Central Canadian media and Trudeau cabinet must wake up to British Columbians' love of southern resident orcas
The national media in Canada just don't get it. Nor do the prime minister and most of his cabinet.
British Columbians care passionately about their most iconic species, the southern resident orcas.
There are only 75 of them left in three separate pods in the transboundary waters of Juan de Fuca and Georgia straits and Puget Sound. The last one was born in 2015.
But these animals were given short shrift in the National Energy Board's review of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion, according to today's Federal Court of Appeal ruling quashing the project.
The three judges concluded that the country's energy regulator did not assess the effects of the marine transportation of diluted bitumen coming through the pipeline.
In particular, the NEB didn't consider section 79 of the Species at Risk Act on this population of endangered orcas in connection with a nearly seven-fold increase in tanker traffic.
Back in 2014, the NEB recognized problems might result from a sharp increase in oil-tanker traffic in the Salish Sea, where these creatures reside.
"The board acknowledges that the increase in marine vessels associated with the project would further contribute to the cumulative effects that are already jeopardizing the recovery of the southern resident killer whale," the NEB stated. "The effects associated with project-related marine vessels will impact numerous individuals of the southern resident killer whale population in a habitat identified as critical for recovery and classified the effects as high magnitude."
The NEB also found that “the operation of project-related marine vessels is likely to result in significant adverse effects to the southern resident killer whales”.
In the video below, Straight contributor and orca lover Mark Leiren-Young cited this quote at a town-hall meeting in Victoria hosted by the NEB reviewers. And he said that the NEB was, in effect, acknowledging the pipeline was going to lead to the extinction of this group of whales.
But when it came time to evaluate the company's application, the NEB didn't factor this into its decision-making.
Nor did the NEB consider potentially rising greenhouse gas emissions as a result of increased production of diluted bitumen.
This wasn't a problem for the Trudeau cabinet when it gave the green light to the project.
As Leiren-Young pointed out, the southern resident orcas permeate the consciousness of British Columbians.
The orca is emblazoned on Vancouver Canucks jerseys. The first whale captured in the waters off B.C. was a southern resident named Moby Doll.
And Leiren-Young declared in the video that no one who studies these creatures believes they can survive "significant adverse effects".
Ergo, the approval of the pipeline, in his opinion, is akin to a death sentence for a species of enormous intelligence.
That was a year after Justin Trudeau, then leader of Parliament's third-largest party, told another B.C. environmentalist that he would redo the approval process for the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
You can hear Trudeau's exact words in the video below.
Trudeau never followed through on this promise.
Instead, he kept the old process designed by the Stephen Harper government. Then he tried to defend it as legitimate when the Trudeau cabinet approved the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion in 2016.
Earlier this year in a column on Straight.com, Vancouver environmentalist David Suzuki wrote that the three biggest threats to the recovery of southern resident orcas are "underwater noise and disturbance, contaminants, and a reduction in the whales' favourite prey, chinook salmon".
"Research indicates a 24 to 50 percent risk of southern resident orca extinction this century if conditions don’t change," Suzuki noted. "It’s a colossal failure of policy and will that finds Canada’s wildlife in such dire circumstances. The extinction of these whales, and many other endangered species in Canada, is a preventable tragedy."
In the face of all this, the national media served up more pablum from Finance Minister Bill Morneau about the wisdom of his government's decision to spend nearly $14 billion buying the existing Trans Mountain system and completing an expansion that's been ruled offside by the courts.
Massive coverage was devoted to Alberta premier Rachel Notley pulling out of the national climate plan. There was no mention that she did this just after B.C. eclipsed last year's record for hectares burned by wildfires, which are being fuelled by climate change.
Notley's action is not considered a scandal by the national media, notwithstanding the fact that within a decade, the earth's average temperature is on track to be 1.5°C higher than the period before the Industrial Revolution. That's a recipe for more wildfires, more floods, more hurricanes, and more climate-related loss of life.
Elite media commentators in Central Canada expect British Columbians to sit by idly and watch their orcas disappear and even more of their renewable natural resource—lush forests—vanish as a result of Big Oil's insatiable greed to peddle more of its filthy, nonrenewable resource.
As more B.C. forests burn, more carbon is released into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change. That, of course, leads to more wicked flooding, like we saw earlier this year in the Okanagan and the city of Grand Forks.
The Trudeau government's reaction to the climate crisis, its support for the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion, and the potential disappearance of southern resident orcas are akin to what you might read in a Kurt Vonnegut novel.
It's sheer lunacy.
Thankfully, three Federal Court of Appeal justices cut through the bullshit after weighing all the evidence.