Western News

December 5, 2021

Western newsletter: Whales, a pipeline and the case of the disappearing salmon (yes, they’re all connected)


Western newsletter: Whales, a pipeline and the case of the disappearing salmon (yes, they’re all connected)

Wendy Cox and James Keller

Hello. Wendy Cox here.
For decades, what Canadian scientists don’t know about salmon simply added to the mystique of one of British Columbia’s most iconic fish.
How the fish navigate from the open ocean to find their way back to the rivers of their birth, and why in some years many millions more make it back than expected or, more frequently, many fewer millions do – all have been complicated, unanswerable questions that haven’t made it to the top of the priority stack for financing from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
While DFO has routinely estimated and counted the returning numbers of sockeye, sometimes with spectacularly bad results, the department has even less information on other salmon species.
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But if the steady decline in returning salmon numbers documented by DFO scientists didn’t spur the federal government to take concrete action, the costly halt of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project appears to have.
There is now a thread knitting together Canada’s lack of knowledge about its Chinook stocks, the decline in those stocks, the imperilled situation of the endangered southern resident killer whales, which rely on the fish as a main food source, and a judge’s decision to halt the resource project until Canada can do better.
Justine Hunter writes this weekend of the changes the department must make – urgently – in order to protect salmon stocks, but also to address the ongoing effects of years of neglect: Last year, more than one million fish “disappeared” from British Columbia’s critical Adams River sockeye run. Harvest levels were set by DFO based on the department’s projection that six million sockeye would come back, but only 4.3 million fish were accounted for. And that was sockeye, the species that DFO tracks best.
Last fall, when Justine requested data on Chinook counts under a Freedom of Information request, she was told the department would need 600 days to fulfill the request. Statutory response times to FOI requests are within 30 days, though requests for extensions are common.
As she succinctly writes this weekend: You cannot manage what you cannot count.
As part of the effort to address the situation, DFO has helped underwrite an international scientific mission to the Gulf of Alaska aimed at understanding the climate change effect on salmon.
Last week, the National Energy Board concluded the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion should go ahead but with new conditions. Increased tanker traffic would harm the whale population, the NEB wrote, but the harms could be limited by restoring the waterway and mitigating the impact of increased tanker traffic, including the noise that hinders the whales’ ability to forage.
Much of that noise is generated by BC Ferries, but on the same day as the NEB highlighted its concerns. BC Ferries announced more sailings, a point highlighted by federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson. This week, BC Environment Minister George Heyman dismissed the suggestion the ferry service should help reduce existing noise to make way for the extra noise created by more oil tankers.
The action DFO is undertaking to improve its game on salmon conservation is an illustration of a point made by columnist Martha Hall Findlay. She writes the NEB decision illustrates that shipping safety, the plight of the whales and the future of resource projects are issues that cannot be solved by addressing a single pipeline. Instead, the pipeline raises questions in need of “whole-of-government solutions.”
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West:
JAGMEET SINGH: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh finally has a seat in the House of Commons after winning a pivotal by-election in Burnaby South. Mr. Singh, who fought off criticisms of his own leadership and complaints that he had parachuted into the riding, won decisively against his next strongest competitor, Liberal Richard T. Lee. Mr. Singh says he’s quickly getting to work, with his first priority launching a Quebec strategy in the coming week.
HUAWEI: The federal government says it will allow extradition proceedings against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to proceed. Ms. Meng, a Chinese citizen, was arrested at Vancouver International Airport in December, triggering a diplomatic rift between Canada and China. China has accused Canada of collaborating with the United States to persecute Ms. Meng, one of the top executives with China’s biggest private company.
ALBERTA’S ECONOMY: Alberta’s NDP government has cut its expectations for the economy in the coming year as the oil downturn continues to drag down growth in the province. Finance Minister Joe Ceci released a fiscal update that cut growth projections to 1.6 per cent, down from 2.5 per cent and repeated a forecast to remain in deficit until 2023-24. But Mr. Ceci boasted that the government had reduced its projected deficit for the current fiscal year to $6.9-billion, instead of the $8.8-billion forecast a year ago, in part because of higher-than-expected resource revenues. Meanwhile, the United Conservative Party’s Jason Kenney has begun to sketch out his platform, adding a promise to attract thousands of immigrant workers and entrepreneurs to rural Albertan communities.
‘CEO DISEASE’ AND PIPELINES: Jeffrey Jones sat down with Hal Kvisle, former CEO of Talisman Energy and TransCanada PipeLines, for an interview that touched on the regulation of pipelines, CEO culture, and skiing. “The federal Liberals have offered $1.5-billion in loans to Alberta producers. The best use of that money would be to provide credit support to underpin the expansion of pipelines.”
OPIOIDS: The British Columbia Centre on Substance Use is recommending allowing legal and regulated retail heroin sales in the province to curb overdose deaths. Evan Wood, executive director of the BCCSU, joins a growing list of local and international experts who have long called for illicit drugs to be regulated and controlled. Those recommendations have grown louder as fentanyl continues to fuel an overdose crisis that has killed thousands of Canadians.
CANNABIS SALES: Cannabis revenues in B.C. have been disappointing in the months following legalization, though the government isn’t saying just how far below expectation the tax revenues were. Last year, the province estimated federal tax revenue from cannabis sales would bring it $50-million and that Ottawa would chip in another $20-million for disaster financial assistance, which together would have totalled $70-million in one line item. But last week’s budget shows the total estimated transfers from the federal government for those two categories combined this year was just $17-million so far – a decline of $53-million from last budget’s estimates.
Adrienne Tanner on the dismantling of the Anita Place tent city: “Maple Ridge has always seemed to have a compassion deficit. It has opposed shelters and modular housing – particularly low-barrier projects which don’t require residents to be sober or drug-free – at almost every turn. After the first modular housing project was approved under former mayor Nicole Read, the backlash against her efforts to help homeless people was so severe, the RCMP were called to investigate threats to her safety.
The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on B.C.'s measles outbreak and vaccines: “In the case of measles, the herd-immunity threshold is 95 per cent, but B.C.’s vaccination rate is lower than that. In 2014, more than 400 cases were reported in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, where vaccination rates are even lower than other parts of the province. This is unconscionable.”
Gary Mason on Jagmeet Singh: “But he won a contest where the stakes couldn’t have been higher. He is the first racialized leader of a federal political party to take a seat in the House of Commons, so there is also a historic element to this victory which shouldn’t be overlooked. Still, in many ways, the hard part now begins for Mr. Singh.”

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About this newsletter
The Western Canada newsletter is written by The Globe's B.C. bureau chief Wendy Cox and Alberta bureau chief James Keller. Together they'll create a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. The newsletter is sent Saturdays. Visit The Globe's Canada section.

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