How much difference might a five cent charge for Plastic bags really make? - Not much according to our survey
We wrote to government awhile back urging them to introduce a ban on plastic bags and explaining why any temptation to go with a 5 cent surcharge on bags (either mandated or voluntary) would seem to be an inadequate response.
Below is a copy of this letter.
Dear Minister Letto,
Re: NL survey results you may find interesting comparing a ban and levy on single-use plastic bags
Last week the Telegram reported that government was close to reaching a decision about how to address our plastic bag waste problem. That’s good news given that we consume more than 100 million single-use plastic bags every year in this province. As government’s own report revealed, these bags do not get recycled. They end up polluting our land and sea and poisoning the wildlife that live there.
It seems apparent to us that there are two very different approaches government can take to address the problem. Municipalities NL has requested a province wide ban on single use plastic bags. The business sector, on the other hand, is much more likely to prefer a modest five cent levy or rebate on every plastic bag shoppers use. There’s even a precedent for that. Walmart already has a five cent levy in place, while Colemans uses a five cent rebate incentive.
Before you make your decision we thought you might be interested in the results of a visual survey of plastic bag use our groups have recently done at the four Walmart and three Coleman stores on the Avalon. We already knew from our previous survey of 17 Dominion and Sobeys supermarkets across the Avalon that approximately 84.5% of these customers were still using only plastic bags.
What we discovered was that Colemans’ rebate scheme made a difference of less than two percent to those statistics. On the other hand, in our Walmart survey of 566 customers, we found that approximately 67.3% of shoppers were using plastic bags. That’s a reduction of 17.2%, which may sound okay until you do the arithmetic. If 84.5% of shoppers consume over 100 million bags each year, 67.3% will still be consuming nearly 80 million bags annually. That’s hardly a solution.
The problem isn’t the levy as such. It’s that the amount appears to be too small to change people’s habits. There’s ample evidence of that from jurisdictions around the world. It’s why PEI, which announced last June a ban on plastic bags to be eased in over an 18 month period, coupled their ban with a starting levy of 15 cents per bag followed by a 25 cent levy one year later. The levies are initially necessary for customers who forget to bring their reusable bags to stores.
We would like to see government follow the PEI example. Unlike other plastic waste problems which can involve inter-jurisdictional cooperation, an NL ban could be administered unilaterally by the province at minimal cost. But there are two much more compelling reasons for following through with a ban.
Waste collection in this province is a municipal responsibility. From a practical perspective that means that Municipalities NL know what they are talking about when they say there is a need for a ban. From a democratic perspective, Municipalities NL also represents councillors elected by, and thus serving, the same population that elected our provincial government. In a healthy democratic society that should give their request enormous clout.
It’s our opinion that a levy alone, especially if it’s a small one, will neither substantially change consumer habits nor resolve our plastic bag trash problem. It will, however, keep the corporate sector reasonably happy. That seems to us to be a short-sighted reason for adopting this approach.
We urge government to make the right decision for our province. There’s a lot at stake.
The Council of Canadians, St. John’s Chapter firstname.lastname@example.org
The Social Justice Cooperative email@example.com
Cc: J. Chippett, Deputy Minister
Here's what we said.
A Plastic Bag Challenge for Telegram Readers
This fall the local chapter of the Council of Canadians conducted a visual survey outside 21 Dominion, Sobeys and Coleman stores across the Avalon Peninsula. We wanted to know how many shoppers were using reusable bags. What we discovered was sobering. Approximately 88%, or close to nine out of every ten people carrying groceries out of the stores, were using plastic bags. Guesstimated by age we found that 16% of seniors, 9% of middle aged shoppers and 11% of young people had committed to using only reusable bags.
Why does this matter? In this province alone, we go through 100-120 million plastic bags every year. Rarely are these bags used more than twice before they are discarded. Since it is not economically viable to recycle them, almost all end up in landfills or littering and poisoning our land and sea. These throwaway bags can take several hundred years to break down.
But it’s not just our environment and wildlife that are being contaminated by plastics. A small but groundbreaking study last month revealed for the first time the presence of microplastics in our own guts and feces. Given that they were found in every subject, (all of whom were healthy), statisticians speculate that as much as half the world’s population may be already affected. Scientists have no idea yet what the long term implications are for human health, but you know it can’t be good.
Of course, humans aren’t choking on plastic bags. It’s believed a lot of the microplastics in our system come from plastic bottles, from packaging on food, and from contaminated fish. As individuals we can protect ourselves against that, if we so wish, simply by changing our buying habits.
But what about that other habit we have? How do we wean ourselves off of plastic bags at the grocery check-out? Should it be left to individuals or is this a societal problem that requires legislative action by government? The United Nations, in a report that came out last June, is advocating the latter. This is hardly a radical recommendation given that more than 60 countries have already legislated bans or levies on single-use plastic bags.
Here in Canada, PEI became the first province to do so last summer. The PEI government has given Islanders a year to adjust to the idea. Then, starting next July there will be a levy of 15 cents on plastic bag use. That will go up to 25 cents a year later and will eventually lead to a complete ban.
We could do the same thing in this province. In fact, two years ago Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador asked the provincial government to legislate a ban on single-use plastic bags. In spite of the fact that our own Civil Service has published a report documenting the problems caused by plastic bags, government is still waffling about the issue. During a CBC interview last summer Environment Minister Andrew Parsons spoke of the need to consult with all sides. Those “sides” he was referring to are, of course, the corporate and retail sector. Neither wants a ban.
This fall the European Parliament voted in favour of bringing in a ban not just on plastic bags but on all throwaway plastic packaging by 2021. That’s enormous. It indicates that dramatic change is coming. The questions for us are: Do we really want to be one of the last to get on board? How many more hundreds of millions of plastic bags are we going to let litter and poison our province before government acts?
Municipalities NL is asking citizens to take a personal stand by writing to government urging a ban. We hope that Telegram readers will consider doing just that.
Proportional Representation (PR) is a hot topic in Canada at the moment with three provinces considering a change to this system, either through a referendum or by legislation. One might have thought that given the enormity of our Muskrat Falls debacle, there would be a push for similar electoral reform in our province.
Not so! At least, that's our conclusion after spending more than a year trying to build momentum for a referendum on PR here in Newfoundland and Labrador. We did that largely in conjunction with Democracy Alert, another local social justice group. They've written about the whole experience on their blog. Check it out. It's an interesting story, one that shows how difficult it can be to create energy and solidarity among groups even when the timing seems right.
At our November 8th AGM, climatologist Dr. John Jacobs, a local Council member, led a discussion on our province's strategy to reduce global warming. Here's a synopsis of what John had to say about Newfoundland and Labrador's commitment to reducing carbon emissions.
The Scope of the Problem
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), human-induced warming reached approximately 1°C (±0.2 °C likely range) above pre-industrial levels in 2017, increasing at 0.2°C (±0.1°C) per decade (high confidence. The impacts and risks of this warming for natural, managed and human systems are already evident, and will become more dangerous with further warming. Humanity has barely two to three decades in which to act to prevent crossing the 1.5°C threshold 1.
The 2015 Paris Agreement - Are we living up to our promises?
The Paris Agreement of 2015 aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2.0°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C. Additionally, the agreement aims to increase the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change, and at making finance flows consistent with a low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate-resilient pathways.2
In order to address the objectives of the Paris Agreement, Canada and the provinces established objectives for emissions reductions by 2020 and 2030. However, a 2018 collaborative report from Canada’s Auditors General3 found that neither Newfoundland and Labrador nor Canada as a whole are on track to meet their 2020 targets, and NL does not have a target for 2030.
In October 2018, in a special report, the IPCC called for urgent increased efforts to curb emissions to prevent global warming from exceeding the 1.5°C threshold. New scientific studies and recent climatic trends point to catastrophic consequences for the planet if temperatures increase further4.
What does NL's carbon tax look like?
Many experts agree that a “carbon tax” can be an effective incentive for lowering fossil fuel consumption. In October 2018 the NL Government released its “Made-in-Newfoundland-and-Labrador Carbon Pricing Plan”5. This plan projects “cumulative direct on-site GHG reductions below business-as-usual … at up to 1.7 MT (megatonnes) between 2019 and 2030.” That represents about 10 % of the 10.8 MT annual GHG emissions for the province in the most recent (2016) National Inventory. It remains to be seen how effective this plan will be, given the many exemptions.
What about the impact of NL's oil and gas policy?
The NL Government’s “Way Forward – Oil and Gas” policy6, also announced in 2018, seems oblivious to the imperatives of climate change mitigation. It aggressively encourages more offshore oil and gas exploration and development, and projects daily production to grow from the current 260,000 barrels of oil equivalent (boe) to over 600,000 boe per day by 2030. All of that oil represents potential additional CO2 added to the atmosphere.
Burning oil and its derivatives yields 0.43 metric tonnes CO2 per boe7. Current (2018) production represents 40.8 MT of CO2 per year. The imagined (“Way Forward”) 2030 production of over 600,000 boe per day would more than double that sector’s contribution to the atmospheric CO2 burden. This alone dwarfs any gains made by carbon pricing and other conservation measures.
For the sake of our future, the province clearly needs to get off a fossil-fuel based economy. Can't afford to? Just how important are revenues from offshore oil to the provincial economy? According to Minister of Finance Tom Osborne8, that currently amounts to 15 %, down from 30 % in 2011. He also said: “We need to diversify our economy.”
What are some alternatives to our current policy?
Clearly, we must move quickly to more renewable energy sources. Government has claimed that, when Muskrat Falls is at full power, “renewable electricity consumed in Newfoundland and Labrador will rise to 98 per cent.”9 This seems overly optimistic, given uncertainties about the performance of this complex and untested system. As well, we have yet to see a full accounting of the GHG produced in the construction and ongoing operation of that project.
We can perhaps hope for some progress from other Government initiatives, including the Climate Change Action Plan and the Low Carbon Economy Leadership Fund, but the amount of funding is paltry in relation to the need.
Increasingly, so-called “negative emissions” technology and practices are being introduced as a way to reduce the atmospheric GHG burden10. One obvious such practice involves the maintenance and expansion of forest lands, which typically capture about 2 tonnes of atmospheric CO2 per hectare per year. The province’s forest lands amount to about 8.1 million hectares, which amounts to about 16 MT CO2 per year. We can keep that carbon “in the bank” by investing in truly sustainable forest management practices, by reforestation of idle cleared lands, and by substantially expanding our system of protected natural areas, both on land in our waters.
Solutions are possible, but the time available is limited. What is clear is that “business as usual”, writ large, won’t do.
John D. Jacobs, PhD.
For the Council of Canadians, St. John’s Chapter
8 November 2018
Notes and Sources:
1. The Summary for Policymakers of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC (SR15) is
available at http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/ or www.ipcc.ch.
2. Information on the Paris Agreement is at: https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/what-is-the-paris-agreement
3. Perspectives on Climate Change Action in Canada—A Collaborative Report from Auditors General—March 2018 http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_otp_201803_e_42883.html
4. Global Warming of 1.5 C. IPCC SR1.5. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/.
7. EPA (2017). Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2015. Annex 2 Methodology for estimating CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.
8. Finance Minister Osborne, The Telegram, 7 November 2018.
9. News Release 23 October 2018 https://www.releases.gov.nl.ca/releases/2018/mae/1023n01.aspx
10. Negative Emissions Technologies and Reliable Sequestration – A Research Agenda. National Academies Press, 2018. http://nap.edu/25259
Join us on November 8, 2018, at 7 pm at Sobeys Merrymeeting Road for a discussion led by climatologist Dr. John Jacob's about our province's energy strategy and the 1.5 C climate threshold.
The recent IPCC report sets the parameters for avoiding climate catastrophe. Newfoundland and Labrador can't just watch from the sidelines. Government's long term plans for offshore oil and gas development conflict with our need to reduce our carbon emissions now and begin to adapt to a future low-carbon future. What can citizens do?
And find out what we’ve been up to over the last year on important issues like
Oct. 31st, 2018
To: The Minister of the Environment, the Hon. Andrew Parsons
Re: Municipalities NL’s request for a provincial ban on single-use plastic bags.
We write to you on behalf of the St. John’s chapter of the Council of Canadians.
The Council of Canadians is a national organization committed to social and environmental justice. Each chapter is given discretion as to how best they can achieve that. In other words, we get to pick our own topics. Our chapter has chosen to focus on the emerging plastic waste crisis and more specifically single-use plastic bags.
We would like to give you some reasons why the province needs to act now and introduce a province wide ban on single-use plastic bags.
The Scope of the Problem
Our understanding is that several industry groups have asked the province to consider alternatives to a ban. We’re curious as to just what those alternatives could be. According to figures cited in a 2013 Huffington Post article1, the cost of recycling 1 tonne of plastic bags was estimated at $4000 while the recycled product had a worth of approximately $32. Recycling has never really been a financially viable option and is unlikely to become one.
In reality, plastic bags collected rather than dumped in landfills have, to a large extent, been shipped offshore, mostly to China. But China is no longer willing to accept “dirty” plastics, including single-use bags. The North American recycling industry is now in crisis, scrambling to find other countries where our plastic trash can be dumped. That’s going to get more and more difficult to do as the world awakens to the scope of the plastic epidemic.
The growing momentum worldwide for a ban
Last week the European Parliament voted to legislate a ban on, not just bags, but on a wide range of other single-use plastics. This very broad ban will come into effect in 2021. Bans or levies on plastic bag use have already been implemented in around 60 countries according to a UN report published in June.
We expect the European decision to provoke other OECD jurisdictions to act. In Canada PEI has already legislated a ban on the kind of single-use bags used at store check-out counters. Beginning next July, there will be a 15 cent levy on paper or plastic bags consumed in PEI stores.
An opportunity to be progressive with very little downside
With all our Muskrat Falls problems and our increasing dependency on the oil industry, government has been having a hard time looking progressive. Have you considered how becoming one of the first provinces to ban plastic bags could help to change that perception?
But perhaps most importantly, we are a people and a province that promotes, celebrates and takes great pride in the pristine nature of our land and sea. We need to try to keep it like that. That is the biggest reason of all for legislating a provincial ban on plastic bags.
Marilyn Reid on behalf of the St. John’s Chapter of the Council of Canadians
Cc: Deputy Minister Jamie Chippett, the Hon. Ches Crosbie and the Hon. Gerry Rogers
Almost nine out of Ten Avalon Peninsula Shoppers use Single-use Plastic Bags to Carry their Groceries
On World Cleanup Day, which took place on September 15th, our group conducted a visual survey of plastic bag use outside 20 supermarkets on the Avalon Peninsula. Of 1509 customers seen leaving Dominion, Sobeys and Coleman stores, just 12% of customers with groceries had only reusable bags, while another 4% used a combination of plastic and reusable bags. Around 84% of customers used only single-use plastic bags.
So, who were those 12 percent of customers committed to using only reusable bags? While categorizing these customers according to age is a subjective evaluation, the Council group did note some differences.
The response from government has so far been disappointing. In a 2018 June 13th interview with CBC, Andrew Parsons, Minister of Municipal Affairs and the Environment refused to put a time line on when or even if any legislation would be introduced. By contrast, PEI has now introduced legislation (with an 18 month staged introductory period) banning single-use plastic bags.
Surely there should be more of a sense of urgency in our province given that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians go through an estimated 120-150 million single-use plastic bags each year? Many people will say that they use their plastic bags more than once, but almost all of these bags will eventually end up in the landfill or be blown into trees where they will take hundreds of years to break down.
Our group believes the time to push for a ban on single-use plastic bags is now. To do that means facing three challenges - the habits of consumers, the complacency of government, and the opposition to a ban from powerful industry groups.
One of our next steps will be a survey asking people why they think grocery shoppers continue to use plastic bags. We also want to ask people if they support the ban on plastic bag use that Municipalities NL is pushing. But we need participants. This is not a survey that can be done outside of supermarkets.
You can help with this. If you belong to any kind of group, no matter how small, would you consider having fellow members fill in the survey. We want to have at least 1500 replies.
You can contact us for more details at firstname.lastname@example.org
The one thing that government apparently doesn’t want discussed at the Commission of Inquiry is why our democratic institutions allowed such an uncritical handling of the project.
That's what we discovered when we applied for standing to participate in the Muskrat Falls Inquiry. Click here to find out what we thought we could contribute and why we got turned down.
Are you – or someone you know – having to choose between buying groceries and filling prescriptions for medication?
If so, you know that the cost of drugs has skyrocketed
Canada is the only developed country with universal health care
that does not include a National Pharmacare program.
Countries that have a Pharmacare program are able to secure
FAR LOWER PRICES
The Council of Canadians St. John`s Chapter is holding a letter writing afternoon to urge the federal government to implement a Universal Pharmacare program to control prices and ensure access to needed medications for all.
Please join us on
Saturday January 27, 2018
any time between 1:00pm and 4pm
Sobeys Community Room, Merrymeeting Road, St. John`s
Daniel Miller, one of our members, played a key role in liaising with First Nation groups to organize protest demonstrations against the continuation of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador. On different occasions we voiced our opinion publicly that Muskrat Falls was an unacceptable, insulting and careless assault on the health and welfare of many Labradorians, as well as being destructive to the environment.
From 2014-2016 our local chapter, in conjunction with another local group Democracy Alert, lobbied the Department of Education to reintroduce Civics Education and other courses with political content into the senior high social studies curriculum. Our efforts were successful and the Department has committed to curriculum reform. To reinforce our concerns we presented and then wrote a submission to the Task Force on Education last March.
We held two public sessions on electoral reform where we presented our two step concept for a referendum on proportional representation. This was followed up by articles in The Independent and one by Council member Helen Forsey in The Hill Times.
Our chapter continued its opposition to CETA in 2017, alas to no avail. The Trudeau government gleefully ratified the agreement.
Letters to the Editor
The NL Fracking Review panel will be releasing their report to the public May 31 at 9:30 am at http://nlhfrp.ca/
"Fracking threatens water, sustainable jobs and a stable climate," says the national Council of Canadians in a blogpost. "In the fall of 2014, the Newfoundland and Labrador government established an independent review of hydraulic fracturing. Last year, many community members made submissions to the NL Hydraulic Fracturing Review Panel (NLHFRP) and participated in the public consultations on the West Coast."
"95% of participants in the process told the NLHFRP that they don't want fracking in NL."
Our chapter helped organize several Fracking Review Submission Parties to encourage people to submit their thoughts to the panel. Check out some of the creative submissions here: http://nlfrackingsubmissions.weebly.com/
A public meeting will also be held at the Maria Regina Parish Hall in Port au Port East on Tuesday, May 31 at 6pm.
Read the full Council of Canadians blog post here: http://canadians.org/frackingNL
Three thousand people converged at Confederation Building in St. John's to show their opposition to the 2016 austerity budget. Our chapter joined the grassroots march from MUN. There were also two other marches to the rally: CUPE and librarians marched from the Arts and Culture Centre, and the Canadian Federation of Students and NL Teachers' Association marched from College of the North Atlantic. We all met for an epic rally that really allowed everyone to express their outrage at the inequality and injustice in the budget.
More photos from the rally here.
Background reading on this movement against the budget here:
This video care of Rogue Bayman.
The march took over the parkway! Solidarity!
Hundreds of angry people showed up at lunch time to voice their concern about a budget that is an "out-and-out attack by the rich against the poorest in our society." There is a grassroots movement coming together to stop this budget and make our voices heard, and our Council of Canadians chapter is showing solidarity and offering support wherever we can.
Key groups and resources emerging are:
And the protests and actions just keep coming!
The St. John's chapter took part in a rally and march through downtown St. John's, protesting the austerity budget. It will disproportionately affect working class and vulnerable people. It introduced a number of taxes and fees, including a 'deficit levy' that burdens lower-income earners by percentage of taxable income more than any other. Someone earning over $200,000 a year is capped at $900 but someone earning $25,000 has to pay $300.
Check out some of the other devastating cuts to programs and services ("expenditure reductions" is the euphemism...").
Here's the coverage from the Independent.
For more background on what's happening, visit the NL Independent:
The St. John's chapter of the Council of Canadians joined with other grassroots groups like the Social Justice Coop NL, Sierra Club NL, Cinema Politica, and Avaaz Canada to take part in the global climate march. Marches in communities around the globe started yesterday and will continue for the next few days in the build-up to COP21
"The video - narrated from the perspective of business supporter of free trade agreements - highlights that trade and investment agreements increase corporate power, erode state sovereignty, weaken democratic authority and are central to the neoliberal framework of privatization and deregulation. It also notes the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision that affords foreign corporations the right to sue for compensate when public services are expanded or when privatization is reversed."
Read more about the Council of Canadians and Common Frontier video here.
Stephen Harper visited Bay Roberts today (first time he's been in Newfoundland since 2011 and first time this election campaign) and got this reception! The Public Service Alliance Of Canada organized the rally.
CBC reports, "Conservative Leader Stephen Harper ventured into a lion's den that is perhaps the least fertile electoral ground for him in Canada on Saturday. The Tory leader attended a rally in the riding of Avalon in Newfoundland and Labrador. ...By mid-afternoon Harper supporters and protesters had gathered at the site of his rally at Harbour International in Bay Roberts, N.L., some waving placards and chanting slogans. ...The event in Bay Roberts is Harper's first foray into the province this election campaign. Newfoundlanders have shown little electoral warmth toward Harper. In the 2011 federal election they elected only one Conservative MP."
VOCM adds, "About 50 protesters [were there] chanting 'Heave Steve' and 'Harper has to go'. ...Ken Kavanagh of the Council of Canadians doesn't think the Conservatives have a chance of even a single seat in the province. He says the only reason Harper is here is because the other two leaders were in NL last weekend."
Thanks to Jim Parsons for footage of the chants!
The Telegram highlights, "Overall, the difference in tone was stark between the Harper event in the riding of Avalon, and the campaign rallies last month by New Democratic Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in the capital city region. Both the Mulcair and Trudeau events were open to anybody, and featured hundreds of supporters, whereas security was heavy at the Harper event, and a generous estimate of the crowd would be maybe 100 people. The Harper event was by invitation only, and an RCMP officer physically grabbed the Telegram reporter when he tried to enter the event, demanding to see identification. ...Harper's event was also the only one of the three that featured protestors outside, with a couple dozen people holding signs and chanting anti-Conservative slogans on the road outside the MoorFrost building."
The CBC report also notes, "The provincial Progressive Conservative government has been at times openly hostile toward Harper... [Former premier Danny Williams] had accused Harper of breaking a promise to protect offshore oil earnings from federal equalization funding clawbacks. Harper was also heavily criticized for what many fishers in Newfoundland and Labrador saw as a betrayal of a promise he made during negotiations for the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement [CETA] with the European Union. According to Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis, Harper's government [has reneged on its promise of a] $400 million fisheries fund to compensate fishers for losses as a result of the trade deal."
Our chapter, along with the Corner Brook Status of Women Council, the NL Social Justice Co-op, and Democracy Alert are supporting the Meet the Federal Candidates Forum in Corner Brook on October 5th, 7:30 pm at the Royal Canadian Legion Hall.
The four Federal Candidates running for election in the Long Range Mountains Electoral District have confirmed that they will be participating:
The topics for discussion and debate are of local, national and global concern. They include the State of our Democracy, the Environment, the Economy, Health Care and Social Issues – such as Affordable Housing, Child Care, First Nations Relations, Immigration, and Education. Following the questions from the moderators, the public will have the opportunity to ask questions to the candidates.
The St. John's chapter of the Council of Canadians is joining other activists across the country in days of action against CETA. Sept 25 and 26 take action to spread awareness about the downsides to CETA (i.e., weakening environmental policies, making it easier for corporations to sue governments for loss of profits, allowing the privatization of public services, bypassing local democracies).
We are launching a short theatrical video to help bring CETA -- and all the European grassroots opposition to it -- to light. 2.7 million Europeans oppose CETA. Visit the Council of Canadians website to learn more about how to take action: http://canadians.org/ceta-days-action
Members of our chapter will be passing out pamphlets on CETA and encouraging people to vote by distributing Voter's Guides.
The St. John's chapter of the Council of Canadians and health care allies (including CUPE's Wayne Lucas, the Canadian Health Coalition's Mellissa Newitt, and Leo Broderick from the CoC national board) gathered in Bannerman Park for a visual demo.
“Without a health accord, $36 billion is slated to be cut from our public health care. Already, Newfoundland and Labrador has lost $22.4 million in the past year since the accord expired,” says Michael Butler, Health Care Campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “This has a real impact on the health of all Canadians, and it is time the premiers demand that a new health accord be negotiated.”
Here are more photos from the event on Flickr.
We decided to focus on the following campaigns/issues in the coming year:
Here's a link to the Prezi with lots of pictures recapping our year's activities!
At our follow-up meeting Sunday June 28, 3-5 pm at Sobeys Merrymeeting, we will be focusing on brainstorming action items and discussing strategy/tactics for implementing short- and long-term goals.
The NL fracking review panel has been accepting public submissions. Our chapter, and individual members, made wonderful submissions! If you'd like to make one, you can still do so at http://nlhfrp.ca/submit-feedback-to-the-panel/submissions/
Here is the submission from our St. John's chapter of the Council of Canadians:
To the NL Hydraulic Fracturing Review Panel:
The St. John’s chapter of the Council of Canadians echoes the growing number of groups outspoken in their demand for a full fracking ban in Newfoundland and Labrador.
There is no safe way to frack, and the lack of scientific consensus on the issue led the Nova Scotia fracking review panel last year to conclude that fracking should not go ahead in their province. The lack of planning around waste waster management and community consultation were some key concerns that led to the decision to extend their fracking moratorium.
Two of our five-member panel were also on the Nova Scotia panel, so we wonder how the same pool of evidence (with its gaps in the areas of human health impacts over the long term and general lack of social license across the Atlantic region) could magically yield a different conclusion for fracking in our province.
Moreover, the unique geology on the west coast of Newfoundland adds another knowledge gap for our panel to contend with. The recently released Hinchey study looks at the geology of the Green Point shale, reiterating the lack of information we have of the areas coveted by fracking companies. The study states:
“There is currently no way to reliably and accurately depict or predict the extent, location, rock characteristics or shape of Green Point Shale layers below the surface. It is therefore, not feasible to present a model for unconventional shale gas/oil exploration in the area.” (Hinchey, Knight, Kilfoil and Hicks, 2015, 166)
The complexity of the rock formations and the near total ignorance of the shale formations of Western Newfoundland make the prospect of fracking even more reckless. At the very least, a precautionary approach to resource development would extend the moratorium in light of our best geologists acknowledging they know almost nothing about the proposed area.
But despite how obvious and compelling these gaps in our knowledge should be in the decision-making process, it’s easy to cherry-pick studies that will allow you to conclude that, with enough regulation and technological know-how, fracking can potentially be done safely. We have seen devastating and irreversible damage actually (not potentially) done by the fracking industry: drinking water contamination, people getting sick from flaring near schools and residential areas, the proliferation of earthquakes, the slow release of toxins from tailings ponds that contain wastewater no one knows what to do with. Fracking has already caused enough irreversible damage and produced enough wastewater that it doesn’t have a plan for (especially in Nova Scotia) – why should Newfoundlanders and Labradorians trust the hypothetical scenarios offered by people with vested interests in fracking on how stringent their regulations will be?
It is not up to people to prove to industry that fracking is unsafe; it is up to those who want to impose themselves on our landscape and communities via dangerous unconventional methods of extreme energy to prove to us that it can be done safely. Fracking will never be done safely, for the simple reason that pumping millions of litres of unknown chemical soup and water at high pressures deep underground, traversing aquifers, and using explosives to create fissures in sensitive geological formations will always have a huge degree of risk on human wellbeing. Groundwater contamination, earthquakes, and human health impacts are very real consequences of taking those risks. The people of western Newfoundland have clearly not given their social license to this industry, for the obvious reason that these risks are not worth the few jobs and temporary monetary gains they might bring to the area.
Moratoria have swept the Atlantic region. Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick have all said ‘no’ to fracking. Instead of feeding our harmful dependence on fossil fuels, the provincial government must seize the opportunity to transition to renewable forms of energy, and have some foresight into where the rest of the world is headed in the face of catastrophic climate change.
Please also include the following articles on your website for consideration. They have important things to add on the financial risks of fracking:
Paula's and Erika's submissions, created during the NL Fracking Submission Writing Parties:
And Ken Kavanagh's amazing submission to the NLHFRP!
Submission to NL Hydraulic Fracturing Review Panel
Kenneth J. Kavanagh, Bell Island
June 1, 2015
“The health of the people is the highest law.” (Cicero 106 – 43 B.C.)
As a concerned and engaged citizen who believes in the power of the people inherent in a true democracy, as a retired educator who believes in the power of knowledge and as a parent of four (4) children who feels an obligation to leave a safer and sustainable world for future generations, I wish to express my personal and strongly-held views with respect to the matter of fracking and the Newfoundland and Labrador Hydraulic Fracturing Review Panel (NLHRP) and process.
My submission will likely not deal with much of the specific terms of reference of the review panel. I have been reading many of the submissions and am very impressed with the breadth and depth of coverage of the major concerns and questions about hydraulic fracturing. I am quite impressed and confident that all that needs to be said will be said.
This submission is my response and opinion to fracking in NL.
Why did the NL Government Establish this Panel
I want to begin by commenting on the Newfoundland and Labrador government’s motivation for establishing this so-called independent panel and review process. I do this knowing that you will likely take the position that such comments are irrelevant and, in any event, not something that you can comment on or consider in terms of your final report.
I may have to concede on the second point but not the first. Hydraulic Fracturing is a very controversial issue and a public review process is just that. It is a public process for the public to express its collective views and thoughts on the matter. While you may be constrained by the terms of reference imposed on you by government, I reserve the right not to be and to comment on all aspects of this issue.
I believe this government has been pro fracking all along. From the time that people in the Port aux Port/Bay St. George area began to oppose the prospects of fracking, the government has dismissed, trivialized and denigrated the concerns expressed by a significant portion of the population and generally held a favourable and positive position on the controversial extraction technique.
In particular, government Ministers and MHA s have tried to use their clout and influence to dismiss the criticism and soft peddle no-worry and pro-industry view of fracking. The best example of this was Tom Marshall, a very powerful MHA from the area who was the Natural Resources Minister and then became the interim Premier for a few months in early 2014.
During a public meeting on the Port aux Port Peninsula, Marshall showed up with a few suits from his Department, waving a stack of papers and thought he was going to quash the growing opposition to the fracking plans on the West Coast by the sheer weight of his political and personal standing in the area. He got a rude awakening with a strong backlash from the residents at the session. In one exasperated exchange with a critic, he uttered: "I don't care what anybody in this room says to me, I'm going to do the right thing."
Then in a subtle and insulting attempt, he trotted off to Weyburn, Saskatchewan, the headquarters of fracking in Canada and came back with a rosy expose of what he experienced.
“They are not having any problems with it at all,” said Marshall according to a Western Star story. In the same story he was quoted as saying: “They haven’t had any water contamination, they haven’t had any problems with water volume, they haven’t had livestock dying, they haven’t had earthquakes.”
Once again, Mr. Marshall was surprised and a tad upset at the backlash to his superficial positive framing of his fact-finding trip to Saskatchewan. He was called on his feeble attempt to sell a fake bill of goods to the community and the community told him so.
I believe it was at this seminal point that both Mr. Marshall and the government realized that it would take a more long term and sophisticated strategy to bring the masses in to compliance with the wishes of the government and the industry.
Every move since then on this file has been part of that sophisticated strategy. First there was the October 2013 move to close the door on accepting any fracking applications pending an internal review. The media and most people referred to the move as a ‘moratorium’ which was not really the case but government was in no rush to correct the perception and bit of positive publicity that ensued. Eventually, there would be the announcement of an external review.
In the meantime, the individuals and groups involved with the Port aux Port/Bay St. George Fracking Awareness group stepped up their efforts with their information and public awareness campaign. Armed with a keener awareness of the many controversial issues around fracking, public concern and opposition was growing across the entire province.
All during this time, this government’s popularity with the NL electorate was plummeting. Premier Kathy Dunderdale stepped down and the PC Party went through a disastrous leadership with two contenders backing out and the eventual acclaimed winner, Frank Coleman, rejecting the position of Premier just days before assuming office. The ensuing leadership contest had its own controversial ending but the present Premier, Paul Davis, emerged the victor.
By the time Paul Davis took over, this government had lost seven (7) by-elections, including the extraordinary total swing of 89.7 percentage points from the PCs to the Liberals in Mr. Tom Marshall’s former district of Humber East.
In this context, Minister Dalley appointed this Hydraulic Fracturing Review Panel on October 10, 2014.
So let’s call a spade a spade here. The appointment of a so-called external, independent review panel is not the result of some ‘on the road to Damascus’ enlightenment and realization that hydraulic fracturing is fraught with risk and danger and that the public must have a voice in decision as to whether it will be allowed to happen or not. No, it was a decision made ‘on the road to low polling numbers.’
With all due respect to the members of this Panel, the appointment of this Review Panel is nothing more than a desperate, crude, and - ultimately foolhardy attempt - to reverse plummeting political fortunes by moving the highly volatile and controversial public discourse on hydraulic fracturing away from the government to another body whose report would not be ready prior to the next election. It was also meant to have the dual benefit of placating the opposing public.
The establishment of the Review Panel has another built-in ‘defense mechanism’ I shall refer to next.
The Independence of the Panel
When Minister Derrick Dalley appointed this Panel on October 10, 2014, he claimed: “Our government listened to concerned citizens and industry stakeholders and selected an independent panel...”
He may have listened to the industry stakeholders but he certainly has not listened to concerned citizens,
It would seem the ‘independence’ is somewhat like ‘beauty’ and is in the ‘eye of the beholder!’
Some or all of the panelists may claim their independence! I am not sure as I have not heard any of them state that publically or pledge any intention to do so. The Minister who appointed the panelists claims they are and has publicly stated that he has faith in them. That may well be but then the question becomes who has faith in the Minister. I don’t and I would strongly suspect that would be true of a large segment of the electorate.
Clearly, there are many citizens who question the independence of this panel, including the concerned citizens of the Fracking Awareness Network of the West Coast. Just recently more than a dozen groups on the east coast of the province held a press conference and also expressed similar concerns with respect to the panel’s independence.
I, too, respectively question their independence. Among other things, I base my opinion on the following public comments made by various panelists.
Mr. Graham Gagnon (a panelist with the Wheeler Review Panel), in the September 4, 2014 edition of the Chronicle Herald, expressed surprise and disappointment that the NS government issued a ban on fracking so soon after the release of the Wheeler report. In the meantime the report recommended such a ban.
At one point in the article, Mr. Gagnon says he believes “the fracking of shale gas, like coal mining or gold mining, carries some risks, but if regulated and closely monitored, it is not going to create drastic environmental problems.” He finishes by saying: “I don’t think the concerns that are there are necessarily showstoppers.”
In the January 31, 2014 edition of the Western Star, the following quote is attributed to Mr. Maurice Dusseault: “There are many people who are taking a position that fracturing is inherently bad and what I’m saying is that the process of hydraulic fracturing is not much riskier than other industrial practices.” He asserted that it’s a practice that, if done properly, can be done safely. He went on to dispute information to the contrary.
Then we have the following quote by our own Mr. Wade Locke in the September 12, 2014 edition of the Telegram under the banner of “Economist says objectivity crucial for fracking review”: “Just as it would be terrible for an environmental disaster to result from fracking, it would be tragic for a major economic opportunity to be lost because of an ill-formed appeal to emotion. I just hope the opportunities here (in Western Newfoundland) are realized to their fullest potential.”
These are clear and emphatic statements that do not point to objectivity and independence. I give the panel high marks on transparency as some of its members did declare their bias.
The most disappointing and insulting comment was by Mr. Locke. As a typical mainstream economist, he may wish to deal in numbers of widgets produced, GDP, interest and exchange rates, supply and demand trends and so on. In the meantime, citizens of this province have a right to ask questions – even in an emotional and passionate manner – and expect answers. They especially have this right in the case of a project in their backyard involving an unconventional extraction technique that is yet unproven and can have irreparable harm on the health of persons and the environment.
In my mind, and in the minds of many Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans, this panel is anything but an objective and independent panel. Unlike the Nova Scotia fracking review panel, where citizens actually had input into the panel composition, this panel of 5 men was appointed by a government that is very much pro-fracking but desperate to lift itself out of the polling doldrums in time for the next provincial election.
So whether you are aware or admit or accept it, this panel is neither what was promised nor what the people of this province are entitled to in order to review such a critical and controversial matter of public policy.
The Panel is a tool of this government with the dual purpose of deferring and deflecting negative publicity yet assuring its corporate friends that fracking will come to pass.
A Provincial Concern Not a Regional One
It is perhaps another sign of the myopic and self-serving motive of the government, but the most disappointing aspect of the Terms of Reference is the confinement of the issue to a review of fracking specifically as it relates to a potential project in Western Newfoundland.
The comprehensive review done in Nova Scotia was provincial in scope. In fact the NS review, though not perfect, was substantially better that the NL review process. It had a more complete and comprehensive set of Terms of Reference. It had an 11-member panel with much broader expertise and experience, and appointed with input from the public. And it had several opportunities for input by citizens including 11 public consultation sessions across the entire province.
On the matter of public consultations, I believe it is an insult to the citizens in every corner of this province not to have an opportunity to appear before this panel to express their concerns and fears about the real and/or potential impacts of fracking on them, their communities and the environment.
Even if the basic fracking activity is confined to the West Coast, certain aspects of the project could involve other parts of the province such as in the storing of fracking waste water.
The most important principle here though is that every citizen owns this province and every citizen has an interest in and a responsibility for all aspects of this province. I may not belong to the Port au Port Peninsula, but I have a responsibility to worry about my fellow citizens and what may be happening to the environment in that area.
This matter is a ‘we’ matter and this panel must allow residents of every part of the province to have a reasonable opportunity to have a voice.
Hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ is an unconventional, controversial and dangerous oil/gas extraction technique. Industry proponents, most politicians and some citizens (including some on this panel) like to argue that there is no proof of harm!
I disagree. I think there is ample proof of harm but for those who might wish to cling to this self-serving and baseless argument, let me offer the wise words of Caleb Behn, an indigenous lawyer: “Absence of proof of harm is not absence of harm!”
Furthermore, I believe that when it comes to the matter of fracking, the “Precautionary Principle” or what the Wheeler Report referred to as the “Precautionary Approach,” must apply. This principle is an established principle contained in the final declaration of the UN Conference in Environment and Development. Fundamentally, it would call for the burden of proof on avoiding public harm to rest with the developers and governments who wish to pursue or give licence to the use of the hydraulic fracturing technique.
Finally, I want to make reference to the concept of “social licence” as described in the Wheeler Report. Social licence refers to the approval or acceptance of the community as a “pre-condition and continuing condition for hydraulic fracturing to occur in any community.” The Wheeler Report goes so far as to link the principle to the fulfilling of the “precautionary” principle as the matter of assessing risks and benefits must be left to those who will be most impacted with such risks and benefits which is at the community level. In other words, a hydraulic fracturing project requires a “community permission to proceed.”
On this meaning of social licence, I strongly concur.
Industry stakeholders and the political systems that support them and do their bidding tend to thrust the powerful and enticing argument of economic development and wealth generation when it comes to these kinds of industrial developments. For them ‘profit trumps people’ and they entice people to follow a parallel maxim of ‘money trumps health.’ To that belief, I offer the following Cree saying: “When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream destroyed, you will realize that you cannot eat money.”
On May 15th folks from around St. John's got together in the community room at Sobeys to make video submissions. The NL Fracking Review panel is accepting submissions and we believe in supporting different types of expression (our first Submissions party focused on art and creative expressions and this one focused on videos).
Deadline for submissions is June 1st, so there's not much time left! Please make your submission -- whether that's through a painting, a heartfelt letter, a review of the scientific literature, or a video of you stating why you think fracking is the wrong move – send your thoughts to the panel's official website: http://nlhfrp.ca/submit-feedback-to-the-panel/ by June 1st, 2015.
Here's a video submission made by Adam Case:
And here's a short clip from folks singing the Raging Grannies song "No Frackin', No Way!":
MORE VIDEOS to come soon, including a song about the resistance against fracking and a dance video!
Our local chapter of the Council of Canadians is co-hosting with Helen Forsey the launch of her timely new book, A People's Senate for Canada. This is a free event and everyone is welcome to attend.
Here is the Facebook event:
This little book is written for Canadians who care about our democracy and the future of our planet. The Senate, surprisingly, could make major contributions to both. A People’s Senate for Canada explains how we can make that happen.
This is a timely book about reclaiming our democracy from the control of global corporations and the Prime Minister's Office. Provocative and thoroughly researched, it links the Senate to current issues like climate change, trade agreements, human rights and electoral reform. A People's Senate is exactly what this country needs today – and it is not a pipe dream!
What if we had a Senate that was independent of party politics, truly committed to “sober second thought” and dedicated to the common good? What if Senate appointments focused on experience, integrity and creativity, and flowed from a non-partisan participatory process based on merit and reflective of our country’s diversity? What if senators were able to fully devote themselves to their proper legislative and investigative work, cooperating wherever possible, free of party control and electoral worries, and financially accountable to the Auditor General?
A People’s Senate for Canada combines grassroots experience, thorough research and critical commentary to create a people’s resource for positive change. This book offers a rationale, an analysis and a feasible proposal for an upper house that would restore citizen participation and help check government power.
Helen Forsey is an activist writer and the daughter of the late trade unionist, constitutional expert and Senator, Eugene Forsey. She has worked in international cooperation and popular education in Latin America, West Africa and Canada. Her previous publications include three books: Eugene Forsey: Canada’s Maverick Sage; The Caboose at the Cape: A Story of Coming Home; and Circles of Strength: Community Alternatives to Alienation; and numerous articles on constitutional, political, rural and feminist issues.
The NL Fracking Review Panel is now accepting public submissions until June 1st, 2015. (http://nlhfrp.ca/)
Let's tell them what we think about fracking in NL!
Here's the Facebook event:
The St. John's chapter of the Council of Canadians is hosting the first "submission writing" party. We'll use words (traditional letters), paint, crayons, videos, songs, theatre, etc. to express our views about fracking in NL.
Join us at the Rocket to work on your submission. There will be a few laptops for online submissions (http://nlhfrp.ca/submit-feedback-to-the-panel/submissions/) and resources with facts on fracking to help inspire you!
Also, check out this citizen-led blog with fracking review submissions! http://nlfrackingsubmissions.weebly.com/
And the VOCM coverage! http://www.vocm.com/newsarticle.asp?mn=2&id=54367&latest=1
Let's make our voices heard loud and clear on this issue and keep NL frack free forever!