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B.C. First Nations drop out of court challenge, sign deals with Trans Mountain 

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Two First Nations in British Columbia’s Interior that had been part of a court challenge against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion have reversed course and signed deals with the Crown corporation.

The Upper Nicola Band and Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc dropped out of the Federal Court of Appeal litigation, leaving four B.C. First Nations to fight the case.

The Upper Nicola says in a joint news release with Trans Mountain on Friday that its deal represents a “significant step forward” toward addressing environmental, archaeological and cultural heritage concerns.

It says the agreement provides resources to support its active involvement in emergency response and monitoring while also helping avoid and mitigate impacts on the band’s interests and stewardship areas.

A news release from Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc says its leadership came together and determined an agreement could be a tool used as part of a larger strategy to protect its cultural, spiritual and historical connections to the land.

Trans Mountain spokeswoman Ali Hounsell says the two bands dropped out of the court challenge last week after continued discussions with the corporation.

“The conversations we had, understanding what their concerns were, seeing where we could address them, ultimately led to their decision to withdraw their participation in the Federal Court of Appeal,” she says in an interview.

Upper Nicola Chief Harvey McLeod says in the news release the band’s negotiating team came up with the “best deal” possible under the circumstances.

“The bottom line is that the consultation process needs to change,” he says. “We still have a number of significant issues that must be addressed directly with Canada.”

The band continues to hold Canada to a consent-based approach consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he adds.

The four remaining Indigenous groups involved in the court challenge against Trans Mountain are the Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nations in Metro Vancouver, the Coldwater Indian Band in Merritt and a coalition of small First Nations in the Fraser Valley.

The court has ruled that upcoming arguments can only focus on whether the latest round of Indigenous consultation was adequate.

Last week, the Tsleil-Waututh and three environmental groups sought leave to appeal that ruling in the Supreme Court of Canada, claiming the Federal Court was wrong to refuse to hear arguments about the risk of an oil spill or threats to endangered southern killer whales.


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B.C. introduces gas price transparency law forcing companies to reveal data

gas-pumpIt’s time to reveal to drivers in British Columbia how the price of gasoline is set, says provincial cabinet minister Bruce Ralston.

If passed, legislation introduced Monday would legally force oil and gas companies to make known how gas prices are set.

Ralston, the jobs, trade and technology minister, told the legislature the bill is in response to a recent investigation by the B.C. Utilities Commission, which found “considerable markups on the price of gasoline.”

Premier John Horgan tasked the independent utilities commission to examine fuel prices in the province as gasoline costs in Metro Vancouver were consistently the highest in Canada, reaching $1.70 per litre and above.

In a report released last August and a follow-up one issued last week, the commission said it couldn’t explain why B.C. drivers pay about 13 centres more per litre for gas than residents in similar jurisdictions.

Ralston said the Fuel Price Transparency Act would allow the commission to collect information from fuel companies on market conditions involved in setting prices.

“This legislation brings us greater transparency at the gas pumps and sends a message to the oil and gas companies that the days of setting your prices in secrecy are coming to an end.”

No one from the Canadian Fuels Association, the voice of transportation fuels industry in Canada, was immediately available to comment on the proposed legislation.

The association said in a statement in May 2018 in reaction to volatile gas prices that the rising demand for gasoline and a decrease in supply through the Trans Mountain pipeline have created a greater reliance on fuel imports using higher-cost transportation modes.

It noted that Vancouver had much higher tax rates on fuels than elsewhere in North America, by nearly 50 cents per litre.

The association joined the Petroleum Marketers Association in commissioning a report on gas pricing fluctuations in B.C., and submitted it to the commission last July.

The report says demand for petroleum products in the province exceeds supply while capacity to produce them has remained stable, resulting in B.C. relying on Alberta or other jurisdictions for growing demand.

Ralston said if the legislation passes, the information would be available to the public as well as consumer and watchdog groups.

The unexplained premium results in residents and businesses in B.C. paying an extra $490 million every year for fuel, Ralston said.

The goal, he said, is to improve public confidence and competitiveness in the fuel market and perhaps lead to lower and more predictable gas prices for drivers in B.C.

“It’s time to pull back the curtain to get some answers for British Columbians on how the price of gasoline is set.”


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B.C. government moves to tax and restrict vaping products to protect youth

The British Columbia government introduced a 10-point plan last week to protect youth from the health risks of vaping that includes cutting nicotine content in vapour pods, restricting flavours aimed at young people, increasing taxes on products and supporting youth-led anti-vaping campaigns.

Unknown-1Health Minister Adrian Dix said youth vaping rates are increasing, putting young people at risk of serious illness, prompting the government to introduce the most comprehensive vaping plan in Canada.

“In a short number of years, vaping has shifted from being a smoking cessation tool for adults to an addictions trap for our youth,” he said during a news conference.

Dix cited data from a British Medical Journal report that youth vaping rates have increased 74% between 2017 and 2018.

Vaping-associated illness cases have been reported across Canada, with three suspected cases in B.C., said Dix.

The government will introduce new regulations that take effect in the spring of 2020 that restrict the amount of nicotine in vapour pods, require health warnings and prevent advertising of vapour products in areas where youth spend time, including bus shelters and community parks.

Vaping juice comes in a variety of flavours like vanilla, cotton candy or berry, and Dix said the sale of such flavours would only be permitted in age-restricted outlets where vapour products are sold.

“We wanted to target the issue of flavours and limit it dramatically,” he said. “We will be restricting access to certain flavours and only allowing other flavours, other than tobacco flavours, in adult-only stores. That’s a significant step.”

Dix said he was optimistic the federal government will soon join B.C. in adopting nationwide vaping measures.

A vaping industry spokesman said there are concerns the government’s approach to restricting flavours could harm efforts by adults to quit smoking. Daniel David, Vaping Industry Trade Association president, said in a statement that B.C.’s regulations limiting nicotine content for people who vape could send them to underground sources.

“VITA supports the provincial government’s role in using regulatory tools to address youth vaping but creating a patchwork of legislation across the provinces will only feed the black market and push adult vapers back to cigarettes,” said David.

Finance Minister Carole James said the government will introduce legislation this month that boosts the provincial sales tax on vapingproducts from 7% to 20%.

“Yes, it is a big tax jump and one that really signifies the urgency of this problem. We all know that youth are particularly price sensitive, and so when you make a product more expensive and harder to access, youth will decline,” James said.

Education Minister Rob Fleming said the plan includes youth-led campaigns in schools to help young people steer away from vaping.

“It will unleash the power of young people talking to young people, youth to youth, peer to peer,” he said. “We will be working with students to de-normalize vaping.”

The B.C. School Trustees Association has asked the government for help, saying many districts in B.C. are spending too much time monitoring and addressing the problem of vaping in schools.

Nirmala Raniga, the founder of the Chopra Addiction and Wellness Centre in Squamish, B.C., said launching a youth-led anti-vaping initiative in B.C. schools gives young people a positive outlet to turn to as pressures to smoke, vape and try drugs arise.

“Young people need to belong,” said Raniga, who has been treating people with addictions for more than 30 years. “The most positive I see is the youth who are struggling with this coming out and sharing their story with their peers.”

Health Canada has issued a warning to people who vape to monitor themselves for symptoms of vaping-related pulmonary illness following hundreds of such cases in the United States and a few in Canada.

Dr. Meena Dawar, Vancouver Coastal medical health officer, said the government campaign is a positive step towards fighting increases in vaping health and addictions issues for youth. She said nicotine content in vaping products has increased and those products contribute to a “chemical cocktail.”

“Recent data indicate that one in five youth, grades 7 to 12, use vaping products or have used vaping products in the previous 30 days,” she said.


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B.C. wants regions to win economically from marijuana edibles: solicitor general

British Columbia’s solicitor general says the province wants to see as much small-scale production as possible for marijuana edibles to allow for regional economic development.

“I don’t want it to be dominated by one or two large-scale variety of producers,” Farnworth said Friday. “I think there’s room in this market for a considerable variety or product and a considerable variety of producers.”

He said that while provinces are responsible for retail operations and enforcement, licensed production of cannabis, including edibles, is decided by the federal government and any changes to regulations will become apparent if a new government takes power after next week’s federal election.

“What we want to do is work with the federal government,” he told a news conference. “We’ll be watching very closely after Monday to see whether in fact the landscape as it relates to cannabis is going to change.”

Given the size of B.C.’s longtime marijuana industry in many small communities, particularly in the Kootenay area of the Interior, Farnworth said he’d like to see regional issues considered when it comes to licensing of producers.

He said edible products will be not sold in liquor stores, but the province is interested in considering farm-to-gate sales, particularly involving small-scale producers.

While edibles, oils, topicals, hash and other cannabis goods became legal on Thursday, Farnworth said they would not be available in retail outlets until January.

The delay is based on 60 days’ notice that producers must provide to Health Canada of their intention to sell the products.

At least 36 marijuana stores have been closed in the province for illegally selling their products since the legalization marijuana a year ago, Farnworth said.

He said a 44-member community safety team based in various parts of the province, including Prince George, Surrey and Kelowna, have been cracking down on retailers.

“We were very clear right from the beginning that as more and more legal stores are open enforcement by the community safety team will clearly be ramping up,” he said.

“After all, it’s only fair that those stores that are abiding by the rules, that are paying their fair share of taxes, don’t have their competitive advantage undermined by stores that are operating illegally.”

He said the government has been working hard to transition away from the province’s “well-entrenched” illegal marijuana industry.

One year after legalization, Farnworth said 144 private cannabis retail store licences have been issued and 33 are approved in principle, while 10 government-owned stores will be operating by the end of the year.

He said officers in the Community Safety Unit have helped reduce the availability of illegal marijuana by following up with unlicensed retailers to raise awareness about the regulations, penalties and consequences of breaking the law.

Chantal Vallerand, executive director of Drug Free Kids Canada, said it’s important for youth to know there’s a danger in overconsuming marijuana cookies or brownies because there’s a delay in feeling the buzz of the drug with edibles versus the immediate effect of smoking pot.

“A kid who may be eating a cookie may not start feeling the effects for two hours and the peak may not happen until four hours later,” she said.

Vallerand suggested parents approach conversations about edibles out of a sense of curiosity instead of judgment and have ongoing conversations while considering potential scenarios where baked goods may be available, including at parties, where alcohol may also be consumed.

“It’s always been available for people to bake with,” she noted of marijuana. “Now (goods) are going to be readily packaged,” she said, adding it’s a good idea to educate children to look for the number of milligrams of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, on the labels of products that will soon be available in stores.

Health Canada has set a 10-milligram limit of THC per package in edibles, including food and beverages.

Marijuana extracts are limited to 1,000 milligrams of THC per container. A bottle could contain 100 THC capsules of an extract that each has 10 milligrams of the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis, for example.

Topicals such as lotions must have no more than 1,000 milligrams of THC in a container.


Federal judge grants B.C. injunction against Alberta’s turn off the taps law

A Federal Court judge has granted the British Columbia government a temporary injunction against an Alberta law that could have limited oil exports to other provinces.

In a decision released Sept. 24, Justice Sebastien Grammond said Alberta’s so-called turn-off-the-taps legislation raises a serious issue and could cause irreparable harm to the residents of B.C.

“British Columbia has met the criteria usually applied by the courts for the issuance of such an injunction,” he wrote in his decision.

“It has shown that the validity of the act raises a serious issue. It has demonstrated that an embargo of the nature evoked by the members of Alberta’s legislature when debating the act would cause irreparable harm to the residents of British Columbia.”

The B.C. government initially brought the action before Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench, which passed it to the Federal Court.

Alberta tried to strike the action by arguing that it wasn’t in the jurisdiction of the Federal Court, but the judge dismissed that motion.

Grammond said B.C. has met the test for blocking the law until the courts can decide its validity.

B.C. Attorney General David Eby said he’s pleased the injunction was granted and the case will be going to trial.

“We think it’s quite a straight forward case, but the ultimate decision will of course be up to the court,” he told reporters in Vancouver.

“On our reading of the Constitution, Alberta is not allowed to restrict the flow of refined product to other provinces in a way to punish them for political positions that are taken they don’t like,” said Eby. “That’s our understanding of the Constitution. Alberta has a different understanding and the court will be deciding about that.”

The turn-off-the-taps legislation gives Alberta the power to crimp energy exports from the province.

It was passed, but never used, by Alberta’s former NDP government as a way to put pressure on B.C. to drop its fight against the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion to the West Coast.

The new United Conservative government proclaimed it into force shortly after Premier Jason Kenney was sworn into office in April, but he had said it wouldn’t be used unless B.C. throws up further roadblocks to the pipeline.

B.C. had called the law a loaded gun and had asked the courts to make sure it didn’t accidentally go off.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said that the injunction has rendered the law useless.

“We told the premier not to proclaim this legislation because it would be like blowing up the missile while it’s still on the launchpad,” she said in a news release.

“And that’s exactly what has happened today. This injunction has rendered the legislation powerless. Any further threats from the premier to turn off the taps are empty.”

Grammond said in his decision that members on both sides of the Alberta legislature explained the law’s purpose in relation to the British Columbia government’s actions on the Trans Mountain expansion project.

“These statements make it abundantly clear that the purpose of the act is to inflict economic harm to British Columbia through an embargo on the exportation of petroleum products to that province,” he said.

The embargo, he said, would not only cause a considerable increase in the price of gas and diesel in the province, but any fuel shortages could also endanger public safety.

The Trans Mountain expansion, first approved in 2016, would triple the amount of oil flowing from the oilsands to B.C.’s Lower Mainland and from there to lucrative new markets across the Pacific.

The federal government bought the existing pipeline last year for $4.5 billion after its original builder, Texas-based Kinder Morgan, threatened to walk away from the project because of B.C.’s resistance.

The Federal Court of Appeal quashed the approval months later on the grounds that there hadn’t been enough consultation with First Nations or consideration of the pipeline’s potential impact on marine wildlife.

The project was approved for a second time by the federal cabinet this summer.


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B.C. gives $4 million in rebates for electric vehicle charge stations

The B.C. government is offering rebates for electric vehicle drivers who want to install charging stations at home or work.

Homeowners can get a $350 rebate to install a Level 2 charging station in a single-family home.

A $2,000 rebate is available for installation of a Level 2 charging station designed for multiple users in apartments or workplaces.

The government says in a statement that BC Hydro customers can apply for an additional $350 in a matching rebate to buy and install the equipment in single-family homes.

More than $4 million has been set aside for the new CleanBC rebate program.

Michelle Mungall, minister of energy, mines and petroleum resources, says the rebates will make it easier to switch to electric vehicles.

To qualify for the rebates, the stations must be installed and final documents submitted by March 31.


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Unexplained difference of 13 cents in Vancouver and Seattle gas prices: inquiry

Screen Shot 2019-09-03 at 10.53.54 AMAn inquiry into British Columbia’s high gas prices says there’s an unexplained difference of 13 cents per litre between Metro Vancouver and Seattle that is costing drivers on the Canadian side of the border nearly $500 million a year.

Wholesale prices in southern B.C. are set based on those in the Pacific Northwest of the United States because it is a nearby region and a similar price is considered justifiable, B.C. Utilities Commission CEO David Morton said Friday.

However, the commission found that even after accounting for transportation costs and higher B.C. fuel standards, Metro Vancouver drivers are still paying more than those in Washington.

“The higher price differentials cannot be explained by economic theory or justified by known factors in the market, nor can the panel find a specific trigger in 2015 that would explain the beginning of this disconnect,” Morton said at a news conference.

Premier John Horgan called the public inquiry in May as prices reached a record-breaking $1.70 per litre. It was asked to explore factors influencing gas and diesel prices, not including taxes, since 2015 and actions the province could take.

Morton said some things have changed, including higher crude prices, the Trans Mountain pipeline’s capacity constraints and higher costs for retailers.

But prior to 2015, Metro Vancouver drivers paid five cents a litre more than Seattle drivers. Wholesale prices in northern B.C. are based on Edmonton prices and drivers in that part of the province pay six cents more a litre, he added.

Morton said B.C.’s wholesale market is not truly competitive because a small number of wholesalers control distribution and have the ability to influence prices.

In the retail market, companies including Parkland Fuel Corp., Suncor Energy, Shell Canada and Husky Energy have greater direct control over pricing in B.C. compared with the Canadian average, he said.

“There’s no evidence to suggest collusion among the retail operators exists nor is there evidence of cartel behaviour. However, the panel refrained from suggesting that the B.C. retail market is performing optimally,” Morton said.

“Rather, we observed that prices move up and down in a manner that gives the appearance of a functioning competitive market. But it’s also possible this pricing behaviour is choreographed.”

B.C.’s refineries have been operating at capacity since 2015 and it appears the amount of storage is not a factor in prices, he said.

The Trans Mountain pipeline changed its allocation that year to increase crude oil and reduce gasoline shipped to Metro Vancouver, he said, but more capacity would not guarantee a price reduction.

“Even if cheaper gasoline from Alberta was available, as long as pricing is based on the Pacific Northwest spot price, customers would not see the benefits of that.”

Morton said the province could consider encouraging more refinery capacity, but it would be challenging given that gas and diesel demand is projected to decline. Another option would be regulations to reduce the price differential.

Jobs, Trade and Technology Minister Bruce Ralston said the report provides “significant evidence” to support the view that price gouging exists in the market.

“An oligopoly is a word that is not used very frequently, but it means a state of limited competition in which a market is dominated by a small number of producers,” he said.

The Canadian Fuels Association said the report highlights a number of factors that contribute to B.C. price fluctuations, including increased reliance on fuel imports.

“While price regulation can moderate price fluctuations, it can also have unintended consequences. We recommend that B.C. consult with price-regulated jurisdictions to understand the real market impacts. In our view, markets work best without interference.”

Peter Milobar, a Liberal who represents Kamloops-North Thompson in the legislature, said the inquiry should have been allowed to consider the impacts of provincial taxes.

“Horgan and the NDP dragged their feet with a sham review that was barred from looking at the impact of their policies and taxation on the costs of fuel. John Horgan insisted high gas prices were due to industry collusion and this review has proven him wrong.”

Federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said expanding the Trans Mountain pipeline could help reduce prices, despite Morton’s comments to the contrary.

“The lack of supply – whether that’s lack of refined product in the pipeline or it’s lack of refined product that’s being produced by the Parkland refinery – can have an impact on prices,” Wilkinson said.

“Certainly in that context, having additional capacity in an expanded pipeline may be useful.”


B.C. gas price report in the pipeline

The B.C. Utilities Commission inquiry into gasoline and diesel prices in the province is expected have its final report done by Friday.

Premier John Horgan called the public inquiry in May when gasoline prices at the pump reached a record-breaking $1.70 per litre.


Trudeau says Ottawa open to proposals for B.C. refinery as gas prices soar

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Ottawa is open to proposals from the private sector for a refinery in British Columbia, as a public inquiry into the province’s soaring gas prices reviews possible solutions.

The prime minister says he knows B.C. residents are struggling and the federal government is open to ideas that would make life more affordable for Canadians.

“We’re always open to seeing what the private sector proposes, what business cases are out there. We believe in getting things done the right way and we’re going to work with people to find solutions to make sure that people can afford their weekly bills,” Trudeau said.

He made the comments in Victoria this month following a joint announcement with Premier John Horgan of $79 million to support 118 new transit buses across the province.

The funding will also allow for 10 long-range electric buses that would provide greener transportation options in Greater Victoria.

Horgan called the gas price inquiry in May when prices at the pump reached $1.70 on the Lower Mainland, saying the public deserved answers about why prices are so much more expensive and variable than in other jurisdictions.

Horgan said that while the province wants a transition away from fossil fuel dependence, that transition should be aided by more refined product to give B.C. drivers relief.

The province believes that, like raw logs, there’s an economic opportunity lost when oil and gas goes to market before value is added, even as the province moves toward cleaner energies, he said.

Oral hearings are ongoing in the public inquiry into gas prices and the three-member panel chaired by the David Morton, CEO of the B.C. Utilities Commission, is set to release a final report and recommendations Aug. 30.

Henry Kahwaty, an economist hired by Parkland Fuels, which owns and operates one of the province’s only refineries in Burnaby, told the panel on Wednesday that there have been several business cases circulating for additional refineries in the province.

But Kahwaty said the business cases put forward aren’t based on meeting local demand, even if some of the product would undoubtedly end up in B.C.

“It’s serving Asian markets,” Kahwaty said.

Dozens of protesters rallied outside a Liberal fundraiser Thursday night, carrying signs saying “declare a climate health emergency,” and “get oil out of our soil.”

Some held up giant, inflatable orcas mounted on sticks, a reference to the endangered species threatened by the increased tanker traffic that would come with the pipeline’s expansion.

They called for a stronger federal climate action plan and criticized Trudeau for his government’s approval and purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Trudeau told reporters that selling Canadian oil to American markets at a discount won’t help the environment but redirecting some of the profits from the expansion will.

During the fundraiser’s “armchair discussion,” Trudeau said we’re in a time where populism and social media are amplifying voices on the peripheries and the Liberal party is committed to the “hard work,” of finding what can be complicated solutions.

“Nobody has a sign that says ‘Make a decent compromise,’ ‘Find a reasonable way forward,’ ‘Get that right balance.’ ”

Although, he said he was flattered to hear the same orcas were at Elizabeth May’s wedding in April.

 


B.C. wants feedback on plans to ban, reduce and recycle plastics

The British Columbia government is proposing action on reducing plastic pollution and is asking for the public’s input in an online survey.

Environment Minister George Heyman says the message from residents is clear that action is needed to reduce plastic waste, especially single-use items like water bottles and plastic bags, to prevent them from finding their ways into the environment.

The considerations include bans on single-use packaging, requiring producers to take responsibility for more of their plastic products and expanding the deposit-refund system to cover all beverage containers.

Brock Macdonald, CEO of the Recycling Council of British Columbia, says the provincial system is already the envy of North America and by bringing industry to the table and extending producer responsibility, recycling can become even more efficient.

The mayors of Victoria, Tofino, Squamish and Rossland, communities that have all made strides to reduce the use of such plastic items, issued a joint statement saying they’re pleased the province has launched the consultation process.

The B.C. Court of Appeal tossed out Victoria’s ban on single-use plastic bags earlier this month, saying such a ban would require approval from the Ministry of Environment.