But we need more than words. If we want to restore the health of the lakes we have to protect them from further assaults. This means stopping industrial and agricultural pollution and upstream water diversions, something we have been working on regarding Yancoal, Quill Lakes and the Line 3 bitumen pipeline that goes under the Qu’Appelle River.
But it also means taking care of the lakeshores, river banks and, most vital, the valley marshes that help to clean the water. We can no longer get away with pointing our fingers at others while we allow local interests and authorities to degrade the watershed right under our noses.
While the Town was displaying on its office door one of the Calling Lakes Ecomuseum (CLEM) posters about protecting wetlands, it was allowing contaminated soil to be dumped into the marshland by the old lagoon. As the valley’s environmental watchdog, the QVEA documented and reported the contamination. The Environmental Protection Order (EPO) issued by the province in March 2018 stated: “The Town of Fort Qu’Appelle is permitting the disposal of asphalt and other waste material that are generating leachate and contaminating the environment and potentially can make its way to the Qu’Appelle River and Mission Lake that will have a negative impact on the environment and human health.” It took 42 truckloads to remove the contaminated soil.
No matter who they are, valley polluters must be held accountable. Unfortunately, CLEM has never raised any questions about its partner, the Town, allowing the watershed to be treated with such disdain. Actions that are consistent with words are urgently needed.
We are blessed with the incredible marshland on the southeast shore of Echo Lake. This is where the Pelicans rest and feed, where the endangered Buffalo fish spawns. Where you’ll find the Ruddy Duck, the Leopard Frog and Wilson’s Phalarope and other creatures that increasingly depend upon protected marshland habitats.
This marshland is presently under grave threat. And we are asking you to join with us to get this vast area, from the old PFRA dam all the way to B-Say-Tah, protected as a Marsh Interpretive Centre. This will be a challenge but it is a challenge we must now face.
Some valley residents haven’t yet realized what has happened to this marsh area. Between 2013 and 2015 marshland zoned as floodway was given to Abaco, a U.S. energy company in North Dakota, on the pretense that they would build a big-boat marina. Parcel Q, which is mostly floodway, was thrown into the land sale of Parcel V, where the old Indian Hospital was, for $1.00. Later, Parcel Y, which is all floodway, was also given to Abaco for another $1.00.
The marina was a sham. Floodway land should not be commercially developed; it should be protected as green space. The past Town council knew this, as Parcel Y was already zoned “green space” under its own Official Community Plan. But they gave it away anyway. And Parcel Q, which is mostly floodway, was never to be sold, according to the Town’s own records, because it was needed for drainage and for Echo Lodge. But they gave it away anyway. What an environmental mess.
This local floodway is now not only owned by a U.S. energy company but all access to the marsh is also controlled by Abaco. Residents who must use the roads that were privatized must have Abaco’s approval. If Abaco decides to block access, as it did with Willow Court residents, it can do so. The Trans-Canada Trail that goes through the marsh is now on Abaco land. So is the Lions’ Club public observation deck. This giveaway is outrageous.
The road that has existed since the 1930s, between where the old Indian Hospital and Nurses Residence existed, where Blue Bill Bay Estates now is, which goes down to the marshland and shoreline, has been totally privatized. For centuries this has been a traditional Indigenous route to the marsh and lakeshore.
Privatizing this public access is likely the most irresponsible action ever taken by a local council. What would we think if we heard that another Town had sold out its marshland and all access to it to a U.S. company?
What will others think about Fort Qu’Appelle when they find out what has happened here? How do you pretend that you care about the valley environment when you allow this to happen? Will people want to relocate to an area with such apparent disregard for its local environment?
This is nothing short of feudal. Remember that popular democratic movements fought long and hard to gain access to lakes and rivers that were controlled by feudal landlords. We can’t allow the clock to be turned back and to lose public access to such natural splendour.
And all this was done without any development proposals from Abaco. After five years there is still no marina proposal in the Town office. This whole thing has been a sham from the start. It is time for people in the community who care about the lakes and water to clean up this mess.
Floodway is not to be commercially developed. A marina is totally impractical in this environment, with the unpredictability of the water level and so much of the marshland far away from open water. A marina here would be ecologically destructive.
Thankfully the province realized this and in Nov. 2017 it rightly refused to sell Abaco shoreline Crown land (Parcels W and Z), which was also in the floodway and will be protected as an Environmental Reserve. The province held its ground in spite of backroom lobbying from Town Officials and Abaco. Freedom of Information (FOI) files confirm the attempt to have an Inside Deal when this Crown land was transferred to the province by the Harper government. A court challenge from Pasqua First Nation over the failure to follow Duty to Consult helped protect this marshland.
Now we must take action to permanently protect the marshland. An Interpretive Centre is a no-brainer. This will protect the marshland and ensure continued public access to this beautiful natural area. It will become a huge draw to Fort Qu’Appelle, bringing visitors and tourists here. It will make Fort Qu’Appelle a day-trip destination from Regina. It will bring students here for environmental education. It will strengthen the Farmers’ Market. It will become a vibrant gathering point for residents and visitors alike.
Marsh Interpretive Centres have been huge successes. The Oak Hammock Centre outside Winnipeg attracts thousands, including for hiking, biking and environmental education. The McKell housing sub-division adjacent to marshland in Regina shows what can be done with a little bit of environmentally-responsible imagination. A housing development with walkways into the Fort Qu’Appelle marshland will become possible when the land by the old Indian Hospital (Parcel V) gets into the hands of responsible developers. This would have a profoundly positive impact on the local economy.
Fort Qu’Appelle’s future depends upon good environmental stewardship. Past councils have made huge mistakes. Giving all this marshland to Abaco and privatizing all access to this beautiful lakeshore habitat area was unconscionable. This was a huge assault on the public interest.
Now we must take action to make this right, to take back the marsh. We are working to create a collaborative project, with support from First Nations, the Trans-Canada Trail, the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation and other groups that want the marsh to be returned into public hands. We trust that the Town will also step up and support this new, positive and responsible direction.
PHOTO: Echo Lake
WHEREAS the marsh in Fort Qu’Appelle, which includes the area by the PFRA dam, Blue Bill Bay and extends to the Village of B-Say-Tah, along with the Evans, Lebret, Skinner and other marshes, are among the few remaining in the Calling Lakes area; and,
WHEREAS these marshes provides ecological services such as filtering and cleaning water which are essential for recreation, human health and fish, waterfowl and other wildlife habitat sustainability; and,
WHEREAS the Qu’Appelle Basin Study Board (1972) recommended that all these marshes be protected as “wildlife management areas”, and in 2015, as part of its Official Community Plan (OCP), Fort Qu’Appelle zoned its marsh area as an “environmentally-sensitive floodway” and,
WHEREAS in the Province’s “Statement of Interest” regarding the Planning and Development Act, 2007, it states it will “Minimize, mitigate or avoid development impacts to safeguard the ecological integrity of wetlands, riparian areas, significant natural landscapes and regional features, and provincially-designated lands”, and,
WHEREAS the Province through its Water Security Agency (WSA) should maintain and protect these marsh areas as part of the Qu’Appelle Valley Flood Hazard/Risk Area, and, as such, should retain or purchase these marsh lands; and, finally,
WHEREAS resilient and lush marshlands, lakefronts and river banks are crucial to the development of a vibrant local eco-tourist economy;
1) These entire marsh areas be fully protected and not used for any ventures that will compromise their integrity and sustainability; and further that,
2) The Fort Qu’Appelle marsh area not be approved for a marina as this will bring negative impacts from activities such as motor and jet-boat traffic and likely dredging in this vulnerable fish and bird habitat and “nature walk” area; and further that,
3) There must be full public disclosure and thorough local and regional public consultation, including a full environmental assessment, about any proposals that could jeopardize any of these valuable marshes; and, further that,
4) The province should quickly develop and act upon policy which makes it a priority to protect and restore the remaining marsh areas in the Qu’Appelle Valley for present and future generations.
NOTE: This policy was discussed and amended at the April 13, 2016 public meeting, discussed and amended at the April 27, 2016 Marsh Protection Working Group and brought to the May 11, 2016 QVEA meeting for final approval. It will stand as QVEA marsh policy until our first AGM.
PHOTO: Echo Lake
The QVEA does research, education and advocacy to protect and restore the Qu’Appelle watershed. We distribute leaflets, hold public forums and present to policy-making bodies. If water quality is to be improved in our lakes, all of us must become better stewards. If protected, creek-beds, riverbanks, shorelines, flood plains and marshes will provide “environmental services” which preserve habitats and humans alike.
We can’t just point fingers at Regina’s sewage dumping, though this must permanently end. We must also stop toxic agricultural run-off and drainage from contaminating the watershed. And land use planning in the valley must also change. We have serious challenges.
A few still try to justify the Town selling 17 acres of lakeside land to North Dakota’s Abaco Energy Services for $2.00. This, they claim, saved the ratepayer’s the estimated $500,000 it would cost to demolish, haul and rough grade/landscape the old Indian Hospital site. But who made the estimate and how much did it actually cost Abaco? These figures must be made public.
Then the Town agreed to transfer 3 acres of land to Apex for hauling rubble, capping and levelling the flood plain and marsh area by the old lagoon. But did this include rubble from the old Indian Hospital? And if so, did this reduce costs to Abaco. This must also be publicly known. You can’t claim that the ratepayer saved money by these land giveaways and not provide the actual figures.
Nor is it a good thing that past Town councillor Brian Janz was an Abaco director since 2008 and didn’t declare a conflict of interest until after all the land deals were done.
And why did the previous Town council not create easements prior to selling this land? Abaco got land with infrastructure (drainage, sewer and water) and roadways into Willow Court, Echo Lodge and also to the back entrance to Blue Bill Bay estates. For eleven months, Willow Court residents were blocked from their homes by cement barriers installed by Abaco. And now Abaco has installed a chain-link fence that blocks these residents from their homes. This is unacceptable in a community that says it looks after its neigbours.
This land was sold without transparency – no public consultation at all. The adjoining crown land, which used to belong to PFRA, went directly from the Water Security Agency (WSA) to Abaco without fulfilling the duty to consult and now Pasqua First Nation is in the courts about this. There was much provincial deception along the way.
QVEA’s initial concern was that this land was rezoned and sold for a marina without any environmental assessment. You simply can’t put a marina in a vulnerable marsh, at the mouth of a river, where sandbars are always building up. Any construction would devastate this habitat. We have been encouraging the Town to create a marsh walkway with observation sites, which would be a tourist attraction. There is already a section of the Trans-Canada Trail there to build upon.
So far, the Town of Fort Qu’Appelle hasn’t shown it cares about protecting the watershed. After its lagoon was moved out of the valley, the Town allowed dumping in the very flood plain and marsh area that needed protection. QVEA even witnessed and reported the dumping of toxic asphalt. In the rush to sell land for a marina in an inappropriate location, the Town sold out the rights of local residents. The whole mess is quite disturbing. We know Abaco did not meet the prescribed timeline for demolition. And the present mayor, Jerry Whiting, has informed the QVEA that the minutes where the council sold Abaco Block Y, “are not available”.
It gets worse. We were told that an easement protected the Trans-Canada Trail into the marsh area. Yet we now find that the observation structure where the trail starts below Hudson Manor is part of the land (Block Y) sold to Abaco. As such, we have been told, the Lions Club, which built the now dilapidated structure, will not rebuild it.
Talk about shooting ourselves in our feet. Residents lose access to their homes. The Town sells access to its infrastructure. Residents lose access to the beautiful marsh. Real costs of demolition are not disclosed. Deals are made that seem like double billing. There is no fair market value appraisal. Some Town records disappear.
The QVEA is concerned about collusion, conflict of interest, and what seems to be a breakdown in local government. The 2016 municipal election sent a message that none of this is okay. The new mayor and council must not walk away from these serious matters.
On August 9th fifty-five people turned out to the QVEA monthly meeting to discuss these matters. On August 17, 2017 the QVEA took these concerns directly to the Town council.
In mid-October two Concerned Citizen petitions were presented to the Town of Fort Qu’Appelle. One called for the condo residents to be restored legal access to their homes. The other called for a full audit of these land deals. Both are necessary to get our community back on track and start to look out for the valley environment.
Lorna Evans, Jim Harding and Randy Lebell for QVEA.
NOTE: This was printed as a Letter to the Editor in the July 28, 2017 Fort Times.
By Jim Harding, Ph.D.
On January 28, 2016 nearly 250 people filled Earl Grey’s community hall to hear about Yancoal’s “Southey Project”. Because of the scale of the potash mine, people came from the surrounding farming area and also from upstream and downstream, travelling from Regina, Lumsden and Fort Qu’Appelle. Yancoal is a Chinese state corporation with a global reach; part of China’s attempt to lock-down control over strategic resources. Yancoal now has direct control over Australian coal and with nearly 50% of the global supply of potash Saskatchewan is on its short list.
The Sask Party government is very supportive of China’s resource-control plan. Short-term potash revenue, which is often exaggerated, is trumping long-term water security. This is poor judgment for, to move towards sustainability, water must become our new bottom line.
Yancoal claims it can’t extract potash in the Southey area using underground mining; the potash is too deep; below 1200 metres. But underground mining is also very expensive. So Yancoal wants to do much cheaper solution mining, using millions of cubic metres (Mm3) of clean water to flush the potash above ground.
This would consume and contaminate massive amounts of surface water. It would also leave a huge waste stream of toxic salts which will further contaminate our already vulnerable prairie land. The mine would also bring huge amounts of traffic-related pollution, both road and rail, to the area. The co-existence of healthy agriculture, land conservation and solution mining is unrealistic. The plan is to pump toxic waste water into the earth below the Hatfield Aquifer, taking it permanently out of the renewable water cycle, which would reduce the flow in the Qu’Appelle Watershed. Leaching into the aquifer through some of the inevitably faulty well pads would also remain a great risk, and land above the underground drilling could sink.
Yancoal’s proposed mine is also upstream from the already vulnerable Qu’Appelle Valley. The mining will occur just a few miles from Loon Creek, which drains into Pasqua Lake, already degraded from decades of Regina’s sewage and agricultural runoff. Saline water can permanently destroy fish habitat.
The province plans to provide these huge amounts of water from Buffalo Pound, which also supplies Regina and Moose Jaw. Sask Water is proposing three possible pipeline routes. Mosaic’s Belle Plain solution mine already draws water and the planned K and S mine near Bethune will also draw water from Buffalo Pound. Further solution mines within the Qu’Appelle Watershed are also in the works. Using Yancoal’s figure of 1,450 cubic metres an hour, water consumption could be 13 million cubic metres (Mm3) a year. Using estimates from the previously proposed Vale mine, it could be 21 Mm3. Either way the amount is huge: from one-half to nearly 100% of what Regina presently uses (23 Mm3).
This would supposedly come from increasing the flow from Lake Diefenbaker. However, the flow into Lake Diefenbaker has been steadily declining for a hundred years. And this decline will accelerate with the continual melting of the mountain glaciers from climate change.
Furthermore, prairie temperature increases, perhaps by as much as 4 degrees Celsius, will accelerate evaporation and further degrade water quality. Buffalo Pound is already showing this trend.
Finally, even without the added burden of climate change or increased industrial demand for water, there have been reoccurring, long periods of drought and critical shortages of water within the Qu’Appelle Watershed. This will most certainly continue to happen.
You can’t have a decreased source of water and long periods of greatly reduced flow and water quality, compounded by climate change, and expect to have a secure supply for ever-greater amounts in the future. Something will have to give.
On its website Yancoal asks “what will happen in a water crisis?” and answers “Priority will be given to residents and farms over industry.” Meanwhile, Sask Party policy, expressed by the Minister of Environment to the Calling Lakes Planning Commission in 2013, is that “licensed users will be accorded first priority to water”. There is an urgent need for some solid, binding water protection policy in the province.
And we don’t even need to imagine such water shortages. In May, 2015 Regina lost 50% of its water supply from Buffalo Pound due to unprecedented massive algae blooms (called diatoms). More water had to be released from Lake Diefenbaker to flush the algae downstream. What would have happened if huge water pipelines to Yancoal and the other solution mines were also pumping? And what if there were no flow into Lake Diefenbaker at the time?
The Sask Party government is expanding the industrialization of water without even having a reliable canal from Lake Diefenbaker to Buffalo Pound. With its large provincial debt ($14 billion and growing) it is not likely to be financing such a mega-project. The cart is clearly before the horse when it comes to industrial water use policy in the Qu’Appelle Watershed.
Yancoal and the other solution mines would put gargantuan demands on our vulnerable watershed. Though the government probably doesn’t want to say it, the back-up strategy is probably to take water from the Hatfield Aquifer. (They’ve rejected taking water from the overflowing Quill Lakes.) A similar scenario is already happening in China where industry not only pollutes scarce farmland and vulnerable habitat, but has reduced many waterways to a trickle and is depleting aquifers in some areas.
China’s Yancoal isn’t here just for the potash; it’s also here for our water. Water is already a world-wide “strategic resource” and it shouldn’t be squandered for short-term political gain.
If Premier Wall can stop Australia’s BHP Billiton from buying out U.S.-based Potash Corp because potash is deemed a strategic resource, then why aren’t we protecting water? Water needs to be treated as a human right, not an industrial commodity. It’s clearly time to stand up for the future.
Updated June 2016
Major concerns about Yancoal potash solution mine proposed near Southey, adopted in principle at May 11, 2016 QVEA meeting.
Submitted June 6, 2016 to Sask Environment by Lorna Evans, Jim Harding and Randy Lebell on behalf of the QVEA.
Yancoal’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was only released on April 23, 2016, yet Yancoal tells us in its April 17th letter that “the public comments deadline will be May 24th”. Meanwhile it took the Saskatchewan Environmental Assessment Review Board two years to do its technical assessment.
The freeze on the process until after the April 4, 2016 provincial election contributed to the suppressing of these vital issues from public scrutiny. The extension of 15 days to June 6th remains a slap in the face of Saskatchewan’s democracy, especially for area farmers during high seeding time.
We know that “politics” and “economics” enter environmental assessment, mostly through narrow terms of reference and errors of omission. The big picture and the future typically don’t get sufficient attention. It is unacceptable for the broader public to only be given 45 days to consider the wider and long-term public interest.
QVEA Position #1:
Yancoal’s Southey Project should immediately be taken off the fast-track to allow public due diligence to prevail.
The Yancoal mine could create as much as 1.09 million tonnes of C02 equivalents per year. This would increase, not decrease Saskatchewan’s already high carbon footprint. Yet Yancoal has not looked at the potential of using any renewable energy and it even rejected co-generation (power from waste heat). This business-as-usual approach will not help Saskatchewan reorient its economy towards sustainability. The Yancoal project will not help Saskatchewan assist the country to cut its emissions by 30% below the 2005 level by 2030.
Yancoal wants to use gargantuan amounts of surface water to bring the potash above ground for processing; this solution mining will reduce Yancoal’s costs while externalizing huge costs to the environment and watershed. Yancoal admits that the benefits of solution mining include “lower up-front capital costs and no underground workforce.” This shows how, while costs are being externalized, benefits such as jobs are being greatly reduced.
Yancoal expressed an interest in a pipeline to Quill Lakes, perhaps to be supplemented by water from Last Mountain Lake. The Water Security Agency (WSA) and Sask Water prefer a costly pipeline from Buffalo Pound, possibly because they can better control the supply coming from Lake Diefenbaker.
Either way this is a totally unacceptable use and waste of fresh water. Yancoal’s figures suggest it will use 13 million cubic metres a year, 50% of the water used by Regina; it could be larger. Year in and year out for up to 100 years all this water would be permanently lost from the natural cycle. We must start to truly value and protect water; with the coming water crisis we can’t be removing fresh water from the hydrological cycle.
Furthermore, Buffalo Pound and Last Mountain Lake are both fed by Lake Diefenbaker, which provides domestic water to more than half of Saskatchewan’s residents. The amount of water in the South Saskatchewan River which, since the mid-60s, flows into Lake Diefenbaker has been markedly decreasing for a century and this decrease will accelerate with climate change. Recent summer flow levels have measured 86% below those recorded in 1910. Both water quantity and quality will be at even greater risk. When surface water becomes scarcer, as it surely will, Yancoal and other companies could end up using water from and risking contaminating the Hatfield Aquifer on which many communities already depend.
A 2012 report already projected a 200% increase in water taken from the Qu’Appelle watershed by 2060. And this calculation was made before the Yancoal project or some other solution mines were even proposed. We see no credible provincial strategy behind the steady, incremental industrialization of water that will ensure that future water sources are protected and secure. The Water Security Authority (WSA) modeling and forecasting doesn’t even take climate change into account. There hasn’t been a study of the cumulative impact of Yancoal using the massive projected volume of water over 100 years. Would the amount of water being extracted violate inter-provincial water-sharing agreements? There is simply too much uncertainty about future water supply or the impacts on other water users for this project to be approved.
Sustainability is about inter-generational justice; not undermining the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The incremental approach of the Sask Party government puts future generations at risk. It would therefore be foolish to approve the prolonged use and waste of such valuable water for the Yancoal mine.
QVEA Position #2:
Until a credible sustainable water strategy which takes climate change into account is developed there should be a moratorium on all mega-water industrial projects.
VIABLE AGRICULTURAL DISTRICT:
The area to be immediately affected by the Yancoal mine is a viable agricultural district: there are 126 homes and 325 residents within a 5-mile radius of the proposed mine site. The way Yancoal has been treating land owners is of great concern. Yancoal has resorted to corporate “divide and rule” tactics which pit those who are more removed from immediate impacts and see short-term benefits, against those that face the brunt and lasting effects of this mega-project.
This is not the way to approach the risks to the land, habitats and communities. Many vital questions remain. We know from other locations that fracking carries its own risks. Yancoal estimates that during operations it will be injecting underground about 20,000 cubic metres (m3) of brine a day from its reclamation ponds. This amount of water will be permanently lost to the hydrologic system every day for the 100-year life span of the mine. And have the risks from the continual injection of such massive amounts of wastewater from solution mining underneath the Hatfield aquifer been fully considered? It is admitted that subsidence or downward displacement of surface material would occur over the next 250 years but what would be the extent of land slumping? Are there other risks of underground movement, including earthquakes, such as have occurred from wastewater injection in the oil and gas industries across the border?
We prefer the Precautionary Principle. Some may want to argue that the geology is different here and that there has been some solution mine wastewater injection without noticeable underground impacts. The cumulative impacts, with Yancoal’s 100-year timeline and so many other solution mines being considered within this already vulnerable watershed should, however, now be very carefully considered.
ENDANGERED PRAIRIE ECOREGION:
Underground contamination can come from pipeline leaks, rock fracturing and brine seepage into aquifers. Further, Yancoal plans to leave the salt tailings exposed. Just because this un-ecological practice has been allowed at potash mines does not mean it should continue. According to Parks Canada the Moist Mixed Grassland Ecoregion in the Prairies Ecozone where Yancoal wants to mine is already one of the most endangered areas in the world. And what are the risks of contamination of fragile fish habitat in the West and East Loon Creeks?
What are the risks of farm lands being greatly devalued? And why is Yancoal being allowed to side-step the foreign ownership guidelines? Yancoal has already purchased 4,200 acres but has an exception that allows them to buy up to 60,000 acres; does it really need this for a potash mine?
YANCOAL’S ENVIRONMENTAL RECORD:
The foundational knowledge for all the technical assessments should be fully released and carefully scrutinized. Yancoal’s dismal environmental record abroad should also be fully assessed.
QVEA Position #3:
At a minimum a panel of fully independent hydrologists should be formed to report on all the pertinent research about deep underground waste water injection before any further consideration is given to approving this project.
CONTROL OF POTASH:
Yancoal is a Chinese state corporation which operates on a different time span than other resource companies. Their goal is as much about securing long-term global supply of non-renewables as it is about profitable production and marketing. It has a guaranteed interlocked purchaser, China.
With nearly half of known potash reserves, Saskatchewan is a prime target. And with its own domestic overuse and contamination of watersheds and aquifers, China is also interested in accessing cheap water abroad for its resource extraction. This greatly externalizes its costs onto the Saskatchewan environment.
Yancoal could be here for 100 years. This is its first such mine, which likely makes us their guinea pigs. And as it plans this huge project, other companies are laying off workers due to the slump in the global potash market. Is anything in place to ensure that Yancoal will not come to control Saskatchewan potash production and undermine the competition and the marketing system (Canpotex) that ensures that the province benefits somewhat from potash royalties? Will Yancoal’s involvement lead to lower prices as well as a shrinking commercial market? If BHP Billiton was kept from purchasing Potash Corp because it was considered a threat to this “strategic resource”, then shouldn’t Yancoal be held to the same standard?
QVEA Position #4:
Before this project is allowed to proceed any further there must be full public disclosure of all agreements and obligations made by the Saskatchewan government and those regarding the Chinese-Canada FIPA trade agreement which have any bearing on Saskatchewan’s long-term public interest in resource royalties and revenues.
PROTECTING THE QU’APPELLE WATERSHED:
The Lower Qu’Appelle is already considered to be facing “high intensity” stress regarding surface water allocation and ground water use. Roads, aquatic fragmentation, impact of landfills, livestock and fertilizer inputs, pesticides and contaminated sites all contribute to such stress in the watershed. The diversion of millions of cubic metres of precious water for Yancoal’s mine will inevitably further undercut the aquatic health and recreational vitality of the Lower Qu’Appelle, which flows through the Qu’Appelle Valley. Furthermore, over the very long time span of the Yancoal solution mine, upstream saline and other contamination will almost inevitably make its way through the natural drainage system into the Loon Creek which goes into the already vulnerable Qu’Appelle Valley watershed.
Yancoal’s solution mine has direct implications for both water quantity and quality throughout the Qu’Appelle Valley Basin. The environmental review process should therefore not be skewed to exclude those who will ultimately be impacted downstream. Downstream indigenous as well as settler communities have a lot at stake here, yet in both cases the broad public has not been directly involved in the review process. This is unacceptable.
QVEA Position #5:
Before this project goes any further there must be a full, informed public discussion of the implications of the Yancoal project for the quantity and quality of water passing through the Qu’Appelle Watershed.
Line 3 will pump nearly one million barrels of tar sands and crude oil a day across southern SK. It will tunnel under the S. SK River near Outlook and the Qu'Appelle River near Bethune. It will cross four river basins and fourteen watercourses. It will threaten all downstream land, water and communities.
Thick bitumen is diluted with compounds (naphtha, the carcinogen benzene) to create the volatile, toxic dilbit that flows along the pressurized pipeline.
Pipeline ruptures contaminate large tracts of land and waterways.
Leaks that sink in water are harder to contain and clean up.
Railcars carry relatively small volumes of oil and have smaller and fewer spills. Undiluted bitumen would be much less volatile than the light Bakken oil that caused the Lac-Megantic disaster.
However, Line 3 will carry twice the volatile, toxic dilbit that was to go through Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline and even more than Keystone.
This will threaten our vulnerable prairie grasslands and land and water in the U.S.A.
1999 - Enbridge Line 3 Pilot Butte spill: 3,180,000 litres
2016 - Husky Oil’s N. SK River spill: 220,000 litres
2017 - Tundra Energy’s Ocean Man First Nation spill: 200,000 litres;
Weeks later another spill near Storthoaks, southeast of Regina
The Pilot Butte spill is similar in volume to Enbridge's 1.3 million gallon Kalamazoo River spill in the U.S. This took over four years to clean up at a cost of $1.21 billion. Crude oil from SK is pumped through that U.S. pipeline.
8,000 industrial spills were reported in SK since 2006. 17% of these were from Husky Oil, SK's biggest producer, controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing.
In 2014, the SK Auditor reported that the province had not implemented vital 2012 recommendations to regulate pipelines. It still hasn’t. Inspection records for Husky’s pipeline spill still have not been made public.
Line 3 will be a new, larger diameter pipeline, the size of Keystone. It is not a replacement; the route is different around Regina and all across Minnesota. By calling it a replacement pipeline, permitting procedures were side-stepped. It is unacceptable that Enbridge has permission to abandon its old pipeline without reclamation.
Serious public scrutiny of Line 3 has not happened in Saskatchewan.
19 to 26 mega-tonnes (MT) of CO2 emissions per year will come from extracting the bitumen for the 50-year lifespan of Line 3. Massive CO2 emissions that Canada is not required to report will also result from the export of up to 915,000 barrels a day of tar sands dilbit. Canada is the world’s largest per capita carbon extractor (2 X the U.S.). Net exported emissions from oil produced in Canada have increased 5 X since 2000. (See Behind the Numbers, Jan. 2017.)
If all emissions from approved pipelines are honestly calculated, Canada would not meet its Paris commitments.
The federal government has endorsed the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights affirming “free, prior and informed consent” for mega-resource projects.
Truth and Reconciliation requires a new, post-colonial relationship.
Enbridge’s “engagement agreements” with Indigenous communities do not meet this standard.
Enbridge partly owns the high-profile Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, North Dakota. A Treaty Alliance with 120 Chiefs has formed to ban dilbit pipelines through traditional territories in Canada and the U.S. Ochapowace and James Smith Cree Nations in SK have endorsed the Alliance. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is in the courts to stop Line 3 from going across its traditional lands.
(Liberal platform 2015.)
Building Line 3 will expand the tar sands, increase carbon emissions and exacerbate the climate crisis.
It will threaten waterways, aquifers and grassland habitats.
It will add to cumulative ecological impacts from fracking, toxic waste water and tailing ponds.
It will waste capital that should go towards conversion to a low-carbon economy.
RBC, BMO, CIBC, Scotiabank and TD should divest from the $7.5 billion-dollar Line 3 now. The federal government must stop subsidizing fossil-fuels. The SK government must stop misinforming the public about Line 3.
The QVEA endorses the Treaty Alliance and renewables. 200 First Nations across Canada already support renewable energy initiatives. The QVEA will launch a public awareness campaign to expose the hidden facts about Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline.
Enbridge is building the Line 3 pipeline across SK. In Feb. 2016, it announced their “largest-ever equity offering” to Canada’s major banks, the RBC, BMO, CIBC, Scotiabank and TD. They agreed to purchase 49 million shares at $41. This will help Enbridge build Line 3 at a cost of $7.5 billion.
Meanwhile, Enbridge is now expressing its own “concerns about the potential for the long-term growth of bitumen (tar sands) projects.” And International oil companies are already divesting. The Tar Sands are quickly being “Canadianized” because the bitumen is so expensive to extract and production can’t be ramped up quickly, as with cheaper U.S. shale oil. Trump’s protectionism could also backfire on the Tar Sands.
Shell just divested to a tune of $8.5 billion, leaving Canadian Natural Resources holding the bag. ConocoPhillips just sold off $18 Billion to Canada’s Cenovus Energy. Cenovus shares immediately dropped. Chevron and Total SA could be next to go.
If the truth was told by Premiers Wall and Notley, there won’t be enough demand to fill all the pipelines already approved by the federal Liberals. Opposition is mounting to B.C.’s Trans-Mountain (Kinder-Morgan) pipeline, and there are still court challenges to Keystone. We have to speak up about Line 3, for it will put our environment, water, climate and our savings at great risk. It is time for Canada’s big banks to divest from Line 3. Renewable energy is the way to go.
Photo: Upstream - North Saskatchewan River
QU’APPELLE VALLEY ENVIRONMENTAL ASSOCIATION (QVEA) STATEMENT ON HUSKY OIL CONTAMINATION OF NORTH SASKATCHEWAN RIVER, July 2016
The contamination of the North Saskatchewan River from 250,000 litres of heavy oil and chemicals from the rupture of Husky Oil’s pipeline near Maidstone clearly shows that Saskatchewan’s waterways are at risk from unfettered energy industry expansion. 80,000 people lost their primary source of domestic water. Residents lost their access to this rich recreational river-way. Treaty rights to access the lush river ecosystem have been breached. Biota, wildlife and environmental health will all suffer along this mighty, meandering river.
Attempts at mitigation have proven to be seriously flawed. Warnings about the leak started on the evening of Wednesday July 20th, not the next morning, as first reported by the company. What was the company doing during this unaccounted 14-hour period?
The berms failed to prevent the oil from entering the North Saskatchewan River. Then the river booms failed to stop most of the oil from going downstream, where it is threatening the drinking water of North Battleford, Prince Albert and Melfort. This contamination has gone from one side of the province to the other. And it is nonsense for Husky to claim that 40% of the oil has been cleaned up; we will be lucky to get 5-10% recovery, the average for oil spills.
Prince Albert was forced to declare a state of emergency and passed an emergency bylaw to compel water conservation; rural residents were completely cut off from their water supply. Muskoday First Nations 15 KM south of Prince Albert has already declared an emergency over water supply. The 30 KM pipeline from the South Saskatchewan River to Prince Albert’s water treatment plant will only be a temporary and yet very costly solution. It is only about 100 days to freeze up.
Saskatchewan only has a few major waterways, on which most of the population depends. It is obvious from this unfolding crisis that there is too much at risk having oil pipelines near our waterways. Why was this pipeline allowed to be built so close to the North Saskatchewan River? And how many other pipelines exist along our vulnerable waterways? We need answers!
It is now reported that the leak came from only 300 metres from the riverbank; many riverside municipal lagoons must be built further back than this.
Only interprovincial pipelines are federally regulated, the rest are provincial responsibility. There are multiple overland pipelines in Saskatchewan already doing serious damage to the land. Over 8,000 industrial spills have occurred in Saskatchewan since 2006 and 17% of these were by Husky Oil, the largest oil producer in the province. Most simply go unreported in the media.
Even without Husky’s contamination of the North Saskatchewan River, the ongoing, mostly under-regulated spills, demonstrate the need to fully embrace a non-toxic energy system. A move to solar and wind generated electricity will reduce threats to our waterways and to our water quality. But until we can make this full conversion away from fossil fuels, why is a heavy oil pipeline even allowed to be built where it can threaten a major waterway?
Premier Wall’s statement that pipelines are “the safest way” to transport oil was completely misplaced. It doesn’t matter whether one of our waterways is contaminated from a pipeline break or from a rail accident; our waterways and population need to be protected from both. It is not a good sign that for almost a week Premier Wall stayed quiet about the contamination of the North Saskatchewan River. This is one of Saskatchewan’s worst environmental disasters.
Things could get much worse: if this spill happened during the 5-month period when the North Saskatchewan River is frozen, no one would know where to start with the cleanup.
The North Saskatchewan River is not the only Saskatchewan waterway at great risk. The Qu’Appelle Watershed has endured ongoing releases of Regina’s untreated sewage and toxic agricultural run-off, and plans are now in the works to divert millions of cubic metres of surface water into upstream potash solution mines. This water will be permanently taken out of the hydrological cycle to the detriment of the long-term health of the watershed and future generations. And the SK government is now allowing Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, bringing oil from Alberta’s tar-sands, across the prairies, to go to the U.S., to be built along and under the Qu’Appelle River?
Saskatchewan has very few waterways and all need stringent protection. Yet in the recent budget there was a $2.7 million dollar cut to the Petroleum and Natural Gas Branch which is supposed to enforce the regulation of the oil industry. Meanwhile the province still can’t confirm when Husky’s ruptured pipeline was last inspected or whether Husky even had the required Emergency Plan in place. Also, the province is now cutting funds to Saskatoon’s Meewasin Valley Authority, which maintains trails and habitat along the South Saskatchewan River. Rather than such cuts, the government should be rigorously investing in watershed protection, restoration and oversight. Many of the recommendations to protect the Qu’Appelle Valley watershed, made in the 1970s by the Qu’Appelle Implementation Board Study, still apply. They are even more urgent now, yet we still see no positive provincial action at all.
And there are no longer any such oversight agencies to ensure that the lakes, wetlands, landscape, habitats and water quality in any of Saskatchewan’s watersheds are being protected and restored. This must change.
Our watersheds and water quality must be protected from further industrial abuse. Industrial self-regulation and reactive municipal actions will not and cannot accomplish this. It is time for the province to fundamentally rethink its policies to make watershed protection and restoration a top priority.
Let Husky Oil’s contamination of the North Saskatchewan River be our wake-up call so that such environmental abuse is not allowed to become normalized. Clean water is already scarce on the prairies and with climate change it will become even scarcer. We must now “put water first”.
THE QVEA The Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA) was formed in early 2016 to protect and restore the Qu’Appelle watershed and landscape. During the April provincial election, it sponsored the first ever all-candidates forum focusing on the environment. It has worked with opposition parties and area residents to raise awareness about the dangers from the proposed Chinese Yancoal potash solution mine upstream from the Qu’Appelle Valley. It is the watchdog on local governments in the valley when they do not follow environment protection regulations. It is committed to work with other independent organizations protecting Saskatchewan watersheds.
You will notice on the left side of the funding graphic are 35 North American, European and Asian banks investing large sums and expecting to receive much larger sums in return. There is however, no accounting for the accruing costs to the global environment of these projects. On the right side are three revolving credit funds collectively referred to as the “Energy Transfer Family”. Sunoco Logistics involves 24 banks, Energy Transfer Partners has 26 banks and Energy Transfer Equity has involvement with most of the banks listed. The Dakota Access Group (Project -Level Loans) has 17 of the 35 banks listed. It is important to note the Bank of Scotland has chosen to distance itself from the Dakota Access Project only stating it has ‘exited the relationship”. It is believed to be a result of the negative press the protest has received over this pipeline project.
As 2016, the hottest year in history closed, the magnitude of assets pledged to fossil fuel divestment had surpassed $5 trillion, the commitments having doubled over the last 15 months! A global call for a clean energy economy continues to strengthen as former top Mobil Oil executive (Lou Allstadt) and thousands of signatories (688 institutions, 58,399 individuals, across 76 countries) have joined the “divestment” movement away from fossil fuels. The UN Secretary General stated “it is clear that the transition to a clean energy future is inevitable, beneficial and well underway and that investors have a key role to play. Many are backing the shift from the most carbon intensive energy sources and into safe, sustainable energy investments.”
Divestment has spread to every sector of society from universities and pension funds, to philanthropic and cultural institutions, to cities, faith groups, insurance companies and others. Support is gaining among profit-driven institutions like large pension funds, private insurers and banks citing “climate risks” to their investment portfolios such as physical, stranded assets and legal liability. One city of note is Seattle, which suspended some of their business dealings with Wells Fargo Bank in October 2016 over fraud allegations (similar to what TD has been dealing with of late). Recently, (Feb. 8/17) and subsequent to the “protest” the City of Seattle voted to divest funds from Well Fargo due to their support of the Dakota Access Pipeline. At the TD Bank AGM (March 30/17) the Leadnow group presented a 25,000 signature petition directly to the TD CEO (B.Masrani) calling on TD to stop supporting the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. One shareholder actually stood up and asked to sign on! The substantial coverage by the Toronto media subsequently was described as a “warning shot” to investors that Kinder Morgan is risky and a serious brand liability.
Oil pipelines are inherently dangerous and threaten our communities with spills, explosions, water and air pollution and climate impacts. But they also boost corporate profits and increase our dependence on fossil fuels while they bring immediate and long-term risks and harms to those who live along the pipeline routes.
California adopted the Global Warming Solutions Act in 2006 which requires them to reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020! With nearly ten years of data to document their progress to this goal it is indeed compelling. California’s economy has grown 12.4% making it the 6th largest economy in the world. Population has increased 7.4% while emissions have decreased 7.3% and petroleum consumption has dropped by 14.3%. Employment grew while electricity consumption fell. Renewable energy generation capacity grew 163% while clean tech investment increased 584% from $1.43bn (2006) to $9.78bn (2015) which is about 60% of all clean tech investment in the USA. A public poll in 2016 revealed 68% of Californians supported the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act adopted in 2006. Quebec’s cap-and-trade program (started in 2013) is linked to California’s market and has raised more than $1.27bn CAD in revenue for transit, home energy retrofits and energy programs for large and small companies via the “Green Fund”. As well California’s cap-and-trade program (started in 2012) has generated more than $3bn USD ($4bn CAD) in revenues with proceeds invested in high-speed rail, sustainable communities, clean transportation, energy efficiency and clean energy programs. The cap and investments helped drive emissions down and produced co-benefits for healthy communities.
CIBC and TD Banks both have large energy portfolios and have pushed for the US government to approve final construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline to connect Canadian Tar Sands to Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. Both CIBC and TD Banks have ties to TransCanada Pipelines and have advocated for massive increases in pipeline capacity. Gordon Griffin former US Ambassador to Canada (now a CIBC Board member) was a former lobbyist for TransCanada and a “contributions bundler” for Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. TD Bank’s spokeswoman Ali Martin stated “like all major banks, institutional investors and pensions we invest in the energy sector but the bank is not a fundamental shareholder in TransCanada”! CIBC and TD Banks interests are not just in the Keystone pipeline, they both support the construction of pipelines in Canada heading west to the Pacific and east to the Atlantic as an alternate means of getting crude oil into the international market. Both Banks have pushed these pipelines as a “national priority” since 2012. One of those alternatives is the construction of the Energy East which would move Alberta crude to Quebec ports. However, this is being opposed by Gaz Metro (a Quebec-based natural gas company) and numerous other groups in Canada.
Both TD (Chairman Frank McKenna 2014) and CIBC Bank (VP Victor Dodig 2014) officials were present at the Clinton speeches in Canada in 2008 and 2014 urging the support of pipeline approvals. The TD Bank “co-sponsored speeches” yielded the Clintons $1.6 million. CIBC would not respond to inquiries, however were heavily implicated in ticket purchases sent out to numerous companies. Clinton’s swing through Canada in 2014 yielded: $275,000 in Vancouver (TD co-sponsor), $225,000 in Calgary (TD sponsor and CIBC CEO did post media interview), $100,000 for Edmonton (CIBC main sponsor) and $150,000 in Toronto (TD main sponsor). The point here is that the banks that charge us the high fees to manage our money are expending huge sums to influence policy and political decisions in their favour regardless of any climatic concerns or damages their projects may do to the environment and their customers. Norway indigenous activists (Sami group) after attending some of the protest in Standing Rock returned to the Sami Parliament and lobbied executives of Norway’s largest bank DNB (a direct investor and loan provider to the Dakota Access pipeline). DNB loaned $120 million to the Bakken pipeline project and credit lines of $460 million to companies with ownership stakes like Energy Transfer Partners, Sunoco Logistics, Phillips 66 and Marathon Oil. An answer was received in about a week and DNB sold off $3 million in assets, although, still responsible for the credit lines. By the second week Odin Fund Management of Norway sold off $23.8 mil worth of shares in companies that were part of the Dakota Access pipeline project.
Over that the last few months there has been seven major multinational oil companies scaling back or eliminating their holdings in the tar sands: Norway’s Statoil (Dec. 2016) sold off all its tar sands assets at a loss due to pressure from Norwegians and low oil prices. Their CEO then stated that the “low - carbon future will reshape the energy-space”. Soon afterwards came Kock Industries announcement they were cancelling their “Muskwa” tar sands project west of Ft. McMurray. Imperial Oil (Can. Subsidiary of ExxonMobil) writes down 2.8 mil barrels of bitumen admitting tar sands oil is uneconomic at current energy prices (Jan. 2017). ConocoPhillips states (Feb. 2017) that 2 bil barrels of its proven tar sands reserves may stay in the ground suggesting that low prices make it uneconomic to produce. However, on April 21, 2017 Cenovus (Cda.) announced they purchased those tar sands reserves for $17.7 bil. ConocoPhillips concedes it is trying to reduce its debt-load. ExxonMobil, the largest US oil company announces (Feb. 2017) it cannot profitably develop 3.6 bil barrels of its tar sands reserves which may be left in the ground at present low oil prices. Marathon Oil sells (Mar. 9, 2017) its Canadian tar sands operations to relieve its investment portfolio of its highest cost assets. That same day Royal Dutch Shell sells off all its tar sands assets for $7.25 bil and CEO states that “public faith in the oil industry was just disappearing.
An issue related to Shell is their arctic oil leases (30) covering an area of 8,600 square kilometers in Lancaster Sound, northeast of Baffin Island, which border along the edge of the newly proposed marine protection area. Shell obtained the leases in 1971 but had not acted on them. Over the decades these unused permits became an obstacle to the creation of a protected marine park in and around Lancaster Sound. The Qikiqtani Inuit Association has been pushing for protection of these waters and marine life for years. In 2014 Shell stated it would relinquish the leases if it was allowed to conduct seismic testing of the region. However, the area had been under a seismic moratorium since 2010 and so was a deal-breaker for the Inuit Association. A controversy erupted as to whether the leases were still valid. In March 2016 after the Liberals first budget promised more protection in the North, Greenpeace stepped in with documents obtained through access to information provisions which proved the leases had expired. However, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada stepped in stating the leases were still valid. So with lawyers from Ecojustice, WWF-Cda launched a lawsuit challenging the validity of the permits. The lawsuit never made it to court and on June 8, 2016 Shell donated the thirty leases to the Nature Conservancy of Canada. It is hoped that the Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area will be formally announced in time for Canada’s 150th Birthday.
Photo: Wadena News - Quill Lake Area Farm
January 8, 2018
Hon. Dustin Duncan,
Minister of Environment,
Province of Saskatchewan, Rm. 345, Leg. Bldg., 2405 Leg. Dr. Regina, SK., S4S0B3
Dear Mr. Duncan:
Our organization, the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA), is working hard to protect and restore the Qu’Appelle Valley watershed. We work with a network of over 200 people throughout the valley and are involved in a wide range of issues that pertain to the health of the watershed.
We have closely followed the various proposals to address the flooding of the Quill Lakes. Like other groups in the valley, we are concerned that high-saline and toxic runoff water could overflow and detrimentally affect Last Mountain Lake and the downstream watershed where we live. Our goal is to see a policy-making process quickly developed that takes into account all those affected by the flooding. A flood management plan will have to consider, as a minimum: 1) farmers who are steadily losing land, 2) valley residents who are trying to restore watershed health, 3) Indigenous communities who have treaty and water rights that must be protected. In early 2017 we met with the QLWA to discuss the options that it was considering in the aftermath of the cancellation of the Kutawagan Dam project in late 2015. We have been very clear that we do not support deep well injection of Quill Lakes water, as the protection of aquifers must be part of any sustainability (intergenerational) strategy for our province. Nor do we support Quill Lakes water being diverted for solution mining. Also, we have been very clear that the designing and implementation of any flood management plan should remain a provincial responsibility, and not be off-loaded to a regional group like the QLWA. This matter is far too complex and far-reaching to be instigated by only one major stakeholder group.
Also, for the record: 1) we do not support the QLWA proposal to divert inflow water from the Kutawagan and Pel lakes towards Last Mountain Lake. We appreciate all the work of the QLWA to try to find a low-cost means to prevent a potentially much more devastating natural overflow of higher saline and toxic runoff water from the Quill Lakes. But we strongly believe that other options need to be carefully considered and some basic questions clearly and accurately answered before anything like this should even be considered. 2) We also wish to be on record as supporting a full environmental assessment to ensure that the lowest impact plan is put into place.
The questions and options that need more stringent investigation are, in order of priority:
We realize that extreme precipitation from climate change has affected the Quill Lakes Basin. And the province has to seriously embrace energy and other policies that will help to reduce our record-high per capita carbon and methane emissions.
However, it is also vital to know how much of the actual rise in the Quill Lakes over the last decade or so has resulted from agricultural drainage? The seeded acreage in SK has apparently increased from 25 to 37 million acres since 1975, and it is vital to know how this has contributed to the flooding crisis. To move forward we all must
know what impact it would have on Quill Lakes levels if this drainage was stopped, using the enforcement powers in Bill 44. Objectively answering this question should be our first priority, and we would like to have this question answered by you, with the aid of researchers at the WSA.
As we all know, there has been a steady deterioration of Saskatchewan wetlands that naturally help with flood management, while enhancing habitat and water quality. A vital part of our resilience planning for climate change, whether from flooding or droughts, must therefore be wetland restoration. So, we need to know how much water could be diverted and held, through wetland restoration, and what role this could play in reversing the rise of the Quill Lakes? How much Crown land is there in the Basin that could be used for this purpose? And isn’t it time for the government to cease selling off such Crown land? Isn’t it time for it to compensate farmers who preserve wetlands that can have this overall benefit. We would also like your evidence-based answers to these inter-related questions.
We agree that it is better to divert lower TDS spring surface water from entering and raising the Quill Lakes, than face a higher TDS Quill Lake overflow into the Qu’Appelle Valley. However, we do not think more agricultural or RM ditching and drainage should be encouraged or approved, especially without A and B being objectively pursued. And if it is confirmed that we will need some inflow diversion, there must clear, enforceable guidelines, which would include, as a minimum: a) that the diversion of inflow water primarily relies on natural waterways, b) that this does not become a means for further unregulated agricultural drainage, to the detriment of downstream habitats and settlements and c) that this project has the maximum capacity to hold and store water, and enhance evaporation, as part of an overall flood management strategy. We believe that the province, not a regional group, will have to oversee this complex of responsibilities.
Finally, there is no way of escaping the deleterious effects of runoff containing toxic agricultural chemicals. Whether these are pesticides or fertilizers they negatively impact downstream water quality and watershed habitats. The neonic pesticides are being banned elsewhere because of their impacts on wetlands and and threats to bee populations and pollination. These should immediately be banned in SK.
There is justifiable concern that both a natural overflow of the Quill Lakes, and a diversion of water that would otherwise go to these lakes, will bring toxic chemicals into the Qu’Appelle Valley. At present there is a dispute over the facts and the relative risks of these scenarios, which can only be resolved through reliable information and a politically-transparent process. We would like to know the evidence-based views of your government on these questions. Our organization grew out of the regional Kairos, a national ecumenical justice organization. On June 22, 2013 it sponsored the first, and so far, the only Round Table, with all stakeholders, on our watershed health. It included the province (WSA), First Nations (PFN), local government (CLDPC) and other groups. Several hundred attended. Since then we have held several public forums on issues pertaining to our watershed. We are not a NIMBY (not in my back yard) group, but believe that there must be a multi-faceted Action Plan to be able to protect and restore the Qu’Appelle Valley watershed. (There is a lot to learn from the past Qu’Appelle Implementation Study.) Tackling Quill Lakes flooding must be a part of this.
Hopefully in the coming spring, we will again be able to host discussions where all stakeholders can consider our common objectives and do fruitful information sharing to help us all move forward together. We will be in touch with your Ministry when these plans are finalized. We look forward to your responses to our questions in A-D above. Thank you for your assistance. The best to you and yours in 2018.
Randy Lebell, Lorna Evans and Jim Harding, QVEA Directors
QVEA, Box 506, Fort Qu’Appelle, SK, SOG 1SO
Water Security Agency (WSA), Susan Ross, Pres. & CEO, Water Sec. Agency,
111 Fairford St. E. Moose Jaw, SK., S6H0B8
Pasqua First Nation (PFN),
Calling Lakes District Planning Commission (CLDPC),
Quill Lakes Watershed Association (QLWA),
Last Mountain Lake Stewardship Group (LMLSG)
Cathy Sproule, NDP Environment Critic,
Rm. 265, Leg. Bldg., 2405 Leg. Dr., Regina, Sk. S4S0B3
Sept 19, 2016, Regina Hearings
Discussed and amended at Sept. 14, 2016 meeting of Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA).
Oral presentation based on this Brief to Parliamentary Special Committee on Electoral Reform by Jim Harding on behalf of the QVEA. QVEA organizers Lorna Evans and Randy Lebell presented at the Open Mike sessions.
Most democratic countries, other than the predominantly Anglo-Saxon-influenced ones of England, the U.S., India and Canada, have some form of Proportional Representation (PR). Eighty (80%) percent of OECD countries have some form of PR. There is a reason why, for without PR, using the First-past-the post-system (FPP) where winner takes all, a minority of voters can pick the government. This pseudo-majority government can then take actions that the overwhelming majority of the population may not support. This is not only unrepresentative but can be dangerous to democracy.
In an era where we face such unprecedented global environmental challenges we will need the most representative and resilient democracy we can muster. Some form of PR is clearly a better system than what we now have because it ensures that government is more representative of the people’s choices. It ensures that government will be more accountable and transparent to citizens.
1. Tyranny of Minority:
Our antiquated system allows a minority of eligible voters to pick the government. Fair Vote Canada reminds us that only 4 of the 17 “majority” governments elected by FPP in Canada since WWI received 50% or more of the popular vote. With 36% support among the 65% of eligible voters who voted, or only 23% of the electorate, Harper got a minority government of 143 seats in 2006. (You needed 155 to be a majority.) Being a minority government was some kind of check on Harper’s power. However, in 2011, with only 39% support among the 61% of eligible voters participating, Harper got 166 seats and all the power of a majority government.
This was still less than one-quarter (24%) of the electorate, which is hardly rule by the majority. Combined with divisive wedge politics and voter suppression our country was at risk of centralized (PMO) manipulation.
Observation No. 1:
Policies such as deregulating most waterways that were passed in undemocratic Omnibus Bills were clearly bad for environmental protection, and would never have been approved with a minority government. But these became the law of the land. As well as jeopardizing environmental protection, this amounted to a tyranny of the minority.
2. 2015 Election Still Unrepresentative:
The FPP also distorted the 2015 federal election results. Voter turnout thankfully went up to 69%, which was much better than when Harper was elected in 2011. But this was well below past elections, when the FPP system might be said to have been more fairly representative of the people’s choices. In 1963, for example, the Pearson Liberals were elected with a majority with 79% of eligible voters participating.
In 2015 the Liberals got a majority government of 184 seats with only 39% of the vote. There was a 69% voter turnout in large part due to broad discontent with Harper, but the Liberal majority was still won with support from only 27% of the electorate. The Conservatives got 99 seats, which we’ll see was closer to their share of the vote. The NDP got 44 seats, the Bloc 10 and the Greens only got 1 seat, that of their leader.
Observation No. 2:
Things would have looked much different in 2015 if MPs were elected proportionate to the popular support of their parties. The Liberals would have had a minority government of about 135 seats, the Conservatives would have increased slightly to 105, but the NDP would have had 67 seats, 23 more than they actually got. The Bloc would have had 17 seats and the Greens 10.
3. Support Freedon of Expression:
An objective comparison of FPP and PR clearly shows that FPP creates severe disproportionality. FPP always undercuts fair and accurate representation, which, in turn, undercuts the sovereignty of the citizenry. Voter turnout is likely to decline because many people, even a majority, can come to realize that their vote isn’t having an effect on the outcome. Voters are also more likely to vote strategically, to get rid of a government that they don’t like, which was widespread in 2015. Strategic voting, too, distorts representation and creates disproportionality.
If people don’t believe they have a positive chance to affect the outcome, then they are less likely to vote by conscience, if they vote at all. This undercuts the health of our political culture. Our electoral system should affirm the equality principle within the Charter of Rights; each voter should be able to have an impact on the election outcome.
Observation No. 3:
Enhancing proportionality and fair representation, and encouraging voters to participate and vote as they believe, complements the Canadian Charter of Rights, which sees freedom of expression and the equality principle as central tenets of democracy. Our voting system should be changed to encourage freedom of expression.
4. Why Support Continues for FPP:
Representative government suffers from the disproportionality, low voter turnout and strategic voting that comes with FPP. So why, with all these flaws, do we still have support for this system? Some of the support comes from familiarity and habit, which makes the system seem straightforward. Change requires deeper understanding, especially clear understanding of outcomes.
Some supporters of the status quo argue that FPP creates more stability. But does it? And what kind of “stability” does it create? The seeming stability of our present FPP system is based on misrepresentation and disproportionality, not on basic democratic consent and legitimacy. We shouldn’t be trading off the health of our democracy for such a questionable form of stable government.
The so-called stability is also based on citizen exclusion and even systemic manipulation, such as by divisive wedge politics. Both accountability and transparency will suffer under FPP.
Observation No. 4:
Under the status quo of FPP, citizens become more alienated, disengaged and cynical about the election of governments. This can hardly be said to create any fundamental stability or legitimacy.
5. Deceptive Criticisms of PR:
There are unfair criticisms of PR which try to distract us from all the flaws of the FPP status quo. The Fraser Institute has been claiming that under PR the people won’t be able to select their government. They argue that “under PR, voters effectively provide a sample of their opinions and the parties decide who will govern.”This is purely semantic. We’ve seen that 23, 24 or 27% of the eligible voters can select a majority government under the FPP. How can that be said to be “the people selecting their government”?
It’s actually the opposite; if “the people” means the majority and majority rule, then it’s the PR system and not the status quo FPP that would enable “the people” to select their government. The erroneous populist implication is that under PR the political parties will pick the government and that this is not “democratic.” Think about this. Under FPP we elect a number of MPs. The party that gets the most or a majority of MPs becomes the government and the leader it picked becomes Prime Minister; under FPP this decision doesn’t come directly from the voter. And a minority of the electorate can pick the party which becomes the government and picks the Prime Minister.
Under PR the parties create a list of their representatives that can be elected depending upon the proportion of the vote they get, say by the two-vote system of Mixed Member Proportion (MMP). Then the party or parties which have already picked their leaders and get the most or a majority of the seats pick the government . The Fraser Institute “critique” doesn’t actually describe how the two systems work. Rather it implies that “elites” will be manipulating behind the scene, similar to how Harper used such distrust of the “establishment” in his rise to power.
Observation No. 5:
The Fraser Institute and others who prefer the status quo are clearly trying to frame public discourse so that it disadvantages PR and the call for electoral reform. They are doing this before the wider public even gets a chance to understand how the different electoral systems work.
Observation No. 6:
Environmental protection and ecological sustainability is less likely to be marginalized with PR, including when it involves a coalition government, than under a government like that of Harper which got majority power from minority support.
The Mulroney Conservatives got a large majority government with 50% support in only two regions: Quebec and Alberta. His trade deal might have included other considerations than mostly corporate economic benefits if the electoral system and makeup of parliament had been more representative.
Observation No. 7:
The FPP system is generally not good for inter-regional communications or negotiations. PR would help depolarize the regions which would strengthen co-operative federalism. Pressing environmental issues like carbon pricing and moving to a less fossil-fuel intensive economy could then be addressed from a more pan-Canadian perspective.
Constituency “representation” can become parliamentary profile for highly localized special interest issues while major policy issues that affect the overall public interest can get marginalized by a highly whipped federal caucus.
Observation No. 8:
It would enhance democratic representation to have some MPs with a regional focus, as would happen with the MMP PR system, because then there would be a process to ensure better attention to overall concerns such as inter-provincial watershed protection.
Observation No. 9:
A whole new generation of active citizens could be nurtured with such enhanced access and proportionality. Young people naturally care about what climate change will do to the world they will live in and will bring this awareness into the democratic process.
Observation No. 10:
The norm that everyone is expected to vote needs to be encouraged hand-in-hand with the system being made fairer and more accessible. Comparative research already shows that PR will increase voter participation, so implementing this reform should be ERRE’s priority.
11. Online Voting:
What about online voting? The opportunity to vote should be enhanced on all fronts. However we need to always remember that voting is a social act and arises from people being a part of a political community or sub-culture. Having polls placed within First Nations communities increased voter turnout in the Regina-Qu’Appelle constituency in 2015. Also there are security and privacy issues that are raised by online voting.
Observation No. 11:
Online voting can’t be done at the expense of having accessible, secret ballot voting polls in all neigbourhoods, institutions, seniors home, etc. because this would undercut the goals of greater access, and better representation and proportionality.
And what about a referendum? It is unfair to say that we can’t have democratic electoral reform without having a “democratic” referendum. We know that the wording of a referendum will shape the outcome. For example, a referendum that gave people four choices: the status quo, two types of PR, or a ranking-preferential system would spread the support for change across three choices and the status quo FPP would likely come out the victor.
This is not democracy at work. It’s like the FPP, which allows a minority to have majority-like influence. The question at hand for the ERRE is whether we will: 1) maintain the present electoral system along with its disproportionality? or 2) create an electoral system which enhances representation and proportionality. The details and kinks could then be ironed out by our elected officials and public servants.
Let’s remember that we are not starting from scratch; there have been 13 processes assessing our electoral system since 1977 and all of them have concluded that we need “to make our electoral system more proportional”. Furthermore the Liberal government was elected on the mandate that this will be the last election using FPP. It’s time to move forward on this as a country, which would be a good way to celebrate our 150th birthday.
Let’s also remember that there was no referendum when women finally got the vote; it was just the right thing to do. And we can only imagine what would have happened if those with the vote got to decide. It would also be unfair for those who presently benefit from, and are more committed to participate in the FPP system, to be able to determine whether or not we get a voting system that encourages the broader electorate and publics to participate in our democratic processes. PR is the right thing to do.
Observation No. 12:
Because a referendum campaign would probably be used to split public opinion and maintain the status quo it is not a good instrument for making our electoral system more representative and proportionate.
13. Ranking Preferential System:
What about the ranking system? While it may seem easier and perhaps even cheaper to quickly instigate a ranking system without having to change constituencies or the number of MPs, this system would not guarantee better representation and proportionality, which is what is most needed.
In 2015 under a ranking system the Liberals would have received about 244, not 184 seats, which would have reduced the representation of all the other citizens (who supported Conservatives, NDP, Bloc and Greens) to just over 100 MPs. So in the name of expediency let us not go from the frying pan into the fire. Let us not allow the significant challenges involved in enhancing our democracy to dissuade us from making the changes that are required. All Canadians will ultimately benefit if our electoral system is made more representative, more proportional and thus fairer.
Observation No. 13:
If the 2015 election had been run with a ranking system, taking into account people’s second choices as indicated by polling, parliament would have been even more disproportionate than under FPP.
14. ERRE Principles:
Last but not least we’d like to comment on your five “guiding principles”. All of these will be affirmed by an electoral system based on PR. Our system will be more effective and more legitimate if it is made fairer by overcoming the disproportionality in the existing FPP system. PR will enhance the engagement of the broad electorate, including youth and disempowered groups. It will create better access and a more inclusive democracy in Canada. Making all these changes will create a much more fundamental integrity in the voting system. Elected officials who can no longer get elected with a minority split vote will have to become more accountable to not only the range of local issues, but the regional, inter-provincial and pan-Canadian issues such as the Climate crisis and our dependence on fossil fuels that are challenging us so much.