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Question Period: Fostering innovation in British Columbia’s mining sector

Today in the legislature I took the opportunity during Question Period to ask the Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology about what his Ministry is doing to encourage integration between BC’s tech and mining sectors.

British Columbia is blessed with a wealth of natural resources, and many communities rely on these resources for their livelihoods. But British Columbia will never compete head to head in digging dirt out of the ground with other jurisdictions that don’t internalize the social and environmental externalities that are so important us to. We have to be smarter, more efficient and innovative. In doing so, we’re not only able to sell our resources, but we’re also able to sell the knowledge and value-added products that arise from them.

Rather than adopting a race-for-the-bottom approach to deregulation, we have an incredible opportunity here in British Columbia to integrate our tech sector and our extractive resource industries.

Below I reproduce the video and text of our exchange.


Video of Exchange



Question


A. Weaver: British Columbia is blessed with a wealth of natural resources, and many communities rely on these resources for their livelihoods. But British Columbia will never compete head to head in digging dirt out of the ground with other jurisdictions that don’t internalize the social and environmental externalities that are so important us to. We have to be smarter, more efficient and innovative. In doing so, we’re not only able to sell our resources, but we’re also able to sell the knowledge and value-added products that arise from them.

Rather than adopting a race-for-the-bottom approach to deregulation, we have an incredible opportunity here in British Columbia to integrate our tech sector and our extractive resource industries. B.C.-based companies like MineSense, a company that creates digital mining technology, exemplifies such innovation.

To the Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology. Partnering our resource industries with B.C. innovation is an easy choice with obvious returns. What is this minister doing to encourage these partnerships?


Answer


Hon. B. Ralston: I share the member’s optimism about the power of technological discovery and innovation to transform very traditional resource industries. And in fact, that’s what we’re doing by appointing the innovation commissioner and expanding the mandate of Innovate B.C. to support emerging technologies that will assist in transforming our resource industries.

MineSense is a very good example that illustrates the point, I think, extremely effectively. MineSense is a company which won an award as one of the world’s top-100 new clean-tech companies. What is does is it’s a technology which assists in sorting mining ore through a sensor system, which makes the process more efficient and therefore more profitable, but it also reduces the use of water, reagents and other aspects of the mining process, and it reduces CO2 emissions, therefore making the entire process more energy-efficient and, in effect, greener.

That’s the kind of transformation that’s coming about in the sector, and that’s what the innovation commissioner and the innovation commission are setting out to continue and to enhance, building future prosperity here in British Columbia.


Supplementary Question


A. Weaver: For far too long, government has ignored the potential for innovation within the resource sector. A race-for-the-bottom approach to resource extraction may benefit a few corporate elite, but it’s not in the best interest of communities across our province struggling to attract and retain well-paying, long-term jobs.

It’s not our raw resources that can be profitable in the global markets; it’s our innovation too. Rimex, for example, is a B.C-based company that designs and manufactures innovative, cutting-edge industrial tires. Their products are efficient and reduce risk, and they’re also a prime example of B.C. innovation that’s gone global. The manufacturing base and corporate headquarters for Rimex are both located in the Lower Mainland, and there are over 200 Rimex employees in British Columbia.

My question to the Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology is this: what is the minister doing to foster the growth of B.C. mining sector innovation in this global marketplace?


Answer


Hon. B. Ralston: Again, I thank the member for the question. The government, the Minister of Energy and Mines, has appointed a mining task force, and those issues that the member raises are precisely some of the issues that that task force will raise — how to integrate British Columbia’s leading innovation and technology sector with the traditional resource industries in order to make sure that they can compete globally.

Another example of a B.C. company that is transforming the mining sector is LlamaZOO, which by using data analytics and visualization technology, enables those proposing a mine to create a digital double of the mine and to plan the extraction of the ore in a more efficient way. That technology has attracted wide interest in the mining sector, and that company is, understandably, doing very well.

That’s just one example of what innovation and the support that’s given to it by the government of British Columbia will do to transform the mining sector and enable it to continue to be a world-leading sector here in British Columbia.

Tribute to Elliot Eurchuk

Today in the Legislature I rose to pay tribute to Elliot Eurchuk, a former constituent, who tragically died from an accidental overdose of opioids at just 16 years of age.

Below I reproduce the video and text of the short tribute.


Video of Tribute



Text of Tribute


A. Weaver: Today I rise with profound sadness to convey my deepest sympathies to the family of Elliot Cleveland Eurchuk, who tragically passed away on Friday, April 20, from an accidental overdose of opioids at just 16 years of age.

Elliot and his family are constituents, and Elliot was a grade 11 student at Oak Bay High School. He loved sports, hiking, books and hoped to study medicine in the future. He was known for his wit, humour and profound kindness.

I cannot imagine the grief his family and friends are experiencing. His school and our collective community are grieving together with his family.

His parents, Rachel Staples and Brock Eurchuk — Brock, a longtime friend of mine, who I graduated from high school with — have bravely spoken out to tell their story and warn other youth and parents about the danger of prescription opioids.

Every day in British Columbia we are losing youth in our communities. The B.C. Coroners Service reports that the number of overdose deaths among ten- to 18-year-olds almost doubled, from 12 in 2016 to 23 in 2017. One life lost is truly heartbreaking, yet the scale of this emergency could hardly be articulated in a way that respects and reflects the grief felt around B.C.

To Elliot’s parents and family, please accept my sincere condolences for your tragic loss. I’m sure I speak on behalf of all my colleagues in this chamber when I say that our thoughts and prayers are with you at these difficult times.

On the BC Liberal request to debate a matter of urgent public importance

Right after question period on Thursday of this week, the MLA for Abbotsford West (and the former House Leader when the BC Liberals were in Government) rose, pursuant to Standing Order 35, to seek leave from the Speaker to “make a motion for the adjournment of the House … for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance … “.

In his statement, the MLA for Abbotsford West argued that it was urgent to discuss:

the necessity, advisability, and consequences of referring to the Court of Appeal the question of British Columbia’s ability to regulate or limit the transportation of energy products on federally approved and regulated pipelines and rail lines“.

During the 40th Parliament (prior to the May 2017 election) I stood three times pursuant to Standing Order 35 seeking to debate a matter of urgent public importance (all of them occurred in 2015).

The first sought a debate on whether or not in light of a preponderance of recent weather extremes, and in the lead up to an upcoming United Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Paris,  we, as legislators, were acting with sufficient urgency and demonstrating the appropriate leadership on preparing for and mitigating the escalating impacts of climate change in British Columbia.

The second sought a debate on the recent failure of the contaminated soil site stormwater containment and clarification system at the South Island Aggregates — Cobble Hill Holdings — South Island Resource Management operations near Shawnigan Lake.

The third sought a debate on an economic backup plan for British Columbia given the  collapse of this government’s strategy on LNG and the urgent need to transition to a low-carbon economy.

In all cases the Government House Leader (now the MLA for Abbotsford West) spoke against the need for such debates. As he pointed out,

“It is the urgency of debate, not the urgency of the matter itself”

that is important.

Both the Government House Leader (Mike Farnworth) and I spoke against the need for the present emergency debate. The reason of course is that the issue had been extensively canvassed in Question Period and Budget Estimate debates. Below I reproduce the video and text of my rationale.


Video of my remarks



Text of my remarks


A. Weaver: I rise to speak to the application for Standing Order 35. We were informed of this about a minute ago when this was put on our desk, so we’ve had a quick caucus meeting here.

I will suggest that I do have a lot of sympathy for the arguments brought forward by the Government House Leader.

I will also remind you of precedent. In the previous government, I rose pursuant to Standing Order 35 and I pointed out that it was critical at that juncture for the House here to have a debate on the issue of climate change in the lead-up to the Paris agreement, because government was deliberating on what it was going to do there. And both sides of the House, at that time, suggested that the urgency test had not been met.

I have been talking about the issue of Kinder Morgan for five, six years now. I would argue that the urgency test is not met either, in light of the fact that I listened to estimates, in light of the fact that I’ve been here in this chamber for the last number of weeks and there has been time after time after time where this has been debated. Some of the motions in private members’ time, some of the statements, are on this topic. We’ve had ample opportunity to discuss this.

Again, I come back to the precedent. I come back to the application of Standing Order 35 in the last parliament, when I rose precisely on an issue similar to this and the Speaker at the time ruled that it was not a matter of urgency. I would argue that the parallels are very similar. The argument at the time was that the issue of climate challenge had been debated in question period, it had been debated in estimates, and it had been debated in statements on Monday morning.

The analogy is direct. So our advice, hon. Speaker, as you make your decision, is that we find it difficult to see how this test of urgency is met.

Question Period: More on the dodgy economic case for the Trans Mountain pipeline

Today in the legislature I had the opportunity to rise once more in Question Period to question government further about the dubious economic justifications underpinning Alberta and Federal rhetoric supporting the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Below I reproduce the video and text of my exchange with the Minister of the Environment.


Video of Exchange



Question


A. Weaver: Yesterday, I asked the government whether they share the concerns being raised by many experts about the economics of the Trans Mountain pipeline. I’d like to pick up on that here.

Earlier this year and for the very first time, a new class of tanker — a very large crude carrier, or VLCC — left the newly refurbished Louisiana Offshore Oil Port destined for Asia. These tankers can load over two million barrels of oil, and the LOOP facility can fill them at a whopping rate of 100,000 barrels an hour.

The Aframax-class tankers that would leave the terminus at the end of the Trans Mountain pipeline can only take 555,000 barrels of diluted bitumen out of Burrard Inlet. That means that any Asian buyer would need to contract four Aframax tankers from the Trans Mountain terminus versus only one VLCC from the LOOP facility.

Based on this obvious economic reality that any Asian buyers would be serviced by the VLCCs out of the U.S. and not out of the terminus of Trans Mountain, my question is this, to the either the Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance or the Premier, if he’s here: is her government or his government and her ministry or the Premier’s office taking a hard look at the financial case for the Kinder Morgan pipeline?


Answer


Hon. G. Heyman: Thank you to the Leader of the Third Party for the question. I and other members of the government are certainly aware of the controversy around the economics, the different studies, the changes in conditions and different alternatives. I thank the Leader of the Third Party for reading these into the record.

But with respect to the Leader of the Third Party, it is the job of proponents to determine the economics. It is the job of other governments backing the project to determine the merits of the economics. I think all Canadian taxpayers would want other governments to take a long, hard look at the economics of a project in which they’re considering investing billions of dollars.

But our job, as the government of British Columbia, is to look at the interests of our environment and our economy, and that’s what we’re doing. That’s why we are considering every measure, every inch of our constitutional jurisdiction — to protect against a catastrophe that’s possible, that could have significant and awful economic interests on British Columbia. Tourism alone — 19,000 tourism businesses in British Columbia, employing 133,000 people in every corner of this province, in every constituency represented by members in this chamber.

It’s our duty, it’s our responsibility, to look out for those people. It’s not our responsibility to ignore them because a large project comes along. Our job is to ensure that if there are large projects, they don’t impact and take away the livelihood of those people or the $17 billion in revenue that the tourism industry generates every year in British Columbia.

Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Third Party on a supplemental.


Supplementary Question


A. Weaver: I do thank the minister for his answer and his commitment to protecting British Columbia. But I respectfully disagree, because I believe it is the government’s responsibility to inform British Columbians about the economics of this proposal.

Why? Because the previous government claimed that the economic benefits for British Columbia were very large and, in fact, claimed that the government’s fifth condition was apparently met. Now unfortunately, the fifth condition was based on assertions that were put towards the 2012 National Energy Board in the submission. It’s now six years old, and many of the fundamental assumptions of that submission, of that economic case, on which the government claimed its fifth condition was met, are no longer valid.

Keystone XL and line 3 have been approved. That means that we have more than a million barrels a day of export capacity, which was unaccounted for. We’ve got North America now having the ability to ship through VCCs — that was never able. And we know that you can’t get bigger ships in Burrard Inlet. This government, I would argue, has a responsibility to review those numbers, so that British Columbians are given correct, accurate and up-to-date information about the economics of this project.

My question, Hon. Speaker, is to the Minister of Environment — through you and then through the Minister of Finance, who still has laryngitis. The previous provincial government made claims about the economic benefits to B.C. from this pipeline, that have been cast into serious doubt. Why isn’t this government examining the economic case more closely?


Answer


Hon. G. Heyman: Again, I thank the Leader of The Third Party. As he respectfully disagrees with me about the role of our government in this regard, I respectfully assert again to him that this is not a project that this government thinks is good for British Columbia. We’ve made that clear. We think the risk is so great, and far outweighs the reward.

What we are doing is ensuring that within our jurisdiction, within our ability to regulate and place conditions on a project that is federally decided upon — subject to an appeal to the federal court — we ensure that conditions and regulations are in place to protect our economy.

It’s important up and down our coast. We have a fisheries and seafood industry that contributes more than $660 million every year to our gross domestic product, and it employs 14,000 people, paying almost $400 million in wages.

Just yesterday, 450 businesses understood why we were taking this position; 450 B.C. businesses signed a joint letter calling on the government to continue to stand up for our coast and the tens of thousands of jobs that depend on protecting our coastline and our environment from a spill.

Toad Road yet still no Abode

Yesterday in environment estimate debates I asked a number of questions concerning several species at risk. One of the purposes of my line of questioning was to attempt to unravel systemic inter-ministry jurisdictional red tape.

I am pleased that the Minister reiterated his commitment to bringing in Species at Risk Legislation.

Below I reproduce the text and video of the four question/answer exchanges I had with the Minister.


Western Toad


A. Weaver: Two years ago, the previous government invested $200,000 in the creation of a so-called toad road tunnel to allow western toads to migrate safely across Highway 6 to their upland habitat. Following this investment to help the toads, the Nakusp and Area Community Forest — that’s NACFOR — logging company slated 30 hectares of this upland territory for clearcut.

In response to this, two years ago I urged the B.C. government to protect the western toad habitat around Summit Lake before it is too late for the endangered western toads. My question to the minister is this. Does the minister think that the habitat protection and restoration for the western toad has been achieved, and if not, is there money in this budget to actually achieve it?

Hon. G. Heyman: Thank you to the member for the question. There may be more information that we may be able to gather for the member, but the area to which the member refers is also an area designated as goal 2 in the 1990s, as part of land use planning around Summit Lake. Goal 2 has not been realized. It is still under active discussion in terms of whether to include the area in question in Summit Lake Park.

Responsibility for the road itself is with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. Management of critical habitat, with respect to toad protection and the logging impacts on that habitat, rests with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

I’m not really in position to say to the member whether it’s adequate or not because this ministry isn’t managing that aspect of logging. That could change in the future, when we have different legislation in place, but not currently.


Habitat Conservation Trust Fund


A. Weaver: That brings me to a general point I had in quite a number of questions, if I will ask them. It’s the issue of species at risk. Right now, of course, there are numerous species at risk in the province of British Columbia. These species at risk are distributed…. Jurisdiction for them is in various ministries, whether it be FLNRO; Transportation, if you have a road; Environment, in some cases; or Agriculture, in some cases. It’s quite complex, and there seems to be no overall strategy here.

One of the species — at least a subspecies, or a herd within a species — is the southern Selkirk caribou. According to an article in the Vancouver Sun yesterday, the grey ghost herd in the southern Selkirk Mountains has become functionally extinct. My understanding is that there are three females left in this herd. The herd was a grand total of 14 last year and has dramatically dropped over the last 16 years.

This has been despite B.C.’s attempt to save them. B.C., for example, did protect 2.2 million acres of old-growth forest. They restricted snowmobile access to some core habitat areas. Hunting of caribou was restricted decades ago in the area. Some of the hunters in the region are actually some of the most conservation-minded, the most concerned as to seeing what’s going on, recognizing that they are not to blame.

What is to blame is natural habitat degradation. I recognize that in most aspects, that falls within FLNRO. However, the Environmental Law Centre legal director, Calvin Sandborn, stated that the province has failed to curtail logging and to fully implement snowmobile bans and that the province, in fact, has granted the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation $2 million to create a caribou habitat restoration fund.

Now, which jurisdiction this falls to, I’m not quite sure. Habitat Conservation Trust Fund has got “Habitat,” which I would suggest would fall into FLNRO, but “Conservation,” I would suggest, is probably Environment, because it’s a species at risk.

My question to the minister is this. If the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund is not within the Ministry of Environment, does the minister intend to get involved and address the shortcomings of the efforts to protect the caribou? I think we can all agree that that herd is on its way to extirpation. Does the minister intend to take more substantial enforcement action, within his mandate, from other jurisdictions in addition to granting the restoration fund to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation?

Hon. G. Heyman: Thank you to the member for the question. The Habitat Conservation Trust Fund used to be under Forests, Lands and National Resource Operations. It’s now entirely separate from government, essentially private.

In terms of the overlap of interest and jurisdiction, with FLNRO, the answer that we’ve come up with so far is that the staff of both ministries work closely together on issues where FLNRO has authority, where the ministry is contemplating authority through species-at-risk legislation and where, obviously, we have an interest in terms of species at risk. We have been doing that on caribou, for instance.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and National Resource Operations is producing and is about to distribute a discussion paper on caribou. The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy is finalizing a public discussion paper on species-at-risk legislation. We’ll have further announcements on a consultation.

It doesn’t make sense to consult on species at risk without simultaneously consulting on land use planning so we will coordinate our activities on the two. FLNRO is the lead on recovery activities, and Environment is the lead on policy development through species-at-risk legislation.

We are the lead on discussions with the federal government with respect to actions that can be taken in areas where it is not too late to recover and enhance caribou populations, and we’re the lead with the federal government on consultations to the species-at-risk legislation.

Chair, I believe the member has a number of more questions. If it’s a question, then I’d be happy to take it. If it’s a number, perhaps we could take a short recess.


Western Painted Turtles


A. Weaver: I have one pressing question. I think we canvassed parking lots in a very detailed fashion over the last week or so. I have a number of questions that I feel we need to explore with respect to species at risk and areas that have not been canvassed.

This particular one, again — it’s just the one, and I understand you need a break — points to the quagmire of jurisdictional responsibilities. This one is with respect to abandoned aquarium pets. People may not think that’s a problem, but in fact, abandoned aquarium pets are threatening the survival of the endangered western painted turtle population of Vancouver Island. Given that the western painted turtle hatchlings are just beginning to emerge from their nests with promising numbers — the endangered population is up 20 percent, in terms of the nest numbers, from the summer of 2017 — it’s more important than ever to protect the survival of western painted turtles.

Now, again, what jurisdiction does this fall within? Certainly, the species-at-risk legislation — which, I understand, the government is consulting on — would presumably kick in at some point, but right now we have an issue of an invasive species being brought in. Those are the abandoned aquarium pets. At the other time, we have a species that’s at risk.

The question is this. Does the minister intend to take steps to mitigate the release of abandoned aquarium pets? Is it in his jurisdiction? Or is it in some other jurisdiction? Or does the minister have other plans in place to ensure the continued growth of the endangered western painted turtle?

Hon. G. Heyman: First of all, I’d like to recognize that this is a complicated and intricate web of regulations and overlapping jurisdiction — the member’s quite right — and the more we can sort that out, the better it is for everyone.

For instance, I had a meeting the other day with members of the Invasive Species Council. They asked if we were intending to bring in an invasive species act and raised some very good points, which we are considering. There are 17 pieces of legislation currently that address this issue, which is not, in my view, a very effective way to figure out who’s got responsibility for what.

In the case of abandoned aquarium pets, that would be addressed under the controlled alien species regulation, which is pursuant to the Wildlife Act, but enforcement of that regulation — obviously, it’s illegal to dump — is with the conservation officer service, and they’re very aware of the need. Where the public is aware of an illegal release of an invasive species, they can phone the RAPP line, which is the report all poachers and polluters line, and that’s how people get information.

We have also added additional conservation officers in this year’s budget — 12 new positions. All in all, there’ll be 20, because there were some existing positions on paper that weren’t funded, so they weren’t filled. That, we hope, will make a difference. In addition, we are, as I mentioned, developing species-at-risk legislation. We will put out an intentions paper in the fall, and we hope to simplify the province’s ability to protect species like the western painted turtle.

I think the other point the member made, although not directly, is that we need to ensure the public knows more about the threat of simply…. They may think it’s fine to dump a species that they’ve had as a pet that they no longer wish to have as a pet. In some cases it’s illegal to possess those animals in the first place. In other cases, it’s certainly illegal to release them into the wild.

We need to do more public education, and I’d be happy to discuss that further with the member and my staff, around what people’s responsibilities are, as well as the responsibility of the public to report violations, because these aren’t violations without impact. They’re violations with consequence for other species. Thank you to the member again for raising the point.

If it’s now appropriate to take a recess, it would be welcome.


Video of Exchange for 1st three questions



Screech owl, western skink, western grebe & American badger.


A. Weaver: I’ve got a number of questions. I do have a meeting at five, so I’ll ask one now, and if the estimates are still going when I get back, I’ve got a number more.

There have been, as you know, 16 years of watching species go extinct in this province, and some care has not been given to these species. One of the key ones that’s happening, with a project that’s in a Liberal riding…. Again, I’ve gone to a number of questions in these Liberal ridings that seem not to have been canvassed, other than parking lots.

In this particular one, it’s with respect to a project that was proposed by the previous government: Highway 97 Stickle Road project. Now, why this is an important project is that there are four protected species that are affected in the marsh at Stickle Road. These four protected species are the screech owl, the western skink, the western grebe and the American badger.

My question, then, is…. Again, this is in a jurisdictional nightmare. The reason why this is a jurisdictional nightmare is because the Ministry of Transportation is the one that approves the plan, on the one hand. On the other hand, we’ve got FLNRO involved. We’ve got species involved.

My question to the minister is with respect to how, if any, plans…. Or if there is any money in the budget to actually work to protect these four species in this critical area — which are protected, because they’re special concern species — with respect to this Stickle Road project. In particular, to what extent does his ministry work with the Ministry of Transportation to ensure that species like this are actually accounted for in decision-making processes?

Hon. G. Heyman: I recognize that the member isn’t here, but he’s correct — Hansard will show the answer to this question — that the Stickle Road project is being undertaken to address matters of public safety.

We are, as is the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, aware of the wetlands in the area. The permitting process is under Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, engaged with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. The decisions on mitigation measures would be made at the local level.

We would be happy to pass on to the ministries in question that the member has an interest in specific measures to address the four species at risk that were identified and are certainly willing to just sit in and monitor the conversation, because it may be helpful to us, as well, as we frame species-at-risk legislation and plan how we’re going to make the different jurisdictional regimes work together effectively.


Video of Exchange for last question