A Walk in the Park: Two views on Canada's natural-resource future

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AUDIO: People are torn between the environment and the economy – but what can we do about this? Resource Works executive director Stewart Muir and pipeline opponent Tzeporah Berman, now of the Alberta Oil Sands Advisory Group, took this question to a cross-Canada radio audience.

When CBC Radio One debuted a new program format called Walk in the Park, for the first episode they called on Stewart Muir of Resource Works to debate the question of how Canada's natural resources can be developed responsibly, and sustainably, for the future of our nation. He was joined by Tzeporah Berman, a well known activist who has been at the head of many protest actions.


radio_listen_icon.jpgLISTEN TO STEWART MUIR AND TZEPORAH BERMAN ON THE INAUGURAL "WALK IN THE PARK" SEGMENT ON CBC RADIO ONE'S THE 180

 

 

As the show began, Berman and Muir were asked to describe the scene that lay before them – Vancouver's Burrard Inlet, the nation's busiest port.

BERMAN: Well, we are standing in Burrard Inlet and we are looking at the shipping yard on one side, and on the other side the cruise terminal, and across the shore the North Shore Mountains.

BROWN: And there is already plenty of evidence of Canada’s resource wealth in Burrard Inlet.

MUIR: Across – on the other side of the harbour – there is a huge pile of bright yellow sulphur; it is one of the iconic sights of Vancouver.  When people come here they wonder what it is.  What it is, is sulphur extracted from the oil and gas operations in BC and Alberta.

walkinpark2.jpgtzeporah-berman-speaks.jpg"Our natural resources are here for us to develop responsibly, sustainably, for the future of our nation."  – STEWART MUIR

"Should British Columbians, y’know, take a breath and be less worried?  I don’t think so." – TZEPORAH BERMAN

BROWN: And there could be a whole lot more: Kinder Morgan wants to twin its TransMountain Pipeline through BC.  If that pipeline expansion goes ahead, a tanker loaded with Alberta bitumen will make its way up the inlet every day, instead of just once a week.  It’s that kind of activity that creates a lot of anxiety about our relationship with resource extraction.  But Stewart Muir recently wrote that Canadians would be a lot less anxious if we had a better of sense of much we benefit, compared to how much we risk from all that drilling, digging, and pumping.  So that’s where we begin the conversation for this ‘Walk in the Park’, by asking Tzeporah Berman is it time to stop worrying and learn to love the resource extraction economy.

BERMAN: Should British Columbians, y’know, take a breath and be less worried?  I don’t think so.  I think, in fact, given what we saw this summer with the Mount Polley tailings mine disaster, we actually need to be continually vigilant and to ensure greater and stricter regulations for industry.  One of the things that concerns me most is reading the Transport Canada reports and other reports that show that if we do have an oil spill here in Burrard Inlet, as a result of the Kinder Morgan pipeline and the shipping of that oil, that they define success in cleaning up that oil spill as somewhere between 12% and 15%.  So that’s how much they think they could clean up, so that would leave 85% of this toxic bitumen in our ocean environment for us to deal with. 

MUIR: Right now, when you see one of those ships go through here, everything stops – every ship stops for safety; it all freezes when that ship is going through.  And they have tugs on it; they have developed a regulatory regime that has, I think, left people satisfied with the current level. When one of those ships moves through this harbour it creates about $300,000 in direct revenues from that one ship coming through, in things like demurrage fees, and all of that accrues to the local economy over the year.  So it’s not like it is all risk and no benefit, and I think people have seen that for the last fifty years.  You know I think people are trying to figure out what the facts are that are relevant to their decisions, because they are torn.  They are hearing from one side – the 15% of people we see in our research who are fine with anything and everything, and I am not sure I am comfortable with that.  And then there’s 15% who I have called – and I have heard others say this too, it’s not a pejorative - "anti-everything". These are people who really are uncomfortable with anything changing.  And yet, at the same time, the costs of health care, those are going up; we have higher expectations; we have got to have that new bridge; we have to have that new hospital.  We have got to have it – well, how do we pay for it?

BERMAN: Well, it is not fuelled by the oil and gas sector, not for British Columbia, and in fact not for all of Canada.  It’s a myth to think that our economy is driven right now by oil and gas, because it’s not.  It will be if we allow projects like Kinder Morgan’s pipeline to go through, and if we allow the expansion of the Oilsands at the rate that the industry and this federal government is proposing.  Then we will become dependent on it and the risks will be that much more.  Many of the experts of - the National Energy Board have consultants who have consulted, who have put forward reports, have said that it is not a matter of if a spill will happen.  At this level of tanker traffic, it is a matter of when, and we don’t need to take that risk: it is an unnecessary risk; it is a risk that is predominantly to increase profits for some of the wealthiest companies on the planet, and will not provide significant jobs for British Columbia.  We need to focus on what does provide good jobs for British Columbia, and right now - in fact, 85,000 are coming from the high-tech industry.walkinpark4.jpg

MUIR: The high-tech economy in Vancouver, especially, is one of the exciting stories here.  And the other day I met a young entrepreneur, a businessman.  He is pioneering technology for the natural gas industry in Canada that reduces the water wastage.  So instead of disposing of that water that has to be used in large quantities in natural  gas extraction, he has found a way to recycle it, which sounds like a really smart thing to do.  And I think for a lot of people looking at the economic facts of our economy, that’s the future.  Right now there’s – although they don’t talk about it nearly enough in my opinion - there is a carbon levy in Alberta.  It is not perfect but it has created a fund that has the impact of $1.6 billion in investment into things like that.  Just on the other side of this container port, there is a company that is in a similar area, involving also the oil sands and purifying water.  This is happening in Vancouver; these are high-tech jobs.  There are so many people in really neat high-tech things which are natural resource jobs and not counted by critics dismissing the resource economy who insist on only counting direct jobs in the field.  Our natural resources are here for us to develop responsibly, sustainably, for the future of our nation.

BERMAN: I think there is a lot of fear about moving away from a focus on resource industries and oil and gas, because people believe that we are currently dependent on that for a strong economy.  And that is because of the multi-million dollar public relations campaigns of companies like Enbridge, and associations like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and our own federal government.  The Harper government has spent over $30 million in the last year just telling Canadians that we are dependent on a resource economy.  But we are not; we have already made the transition to quite a diverse economy, both nationally and provincially.  The oil sands provide 2% of our GDP; that is not the reason our hospitals are open.  We have a strong economy, but a lot of other sectors are suffering from our focus on oil and gas.walkinpark5.jpg

MUIR: So I think if you look at – whether it’s forestry; whether it’s mining; whether it is the natural gas industry, all these important BC industries, and the transportation, the shipping, the rail, right there the facts that we have been uncovering show that it is the driver of the BC economy.  When the BC economy grows by 10%, which actually does happen in real life, and you run an economic model of that, you will see that 55% of those jobs show up in the Lower Mainland. It has a direct effect through the service economy.  And that is one of the great things about the natural resource economy: 80% of the benefits of it stay in British Columbia.  It is really a myth that it all flows out to foreign countries, or just big companies, because people own those shares directly; they own them through their pension funds; they have jobs with them.  And those people, they go home, and they send their children to their dance academy, and they buy their coffee, and they shop at the supermarket, all these things.  And that is the lifeblood of the economy, and in BC’s case - and, I would argue, much of Canada’s too - we still are that.  And I think it is a cultural problem, that we are not able to face the facts on it.  We were told in the sixties that we had to get away from this; that we were the new nation that was breaking through from the past; that we were no longer a hewer of wood and drawer of water, and it was time to move on.  But when you go and examine the facts now, it just doesn’t support that we have made that transition.  And at the same time, if you are a resource worker in BC you make 58% more in salary than the average worker, and these are good jobs, and they require high skill sets.

BERMAN: Look, no one is saying that we should shut it all down overnight.  What we are saying is that we need to stop dirty, dangerous projects that are like the Kinder Morgan Pipeline, that pose significant risks to our health and our coastline, our salmon fisheries, and we need to start supporting the industries that are already thriving in this province, like the high-tech and clean tech industry, and film and tourism, and build them up so that they are the future of our economy.  It is not going to happen overnight but it can happen, and we shouldn’t be afraid of it just because we have built our culture on thinking of ourselves as the drawers of water and the hewers of wood.  But I think it is important to have these conversations, and I appreciate you, Stewart, for being willing to have this conversation.  And thank you.

MUIR: And I appreciate this chance to build a conversation – that common ground that you have cited – I have been using that phrase too; it is so important to do that.

BERMAN: Great:  Thanks, Stewart.

MUIR: Thank you.

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The 180 host Jim Brown introduced the episode this way:

JimBrown-headshot_web.jpgThis season on our programme, we are taking a different approach to some of the stories we are bringing you with something we are calling ‘A Walk in the Park’.  And it’s just like it sounds: we get two smart people on opposite sides of an issue, and we send them on a walkabout. 

This week we are taking you to the Vancouver waterfront for a conversation about Canada’s reliance on resource extraction.  Tzeporah Berman is an environmental activist and strategic consultant.  Stewart Muir is a former editor with the Vancouver Sun, and he is now Executive Director of the Resource Works Society; that’s a group that aims to raise awareness about the role of resource industries in the Canadian economy. 

We wanted them to tell us how they felt those resource industries should figure in Canada’s future, so we sent Stewart Muir and Tzeporah Berman to brave the wind, the rain, and the occasional floatplane at Vancouver’s Crab Park, overlooking the City’s busy harbour.

 


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