Eoin Finn is a member of My Sea to Sky and the Future of Howe Sound Society. In an interview with Gagandeep Ghuman, Finn explains why he thinks heavy industry like Woodfibre LNG threatens the environment and the town’s emerging tourism-based economy.
How did you get interested in the LNG issue?
I heard about the LNG plant from Ruth Simons, who invited me to come to the forum that they put on in Britannia Beach and there was a presentation by Byng Giraud about LNG. And of course, Future of Howe Sound was all about tourism and the logging proposal for Gambier and the potential Mcnab Creek Gravel Pit and more recently a proposal for the incinerator at Port Mellon had set the alarm bells ringing. The Howe Sound I know is basically a recreational corridor to Squamish, whistler and Pemberton and it’s under threat from various sources.
The Woodfibre was one that intrigued me and it’s been 3-4 months researching what LNG is all about, whether it’s safe or if this is the right place for it.
How did you get involved with My Sea to Sky?
The involvement with My Sea to Sky happened because I met Tracey Saxby who said there are a group of people in Squamish who don’t feel that LNG plant is really what Squamish and Howe Sound should be about. We will be better to accept the tourism industry that has grown up around Squamish that than clear cutting an island or putting an LNG plant or putting an incinerator at Port Mellon.
So, how would these projects affect Howe Sound?
The impact would be that the tourists would go away along with the image of the Supernatural BC that tax payers have spent so much money promoting. The herring are returning, the orcas, the dolphins, and eventually the salmon are making reappearance and if we characterized the Sound as an industrial location and not a rec and tourism, it would change the character of the town. This place is a big tourism draw with 2.4 million tourists going up and down Highway 99 every year. They drop 1.4 billion dollars in the economy of Whistler and Squamish.
Can you think of an example where reindustrialization has erased tourism?
I can’t actually off hand where that has happened, but I know the attraction of Whistler, Howe Sound to tourists is the wonderful remoteness, the view of the mountains, this is the classic picture of what BC is, so important.
So, why can’t industry and tourism exist together?
The image that tourists come here to buy and pay for the experience isn’t synonymous with industrial site, the smokestacks billowing smoke, clear cut logging, gravel mills grinding away, or industrial scale incinerator belching smoke. For that they can stay home, they come to see wild rugged country and enjoy skiing in whistler.
So, if a tourist comes here to climb or ski, do you think they would stop coming here if there was an LNG plan?
I think so. If you have done climbing on the slabs and I have, when you are sitting there and stretch out behind you and see smokestack belching…it’s not quite the experience you want. When you take a gondola up to the top, you are looking straight down and what you are looking at is Woodfibre.
We have had tourism and logging, for example?
I regard logging as a sustainable industry, with a sustainable forest practice, and that happened largely because of influence of people who are sensitivities over the last 20 years. I welcome logging that is done sensitively and various efforts have been made to do that.
But tourism is a seasonal industry, what do we all those when we don’t have tourism?
Yes, but Squamish can make the effort to make tourism industry not seasonal, and then some service industries, the university is a growing business and provides year-long employment. With Garibaldi, this will be a growth area for people who want to use that facility, so I see the tide is turned and implementing high industry projects in the Howe Sound in Squamish is trying to flip the page back to a bygone era.
Some feel that the argument of visual impact to tourists is an elitist and an exclusionary kind of argument?
Well, there are other factors, as the understanding increase about climate change and safety of having tonnes of inflammable gas sitting right there next to a liquefaction plant and the use of high energy sources. There have been accidents and no one would want to see them here. Yes the tanker safety record is very good, but not unblemished. There is the impact of the marine life of putting a floating plant on the water, the noise emanating from the plant. All the research we have done has said that is a high noise level and herring will be scared away as they use sound to communicate and then there will be the noise of the liquefaction plant.
You can’t really support families with just a tourism based economy?
I beg to differ, and if I read anything about the Howe Sound, it’s been based on boom and bust cycle. Is that the future and are those the jobs that people want their sons and daughters and grandson and granddaughter to have? We have gone past the industrial age and Squamish too has moved ahead.
What makes you think the plant will be highly inflammable?
There was an accident where a plant in Algeria blew up and we have had a big event in Cleveland that killed 140 people. About six weeks ago, a plant in Oregon blew up and there was the case of an explosion of a truck in China. It’s a very gripping testimony that LNG doesn’t merely vaporise and disappear.
What else do you oppose in LNG?
This isn’t a very good business deal for Squamish, BC or even Canada. I’m glad they have decided to use electric power, but that power is supplied by BC Hydro and that is sold to large industrial users at a discounted rate, and that rate was 4.4 cents per kilowat hour in 2012. Now, the government has always subsidised hydro to attract large labour and capital intensive industrial. Who subsidises it? It’s the residential consumer. The premise is there will be jobs, and the problem here is the energy demands are huge but the numbers of jobs are tiny.
But the subsidy is for the whole industry, not just LNG?
The problem is the subsidization amount. BC Hydro will need to make the electricity at the Site C, where the proposed dam will cost 8-10 cents minimum per kilowatt hour, and they have to sell it to Woodfibre LNG at 4.4 cents and that amounts to a huge subsidy for an industry that won’t really give back any really jobs. I think we should have tourism based industry or if we could attract some high-tech industry or high professional services industry and I think you will be much better and you are already started to do that.
What support of industrial activity could you support?
Since the Squamish band has proposed a closed containment salmon farm along with incinerator, and there is a model of that in Port Mcneil that has been successful. And the tourism industry is already here, and there is more coming with the Garibaldi ski slope, the increase in the tourism business for things like the Gondola. We need to nurture it, because that doesn’t go boom and bust. It may sag, it may increase, but it doesn’t go bust.
Economic development and jobs was a huge election issue last time and Woodfibre has talked about creating jobs?
When you look at the number of jobs versus the cost of having those jobs here, it’s not an equation that is in favour of Squamish. Your average hotel has more staff than this is going to employ, the gondola is going to have more staff than Wodfibre LNG. Many of the people in Squamish will remember that the town is 40 per cent bigger than what it was when Woodfibre pulp mill was here. So it has grown and increased the number of people who are employed here, despite the fact that the heavy industry went away and stayed away.
So, while we are building tourism infrastructure, if we get heavy industry, should we reject that?
Yes, I think so yes because it’s the wrong direction, you are going to kill the golden goose of the tourism and recreation.
Is there anything LNG can do to make this acceptable?
They have taken one big step but they could remove the bias in the structure that threatens to take all of the profits from this plant and make them off shore. They will pay no carbon tax because they are not burning any of the product here. They structure has to change so they pay taxes like any other Canadian Corporation on the profits that they make here in Canada. The transit of any LNG tanker should be done at night, where they stand very little chance of displacing recreational yachts and the natural tourism industry that is scattered all through marinas and the sound here.
I’d want them to pay carbon tax on GHG emissions, to be subject to BC and Canadian taxes, to guarantee minimum 70 per cent local employment, no flaring except in emergency circumstances, storage tanker boil-off to be re-liquified. I’d also want guarantees for damage to marine life, including herring and cetaceans in Howe Sound. I’d also make the Woodfibre LNG agree to use local labour rather than importing from other parts of Canada or abroad. The difficulty they will encounter in finding locals is competition from other places like Kitimat, Prince Rupert, etc. This is a very small plant one and they may lose in that.
What’s wrong with having more skilled people come to town?
I’m the last one to oppose immigration to Canada as I’m an immigrant to this country 40 years ago. If the promise that Squamish believes is inherent in allowing this plant is that locals will be hired to contribute to the ongoing growth, it may not come true and I’d like to have the company elucidate how they plan to support the education system that will make the skills they need available to them because I don’t see the BC government do that. So therefore the pressure to import foreigners or people from other parts of Canada will be there.
So, how is it bad for the town if more skilled people came here to live?
The problem is that these are the wrong type of people for the future that most Squamish people envision for Howe Sound. They don’t envision heavy industrial workers. That is a bygone era and it’s an industrial policy that is not suitable for a first world country like Canada. Industry has to be somewhere but you don’t put it in enclosed narrow water way of Howe Sound which is an icon and a magnet for tourists worldwide.
What alternatives energy sources there are for our economy?
We live in a cold country that has a very limited supply of gas to heat ourselves and to cook our food, so do the math. We are exporting our energy future as the gas being a gift so when we do run out, we have the time to transition to a non-fossil fuel source. We are squandering it by sending it overseas. And if the premier points out that we have some kind of moral duty to help China clear its air pollution, then I’d point to Sask where you have 10 coal burning plants between them for whom we seem to have no moral duty. China has made no promises that it will replace its emphasis on coal burning power plants with gas burning power plants, especially if it’s more expensive. You know that Russia and China have done a deal that’s going to ship 38 billion cubic feet of gas and the price that was negotiated, I don’t think that any of the LNG plants can make that price.