What Prince William and Kate Really Need to Know About B.C.

Dear Will and Kate,

Welcome to beautiful British Columbia!

You are getting a pretty epic tour this week — from Victoria and Vancouver to Bella Bella (sorry about the rain) and Haida Gwaii. All of us watching the photo-ops are pretty jelly to be honest.

Here’s the thing though: I’ve noticed you’re hearing plenty of platitudes about “protecting the environment” from our good-looking leaders, B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

I know you’re smart people, so I don’t want you to be fooled by their looks — or their words.

Don’t get me wrong: B.C. truly is a glorious place — the type of place you can fly over in a seaplane and easily think the wilderness will never end.

But it’s also one of the world’s last frontiers and the race is on to cut down our old-growth forests, to send more oil tankers into our ports, to build natural gas plants in our salmon estuaries and to flood our rivers for megadams.

Here are a few things I thought you ought to know about B.C. (and which I’m doubtful you’ll hear from Justin or Christy).

1) Despite all the photo ops about adding the Great Bear Rainforest to the Queen's Commonwealth Canopy, I’m sure you’d like to know that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is dragging his heels on banning oil tankers from the Great Bear Rainforest.

Prince William, I heard your speech in Bella Bella and I couldn’t agree more with what you had to say about nature being “fundamental to the health of our societies.”

Prince William and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, visit the Great Bear Rainforest which was dedicated to the Queen's Commonwealth conservation program during the royal visit. Photo: Province of B.C.

That’s why it’s so ridiculous that First Nations are still fighting Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, which would introduce hundreds of oil tankers a year loaded with oilsands bitumen to the Great Bear Rainforest.

Not only are the oilsands incredibly polluting to begin with, but a bitumen spill in the ocean would be virtually impossible to clean up.

This year, Enbridge Northern Gateway’s approval was overturned in court due to the federal government’s lack of consultation with First Nations.

Plus, during the election, Trudeau made an explicit promise to ban oil tankers in the Great Bear Rainforest. Not only has he not done that, but he’s also expected to approve the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain oilsands pipeline to Vancouver by the end of the year, despite being opposed by local municipalities and First Nations.

Now that you’ve seen what’s at risk, seems worth writing home to Granny about, doesn’t it?

2) Canada (and the Crown) is breaking its promise to First Nations.

Kate, I saw that smile on your face while you watched the dancers in Bella Bella. First Nations have been living off the bounty of this coast since time immemorial.

And when the English and the French came along, many First Nations agreed to share their lands in an act of good faith.

During the treaty-making process, First Nations entered a relationship with the crown on an equal footing.

The Royals in Bella Bella, B.C. Photo: Province of B.C.

But that agreement has since “been tainted and soured” Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde told The Guardian.

“We didn’t basically share all the land and resource wealth in Canada to perpetuate poverty and colonisation and genocide,” Bellegarde said.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, made headlines around the world this week for refusing to attend a ceremony with you at Government House on Monday night, calling it a “public charade.”

Your itinerary is pretty insane, so I doubt you had time to read about why he wasn’t there, so let me bring you up to speed.

Tweet: Will & Kate: why some #FirstNations wouldn’t 'feed into the public illusion that everything is OK' as photo-op props and the chiefs of the 115 First Nations his organization represents decided it would not be appropriate “to feed into that public illusion that everything is okay.”

He noted the crushing poverty faced by indigenous communities, missing and murdered women and the number of children in government care, as just a few examples of how everything is very not okay.

Phillip was to hand a symbolic ring of reconciliation to you, Prince William, and invite you to affix it on a special ceremonial staff, called the Black Rod.

“These events are tightly scripted. There is no speaking,” Phillip told the Victoria Times Colonist. “Had I been accorded the opportunity to speak to [the royal family] and express a different view things might be different. But that wouldn’t serve the illusion of peace and harmony.”

May we suggest you take the time to give the Grand Chief an ole ring-a-ding once you get home?

Prince William and Kate visit the Great Bear Rainforest. Photo: Province of B.C.

3) As you tour our province’s gorgeous environment with your tagalong Premier Clark, we thought you’d like to know that at this very moment the Peace River valley in northern B.C. is being destroyed for a megadam authorized by the provincial and federal governments.

The Site C dam — still being challenged in court by First Nations — would flood more than 100 kilometres of river valley, including farmland and First Nations hunting and fishing areas. Worse, the chair of the government’s own panel says it isn’t needed.

So why is Clark pushing ahead with its construction? Inertia basically. She has a story and she’s sticking to it. And jobs, right? Jobs funded with our own taxpayer dollars (to the tune of $9 billion), but jobs nonetheless.

4) Speaking of people who’ve been sharing your photo ops, your new buddy Justin Trudeau just approved a giant natural gas export terminal in critical salmon habitat on Tuesday.

If it gets built, it could be the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Canada. And it makes meeting our climate targets virtually impossible. We don’t think Prince Charles would be too pleased about that.

While Trudeau has been talking a good talk on the global stage, he’s yet to walk the walk at home.

British Columbia is already facing intense wild fire seasons and our forests have been ravaged by pine beetles because our winters don’t get cold enough any more.

So for all the beautiful photo ops, please know the truth is much more complicated.

You, like millions of visitors a year, come here to see what B.C. is known for: untarnished nature, wild beaches, free-flowing rivers, intact indigenous cultures. Let’s keep it that way.  

Image: Province of B.C. via Flickr

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