Today in the Legislature I was up in Question Period. I questioned the Minister of Justice, Suzanne Anton, about the lobbying and donation practices of the fossil fuel industry and the effect on government decision-making. I also asked about reforms needed to regulate the lobbying industry in BC and bring it in line with federal standards.
My question follows reports in the media over this week that lobbyists are engaging in illegal donation practices on behalf of their clients, as well as a recent analysis that maps the influence of the fossil fuel industry in BC politics, highlighting extensive lobbying practices and vast amounts of political donations. Both reports can be found at the end of this article.
Below are the text and video of the exchange. I was disappointed with the Minister’s answers. She merely restated that we have a registry of lobbyists in BC. We do have a registry, but its usefulness as a tool of transparency is severely limited, since lobbyists are not required to report the meetings they hold with public office holders. Moreover, we have no code of conduct for lobbyists to regulate practices such as gift-giving to public office holders. The Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists recommended both of these measures, back in 2013, as important ways to make lobbying practices more transparent in BC. Yet the government has ignored these recommendations and the Minister of Justice was unwilling to engage on this serious issue.
A. Weaver: Vast amounts of money are flowing from fossil fuel companies to both the B.C. Liberals and — to a much lesser extent, mind you — the B.C. NDP.
Between 2008 and 2015, 48 fossil fuel companies and industry groups donated $5.2 million to the government and official opposition and reported more than 22,000 lobbying contacts with public officials between 2010-2016. With seven of the top donors also ranking among the most active lobbyists, there is a substantial overlap between those who give money and those who get meetings.
To further that, 28 percent of lobbying by the top-ten most active lobbyists has been directly with cabinet ministers — an unrivaled level of access — and the Minister of Natural Gas Development is the most targeted member in the entire Legislature.
In light of this, my question to the Minister of Justice is this. How does the government expect the public to trust that their interests are being protected and that these practices are not buying lobbyists and their clients special treatment?
Hon. S. Anton: It may be that the member was not here yesterday to know that we actually established the first-ever lobbyist registry in 2002 to establish transparency so British Columbians could see who is doing the lobbying. There never was a registry before that. After some years of experience with that registry, we updated it in 2009, creating one of the strongest regimes for lobbyist registration in Canada.
The updates increased the registrar’s powers and duties so the lobbyist registrar now has the power to conduct investigations, to compel testimony and to compel documents. In other words, the lobbyist registrar has the tools that he or she needs in order to make sure that the registry is conducted properly and that the lobbyists are conducting themselves in accordance with the rules, which is what I expect, which is what we expect as a government.
A. Weaver: I’m glad the minister talked about the lobbying registry, because frankly, we are one of the weaker in the country of Canada. B.C. lacks rules to regulate lobbying practices and ensure transparency.
We know that extensive lobbying is ongoing in B.C., but we have no code of conduct for lobbyists. Moreover, we have no requirement in B.C. for lobbyists to register actual meetings with public office holders. All they have to do is register who they plan to lobby. Other jurisdictions in Canada have much stricter standards.
It’s clear to me that with our rampant cash-for-access system and allegations that lobbyists are engaging in illegal donation practices on behalf of their clients — largely to the B.C. Liberals but also to the B.C. NDP — that we need much more stringent rules. We need standards against which the public can hold lobbyists and their contacts in the government to account.
My question to the Minister of Justice is: will the minister commit to transparency on lobbying practices, including requiring lobbyists to report on actual meetings held with government officials and creating a code of conduct for lobbyists?
Hon. S. Anton: The matter that the member referred to about contributions is very clearly, if that were to happen, a breach not of the lobbyists act but of the Election Act. The Election Act in section 186(2)(b) says that “an individual may make a political contribution with the money of another individual, but must disclose to the individual required to record the contribution under section 190….”
In other words, you can make a payment on behalf of a third party, but the third party must be disclosed. It must be very clear that it is that third party’s money which has gone to the payment. That is a breach of the Election Act. It is very clearly a breach if that is conducted. I think that that’s the conduct the member is referring to.
In fact, to the lobbying act itself, the 2009 updates to the act put very strict and significant penalties into that act for breaches of the act.
Mapping Political Influence: Political donations and lobbying by the fossil fuel industry in BC, Corporate Mapping Project, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Available at: http://www.corporatemapping.ca/bc-influence/.
Lobbying in British Columbia: The Way Forward: Report on Province-Wide Consultations and Recommendations for Reform, Elizabeth Denham, Registrar of Lobbyists. Available at: https://www.lobbyistsregistrar.bc.ca/handlers/DocumentHandler.ashx?ID=447.
‘Fairly limited’ transparency rules for lobbyists in B.C., deputy registrar says, Liam Britten, CBC News. Available at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/lobbying-lobbyists-b-c-1.4014551.
British Columbia: The ‘wild west’ of fundraising, Kathy Tomlinson, CBC News. Available at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/investigations/wild-west-bc-lobbyists-breaking-one-of-provinces-few-political-donationrules/article34207677/.
Media Release: November 7th, 2016
Andrew Weaver Responds to the National Oceans Protection Plan
For Immediate Release
Victoria, B.C. – “Though weak on details, I am supportive of the initiatives outlined in the National Oceans Protection Plan includes,” says Andrew Weaver, Leader of the BC Green Party and MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head.
“I am especially grateful to see derelict vessels included in this plan. As an MLA for a coastal area, it is an ongoing problem I have struggled with in my riding. Currently, local, provincial and federal governments get mired in jurisdictional squabbles as the remediation process for derelict vessels is delayed, leaving boats to rust and leak on the foreshore.
“The Heiltsuk Nation has worked tirelessly to monitor and mitigate the impact of the recent diesel spill near Bella Bella. They stepped up to fill in where the provincial and federal governments were lacking and I’m glad to see the importance of co-management with Indigenous communities acknowledged in this plan.
“That said, I am worried this announcement will be held up as a justification for the approval future heavy oil projects. Even with a full protection plan the effects of a diluted bitumen spill in our waters would be catastrophic.
“If Trans Mountain were approved, which this announcement leaves room for, the number of tankers leaving Vancouver Harbour and traveling through the south coast of B.C. would increase by 580%. Currently, five tankers per month enter the port at the Westridge Marine Terminal. With Trans Mountain that would increase to an estimate 34 tankers per month. At 408 tankers transiting into and out of the Vancouver Harbour per year, over the project’s estimated 50 year lifespan that would be 40,800 tanker trips past the Gulf Islands and Southern Vancouver Island through the Juan de Fuca Strait – a route the Federal Tanker Safety Expert Panel has deemed “very high risk.”
“In both my professional and political capacity, and my role as a Trans Mountain intervener, I can state with certainty that the project must be rejected if we are to move in the right direction. The time for halfway measures – both to protect our marine environment and to reach our pledge to cap global warming well below 2.0°C – is at an end.”
“If world leaders understood what they signed in Paris, they would know that meeting the 2.0°C target is incompatible with the investment in any new fossil fuel infrastructure that is planned to be used in the next several decades.”
Mat Wright – Press Secretary
Andrew Weaver MLA
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Media Statement: October 27th, 2016
Weaver Calls for the Resignation of B.C. Minister of Environment
For Immediate Release
Victoria, B.C. – “I do not call for this lightly. I have spent my career in the climate science field advising provincial, federal, and international governments on their climate policies. Never in my life have I witnessed a government using such outrageous rhetoric to describe subpar efforts to protect the environment,” said Andrew Weaver, MLA for Oak Bay – Gordon Head and Leader of the B.C. Green Party.
“The ministry’s responsibilities have too often been neglected, forcing citizens to step in and try to protect the environment themselves. British Columbians have been left investigating and mitigating the impacts of environmental tragedies like what happened at the Mt. Polley mine, the Shawnigan contaminated soil facility, and the Bella Bella diesel spill with their own time and money, often employing the courts to force the Ministry to do their job,” said Weaver. “This government’s policy continues to put vested and private interests ahead of their responsibilities they have to the people of British Columbia.
“I now lack confidence in Minister Polak to uphold the obligations outlined in her ministerial mandate letter. As such, I am calling for her to be replaced by a minister who will stand up for the people of B.C. and the water and environment that we all rely on.
“The absence of a real climate policy, the reaction to the Mount Polley tailings pond breach, and the repeated compliance failures at the Shawnigan contaminated soil facility with no real ministerial response are egregious examples that I have tried to work with the Ministry on,” said Weaver. “The Minister’s failed response to the diesel spill in Heiltsuk Territory is the last straw for me.
“It is appalling that the B.C. Liberals can look British Columbians in the eye and tell them that they have a climate leadership plan. They are not climate leaders, and they don’t even have a plan. At least when Mr. Harper was Prime Minister we knew where he stood on environmental protection. Premier Clark and the Minister of Environment claim one thing and does the complete opposite.”
Sonia Furstenau, CVRD Director and BC Green Party candidate for Cowichan Valley is equally frustrated with the impacts provincial policy is having on her community. “In Shawnigan, we are experiencing first-hand the downside of this government’s insistence on ‘getting to yes’ at all costs. The people of Shawnigan are suffering from ongoing stress and anxiety while the Ministry of Environment allows for ongoing non-compliance with the contaminated landfill permit, and compounding failures at the site. This ministry promised the community that all water leaving this site would meet the strictest aquatic and drinking water guidelines, and already, 20 months into the permit, levels of toluene, copper, iron, manganese, aluminum and more have exceeded these guidelines.”
Furstenau has consistently urged the Minister to act. “Under the Environmental Management Act, misrepresentation during permit application stage and ongoing non-compliance since this company began operations gives the Minister more than adequate grounds to revoke this permit. If she won’t use her authority to revoke this permit and protect the people of Shawnigan Lake, she should step down.
Press Secretary for MLA Andrew Weaver
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Today in the legislature I rose to speak to Bill 21 — Environmental Management Amendment Act, 2016. Bill 21 is designed to provide the legal foundation for a spill preparedness and response regime in BC. The legislation requires new requirements for spill preparedness, response and recovery, and it creates new offenses and penalties. However, almost all important aspects of this bill are left up to the development of regulations. As such, it should be viewed as an enabling will with much more to come.
Below is are the text and video of my speech.
A. Weaver: I rise to speak to Bill 21, the Environmental Management Amendment Act, 2016. Now, this bill is designed to provide the legal foundation for a spill preparedness and response regime in British Columbia. The legislation, as we just heard from the member for Saanich North and the Islands, puts in new requirements for spill preparedness, response and recovery, and it creates new offences and penalties. However, the problem with this bill is not so much what’s in it but what’s not in it. This bill puts much, if not most, of the items of interest into regulations.
I’d like to give just a couple of examples of this. I think it highlights what we’re debating. We’re debating an enabling legislation. It is clearly an enabling legislation, essentially enabling government to put in place regulations that will govern a spill response and regime. Before I can even get to a couple of examples of what is in regulations, I have to start with a definition. It’s a definition of what is called a responsible person. In this legislation, this amendment, a responsible person means “a person who has possession, charge or control of a substance or thing when a spill of the substance or thing occurs or is at imminent risk of occurring.” That’s what a responsible person is — rather broad.
I would like to give some examples, because I think it ultimately highlights how much we are essentially debating on here that has to be put in regulations. Section 91.11 would be added to the Environmental Management Act. Listen carefully:
“A regulated person must ensure that (a) on or before the prescribed date, the regulated person has a spill contingency plan that complies with the regulations….” What does that say? There’s a prescribed date; we leave it to government to prescribe it. The regulated person, whoever that might be, has a spill contingency plan that complies with regulations — not very specific.
So “(b) the spill contingency plan is reviewed, updated and tested in the prescribed manner and at the prescribed frequency….” Okay. That doesn’t give us an awful lot of comfort as to what that means.
Then: ” (c) the spill contingency plan is made available to employees of the regulated person in accordance with the regulations….” Essentially, it’s saying: “Trust us.”
And “(d) the spill contingency plan demonstrates that the regulated person has the capability to effectively respond to a spill, and (e) if required by the regulations, the spill contingency plan is published in accordance with the regulations.”
You can’t make this stuff up: “if required by the regulations, the spill contingency plan is published in accordance with the regulations ” Does this mean we wouldn’t actually publish the spill contingency plan if it’s not required? Does it mean that if in accordance with regulations at the end, we can just publish whatever contingency plan we want? I mean, it’s bizarre.
“(3) A regulated person must ensure that, in accordance with the regulations, (a) records respecting investigations, tests and surveys referred to in subsection (2) are prepared and kept for the prescribed period….” Again, what does that mean? And “(b) prescribed reports are prepared and submitted to a director….” What prescribed report? Then: “(c) employees of the regulated person receive prescribed training to prescribed standards” — I’m honestly not making this up — “employees of the regulated person receive prescribed training to prescribed standards.” “Trust us,” says the government. And ” (d) employees of the regulated person engage in spill response training exercises and drills in the prescribed manner and at the prescribed frequency.”
We are being asked to certainly trust that government will have the best interests of British Columbians at heart as they develop — in their words, not in our words — a world-leading spill preparedness.
That brings me to another point. You know, in the field of science, when we hear universities describe themselves as world-class, we know right away that they’re not, because the people who describe themselves as world-class clearly are not world-class.
World-class scientists are described by others as world-class. World-class institutions are described by others as world-class. When this government stands up and says it’s building a world-class spill response, I can assure you that it will be anything but world-class, because we would be expecting others to look at it and tell us if it were indeed world-class.
Given what we’ve seen around us under the professional reliance model that this government is so proud to put forward…. We only have to look at Mount Polley. Was that a world-class response? I don’t think so. What about what’s going on in Shawnigan Lake? Is this a world-class process for a world-class land use agreement for a world-class containment facility? I don’t think so. Is our LNG “we’re going to world-class standards, cleanest in the world” rhetoric…? I don’t think so.
This government is full of rhetoric. It’s full of rhetoric that’s substanceless, and frankly, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of hearing them call themselves world-class. British Columbians are tired of hearing them call it world-class. They’re not world-class. They’re parochial and inward-looking and missing the bigger picture of what’s going on in the world around us.
With that said, I did participate as an intervener in the Trans-Mountain hearings over the last couple of years. Let me tell you, that was a lot of work — hundreds of hours, hundreds and hundreds of hours by the team, poring through papers, many unresponded-to questions.
What I learned from that is that British Columbia — in fact, Canada — has simply not the capacity to respond to any spill of any magnitude — in particular, when it comes to diluted bitumen. We have no idea, at the basic level of science, as to what would happen if diluted bitumen were to spill in, say, the Fraser River. We know there’s a lot of suspended sediment there. We know that a lot of it would sink, but we really don’t have any idea.
Frankly, it is reckless. It is reckless for this government to be talking about even entertaining the Trans-Mountain proposal and putting in place these regulations now, while still allowing one tanker a week, laden with diluted bitumen, to leave the Burnaby ports through our coastal waters when we don’t even have a response capability today.
Where is this government actually standing up and being truthful to British Columbians that we need an immediate moratorium on the transportation of diluted bitumen in our coastal waters because, as admitted in this Environmental Management Amendment Act, we don’t have any standards here in B.C.? If there were a spill, my riding of Oak Bay–Gordon Head and the riding of my friend here in Saanich North and the Islands would be devastated, yet we have no management plan in place.
The government is trying to put a management plan in place, largely for land-based spills, but we have none now. It is reckless and irresponsible for us to continue to put diluted bitumen in pipes and to have that product shipped in our coastal waters. A relatively new Trans-Mountain Pipeline proposal that was built in the U.S. is already leaking. It’s already leaking. Right now, there’s cleanup and concerns happening there.
The basis of this bill obviously comes from the pressure of the major oil pipeline proposals. I recognize it’s coming in response to the government’s willingness and desire, or condition No. 3, to have in place what they call, through the usual hyperbolic rhetoric, “world-leading spill response.”
This is their attempt, but really, it’s an attempt that we don’t know anything about, because it just enables the government — as is becoming more and more typical — in negotiation with industry, to put in place regulations as they see fit and then surround it and wrap this in rhetoric about “world-leading” and “consultation” and “listening to First Nations,” etc.
One of the things that I do appreciate in this — because it’s a fundamental principle within the Green Party of British Columbia — is that it’s based on a polluter-pay model. The person who makes the mistake pays for the mistake, not the taxpayer. So in that regard, I support this aspect.
The other principles, not the only one of which is polluter pays, that this is based on are risk-based requirements, avoiding unnecessary duplication, a fair and transparent process, opportunities for First Nations and communities in preparedness response and recovery, and strong government oversight and continuous improvement.
Now, again, the strong government oversight is something that I would love to trust. I would love to trust that we would indeed have strong government oversight. But the evidence is that we cannot trust this government to provide that strong oversight. Again, I come back to Mount Polley. Again, I come back to Shawnigan Lake, and there are other examples out there.
Let me give you probably what I perceive to be the most worrying aspect of this bill. It may not seem like much. It’s on page 15 of the legislation. We turn to page 15, and we look at (d), where it says: “by adding the following paragraph.” I’m going to read this slowly. I can’t make this stuff up: “(d) exempting a person, an organization or a thing or a class of persons, organizations or things from any provisions of Division 2.1 or the regulations under this Division, in circumstances and on conditions that the Lieutenant Governor in Council prescribes.”
Essentially, this says: “Anything we have in here we can exempt, if we want, as cabinet.” “Trust us”? I don’t think so, hon. Speaker. That clause is deeply, deeply troubling.
While I will recognize that this bill is a step in the right direction, it’s not clear to me that I can support it at this juncture. It’s not clear to me that I can support it in light of the fact that I have no idea where the regulations are going.
I look forward to exploring that further at committee stage to see what the government has in mind so that we might, as a matter of record for future occasions down the road, get a sense of what the government’s intentions are with respect to each and every one of these sections, of which there are many, where everything is prescribed by regulations.
Media Statement January 11, 2016
Canada needs an immediate moratorium on shipping diluted bitumen in coastal B.C. waters
For immediate release
Victoria B.C. – In light of the provincial government’s final submission to the Trans Mountain National Energy Board (NEB) hearings that described BC’s spill response capacities as insufficient, Andrew Weaver, MLA for Oak Bay – Gordon Head and Leader of the B.C. Green Party, is calling on the provincial and federal governments to establish a moratorium on the transport of diluted bitumen (dilbit) along our coast.
While encouraged to see the provincial government finally agreeing our coastline is unprepared to deal with a major dilbit spill, he notes that it is inconsistent with their continued approval of the bitumen-filled tankers that travel through our marine environment – currently at the average rate of one per week.
“The BC government is admitting one thing and allowing another,” says Andrew Weaver. “In 2013 I added a 6th condition – a complete ban on the shipment of dilbit along our coast – to the province’s five approval criteria. With a dangerously low ability to deal with spills and limited scientific understanding of how dilbit will interact with BC’s waters, that 6th condition is overdue and essential.”
Trans Mountain based their entire analysis of the fate and behaviour of (dilbit) in the marine environment on the faulty assumption that dilbit floats. Published evidence, together with a Federal government study, and assessment reports from both the Royal Society of Canada’s Expert Panel on The Behaviour and Environmental Impacts of Crude Oil Released into Aqueous Environments as well as the US National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Effects of Diluted Bitumen on the Environment, all of which Andrew submitted as evidence to the NEB, clearly conclude otherwise.
In its final submission to the NEB hearings the provincial government noted that Trans Mountain had not provided adequate information on spill prevention and response, therefore not meeting a key component of the provincial five conditions required for approval of heavy oil pipelines. However the government said they will continue to evaluate the project.
“The B.C. Government submission emphasizes what I and other intervenors have been saying throughout the hearing process. There simply is not an adequate response in place now, nor likely in the future, to deal with a diluted bitumen spill.” says Andrew Weaver, “I am calling on the Federal Government to halt all current shipments of dilbit. The risk is simply too high.”
Andrew Weaver’s final argument in the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Hearing Process, submitted Friday January 8th, cited “substantive deficiencies” in Trans Mountain’s application and detailed their inability to provide adequate responses to intervenor’s questions. Because of these concerns, and the NEB’s failure to include cumulative upstream and downstream effects on climate, Andrew Weaver has urged the NEB to reject their application.
– Press Secretary, Andrew Weaver MLA
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