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Feds Appoint Chair of B.C. Industry Group to Panel Reviewing Environmental Assessment Process

The federal government has appointed the founding chair of a vocal B.C.-based industry advocacy group to a four-member panel tasked with reviewing Canada’s environmental assessment process.*

The panel is part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attempt to make good on his campaign promise to restore credibility to environmental reviews of major energy projects — but the appointment calls into question the credibility of the panel. 

Tweet: New EA review panel member leads an industry advocacy group w close ties to @BCLiberals http://bit.ly/2cH6u5H #bcpoliThe appointee, Doug Horswill, is the founding chair of Resource Works, an industry advocacy group with close ties to the BC Liberals that aggressively advocates for the interests of extractive industries in B.C.

Resource Works Connection Presents Credibility Risk

Resource Works claims to promote balanced conversations about B.C.’s resource development, but the group takes a consistently pro-industry position on, well, basically everything: mining, LNG development, new pipelines, climate legislation, carbon taxes, raw log exports, environmental opposition, the Site C dam, oil tankers and the National Energy Board.

The overarching message of Resource Works is that continued extraction of natural resources is essential to B.C.’s prosperity and anything that stands in the way of extraction — local opposition, regulations, taxes — is a threat to that prosperity.

It’s a message they repeat over and over and over.

Resource Works has already jumped on Horswill’s appointment in an attempt to bolster the organization’s credibility. But while Horswill’s new position might make Resource Works look good, should a representative from a voraciously pro-extraction organization really sit on a panel created to re-design Canada’s environmental assessment process?

In all fairness, Horswill is the sole industry-aligned representative on the panel, which also includes Johanne Gélinas, a former Canadian environment commissioner, Rod Northey, an environmental lawyer and Renée Pelletier, an aboriginal rights lawyer.

The panel absolutely should have industry representation, but taking a close look at Resource Works, we’re not convinced the feds chose the right guy.

Resource Works, Industry and BC Liberal Connections

A closer look at Resource Works raises plenty of questions about the organization’s origins, political connections and pro-industry arguments.

Resource Works' executive director Stewart Muir, who refers to B.C.’s environmental movement as the “anti-everything movement” with “folk-singing, the props and the sloganeering,” is closely connected to the BC Liberals through his former marriage to Athana Mentzelopoulos, who was a bridesmaid at Premier Christy Clark’s wedding, in addition to once serving as deputy minister of jobs, tourism and skills training.

At the time of Resource Works’ launch, Menzelopoulos was the head of Clark’s $26-million Government Communications and Public Engagement department for which the rebranding and promotion of LNG was a priority.

Just before launching Resource Works, Muir worked with the Wuzuku Advisory Group, a PR and lobbying firm aligned with the BC Liberal party. At Wazuku, Muir partnered with Steve Kukucha, Clark’s airplane and bus campaign coordinator during the last provincial election.

Muir also served as the Deputy Managing Editor for the Vancouver Sun for more than 13 years — a time that overlapped with Fazil Mihlar, the long-time editorial page editor who now holds of the post of — wait for it — deputy minister of climate leadership in the Clark government.

Horswill is no stranger to promoting industry interests either.

Before becoming senior VP of Teck Resources, one of B.C.’s largest mining firms, he served as B.C.’s deputy minister of energy, mines and petroleum resources under, you guessed it, the BC Liberals. Teck Resources donated $144,600 to the BC Liberals in 2014 alone. Since 2005, Teck has donated $2.3 million to the party.

Resource Works Big-Time LNG Pusher

The close connections to the BC Liberal party, Clark and corporate interests may explain why Resource Works operates much like a PR firm for the government, especially when it comes to contentious issues like climate action, the development of Clark’s LNG empire and mining in B.C.

For example, Resource Works — contrary to Clark’s own disenfranchised Climate Leadership Team — praised B.C.’s climate action plan, quietly released on a Friday afternoon in August.  

While members of the province’s hand-picked team of experts excoriated Clark for undoing much of B.C.’s climate success and failing to implement the panel’s recommendations for climate leadership, Resource Works praised the premier for her “climate leadership.”

Muir, in a column published in the Vancouver Sun, said “B.C. still holds bragging rights on climate” because residents remain some of Canada’s lowest polluting citizens.

What Muir doesn’t acknowledge is that Clark’s pursuit of LNG and her freeze on the carbon tax mean what bragging rights B.C. once held are dramatically slipping away.

When it comes to LNG, Resource Works has been industry’s (and government’s) most unwavering supporter.

The group went as far as to publish a full pro-LNG pamphlet in 2015 called the Citizens’ Guide to LNG that repeats a number of industry talking points, including the notion that natural gas is a clean energy climate solution, a “bridge-fuel” to other low-carbon energy resources and that there is a “moral imperative” to provide Asian countries with natural gas as a solution to coal. 

Funnily enough, there’s no mention of fracking-related concerns, such as high water usage, drinking water contamination, methane emissions, wastewater injection induced earthquakes or landslides.

Resource Works’ sponsorship of the LNG industry doesn’t end there. Since its launch, Resource Works has hosted an online petition to “support LNG in B.C.” because the industry will theoretically create 100,000 jobs — a talking point straight out of Clark’s playbook. (The petition now has just over 650 signatures, which, at least, is more jobs than the LNG industry in B.C.)

Resource Works’ promotion of mining follows a similar trajectory although it goes the extra mile to remind renewable energy advocates that mineral extraction is the “real backbone of green technology.”

But why stop there?

Resource Works doesn’t limit itself to just industry promotion: the group also raises questions about the feasibility and practicality of recognizing indigenous rights and mocks the notion of social licence and environmental opposition.

Restoring Faith in Canada’s Environmental and Regulatory Process

Public trust in the National Energy Board is at an all-time low, with the National Energy Board cancelling its Energy East pipeline hearings, in part, to deal with revelations that two panel members had met with TransCanada lobbyist and former Quebec Premier Jean Charest.

Those revelations are a reminder of the extraordinary power industry wields in the Canadian political process. It’s that power, in part, that has led to an environmental assessment process that doesn’t have public confidence.

Meantime, public scrutiny of the federal government — for issuing permits for construction on the Site C dam and failing to restart the Trans Mountain and Energy East pipeline reviews under new rules — is at an all-time high.

Restoring trust and credibility is a tall order for the federal government — and it will be made all the more difficult with a creator of Resource Works on the panel tasked with doing just that.

As Albert Einstein said, we can’t solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them.

*This article originally stated that Doug Horswill is the current chair of Resource Works, as indicated on Resource Works' website until after his appointment to the federal panel. After publication, Resource Works informed DeSmog Canada that Horswill resigned from his position with Resource Works before starting his role with the federal review panel. However, as of September 9, 2016 Horswill is still listed as a director on the Resource Works Society documents filed with B.C. Registry Services (excerpt below). Updates to this article made September 8, 2016 07:20:00PST and September 9, 2016 11:35:00PST.

Image: Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, poses with members of the review panel. Left to right: Rod Northey, Renée Pelletier,  Johanne Gélinas, Catherine McKenna and Doug Horswill. Photo: Government of Canada

Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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