Resource Works

Resource Works: Two Cheers for Natural Resources?

“Without natural resources we’d be naked” claims a message stencilled on the chests of four nearly naked, muscular young men.

They are the Natural Runners team in the April 2015 Vancouver Sun Run, sponsored by Resource Works, an organization that has raced to the front of the pack of resource industry promotional efforts.

There were no “without tourism we’d be naked” or “without technology we’d be naked” teams in the race, so B.C.’s natural resources had the message box to itself.

No one would likely take this point — revenues from natural resource extraction pay for our clothes, food, education and health care — too literally. But it’s part of a broader strategy to remake the industry’s reputation and, in the process, attack critics of unrestrained resource extraction. Resource Works is a leader in this campaign.

Resource Works and the Christy Clark Government

The message also helps the Christy Clark government, which has hitched its prospects to the resource industry cart. The Resource Works board and advisory council met with the B.C. Liberal Caucus a month before the organization’s launch. What they discussed was not revealed.

Resource Works’ nude runners is just the latest front in the war against environmentalists. And Resource Works’ undisclosed financial backers seem to be budgeting lavishly for it. Witness the dozens of slick promotional videos, the reports, the web site, the meetings across the province, the articles written by former Vancouver Sun journalists, and more.

Resource Works was launched in April 2014 with a mandate, as executive director Stewart Muir claims, “to create a badly needed middle ground conversation about natural resources in B.C.,” middle ground meaning an area of compromise or possible agreement. Such a conversation would recognize the strong resource-extraction component at the core of our prosperity, “but this is achieved with a responsible approach to environmental sustainability.”

But how middle ground is the Resource Works conversation? Does it give equal weight to resource extraction and environmental sustainability as it claims it does in its quest for the middle ground? It doesn’t help that Muir calls environmentalists the “anti-everything movement” with “the folk-singing, the props and the sloganeering.”

Nor do the organization’s publications help. “The Citizen’s Guide to LNG: Sea to Sky Edition,” is an evaluation of the Woodfibre liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant proposed for the Squamish waterfront. The report was also featured on the organization’s weekly video series titled “Higher Ground.”

Christy Clark’s LNG Ambitions

The timing was fortuitous for the Christy Clark government, which seemed desperate to have at least one LNG project underway.

“Confusion, misinformation and fear are part of the mix in the debate over liquefied natural gas in B.C.,” the video declared. “While the province is poised to break through and develop a new LNG export industry, it’s clear many British Columbians feel pulled in different directions when it comes to the use of natural resources.”

“That’s why Resource Works produced the Citizens’ Guide to LNG,” the video states, to address these concerns and present facts sometimes left out of the debate. But instead of providing balance and facts, the report, written by Muir and Barinder Rasode, Resource Works director of social responsibility and a former Surrey city councillor, turns out to be a 67-page paean to LNG:

LNG is a great product; BC will miss out if its LNG isn’t exported; LNG is safe, has little impact on climate, air and water, and has negligible impacts on human health and salmon populations; it will create high-paying jobs, provide ample tax revenues for increased teachers’ salaries and major benefits for First Nations. And we don’t have to worry about health, safety or the environment because B.C. has a first-class regulatory system in place.

Howe Sound tanker safety is a crucial question for residents who live along the route. But Muir and Rasode write reassuringly: “we have not seen evidence that Howe Sound is considered a narrow waterway by maritime professionals.”

They can say this because when they did interview a leading maritime professional, they didn’t ask him about Howe Sound, as Rafe Mair of the CommonSense Canadian points out in a blog post. The professional was Michael Hightower of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, whom Muir ands Rasode call “the world’s leading expert on maritime LNG safety.”

Mair relates that local resident Eoin Finn, a former KPMG partner and a chemistry PhD, did contact Hightower, who confirmed he had not been asked about Howe Sound. When Finn asked him, Hightower judged Bowen Island and parts of West Vancouver to be within a one-mile radius of tanker traffic and thus at risk.

Muir and Rasode demonstrate the same flaws in their brief discussion of fracking. They take as their definitive statement of fracking risks an American film titled Gasland. This film, they say, “has led some to fear that the practice is inherently unsafe.” Their response: “we have not found evidence to support a connection between the film’s claims and hydraulic fracturing in British Columbia.”

How could there possibly be a connection? Gasland looks at fracking in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Texas. Why didn’t they instead ask homegrown critics of fracking in B.C., of which there are many.

Mair is not kind to the organization: “They are obviously flacks for the LNG industry and pretty obviously for the Christy Clark government as well.”

Dark Funds Behind Resource Works

“Are they paid flacks?” he asks, but can’t answer because Resource Works doesn’t disclose its funding, either for the LNG study or for any of its products. The organization did volunteer the information that seed funding came from the B.C. Business Council, which says in its annual report that it “initiated” the organization.

Greg D’Avignon, the Business Council’s CEO is on the Resource Works board, perhaps representing the council’s investment. Other directors indicate a strong connection to the mining industry. Board chair Doug Horswill is a senior vice-president at Teck Resources, B.C.’s mining giant. Before his stint at Teck, Horswill served as B.C.’s deputy minister of energy, mines and petroleum resources. And before that he worked at mining companies Utah International and Inco. It’s B.C.’s version of the revolving door syndrome.

Director Philippa Wilshaw is an audit partner at KPMG and an expert on financial reporting in the mining industry. Then there’s advisory council chair Lyn Anglin, who is former president and CEO of Geoscience BC, a provincially-funded body whose mandate is to attract mineral and oil and gas investment to the province. Anglin left Resource Works after just six months to take a new job as chief scientific officer at Imperial Metals Corp., owner of the Mont Polley mine.

Is Mair correct that Resource Works is a flack for the Christy Clark government? Stewart Muir has been in the news before because of his close connections to Clark. He was married to Athana Mentzelopoulos, Clark’s deputy minister of jobs, tourism and skills training, and before that was in charge of Clark’s “priority” files. Mentzelopoulos is so close to Clark she was bridesmaid at Clark’s wedding, as Clark was at hers and Muir’s.

Muir’s problem arose when he was awarded a $141,000-a-year contract for the job of vice-president of communication at Vancouver Island Health Authority. The job wasn’t publicly posted and tenders were not called. When the news hit the fan, the contract was withdrawn. Then Muir moved to Resource Works.

Geoff Plant provides another link to the Clark government. He was attorney general under Gordon Campbell and was appointed by Clark in 2012 as the government’s chief legal strategist for the Northern Gateway Pipeline Joint Review Panel proceedings — resource development writ large. His expertise is aboriginal law, crucial territory for Clark’s resource-exploitation agenda.

While these industry and government connections are hidden beneath the surface, the message stencilled on the chests of the four nearly naked young men continues to resonate in the media.

Without natural resources, we’d be naked.

We cannot retain our standard of living without the pipelines, tanker traffic, LNG plants, mining developments and coal export projects that industry currently has in the works.

It’s an effective message, but one easy enough to see straight through.

Image Credit: Resource Works

Donald is an author and adjunct professor in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University. He has studied the…

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