Past priorities 2009-2013
Permanent Protection for B.C.’s Flathead River Valley (2009/10, 2010/11)
Some of the purest water in the world flows through the Flathead River in B.C.’s south-eastern corner. The area is home to North America’s densest population of inland grizzly bears and hosts Canada’s most diverse assortment of vascular plants. We applauded the B.C. government’s first step towards protecting the Flathead when it banned mining, oil and gas development and coalbed methane extraction. Now is the time to complete the task by cooperating in the creation of a National Park Reserve in the lower one-third of the Flathead River Valley and legislating a Wildlife Management Area connecting wildlife habitat between Canada’s premier Rocky Mountain parks. The Flathead presents B.C. the opportunity to stand on the world stage as a leader in environmental protection.
Progress was made in 2011 when the government legislated the moratorium on oil, gas and mining development in the region that it had announced in 2010, making these exclusions much more certain for the long term. OFC members were appreciative of that step. However, full protection for this world-class region will only come with a National Park in the southern one-third of the valley, and an associated Wildlife Management Area along the spine of the Rockies that connects two World Heritage Sites: Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and Canada’s Rocky Mountain Parks. It should be noted that logging is still allowed in the area proposed for National Park status.
Protecting B.C.’s At-Risk Species (2009/10)
BC has some of the richest wildlife diversity and more endangered species than any province, yet it remains one of only two provinces without a stand-alone law to protect species at risk. To protect our incredible wealth of diversity and the special places these species require to survive, the B.C. government needs to enact a strong, stand-alone Species and Ecosystems Protection Act.
A partial success. The August 2009 Throne Speech announced that a Species at Risk Task Force was to be established to “suggest a new defining vision with an overarching measurable outcome that British Columbians can work together to achieve within the next decade.” The Task Force eventually came out with a report that failed to recognize the need for a stand-alone law to protect the more than 1600 species-at-risk and their habitat. Government has recently released a Five Year Plan for Species At Risk. However, there has been no progress towards legislation to protect species at risk.
World-leading Land Use Planning: the Atlin-Taku (2009/10)
In one of the last river systems sustaining healthy populations of Pacific salmon, the opportunity to establish a land management regime that addresses the threat of climate change is not to be missed. Stretching over 30,000 square kilometres, the Atlin-Taku covers an area nearly the size of Vancouver Island. This northwest B.C. landscape remains largely intact, with few roads intruding on its high alpine landscapes, wild rivers, boreal wilderness and temperate rainforests. It is the focus of a land use planning process that will determine what’s open to development, and what’s protected. That protection needs to be significant – world leading – if the region is to remain a buttress for biodiversity.
Government came to agreement with the Taku River Tlingit through a government-to-government land use process in 2011, with agreements that 26% of the planning area would be protected and high-bar salmon protection throughout the region. In early 2012 the government legislated more than 400,000ha in new protection, including ten new conservancies. The Taku River Tlingit, along with many environmental organizations, had advocated for protecting half of the region. While this included strong protection for much of the ecologically valuable Taku River watershed, there remains concern over the fate of the lower Taku due to the on-going damage from the Tulsequah Chief mine.
A Fairer and More Effective Carbon Tax (2009/10, 2010/11, 2011/12)
B.C. demonstrated global leadership in moving toward a low-carbon economy by implementing North America’s most ambitious carbon tax. The time has come to build on that leadership and continue B.C.’s transition to a low carbon economy. B.C. should close loopholes for industrial polluters in its coverage, invest new revenue in projects to reduce pollution, continue to increase the carbon tax, and protect low-income families. Doing so will demonstrate to the world a fair and effective approach to tackling carbon pollution that will drive investment, innovation, and job creation in B.C.’s significant and growing clean technology and energy sectors.
While government stayed the course on the carbon tax through the 2009-2013 period, allowing the annual increases to come into effect as legislated until the final increase that happened July 1, 2012, there has been no further progress made. Setbacks have included government’s approval of EnCana’s Cabin Gas Plant in 2010, which will increase B.C.’s emissions by more than 2 million tonnes once it’s at full capacity, yet the company won’t pay carbon tax on almost three-quarters of those emissions. Repeated polling starting in 2011 has shown that British Columbians are supportive of the tax and want to see loopholes for industrial polluters like EnCana closed. Government conducted a review of the carbon tax in 2012 and concluded that the tax doesn’t seem to be hurting B.C.’s economy, enjoys positive public support and has been effective in reducing BC’s emissions, yet declined to expand the tax to close the loophole or continue with annual increases. Over this same period, the Opposition has dropped its “axe the tax” position and is talking about putting some of the carbon tax revenue towards transit and other green projects, but has not indicated whether they will get those revenues from closing the industrial loophole and continuing with the annual increases or not. In the 2013 election, the governing party committed to “freeze” the carbon tax for the next five years (but wouldn’t get rid of it); the opposition party committed to expanding the carbon tax to include emissions from oil and gas venting.
Energy Retrofits: Ramping Up! (2009/10)
B.C. has an opportunity to create thousands of jobs, build a green economy, and help meet our greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. How? By upgrading the energy efficiency of 100,000 homes and buildings every year. At that level, the $1 to $2 billion in largely private annual investment would keep 14,000 – 30,000 people employed in skilled, long term jobs throughout B.C. To make this happen, we need: “pay-as-you-save” loans repaid through monthly utility bills; energy labeling at time of sale; tax credits for green renovations; the investment of “stimulus” dollars in upgrading our schools, hospitals and other public buildings; and continued support and coordination from the LiveSmart program.
In our efforts to get B.C. to set a nation-leading goal to retrofit the province’s building stock within 20 years – about 100,000 building annually – we discovered great work happening within several ministries on a variety of creative policies that would move B.C. in that direction. Many of them involve low or no cost to provincial coffers, and all would generate significant private investment and thousands of jobs. Yet many of them have not been implemented. Over $20 million per year was spent in the 2009-2013 period on building retrofits, including 100,000 energy assessments, which helped establish a burgeoning retrofit industry across B.C. However, no long term goal for retrofitting B.C.’s building stock was established, and funding for on-going retrofit incentives as of the 2013-14 fiscal year appears to be largely eliminated in favour of financing-based approaches currently in the pilot phase.
Protecting Nature in Light of Climate Change (2009/10, 2010/11, 2011/12)
‘Beautiful B.C.’ is known as an attractive place to live offering a high quality of life. Our communities, livelihoods and wildlife depend on a wide range of services provided by diverse land and water ecosystems, such as freshwater, fish and wildlife habitat, forest products and flood protection. But a significantly changing climate, which wasn’t considered during B.C.’s recently-completed land use planning processes, is putting our nature at risk. Environmentalists, government, and other sectors must work together to build on the last 20 years of land use planning with a science-based approach to develop policy tools, land management systems and networked land conservation that together can provide more investment certainty, while ensuring B.C.’s precious land, water and communities remain resilient and productive.
After a positive start with the implementation of a Forest Carbon Offset Protocol for B.C. that contemplates conservation-based forest carbon projects, B.C. made little progress towards developing an overarching nature and climate strategy for B.C. – one that expands and connects conservation lands and reforms existing laws and policies to enhance resilience in the face of a changing climate. Instead, Government launched a Special Committee on Mid-Term Timber Supply to consider whether it should allow logging in reserves specifically set aside by extensive land use planning efforts over the past almost two decades. While the overwhelming response to the public process was to not undermine the progress B.C. has made towards better forest stewardship, the bi-partisan response of the Committee was to leave the doors open to logging in reserves. A recent report shows that only 15.6% of B.C.’s landbase has protection from most forms of resource development; half of the landbase has no specific conservation or restriction from resource extraction despite increasing disruptions to natural systems from climate change. BC’s auditor general also found that the B.C. government is failing to protect biodiversity.
Protecting the Southern Strait of Georgia (2010/11)
Home to the endangered southern resident killer whale, millions of shorebirds and seabirds, and a multitude of fish and marine mammals, the Southern Strait of Georgia teems with life. It is the Canadian arm of the Salish Sea, located between the northern Strait of Georgia and Puget Sound to the south. To protect the unique plant and wildlife in this area, the provincial and federal governments must finalize the designation of a National Marine Conservation Area that will run from Gabriola Passage to Haro Strait. It is critical that human uses are managed to preserve the health of this special coastal area, so it can continue to nurture both humans and wildlife for generations to come.
In October 2011, the Province and the Federal government announced that they had agreed on the boundaries for the next round of consultation on a proposed National Marine Conservation Area in the Strait of Georgia. This effectively meets the priority that OFC members had set: to complete the provincial portion of the feasibility study and take a big step closer to protection. The boundaries agreed to incorporate the full extent that municipalities with Islands Trust, along with environmental groups such as Georgia Strait Alliance and CPAWS-BC, had been advocating. The bulk of the responsibility for completing subsequent steps now transfers to the federal government, who will now embark on more detailed consultations with First Nations in the region.
Sharing and Protecting BC’s Water (2010/11, 2011/12)
B.C.’s 100-year-old Water Act is failing to ensure that there is enough water in our streams and aquifers for fish, wildlife and drinking water, threatening our prosperity. B.C.’s government is proposing a new Water Sustainability Act, but entrenched interests are demanding priority access to large quantities of water. B.C. needs a new act that guarantees the environment and drinking water get water first, protects groundwater and other water sources, and applies equally to all industrial operations. Ninety-one per cent of British Columbians say fresh water is B.C.’s most precious resource and 86 per cent think fresh water is extremely important to our prosperity and quality of life.
Government undertook an ambitious Water Act Modernization process early in the election cycle, releasing a well-regarded white paper (Living Water Smart) and opening up what was a fairly comprehensive public consultation and engagement processes. Consultation with First Nations was not as well done, and that and other issues meant the process moved much slower than anticipated. We appreciated government’s stated intention to “get it right”, as a new Water Act will be a complex outcome with far-reaching implications. However, a century-old law will not serve us well in the face of climate change, new industrial demands and a growing population. The process became sufficiently bogged down that the new legislation proposed was not achieved prior to the election. However, both the governing B.C. Liberal Party and the opposition B.C. NDP Party committed in their platforms to passing the new legislation if elected. As well, the opposition party committed to “lead the call for a national energy and climate strategy” in order to start preparing for future impacts on water.
Banning Cosmetic Chemical Pesticide Use in BC (2011/12, 2012/13)
Pesticide exposure has been linked to several serious illnesses, with children at greater risk because they are smaller and their bodies are still developing. Pesticide exposure negatively impacts wildlife, aquatic species, water quality and our principal pollinators, honeybees. Increasingly, British Columbians don’t believe these risks are worth taking for non-essential, “cosmetic” purposes, as reflected in public opinion polls and dozens of B.C. municipal bylaws. Provincial legislation to phase out the sale and use of non-essential chemical pesticides would mean healthier communities, healthier families and a healthier environment for all British Columbians.
Establishment of a Special Legislative Committee on Cosmetic Pesticides was an early positive step towards a ban on cosmetic pesticides in B.C. However, after a process that attracted the highest number of submissions to a public consultation ever hosted by the provincial government (>9000), the majority of the Committee recommended against a ban. This was inconsistent with the vast majority of the public responses, as well as calls for strong prohibition from many respected health authorities. Opposition members of the Committee disagreed with the majority report; instead, the Opposition reintroduced its Private Member’s Bill to legislate a ban on cosmetic pesticides (not passed by the legislature). Government passed changes to the Integrated Pest Management Act in early 2013 which will not result in a ban on pesticides. In the 2013 Provincial Election, the opposition B.C. NDP Party repeated its commitment to introduce legislation banning cosmetic chemical pesticides; the issue was not addressed in the governing B.C. Liberal Party’s election platform.
Modernizing BC’s Mineral Tenure Act (2011/12)
B.C.’s 150-year-old mineral tenure laws –the Mineral Tenure Act –must be modernized to avoid growing land use conflict and improve certainty. The current Act allows prospectors to pay a minimal fee to stake a claim almost anywhere in B.C. (“free entry”) without consultation or approval from government, First Nations or landowners. The ‘two zone’ system gives preferential treatment to mining over all other land uses such as forestry, tourism or recreation by identifying lands that are closed to mineral development (mainly parks) and leaving everywhere else open to mineral exploration, including private land. B.C. must follow the lead of Ontario and other provinces by reforming the Mineral Tenure Act, ending the ‘two zone’ system and shifting to a system that considers conservation and cultural rights.
B.C.’s outdated, 150-year-old mineral tenure laws, contained in the Mineral Tenure Act remains intact, allowing prospectors to pay minimal fees to stake claims almost anywhere in B.C. (“free entry”), and to receive compensable mineral rights in these claim areas without consulting First Nations, local governments or landowners. Minor changes were made to try to reduce the number of frivolous or highly speculative claims by increasing claim fees and the value of the work that needs to be done to maintain tenures. This is a small step in the right direction, but it doesn’t address the more fundamental problems of the free entry system: the assumption that mining is the priority use of most land in B.C.; the absence of a meaningful role for provincial, First Nations and local governments, private land owners and the public in decisions about mineral tenure, and the unfair cost to taxpayers when mineral tenures are affected by public policy decisions. This leads to poor mining proposals that raise enormous controversy later in an expensive process.
Saying “No” to Tanker Expansion in BC Waters (2012/13)
There are three proposals to bring more and bigger oil supertankers to B.C.’s coast to ship Alberta’s tar sands crude to China and Asia from Kitimat (Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline), Vancouver (Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline) and Prince Rupert (CN Rail). The risk of an oil spill can’t be eliminated, and a single oil spill could devastate lives, livelihoods, cultures and wildlife. Once spilled on the coast or into a river, it can never be effectively cleaned up. Oil spills happen because humans make mistakes and machines break, as happened in Enbridge’s 2010 oil spill into the Kalamazoo River. British Columbians are unwilling to risk our rivers and our coast; we are looking for leadership that will stand up to Big Oil to protect our values by saying “no” to tar sands pipelines.
As an election priority, we looked to the parties’ platforms for commitments, as well as their responses to the questions put to them by OFC. The B.C. Liberals put forward their five conditions for “heavy oil pipelines” proposed for B.C. The B.C. NDP remained opposed to the Enbridge pipeline, and during the election leader Adrian Dix came out against making Vancouver a major exporting port for bitumen. The NDP also stated they would maintain the moratoriums on offshore oil and gas and oil tankers for coastal B.C.
Showing Climate Leadership in BC (2012/13)
British Columbia has taken significant steps toward being a leader on climate change policy and action, including establishing a carbon tax, banning coal-fired power generation, and setting (though not fully maintaining) a 93% zero-emissions requirement for electricity. B.C. still has a long way to go to build the low-carbon economy it has the potential to achieve and meet its legislated requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. British Columbians will be looking for action on climate change in the next election to make BC a leader in the low-carbon economy, creating jobs for the future and doing our fair share to avert the worst impacts of climate change.
As an election priority, we looked to the parties’ platforms for commitments, as well as their responses to the questions put to them by OFC. The B.C. NDP committed to “renew” B.C.’s climate action plan in order to meet the legislated targets, as well as lead the call for a national energy and climate strategy. The B.C. Liberals highlighted actions already taken as government (legislating the targets, the current climate action plan, the carbon tax), but did not offer commitments to any further action to try to close the gap to fully achieve the targets.