Note to readers: The newsletter sent out earlier today was incomplete. Here’s the updated Western Canada newsletter for May 6.
Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver here.
The COVID-19 pandemic was the second crisis of a still-young 2020 to threaten Canada’s supply chains. The first – it seems so long ago now – were the dozens of protests that broke out across Canada, many targeting the country’s rail lines, in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
Grain elevators filled up, the number of ships backed up in ports in Vancouver and Prince Rupert doubled and CN’s main rail line between Toronto and Montreal was temporarily brought to a halt by the protests.
The governments in Ottawa and British Columbia sent their Indigenous affairs ministers to northern British Columbia to hammer out an agreement with the chiefs and the protest efforts came to an end. But the details of that agreement were never made public, an effort to allow the Wet’suwet’en people to be briefed on the measures and to either approve or reject the deal.
The memorandum of understanding, broadly speaking, was one aimed at offering clarity around the rights and title of the Wet’suwet’en. The hereditary chiefs announced last week that it had been approved and a signing ceremony is planned for May 14.
But it was reached without participation of the elected chiefs of the community. Instead, those leaders were left to learn the details in clan meetings.
Now, those chiefs are speaking out, saying this agreement lacks “any semblance of credibility.” As well, they note that no vote to approve the agreement has ever taken place.
The agreement is aimed at talks that would significantly change the way the Wet’suwet’en are governed and could have lasting impact on how resource projects might move forward in the territory. It also could have implications for other Indigenous groups with hereditary and elected structures operating in tandem.
And yet, the specifics of it still have not been made public.
Globe reporters Nancy Macdonald and Brent Jang have seen the details. They report today that under the terms of the MOU, the hereditary chiefs will undertake talks to ensure that the constitutional rights and title of the Wet’suwet’en will be transferred to the 13 hereditary houses. If the vision outlined in the MOU is realized, the authority for governance of the Wet’suwet’en will reside with the hereditary chiefs, not those who have been elected under the Indian Act.
However, there is a sticking point that is no small hurdle: The agreement also requires that power will only be transferred once there is “clarity” on the Wet’suwet’en governance structures and laws.
The divisions within the two forms of government on Wet’suwet’en territory have been around for a long time, but the tensions were exacerbated with the development of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. The five elected chiefs and councils support the project; the eight hereditary chiefs do not.
The pipeline is a piece of infrastructure crucial to the development of LNG Canada’s $18-billion export terminal under construction in Kitimat on the coast, a project which has widespread support among area Indigenous groups.
The memorandum of understanding does not reference Coastal GasLink: Construction on the project has continued.
The elected chiefs have asked that the MOU be withdrawn until there can be an appropriate level of consultation. The hereditary leaders said in a letter over the weekend that they would “take some time to explore how we will work together, in our ancestral Wet’suwet’en homelands and communities.”
Meantime, the Indigenous affairs ministers for Canada and for B.C. have both said they’d be willing to speak with the elected chiefs about their concerns.
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:
POST-COVID PRIORITIES: B.C. Premier John Horgan will outline plans to reopen the provincial economy on Wednesday in what his government hopes is the end of the beginning of the pandemic. His minority government has held power, against the odds, since the summer of 2017, with an agenda that focused on climate action, Indigenous reconciliation and social justice. On Wednesday he will have to pivot to an agenda designed to rebuild an economy being hammered by a domestic lockdown and a looming global recession.
IRVING OIL: New Brunswick-based Irving Oil has received approval for a plan to use foreign tankers to transport Alberta oil through the Panama Canal and around to Atlantic Canada. Former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna told Kelly Cryderman that the plan is “spectacular” and could achieve what the failed Energy East 2.0 pipeline could have done.
‘MURDER HORNETS’: Invasive species experts are preparing for the possibility that a flying insect ominously dubbed the “murder hornet," whose appearance in B.C. last year has led to fears of swarms this spring. The giant Asian hornets feed on honeybees and in large enough numbers, its stings can be fatal to humans. Provincial beekeepers in B.C. and Alberta both say the risk is low but they are currently assessing the situation and preparing to eradicate the hornets if they appear.
ALBERTA RELAUNCH: Alberta is preparing to relaunch parts of its economy as early as next Thursday, but that could depend on who is ready to open by then. Restaurateurs say they’re worried about whether they can turn a profit at reduced capacity, as they will be limited to operating at 50 per cent, and if it’s safe for their staff and customers. Some say they don’t intend to open right away, if ever. Medical providers such as dentists and physiotherapists have been allowed to re-open as of Monday, but some of their regulators have yet to release guidelines for opening and others say they won’t be able to see patients again unless they can find masks and other protective gear, which is in short supply.
B.C. RELAUNCH: British Columbia’s top doctor says she’s confident the province’s health-care system can handle COVID-19 cases as the province relaxes its pandemic restrictions. Dr. Bonnie Henry released new modelling data this week that acknowledged easing back on physical-distancing measures could cause an increase in cases, but also said it would be manageable. Dr. Henry said the province has successfully flattened the curve and will be able to loosen restrictions this summer. As the province prepares for that relaunch, restaurants in Vancouver are asking the city to expand patios into sidewalks, laneways or streets to allow more space between diners.
SASKATCHEWAN’S COVID-19 RESPONSE: Saskatchewan’s Opposition questioned the level of information released by the government about a COVID-19 outbreak at a hospital, just as the province was preparing to loosen restrictions intended to limit the spread of the illness. Saskatchewan was the first province to release a relaunch plan and expects to start allowing some businesses to operate beginning May 19.
AMAZON: A Canadian executive at Amazon has quit over the company’s treatment of employees who have complained about safety in its warehouses. Tim Bray, a technologist who worked out of Amazon’s Vancouver offices, wrote in a blog post post that he “quit in dismay” on Friday after the company fired several employees who had demanded greater protection for warehouse workers.
ALBERTA ENERGY REGULATOR: The new head of Alberta’s energy regulator says his first priority is restoring confidence in the agency after an investigation into the actions of his predecessor and budget cuts that led to significant layoffs. Laurie Pushor became the Alberta Energy Regulator’s chief executive on April 15, six months after three provincial watchdogs found the former AER boss, Jim Ellis, set up a pricey side project that diverted resources, money and employee time from the agency while concealing many of the details from the board of directors.
FOOD PROCESSING: The federal government is pledging $77-million in aid to help food processors obtain personal protective equipment to curb COVID-19 outbreaks in their facilities. The announcement came a day after Cargill Ltd. re-opened its slaughterhouse in High River, Alta., where more than 900 workers have fallen ill. A recent Globe and Mail investigation into the Cargill outbreak revealed that as the virus spread among workers, the company did not widely distribute face masks. Several workers also told The Globe that efforts to facilitate physical distancing on the production line, where employees work elbow-to-elbow as they break down carcasses, came too little, too late. Outbreaks at beef and poultry plants have also underscored the importance of contact tracing to identify and curb infections.
PORT OF VANCOUVER: The Port of Vancouver is urging the federal cabinet to approve plans for a $3.5-billion container terminal. The port argues that the project, called Roberts Bank Terminal 2, as important for British Columbia’s economy to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
REAL ESTATE: Housing markets in Vancouver and Calgary have been hammered by stay-at-home measures that have shaken the economy across the country. In the Vancouver region, 1,109 homes sold last month, a 40-per-cent drop over last year and a near four-decade low. In Calgary, where the housing market had started to rebound from the 2015 oil crash and recession, sales fell 63 per cent to 573 properties.
CANCELLED EVENTS: The Masters show jumping show at Spruce Meadows in Calgary is the latest large event to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While festivals and other events in the next several months have been scrapped due to bans on large gatherings, the cancellation of the Spruce Meadows event, in September, underscores the pessimism that those restrictions will be lifted any time soon.
Jeffrey Jones on an oil recovery: “Factories and stores are reopening and traffic is picking up on the roads in Milan, Atlanta, Saskatoon and lots of other places. But after five days of gains that have seen oil prices double, the risk is that markets are getting ahead of themselves.”