THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 32, Season 7
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Host: Eric Sorensen
Guest Interviews: Minister Andrew Weaver, Minister Jim Carr,
Josh Constine, Tonda MacCharles
On this Sunday, a mini summit: the Prime Minister, the Premier of British Columbia, the Premier of Alberta, looking for a solution to the Trans Mountain pipeline dispute. Is a solution even possible that will appease all sides?
Then, nowhere to hide: Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg grilled by Congress over privacy, his own and ours. Are regulations coming and at what cost?
And, we’ll unpack the politics of one pipeline and three governments.
It’s Sunday, April the 15th. I’m Eric Sorensen, and this is The West Block.
Well, the Prime Minister breaks away from an international trip to meet with the premiers of B.C. and Alberta today. The future of the Trans Mountain pipeline is on the line and now there is a deadline. Kinder Morgan, the company behind the Trans Mountain expansion, has given Ottawa till the end of next month to resolve the dispute or it will scrap the $7 billion deal. What, if anything, can appease the opponents of the project? Today we talked to a lynch pin of that opposition, B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver. And this past week, here was the Prime Minister’s message to him and the B.C. government.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “The question is not whether the pipeline is going to get built, the question is how the pipeline gets built and we are looking at all options.”
So, at this pivotal moment in Canada’s oil producing, climate fighting history, a key figure in the debate is the leader of a provincial B.C. party with three seats.
Andrew Weaver, your Green Party is punching above its weight. You have three seats, but you hold the balance of power in British Columbia. Is there any way with safeguards or other assurances that you could support another pipeline into British Columbia?
Minister Andrew Weaver: What we’ve said for five years now, is when the B.C. Liberals added their five conditions that they would need to be resolved in order to support a pipeline to the coast. We added a sixth. And our sixth condition was this: we will never accept diluted bitumen—increase in diluted bitumen traffic in our coastal waters. Nobody needs diluted bitumen. It’s a product that will be shipped likely to California. It’s not upgraded here locally and for us, that’s a non-starter. It’s simply the risk of a spill of diluted bitumen, where evidence is really clear that in the presence of suspended particulate matter which we have lots of in in the Fraser River estuary and outflow, it sinks and it would be an ecological disaster in these coastal waters. And the effect on our industry, our branding here in British Columbia would be profound.
Eric Sorensen: For the moment, you seem to be in lockstep with Premier Horgan, the big meeting today with Alberta, B.C., the Prime Minister. Would you bring down or withdraw your support of the B.C. government if Premier Horgan looks at any sort of compromise or acceptance?
Minister Andrew Weaver: I don’t even want to entertain that question because right now, I meet with Mr. Horgan regularly and there’s simply no difference between our views. We’re both of the view that this is not good for the economy. We’re both of the view that this sends the wrong message to Canada, to British Columbia. And we’re both of the view that British Columbia is open for business and we’re excited about investment in the new economy, and we’re not willing to put that at risk by having diluted bitumen tanker export increase 28-fold, not 7-fold. Its 28-fold based on 2016 tankers into Vancouver and it’s just not worth the risk. And everybody who seems to think that this is in the interest of Canada needs to take a good hard look at what is actually contributing to Canada’s economy and growth and take a look at B.C.’s economy, which is thriving right now with the lowest unemployment rates in the country at below 5 per cent. And we don’t have a vibrant oil and gas industry. We’re not talking about tons of jobs in B.C., but we are talking about risking our well-being and our environment and our existing branding of Vancouver as the greenest city in the world by 2020, only for political reasons.
Eric Sorensen: So, whether or not Mr. Horgan finds common ground with Prime Minister Trudeau, if Ottawa uses its extraordinary, but legal powers to push forward, then what do you do?
Minister Andrew Weaver: Well there is the Constitutional crisis. We do not have a Constitutional crisis right now. We have a British Columbia government essentially seeking judicial rulings on its jurisdictional rights. The Constitutional crisis would be if Mr. Trudeau were to suddenly override the wishes of a sitting government in British Columbia. I look forward to working with my friends in the province of Quebec, to actually bring them on our side as they recognize that this bodes very poorly for federal-provincial jurisdictional exchanges. And we know that the people in Quebec understand. They understand the reasons why British Columbians are concerned about this because they share our concerns and they were as concerned about diluted bitumen coming across their provincial boundary as well.
Eric Sorensen: So you would like to pivot decisively to a green economy. But at the moment, Canada is an oil producing nation and the argument is that we need oil to sustain the economy until the country can turn the corner on energy, but if you kill oil now, you undercut Canada’s economy right now.
Minister Andrew Weaver: Well that’s actually a false argument because let’s take a look at Canada’s economy right now. Right now, our economy is booming and everyone knows that. And the reason why—when is it booming? At precisely the time that the price of oil has been recently, below $60 a barrel; oil is not a driver of the Canadian economy. There are certainly people—it certainly has a profound contribution to past Alberta economy, but even Alberta is recognizing the future is in clean energy. You’ve got Shell talking about harvesting vanadium, to build batteries from bitumen instead of just oil products. This is a fallacy. It’s put on by mainstream media and by pundits all the time that somehow our economy is an oil economy. I look around British Columbia and I don’t see an awful lot of our economy being by oil. We’ve got more jobs in the beer industry for heaven’s sake than we do in the oil sands industry. So, I just wish we’d actually—you know people would not believe the rhetoric that they’re fed without actually taking a look at the numbers. And they’re available, 2 per cent of our GDP, oil and gas sector. That’s not a big contributing factor.
Eric Sorensen: Andrew Weaver, Leader of the B.C. Green Party, thanks for joining us.
Minister Andrew Weaver: Thank you for having me and it’s been a distinct honour and privilege to work in this minority government here in the British Columbia.
Eric Sorensen: So, where does this leave the federal government on western Canada’s pipeline future?
Joining us now from Winnipeg is Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr. Mr. Carr, we were listening to Andrew Weaver and the B.C. Green Party and he says he’s in lockstep with the B.C. premier. And his bottom line is no pipeline. Ottawa has legal authority to move forward. What are the next steps?
Minister Jim Carr: The next steps are to find ways to ensure that all of the uncertainty that has been created by the British Columbia government is cleared away so that the proponent knows that the pipeline will be built. They have determined that to make sure their investors have the confidence they need to ratchet up spending significantly, there has to be greater clarity. The position of the Government of Canada is that this pipeline is good for our country because of the jobs that it will create, because of the better price we’ll get for our oil, because of the expansion of export markets, 99 per cent of the export of Canadian oil and gas goes to the United States. We think that’s not healthy in the future for our country. The Asian market will be opened up. A billion dollars and more, has been contributed or will be contributed to the Ocean Protection Plan. This is to give us world-class protection for our coasts that all Canadians care about. We have co-developed with Indigenous communities up and down the line, a monitoring of the safety of the pipeline. The option of course is that we move oil by rail and I don’t think most people think that’s a safer way to do it. This is a project that’s good for the Canadian economy and it’s good for those people who look for billions of dollars of revenue that will go to governments, including the British Columbia government, to spend as it sees fit for its people.
Eric Sorensen: Are you prepared for the kind of pushback you may still get? Whether it’s in the courts or from protests and the political fallout in British Columbia?
Minister Jim Carr: We know that there will be pushback. This is a project that is controversial. There are people who feel very deeply about it. You know that most people in Alberta have a different view than some people in British Columbia, but there is only one Government of Canada. The Government of Canada made a decision. We have given the reasons to the Canadian people after unprecedented consultation throughout the country and particularly in British Columbia. There are 157 conditions attached by the National Energy Board (NEB). The proponent is working those conditions and we believe that this is a very good example of how we ensure that there is sustainable economic development along with environmental stewardship. This is a decision that is mindful of the importance of the energy sector, for the future of the Canadian economy. It has to do with families, it has to do with jobs, it has to do with certainty that people will look upon Canada as the place to invest. And for all of those reasons, we are determined that the pipeline be built.
Eric Sorensen: Have you been talking to Kinder Morgan and does that mean Ottawa could invest into the project? And will that get it started or just buy time?
Minister Jim Carr: We have been talking to Kinder Morgan throughout actually, and it is certainly on the table that the Government of Canada will de-risk the project. That is the essential problem that the investors aren’t prepared to take the risk that’s in front of them now because of uncertainty. At a time when they would have to substantially increase their financial investment, they’re facing seasonal deadlines of May the 31st. So we know that the Government of Canada has a role to play to make sure that this uncertainty is moved to the sides efficiently for the investors to continue to show support that this can be a pipeline that will be built and built in a timely way. And that’s our position.
Eric Sorensen: Andrew Weaver told us that the Canadian economy, it’s overblown, the impact of the oil part of this. If you were to not approve this, what would be the knock on effects of not having this pipeline go forward?
Minister Jim Carr: Well, we know that there will be billions of dollars of investment that would be lost for Canada and particularly for British Columbia. We know that it sends a signal to international investors, which is not the signal we want to send. We think that Canada has a real opportunity to be a leader globally in a transition to a low carbon economy. It wouldn’t make any sense for us to take all of the resources we have and not use them as we extract them more sustainably. Transport them more safely, to use these revenues, not only to help in the financing of a transition tool or a carbon economy, but also, all of these billions of dollars for governments, including the British Columbia government, to spend as it sees fit in its province.
Eric Sorensen: Well this certainly has the prime minister’s attention. He had to interrupt an international meeting to come here today to meet with the two premiers. Jim Carr, thank you for talking to us today.
Minister Jim Carr: It’s my pleasure.
Eric Sorensen: Up next, Josh Constine speaks to us about Facebook privacy concerns and what action Canadian policy makers can take.
Eric Sorensen: Welcome back. Last week, Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress about Facebook and privacy breaches Cambridge Analytica and possible regulations for the social media platform. Zuckerberg was caught off-guard when asked about having his personal information shared with others.
Senator Dick Durbin: “Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?”
Mark Zuckerberg: “Um, ah, no.”
Senator Dick Durbin: “I think that might be what this is all about.”
Eric Sorensen: How telling was that? So joining us now from San Francisco is Josh Constine, editor-at-large of TechCrunch, a technology news website.
Josh, what was your takeaway from the hearing with Mark Zuckerberg?
Josh Constine: Zuckerberg was extremely boring during the testimony and that was a huge win for Facebook. The company was really hoping to get away without any viral sound bites or big juicy moments. And other than that one you played, it was pretty stale.
Eric Sorensen: Well if all of us are now a little bit more aware how our information is being shared and sold, how will that change things? Is it going to change things if the world is now more familiar with the fact that our information is being bought and sold?
Josh Constine: I think people need to treat the permissions they give and the contracts they sign online, the way that they treat road signs. When you see a stop sign, you know you have to read it and abide by it to stay safe. But when you give your app data to an app on Facebook, you don’t really think about it the same way. You just breeze through it like its fine print in a contract and I think we need to change our behaviour.
Eric Sorensen: And talk to me about that behavioural change that you think needs to be made.
Josh Constine: People really view privacy as a pretty abstract concept. It’s not something that materially affects their life on a day-to-day basis. But when it gets violated like this situation with Cambridge Analytica, they get up in arms. And so I think people need to think about the way that they act everyday online and realize that when they give away their free data in exchange for free services, like on Facebook, they really are paying something. It is a value exchange and they should be cognizant of what they’re giving up.
Eric Sorensen: Facebook seems prepared to accept regulations. How do you see that taking shape, particularly in a borderless social medial world?
Josh Constine: Facebook is going to adopt some of the same regulations that apply to television when it comes to political advertising. You’re going to see a little paid for by label on political ads. But overall, Facebook is trying to self-police before the government can get in and do anything too stringent that could really affect its business model. That’s why I don’t expect there to be a ton of changes to Facebook and that actually might be a good thing because if Congress and world governments put too heavy a regulation on Facebook, it might just amount to a paperwork speed bump for the big company who has armies of lawyers to deal with compliance, but it could deter smaller startups from ever growing into true rivals. And that’s what we need is alternatives to Facebook to keep this big company treating our data well.
Eric Sorensen: I mean is this a matter of survival for Facebook or are we going to see—like what kind of changes do you think we’ll see on that landscape?
Josh Constine: Facebook has been trying to safeguard its privacy at every angle. So this last week, it shut down a bunch of its application platform capabilities. App developers just can’t build the same things they used to and the same goes for Instagram. If you ever used an app that lets you see who your friends were or who followed you and who you should follow back, those apps aren’t going to work the same anymore because Facebook doesn’t want data escaping in the same way. But, I think long-term we’re really going to see a reversion to the status quo. Once this scandal blows over, people are going to go right back to scrolling their newsfeeds.
Eric Sorensen: And tell me about if we do have more regulations and they happen, say in Europe or in Washington, and how does that affect Canadians? And how should Canadian policy makers, be acting now?
Josh Constine: Thankfully, the European Union has passed the GDPR, which is a privacy regulation that Facebook says it’s going to essentially honour around the world. So that’s going to be great for Canadian citizens. That said, I think that Facebook really escaped without any serious regulation threats from Congress because most of the senators just really didn’t understand how Facebook worked. They were giving Zuckerberg really easy questions. I think if the Canadian government wants to really make a difference to protect Canadian citizens, it should require that if there’s ever a data breach or some example of users having their data stolen from Facebook, that Facebook should have to notify those users within 72 hours. And I think that government should make it so that Facebook has to let you find your friends on other competing apps.
Eric Sorensen: I was always struck, going back 15 years, my own kids and millennials generally, how unconcerned they were with privacy. Is privacy making a comeback or has that ship sailed?
Josh Constine: I do think that ship has sailed because the new teens coming up these days, they really view themselves as part of this global communications network, this global community. And they want to have their voice heard. They don’t want to just always stay private. And I think we really need to decouple the idea of a privacy problem and a security problem. There’s one issue that it’s one thing to give your data away or say something in public on the internet, but unless that’s really being exploited to your detriment, it’s not a security issue. So I think rather than saying oh, we need to find all these ways to make it so you can’t share publicly or give your data to app developers on Facebook. Instead, we need to focus on the security problems. Which are the apps that are abusing that data and how can we shut them down?
Eric Sorensen: So very briefly then, where do you think things will stand say two years, three years out from now?
Josh Constine: I think Facebook’s going to be doing just fine. The fact is that it’s realized that the way that big tech companies get disrupted is by young startups doing something really different. And Facebook has figured out that it should just buy those companies whenever possible. It bought Instagram. It bought WhatsApp. And I think it’s still going to remain powerful for that reason for years to come. That said, I think that Congress and world governments should really prioritize competition because if there’s really some alternative to Facebook that people can turn to, it will force Facebook to treat our data better.
Eric Sorensen: Alright, Josh Constine in San Francisco. Thanks very much.
Josh Constine: My pleasure, thanks for having me.
Eric Sorensen: Up next, we’ll unpack the politics of pipelines on the federal-provincial landscape.
Eric Sorensen: Welcome back. The Trans Mountain project so urgent it caused the prime minister to interrupt his international trip to come back to Ottawa. Trudeau Minister Jim Carr made it clear on our show that the project is going forward. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver told us that this could mean a Constitutional crisis.
So joining us now to analyze this, the Toronto Star’s Tonda MacCharles.
Tonda MacCharles: Hey Eric.
Eric Sorensen: So Tonda, Ottawa is making it clear it’s going forward with this. What are its options to get this to go?
Tonda MacCharles: Yeah, they’ve got—well they keep saying they’ve got a broad range. But look, they’ve already eliminated one sort of olive branch. A lot of people expect that B.C. is going to go ahead with its own question to a court out there. You know, do we have the power to slow down oil through this pipeline and protect our coast? They wanted Ottawa to take that question directly to the Supreme Court of Canada because only the federal government can directly refer it. And Bill Morneau said not a chance; we already know its federal jurisdiction so we’re not doing that. There are other options now look a little bit like the safe they brought in a new piece of legislation, let’s call it the Trans Mountain Act, and took over some of the permitting and other approvals that are necessary to push this through. They could take an equity position; buy up stock from nervous investors in Kinder Morgan. They could take a controlling stake in it. They could provide loan guarantees or some kind of other financial guarantee to say, you know, we’ll cover your costs. If the project doesn’t go through, we’ll cover your construction costs. That could be, you know, on a go-forward basis on a look back basis. They have a range of options.
Eric Sorensen: So Ottawa has to, you know, move this forward now. In what way is it going to—I guess are there political consequences that are not so much with an economic consequence in mind?
Tonda MacCharles: Oh I think for sure there are. I mean look, there are a lot of nervous B.C. Liberal MPs because they know that opposition to that pipeline landing in Burrard Inlet in Burnaby, B.C. has grown in a vacuum somewhat because while the federal government has been waiting for the regulatory process to get to its end, when the NEB approved it and then the Feds came and said yes we approve it, and they met the former B.C. government’s conditions to approve it, you know, bolstered the oceans protection stuff. While they eventually came to saying yes to the project themselves, opposition has been growing among Indigenous communities, among environmentalists out in B.C. and just like what happened in Keystone XL in Washington that Obama got pushed back because there was a huge growing movement against that. They’re facing that now. They have to deal with, I think, a very vociferous loud protest movement and what you don’t hear are the voices of the people who’ve signed on and supported it. So the B.C. Liberals are nervous. The NDP thinks they stand to gain, but there are 43 First Nation communities along that pipeline route that have supported it and have signed mutual benefit agreements with the company. So–
Eric Sorensen: Andrew Weaver says a Constitutional crisis is brewing here. He’s going to talk to his friends in Quebec. I mean how thorny could this get?
Tonda MacCharles: Well he’s lighting like throwing a match on a fire, isn’t he? Isn’t it funny how last week they were saying what Constitutional crisis? This is just about some nervous investors. We’re not doing anything. Like, okay all of a sudden they’re playing the Constitutional card? Look, I think that the Constitutional card that the Feds can play here is that the pipelines that cross jurisdictions, cross provincial boundaries are within their jurisdiction. It’s gone through the regulatory approvals. It’s been screened. They’ve put protections in place. They have a lot more on the line now. They have staked their ground, the Feds have. Justin Trudeau has to make this happen because look, if you talk to the business community, everybody’s saying investor confidence is at risk here. And that’s a pretty scary thing if you are leading a government who’s counting on economic growth to be able to do anything else. Never mind his Carbon Tax Plan. Who’s going to buy into that? Alberta has said no to it if the pipeline doesn’t go through.
Eric Sorensen: Tonda, thanks for joining us.
Tonda MacCharles: Thanks, Eric.
Eric Sorensen: And that’s The West Block. Thanks for watching. I’m Eric Sorensen. See you next week.
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