment, the water branch of the ministry dealt mostly with carving up water supply for farmers from available public water. We paid little or no attention to industrial use of water, and in fact we're only now deciding that maybe companies who use huge quantities of free water should have to pay something for it. But this does not address the question of whether or not we can afford to supply large quantities of water to anybody at the expense of our own agriculture and public needs.

Neither the government nor the opposition are talking about this. This is no doubt because it's not on the radar screen as of yet. The difficulty is when it does come it will come very quickly and will come very dramatically. Many communities in the United States are already out of water. Contrasted with that, we have the ridiculous spectacle of a Las Vegas building on unlimited quantities of water that keeps on building as far as it seems to want to go. If nothing else, that points out we just don't have any kind of societal inclination towards concerning ourselves with conserving water for present and future use.

This lack of leadership shows in British Columbia. Both of the political parties seem unconcerned about the amount of water to be used by the oil and gas industry, particularly in the fracking process, which requires huge quantities of water to be discarded back into the groundwater badly polluted.

The premier is off in China trying to sell LNG, and the leader of the opposition is musing about fracking and presumably will let us know what the NDP position is sometime. The point is that neither of the two leading parties are showing any leadership whatsoever on what is bound to be the biggest issue of the century. In fact, the documentary shown by the CBC declared that the 21st century wars will not be fought over oil and gas, but water.

The duty to oppose

No one expects either the premier or the leader of the opposition to have solutions for the world water problems. One does expect, however, that they will take leadership and create considerable debate over what British Columbia is going to do about its own water resources.

It is the duty of the opposition to oppose. This is because the only way we can find the truth about issues is by having all sides exposed. Those proposing unlimited industrial growth are hardly going to tell us what the downsides are, and political parties that support that unlimited growth are scarcely going to expose the downsides either. The Green Party will do this, but as I said, ineffectively.

I repeat my appeal to Mr. Horgan. As leader of the NDP, give those of us concerned about unlimited industrial growth in British Columbia a voice, and a political party that we can support.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics,

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