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Opinion  

Fracking unfairly attacked

By Ken Green

Hydraulic fracturing, a well-studied and long-used method of producing oil and gas, has again come under attack in British Columbia.

A coalition of environmental groups, community groups and Indigenous bands are calling for a "full public inquiry" to "investigate the risks and harms associated with fracking."

A resource analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives rejects the New Democrat government's proposed plan to appoint a scientific panel to review hydraulic fracturing. He claims that another scientific review "won't be enough to fully address the true risks of deploying this brute-force technology throughout northeast B.C. Current realities dictate that we need a wide-ranging public inquiry."

Perhaps the anti-fracking coalition isn't satisfied with the idea of a scientific review panel because there has been at least a dozen such reviews and expert panels empowered by governments around the world, staffed with highly-respected scientists and engineers, that all come to basically the same conclusion: Yes, hydraulic fracturing poses a range of environmental and social impacts, but they're relatively rare and manageable with existing technologies and regulatory practices.

Two Fraser Institute studies, in 2014 and 2015, reviewed the findings of 14 such assessments of the risk posed by hydraulic fracturing from high-profile journals and research panels in Canada, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. The Canadian assessment was performed by the Canadian Council of Academies.
The review summarized the findings of expert commissions (as well as academic reviews) of the three most prominent risks posed by hydraulic fracturing: to surface and ground water, on air, and through induced seismicity.

On water contamination, a 2013 review article in the journal Science found that "since the advent of hydraulic fracturing, more than one million hydraulic fracturing treatments have been conducted, with perhaps only one documented case of direct groundwater pollution resulting from injection of hydraulic fracturing chemicals used for shale gas extraction."

A 2011 report of the New York State Health Department (which then had a ban on hydraulic fracturing) found that "no significant impact to water resources is likely to occur due to underground vertical migration of fracturing fluids through the shale formations."

With regard to air pollution, a 2014 study conducted for the B.C. Ministry of Health found that short-term exposures to air pollutants were low enough that they didn't pose a significant risk of adverse health effects to people living in the area, while long-term exposures to air pollutants from hydraulic fracturing were generally associated with a low potential for adverse health effects. 

On seismicity, the Canadian Council of Academies found that although hydraulic fracturing operations can cause additional seismicity, most of the earthquakes felt by the public aren't caused by hydraulic fracturing itself, but by the underground injection of waste water. They are mostly very low-strength tremors not felt at the surface of the Earth (although one 4.6-magnitude quake has been linked to hydraulic fracturing, but it didn't cause damage to persons or property). The CCA suggests that the risk of hydraulic fracturing causing earthquakes is low, and can be minimized through "careful site selection, monitoring, and management."

As the Fraser Institute observed in our 2014 assessment of the risk of hydraulic fracturing, fracking in Canada is highly regulated, with extensive governmental oversight and self-imposed industry best-practices.
It's hard to see how a public inquiry into hydraulic fracturing will produce anything significantly different than the voluminous literature that shows the risks of hydraulic fracturing, while real, have been and continue to be managed by traditional engineering and regulatory practices.

Such an inquiry will, however, play into the hands of those who oppose energy production in B.C., depriving the province of significant economic benefits.

Kenneth Green is senior director of the Centre for Natural Resource Studies at the Fraser Institute.

– Troy Media



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AWOL on opioid crisis

By Dermod Travis

It's a story all too common in British Columbia. 

Here's how CTV News reported it: “Police believe a drug overdose is the cause of death for two men, apparently in their fifties, who were found lifeless in a car parked at a gas station on Friday morning.”

It didn't happen in B.C., though. It happened in Montreal on Aug. 25 and the real story is what happened next.

In less than six weeks Montreal police had conducted six raids, arresting 13 drug dealers linked to the two deaths. They seized $19,000 in cash, along with fentanyl, about 500 grams of heroin, meth and other drugs.

Montreal police chief Philippe Pichet was blunt commenting after the last raid: “We will follow and stop those who put (fentanyl) into narcotics.” 

Note his choice of words. Pichet was announcing the priority for his department's drug enforcement efforts, he was declaring war on fentanyl “to stave-off a public health crisis.”

It's not an isolated illustration.

Last February, a Gatineau couple were found in their apartment with their unharmed child, four days after overdosing on fentanyl.

Eight months later – following a six-month investigation – the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) announced they had shut down “an illegal weapons and drugs operation” operating in the National Capital Region with the assistance of the Ottawa and Gatineau police services.

Contrast those results with this: in September, Delta police announced the arrest of a 21-year-old dealer alleged to have sold tainted drugs that resulted in nine fentanyl-related overdoes in a span of 20 minutes more than a year earlier.

The identity of the alleged dealer was no secret. His father was granting media interviews within days following the 2016 overdoses.

Or perhaps this tally: “two industrial pill presses seized, one ounce of suspected fentanyl, over 1,200 tablets containing heroin and fentanyl, one kg of fentanyl during a routine traffic stop, a package of Furanyl-fentanyl intercepted at the Vancouver International Mail Centre, a large number of pills laced with fentanyl and 10 arrests.”

Impressive if it was for a medium-sized city's police department, but it's not. 

According to their website, it's the province-wide total for the RCMP in B.C. in 2016.

B.C. isn't lacking for police officers. 

Last year, there were 184 police officers for every 100,000 residents, a tad shy of the national rate of 187. 

Something else has to be at play to explain the stark differences in response to the opioid crisis between B.C. and other provinces. 

Part of it may have something to do with how local communities are policed.

Outside of Atlantic Canada, B.C. is the only province to have more RCMP officers policing local communities than local police departments do – 5,378 versus 2,532 – nearly 7 out of every 10 officers. 

In Quebec, 37 per cent of local police officers are on contract from the provincial police force, in Ontario, 25 per cent are from the OPP and in Alberta, 38 per cent are RCMP. 

There are only 11 municipalities in B.C. with their own police departments: one in Nelson, one in Abbotsford, four in the capital region and five in Metro Vancouver.

Each has its own police board, but their composition differs dramatically from boards elsewhere in Canada.

In Ontario, the provincial government appoints three of the seven-member oversight boards. In Calgary, council appoints all 11 members to the city's police commission.

In B.C., boards are comprised of the mayor, one person appointed by the municipal council and up to seven members appointed by the B.C. government.

Among the appointees to the Vancouver board are an investment advisor, a property developer, a craft brewer and a physician. 

What they may lack in policing background, they more than make up for by what they share in common: six of the seven have donated a total of $265,000 to the B.C. Liberal party since 2005.

Boards are important. It's where community policing priorities are set.

If blame needs to be laid for B.C.'s less than stellar policing response to the opioid crisis it's not with police officers, it's with the former provincial government and not just for their ham-fisted control over police boards, but also for their short-sighted approach to funding the justice system.

Police officers could be forgiven for wondering what's the point in making the arrest if there aren't even enough sheriffs to keep courtrooms open?

It's time for B.C.'s new government to step up.

– Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.



Hydro's little fibs on Site C

By Dermod Travis

The hissing sound you may hear is the unmistakable sound of the air coming out of Site C's tires.

As the B.C. Utilities Commission continues its inquiry on the project, it's becoming more and more apparent that B.C. Hydro has been playing a bit loose with telling the whole truth when it comes to Site C.

Case in point: in December 2014, when the B.C. government announced its decision to move ahead with Site C, B.C. Hydro boasted that an independent analyst had reviewed its methodologies for future demand forecasts and found them to be “state-of-the-art methods.”

Which is true, but not the whole truth.

From his report: “The process will produce accurate forecasts about ten years out. However, the process of producing peak forecasts and sales forecasts are not linked as directly as they could be, and could impact the second ten years of the 20 year forecast.”

Due diligence also seemed to be in short supply when it came to awarding some Site C contracts.

In November 2015, B.C. Hydro announced that its preferred proponent for the Site C main civil works contract was Peace River Hydro Partners comprised of Acciona Infrastructure, Petrowest Corp. and Samsung C&T. 

First raised in this space more than a year ago, all three were facing problems of their own at the time.

Samsung Group was under investigation for bid-rigging and corruption in South Korea, Acciona was under investigation for corruption in Spain – two executives were arrested by Spanish authorities less than a month after the Site C deal was signed – and Petrowest was “living on borrowed time” from its lenders.

There have been a few developments since. 

In August, the head of Samsung, Jay Y. Lee, was sentenced to five years in prison for bribery, after being found guilty of “offering bribes to the country's former president and other crimes.”

Petrowest finally succumbed to borrowed time and went into receivership in August. 

As for “on time and on budget,” Site C is neither and likely never was, despite B.C. Hydro claiming otherwise.

Here's what then-president and CEO Jessica McDonald told B.C. Business Magazine in a July 2016 interview: “We can look at our estimates and see where we are, and that’s the best gauge on why we say that the project is very solidly on time and on budget.” 

According to court documents filed in the Supreme Court of B.C., “Shortly after work commenced on the Site C project, it became apparent that various project components, including the dam, were over budget and behind schedule.”

Last month, PRHP told the utility that it wouldn't meet the 2019 river diversion deadline, adding an additional $610 million to the project’s costs. 

No surprise that a report this year by accounting firm Ernst & Young – Spotlight on Canadian power and utility megaprojects: challenges in financing and delivery – found that Canadian infrastructure megaprojects on average run 39 per cent over budget and behind schedule by 12 months.

How did Site C get off the rails so fast and so early?

No one seems to have been entrusted with looking after the taxpayers' interest, just each other's interest.

In 2007, the utility looked to its boardroom for a consultant – former MLA and then B.C. hydro director Jack Weisberger – to lead community consultations on Site C.

Catana Advisory Services was engaged “to negotiate (Site C) legacy agreements with municipal and regional district governments in northeast B.C.”

You won't find it in any official biography, but as late as December 16, 2013, McDonald was a partner at Catana.

In 2014, another board member – former Partnerships B.C. CEO Larry Blain – left the utility and landed at KPMG as its Senior Director, Global Infrastructure Advisory where he joined Gary Webster, a partner at the accounting firm, who was advising B.C. Hydro on Site C, advice some might better characterize as cheer leading. 

None of this bodes well for an on time and on budget finish of Site C, if there is a Site C to finish after the B.C. Utilities Commission sends its final report to the government.

But no matter how it plays out, there are some tough questions that need to be asked.

First among them: how did an $8.7 billion project get so far down the road without any independent oversight?

– Dermod Travis is the executive direct of IntegrityBC.





Back on shaky ground

 

By Jason Clemens and Niels Veldhuis

During the spring election campaign, John Horgan convinced many British Columbians that his NDP government would be different than the previous New Democrat regime, particularly when it came to finances.

Unfortunately, the first few months of NDP reign don't augur well for the future. Consider just how markedly B.C.'s finances have changed in the few months since the election.

In the spring of 2017, the then-governing Liberals estimated revenues for 2017-18 at $50.8 billion against spending of $50.2 billion, resulting in a surplus of just over $600 million.

Then the NDP's September budget update estimated that revenues would be higher than originally budgeted by almost $1.6 billion. That should have meant an estimated 2017-18 surplus of $2.2 billion. Instead, between July and mid-September, Horgan's government introduced $1.7 billion in new spending for this year.

And the government has said it plans to increase spending by $4.5 billion over the next three years. 

Notably, this increase doesn't include many of the spending initiatives outlined in the NDP-Green Party coalition agreement or the NDP's campaign platform. That agreement included a number of initiatives largely absent from the budget update:

  • Invest in transit and transportation infrastructure.
  • Long-term funding for transit.
  • Build hospitals, schools and other infrastructure.
  • Increase funding for health care, particularly preventive initiatives and services.
  • Introduce an essential drugs program.
  • New health spending focused on seniors, including home care.
  • Additional funding for kindergarten to Grade 12 and post-secondary education.
  • New investments in childcare and early childhood education.
  • A new pilot program on basic minimum income.
  • New investments in affordable housing.

In addition, while there's a great deal of overlap between the NDP-Green agreement and the original NDP campaign platform, there are also several major commitments that seem either underestimated in the budget update or altogether absent. For instance, while the agreement calls for greater investment in childcare and early childhood learning, it doesn't specifically introduce the $10-a-day childcare program proposed in the NDP platform.

The combination of immediate and marked spending increases, zero fiscal room for additional spending, and a large number of unfulfilled and expensive campaign promises means there's a strong likelihood that B.C. will slip back into deficit spending and/or face additional tax increases, perhaps as early as next spring's budget.

The Horgan government has sent a troubling signal with its first budget that big spending, tax increases and (more likely than not) deficits are back as the governing fiscal policies of the province.

Jason Clemens and Niels Veldhuis are economists with the Fraser Institute.

– Troy Media



Rural bus service essential

By Amanda West

The quality of life of rural British Columbians is being thrown under the bus.

If we are not careful, it will be done without a plan for the future. We can only hope that our provincial and federal politicians are paying attention.

We have been asking for a national transit strategy that includes inter-city bus transportation for many years, but this plea has continued to fall on deaf ears. Inter-city bus transportation is the transit of the rural community. Without it, rural citizens have limited access to out-of-town services.

Years of provincial cuts mean that many have no choice but to travel for specialists appointments and other vital services. Governments have a duty to ensure affordable and reliable ways to carry out this essential travel.

Canada, as a whole, does not provide for an alternative to bus travel – either by air or by rail – that most people can afford on a regular basis. Many small communities such as Lytton, Dawson Creek or Princeton are due to be adversely affected by Greyhound’s service withdrawal.

The inter-city bus industry has been all but deregulated – thanks in part to the federal government downloading responsibility for regulation to the provinces. The provinces are no longer willing to face the challenge and expense of providing safe, clean and reliable transportation to their own rural constituents. At worst, this constitutes serious neglect of rural needs.

Greyhound readily admits in its most recent application to the B.C. Passenger Transportation Board that its proposed route reductions and eliminations will deprive remote communities of vital service. While bemoaning a lack of revenue, Greyhound has failed to mention that its own changes of the past few years (running scheduled coaches at inconvenient times, eliminating route stops/agencies in smaller communities) have contributed to the results we see today.

Any funding provided to a private company such as Greyhound, must come with some form of reciprocation to the province and the citizens of British Columbia, such as a dedicated fleet, daily runs and mandatory service.

Further isolation also makes a bad situation worse when it comes to rural health care, where services are fewer.

Added to this, the lack of inter-city bus service puts an unfair financial burden on ordinary people. This leaves rural British Columbians in an increasingly precarious position that cannot be ignored. Factor in safety and the situation becomes more alarming, especially given what has transpired along the Highway of Tears. 

Safe and regularly scheduled transportation is a necessity in the small communities dotting British Columbia and every other province in Canada. It is essential for the safety and well being of all our residents.

It should also be the government’s concern to ensure that the most dangerous roads in this province are not left to private operators motivated solely by profit in a piece-meal system. The guarantee of regulated provincial bus service upholds the government obligation to provide vital and essential links to all British Columbians.

These links allow for fair and affordable access to services which have already been wiped out locally, services which urban British Columbians may take for granted. Rural families should not have to expect less. 

Amanda West is a former coach operator and is financial secretary treasurer of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1374.



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