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BC Politics

Mair to Horgan: Your Pro-LNG Points Don't Wash

Betting on mirage jobs, NDP leader downplays huge risks to citizens and nature.

Rafe Mair 22 Dec

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

Dear B.C. New Democrat leader John Horgan,

The reader response to my last article criticizing your support of the Liberal government's LNG policy was substantial, and to be blunt, you didn't fare well.

Clearly, you and I don't agree on this one -- but more importantly, I don't think you understand the feelings of the people in B.C. who reacted so strongly to my column.

You have made a big issue about employment and that it guides your thinking on LNG.

I know the hopelessness of unemployment. I've been through a long period of unemployment combined with no assets and no assistance. It's a horrible experience no one needs. That said, there is good employment and not so good employment.

Fact: after the initial construction of the LNG plant, the remaining jobs will be few in number and mostly low paid.

Fact: LNG plants are dangerous.

Why not support nuclear instead, John? I do not personally support nuclear but merely point out that taking everything into account, it's probably safer, with higher and better paid employment.

LNG and nuclear power plants carry similar, relatively small risks, but in both cases the consequences of an accident are enormous. Leaving aside earthquakes and tsunamis, there've been only a handful of serious nuclear problems. Similarly, there have been only a few involving LNG. In both cases, though the risk is small, the consequences outweigh arguments for taking that risk. Moreover, nuclear power doesn't require trucks, trains or tankers.

The point is that before using employment as an argument, you must disclose all the ramifications -- even the unpopular ones -- otherwise it's like a racing card where only one of the 10 horses is named.

The fracking menace

John, you are using employment as a smokescreen to hide the critically important fracking issue. Because this is so serious and difficult for you to handle, you and your Liberal allies gloss over the horrific downsides -- resulting from freshwater siphoned then poisoned and injected underground -- as if they were inconsequential.

Well, they're not. Others take them very seriously, many other jurisdictions, in fact, including the U.K. -- even New York state has just banned fracking.

You should read the articles of Andrew Nikiforuk in this journal about Alberta and how companies and the authorities deal with fracking there. One would conclude without exaggeration that citizens of the former Soviet Union had a better chance for justice than ordinary folks dealing with fracking damage in our sister province.

Until you satisfactorily dispose of the fracking question, John, you won't get support of the vast majority of British Columbians.

Fracking's risks go beyond just the dangers it poses to freshwater supplies and the water table. There's the contribution it makes to global warming, which by some estimates is considered as intensive as coal. Then there's the issue that fracking has been tied to the creation of earthquakes. These are critically important unresolved issues that must be dealt with.

You ignore tanker transportation of LNG down our fragile coast. While so far we've been lucky enough to avoid a serious mishap, mathematical probabilities tell us that sooner or later there will be one, and of course, probabilities increase with increased volume. Scientists tell us that the explosion such a crash might trigger could be devastating.

The Site 'C' contradiction

This week the Clark-Coleman government announced approval of Site "C." The views in opposition expressed by Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs; Joe Foy of the Wilderness Committee; and Damien Gillis, publisher of the Common Sense Canadian; sum up my views perfectly.

You yourself have demanded the project be held up until subjected to an expert independent review that includes energy alternatives.

What I have to ask you, John, is how you can on the one hand, support LNG so enthusiastically, and on the other hand, oppose Site "C"?

Logic says it's one or the other since Site "C"'s principal short-term justification is that it will supply power to the LNG industry. You can't have it both ways, John.

But there's more. Your opposition is tepid at best. Those who oppose Site "C," the biggest project in B.C. history, the farmers, residents, First Nations, environmentalists and so on, are entitled to the sort of vigourous opposition provided by those who understand our system. Opposition was once provided in days of yore by your party when led by the likes of Dave Barrett. As Lord Randolph Churchill famously said, "It is the duty of the Opposition to oppose." What is it, John, that you don't understand about that?

Wrong bedfellows

The NDP made a serious political mistake joining the Clark government's support of LNG per se. Leave aside the concerns I've raised. The fact remains that the Clark-Coleman team have completely screwed up negotiations. You said as much just over a month ago. Indeed, it has been amateur hour with the result that British Columbians will end up subsidizing the LNG industry!

Clearly, the 3.5 per cent tax to be imposed is negligible, and given the ability of large industry to play with numbers, probably won't ever be paid anyway.

John, it's clear that you badly underestimate the obscene and grossly undemocratic power of the fossil fuel industry that extends not just to governments but into all regulatory bodies. They're like green ooze. With you supporting the Liberals on LNG, most voters have no reason to think that your party in power would clean up that ooze.

The LNG industry has governments everywhere on the ropes. The glut of natural gas and consequent loss of markets has them on bended knee to anyone who'll buy it, and you want British Columbia to get into a bidding war for short-term construction by out-of-province crews, leaving a small, low-paid workforce in a dangerous industry for whom there are few customers.

You've famously claimed, John, that "you can't be against everything," a nonsensical statement that doesn't stand a moment's logical scrutiny. If something is clearly bad, it must be opposed, no matter what your party thinks about other issues.

Choose to oppose

The public understands the dangers to our climate and our general well-being from fossil fuels, knowing that they can't be eliminated overnight, that to wean society off fossil fuels will require sacrifices, and that the economy is important not just to society but to themselves. At the same time they also see the environmental damage ongoing since the start of the Industrial Revolution and the urgent need to gear back and take account of our surroundings.

It's not a question of "all or nothing at all," but how do we progressively and sensibly make decisions we can live with while up against the enormous resources of a rapacious, irresponsible industry whose propaganda machine is unrivalled in history and which controls our governments? This requires leadership.

I'm convinced that the public accepts that with courageous leadership we can have a decent economy and preserve our values at the same time.

The question is whether or not you have the courage to make that most difficult of political moves. Admit you were wrong to support the Liberals and their LNG policy and instead of getting behind Christy Clark, get behind the people.

Please note our comment threads will be closed Dec. 22 to Jan. 5 to give our moderators a well-deserved break. Happy holidays, readers.  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, BC Politics

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