My fearless predictions for 2015

When I was a little boy, every year at about this time my mother would sit me down for a talk about my priorities for the coming 12 months.

Like most kids, I hated the talk. I remember scrambling for something meaningful to say given my favoured time horizon was two hours, not 12 months.

Never make predictions, especially about the future.

– Casey Stengel

But the annual ritual persisted, and like with most things, the more I did it the more I liked it. I never asked my mother what her intentions were, but one of the results was my lifelong obsession with trends.

Now I don’t have a crystal ball or supernatural powers of precognition – my name is not Nostradamus, nor do I read horoscopes or consult the charts – nonetheless, based on my interpretation of trends, here are my fearless predictions for 2015.

FEDERAL ELECTION

The federal election will dominate the political discussion in 2015.

For British Columbia and Dogwood Initiative, the good news is that whoever wants to form government in Ottawa will need to gain seats in B.C. For the Conservatives to hold power, they’ll need all their existing ridings and to win four of the six new seats. For Trudeau’s Liberals to form government, they’ll need a breakthrough in B.C., jumping from their current two to 12-15 ridings. The NDP would need to hold their existing seats and take a bunch of ridings from the Conservatives.

To leverage the unique role B.C. will play in the election, Dogwood Initiative is working with other groups like LeadNow, Unifor and One Cowichan to ensure candidates supporting expanded oil tanker traffic and coal exports are defeated. We’ve divvied up the swing ridings with Dogwood teams overseeing sophisticated voter education and ‘get out the vote’ campaigns in targeted ridings on Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland and the interior.

Politics is not predictions and politics is not observations. Politics is what we do… politics is what we create, by what we work for, by what we hope for and what we dare to imagine.

– Paul Wellstone

We will be training and equipping hundreds of new canvassers in these important battleground ridings. Luckily, we aren’t starting from scratch. In preparation for a potential citizens’ initiative, Dogwood has recruited 118 teams over the past year and 1,164 organizers in 38 provincial ridings. More than 9,500 folks have pledged to organize their friends and neighbours to stop tankers and we’re counting on them to step up during the election.

We’re confident – based on their huge success in the recent municipal elections – that our neighbourhood teams can be decisive in targeted ridings come election time.

PREDICTION

After lots of speculation, the election will occur in October and will result in a minority government. Whichever party has a breakthrough in British Columbia will determine who forms government in Ottawa.

COAL PORTS

The battle over new coal export facilities will move to the municipal level after the Beyond Coal campaign and allied groups successfully delayed Port Metro Vancouver’s approval of a new coal transshipment terminal on the Fraser River for nearly two years.

In 2015, the campaign will refocus to bolster local and regional leaders – to hold firm against Fraser Surrey Docks in the short-term and against industry and senior government forces in the long-term – and to protect and empower local control over fossil fuel export decisions.

The Australian conglomerate that owns Fraser Surrey Docks plans to ship as much as eight million metric tonnes of U.S. thermal coal through B.C. ports to China. The proposal has two of the five permits it needs to go ahead and the battle over the final permits will generate headlines in 2015.

The Regional government has the power to kybosh the proposal by denying either an air or a water discharge permit, or both. It will require an unprecedented exercise of municipal power, but forces are aligning to make that happen.

Metro Vancouver – the regional district governed by a board made up of mayors and councillors from each of the regions’ 21 municipalities – passed a strong but non-binding resolution opposing any further expansion of coal shipments in the Fraser estuary in 2013. Metro Vancouver also supported the request of Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health chief medical officers for a comprehensive health impact assessment ahead of the Fraser Surrey Docks decision.

Fortunately, Metro Vancouver has been delegated jurisdiction over air quality from the provincial government. Metro Vancouver’s bylaws require stationary sources of pollution to obtain an air quality permit. Fraser Surrey Docks has started the application process for this permit, but hasn’t yet finalized its submission.

Both Metro Vancouver’s bureaucrats and board can kill the air quality permit, but that would require strong political support. Although they’ve passed resolutions opposing Fraser Surrey Docks’ proposal, Metro Vancouver will need a powerful push from constituents to take the unprecedented step of denying or repealing the permit. Dogwood Initiative teams are well positioned to create such pressure.

PREDICTION

Because of grassroots pressure on decision makers in Surrey and Metro Vancouver, Fraser Surrey Docks will not get their waste discharge and air quality permits in 2015.

LAWSUITS

Court cases about oil tankers, pipelines, coal projects and their respective policies will create lots of headlines in 2015.

The Supreme Court of Canada decision granting title to the Tsilhqot’in Nation changed the legal landscape in Canada forever – old rules about who gets to make decisions about projects on disputed First Nation lands no longer apply. The consequences will reverberate in 2015.

There have been 19 lawsuits launched challenging the Federal government’s approval of Enbridge’s oil tanker and pipeline proposal to Kitimat – 16 of these cases are led by First Nations challenging the constitutionality of the federal approval.

Just this week the Coastal First Nations and Gitga’at First Nation launched a constitutional challenge against the province to strike down the equivalency agreement the province signed with the federal National Energy Board that gave Ottawa decision-making authority over the Enbridge’s proposal. They argue the province failed to consult B.C. First Nations and violated its own laws by giving up its ability to review the proposal and impose environmental protections.

Similar lawsuits are being prepared to challenge the National Energy Board and the federal government’s actions to fast track an approval of Kinder Morgan’s oil tanker and pipeline proposal. In fact, the city of Burnaby is using every legal means available to challenge the jurisdiction of the National Energy Board to override municipal bylaws.

The power of municipalities over unwanted coal projects will also make headlines in 2015. In an attempt to avoid getting an air quality permit, Fraser Surrey Docks is challenging Metro Vancouver’s jurisdiction. Last fall, the company was ticketed and fined for polluting the air with an uncontrolled cloud of soybean dust. Fraser Surrey Docks is disputing the ticket claiming that Metro Vancouver does not have the authority to regulate activity like air quality on port lands, which it argues is exclusively federal jurisdiction.

Metro Vancouver is prepared to defend its jurisdiction in court, but its leaders will need strong political support in order to see the challenge through and champion the right of local residents to have a say over air pollution in their communities.

In addition, our Beyond Coal allies Voters Taking Action on Climate Change (VTACC) and Communities and Coal are challenging the two permits already issued for the Fraser Surrey Docks-Texada Island coal project. VTACC is suing the Ministry of Energy and Mines for approving expansion of Lafarge’s coal barge and storage facility on Texada Island where U.S. thermal coal from Fraser Surrey Docks would be loaded onto freighters for transport to power plants in China.

In a separate case, Ecojustice is representing VTACC and Communities and Coal in a challenge of Port Metro Vancouver’s approval of the Fraser Surrey Docks coal transfer proposal.

These cases will have significant impact on the timeline for coal and oil export proposals, but also on the power of municipal governments to stand up for their citizens against decisions imposed by federally appointed panels.

PREDICTION

Lawsuits will delay the approval of the Enbridge, Kinder Morgan and Fraser Surrey Docks proposals, and none of them will begin construction in 2015. In addition, at least one First Nation will launch a title case seeking jurisdiction of land and water impacted by Enbridge.

MORE INTERVENORS WILL WITHDRAW FROM NEB KINDER MORGAN PROCESS

Last November Marc Eliesen, former CEO of BC Hydro and the former chair of Manitoba Hydro, denounced the federal government’s review of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline and oil tanker expansion project as fraudulent and withdrew as an intervener.

“Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that the Board, through its decisions, is engaged in a public deception. Continued involvement with this process is a waste of time and effort, and represents a disservice to the public interest because it endorses a fraudulent process.”

-Marc Eliesen

In a scathing 1,500-word letter to the National Energy Board, Eliesen detailed his reasons for quitting, citing the lack of cross examination of witnesses, the company’s failure to answer questions and the lack of detail and accountability in the responses that were provided. The former deputy minister in seven different federal and provincial governments and past board member at Suncor called the National Energy Board “a truly captured regulator.”

It’s not just Eliesen who has grave concerns about the federal government’s approval process for Kinder Morgan. Other intervenors are also having difficulty getting Kinder Morgan to answer their questions. The cities of Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster and Victoria are just some of the intervenors that have publically raised concerns, not to mention B.C.’s own minister of the environment. The Tsleil-Waututh First Nation has already filed a lawsuit challenging the National Energy Board process.

PREDICTION

Early in 2015 a number of high profile individuals, groups and government bodies will denounce the Kinder Morgan review process as a sham and formally withdraw as intervenors.

EQUIVALENCY AGREEMENT

Surprisingly, the government of British Columbia is merely an intervenor in the existing Kinder Morgan review process. Like other intervenors, the province’s lawyers have been forced to file motions in an attempt to compel Kinder Morgan to answer their questions. As the controversy over the flaws in the National Energy Board escalates, the B.C. government will come under increasing pressure to withdraw from the equivalency agreement.

Although it would have enormous political consequences, the process is simple: with 30 days written notice, British Columbia can withdraw from the National Energy Board review and then initiate its own environmental assessment. This would delay the project which would be politically expedient for the premier who doesn’t want to be faced with having to sign off on Kinder Morgan’s provincial permits before the next provincial election in 2017.

PREDICTION

By the end of 2015, the provincial government will be forced to withdraw from the equivalency agreement.

My mother insisted that every year I should turn my mind to what’s likely to confront me over the ensuing 12 months. Over the years I have dedicated my life to moving from being a passive observer to an active change maker in shaping the future. As the year begins, I urge you to reflect on how you can step outside your comfort zone to help create the future you want your children, nephews, nieces and friends to inherit. Together, we can make the seemingly impossible become a reality.

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