Who to vote for?

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The proposed Woodfibre LNG plant certainly isn't the only issue facing Howe Sound in the upcoming election—but it is a biggie. This summer we met with all four election candidates from the West Vancouver, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky riding and asked them straight-up about the controversial project. Although some didn't always answer our direct questions, we really appreciate their time!

From now until election day, we have an unprecedented opportunity to pressure these candidates to make stronger, more decisive commitments to protect Howe Sound from LNG. Although, the project is undergoing a provincial environmental review, the federal government has ultimate decision-making authority. (1) 

If there's one time politicians and candidates listen to citizens, it's right before an election. Email the four candidates and urge them to take stronger stands on Woodfibre LNG and share widely. Their stance on such an important local issue should be front and centre on their websites and mentioned regularly when at speaking engagements. It should be clear and decisive. We're about 6 weeks away from the election, they still have time to commit to stronger commitments.

One more thing voters should keep in mind before they cast their vote is recent polling. Here's a great summary of the most recent polls for the riding.

Below is our summary of how they responded to four simple questions. And farther down are their full responses. We hope this information is useful in your deliberations about who to vote for. If you appreciate our work, please share this with friends and help us to keep going by making a donation.

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candidates-button2.jpgFull Candidate Responses:

Question 1. Given what you know at this point in time about the proposed Woodfibre LNG project (including the pipeline and tankers), do you support the project moving forward to approval and construction, Yes or No?

Conservative—J. Weston: I support the process. The science based, independent, objective, process. I support the LNG industry and I believe that politicians are not the best persons equipped to support or oppose a specific project, but people such as scientists and engineers are the ones equipped to do that.

Liberal—P. Goldsmith-Jones: Well, given what I know at this point in time, there are four things that would need to be in place before this project can be considered properly, equitably, fairly. First of all, we’ve got to deal with our marine safety strategy, which we know for sure is wanting. So, that’s step one. Step two, I think it’s imperative that we have a climate change strategy, a GHG reduction strategy, an understanding of how the federal government intends to work with the provinces so that proposals are considered in light of how they meet those targets. Thirdly, I think we have to have a consultation that really does genuinely include communities and First Nations as opposed to being a little bit on the outside, and trying to get attention. I think that’s really important. And certainly my own record reflects my commitment to that. And then, most importantly, I don’t have a clear understanding on what the status is at the moment for environmental standards based on the record of this particular Conservative government. So many pieces have been removed, across multiple Acts, that, and I’m not making this up. We need to audit that and see what we need to put back. Those are four things that I think need to be in place before we can evaluate this project.

NDP—L. Koopman: No. There are several issues. The safety issue is of prime concern to me. And its because it does not meet the SIGGTO regulations and the proponent is not a member of the organization. That is a huge concern. It would be like flying some airplane and the airplane is not part of the safety board standards. It just doesn’t make sense. The safety standards of the ship and how far from shore it has to be. The inlet issues. All the issues you’re well aware of on safety are of prime concern, that this is not the right spot. I have to jump back to a presentation where Wade Davis spoke at Glen Eagles Golf Course. And I remember that evening well when Wade spoke and he talked about the Texan fellow who approached them on an LNG plant to start in Peru. And the developer wanted it to be first class. He wanted it to have all the environmental regulations met and social licence, etc. And Wade heard this and he said, “I can support this project.” And I can remember the collective gasp in the room going, “Wade Davis supports LNG?” But then of course he then turned it around and said, “no” to Woodfibre LNG as a specific. He said, “we cannot be against all development.” If they pass the environmental standards, the safety, the social licence, all the laws we have in place. They’re following the law. Whether we agree as environmentalists. They are following the law. So it was interesting on that note. This company, Woodfibre, is not in that position, of safety, environmental and they do not have the social licence.

Green—K. Melamed: No. I think I can safely say, of all the candidates, no one has been to more open houses and more presentations and done more investigations into this than I have. And because I’m the Green Party’s finance critic I also have a macro lens to look at this. My first blush, looking at this proposal was, maybe LNG export is ok, but Howe Sound is a bad location. The more I looked at it. The more I heard Eoin Finn talk about it, and the more articles I read doing the economic analysis, the more convinced I am that the LNG export industry is not appropriate for BC. We should be finding ways to use that resource in BC, and in Canada, and North America, and exporting it isn’t an industry that’s considered consistent with the values of Canadians and a strong economic policy.

Question 2. What do you think is the biggest upside (if any) and downside (if any) to the project if it moves forward?

Conservative—J. Weston: So the upside is, the conversion of energy required to provide electricity in the direction of natural gas, which is a clean burning energy source, and, which can certainly help lower the GHG emissions around the world as users convert to that energy. For instance, taking one coal power plant off the grid in China, by converting it to LNG, is equivalent to taking 500,000 cars off the road in a year. Secondly, the jobs. We know there are 902,000 in 2013 in the energy sector. So jobs, in a place like Squamish. Thirdly, the revenue stream to private and public sector. Squamish, 60% of municipal tax revenues rely on residential taxes, which is 8% higher than the provincial average. And while Squamish has enjoyed an increasing quality of life over certainly the last 3 years, that’s not sustainable unless Squamish can discover other forms of revenue. So certainly those are big upsides. The downside would be risk to humans or the environment which would have to be mitigated, and certainly I’d be looking to the people who are in charge of this process to impose the right conditions to ensure those risks are properly dealt with.

Liberal—P. Goldsmith-Jones: I think, sure it will create some jobs. I think that’s important to people. I don’t know how many. I do know because I worked on a supply chain analysis of LNG for the First Nations Energy and Mining council when I was doing my MBA, and I was interested to see that there are overall, for taking the LNG industry potential out of the hole, thousands of short term jobs. Less long term, well paying jobs, so that’s the nature of the industry, in starting it up. So, I accept that, that’s a benefit. Well, absent those four things, I can’t even say. I mean I can speculate, but I really feel that it’s sort of a moot question, because we don’t know where we’re at. And we need to have a clear vision, I think of the 21st Century energy economy to properly answer that question.

NDP—L. Koopman: Well, the upside, I’m not sure. The economics of it, I’ve heard, and I don’t know exactly, the district of Squamish could receive something like $2 million in taxes. Well that sounds like a substantial amount of money. I’m sure as a municipality that they would quite welcome that amount of money. And so if there’s an upside, that’s an upside to them and I feel, do I have a right to interfere in municipal politics and what benefits them? So, granted, there’s an upside to them in that. The jobs could be an upside, but I think that’s minimal. So if I could turn now to the negative, there are a lot of other ways you can create $2 million or more tax dollars in clean renewables. In more tourism, more high tech sector industry. I think you can develop it in a much cleaner way. So the negatives again are, the environmental risks, the safety risks, the beauty of Howe Sound and to the detriment of it. 

Green—K. Melamed: I think the only upside, and I made this comment at a public meeting with council, is Squamish, like all municipalities, is cash starved and so there’s this promise of cash revenue and potential job creation. So that’s the only reason this project has even gotten as far as it has, is because of the allure of this promise, this potential revenue source and job creation source. The downside, I think, is once an investment like this is made it actually becomes a burden to the community. It’s a liability. You’ve now got this investment and a commitment to an industry that puts people’s safety at risk. It puts the viability of the ecosystem at risk. And it compromises other economic opportunities that the district and Howe Sound have, specifically around tourism and green technologies.

Question 3. Do you think its fair for Ottawa and Victoria to have the ultimate decision-making authority on project approvals such as this, when a significant proportion of the local population are opposed to the project? Why?

Conservative—J. Weston: Well, that’s what governments are elected to do, to make decisions. And governments are to be guided, I believe, by science based, independent, objective, stringent processes. So, the processes are set in place to ensure that we deal with the science and the engineering effectively. And the public consultation processes are in place to ensure we hear from citizens, understand their concerns and respond to them effectively whether their concern is for jobs, for revenues, for environmental and people’s protections or other concerns. So, that’s what government is there for. And government’s highest responsibility is public safety. That’s a major issue in guiding any government’s decision, at least at the federal level.

Liberal—P. Goldsmith-Jones: That’s a classic question, very good question about how high functioning our federal government is, and when I say federal government, I mean our ability to work between, for different governments and I don’t even say levels anymore, because I think the jurisdictional way of looking at things has gotten us stuck. That’s been our history and I think we can do better. So I think I said in my very first answer, the important role for communities, but not because, it’s the community, it’s the citizens, who live here, who are, just because you live in West Vancouver doesn’t mean you’re not speaking as a Canadian citizen, about a federal issue. So how does that break down? I think there’s a tremendous role for that. And I think that’s not anything to do with the fact that our institutions don’t allow it. Of course they allow it. It’s just the political will to do it properly. My own experience is absolutely bringing everybody around the table and sharing the authority of government at all levels. And of course, we are going to have to become particularly adept at including First Nations in that, together. So, “fair”? I wouldn’t use the word, “fair.” I would say that we can do better. Utilizing the institutions and our commitment to open accessible accountable government. And I myself, try to step back a little bit, from the jurisdictional argument. In fact, I know that my Conservative opponent has said this is clearly a provincial matter. That is a complete failure of imagination, and commitment to represent the people.

NDP—L. Koopman: I don’t believe in any unilateral approach and I guess that can be seen as a unilateral approach from the province and the federal government. All sectors, everyone has to be at the table on this one. So for them to just impose, no I don’t think that’s correct, that’s not right. But, on the other hand, I guess, does the community, can they be the only ones that dictate the outcome? I think the weight is really in the favour of the community because we live with it. It goes past someone’s island. So I think we should have, perhaps, our say should be weighted a bit higher. And it should be respected in all due process. So to answer your question, it has to be a collaborative, multi-approach, to finding solutions, which they may say, that’s what they’re doing, with the community inputs, and everything like that. But I don’t trust the review process. I don’t think the review process is really in the best interests of the community.

Green—K. Melamed: No. And let me share a story, a personal victory that was followed by a crushing defeat. When I was on the regional district board. So as mayor I sat on as the Whistler representative on the Squamish to Lillooet Regional District. Your call there was the run of river power initiative that the province brought out. And when it first rolled out local governments were given decision-making authority over the placement of these projects and my regional district, in response to the citizens rejected the proposal for the Ashlu. I was hugely proud of that. It was a perfect example of how government should listen to the residents and stand up for their interests, local interests. While Gordon Campbell didn’t like that very much and brought in Bill 30, which took local government authority over these issues away. Basically cut it off at the knees and said there’s a higher provincial interest in this and thank you very much for your position on behalf of your constituents but we’re going to go ahead with the Ashlu anyway. And that ties in, if I can, why I’m running for the Green Party, because the Green Party is the only party that puts constituent issues ahead of party issues. And so I’m the only candidate so far that I know of, and I think I’m the only one that will be able to oppose this project on behalf of the constituents, where the other candidates have to represent party positions and they always go back to this, there’s a greater national or provincial interest in this and sorry for your nimbyism, we may have some tolerance for your nimbyism, but actually we’re going to brush it aside because we need money for hospitals in Prince George or Nelson.

Question 4. If the project is approved in summer (by the province and or federal government), and then you’re elected in the Fall, what will you do regarding the project, given many of your constituents are opposed to it?

Conservative—J. Weston: Well my mission, which is written up and displayed here in the office and in each of my other offices, is to represent all the people of our riding passionately and effectively, in accordance with values of freedom, responsibility, passion and integrity. So I would continue to listen to people to make sure I’m representing them and their concerns. The people who support the project and those who express concerns about it, I have passed on concerns directly to the Minster of Natural Resources as recently as the last 30 days. Concerns from people who are opposed, I continue to do that. I continue to make sure that my role is to, with an open mind, to be listening to all sides of an issue, to represent all the people, whether the people vote for me or not, whether they disagree with my decisions or not. My job is to represent them. And I will continue to do that to the best of my ability.  

Liberal—P. Goldsmith-Jones: That’s a very good question, for one thing because I’m not sure about the timing of the final investment decision, so, but, more than that, I also don’t know. I know there’s a ton of opposition, but even door knocking, you’d be surprised, even in Squamish, it doesn’t come up at the doorstep. What comes up on the doorstep is, I’m not making this up, is parliamentary democracy. The health of our democratic institutions, because everything flows from that, including this issue, perhaps, right? So that’s what really comes up. I really have not honestly seen, any kind of assessment of pro-con. I respect there’s thousands and thousands of people who are opposed. I also assume there are thousands who are in favour. I don’t know. I really don’t, do you? I wrote a letter last summer actually, supporting the councils who said they’re opposed, in that they have a right to say that, they should not be dismissed for saying that. It’s the accessible way people should be heard, is by going to the local elected representatives, so I have a lot of respect for that, but what would I do? Honestly, it is way too early to tell. I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next few months. Not just with this proposal, but in the election. I mean, to me, the people speak. I wish we could have the federal election today, quite frankly because then I would know whether I have some authority. It’s 5 months out from an election, it’s a long, long time. I’ve told you what my criteria are, so I can assure you, that’s what I would do. That’s what I would be working hard on. How can I possibly answer that question, not knowing if I’m, 1 of 35 MPs, 1 of 75 MPs. This is super important. I have worked on those four things that I outlined at the beginning, knowing that Justin is coming this week, and knowing how important it is to the community, and knowing how unstable, and uncertain, and unfair it seems right now, to try to make such a fundamental decision that will affect the future of Howe Sound in a fundamental way, without these four things. That’s what I’ll do. What I would suggest is, our riding has an opportunity to change its representation, its MP. That’s a big opportunity. Who is able to take that on and be successful is a key question for people. The most important thing I can do is to defeat our Conservative MP.

NDP—L. Koopman: That’s a big question. I don’t really know what powers I would have. I know how difficult it is to repeal any bill that goes into parliament. You have to have unanimous support to repeal a bill or even amend, so in this case, I don’t know. I would like to say, we’ll repeal it, we’ll get rid of it, but I don’t know if I have that latitude or power. I don’t know if I can answer that question, but on a gut level, you know where I stand. I would like to have it reviewed. But I think that’s the dangerous part of this whole equation, is that once it’s implemented, I don’t know what you can do. If there’s a way, I’m open to it.

Green—K. Melamed: A lot of that depends on how the numbers tally. So if in in fact the Green Party achieves what it wants to and can position itself in a balance of power in the next parliament, then I can advocate much more powerfully, actually than any of the other parties aside from whatever party forms government. But if we form balance of power then we have certain conditions, so I have to be careful not to over promise and there are certain realities, once these contracts are signed, then there’s a legal issue about getting out of them. And inevitably, there’s a cost, with all these international trade agreements that we have, that the conservatives have encumbered us with. So the best I can promise is to continue to advocate and do what ever I can within the tools and the framework that is allowed. Again it will depend if there’s only two of us in Ottawa, I will have greater access to the new cabinet ministers. I think the difference would be that if it was another candidate whose party supported LNG they’re less likely to go that cabinet ministers office and say well what about Woodfibre LNG? How do we turn this around? I can assure you no matter what the outcome, no matter what party is in power, we’ll do everything to, and I’ve talked with my fellow candidates, generally all of the candidates on the North Shore, Lynne Quarmby, Claire Martin and myself, are opposed to tankers. Whether they be for bitumen or LNG and I know that we’ll have a strong caucus resolve to oppose that. And realistically the likelihood is that we will have a strong BC caucus of Greens representing BC issues and there’s general unanimity in opposition to tankers, for whatever type of fossil fuel.

*Note: After our we launched our email the candidates initiative, Ken Melamed contacted us to report his updated stance on Woodfibre LNG which includes a 4-point plan to stop the project. Here it is:

  1. Repeal the 30% federal subsidy to the LNG industry
  2. Adopt the SIGTTO international shipping safety standards (which Canada currently does not have)
  3. Expand the marine protected area to include all of Howe Sound
  4. Ban industrial seawater cooling systems

We also asked the candidates questions citizens submitted to us through our LNG survey, and we reported on these earlier this summer. Check out how John, Pam, Larry and Ken responded. A special thanks to Eoin Finn for attending all the candidate meetings.

References: 

(1) Federal Environmental Assessment Substitutions Under the CEAA 2012 Continue in British Columbia, http://www.blakes.com/English/Resources/Bulletins/Pages/Details.aspx?BulletinID=1740