What Will a Referendum Achieve on Woodfibre LNG ? Depends on Whom You Ask

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A referendum will help gauge the public opinion on a highly divise issue, says Coun. Heintzman, seen here in an old pic.
Photo: Gagandeep Ghuman

By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: Aug 9, 2014

Is Coun. Patricia Heintzman a populist politician who wants to appease potential voters? Or is she sincerely trying to gauge public opinion on a deeply contentious issue?

The answer depends on what you believe about Woodfibre LNG, a project that has polarized the community, and may well become the swing issue in the November municipal election.

For Heintzman, ‘populism’ isn’t the pejorative term it has become these days. Populism for her is looking out for the citizens’ interests.

“It’s easy to make these accusations, but my motivation or analyses of LNG has nothing to do with me getting elected or not,” she told the Reporter.

Squamish council will vote on whether there should be a  referendum on Aug. 19, but it won’t be the first time the community will have a question on the ballot.

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Referendum has been called before in Squamish, on swimming pool and Walmart and borrowing for recreational infrastructure. It can be held on any issue if the council desires, although the financial ones are binding.

“It’s the most divisise issue that I have seen in the council and that is why I brought it up as a possible referendum question.” Coun. Heintzman

Woodfibre LNG is a fundamental issue which will decide where the community wants to go in the next two decades, says Heintzman.  

“What I am hearing from the community is that they are feeling alienated from decision making,” she says.

A referendum will make the public discourse a lot more open and a lot more grounded in truth and reality, she adds.

There can be more than one question on the ballot she says and it doesn’t have to be as simplistic as “Do you want the LNG plant or not”?

Heintzman hasn’t given much thought to what the question could be, she said, but it doesn’t have to be simplistic. It can be a pointed question, such as.

 “If the LNG facility doesn’t comply with international sighting standards, should the provincial government continue.”

Another question could be: “If the air quality is diminished, is an LNG project worthwhile.”

Heintzman is also sceptical of the information provided by the proponent.

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“The information provided is vague and ambiguous and there is no certainty,” she says.

Since Squamish deindustrialised, it has had an increase in growth rate, she noted. She agrees that the taxes will help Squamish, but warns that Woodfibre LNG may create a negative reaction with people leaving town. 

“With a heavy or polluting industry, there is often an action-reaction, so you might employ 20 people, but you may have 200 people leave town.”

It’s the most divisise issue that I have seen in the council. And that is why I brought it up as a possible referendum question.

‘Simply Playing Politics’

Heintzman may have her reasoning for referendum, but it’s not acceptable to all her fellow councillors.

The referendum is a red herring for politicians, said Coun. Ron Sander.

“When you are playing to a roomful of people, it’s easy to ask for things that may not be beneficial to the entire community.” Susan Chapelle

Sander said the public elects councilors to make decisions on their behalf and Squamish has little to approve on the LNG project.

 For Sander, the call for referendum is ‘simply playing politics’ during an election year.

His views were also echoed by Coun. Susan Chapelle, who said referendum is too simplistic for an as issue as complicated as energy policy.

“I think referendum is a political tool to gain public opinion, when you are playing to a roomful of people, it’s easy to ask for things that may not be beneficial to the entire community.”

Chapelle said she agrees with Heintzman that there needs to be a vigorous public discourse on LNG, but isn’t sure what a referendum will achieve.

She is also concerned a referendum will make it a one-issue election and deflect attention from other important issues: water, roads, infrastructure, and economic development.

Woodfibre taxes will help the district manage tax rates for working families, and the project will provide local jobs.

We can’t focus on economic development and then reject industry that wants to invest in our town, she added.

Comments

  1. Larry Murray says:

    Seems to this reader that a LNG Referendum pales in comparison to the SODC debt ($11.5 million) which really makes the pending sale of the community asset known as the Oceanfront about $4.5 million!!!! A LNG Referendum is a ‘what could be’ action as it is non-binding while the SODC Debt is a ‘what is’ in that the tax payer will receive only $4.5 million for this massive land and waterlot location….and this is moving rapidly to become binding. A referendum to reopen the SODC ‘deal’ would have a real impact on the possibility of re-working this sale in the community favour. So many non-public decisions from a Board that is suppose to be arms distance from the DOS and represent this asset for the community interest…right…the community might not be interested in a confirmed $11.5 debt but moreso on the ‘iffy’ LNG project. Where is the public discourse on the SODC deal? The fairy tale about the sale of the Golden Goose is about to happened again….but for real.

  2. Wolfgang W says:

    Are we asked to buy into the notion that the question put to the Scottish public in the coming referendum as to whether Scotland should separate from the United Kingdom is less complicated than asking Squamishers about their – non binding – opinion on one simple energy project?
    I sometimes wonder where some of our elected officials get their faith in trusting the public to make the ‘right’ decision at election time ,when all contestants ‘play politics’.

    • Jen says:

      I am thoroughly impressed and further educated after reading All of the comments under the other LNG article re. John Westin opposing West Van councils decision to ban LNG tankers. Thank you West Van for doing your research and listening to the people. Now come on Squamish council get your @&”! together.

      Last of all, regardless of Patricia’s motives, it’s a breath of fresh air that a politician is seeking ways to hear from the people. Regardless of what any of us think is the best way for our council to listen to us, referendum or other avenues, let’s not discourage them from making efforts by speculating on motives. Otherwise next time it may be easier for them not to ask than be scrutinized. Thank you for making an effort to listen.

  3. Observer says:

    Anyone who bothers to vote and knows they will be faced with a question of support, or non support about the LNG project, will, likely, have done SOME extra research on it. Council will have some additional information to work with as a consequence too. With this they will also have the committee research results and any other stuff they have found out over the last few moths. It would be a cheap way to do this.. How can this be wrong? And it will be non binding. Some are just afraid to know, I guess.

  4. Don Patrick says:

    Like, who will be voting…? most of the silent majority will be living the same life as the past…. we elected officials to take the ball and run to the betterment of the community…. at present we just keep holding the runner on first and no one advances, plus the game takes too long and everyone goes to sleep then the runner steals. There is a common sense factor, even in a democracy.

  5. Brad Hodge says:

    “It’s easy to make these accusations, but my motivation or analyses of LNG has nothing to do with me getting elected or not,” she told the Reporter.”

    This would be more believable if you’d take a stand, as some of your colleagues have, in *advance* of a vote. Don’t get me wrong Patty, I think you are one of the most professional and knowledgeable Councillors there. Very uniquely among your peers I can easily picture you in office in more senior levels of government.

    But sometimes that’s a problem. Lately as a supporter I’m growing disenchanted with your tendency to float according to where the wind is blowing and word fogging on matters of policy, just like I see at senior levels. I read you initially as positive on LNG based on past comments, since the anti-LNG camp got going you seem negative. Hedging may not in fact be helping you — you could be losing votes from both sides of this issue due to a lack of trust in what you stand for. I am an adherent of the Chapelle Doctrine: Call it like you see it and damn the consequences. Those are the people that will be getting my checkmark in November.

    ““With a heavy or polluting industry, there is often an action-reaction, so you might employ 20 people, but you may have 200 people leave town.”

    Or maybe 200 skilled workers and entrepreneurs move in. Besides, where would 200 anti-industry refugees go? Back to the Port of Vancouver? Let’s not kid ourselves. The thing that created our real estate boom wasn’t industry leaving town, it was the highway being fixed. Nothing about Woodfibre changes that.

    “The information provided is vague and ambiguous and there is no certainty,” she says.”

    Woodfibre LNG has released tons of information with a level of detail that puts Council and particularly SODC to shame. I would know, I had to study it for two weeks before our little church debate.

    • Nate Dolha says:

      Yup, I think you’re right, Brad. This seems to be more about securing votes vs. leading… Remember this? Patty was much more positive late last year…

      • Adam says:

        Hey Nate. How is bending over and taking what the Provincial Government is trying to shove down our throats leadership? Council’s ‘oh shucks, I guess we’ll just try to spin the taxes as a positive’ handling of this issue is utterly pathetic. True leadership would see Council opposing this project based on the gathering storm of scientific and economic data that highlight the insanity of this endeavor.

        Further, is Ms. Heintzman, or any Squamish resident not permitted to change their opinion on Woodfibre as more and more evidence of the risks associated with this project are revealed? Your suggestion that she can’t is ridiculous to anyone looking at the issue objectively. Had Ms. Heintzman started as a project opponent and become an avid proponent, I don’t suspect you’d be voicing similar concerns.

    • Adam says:

      Brad,

      Some comments on your comments below:

      “This would be more believable if you’d take a stand, as some of your colleagues have, in *advance* of a vote. Don’t get me wrong Patty, I think you are one of the most professional and knowledgeable Councillors there. Very uniquely among your peers I can easily picture you in office in more senior levels of government. But sometimes that’s a problem. Lately as a supporter I’m growing disenchanted with your tendency to float according to where the wind is blowing and word fogging on matters of policy, just like I see at senior levels. I read you initially as positive on LNG based on past comments, since the anti-LNG camp got going you seem negative. Hedging may not in fact be helping you — you could be losing votes from both sides of this issue due to a lack of trust in what you stand for. I am an adherent of the Chapelle Doctrine: Call it like you see it and damn the consequences. Those are the people that will be getting my checkmark in November.”

      – If Ms. Heintzman is someone you “can easily picture” in a senior levels of government (a trait which you point out makes her unique, when compared against the remainder of Council), I find it interesting you would be so dismissive of her opinion and willing to embrace that of those individuals who, one could assume are less fit to hold higher levels of government.

      – You would further wish the reader to believe that because Ms. Heintzman’s view on Woodfibre has changed, that her opinion is now less valid? Could it be that the ‘anti-LNG camp’ has raised a number of valid concerns that everyone in this town should be very carefully weighing and that Ms. Heintzman has changed her mind based on knowledge that she has gained over weeks and months. As a general rule, true leaders are prepared to admit mistakes and change their mind when the evidence supports it. Had Ms. Heintzman moved from opponent to proponent, I’d suspect you’d be singing her praises.

      “Or maybe 200 skilled workers and entrepreneurs move in. Besides, where would 200 anti-industry refugees go? Back to the Port of Vancouver? Let’s not kid ourselves. The thing that created our real estate boom wasn’t industry leaving town, it was the highway being fixed. Nothing about Woodfibre changes that.”

      – This statement is incorrect and I’m proof. I grew up in Lions Bay. I remember what Woodfibre was like in the past. I remember when Howe Sound was a dead zone. When the air shed was polluted. When Squamish was a ‘rough’ town that nobody was moving to for any reason. Squamish today is nothing like it was in the 70’s and 80’s. I moved my family here when the mill closed to enjoy the small town life, the outdoors and the clean air. The highway had nothing to do with our decision to move here.

      – I’m also one of the ‘refugees’ you so subtly mock. Yes, I would move my family back to Vancouver. If Squamish is going to become an oil and gas town, if the air shed is going to be polluted again and if industry is to once again take hold, then there is no incentive to commute between Vancouver and Squamish. Squamish loses it’s lustre and thus there is no reason to stay. I can live next to industry in North Vancouver, have access to better services and be at work in 10 minutes. Further I’m not alone, I know several families that are already evaluating options should this project proceed. While I don’t suspect you care, you’re incorrect in thinking that everyones just going to stick around. If I have the money to leave, why would I stay?

      – Painting project opponents as ‘anti-industry’ is a child’s game. I haven’t met anyone opposed to Woodfibre that doesn’t understand the vital role that industry must play in Squamish. Your inability to distinguish renewable from non-renewable resources is your biggest downfall. Forestry as an example is and should always be a part of Squamish. Fracking and LNG export should not and there is ample scientific and economic reason to justify making this statement.

      “Woodfibre LNG has released tons of information with a level of detail that puts Council and particularly SODC to shame. I would know, I had to study it for two weeks before our little church debate.”

      – ‘Tons’ of information does not in any way speak to the quality of the data being presented nor does indicating that the level of ‘detail’ is superior to that produced by small town government. It is common practice for any contentious project undergoing environment assessment to submit huge volumes of documentation as was evidenced with the Enbridge proposal. You might also remember that at every stage of that process (similar to Woodfibre’s process), a large portion of the scientific community voiced concerns over the complete lack of appropriate research techniques and date that could be verified (think vague). Woodfibre LNG has been incredibly shy of specifics an has been non-committal on any number of issues that are key to the proper evaluation of the project. As you’re well aware, Mr. Byng Giraud, the public face of Woodfibre, lobbied the current BC Liberal government very hard to see the environmental review process gutted – a process he’s now shepherding Woodfibre through. Woodfibre has left more questions unanswered than answered. Full stop.

      – Yes, we should all be concerns about the complete lack of credible scientific and economic data on the project flowing from Council and the SODC. On this I agree with you 100%.

      • Adam says:

        Quick typo edits to the above.

        You might also remember that at every stage of that process (similar to Woodfibre’s process), a large portion of the scientific community voiced concerns over the complete lack of appropriate research techniques and *DATA that could be verified (think vague).

        Yes, we should all be *CONCERNED about the complete lack of credible scientific and economic data on the project flowing from Council and the SODC. On this I agree with you 100%.

  6. Geo Hyperform says:

    As quoted, Heintzman’s words, “Since Squamish deindustrialised, it has had an increase in growth rate” is a very misleading (and unproveable) statement. Taken as a cause/effect equation, makes it incredibly loaded and as such a highly politicized, (though veiled) conclusion about Squamish’s essential raison d’être and hence future direction. It’s certainly not neutral, and a referendum ( though possibly unbinding) is a big deal, and maybe not even a bad idea, but if she promotes it in the same breath as betraying her own biases, she is overstepping her role and becoming a PR hack, not a representative of the collective will of the people.

    • tj says:

      Geo…Yes but sound reasoning has no place here it seems…just emotionalism et all.

    • Adam says:

      Geo. Economic data is easily tracked and the numbers are quite easily accessed. Unmolested, the numbers don’t lie. Not hard to look at any number of variables post woodfibre and to draw conclusions that would stand the test of any credible statistician.

  7. Wolfgang W says:

    ‘A referendum will take away attention from other important matters during the election’, according to councillor Chapelle. Quite the contrary: A referendum on Woodfibre LNG could actually serve as the perfect catalyst to address all of the issues she raised.
    Mayor and councilors should indeed lead and not just look meekly and with folded hands to ‘mother’ in Victoria. Go ahead and make your case! Then be facilitators for the people of Squamish to decide themselves what future they prefer.

    • Kerry Brown says:

      This is obviously a contentious issue. Why not take the pulse of the voters? It will be a minimal cost if done during the election. What I find very strange is the issue of whether or not to hold a referendum seems to be split along the lines of whether or not you are in favour of Woodfibre LNG. Proponents are against a referendum. Opponents are for it. What are the proponents afraid of? When I talk to people about Woodfibre LNG the split seems to be fairly even. A referendum could easily go either way. I say add a simple question like “Are you in favour of Woodfibre LNG” to the November ballot and let the chips fall where they may. At least the new council will have some sense of if the voters want to go back to a heavy industry based town or not and be able to plan accordingly.

  8. Glenne C says:

    Here’s an idea.
    Instead of councillors (and citizens) throwing accusations about one another’s motivations, they all actually get out to public events and places on a regular basis previous to and throughout their term. They might even step outside of their pre- determined comfort zone and attend social gatherings, which are not their known elbow buddies, club supporters or business networks. Afraid that this might be seen as electioneering; the elitist, incompetent and introverted politicos have an out for not truly engaging and learning what the constituents’ thoughts, beliefs and feelings are.
    Sure, pre election town meetings have become popular as informal dog and pony shows where nominees have two minutes to state their position on election matters. But there is no back and forth dialogue. If wanna be leaders actually presented themselves at informal gatherings, in public places, they might actually learn a thing or two if they have their eyes and ears wide open. Hint: It’s pretty easy to ask the five questions: who, what, why, where, and how. And yes, engaging is time consuming, but what with pay raises, big issues, and a very informed public, it’s rather important to take the pulse of the community and not simply take the stage to be seen on.
    In this Squamish summer of taking it to the streets, the fields, the art galleries, the trails, wouldn’t it be clever to keep that momentum going, respectfully talking to one another instead of slagging those who make an effort.

  9. Lynn Wilbur says:

    It is astonishing to live in a democratic country and know that there are citizens and elected representatives opposed to referendums on major issues. Our fragile freedoms are to be cherished.

  10. Elliot says:

    The real result of a referendum comes from this question: Do the people vote listening to their heart and soul, or listening to their greed?

    In my opinion it’s obvious what the correct and most successful path is for evolving Squamish of the future. Easily, to then be without the scar of an LNG infrastructure that only got us minor nearer term tax gains; presumably for politicians who were desperate to cover losses from a history of high risk decisions and mismanagement…

  11. Larry Murray says:

    SODC has a debt of $11.5 million. According to some LNG reports the annual taxes could be about $2 million annually. Seems the District has already spent 5 years worth of taxes and with very little to show for it. A referendum on this debt issue would certainly be welcomed as well.

  12. Tatiana Kostiak says:

    Has it gone completely unnoticed by supporters of this proposal that ‘world class’ is absolutely not going to happen should this move forward? Has it gone unnoticed that our rights and protections are being eroded and that this proposal and its handling are mirroring this?

    How could this possibly be a ‘world class’ operation? Consider: This proposal is moving at breakneck pace (a race according to the BC Liberals) WITHOUT having industry standards established or adopted. Look up SIGTTO. If you believe for even one minute that the government’s intention is safety first then why are they working so damn hard to over-ride, erode or ignore well established international standards? For the same reason they allowed the Mt. Polley devastation to take place.

    The BC Liberals have re-defined what they mean by ‘greenest fossil fuel’ twice in just the last few months. All of these decisions are financially based and intended to kowtow to corporate desires. Do you need evidence of past similar behavior? Have you been following the Mt. Polley situation?
    Lots of hands in lots of pockets and, at the end of the day, when things happen that “never should have happened” we pay the price and the bills…and the corporations and government get off scot-free. This is not fear mongering. Not at all. Fear mongering is suggesting this proposal is our only chance at survival. Ignoring safety standards is quite simply stupid and should be considered a criminal offence with suitable consequences attached.

    I would suggest that the desire to ‘have our say’ via a plebiscite has everything to do with making this point and also, because so many of us who have our eyes wide open, see that ‘having our say’ is being shut out more and more if it does not suit corporate interests.

  13. G_h says:

    If there is to be a referendum, it should be framed as a specific action point that the council has power to execute, not a vague “do you want LNG: yes or no?”. The Woodfibre site is privately-owned and zoned for heavy industrial use. A “yes’ in a referendum should require DoS to rezone the site AND compensate the current owner for the loss of value from that. There should be a dollar value estimated for that (tens of millions, I would guess) and that value should be included in the phrasing of the referendum with DoS’s current budget in there also for context. People need to understand that there are massive costs to NIMBYism.