Table of Contents
“Hey, Boobs, ready for the question of the day?”
Her name is Barbara. Babs is short for Barbara. The most irreverent derivative I can think of takes it right to Boobs. I know it pisses her off, but I want her attention when I give her the question of the day.
“Don’t. Call. Me. Boobs.” She doesn’t look up from the West End Community Centre course calendar.
“Okay. Ready for the question of the day?”
She flips the page and sighs. “Please do tell me, Trainer. What’s the question of the day?”
“Why do bananas keep ripening after they’re picked, but apples don’t?”
I study Barbara as her eyes move from a class on soap-making to one on cake decorating. It looks as if the question has fallen on deaf ears. But I know that later today or tomorrow or early next week, she’ll give me her considered answer. I take the last bite of my overripe banana, fold the peel and put it in my lunch bag. I’ll save my apple for later.
Barbara pushes her chair back from the lunch table, stands and carefully rolls the calendar into a tube.
“Trainer, I already let you get away with calling me Babs. No one else, just you.” She whacks my arm with the pamphlet. “But that’s not enough, is it?”
Barbara leans in closer to my face and raises her other hand, waving her index finger. “No. It’s not nice to dig, dig, dig.” Each time Barbara says “dig,” she stabs my arm with her well-manicured finger.
I rub my arm to let her know she’s made her point. “If you want to do a Safeway ‘quarter run’ after work, I’m in.”
She almost smiles.
“Friday nights are good. Everyone’s in a rush,” I add.
Barbara nods. “I could use the bonus points. Meet you in the Safeway parking lot after I register for a class,” she says, heading out the door.
I pick up my lunch bag, crumple it and lob it across the table into the trash can at the back of the room. Perfect shot.
Barbara and I work for the Hudson’s Bay department store in downtown Vancouver. Well, we don’t actually work for The Bay. We work for New Century, the company contracted to do its security. Barbara is a Retail Loss Prevention Specialist, that is, an expert at identifying and catching shoplifters. She spends her days looking like a shopper; few would-be thieves would guess that a twenty-something, blonde bombshell is really undercover security. She told me the best part of her job is when she knows where a “perp” has hidden something.
“I make sure it’s ironclad before giving uniformed security the heads-up to come and read them their rights,” she says.
They don’t actually read them their rights. Security personnel are not law enforcement. Barbara likes to say it anyway. Two of her colleagues block the exit while Barbara approaches the thief. Flashing a smile and her corporate ID, she says, “Excuse me, I’m with Bay security. I wonder if you wouldn’t mind opening your bag,” or, depending where the thief has hidden the item, “lifting your shirt, emptying your right pants pocket, unzipping the front pouch of your pack for me?”
I’m an External Perimeter Security Specialist. Barbara’s job sounds exciting, but I prefer mine. I like being outside. I landed my job because Barbara first warned me that, although the company isn’t supposed to refuse to hire women for outside security, it does. Only guys get hired for those positions. I thought for sure that couldn’t be legal, but when I looked into employment equity laws, well, any protection they provide is just pretense. There’s no substance behind them. If New Century refused to hire me, I’d have to prove it was because of my vagina. I needed to get hired, not to make a political statement. I cut my hair, borrowed clothes from Wes, my twin, and went for an interview. I wouldn’t say I was male. That would be a lie. If questioned, I’d say I was female, but I also knew the interviewer couldn't ask. The company isn’t supposed to discriminate.
I didn’t have to change my name on the application form either. My legal name is Trude—pronounced Trudy. When Mrs. Frampton, head of human resources at New Century, called me into her office for the interview, she called me Trud, as if it rhymed with “crud.” I told Mrs. Frampton that everyone calls me Trainer, so she should too. I deepened my voice when I said it, even though I hadn’t planned to. She bought it, and I got the job.
My favourite part of the job is patrolling the parking garage. It’s public, so it’s not just Bay shoppers who park there. I make sure that only the clients who pay for reserved stalls use them. I’m also on the lookout for loiterers, street people and skateboarders running the ramps.
It’s nice working in a parking garage with a toll booth operator at the entrance. Most parkades have moved to self-paid parking machines. Having a person work the booth is more efficient than a machine, not just for the client, but for me. I like dropping by the booth to find out if there is anything suspicious before I make my rounds. At the Bay parkade, there are fewer break-ins than at the prepaid lots, and I bet it’s because there’s a toll booth operator working on-site.
“Hi, Aadarsh. Anything going on?”
“Actually, there is nothing that is unusual happening at this time,” Aadarsh says.
“I’ll start from roof level and work my way down the east stairwell. Back in about an hour,” I tell him.
He nods and says, “Very, very good.”
I turn and head for the elevator as a woman driving a blue 2004 CRV heads toward the toll booth. I note the license plate, 952PNW. P is 9 flipped; L is the Roman numeral for 50; N has two vertical lines. PLN PNW. PLeNty PeNny-Wise.
I always take the stairs, but I call the elevator to the first level, push the buttons and see if I can beat it back to the top. When I started this job, I needed to push all five. I’ve been down to two buttons for a while. The doors open, no one’s inside. Feeling pumped, I lean in, push one button and hightail it up the stairs two at a time.
To get to the Safeway parkade, I ride the bike lane on Pender Street. Since the city put it in, cars are restricted from making right turns. Now, I can catch every green light for ten city blocks, and it’s all downhill. No stopping—just the smooth joy of a pure ride.
The parkade is full. I start searching for abandoned buggies. Safeway has a refundable user fee for their shopping carts to motivate people to return them to the buggy parking area, but every time I shop, I’m surprised how many people abandon their quarters. I told Barbara it’s free money. We’ve started a game to see how many quarters we could collect.
“First one to a hundred points wins. Here’re the rules.” I handed her a spreadsheet titled $Free Money Game$. “See? It’ll be fun.”
Barbara looked at the page, looked up at me, went back to the page and smiled. That’s when I knew she was in.
Barbara and I opened a savings account at the credit union. The account has no service fee, and they never make us feel stupid about depositing change. It’s an easy way to keep track of the quarters we recover, and the modern miracle of compound interest is a bonus. The abandoned quarters we find soon start having baby pennies of their own, and those baby pennies belong to us too.
Barbara is in the lead. She only needs six more people to abandon their buggies to reach level four. But she’ll have to do it tonight.
And that’s when I see them, three buggies randomly stranded in the northwest corner, just metres from the buggy train. I pick up my pace just in case a shopper comes to get one. I grab the closest cart and spin it so it fits into the buggy adjacent and then move those two into the final one. Once I’ve joined the buggies together, it’s difficult for anyone who needs a buggy not to give me a quarter in exchange. The carts are now mine. I maneuver them into the buggy train and pocket seventy-five cents.
Sometimes a shopper puts the key into the box too aggressively, and the quarter pops out and drops to the ground. I drop to a push-up position on the pavement and skim my vision just above the surface of the parking lot, scanning for something that sparkles. A quarter sits way at the back of the row of buggies, close to the wall. If I climb between the wall and the buggy train, I can reach it.
Then I hear high heels clicking on the pavement. A woman walks out from the pedestrian tunnel, rummaging through an open purse hanging from her shoulder. Her long dark hair falls in front of her face. I’ll wait until she leaves with a buggy before retrieving the quarter.
She swings her head to get the hair out of her eyes and looks up holding a dollar coin between her thumb and forefinger. “You wouldn’t happen to have change for a loonie, would you?”
“Trainer?” She smiles. “I didn’t recognize you with your haircut. It’s…it’s really…short.” Katarina Petrenko had gone to the London Business School on a scholarship after graduating from high school, and we’d lost touch. “Good to see you,” she continues. “I was going to contact you and Wes as soon as I got home, but it’s been a busy few weeks. I found a great job at a top investment house here in Vancouver. Moved back in with my mom. Dad passed away, you know. It’s nice my mom and I get to spend time together, but I must say that woman can talk. I really do need to move out. Know of any apartments for rent? But tell me, how are you? How’s Wes? Are you getting groceries too? If you’ve got change, we’ll each grab a buggy and catch up while we shop.”
Kat talks even faster than she walks. With that many trains of thought it’s hard to decide which question to answer first.
“I didn’t know your dad died, Kat. He was a good man. I’m sorry.”
Kat’s smile fades and her eyes fill with tears.
“Trainer, I miss him so much. I took him for granted, you know. Always thought he’d be there…because he always was. And now, it’s such a huge void. It’s been hard on my mom. She’s talking about moving back to the Ukraine. Can you imagine? With everything that’s going on there?” Kat takes a breath. “I needed to come home. I just wish I’d done it before Dad died.”
“Remember when your dad drove our class to the Flying U Ranch in grade seven?” I ask. “I didn’t know buses had bathrooms until he scored that deluxe bus. Those jokes he told over the loudspeaker, like ‘What did the zero say to the eight?’”
Kat manages a smile. “‘Nice belt!’ He always told such lame jokes.” She takes another deep breath in an effort to hold back new tears. It doesn't work. Kat dabs her eyes with a tissue.
I reach into my pocket and bring out the three quarters. “I don’t have change, but here’s a quarter.”
She takes it. “Thanks. You can have it back when we finish shopping.”
“I’m not here to shop, Kat. I’m waiting for Barbara. We’re running a survey on abandoned shopping carts.”
Kat looks confused, then nods her head as if she’s figured it out. She pops the quarter into the box, inserts the key and frees the buggy. “Give me your phone. I’ll plug in my number. We’ll get together.”
“I don’t have a cell phone. Does your mom still have the same number? I want to call her.”
“And I’ll call you. What’s your number? I’ll remember it.”
Kat gives me her number. “Glad I ran into you, Trainer.” She pulls the cart out of the row. “Say hi to Wes for me.”
She walks the cart toward the elevator and pushes the button. The door opens, but she hesitates and turns around. “It’s Barbara Bains you’re working with for Safeway’s survey, right?”
“It’s Barbara Bains I’m meeting here, but it’s not a survey for Safeway. It’s a survey for us.”
Kat looks confused. Through the closing elevator door, she yells, “Say hi to Barbara for me too.”
A few seconds later, Barbara arrives.
“Look, Trainer,” she calls, pushing two carts. Barbara has changed from her work clothes to halter top, shorts and leather strapped sandals that buckle above her ankles. Her shiny hair is pulled back in a ponytail. “I helped an elderly lady load her groceries into a taxi.” She secures the buggies in the train and collects her money. “The other was left on the sidewalk.”
“Four to go, Babs. Then to the beach to watch the sunset.”
“That’d be good. You found any?”
I tell Barbara about my three quarters, which may be two depending on if Kat pays me back. I tell Barbara why Kat has come home.
Then I point to the corner behind the buggy lineup. “There’s a quarter there. I’ll climb in and get it.”
“I’ll make a swing inside at the checkouts and look for Kat. Maybe she’ll come to the beach with us.” Barbara heads off.
“Get the quarter I gave her, and it’s yours,” I call. That’ll get us to the beach sooner.
I look at the railings that fence around the three rows of buggies and at the array of pipes along the ceiling. I back up and take a running start. Right foot on the first rail, left foot on the second, and I grab the pipe with both hands. I move hand over hand along the pipe, my legs bent to avoid scraping them on the buggies. I reach the corner, hang my legs, drop, crouch and lie on the pavement.
I see the quarter and reach for it. It doesn't take long to check for others but long enough for another Friday-night shopper to arrive at the buggy train. I stay where I am.
“His assistant called the office?” a voice yells.
I hear a key being pushed in and feel the rack move as the shopper pulls on the buggy, disengaging it from the train.
“I won’t talk to his assistant. I told the minister what to do when I met with him. He assured me the Board would be on side.”
“There’s a reason there’re no meeting notes.”
This is interesting. I can see the guy’s shoes. Freshly shined, new, expensive-looking.
“Tight timeline, limited participation, no cross-examination, little scrutiny of tanker risk…Yeah, but how they do that is their problem. I don’t want a record of that coming from us.”
Laces and two-tone leather. The shoes might be alligator.
“We’ll have every First Nation and eco-activist up in arms. I told him how we’ll sell it, but that comes after the hearing. For now, his job is to make sure the NEB says yes.”
“I don’t care what experts say. We have one message. That message pumps up benefits and plays down risk. Repeat this, and stay on point: ‘They’ve been shipping oil safely for decades. It won’t spill. If it does, it’ll get cleaned up.’”
He jams the buggy into the train. “Fuck it. I’ll talk to him myself.”
“No, not to his jerk-off assistant. To the minister! But not on this phone.”
Alligator Shoes is on the move.
“Give him 604-685-239…”
I don’t catch the final number as he moves out of earshot but can’t help imagining a visual. Let’s see…6 looks like a G; 8 like a written f because it has loops…GaF, no…GooF…GooFy wearing a T-shirt, and it says “Vancouver” to remind me that the area code is local. He’s balancing on a dotted LiNe that leads to a…3 is an M on its side, MP…to a MaP. I stand, climb on the buggy train and crawl over the buggies. I plug the key from the train into Alligator Shoes’s abandoned cart. Easiest quarter I ever made.
Barbara comes around the corner pushing four carts. “Nothing like people in a hurry for money left on the table, eh, Trainer?”
“Nothing like it, Babs.”
The sun reflecting off English Bay on a clear summer night is special. Time slows as I feel the light change. The incoming tide, the setting sun, the closing of the day—it doesn’t get much better than this.
Flick serves the volleyball with a gentle underhand. He gets it just right. I can’t see the ball as it floats in front of the sun, so it hits the sand. Flick has a dynamite overhand serve, but he doesn’t allow talent to get in the way of a sure point when the angle of the sun is just right.
“Nice one,” says Wes, his satisfaction only slightly annoying. “Point to the side of the good and righteous.” Wes and Flick share a high-five–fist-bump combo, just the way they’ve been doing since elementary school.
Flick stands in front of the net and takes his phone out of his shorts pocket, holding it like it’s a clicker and pointing at the volleyball net.
“Winners? Us.” Click. “Losers? You. The difference?” he asks. “We don’t give up.”
Wes and Flick crack up, Barbara groans. She recognizes the movie. “Thanks for the pep talk, Little Miss Sunshine.” She throws the ball at Flick. “Serve. We’re ready for you this time.”
In one seamless move, Flick pockets his phone and catches the volleyball. He walks to the end of the court, looks at Wes, smiles and winks. “Just another day at the beach.”
Flick fakes an underhand and then quickly jumps up and drives home a powerful overhead smash that is impossible to return. I dive into the sand, knocking the ball out of bounds. Flick stands with his legs straight and slightly apart, his hands on his hips, and in a determined little-boy voice he yells, “This is my court. I have to defend it!” sending Wes into another fit of laughter.
The volleyball comes to rest against a woman’s leg. She’s sitting on a towel, her back against a log. A large hardcover book lies open on her lap, and other books are piled beside her.
Who reads serious-looking books at the beach on a Friday night? The woman looks up at the ball and knocks it with her foot straight to Wes. Efficient.
Still laughing he calls, “Thanks,” but Bookwoman has gone back to reading. Wes tosses the ball to Flick.
Flick prepares to serve. I dig my feet into the sand, my knees bent, my stance ready. Wes doesn’t need to say anything, but he does. “Game point, ladies.”
I return Flick’s overhand drive by setting Barbara up so she can spike it over the net. Somehow Wes gets to it. Flick comes in from behind to send it to the back zone, just inside the line at the corner. They win.
Flick must be happy. Emphatically, he says, “A-B-C. Always Be Closing.” Then he turns, nods at Wes and says, “That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout.”
Flick grew up at the movies, literally. His mom worked nights cleaning office buildings and had to punch in at work by four in the afternoon. She couldn’t leave Flick home alone, so she would settle him in at the Denman Cinema with a boxed dinner, blanket and pillow, then collect him just after midnight. Flick’s mom knew the Nguyens, who ran the theatre; they all came from the same village in Vietnam.
I recognize Flick’s reference to Despicable Me but don’t recognize the ABCs of beating us at volleyball. “Phone, please,” I ask Barbara, who’s sitting on a log, absently kicking the volleyball back and forth between her feet.
She pulls her phone from her pocket and hands it to me. I don’t have a cell. Everyone I know has a phone with more minutes, text messages and data than they’ll ever use. Why waste them?
I Google “always be closing.” Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet’s play turned into a movie. A tale of desperation leading to betrayal. I hand Barbara back her phone. “Thanks.”
I look up at the bay. Beautiful. Not many cargo ships. Some sailboats. The sun is low in the sky, reflecting golden off the water. One of the nicest things about Vancouver summers is the long warm evenings.
Then I remember to tell Wes and Flick about Kat, and Barbara adds, “Kat said she might come tonight.”
“The Kat is back. Cool,” Wes says as he walks over. “Can I have some water?”
I pass Wes my water bottle. “So the Kat’s an investment analyst now,” he says. He takes another drink. “She’s smart, knows what’s going on in the business world. Maybe she can help raise the cash I need to buy the club.”
Wes is a bartender at Letters Nightclub, a gay bar on Davie Street. Davie begins at English Bay and is the main street for Vancouver’s gay neighbourhood. It was named after Alexander Edmund Batson Davie, eighth premier of our province. Davie was gay, openly so, even though he was married and had four kids. Letters Nightclub has been around for decades. Wes wants to buy it, but so do the Foley Brothers. They own most of the clubs on Granville Street, and now they’re picking up bars like a real-time game of Monopoly. Sometimes they buy a place just to close it down. It reduces competition.
The Foleys offered to buy Letters, but the owner, Bruce, knows Wes wants the club. We grew up here, in the downtown’s West End neighbourhood. Bruce knows that Wes will keep the club running and wants to have more live talent. Bruce likes the idea. He told the Foleys he wasn’t ready to sell and told Wes he has eighteen months to pull together the down payment.
“When the club’s yours, you changing its name?” I ask Wes.
“I might. Might even know what to call it.” He hands me back the water bottle. “Won’t say though. Not ’til I know it’s mine.”
Wes, careful about getting his hopes up, ends the conversation by stealing the volleyball from Barbara. He kicks the ball between his feet, rolls his foot under it, flicks it up and while it’s still airborne, spins in a circle and catches the volleyball in his hands. He sits beside Barbara on the log, nudges her and offers her the ball. She looks at him but doesn’t take it.
“What?” she asks.
“How about another game?” he smiles.
“I’m ready for a rematch,” I say as I stand and face Wes while reaching for the ball. He flips it to me. I see Kat sneaking up behind Wes and smile at her. Wes turns.
“Well, well. Look who’s here. If it isn’t Miss Katarina finally come home.” Wes stands and steps over the log to give Kat a hug.
“C’mon, let’s play ball,” he says to us. We need one more person to play three-a-side. Wes asks Bookwoman if she wants to play. Her name is Liz. It turns out that she’s pretty good at volleyball. Our side still loses.
It’s twilight, and three of us sit on the sand, the others on a log. If hanging out at Sunset Beach on a Friday night in early summer wasn’t something we do all the time, it would be perfect for a picture. But this is our life—no need for a group selfie.
I’m on the sand below Flick, my back leaning against the log. He stretches his legs out beside me and says, “Sometimes it’s so much beauty”— Flick takes a deep breath and exhales slowly before continuing—“so much beauty that I feel like—”
Kat interrupts. “Well, you won’t have to worry about feeling like that much longer. Pretty soon there’s going to be a bunch of supertankers out there. It won’t be so beautiful here then.”
“What do you mean?” asks Wes.
“Oil tankers. They’re bigger than those ships,” Kat says, “and not very pretty, so it’s going to make the bay really crowded and—”
“No, I get that,” Wes says as he turns to Kat. “Why’re they coming here?”
“There’s a Kinder Morgan pipeline that comes from Edmonton to BC. It carries about three hundred thousand barrels a day. Most is light oil that goes to Washington State, but the company wants to build another pipeline to send oil sands crude directly to its dock in Burnaby, where it’ll be loaded onto supertankers destined for foreign markets.”
“It’s called the Trans Mountain Expansion Project,” adds Liz. “It’s going to increase the number of berths at the Westridge dock to three and the number of oil tankers that call there to thirty-four a month. Kat’s right. It’s going to be really crowded out there.” Liz nods to English Bay.
“How come you know about this, Liz?” asks Wes.
“I do pro bono work for a group protecting the water. Trans Mountain’s existing pipeline crosses more than eleven hundred streams and rivers, so the new line will too, but it more than doubles the risk because it’s a larger pipeline and oil sands crude is more dangerous.”
“Pro bono…” says Barbara. “Isn’t that something lawyers do for free when they help people?”
“Yeah,” Liz nods. “I’m an associate in a law firm.”
“That makes sense,” says Wes, standing to maneuver the volleyball between his feet like it’s a soccer ball. “Why will the tankers sit in the bay?”
“Westridge Marine Terminal’s halfway up Burrard Inlet,” answers Kat. “The inlet’s narrow, so tankers wait in the bay for their turn to get to the dock. It’s going to be ugly.” She shrugs. “But hey, can’t stop progress. We need to get the oil out.”
“The oil, if it spills, could ruin English Bay. How’s that progress?” asks Barbara.
“A spill isn’t likely. They already load crude oil onto five tankers a month at Westridge. Been doing it for years.”
“The delusion of safety,” says Flick still looking out over the bay.
“If it spills, Flick, they’ll clean it up.” Kat says. “We need economic stimulus.”
“I guess,” says Wes. “But, it just feels…it feels wrong.”
“The company I work for invests in the oil patch,” says Kat. “I’m on a team analyzing the profits for oil producers if the pipeline goes through.”
“What profits are worth turning English Bay into a parking lot for Alberta’s oil sands and destroying our beach with an oil spill?” I ask.
“And another pipeline through BC,” adds Barbara, before Kat can answer, “that can spill oil into more than eleven hundred water crossings?”
“There are three major upsides,” Kat says. She raises her index finger. “One, all the jobs that come with building the pipeline and then operating it.” She raises her middle finger. “Two, the corporate tax revenue from Kinder Morgan’s profits when they operate the pipeline.” She raises her ring finger. “And three, the higher price on every barrel of oil supplied when new markets are open to us. The increased revenue to oil producers is going to be thirty-eight billion dollars.”
Flick faces Kat, and she turns toward him. He takes her raised hand in both of his and gently relaxes her three fingers, then looks into her eyes. Kat might think Flick hungers for whatever information she can give him about benefits from shipping crude through our coastal waters. Or she might think the hunger means he wants to kiss her. Kat opts for the business angle. Still, her voice sounds sultry when she speaks.
“You see, with rapidly growing supply from Alberta’s oil sands, new markets are—”
“No, I understand,” says Flick gently. “It’s clever.”
Kat falters, “Well…tha…thank you, Flick.”
“But clever,” Flick shrugs. “That’s not the same as thoughtful, is it?” He places Kat’s hand on her lap, gets up from the log and walks to the water’s edge. He shoves his hands in his shorts pockets and stands looking out over the bay. The sun has fallen halfway below the horizon, and I feel the offshore breeze.
“Something isn’t right,” says Barbara. “I mean, like Wes said.”
Kat watches Flick but speaks to us. “I’m for the environment as much as the next person, but with this pipeline, well, you’ll see, the returns are big.”
“You think it’s about the money?” I ask.
Kat doesn't hesitate. “We have to attract capital and make sure the investment climate’s healthy. Restriction of transportation infrastructure sends the wrong signal to foreign investors.”
“By ‘transportation infrastructure,’ you mean pipelines and oil tankers? Ways to get the oil out?” I ask.
“And by making sure the investment climate’s healthy, you mean what? Nothing gets in the way of Alberta’s oil sands production.”
“Multinational oil companies, Canadian oil companies—they’re all investing in oil sands expansion, so supply’s going to grow no matter what. Even if they don’t get a pipeline to the West Coast, oil producers will increase supply by more than two million barrels a day beyond where it is now, and that’s within a decade. At least that’s what the industry association tells our firm they’ll do. They have to get that oil to market one way or another, and they would rather send it west than south.”
“Who to?” I ask.
“The Chinese. They’re growing their economy like crazy, and they need more oil.”
“And in order to do that, we just let them park supertankers in English Bay,” I add.
“Well, yes…that’s an impact of the project,” Kat concedes.
“How much do you think oil companies should pay us for parking?” I ask.
Kat looks surprised. “What?”
“You say the benefits are huge, Kat. How much do you think people like me, who like the bay the way it is, deserve to be paid for allowing English Bay to be turned into a supertanker parking lot for oil? What’s that worth?”
Kat stands up.
“That’s not how it works, Trainer. There’s a federal government regulator that will recommend whether the project should proceed. If the regulator makes the recommendation, it doesn’t matter how many oil tankers there are. If the project demands them, they’re allowed.”
“So it’s free parking,” I confirm.
Kat put her hands on her hips. “Technically, it’s mooring.”
“Technically, it sucks,” says Wes. He kicks the volleyball off the top of his foot and catches it. “But what can I do about it? Write my MP, make posters, start a petition?” Wes starts pacing, the volleyball tucked under his arm. “I bet I receive my very own form letter thanking me for my comments and assuring me not to worry because these companies are held to the highest standards of safety—or some such bullshit like that. Until there’s a spill, of course, and it’s ‘Oops, sorry about your beach, do mind the tar balls.’”
“The federal regulator, the National Energy Board, will hold a public hearing. You could participate,” says Liz. She gets up from the sand and sits on the log.
“Wait a second,” says Wes. He stops pacing. “It’s not a done deal?”
“No,” answers Liz.
“So…what happens,” he asks slowly, “if I get involved?”
“You review the project application, ask the pipeline company questions through a written process, cross-examine them under oath in front of the Board and file your evidence,” Liz says. “You can tell the Board what you think. It’s all very formal.”
“Like a court case?”
“Like a court case. It’s meant to make sure the government knows what the public thinks, that those affected are properly canvassed. The project has to be seen to be in the public interest before it can go ahead.”
“I’m part of the public,” says Wes, “And I’m not interested in supertankers taking over our bay.”
“If the Board determines the project isn’t in the public interest,” Liz offers, “they’ll recommend it doesn’t proceed.”
“I can just see it,” says Wes, nodding. “I’ll appear before the”—he looks at Liz—“What is it?”
“The National Energy Board,” she confirms. “For a public hearing like this, there are three panel members selected from the full Board, and the panel is headed by a chairperson.”
“So I’ll appear before the National Energy Board.” Wes throws me the volleyball, straightens his shoulders, plants his feet and pretends to address the panel. “Your honour—”
“No,” Liz interrupts. She’s enjoying this. “You’d address the Chair as ‘Chair.’”
Wes nods, clears his throat and starts again. His voice composed, he speaks with authority. “Madame Chair, I am appearing before this esteemed panel as a responsible citizen to inform you that oil tankers parked in English Bay are a bad idea. They’ll wreck my view on summer nights when I’m at the beach with my friends.”
He places the tips of his fingers together in front of his chest and carefully considers his next point. “What’s more, those tankers filled with oil could have an accident and spill into our ocean, killing fish, whales and other wildlife.” He opens his hands, palms up, a born rhetorician. “And when that dirty oil washes ashore? Well, it will not only be our view that is ruined but our beach as well.”
Wes lowers his arms and addresses us rather than an imaginary board. “Then they’ll confer among themselves, and after some deep discussion, heads nodding, the Chair will say”—Wes adopts a female voice with an English accent—“‘Yes, indeed, thank you, Mr. Richards, for informing us of this. The Board is most appreciative of your efforts. We have heard your comments and carefully considered their import. You are right, sir. We reject the project.’”
Wes becomes Wes again. He raises his fists into the air and shouts triumphantly, “Yes!”
I’m restless. It’s hot, but the heat isn’t keeping me awake. It’s the thought of oil tankers anchored in the bay. It feels as if they’ve already arrived. It feels…heavy.
I kick off the sheets, roll over and lie on my back with my arms at my sides, palms up, looking at the ceiling. Yogis call this “corpse pose” for a reason. I bet this is how “dreadful” became a word. How do you feel? Full of dread. Isn’t that dread-full. Yep. Dreadful. I turn onto my stomach, pound my pillow and wrap my arms around it, then plop my heavy head, full of dread, onto my pillow.
Kat might be right about the jobs. If shipping oil to China means more and better paying jobs, of course that’s important. People need jobs. But how many jobs can be created? Construction jobs are short-term. Maybe I’m missing something.
I feel lucky to have my job, but it barely pays enough to cover my food and rent. I could have gone to university. Mom and Dad said I could live at home while I did. Well, it was actually Mom. Dad just sat across the room and read his paper.
“Your father and I want to talk to both of you about your plans after graduation,” Mom said to Wes and me in the autumn of our grade-twelve year. “We’ve decided you can live here rent-free while you go to university.” She looked pleased with the offer. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, but school was formulaic to me: Figure out what the teachers want, deliver it, get high marks. B-o-r-i-n-g.
All I said was, “I don’t want to go to school anymore.”
“What are you saying, Trude?” Mom asked. She looked at Dad, “Jack, help me here, please?”
Dad turned the page of his paper. “Let her do what she wants, Judith,” and he went back to reading. I scoffed under my breath. It wasn’t permission. It was indifference.
Throughout grade twelve, Wes’s marks got better while I let mine fall. Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing year. I explored stuff that interested me—like Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. I was supposed to be reading Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, but Dickens became bored with the mother of his ten children when she got a bit harried-looking and grew plump. He tried to put her in an insane asylum to get rid of her so he could carry on his affair with a young actress. I wasn’t going to read a book by a guy like that. Much more interesting to read a story by an author who was responsible for his choices. Sure, refusing to read Dickens made it hard to answer test questions, but I didn’t care. And Kafka’s existentialist approach to life? Well, it helped.
Right after graduation I moved out on my own. Wes went to the University of British Columbia. He got an MBA, but he couldn’t land a job. He got close a number of times, right down to the final two candidates. The other person always won—and always had more experience. So Wes took odd jobs. He was a waiter at a local restaurant and then a tour guide at the aquarium. Then he became Letters’ main bartender. Bruce told him at the end of his interview, “You make good drinks. You need to pour faster, but I like the way you look; it’ll be good for business. You’ve got the job.”
I asked Wes about it, but he just shrugged and said, “No, True, I didn’t feel objectified.” Wes is talented and smart and has university degrees, but he still relies on tips to pay his rent.
I roll over, get out of bed, open the window and walk to the chin-up bar anchored in the entrance of the kitchen alcove. No need to turn on the lights. The streetlights are bright. I have curtains, but plenty of illumination seeps in from outside.
I live in a studio apartment on the top floor of a three-storey walk-up. My apartment faces the alley, so the rent is less than if it faced the street. I save a further twenty-five dollars a month because it’s on the third floor. I like taking the stairs, but I guess most people don’t.
The building is old, so the ceilings are high, making the room feel bigger than it is. The kitchen looks as if it’s detached from the living room-by-day, bedroom-by-night because of the built-in glass cabinet that extends from floor to ceiling.
I keep a blue-and-gold tea set that’s over a hundred years old and a Royal Worcester figurine called “My Favourite” in that cabinet. In fact, everything I keep in there was left to me by my grandmother. The gold from the china tea set shines in the half-light. I’m not one for knick-knacks, but looking at the glass cabinet makes me feel good because it reminds me of Grams.
I like my apartment better than the other studios in the building, and not just because of the monthly savings. I have a fire escape outside my window. It has a ladder, and that ladder leads to the roof. None of the other apartments have that. The wrought iron landing that supports the fire escape also supports my herb garden. Our mild climate means I can grow herbs all year.
Two million barrels of oil a day more than now. That’s what Kat said. I wonder how many barrels they supply now. I try to picture two million barrels and grab the chin-up bar to start a set of five chin-ups in each of four arm positions. Two million barrels a day is overwhelming to imagine. I add two sets of push-ups and sit-ups. It’s a lot of barrels. I lie on the floor looking at the ceiling after my last set of sit-ups, breathing heavily.
The workout has wrung the dread from my body. I head to the shower and stand under the cold water, letting it cascade down my back to take away the dreadful sweat—which I decide is the right term for sweat that is full of dread.
Kat talked about a trade-off; we get economic benefits from delivering oil to China, but we face lost quality of life and harm to the environment. How much is an oil pipeline worth, and who gets the money? How does ruining English Bay get simplified into an equation, and who defines the algorithm? How do they tally the economic gain for some and determine if it outweighs environmental loss to others? Alberta, where the oil is extracted, already owes me a night’s sleep. Where do I send an invoice, and how do I collect?
I step out of the tub, dry off, wrap the towel around my torso and walk to my desk so I can Google “how much heavy oil does Canada supply?”
There’s a reference to an oil industry association supply forecast. It tells me that in 2012 slightly more than two million barrels a day of oil sands crude were supplied. The industry plans to double that within nine years. By 2021, the report says, it’ll be up to just over four million barrels a day. That’s the two million barrels a day increase that Kat said urgently needs to get to market. Why is it urgent if they haven’t already produced it? I make a note to contact Kat and talk to her about the reliability of the supply projections.
I close my laptop and crawl into bed. Through the open window, I hear the first of what will become a steady stream of early-morning dumpster-divers in the alley below.
Wait a second. What did Kat say? “If it spills, it’ll get cleaned up.” That’s exactly what Alligator Shoes said. And it sounded like some government minister had assured Alligator Shoes that the National Energy Board will be brought onside to recommend the project…based on pumped-up benefits and downplayed risks. Those oil tankers littering English Bay are as good as here.
I sit up, turn on my desk lamp and grab my notebook and pen. I record the date, time and contents of Alligator Shoes’s conversation, and picture Goofy walking a dotted line to a map, which leads me to the first nine digits in Alligator Shoes’s phone number.
The dread returns.
When I planned my run yesterday, I thought I would go along the Stanley Park Seawall. This morning, I decide not to. A view of the ocean would remind me about the tankers.
The Seawall circumnavigates the park, providing a border between it and the ocean. Construction started in 1917 to protect the shoreline from wave erosion caused by cargo ships as they moved up Burrard Inlet for loading at Vancouver’s docks. I wonder about the impact on the seawall’s masonry from waves generated by a constant flow of large oil tankers. I don’t want to think about how it will feel to see those monster ships heading up the inlet. I artfully avoid deepening last night’s dread by running along Lost Lagoon. Before reaching sight of the ocean, I veer off toward the woods and into the protection of the sheltered trails that weave through the trees.
I hit Bridle Path, named for a time when people could still ride their horses here, and leave behind new-growth skyscrapers for old-growth forest. My energy starts to pick up. With each stride landing on loose dirt, the sound of traffic fades. As I run deeper into the forest, I focus on the rhythm of my feet and note the occasional chirping bird.
Stanley Park is Vancouver’s prime tourist asset. Millions are made each year as tourists flock to one of the “most livable cities in the world.” What makes Vancouver such a livable city? A large tract of undeveloped land within the city. Ironic. It was Lord Stanley, more than a hundred years ago, who made sure the land was protected from developers lobbying Ottawa. Without prior Parliamentary approval, he publicly announced the creation of the park. That took courage. Without Lord Stanley’s cunning, this wooded gem would have gone the way of concrete condos and high-rise office buildings, just like the rest of downtown. Thank you, Lord Stanley.
When I return from my run I see Barbara sitting on the front steps of my building, reading a newspaper.
“Hey,” I gasp, lifting my sunglasses and resting them on my head. I lean forward with my hands on my knees and take a deep breath.
Barbara looks up. Her sunglasses reflect the building across the street. Her lipgloss glows in the sun. “It’s ethylene gas that makes bananas sweeter. Bananas release it through their stems after being picked, while apples don’t do that,” she says folding the paper. “Here’s a tip if you want an avocado to ripen faster. Put it in a bowl beside a banana, and the ethylene gas will ripen the avocado too.”
That’s my buddy Barbara. The question of the day thought through and the answer delivered on my doorstep.
When we reach my apartment, Barbara says, “You making coffee?”
“Good.” Barbara sits on my bed and says, “My parents Skyped me last night from an internet café on Easter Island. You know, that place with all those huge statues?”
Barbara’s parents took early retirement. They sold their high-end condo and left on a world cruise. Barbara’s mother said they would rent a pied-à-terre when they returned.
“They’re on their way to New Zealand,” Barbara tells me. “Internet on cruise ships sucks, so I won’t talk to them again for a while.”
“We are moments away from a hot cup of java, Babs,” I say.
“Mmm,” she smiles, but it doesn’t last long as she hands me the newspaper. “Read this.”
I look at the headline and read it out loud. “Radical Groups Undermine Oil Sands Future: Ottawa.” I look up at her.
“Read it. I’ll pour the coffee. We going on the sundeck?”
Barbara and I call the roof the “sundeck.” Technically? I’m not supposed to go up there, but Lance, the building manager, knows that’s where I keep two lounge chairs. He never says anything. It might be because when he goes away I look after his cat, Popeye.
I read as Barbara pours coffee. “Environmental and other radical groups are working to undermine Canada’s economic interests, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said Monday in an open letter. The letter was released in advance of public hearings into the Northern Gateway pipeline, a proposed project from Alberta’s oil sands to Kitimat on the West Coast. The federal government attacked what it said were foreign-funded special interest groups opposing the project.
“Ottawa says the pipeline would help diversify energy exports away from the United States towards Asia, but activists are hijacking the regulatory system by ‘stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects.’”
Barbara walks over to me holding two cups of steaming black coffee. I take a sip and continue to read.
“Oliver described radicals as people who don’t take into account the facts but are driven by ideology: ‘They attract jet-setting celebrities with some of the largest personal carbon footprints in the world to lecture Canadians not to develop our natural resources. Finally, if all other avenues have failed, they will take a quintessential American approach: sue everyone and anyone to delay the project even further.’”
Barbara starts towards the window, which is still open from the night before. I follow her onto the fire escape. I feel the warmth of the sun and hear the sound of traffic. When I reach the sundeck, I put my cup on the ledge and climb over. I hear seagulls, but I can’t see them. At this time in the morning, the building across the lane provides enough shade to make the deck comfortable. Later, it will be unbearably hot.
“It’s such crap,” Barbara says as we sit on the lounge chairs. “This Joe Oliver didn’t write that letter. Dad said it came right out of the prime minister’s office. The whole lot of them parrot Harper.”
Barbara moves to take a sip of her coffee but stops. “I can just see Stevie boy salivating over the ‘jet-setting celebrities’ phrase.” She has such an uncanny understanding of politics because her dad was a political science professor at UBC. Wes took a class from him, and he told me Professor Bains was concerned about social justice issues and the role of democracy in shaping progress.
“Who is Oliver, again?”
“He was minister of natural resources, but he’s not any longer. Check the date. He wrote that letter a year and a half ago.”
I look at the masthead. “What gives?”
“I decided to unpack the dishes that Mom gave me. That,” she motions to the newspaper with her coffee cup, “was inside the box. I didn’t get any unpacking done. I got too interested in Oliver’s love letter to the Canadian people. Dad told me that Oliver released that letter the night before the hearing into Northern Gateway started. Northern Gateway’s the pipeline project up north, similar to that Trans Mountain one coming south.”
“That’s how they do it, Babs. Instead of addressing how life will change for people along the route or what happens when oil spills into the rivers or the sea, they claim that radicals are getting in the way of economic progress. They’re not radicals. They’re Canadians and First Nations people trying to protect our water. And not just for themselves, but for us too.”
Barbara takes off her sunglasses. “What this means is…what?” she asks. “Next they’ll outlaw our right to water?”
“Or outlaw our right to protect it. It’s about power. You’ve said so yourself, Babs: Government will protect business interests above all. Natural resources are valuable assets, and these companies have an insatiable craving for them—water, air, land, they want it all. Low cost is good, no cost even better.”
I hadn’t thought about our access to natural resources in this way before. I’d never really thought about the air I breathe. Thinking about it now, I take a breath and hold it. How much is it worth? Without it, I’ll die. That’s the definition of priceless. But how hard would I be willing to fight for it? As long as I think it’s in abundance, why fight for it at all? And once it’s too dirty to breathe? Too late. The time to fight for clean air is long before it’s gone.
I stand and walk to the ledge. When I stand just so, I can see a sliver of English Bay through a small space between two high-rise condos. A real estate agent would call it a peekaboo view, but it isn’t a view—it’s a memory of a view before high-rise condos took it away.
“That’s what the letter is about.” I turn to face Barbara. “Silencing those that speak out to keep the price of natural resources low, so companies benefit. And now, this Kinder Morgan company wants to build their oil sands pipeline and park oil tankers in English Bay for free.”
That’s when I tell Barbara about Alligator Shoes.
“But that’s collusion, isn’t it?” she asks, shaking her head in disbelief. “To rig an outcome.” She runs her hand through her hair. “We’re getting fucked, Trainer. We have to do something. You have to tell—”
“Who? Who am I going to tell? And what do I tell them?”
“What you know.”
“What I know, Babs? While picking up a quarter from under a string of shopping carts, I overhear a one-sided conversation where an unnamed guy wearing reptile shoes says an unnamed minister promised that the NEB will say yes to a pipeline. Oh, yeah, and then he said that same minister can’t wait to get out there and pimp the project to an unsuspecting public.”
“I see what you mean,” she says sadly.
Barbara and I aren’t finished our coffees, but now the sun is too hot to stay on the roof. We climb down the fire escape. Barbara flops into my chair and I lean past her and Google “Trans Mountain pipeline.” She swivels the chair to look at my computer screen. “What are you doing?”
“If the NEB gets facts at a public hearing, as a regulator it has to do what’s right, don’t you think? Liz said the regulator is supposed to protect our interests. We could help the Board see that the environmental threat is greater than any potential benefits. We know the company’s going to exaggerate the benefits and downplay the risks because Alligator Shoes said that’s what they’re up to. If we can discover how they plan to rig the equation, we can let the Board know.”
“Here, please, Trainer, do take a seat,” Barbara stands. “I’ll make fresh coffee.”
“Alligator Shoes hands us an advantage, why waste it?” I say as Barbara plugs in the kettle. “Ottawa is worried, otherwise a minister wouldn’t need to manipulate the outcome. We could participate at the hearing and let them know how the benefits are being pumped up and the risks played down. With facts in front of them, I can’t see the Board recommending the project.”
Google takes me to a site called Trans Mountain Pipeline. Boring, boring, boring. Huge benefits for the community, safety a priority, blah, blah, blah. “Here’s their plan,” I say. “Build a new pipeline beside the one they already have. Ship a gazillion barrels a day of oil sands to Burnaby and load it onto tankers destined for Asia.” I turn my chair to face her and shrug. “But we already knew that.”
“When did they start calling it oil sands?” Barbara asks. “I thought the stuff from Alberta was tar sands.”
I turn back to the keyboard and Google “oil sands versus tar sands.” It looks like tar sands is more accurate because, when it comes out of the ground, it’s dense and black like tar. “Engineers and geologists called it tar sands back in the 1940s,” I tell Barbara. “The industry always called it tar sands until the 1990s. But then an oil association didn’t like the term. Give me a minute.” I read further. “Of course. Tar sands sounded too dirty for oil lobbyists. The Alberta government and industry worked together on a campaign to rebrand it as ‘oil sands.’”
I scan a couple of dated articles. The message is clear. Anyone who refers to Alberta’s non-conventional heavy oil as tar sands is probably a “radical” environmentalist with an agenda. Credible people call it oil sands. I get it.
“If we want to sound credible, Babs, we don’t say tar sands, we say oil sands.”
I put my cup of coffee on the desk and go back to reading. “Get this. It’s not even oil sands. It’s bituminous sand. ‘A mixture of sand, clay, water and an extremely viscous’—that means thick and sticky—‘form of petroleum called bitumen.’”
“Uh…here. Bitumen is a ‘combination of sulphur, nitrogen, salts, carcinogens, heavy metals and other toxins.’ It says here that it has to be upgraded into synthetic crude oil before most refineries can turn it into petroleum products.”
“Petroleum products. You mean, like gasoline?”
“Uh, yeah. Gasoline, diesel, heating fuel, jet fuel...”
“So does it get upgraded and refined into petroleum products here?” Barbara asks. “I mean, refinery jobs—”
“No,” I interrupt. “Looks like bitumen’s for export only. BC’s a super highway over the Rocky Mountains, across more than a thousand freshwater rivers and streams and through a densely populated urban centre. Then we’re a parking lot for this oil. Our province is only good for transporting bitumen to foreign markets. You know, ‘Just passing through. Sorry if we ruin your environment.’”
Barbara puts her coffee cup on the desk and leans toward the screen. “What’s this dilbit then?”
“Diluted bitumen is what actually flows down the pipe and gets loaded onto the tankers. It looks like this thick bitumen tarry stuff has to be diluted with something light and gassy because it’s too dense and heavy to move through a pipeline on its own. So it’s diluted bitumen—dilbit for short.”
“Dilbit,” Barbara repeats. “What exactly is it diluted with?”
“The ‘dil’ is short for diluent, which is condensate, but what’s condensate?”
Barbara chuckles. “I was just going to ask that.”
“Ah, ultralight oil from natural gas or fracked shale oil fields; highly toxic when airborne,” I read out loud. “So, to recap, what do we have? ‘Dil’ is light, dirty and toxic, and ‘bit’ is heavy, dirty and toxic. Dilbit—dirty and toxic.”
“So many terms. So many steps to a gas pump,” Barbara says.
“What they ship isn’t even oil. It’s dilbit. Are you hungry?”
“After all that? Famished.”
I walk to the kitchen, pour granola into two bowls, add some yogurt and fresh berries, grab two spoons and serve. Saturday morning brunch.
“Let’s go over it again,” I suggest.
“Okay. It starts with tar sands coming out of the ground, but we call it oil sands to avoid being demonized as radicals,” offers Barbara. “Oil producers extract the bitumen.” She pauses. “Can we put a face on these oil companies?”
“Let me see.”
Barbara eats while I check out the roster of Alberta’s biggest bitumen producers. “Suncor, Imperial Oil, whose parent is ExxonMobil, Shell, Canadian Natural Resources and Cenovus are the biggies, and it looks like they make up about 80 percent of all bitumen production.”
“So,” Barbara says, “these companies extract bitumen, but it can’t be refined without being processed or upgraded. Some upgrading and refining happens in Alberta—”
“But Alberta produces more bitumen than it can use, so it gets…exported. And that’s where the pipeline comes in,” I say. Then I see something I hadn’t before. “Wait a second. It’s not just about how to move this excess bitumen out. Get this, Babs. Canada has to import most of the diluent.” I stop reading and look at her. “Guess where from?”
“The US?” she asks sarcastically.
“How did you guess? These guys can’t even honestly stamp ‘Made in Canada’ on the barrels they ship. Extracting a raw resource, mixing it with US condensate and shipping it to Asia for upgrading and refining isn’t developing Canada’s resources,” I say. “It’s exploiting them.”
“Why are tar sands exploiters—excuse me, I mean oil sands developers—planning to ship dilbit out of the country, if this is supposed to be good for Canada’s economy? Why wouldn’t oil producers make petroleum products right here at home?”
“I don’t know Babs, but I get the sense you’ve left me with my question of the day.”
“Damn right, Trainer. It’s taken the better part of a beautiful summer day glued to the internet to come up with it, so your answer better be worth it.”
I continue to scour the internet long after Barbara has gone.
The Alberta Energy Regulator website has a wealth of information that goes back decades. Documents from 2007 explain that oil producers knew perfectly well they should be investing in infrastructure in Canada. They planned to build seven upgraders, but didn’t. Hmm, why not? I Google “investing in upgraders” and click on the article “Keep the oilsands wealth at home.”
What the hell? The oil sector actually made investments south of the border to process more bitumen there, instead of in Canada. Those investments were subsidized by the US government. What’s with this guy Oliver? He said a pipeline to the West Coast would reduce our dependency on US markets as if these poor oil companies were caught unaware. They knew exactly what they were doing, and, by the looks of it, they made billions of dollars while selling the Canadian economy short.
I take a shower, change into shorts and a T-shirt, then call Wes. He agrees to meet and shoot some baskets at Lord Roberts Elementary after supper when it starts to cool down. A rousing game of H-O-R-S-E is just what I need.
Wes is practicing shots from the free throw line when I arrive at the school grounds. Other than some kids playing soccer at the other end of the field, we’re alone.
“Hey, True,” he says, throwing me the ball.
“Hey, Wes,” I say, lobbing it into the basket.
Halfway through the first game, I start to feel relaxed. I shoot from centre court.
“An ‘S’ for you,” Wes says, retrieving the ball.
“What do you mean? I got that one.”
“You hit the rim; I didn’t.”
“I still got it in.”
He looks at me incredulously.
“What?” I ask. “You so worried about the outcome you need to change the rules? Here, throw me the ball. I’ll swish it in, just like you.”
“Calm down, True,” Wes says, then makes his next shot by rebounding off the backstop.
I retrieve the ball and walk over to him. “Just to clarify, is it the exact shot or just getting it in from the exact place?” I ask.
“I was joking. Same old rules, same old basketball court.” He chuckles. “Same old True.”
I shove him aside and plant my feet where his were. I make the shot exactly as he had. “Snide remarks won’t distract me, Wesley James.”
“You’re so competitive,” he says, retrieving the ball.
“Oh, and you’re not.”
“I’m supposed to be. You, on the other hand, need to be less…how can I put this?”
“Accomplished?” I ask.
“Intense,” he says taking his shot. He misses. “Shit.”
“Karma’s a bitch and then you die,” I say. I move to the free throw line and turn my back to the basket. “You gotta make your shot blind,” I tell him and nail it.
Wes laughs. “Whoa, that’s what I mean, True. Intense.”
Wes misses. I win.
“Redemption round?” I ask.
“This time I’ll try,” Wes says.
Rock, paper, scissors. Wes goes first.
He makes his shot. “I have a bit of news,” he says.
“I called Kat about my plans for the bar and needing investors. She says she’ll see what she can do.”
I grab the ball, dribble over to Wes and playfully push his shoulder. “Oh, that’s awesome.”
He shrugs. “We’ll see.”
“I know, Wes. You don’t want to get your hopes up, but at least you’ve got friends in high places who can help. All I can do is cheer you on. Keep me in the loop, will you?”
“Of course,” he answers.
I line up my next shot and miss. “That would be an ‘H’ for me,” I say.
Wes retrieves the ball and lines up his next shot almost at centre court.
“This Trans Mountain expansion,” I say. “The company that wants to build the pipeline—Kinder Morgan—is based in Houston, Texas. They say building the pipeline will stimulate the economy, create thousands of jobs and pay for our social programs.”
Wes makes his shot. “What’s the difference between an Albertan and a Texan?” he asks.
“I don’t know, what?”
“When an Albertan shoots himself in the foot, it’s covered by Medicare.” He throws me the ball. “Texans fight social programs, so why would they build a pipeline to help pay for ours?” he asks.
“It makes no sense,” I answer, matching his shot. “Corporations put profits ahead of everything else. Otherwise, their shareholders will sue them. It’s pretty straightforward.”
“Sounds like they’re setting it up as if the only way to create jobs and fund social programs is to hurry up and expand the oil sands,” he says, lining up his shot from the corner. His shot is clean.
“You know what Barbara and I found out?” I ask, recreating his shot from the corner. “It’s not oil sands, or even oil. It’s tar sands or bitumen, but marketers rebranded it to oil sands to make it sound okay. But it’s not okay.”
“Totally makes sense, tar sands.” He lines up a shot and as it sails into the basket, he says, “Whatever you call it, it’s still a false dichotomy.”
“A false dichotomy?” I repeat, as Wes retrieves the ball.
“Yeah, advertising execs use it all the time. The fallacy is that there are only two outcomes, you know, like either you buy a new car so you can attract beautiful women with long hair and longer legs or, if you don’t buy a new car, you can’t expect to get lucky. It’s that black and white until, of course, you remember that you don’t even need to buy a car.” Wes tosses me the basketball.
“So,” I say, “the phony choice is either be a well-behaved, smart Canadian in favour of jobs and economic growth and get behind these pipelines or be a foreign-funded, stupid radical and ruin the future.” I take my shot and make it.
“You know what else?” I ask, retrieving the ball and holding it. “It looks like something’s going on in Ottawa,” and I tell him about Alligator Shoes.
“That’s chilling,” Wes says. “Government getting the regulator to run a rigged game? It’s going to be harder than we thought to protect our beach.”
“Does it scare you off?” I ask.
“What? That we’re up against a huge Texas-based company, a lapdog regulator and a double-dealing federal government? Does it scare you off?” he replies.
“Let me know when you’re scared,” he says. “Then I’ll start to worry.”
I wake up early on Sunday, get my laundry and grocery shopping out of the way, then hit the computer. It’s just after lunch when I call Kat.
“Hi, Mrs. Petrenko. It’s Trainer Richards calling.”
“Trude, Trude Richards?”
“Kat told me about her dad passing, Mrs. Petrenko. I’m sorry for your loss.” Even though I mean it, the line sounds like something from a formulaic detective series.
“Thank you,” she says but doesn’t continue.
“Is Kat home?”
“No, she is at her verk. That girl, she verks so hard. I’ll give you her number.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Petrenko, but I have it.” I wait.
“Thank you for your concern, Trude.” She takes a deep breath and pauses. “He vas a vonderful man, and I miss him very much.”
“I’m sure it’s very hard, Mrs. Petrenko.” It isn’t what I say that matters, but if I mention her husband, it gives Mrs. Petrenko an opportunity to talk about him, if she wants.
I video-Skype Kat on her cell. She tells me she’s really busy trying to get a brief ready for tomorrow.
“Is it about Kinder Morgan and the pipeline?” I ask.
“Maybe I can help.”
“Oh, thanks for the offer, but I don’t think so, Trainer.”
“Did you know that the Trans Mountain pipeline has suffered scandals since it was built?” I say.
“What do you mean ‘scandals’?”
“Well, for a start, the company promised to build a pipeline to serve BC refineries, but after getting the government charter, they pulled a fast one and built a spur line—a pipeline that branched off and took some of what was supposed to be our oil to refineries in the US.”
“That was a long time ago, though, wasn’t it?”
“In the 1950s, yeah. But a decade ago, the province changed the law so Kinder Morgan could buy Trans Mountain. It was done when Gordon Campbell was premier. Remember the guy convicted of drunk driving in Hawaii?”
“Vaguely,” Kat answers. “Why did the law need to be changed?”
“To allow Kinder Morgan to own Trans Mountain. There was a public outcry because British Columbians didn’t want a Canadian-owned energy company sold to a US conglomerate, particularly since Kinder Morgan made no secret that their plan was to move the head office from Vancouver to Houston. Kinder Morgan’s Canadian operations aren’t much more than a front.”
“You got that right,” Kat says. “I’ve been reviewing the company. The important decisions are made in Texas.”
“Kinder Morgan’s history is even more sordid than Trans Mountain’s.”
“Sordid?” Kat pauses. “Trainer, I deal with analytical protocols, and as much as I appreciate the information—”
“Hear me out. Kinder Morgan’s run by Richard Kinder. He used to be the number-two guy at Enron. You know, that huge American company that lied to everyone about how it made its money and went bankrupt because of massive accounting fraud.”
“I know, but Kinder left before Enron collapsed.”
“Not long before. He took William Morgan with him. They bought pipelines from Enron and paid way less than the pipelines were worth, which made it easy to set up shop. Kinder is vague about it all. I find it hard to believe he knew nothing about the scam. Someone that far up the food chain has to know who’s being eaten for dinner, right? Morgan’s retired, but Kinder doesn’t even mention Enron in his corporate bio. Neither does Kinder’s second-in-command, Steve Kean, who was an executive vice-president at Enron when it failed. That sets off red flags, don’t you think? If you have nothing to hide, why not mention your work history?”
“It is a bit troubling, yes.”
“I’ll show you.” I take Kat to a website.
“See, the US District Court and the Securities and Exchange Commission found Jordan Mintz, Enron’s tax guy, guilty. Now he’s head of tax planning at Kinder Morgan.”
Kat begins to read the document. “It says he failed to disclose millions of dollars in payments and engaged in misleading and fraudulent statements in Enron SEC filings. That’s pretty serious.”
“But then I hit a snag. There are references to board minutes exposing nefarious accounting practices before Kinder and Morgan left, but the report isn’t available on the internet. I was wondering if you’d be able to source it for me?”
“I might, but what are you after?”
“If some of Kinder Morgan’s key people have a history of accounting and tax fraud, don’t you think that’s important?”
“Is avoiding taxes and lack of reporting transparency part of their corporate culture, you mean?”
“Yeah, I guess that’s what I mean.”
“Even if they aren’t doing anything illegal, they may play in the grey zone, and that should make investors nervous. Okay, you’ve piqued my interest, Trainer.”
“Just one more question, Kat, about oil sands supply.”
“What about it?” she answers.
“Friday night, you said there were three upsides. I get what you mean by jobs and corporate taxes, but not the third. You said if this oil gets to new markets, it raises the price on every barrel, and oil producers could be looking at thirty-eight billion dollars more in revenue. How does that work?”
“Funny you should ask. My boss wants more background on the same issue.”
“He does? Why?”
“He’s skeptical that Trans Mountain’s expansion will improve oil prices, so he wants a detailed analysis of the claims about revenues. Our firm invests in the oil sands when we buy shares in oil and pipeline companies on behalf of clients. We need to determine if we want to increase our exposure, stay put or divest.”
“Divest means, like, un-invest?”
“Yeah. It all depends on the future revenue stream for oil sands companies and the market risks they’re up against. Anyway, you wanted to know why Trans Mountain’s expansion is supposed to lead to higher oil prices. I’ll read you what I’ve written.” Kat turns to her computer screen and reads: “When there is insufficient pipeline capacity, rapid expansion of oil sands supply puts downward pressure on its price. When Trans Mountain is built, five hundred and forty thousand barrels a day of oil sands crude will be redirected offshore, thus removing this downward price pressure. As a result, the price goes up on every barrel supplied.”
“On every barrel?” I ask. “Don’t you mean just on the barrels that would go to new markets along Trans Mountain?”
“No. On all barrels.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“The spot price goes up.”
“The daily price. The oil sands price is determined daily by traders in what’s called ‘the spot market.’ The price is discounted against the price of a US light oil called West Texas Intermediate.”
“Oh, well, it makes sense that it would sell for less because oil sands crude is lower quality. I mean, it’s tar sands, right?” I ask.
“I’d never get away with using that term, but you’re right. And whatever we call it, oil sands crude costs more to process than light oil and costs more to move to market. Right now, West Texas Intermediate is selling for a hundred and five dollars a barrel, and Western Canadian Select oil sands crude, for example, is being sold at fifteen dollars a barrel less—so for ninety dollars a barrel. That fifteen dollar a barrel discount for oil sands crude compared to the US light oil price is reasonable when lower quality and higher transportation costs are considered.”
“Is there always a discount for oil sands?”
“Always. What do you think would happen if the industry starts to aggressively increase supply but no new pipeline capacity is provided?” Kat asks.
“Um, too much supply makes the price go down?”
“Right. The thirty-eight billion dollars in oil producer revenues is calculated by making the discount on Western Canadian Select about three dollars per barrel less, because the new pipeline would move the oil sands crude to new markets. And when that happens, the price on every barrel of oil sands crude would go up, while the price of light oil would stay the same.”
“So you’re saying that some of the biggest companies in the world keep pumping tar sands crude, purposely oversupply the market, and when they do that it causes the spot price to fall. Then they build another pipeline to recover the price for tar sands crude they had to begin with?” I ask. “It sounds like they aren’t actually losing money, are they?”
Kat hesitates. “Well, when you put it that way, it doesn’t seem right, does it? When the price falls because there’s too much supply and not enough pipeline capacity, it’s not a loss. I mean, they’re still making money or they wouldn’t produce, but they’re saying they could make more money if they had a pipeline.”
“Right,” I say. “Just like you could make more money if you had a penis.”
”Good point, Trainer,” Kat says laughing. “The cost of being a woman—25 percent less income.”
“Hey, why don’t we have a national regulator look into wages and salaries?” I say. “A National Equivalency Board.”
“Yeah, why don’t we?” Kat says.
“Get that NEB to hold a hearing into closing the gender wage gap,” I say. “At least it’s a discount problem that’s real.”
“Fuck, yeah,” she answers.
“It’s not going to happen, Kat, so finish explaining how they come up with thirty-eight billion if the pipeline is built.”
“They take the three dollars a barrel price increase, from alleviating excess supply with a new pipeline, and multiply that against all the barrels the industry says it will supply. And they do that every year until 2035.” Kat sits back and pauses. “You’re right, Trainer. It’s not making sense.”
“You know, Kat, if I was going to invest in a tar sands project, spend billions of dollars on it and expect my wells to produce bitumen for decades, I’d make some long-term plans. There’s no way I’d expose myself to a daily spot market price. And if I did, it would be because I still made money, so I wouldn’t whine about it.”
“This whole producer revenue benefit from a new pipeline hangs on the notion that all barrels are affected by the spot price, but that’s not how business operates, Trainer. Producers supply a lot of their oil under long-term contracts, or feed it directly into their own upgraders and refineries, so they aren’t taking a hit if the spot price for heavy oil falls relative to the price for light oil.”
“Can you send me the reports that say all barrels are affected by the spot price?”
“There’s only one report I know of. I’ll send you the link.” Kat types on her keyboard. “It’s the one Enbridge commissioned for the Northern Gateway hearing.”
“Oh, only one? Don’t all companies calculate potential revenue from new pipelines using the same weird logic as Kinder Morgan?”
“No, none of them do.”
“Now you mention it, Trainer, that’s strange too. Not one company provided their own analysis of how a new pipeline will increase oil sector revenues.”
“That’s telling,” I say. “You think these companies know it’s nonsense?”
“I don’t know. Enbridge’s consultant claims all barrels are affected. Then he estimates that thirty-eight billion dollar benefits figure.”
“And everyone gets sucked into a manufactured crisis,” I say.
Kat takes a deep breath and sighs. “Well, I better get to work and see if I can make some sense of it. My boss wants the brief by tomorrow morning.”
“Maybe there’s a shortcut.”
“What do you mean?”
“I found this,” I say, forwarding the link. “It’s called the Western Canadian Oil Supply Forecast. It projects an increase of two million barrels a day by 2021. That’s a lot more oil coming on in a really short period of time, isn’t it?”
“That’s why the industry association says producers want Northern Gateway, Trans Mountain’s expansion and Keystone XL.”
“It’s a direct pipeline to the US Gulf Coast.”
“How many pipelines do these guys need?”
“Depends how much oil they pump out of the ground. There’s no limit, it seems.”
“Well, there might be. Did you get the report I just sent?” I ask.
“Just came in.” Kat opens the link. “Oh, thanks. I’ve seen this. That’s the supply forecast Enbridge’s consultant used.”
“So what if it’s exaggerated too?” I ask.
Kat looks like she’s running numbers in her head. “Given how many billions of dollars it costs to invest in one oil sands project and how many years it takes after a company makes a final investment decision to extracting the first oil…I hadn’t considered how aggressive the supply forecast is.”
“Tell me again, how much dilbit is supposed to flow down Trans Mountain’s new pipeline?” I ask.
“Five hundred and forty thousand barrels a day.”
“What if tar sands producers don’t invest enough in these projects to create a rapid expansion in supply, Kat? Wouldn’t that mean there’s no benefit from building another pipeline? Wouldn’t this whole producer benefit claim become irrelevant?”
“If they don’t oversupply the market to begin with? I see what you’re asking, and yeah, based on their model, there wouldn’t be any producer revenue benefits from another pipeline.”
“It’s all based on a really exaggerated estimate of supply growth in the tar sands, isn’t it?”
“When you unpack it like that, Trainer, it is. Trans Mountain’s new pipeline could end up not being used. That would be a huge cost to the economy.”
“How reliable is the supply projection?”
“I’d have to dig more deeply into the numbers to test them.”
“How will you do that?”
“Probably have to look at each oil sands project to see how much of the supply in the forecast is coming from projects that are already operating and under construction versus supply from projects that are, well, on producers’ wish lists.”
“You mean, they could be saying they need more pipelines when they don’t even have wells drilled or mines built to get the bitumen out of the ground to fill them?”
“That’s what they could be saying. When supply growth is supposed to come from projects that don’t yet exist, forget about what it might cost to build a pipeline. Oil sands producers are going to need piles of financing way, way beyond that.”
“Hard to say without crunching a lot of numbers, and the afternoon is ticking away. I’ve got to get this report done…but the investment needed has got to be into the hundreds of billions of dollars.”
“Just to make sure I’ve got it, Kat. If the projected growth in tar sands supply is supposed to come mostly from new projects, then the question isn’t whether Trans Mountain’s pipeline will produce those alleged billions in revenue, the question is where are these companies going to get the money so they can build all the new tar sands extraction projects?”
“Don’t know why I didn’t think of it before,” Kat answers, “but, yeah, I was so focussed on the hype. Everyone here at work accepted that supply projection and the claim that all barrels are affected by spot market pricing, so I did too.”
“And now you don’t.”
“Well, let’s just say, I’m skeptical enough to do some serious digging.”
“Let me know what you find, Kat. I’m off to the library in search of an investigation that apparently proves Richard Kinder was in on Enron’s accounting shenanigans before he left. If I track it down, I’ll send it to you.”
It’s been a long time since I made a visit to the West End library. I walk through the front door and up to the desk. It’s not very busy today. Must be the hot weather.
“Excuse me, um, Ms. Swanson,” I say to the librarian. That’s what the nameplate on the desk says. She looks up and smiles.
“I’m looking for this document, and I hope you can help.” I hand her the reference.
“Let’s see,” she says, taking the paper. “This goes a long way back.” Ms. Swanson moves to her computer, puts her glasses on and hits a few keys. “Yes, I do believe you can access that. The terminals are over there.” She points to a bank of computers along the wall that weren’t here the last time I came.
“Are you familiar with our system?”
“Let me show you.” She heads for the terminal.
Ms. Swanson is patient. Rather than locating the document herself, she has me go through each of the steps, letting me get a feel for the system.
“Oh my,” she says when the document comes on the screen. “Enron.”
“Do you know it?” I ask.
Ms. Swanson pulls a chair from in front of the neighbouring computer and sits. “More than twenty thousand people lost their jobs and their pensions because Enron collapsed. My uncle was one of them. Uncle Charlie ended up living in our basement.”
“I’m trying to find out when the fraud started,” I say. “Some senior guys left before the company imploded, but I think they helped set it up.”
I search the document while Ms. Swanson talks. “Uncle Charlie said Enron had too much power, what with their lobbying and campaign contributions. They could get politicians and regulators to agree to just about anything.”
“Enron was a big financial supporter of George Bush, you know, both senior and junior. It started with Enron’s senior executives getting the politicians on board. It didn’t take long for them to get the regulators in line after that. The auditors and investment bankers had a field day making loads of money by colluding with Enron. They were all in on the shady accounting practices.”
“Sounds like people who should have told Enron ‘no’ kept saying ‘yes,’” I say.
She nods. “Uncle Charlie didn’t see it coming. He was close to retiring when he lost his job and life savings. He never really recovered.” Ms. Swanson looks toward her desk where someone’s waiting. “Oh, I should get back.”
I return to review the document and find the section I want. The US Joint Committee on Taxation said that Richard Kinder himself recommended “Project Tanya” to his fellow Enron board members in 1995—before he left to set up Kinder Morgan. Named after a hurricane, the scheme was designed so that Enron didn’t pay capital gains tax on earnings they made from selling corporate stock. What’s more, Enron’s auditor, Arthur Anderson, was paid half a million dollars for conjuring up Project Tanya—just the first in a string of schemes that continued until the company filed for bankruptcy.
I email a copy of the US report to my computer and to Kat. I give her the relevant page numbers so she can confirm how Richard Kinder was instrumental in implementing a plan to rip off the US treasury and exaggerate earnings reported to shareholders at the same time.
I stop by the reference desk before I leave the library. “Many of the same people from Enron plan to build a tar sands pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby,” I tell her. “Then they’ll load the toxic crude onto tankers that’ll head out every single day across English Bay and into the Salish Sea.”
“I had no idea.” Ms. Swanson takes her glasses off. “We’d better watch out, then, hadn’t we?”
The rain is pelting down as I leave the library. When I arrive home, Skype is chiming. I rush to my computer where the icon says “Mom.” I click on audio.
“Hi, Mom, can you hang on? I need to grab a towel.”
I take a towel from the bathroom shelf and dry my hair quickly. “I’m back, Mom. How are you?”
“We’re fine, Trude. I got your message. Is it something important?”
“I just wanted to see how you’re doing.”
“Your father and I are fine.”
“Good. Well, I was just checking in.”
“That’s nice. Have you heard from your brother?”
“We shot some baskets last night. He’s good.”
“Good. So you’re both fine?”
“Oh, just a sec, Trude, the timer’s beeping. I have to take a pie out of the oven. Is there anything else?”
“No, Mom. There’s nothing.”
“Alright, then. Let’s talk another time?”
“Sure, Mom.” I disconnect Skype and open my email to download the US government document. What a day. And it’s not even dinnertime.
Monday morning, I put on my rain gear and snap on my pack. I grab my bike and am out the door earlier than usual. Why not ride past English Bay and take the hill up Davie? I feel stronger this morning. I can look at the bay and not see a slew of oil tankers parked there.
The tide is out, I see, as I ride westward along the Seawall. I like the sound when rainwater from shallow puddles hits my tires and mixes with the mew of seagulls. I like the faint taste of salt in the air and make a mental note to take this route more often.
I pull on my brakes, standing to look out over the bay where there’s a smattering of cargo ships. I’m used to seeing those. They aren’t very big. It’s a question of congestion. It’s not either-or—ships or no ships—it’s a question of where the tipping point is. “We’ve reached the limit of the curve, Kinder Morgan Boys, and you’re not on it,” I say out loud.
A homeless man stands by a garbage container holding a crumpled newspaper. He looks at me. It’s Ray. I first met him in the lane behind our family’s condo when I was in grade ten. It was my job to take our bottles and leave them at the side of the dumpster every Monday morning on my way to school. Ray must have figured out my routine, because he’d often be waiting when I showed up.
It took a while for Ray and me to start talking. I was a little cautious. So was Ray. He’d pretend to be busy rummaging through another bin across the lane. He’d wait until I was walking away before moving in. Then, one day, I waited. “Hey,” I called across the lane.
Ray stopped rummaging in the bin and balanced on its steel ridge that doubled as a ledge. He turned to face me.
“How’s it going?” I asked.
“Business is picking up,” he deadpanned.
Today I see he’s attached an umbrella to his shopping cart so he can read the paper without getting wet.
“Hi, Trainer. Saw you looking at the water. Heard you talking to yourself.” Ray chuckles. “You know where that leads, don’t you?”
“I was looking at the cargo ships and the spaces between them.”
“They say there’s a pipeline coming.” Ray points to the newspaper he’s holding. It’s the business section of the Daily Post. Must be Saturday’s paper. He angles the paper so I can read the headline. “Kinder Morgan to Expand Trans Mountain Pipeline.”
“After they build it,” Ray says, “there’ll be more than four hundred oil tankers a year coming into this bay. Oil tankers are bigger than those cargo ships,” he says nodding toward the few ships at anchor.
“May I take a look at that?” I ask.
Ray wipes ketchup off the edge of the page with his hand and passes me the paper. I read while he searches in the bin for a napkin, finds one cleaner than his fingers and wipes them.
“It says tanker traffic passing through English Bay will increase from five tankers a month to thirty-four—yep, that’s more than four hundred a year, Ray. It says it’s unlikely to spill and if it does, it’ll be cleaned up.” Alligator Shoes’s message is making the rounds. No mention of tar sands, no mention of cost, just the prospect of huge economic gains for Canada because of thousands of jobs, corporate profits funding social programs and billions of dollars of increased producer revenues.
“Mind if I hold onto this?” I ask.
“Knock yourself out, Trainer. I’ve got work to do.” Ray rummages through the garbage. “Can’t live on fresh air and good looks alone, y’know.”
“Thanks, Ray.” I fold the paper and put it in my pack before it gets wetter. “See you later.”
“See you later,” he says as he throws a bottle into his buggy.
I walk a few steps, stop and turn to look at Ray. “How do you know?”
“Know what?” he asks.
“That the oil tankers are bigger than cargo ships. It’s not in the article.”
Ray looks up. “I can see Burrard Inlet from my tree house in the park.” Ray throws a pop can into his cart and smiles. “Best waterfront view in the city, Trainer, and you can’t beat the rent.” Ray looks out over the bay. “There aren’t many, but they are big. They slink away on high tide taking up most of the channel under the bridge. That article says five oil tankers a month, but I’ve never seen more than two or three.”
“Why would the article say five tankers a month when there aren’t?” I ask.
“Why does anyone lie?” he responds, still looking out over the bay.
I follow Ray’s gaze. The rain has eased up since last night. Random raindrops gently plop into the smooth surface of the water against a backdrop of low-lying grey clouds. A rainy day like this usually calms me, but this morning my stomach hurts.
I head up Davie Street, mulling over the article while I pedal. I already knew Kinder Morgan was planning to send diluted bitumen down the new pipeline, not oil, so they’re not forthright there. But Ray says there’s no way there are five tankers a month passing through the bay, and I trust Ray. Why would Kinder Morgan lie to the public about the numbers? People lie because they are afraid they won’t get what they want if they tell the truth.
I stand on the pedals, putting pressure into the handlebars to ride uphill. Of course. Kinder Morgan’s downplaying the risk. That’s what it’s about. Pretend there are more tankers now so the increase after the pipeline expansion seems like less of a jump.
I reach the crest of the hill and sit on the bike seat. A few more pedal strokes and gravity takes over. My bike rolls downhill. Maybe there’s more to it. Could fudging the number of tankers exaggerate the actual demand for tankers shipping dilbit? Supposedly, markets in Asia are thirsty for tar sands crude. At least that’s what Kat said the industry association claims.
I see the green light at the intersection ahead. Fresh green or stale? Not sure. Better slow down. Heading into an intersection at full speed on a yellow light is courting danger. A car turning left isn’t going to expect a biker at full speed. I make it safely through the intersection before the light changes. As I pedal down Seymour Street I remind myself to find out how many tankers a month are loaded at Kinder Morgan’s dock and where those tankers go.
I roll into the Bay parkade and check my watch. Just in time.
Aadarsh doesn’t come in until noon. There’s a new guy, Robert, working the early shift. “Hey, Robert,” I wave.
He doesn’t look up from his phone. “Hey.”
“Much going on?” I ask.
“Nope.” Still doesn’t look up.
“Just checking. You know, getting the lay of the land before I start.” Thinking it may draw him out, I lean on the windowsill.
Robert sighs like he’s disgusted. “Mind much?” He turns his phone away, finally looking up.
“Hey, sorry, I wasn’t trying to read what’s on your phone or anything.” I raise both my hands, motioning surrender, and step back. “I just wanted some info. We work together, is all.”
“Here’s some info: go put on your gear and do your job. You want to know what’s going on, go look.”
“I put my gear on every day and do my job, Robert. You don’t have to be rude.” I turn and walk away. I reach the employee change room and unlock my locker.
Barbara walks in, looking like she just stepped off the movie set of Singing in the Rain. Her Burberry knock-off trench coat, courtesy of The Bay, is snugly belted at her waist. Her high-heeled rain boots match the design of her umbrella. Dressed to arrest.
“You’ll never guess, Trainer, you’ll never guess,” Barbara says even before saying hello. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
It isn’t worth the effort to explain Robert’s rudeness. Instead I sigh, “Long weekend.”
“I know.” Barbara says, sitting beside me. She nudges me playfully with her shoulder. It makes me feel better.
“You know what I did yesterday?’ she asks.
“I spent all day looking at environmental risks. Like, what happens when there’s an oil spill? Who responds, who pays, how much insurance is there, that kind of thing. Once this dilbit spills, the light stuff that’s mixed with it—the condensate—goes into the air, and people breathe it in. Causes all kinds of health problems.”
Barbara takes her phone out of her purse and glances at it. “Time to go.”
We leave the change room and walk along the service hallway.
“That’s not the worst of it,” she continues. “With the condensate in the air, the bitumen sinks. It’s tarry, heavy stuff and really, really hard to clean up ’cause it’s so hard to find once it’s under water.”
We pass through the service door separating staff from customers. It takes us into the perfume and makeup department. I glance at a Chanel beach bag draped over a mannequin’s shoulder. For a limited time, the beach bag is free as long as I spend a hundred dollars on Chanel products. How could it be free if I have to spend a hundred dollars? Why do I need lipstick at the beach?
“It’s bad enough they only recover about 15 percent of a conventional oil spill when it hits water,” Barbara says.
“They only recover 15 percent?”
“Yeah, if that, and oil floats. The industry says bitumen doesn’t sink, but in 2010 there was this huge spill in Michigan. About twenty thousand barrels of dilbit leaked from an Enbridge pipeline into the Kalamazoo River. The condensate evaporated into the air, and the bitumen sank to the bottom and mixed with the riverbed.”
“I didn’t know Kalamazoo was a river,” I say. “What does a spill of twenty thousand barrels look like, Babs?”
“Horrible. I saw pictures of birds soaked, grasslands saturated, the river turned black.”
“No, I mean how much oil’s in twenty thousand barrels? Hand me your phone.” I search “litres of oil in a barrel.” I’m told it is forty-two gallons in the US or one hundred and fifty-nine litres in Canada. I do the math. “So, that would be more than three million litres of spilt dilbit. I still don’t get what that looks like.”
“How much does an Olympic-sized pool hold?” asks Barbara.
I check. “Wow. What went into the Kalamazoo River was 25 percent more than an Olympic-sized poolful.”
“Just ten days before Enbridge’s pipeline ruptured,” says Barbara, “one of their vice-presidents told a US congressional committee that an oil spill simply couldn’t happen, no way—and then the pipeline ruptured.”
We arrive at the escalator, already in motion because the store will soon be open. I resist an urge to sit on the bannister and ride up like Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins. Barbara steps on the escalator after me. I turn to face her.
“The Kalamazoo spill happened three years ago,” she says, “but it still isn’t cleaned up. So much for ‘It won’t spill and if it does, it’ll get cleaned up.’ It took seventeen hours before Enbridge figured out it had a leak, but the industry says nobody will ever make that mistake again. They say they’ll get there quickly enough, before the bitumen sinks.”
I turn and step off the escalator and Barbara follows. We do a U-turn and hop on the next one.
“Kalamazoo was a fresh water spill, Trainer. A spill in the ocean, because it’s salt water, might be different.”
“What about the spills that have happened in the ocean?” I ask.
“That’s just it. Dilbit’s hardly been shipped on the ocean. There isn’t any spill experience. I mean, we’re talking about really, really small amounts of dilbit shipped by sea. The researchers do lab tests but, of course, the findings are inconclusive. Convenient, isn’t it?”
“Lab tests? What? With a tank the size of a bathtub?”
“Pretty much. A big aquarium that rocks to simulate waves.”
“How stupid. Kinder Morgan pretends it’s experienced with ocean vessels and dilbit, but it isn’t—so that’s more misinformation.”
“What do you mean?” Barbara asks.
“Kinder Morgan says it’s been shipping this stuff safely for decades, and also at least five oil tankers a month go through the bay. But Ray sees the tankers, and he says it’s less than that.”
“So you think Kinder Morgan’s lying,” Barbara offers.
We walk past racks of sale dresses marked 50 to 70 percent off. Impressive, except merchandise comes into shipping and receiving already marked down as loss-leaders to get women into change rooms. On their way to try on deeply discounted dresses they can afford, they pass more appealing ones they can’t. They try those on too. Guess which ones they buy?
“But why is Kinder Morgan lying? Is that the next question of the day?” I ask.
“No, that would be too easy,” Barbara chuckles. She casually pulls a dress away from the others to get a better look. She does this all day long.
Using Barbara’s phone, I check the size of the tankers that call at Kinder Morgan’s dock. “More than four hundred oil tankers a year, and each of them will head out through English Bay carrying almost six hundred thousand barrels of bitumen laced with condensate.”
“It’s worse, Trainer. I found out that once the tanker leaves the dock, the vessel owner takes over responsibility for the oil. If it spills, it’s not Kinder Morgan’s problem.”
“Are you saying that Kinder Morgan’s off the hook if dilbit spills into English Bay?”
“That’s what I’m saying.”
“How is that fair?” I ask.
“It’s not,” Barbara says.
We are at the overpass linking the store with the parking garage. Barbara pulls out her keys and unlocks the door, pushing it open. I walk a few steps into the overpass. There’s a faint sound of honking horns from Seymour Street below.
“How long has Kinder Morgan operated Trans Mountain pipeline, Trainer?”
“Less than a decade,” I answer as I walk backwards along the walkway.
“Another lie.” Barbara says. “Kinder Morgan claims it’s been shipping dilbit for decades when it’s owned the pipeline for less than ten years. Do these guys ever tell the truth?”
“Here’s the question of the day for you, Babs. What’s Kinder Morgan’s pipeline spill record like?” I ask.
“On it,” she says, and walks quickly back into the store. Barbara’s cover would be blown if authentic shoppers waiting on the other side saw her with me. She has to return to Ladies Wear before I unlock the door to the parkade.
Rainy days bring early shoppers. Three are waiting. I hold the door and stand back, letting them pass.
“Good morning, ladies. Welcome to The Bay.”
I must have fallen asleep at my desk because the Skype chime wakes me. As soon as I hit the accept button, Barbara says, “Kinder Morgan’s a felon, Trainer.”
“Well, let’s just say that safety isn’t their first priority. Here’s the answer to the question of the day: One of its gas lines exploded in Walnut Creek, in California, in 2004. The fireball killed five people and seriously injured four. I’ll send you a picture.”
“So the company was found guilty?”
“Yes. Kinder Morgan knew conditions were unsafe but did nothing about it.”
A picture of an explosion with flames shooting into the air and billowing black smoke appears on my screen.
“Kinder Morgan didn’t want to pay damages, so the grieving family members of the deceased were dragged through court proceedings.”
“But the judge made Kinder Morgan pay?” I ask.
“It took three years, but, eventually, yes. There’s a pattern.”
“What do you mean?”
“Kinder Morgan knows how to use the courts. First, it hid behind its corporate entities to protect the parent company, where the money is. When that didn’t work, it blamed the contractor, but that didn’t work either. And did you know that the existing Trans Mountain pipeline sprang a leak in a residential neighbourhood, in Burnaby, in 2007? It was after Kinder Morgan bought Trans Mountain. The pipeline squirted so much oil into the air that it stained the entire neighbourhood. Kinder Morgan knew it was at fault, but—get this—it took the municipality to court with a frivolous case to delay paying damages. I’ll send you a picture.”
This time it is a gusher squirting black oil over houses and cars.
“Kinder Morgan panicked and turned off the wrong valve when it tried to stop the leak, so the pipeline kept leaking,” Barbara explains. “Hundreds of residents were evacuated. More than a dozen government and private organizations have been involved in the clean-up, but it’s not finished yet because some of the oil went down the storm drains and into Burrard Inlet.”
“So that’s what Kinder Morgan means when it says, ‘We’ll clean it up.’ It’s not ‘we,’ as in the company, it’s ‘we,’ as in everyone else.”
“That’s right. Kinder Morgan didn’t bother to keep the pipeline route up-to-date, just like at Walnut Creek. The route wasn’t accurate on the contractor’s drawings, which were based on outdated information from the fifties. And because the company didn’t bother to update the drawings, it’s responsible for the damages.”
“But I thought it wouldn’t spill?”
“Yeah, except when it does. The people affected in Burnaby are still traumatized by the ordeal. They’ve started a group to stop the new pipeline from being built. It’s called Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion, BROKE for short.”
“That’s a great acronym.”
“The residents don’t want what happened to them to happen to anyone else. Kinder Morgan’s safety record is fucking abysmal. The Trans Mountain pipeline alone has a leak at least once every four years. Does that answer the question of the day?”
“Yeah, it does, thanks.” I remove the picture of an oil-slicked neighbourhood from my screen.
“What’ve you been up to?” Barbara asks.
“Before I fell asleep, I was trying to find Kinder Morgan’s business plan for the pipeline expansion. All I can find are references to jobs, government revenues and economic benefits—but no mention of how much it’ll cost to build, what the expansion means to Kinder Morgan’s profits or which companies plan to ship barrels on the pipeline.”
“I sent a request to Kinder Morgan’s investor relations department a couple of days ago. They said that for confidentiality reasons, they couldn’t provide a Trans Mountain Expansion business plan. But they sent me to their investor presentations on their website.”
“That’s not much,” Barbara yawns, “but you’ll figure it out.” She leans back in her chair and stretches her arms overhead. “I’ve got to get some sleep. It’s past midnight. Again.”
“I’ve got the answer to your question of the day from the other morning, but it can wait,” I say, baiting her.
She crosses her arms and rests them on the desk, leaning in toward her computer screen. “Please, Trainer, tell me why oil companies aren’t investing in upgrading and refining in Canada.”
“Nah, it’s late. You need your beauty rest.”
“You’re right, but I’m willing to sacrifice beauty for wisdom. Come on.”
“Okay. Canada’s oil producers invested south of the border, instead of at home.”
“Canadian oil companies built their upgraders in the States?”
“Kind of. Suncor, Husky and Cenovus—they’re all tar sands producers—bought US refineries and refit them with ‘coker units’ that process bitumen directly. So they ship a lot of their crude by pipeline for refining in the States. Imperial Oil’s owned by ExxonMobil, remember? Well, ExxonMobil is a huge US refiner, so there’s no need for Imperial to bother investing in processing tar sands crude at home when Daddy’s spent the money stateside.”
“What about other Canadian companies?”
“No need to build expensive processing units in Canada when they make more money selling their raw resources and shipping them by pipeline to refineries down in the Midwest and into the Gulf Coast. Here’s an interesting stat: Of the two million barrels of tar sands that Canada supplies each day, about 1.4 million barrels a day is exported to US refineries.”
“What the hell? That’s a lot.”
“The Alberta Federation of Labour calls it ‘rip it and ship it.’”
“What’s the Alberta Federation of Labour?”
“An organization representing a hundred and seventy-five thousand unionized workers. They’re worried about job losses in the tar sands from exporting dilbit rather than refining it in Canada. Because of these job losses, the Federation is going to intervene at the National Energy Board hearing against building Trans Mountain. Of course, Kinder Morgan says jobs will be created.”
“We’ll probably find out that’s another lie.”
“Stacking up to be, Babs. The Federation estimates that eighteen thousand jobs are lost for every four hundred thousand barrels of dilbit exported.”
“Everything points to big oil companies winning at the expense of everyone else, doesn’t it? What a scam, and the government’s in on it.”
“Yeah. Pretty discouraging,” I say.
“This pipeline’s not good for Canada at all, is it?”
“Wow, the oil sector is powerful.”
“And that’s why they call it the petro state. Anyway, it’s late. See you tomorrow, Babs.”
I open the reply from Investor Relations, click on the Kinder Morgan site and go to shareholder presentations. There are slide decks and audio recordings, hours and hours of talk, talk, talk.
First thing after work tomorrow, I’ll listen. Now I need sleep.
The next evening—and pretty well anytime I have free time—I listen to Kinder Morgan’s investor presentations. At first, not much makes sense. There are terms I don’t understand, but I look them up. After getting through a year’s worth of quarterly earnings presentations and other webcasts, I can see a pattern. I settle in on a Sunday morning to listen to Kinder Morgan’s annual investor day, more than six hours of presentations to a room full of financial analysts. These are the people who follow the company and write reports, telling their investors whether to buy, hold or sell the company’s stock.
Richard Kinder himself kicks it off with his corporate overview. “We’re enthusiastic about the future.” He doesn’t talk about Trans Mountain’s expansion, although he refers to the company’s backlog. “Steve Kean is going to talk to you about our backlog, which is 14.8 billion dollars in identified projects to be built over the next few years.” I bet Trans Mountain’s expansion is in there.
Otherwise, Kinder doesn’t say much that I haven’t heard before. He laments the market’s inability to properly reflect the value of Kinder Morgan’s stock. It’s a familiar routine.
I continue with mine. I finish a set of sit-ups, move onto push-ups, single leg squats and lunges. When I make it to planks, Kinder turns the mic over to Steve Kean, his second-in-command.
Kean worked at Enron for twelve years, reaching the position of executive vice-president and chief of staff prior to Enron’s demise. He’s among the Enron alumni who don’t mention on their Kinder Morgan website biographies that they ever worked at Enron. I did some research on him; he must be a pretty smart guy because it turns out he unloaded his Enron shares for five million bucks before the stock plummeted and the company filed for bankruptcy.
Kean begins to talk about Kinder Morgan Canada. “The big story here, of course, is the 5.4 billion dollar project that’s an end of 2017 completion.” So that’s what Trans Mountain’s new pipeline will cost. I jump up and write the figure on my notepad.
Trans Mountain’s expansion is the poster child for Kinder Morgan’s capital spending plans, and that’s how their earnings will grow. As earnings grow, so do dividends paid to shareholders, and as dividends to shareholders grow, so does the stock price. Everybody wins. Everybody that’s part of the Kinder Morgan circle, that is.
“Pipelines are controversial. More controversial than they used to be,” Kean warns. “Oil sands is controversial, and, ah, so, we have to…we have to convince a broad group of people that it’s okay…it’s okay…this project’s okay.”
Even if it means misleading them, Steve? I take a sip of water.
“Construction in Canada has always been a challenge,” Kean says. Then he assures his audience that Kinder Morgan is protected from construction cost overruns. “We’ve got our commercial contracts done. They’re binding. They’ve been approved by the NEB.”
What? When did that happen?
I have to find the commercial contracts. Putting Kean on pause, I scour the NEB website. Sure enough, the NEB already held a hearing to approve the commercial contract terms and the pipeline tolls Trans Mountain shippers will pay once the expansion is operating.
Oil producers like Suncor, Husky and Imperial that use Trans Mountain’s pipeline are referred to as “shippers,” even if their products are delivered to land-based refineries in Washington State or Burnaby. “Commercial contracts” with shippers define how Kinder Morgan will make back from future toll rates what it costs the company to build the new pipeline.
By listening to these investor presentations over the past week, I’ve discovered that less than 20 percent of the barrels shipped down the pipeline is delivered to the dock in Burnaby and loaded onto ships. Ray’s observation of very few oil tankers moving through the inlet seems more accurate after all than the company’s claim of five a month. The Westridge dock typically loads two or three tankers a month, and once the crude is loaded onto a marine vessel, just like Barbara said, Kinder Morgan is done. Safety on the ocean is none of its concern, even though the company makes public statements giving the impression it carries a huge burden.
Having satisfied his audience that the cost to expand Trans Mountain represents no risk to Kinder Morgan’s investors because construction costs are guaranteed to be repaid from pipeline tolls, Kean’s presentation is finished and so is my workout. I move on to cleaning my apartment.
Kinder introduces the president of Canadian operations, Ian Anderson, who made the trip all the way from Calgary to Houston to talk about Trans Mountain’s expansion. “I like how they keep shoehorning me in before lunch,” Anderson says.
Shoehorning? I listen intently. Is that Alligator Shoes?
“And thanks for the accommodating weather,” he adds. “I really appreciate it.”
No, not Alligator Shoes, because this guy sounds easygoing.
Anderson also talks about Kinder Morgan’s contract terms with shippers. He says thirteen different companies have committed to long-term “take-or-pay” contracts, tying them into seven hundred thousand barrels a day of capacity once the expansion is complete. Now I get it. Take-or-pay contracts mean pipeline users—oil companies—agree to pay tolls whether or not they use the capacity they commit to. This is how Kinder Morgan is assured it will receive a steady stream of revenue.
Wait a second. Kat had said the expansion means five hundred and forty thousand barrels a day of capacity for dilbit shipments. How can seven hundred thousand barrels a day be contracted? Then it hits me. Some of the demand for pipeline capacity isn’t for the new pipeline; it’s for space on the existing pipeline. Oil companies that currently negotiate every month for space on the Trans Mountain pipeline to ship products to BC and Washington State want to lock in capacity for the petro-products they already deliver to land destinations. I bet companies like BP and Tesoro—who own refineries in Cherry Point and Anacortes, in Washington—and Suncor and Imperial—who ship refined oil products on the existing line to Burnaby to sell in gas stations throughout the Lower Mainland—have signed up as long-term shippers.
Anderson talks about the earnings coming from operating the existing pipeline, earnings that go directly to Texas. “It’s in the one-hundred-and-thirty-million-dollar range,” he says. As I flush the toilet, I wonder what that means in per-barrel terms. My gloves come off; I get my calculator out: Divide $130 million by three hundred and sixty-five days to get a daily profit of, let’s see, $356,164. Divide that by three hundred thousand barrels-a-day capacity on the existing line, and it means that, for every barrel that flows along the Trans Mountain pipeline, about one dollar and twenty cents goes to Texas.
According to a document on the NEB website, that’s about half the toll rate that Kinder Morgan charges to ship a barrel. Wow, that’s like a 50 percent profit.
Anderson tells investors that once the second pipeline is built, the cash Kinder Morgan gets to keep “goes up to eight hundred and fifty million dollars.” That’s a big increase in cash that gets siphoned from the Canadian economy every year. On a per barrel basis it’s—what? I do the math. After expansion, Kinder Morgan expects to take home to Texas two dollars and sixty cents a barrel, more than twice what it gets now, even if the shippers don’t use the pipeline. No wonder he’s excited about the expansion. Trans Mountain is a gravy train, and Kinder Morgan is banking on it.
So if all that money drains into the US, how can Kinder Morgan claim that it’s a benefit to the Canadian economy? What do Kinder Morgan’s shippers get? For some, they get long-term access to a pipeline they already use to deliver crude and petroleum products to existing markets, but they will have to pay more than twice what they now pay. The increase in tolls will be passed on to consumers at the pumps, I bet; what do oil producers care?
Glad I don’t have a car, I would hate to know that every time I fill my tank I’d be helping to pay for a pipeline I don’t want.
Anderson explains that something called “book taxes” are added back to earnings, so his audience doesn’t need to worry about Kinder Morgan having to pay them.
Trans Mountain doesn’t expect to pay its taxes? I replay the explanation.
That’s what he says. Kinder Morgan doesn’t expect Trans Mountain to pay Canadian taxes. I grab my computer, close the lid of the toilet and sit on the seat so I can check the slides that accompany Anderson’s presentation. There it is. “Trans Mountain Distributable Cash Flow”—a five-year table laying out how Kinder Morgan pays very little, and often no, corporate taxes in Canada. How can Kinder Morgan tell Canadians its pipeline expansion will fund social programs when Trans Mountain doesn’t pay taxes?
I put the cleaning supplies under the sink and walk back to my desk. So they lie about producer benefits by relying on an unrealistic supply forecast, they lie about jobs because more jobs are lost than gained, and now I find out they lie about the tax revenues.
I write Wes an email summarizing what I’ve learned. I want to make sure I haven’t missed anything, and maybe he can help shed some light on how Kinder Morgan gets away with practically no tax burden. I email him with the subject line “Pariah of the Public Purse?”
When Wes emails me back, he’s changed the subject line to “Pariah of the Public Purse and Worse.”
Show up at the beach for volleyball tonight or else. I know you’ve been busy, but you missed last week. You need to spend as much time enjoying what you are trying to protect as you do protecting it.
Your loving brother, Wes.
He’s attached a picture of his smiling face “in case you’d forgotten what I look like.”
That evening, as I head for the beach, I enjoy the satisfaction of having closed the door behind me on a very clean apartment.
The sand feels warm under my feet, and the early evening sun on my face is comforting. The bay is calm.
“Good, you’re here,” Kat says. “You, Wes and Liz against us.” Kat has a quarter in the palm of her hand. “Call it, Trainer.”
“Heads,” I say.
She flips the coin in the air and catches it but keeps her fist closed. “What if I had two tails?” Kat asks.
“Two tails?” says Wes, “Heck, Kat, I didn’t know you had one.”
Flick grabs Kat by the arm. “It should be sad, but why is it I feel like laughing?” he says, looking at her butt.
We’re all laughing, except for Kat. She keeps her fist closed around the coin, batting away Flick’s hand. “What I mean is, what if it’s not a fair toss? What if you think it’s fair, but it’s not?” she asks.
“It’s just a coin toss,” I say. “We’ll give you first serve and still beat you.”
“But what if it’s more than a coin toss for first serve in a volleyball game?” Kat persists, her tone serious. “What if you’re betting away our beach?”
“I only bet on sure things,” says Flick. “This is war.” He throws the volleyball to the sand.
“You bet it’s war. They’re setting us up,” Kat says.
“Who is?” Barbara asks.
“These oil companies.”
Wes puts a hand gently on Kat’s arm. “Tell us what’s up.”
“I was called into a meeting.” She looks at me. “What you said, Trainer? About the exaggerated oil sands supply forecast and hardly any barrels priced in the spot market? It was bang on. My boss was impressed with how I laid it all out, so he asked me to attend a meeting with a bunch of executives from a big advertising firm.”
“Anytime, Kat,” I say, sitting on the log and crossing my legs.
“What happened at the meeting’s been bothering me since,” Kat continues. “These ad guys gave this slick presentation about how to bring a message to the people.” She runs her hand over her hair. “So smooth. All innuendo. These guys call themselves communications experts, but what they do is lobby government and develop media campaigns to manipulate public opinion.”
“What were they pitching to your boss?” asks Wes. He sits on the log beside me.
“A way to get Canadians to accept—no, demand—rapid supply growth in the oil sands.”
“What does that even mean, Kat?” asks Barbara, taking a seat beside Wes.
“Oh,” Kat pauses. Liz sits down on the log beside me, then Flick sits beside Liz. “Well, let’s see. How can I put it another way?” She stands with her back to the water, looking at us sitting in a row. “There’s the ongoing supply of oil we get every day from currently operating projects, and then there’s new supply that will come from projects that companies have invested in. That supply is pretty much guaranteed because the projects are actually under construction, and that supply will soon be coming out of the ground. But if no new investment is made, oil sands supply will stop growing. The industry would continue to pump out crude from existing projects, but they’d have enough pipeline capacity. They wouldn’t need Trans Mountain’s expansion.”
“So that means, what? If companies want to increase the number of barrels beyond what their operating projects and the ones under construction supply, they’ll have to invest more money to start more projects?” asks Barbara.
“Hundreds of billions of dollars more. The industry association has thrown all caution to the wind and padded its projections with supply from future oil sands projects without knowing where the money is going to come from to build them. Oil companies have to raise the financing, and there’s a lot of risk to that, particularly when investors see the public’s against supply growth in the oil sands. Investors won’t take that risk, so future oil sands projects are very uncertain.”
Barbara slides down to the sand, her back now against the log. “So…those ad men need to con Canadians into begging for rapid tar sands supply growth.”
“Yep,” replies Kat. “They think they can scare us into believing that the only way to create jobs and prosperity is to keep expanding the oil sands at record rates.”
“But it’s the last thing we need,” says Liz, looking at Kat. “Canada can’t meet its greenhouse gas emission targets if the oil sands keep growing. Greenhouse gases are warming the planet. In order to stop the world from frying, we need to stop growth.” Liz slides from the log to sit on the sand too and wraps her arms around her knees.
Kat picks up where Liz leaves off. “Oil producers know it too, but the longer they keep the public in the dark, the more money they’ll make feeding foreign markets with cheap crude and deepening their dependency on fossil fuels. The ad guys didn’t say it, but it was pretty obvious they believe if we’re stupid enough to accept their propaganda, we deserve it.”
“How are they going to do it?” asks Wes. “How’re they going to get us to beg for more?”
“Here’s where their con game comes in,” says Kat. “For Trans Mountain’s expansion to make sense, oil sands producers need to be supplying enough oil sands to fill the pipelines. But they’ll need hundreds of billions in investment dollars to build the projects—”
“I get it now,” Barbara interrupts. “They want the pipeline approved, but they don’t extract enough tar sands to actually fill it. So they need to grow supply rapidly. But they want it to appear as if the demand to expand the tar sands is coming from every Canadian. The problem is, Canadians aren’t stupid enough to beg them to destroy the planet, so they set up a propaganda campaign designed to get us to beg for a pipeline. Wow.”
“Yep,” confirms Kat. “They just assert investment will happen. But the truth is, they need Trans Mountain approved as a signal to investors that Ottawa will make sure that sinking their money into rapid oil sands growth is worth the risk.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” says Wes. “Isn’t that circular? I mean, they exaggerate supply projections to give the illusion investment in new tar sands projects has been made when it hasn’t, and when the expansion’s approved, they’ll use that approval to attract investment money to make sure there’s enough oil to fill it.”
“Pretty much,” says Kat. “Like Flick said, why take a risk if you can bet on a sure thing? If Trans Mountain’s pipeline expansion gets approved, it means no one in government is serious about addressing global warming. That’s the signal to investors that big oil is waiting for.”
“Oil companies are betting the public can be deceived into thinking the pipeline is urgently needed. Once it’s built, all bets on addressing climate change are off,” I echo and slide to the sand.
“That’s their wager,” Kat says. “They can’t leave it to a fair toss, so they’ve concocted this propaganda that delaying the pipeline expansion costs the Canadian economy millions every day. The campaign is designed to scare Canadians with a fabricated loss that can only be recovered by building Trans Mountain’s twin.”
“It’s a lie, a big fat juicy one, and everybody loves a well-fed lie,” says Flick, pretending to smoke a cigarette like Natalie Portman in Closer.
“Big oil is stealing its strategy right out of big tobacco’s playbook—lying to manipulate the public into doing something the companies know will kill us,” I say.
Flick sits beside Liz, leaning his back against the log while taking another imaginary drag.
“How much do they say the delay costs our economy?” asks Wes.
Kat still clenches the quarter in her fist. She sits beside Flick. “Fifty million dollars a day.”
“They’re playing us for suckers,” says Wes.
“That’s for sure,” sighs Kat. “These guys sat around the table after their presentation and laughed about how easy it is. ‘Say jobs will be lost and a few hospitals and schools won’t get built, and people will let you do anything to them,’ one guy said.”
“Why were they pitching this to your boss?” Wes asks.
“To coordinate our analyst reports with a media blitz on the need for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Some backing from a boutique investment firm like ours would be helpful.”
“Bloodsuckers,” Wes says quietly, sliding down to sit on the sand.
Kat looks down at her clenched fist. “They know it’ll be repeated by politicians and reported on so often by journalists that the public will start to think it’s the truth.”
“Well, are we gonna just take this?” Flick asks.
“What can we do?” Kat sighs.
“Ask your boss to go public. He has credibility,” says Barbara.
“My boss wouldn’t go public,” says Kat. “Trans Mountain is way too political. He’s steering clear of it. He told me after the meeting that ‘controversy does nothing for our bottom line.’ Our company only needs a few more years to completely divest from oil sands exposure.”
“Divest?” asks Barbara.
“I shouldn’t have said that,” says Kat.
“Whoops,” says Wes. “Kat let the cat out of the bag.”
We all laugh, even Liz, although she can’t know it’s an old joke from our elementary school days.
“It goes no further than here, okay?”
“What’s said at the beach goes out with the tide,” confirms Wes.
“Our company analyzed the oil sands’ risks. We’ve concluded that most of the bitumen reserves will probably stay in the ground, which means oil sands companies are not a good investment for our clients. At the same time, a number of our clients want the bitumen to stay in the ground—they’re concerned about human-caused climate change, pollution, orcas, salmon, a future for their kids—so they’ve directed us to divest their holdings. The industry has a term for bitumen reserves that have become liabilities. They call them ‘stranded assets.’”
“My head is hurting,” says Barbara. “I wanted a nice game of volleyball, and now I’m caught in a web of lies without a PhD in economics.”
“Think of it this way,” says Kat. “For these oil sands companies, assets include the value of their reserves still in the ground. They expect to extract a little bit of those reserves every day—their daily supply—and they expect to do that for many years into the future, even for projects that haven’t been built.”
“Because they’ve invested in finding the reserves, even if they haven’t invested in getting the reserves out of the ground, they can claim that the reserves are assets?” asks Barbara.
“That’s it,” says Kat. “Exactly. They estimate the price they expect to get in the future for the reserves in the ground and claim those as assets. If those reserves can’t be extracted, they’ll lose their value. That lower value has to be recorded on the balance sheet. When asset values decline, share prices plummet. We invest our clients’ wealth by buying shares in companies that have potential. Oil sands potential has peaked, so we’re in the process of strategically selling off our holdings.”
“I guess your company is betting on a future worth living in, Kat,” I say.
“Our company is lining up our investment strategy with climate science. That’s where the smart money is headed. Like my boss said, ‘If oil companies have to lie to keep the music playing, it’s a soundtrack to a Ponzi scheme.’ Those ad execs don’t know it, but their presentation did them more harm than good.”
“How did your boss handle the ad men?” asks Wes.
“Oh, he was very polite during the meeting. Thanked them for their presentation but said our company would pass on the opportunity to participate in any way.”
We sit quietly. The sun, low in the sky, reflects golden off the water in a streamline reaching from the horizon to the beach. The past week has been very hot with clear days, but tonight there are a few wisps of clouds in the sky. It will be a beautiful sunset.
“How did they come up with a loss of fifty million dollars a day?” asks Liz, looking at Kat.
“Well, you have to start with the false premise that rapid growth in supply is going to take place no matter what. Given the level of investment risk, we know that’s unlikely to happen. But let’s just say oil sands producers magically raise the investment capital they need. Let’s say they build new projects and extract more crude, but the existing pipelines can’t handle the growth. The new oil sands supply stacks up in, say, Edmonton or Fort McMurray or wherever it is. Then the producers lower the price for just those barrels. But they pretend that every other barrel would sell at that lower price too, even though they wouldn’t. The market doesn’t work that way. It can’t work that way. The two million barrels a day supplied by Canadian oil producers aren’t all priced in the spot market. I bet it’s not even one in five barrels.”
“What the hell, Kat? Fifty million dollars a day on two million barrels—fifty divided by two—that would mean a twenty-five dollar a barrel loss—on every barrel. Where did they get that?” I ask.
“My boss asked the same question, and they were cagey at first. Then they admitted fifty million dollars a day comes from an old newspaper article that quoted a bank analyst. They didn’t do any analysis. They just took the figure.”
“Pipeline pushers are getting brazen,” I say. “Kat sent me a report estimating oil producers would get three dollars a barrel more, not twenty-five. That means they’ve gone from claiming they’re losing six million to fifty million a day. And Kat’s right. Hardly any barrels are exposed to the spot market price anyway—at least that’s what Suncor, Husky and Imperial tell their shareholders. Those three companies produce about 60 percent of all the bitumen. They have business strategies in place to make sure they’re not hit by a lower price.”
“Business strategies like what?” asks Liz.
“Well, take Suncor. It’s the biggest. That one company produces 30 percent of all tar sands barrels. If the price of tar sands falls because a few barrels get backed up in Edmonton, it doesn’t really matter to them. They have their own upgraders and refineries, so a lot of Suncor’s wealth is captured in Canada. Low-cost tar sands that get turned into gasoline still sells at the same price at the pumps as gas produced from higher cost light oil. There’s no loss. For any tar sands crude that Suncor exports to the US, the company says it’s protected under long-term arrangements, so the discounted price is irrelevant. Even though Suncor produces tar sands crude, none of its production is exposed to the spot market price that this fifty-million-dollars-a-day scam is based on. Other big players, like Husky and Imperial Oil, protect their barrels from being exposed to the heavy oil price in much the same way.”
“But that’s not the message?” confirms Liz.
“No,” says Kat. “These ad guys start by inventing barrels that don’t exist so they can exaggerate the supply forecast, and then they pretend every barrel is hit by a price discount when, maybe, one in five barrels would be. Then they say the only way to solve the problem—a problem they’ve made up—is to build the expansion.”
Wes looks at me. “Tell them, True.”
I tell Kat, Flick and Liz about Alligator Shoes.
“They’re not just trying to manipulate public perception through false advertising,” says Kat. “They’re working back channels to get at politicians and the regulator, the National Energy Board, too.”
“When the NEB does its review, it’s supposed to publicly assess the need and commercial viability of the project,” says Liz. “You’ve got to get everything you know on record at the NEB’s hearing. You have to go bigger than the tanker risk and the threat to the beach. Show them how the benefits are concocted.”
“Seems to me that intervening in the NEB review just took on a whole new scope,” I say. “We have to expose the exaggerated supply projections and ridiculous price discounting argument.”
“Which reminds me, True,” says Wes. “I dug deeper on that tax information you sent me on Kinder Morgan’s book taxes. Looks like it set up a web of companies to take advantage of loopholes in the international tax treaty, so it barely pays corporate taxes at all. It’ll rely on those same loopholes to avoid paying taxes after the expansion. The so-called government revenues to fund social programs? They’re make-believe too.”
“Looks like we’ve got a lot of work to get ready for the NEB,” I say.
“We know the corporate taxes are bogus, and the producer revenues are made up,” says Kat.
“And,” Barbara says, “the Alberta Federation of Labour says there will be more job losses than job gains if dilbit is sent down the pipeline. The NEB can’t possibly recommend that the project proceed.”
“Not with any credibility,” Wes says, jumping up and retrieving the volleyball from the middle of the court where Flick had thrown it. “Let’s get a game in before it’s too dark.”
Kat slaps the quarter onto the back of her hand. “Heads,” she announces.
“Well, Kat,” Flick says as he walks onto the court, “guess you don’t have two tails.”
Kat laughs. “This is yours, Trainer,” Kat says, handing me the coin. “From Safeway.”
“Oh, yeah, thanks,” I say. “By the way, any chance you got a look at the shoes those ad guys were wearing?”
“Gee, Trainer, no. Sorry, but if I see anyone sporting alligator shoes, you are my first phone call.”
Liz, Kat, Flick and Wes are seated at the first booth in Letters when Barbara and I arrive. A full pitcher of water sits in the middle of the table, and our glasses are full. Barbara slips onto the bench beside Liz, and I pull up a chair. Wes calls the meeting to order.
“The NEB announced hearing dates and is accepting applications for intervenor status. Liz is going to walk us through the process,” he says.
“It’s going to move very quickly. It’s a serious departure from past hearings,” Liz cautions.
“Are you surprised?” I ask.
“I shouldn’t be, not after the heads-up about Alligator Shoes. The NEB’s set a tight timeline, narrowed its scope, limited participation and made the criteria for approving intervenors really stringent. What bothers me most is that they’ve removed cross-examination. Trainer, I know you said Alligator Shoes included that in his list, but I didn’t think the Board would stoop so low as to eliminate the only way to test the evidence. This is the first time the Board’s excluded cross-examination from a public hearing on an oil pipeline. It isn’t really a hearing without it. It becomes a paper-pushing exercise dressed up as natural justice.”
“What’s their excuse?” I ask.
“They don’t have time,” says Liz. “Ottawa wants the NEB to submit its report and recommendation within fifteen months.”
Liz reaches into her briefcase and places a document on the table. “Here’s the application form.” She runs her hands across the paper, smoothing it out even though it doesn’t need it. “You have to have special expertise or important knowledge in order to be approved.”
“So, growing up here and…well, what the beach means to us, that means nothing?” I ask.
“No,” she answers. She turns to a page near the end of the form and begins to read: “The Board does not intend to consider the environmental and socio-economic effects associated with upstream activities, the development of oil sands, or the downstream use of the oil transported by the pipeline.” She looks up from the document. “That means the Board won’t consider greenhouse gases from increased oil sands supply, or their impact on climate change or other environmental consequences, like rapidly expanded tailings ponds to hold the toxic by-products from supply expansion.”
“Welcome to the NEB climate change denial strategy,” I say.
“How does the NEB get away with this, Liz?” asks Wes.
“As a quasi-judicial body, they have wide-ranging powers to set whatever terms they want. Unless they make a huge error in law, they’ll get away with turning the hearing into a farce and hiding behind the complexity of the process so it’s impossible for the public to see what’s really going on.”
“What about exposing the exaggerated supply projections and that hundreds of billions of dollars of investments haven’t been made and aren’t likely to be?” I ask. “That’s got to be worth something.”
“You still can’t be an intervenor unless you have special expertise. Kat and Wes have degrees and experience,” Liz says. “That might do it, if you’re willing.”
A door slams in my face. Liz is speaking from inside a room I am not allowed into.
“Having a lawyer from a big firm helps,” Wes says. “Don’t forget, Flick works for the post office, so we could say that he has experience in the public sector. Barbara and True are security experts.” Wes picks the application form up from the table and flips through it, then hands it to Kat. I want to grab it and tear it up.
“What will you write, Liz?” Kat asks.
“I’ll focus on how your background and experience contribute to the Board’s understanding of commercial need and socio-economic impact. There are phrases we rely on for describing experts in court proceedings. I’ll use those. But, hey, welcome to the new face of democracy.”
‘“You're not naive enough to think we're living in a democracy, are you, Buddy?”’ asks Flick.
Liz gives Flick a puzzled look.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Liz. He’s quoting from Wall Street,” I yell, pushing my chair back from the booth and standing. “And this is such bullshit.”
“The process is contrived, I know,” Liz says uncomfortably.
“Contrived? It’s a conspiracy.” I walk away from the table, not sure where I’m headed. I stand in the centre of the dance floor.
“Why do we have to prove ourselves to overpaid political hacks in Calgary? We know those tankers threaten our beach. We know they’re going to ruin our bay. They know it too.” I turn and walk to the bar, slam my hands down and turn back to face my friends. “We know from Alligator Shoes and Kat’s advertising con men that it’s not about environmental risk anyway. The whole environmental impact assessment is a smokescreen. The NEB denies climate change in a paragraph. A paragraph! And then pretends they’ll address spill risk—as if they’re doing us a favour.” I throw my hands up and sit on a bar stool. “Big oil needs the pipeline expansion so it can aggressively expand tar sands supply and prove it’s in control of Canadians. The National Energy Board is a front for the petro state. The Board has power, we don’t, and I bet they laugh about all of us as they conspire to get away with the con of the century.”
Everyone is quiet, then Wes says softly, “You’re right, True. They’re playing us for suckers.”
“What else can we do?” asks Barbara.
I walk back to the table, take a deep breath and calm myself. “They are never going to listen to us—a group of West End know-nothings worried about our beach. We could make it past every obstacle they put in our way, and they will never take us seriously.”
“Are you saying there’s no point in applying?” asks Barbara.
“That’s how they want us to feel,” says Kat.
“It’s working,” Barbara replies.
“Maybe it’s not big enough,” I say.
“What’s not big enough?” asks Wes.
“Our plan.” I pull the chair back in place and sit. “We need to go bigger.”
“How?” asks Barbara. “We’re already doing everything we can.”
“I know. But it’s not enough. We apply and see this process through, but if we apply as we are, where’s our power? We need more weight. Isn’t that the legal term for credibility, Liz? Weight?”
“Yes,” Liz answers. Kat hands Liz the application form.
“Okay,” I say. “Liz writes up the application with Wes and Kat at the forefront. We keep working on our evidence as planned, make it airtight. In the meantime, we develop a parallel strategy to get more weight behind us.”
“What kind of parallel strategy?” asks Wes.
I take a sip of my water and place the glass back on the table. “We don’t have money or influence, right?”
“Right,” answers Kat.
“So, what do we need?” I ask.
No one says anything.
I lean in. “Where are we going to get our power, people?”
It hits Barbara first. “People?” she asks.
“People, exactly,” I answer. “We need lots of people. People here, right where we live. We make them aware of what Kinder Morgan is and what’s coming. We have to let people know that Trans Mountain’s expansion isn’t a gift, it’s a Trojan Horse.”
“Kat and I would then be representatives of a community group?” Wes asks.
“You got it. It’s going to be hard for the NEB to refuse qualified people who represent a large group affected by the project. Right, Liz?”
“You write up the application for our group—our large group—and we’ll make sure we have one,” I say.
“What’s the group’s name?” Liz asks.
Wes gets up from the booth. “I’m listening,” he says. “But I gotta set up the bar.”
“It needs to be professional,” offers Kat. “Maybe include something about the future.”
“Association for a Better Economic Future,” suggests Liz.
“West Enders for Responsible Development,” she offers.
“We need to say it like it is,” says Barbara. “Say who we are.”
“Friends…” says Flick.
“We are friends, absolutely. But…of what?” asks Barbara.
“English Bay,” Wes and I say at the same time.
“That’s who we are,” confirms Barbara.
Flick nods. “We’re Friends of English Bay.”
On Saturday morning Barbara calls to ask if I’ll sit with her at the head table at New Century’s Employee Appreciation Dinner. As an award winner, she’s been given two tickets. I ask if she has time to take a walk. I want a break from researching the oil industry. We agree to meet at the Shakespeare Garden in Stanley Park. There are more than forty trees in the garden. The first one was planted in 1916. They commemorate trees mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. Each tree has a plaque affixed to its trunk with a quote featuring that species.
I lean against the base of a great oak tree and look up at the leaves that have started to change colour.
“Find what you’re looking for?” asks Barbara.
“Do you think we could climb it?” I ask.
“I don’t know. It’s been a long time since I climbed a tree, Trainer.”
“Do you want to give it a try? We don’t have to go very high.”
Barbara takes off her sunglasses and looks up. “Maybe just a few branches.”
“I’ll give you a leg-up.”
Barbara puts her sunglasses in her purse and takes the strap off her shoulder. She lays the bag against the tree trunk. “Okay,” she says.
“On three,” I say as Barbara reaches her arms up to grab the first branch. I move in behind her, take her shin in my hands and use my back to help hoist her. She stands on the branch, steadying herself against the trunk and another branch.
“Good. Move to the next one, I’m coming up.”
“It’s not nearly as hard as I thought it would be,” says Barbara, catching her breath as she climbs higher. I stand on the first bough, my hands braced against the tree’s trunk.
“I’m going up one more,” she says. “I see where I want to sit.”
I follow behind her, climbing to a bough almost level with hers. I sit and rest my back against the trunk.
“It is beautiful up here,” Barbara says. “I can see the entire rose garden.”
I hear the whistle of the Stanley Park train. “Congratulations on being Retail Loss Prevention Specialist of the Year again,” I say, crossing my legs stretched out in front of me.
“You think Mr. Hudson will present you with another trophy and blanket?”
“You know the multi-striped design looks like the blanket that The Bay traded for beaver pelts in the early days?” I ask.
Mr. Hudson is New Century’s head honcho. He’s not related to the “Hudson” of Hudson’s Bay Company. Having the same name is a coincidence.
“At last year’s dinner, Mr. Hudson said you did a stellar job saving the company so much money. He probably got a big bonus because of you.”
“You know the actual bay was originally called Wînipâkw by the Cree who lived there. The British renamed it Hudson Bay, after the explorer who sailed into it trying to find a route to Asia. A group of wealthy businessmen formed Hudson’s Bay Company to invest in the fur trade, and the King of England gave them control over the water and surrounding area, including the lands along the rivers that drain into the bay. I think it amounted to about a third of what’s now Canada. The King of England handed a fur-trading monopoly to a bunch of businessmen when the land didn’t even belong to him but to the Indigenous groups that lived there.”
“They had no idea what the British were up to until it was too late, did they?” says Barbara.
“Nope. Indigenous trappers traded beaver pelts for stuff like that blanket.” I look up at her. “And what did the Indigenous peoples get for their land and water?”
“Nothing,” Barbara answers.
“Nothing,” I echo.
“Are you ready to climb down?” asks Barbara. She places her foot on the branch below the one she’s sitting on, and I begin my descent.
“It’s not that I don’t want to celebrate your win, Babs.” I drop to the ground and look up at her perched on a bough. “It’s that I can’t.”
“It’s this Kinder Morgan thing, isn’t it?” she asks. She lets go and drops to the ground. “Be careful, Trainer.”
“Everything’s changed for me.”
“I see what it’s doing to you.”
I point to a plaque attached to the oak tree. “Read this.”
Barbara steps closer. “I never really got Shakespeare,” she says.
“Neither did I. Just read it.”
She reads out loud. ‘“Then was I as a tree whose boughs did bend with fruit.’ Is that you? The tree?”
“‘…But in one night, a storm or robbery, call it what you will, shook down my mellow hangings, nay, my leaves, and left me bare to weather.’”
“That’s how I feel, Babs. ‘Bare to weather.’”
“I understand, Trainer.”
“I’m not sure you do, Babs.” I lean my back against the tree trunk.
“You’ve been robbed. We all have,” she says.
“It’s so much bigger than a pipeline. It’s the unfairness everywhere. At work, I pretend to be a guy. Without even a sideways glance, I changed my wardrobe and cut my hair. And the way New Century treats you—with a useless trophy and a blanket symbolic of betrayal!”
Barbara picks up her purse, putting the strap over her neck. “Come on. Let’s read some of the other plaques. Maybe find a saying from a comedy. You need to lighten up.”
Barbara walks away. I follow her and say, “You mean like, ‘Even the tree of knowledge started out as a little nut’?”
“Shakespeare didn’t say that,” Barbara says, laughing. She stops at a tree and reads the plaque. “Oh, I get this—” but the ringtone from Barbara’s phone cuts her off before she can read the plaque out loud. She takes her phone from her purse and looks at it. “Hello, Kat.”
I walk over and read the plaque. “And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees…”
“Yeah, I’m with her now,” Barbara says. “I’ll put you on speaker.”
“Can you hear me?” Kat asks.
“We can both hear you,” I say.
“I’m really sorry about this, but I have to take my name off the application.”
“But it’s already submitted, Kat.”
“I know. I should have checked company policy sooner, but I didn’t.”
“There’s no way we can get accepted without you, Kat,” I say.
“I’m sorry, Trainer, but I can’t do this—I’d lose my job.”
“Could you wait until we get accepted, then we’ll take your name off the list?”
“I don’t know, Trainer. That’s putting me in a tough position.”
“What does it matter, Kat? Everything you’ve done for us ends right now. Send me an email telling me you resign from Friends of English Bay, effective immediately, and I will let Liz know as soon—as soon as we get approved.” I look up to the sky through a maze of branches hoping Kat will see the light.
“As soon as you hear?”
“I promise.” I wait.
“Okay, Trainer. Let my name stand, but I’ll shoot you that email.”
“Thank you, Kat, thank you.”
She clicks off. Barbara puts her phone away.
“Let’s walk,” Barbara says.
We head off along the path that leads into the forest.
“Trainer,” she says, “I’ve decided.”
“Not to go to the awards dinner.”
“You know, Babs,” I say, “I’ve been thinking, too.”
“It’s time I grow my hair.”
“Hi,” I say to the receptionist. “We’re here to see Mrs. Hutchens.”
The receptionist doesn’t look up from her computer screen.
“We’re with Friends of English Bay. We have an appointment,” I say, trying not to sound too harsh.
She finally looks up. “Certainly,” she says, picking up the phone. “I’ll let her know you’re here.”
Barbara and I pooled our money from the Safeway carts to invest in the inaugural Friends of English Bay meeting. Flick thought we should use the West End Community Centre for the event.
“Mrs. Hutchens will see you in her office,” the receptionist says. “You can come this way.” Mrs. Hutchens was the librarian when we went to King George High. Now she’s the community centre’s administrator.
“Trude, Viet, what a pleasure to see you. How are you?” Mrs. Hutchens says as she stands and motions to the chairs positioned in front of her desk. “Now, what can I do for you?”
“Flick and I are planning a community meeting for Friends of English Bay. You probably remember my brother, Wes, and Barbara Bains?”
“Of course,” Mrs. Hutchens says without hesitation.
“Wes and Barbara are part of our group too. We’re holding an information meeting. We want to let people know about the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion. You might have heard of it?”
“That’s the one bringing oil tankers into English Bay, isn’t it?”
“That’s the one. We want to hold the meeting here. The project affects our community.”
“That it does,” says Mrs. Hutchens. “How big a room do you need?”
“Well,” I look at Flick and back at Mrs. Hutchens, “maybe…for thirty people?”
“We have the Lord Stanley Room. It can hold up to forty, comfortably. Would that do?” Mrs. Hutchens looks at her computer screen and types on her keyboard. “These types of meetings are best on a weeknight, probably on a Tuesday or Wednesday, if you want to get people out.”
I take her advice and suggest a date. Flick nods in agreement. This is going so well. “How much does it cost, Mrs. Hutchens?” I ask.
“Let’s see, how many hours do you need it for?”
“Not more than two,” I say.
“Including set-up and janitorial, it’s two hundred and fifty dollars.”
I’m embarrassed. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Hutchens. I think we’ve wasted your time. We had no idea booking a meeting room would cost that much.” I stand. Flick does too.
“Hang on,” she says. “Sit down, you two. What’s your budget?”
I feel stupid. “Uh…about forty dollars.”
She leans forward. “Is this coming out of your pockets?” she asks quietly.
“Yes,” I say.
“Is Friends of English Bay the four of you, or is it a larger group?”
“We have a lawyer helping us pro bono,” I say. “The meeting is to inform people and sign up members. By the time the night’s over, we hope it’ll be a big group.”
“Why are you doing this?” she asks, looking at me and Flick.
“We’re worried about English Bay,” I answer. “More people need to know how dangerous this project is and why it needs to be stopped.”
Mrs. Hutchens types into her keyboard. “Friends of English Bay. Done.” She looks up at Flick and me. “It’s booked.”
“But we can’t—”
“It’s a little something called administrative prerogative,” Mrs. Hutchens responds and smiles. Then she winks. “But if you can keep it between us, that would be best.”
It is raining heavily when we leave the community centre, but I’m skipping down the sidewalk. “We got the room for free! Can you believe it, Flick? Now we gotta get people to come out. Build momentum. Make our voices heard.”
Flick’s phone rings. He pulls it from his pocket and shows me the screen. It’s Barbara. “Tell her about the room, Flick.”
He hands me the phone. “Hi, Babs,” I say. “You’ll never guess what Flick and I just did.”
“Trainer, where are you?”
“On Denman Street. We just left the community centre. The meeting’s all set.”
“Come to Letters. We need an emergency meeting.”
“Can you come to Letters with me?” I ask Flick. He nods.
“We’re on our way, but why?” I say into the phone.
“Sorry to tell you this, Trainer, but we didn’t make it.”
“What do you mean?”
“The list of intervenors just got released. Friends of English Bay isn’t on it. Liz says it’s because we aren’t directly affected. It has nothing to do with expertise.”
“Not directly affected? This is fucking bullshit.”
“I know, Trainer,” Barbara says. “See you there.” She clicks off.
I’m not skipping now.
Barbara and Liz are already seated at the bar. We hang our soaked rain jackets on the backs of empty bar stools. Flick puts his elbows on the bar and rests his forehead in his hands. “What are we going to do now?”
“You know how much river water they waste so they can make one barrel of bitumen?” Barbara asks.
“Nope,” says Wes. “And I don’t want to.”
“If those corporations had to pay for the water they waste, they couldn’t afford this fucking pipeline,” Barbara says. “It’s two barrels of fresh water for every barrel of bitumen. I am so pissed I know that,” Barbara says. She lifts her glass and looks at the water in it. “I can’t even drink a glass of water anymore without thinking about it.”
“So, is that it?” asks Wes. “Are we done?”
“As far as participating at the hearing, yes,” Liz answers. “I’m really sorry.”
Flick says sadly, “Adieu, adieu, to you and you and you,” and he points a finger at Barbara, Wes, then me.
“I guess that’s the good news,” Barbara says, sighing. “We’re fighting a pipeline, not trying to escape the Nazis.”
“What about our work? The report? Kinder Morgan’s lies? There must be a way to get in front of the Board,” Wes presses Liz.
“Only intervenors can file evidence,” she says.
“Do intervenors have to write their own evidence?” I ask.
“What do you mean?” responds Liz.
“Do they have to write it, or can they get someone else to write it?”
“Oh, sure. They can hire experts.”
“Is it usual?”
“Sure. Sometimes they have a team of experts.”
“Then that’s what we do,” I say. “We find an intervenor and give them our report. We become their experts.”
“So now we’re someone else’s experts,” says Wes, his tone sarcastic.
I can’t handle doubt doubled down on despondency. “Aren’t we, Wes? After all our work, aren’t we?”
Liz interjects. “You know…a friend of mine is working with another group that the Board accepted. I bet they can use what you’ve uncovered.”
“I’ll drink to that,” says Barbara. “We are someone’s experts.”
Liz and Barbara order wine and remain at Letters. Flick and I leave, running towards English Bay because it’s raining so hard. We stop when we reach the Denman Cinema. I’ll stay and watch a movie with Flick if it’s something I want to see. Flick will watch a movie no matter what’s playing.
It’s a triple bill. Citizen Kane, Coming Home, and The Last Picture Show. Underneath the listing, the marquee reads Denman Cinema Closing. Dollarama Coming Soon.
Flick pushes the hood of his raincoat off his head. I hear him whisper something, but don’t catch what he says.
“A Dollarama? The theatre is closing?” I say. “How can that be?”
Flick doesn’t respond. The colour’s drained from his face.
“I’m sorry, Flick,” I say. His eyes well up, and he doesn't move. I push him gently on the shoulder. “Hey, Flick, your hair’s getting soaked.”
“Did you say ‘Rosebud’?” I ask. That’s the opening line in Citizen Kane. The characters in the film never learn what Rosebud meant, and the audience discovers it only at the end, when the camera cuts to an exterior shot of Kane’s mansion as Rosebud, Kane’s boyhood sled and the symbol of a time when he was happiest, goes up in flames.
“It’s okay, Flick.” No response. “It’s gonna be okay, Flick,” I say again. Denman Cinema turned retail outlet for cheap imported goods isn’t okay. It’s disturbing to me, and I didn’t grow up at the movie theatre like Flick did.
“K…Kane was”—he stops and takes a breath—“Kane was a moulder of mass opinion. He wanted control over…”
Were those lines from Citizen Kane? Not that I remember. “Control over what?”
“Over what people thought,” he says quietly. “If he controlled what people thought…” he looks at me, “he would not have to be responsible.”
“Responsible for what, Flick?”
“Responsible for what he did.” Flick’s look unsettles me. “Fear, Trainer, it made him control everything.”
“I’ll watch the movie with you, Flick,” I say. “For good times’ sake.”
“No,” he says. “Let’s go.” He puts his hood up over his wet hair.
“Don’t you want to watch it?”
He shakes his head and walks away from the Denman Cinema. I follow. At the street corner Flick stops and faces me. “Thanks.”
“You didn’t make a big deal of it.” He shrugs again. “I was crying.”
“Ah, you’re welcome.” I look into Flick’s eyes to make sure he’s good. “I know what the theatre means to you,” I say.
Flick takes a deep breath through his nose and closes his eyes. Then he opens his eyes and looks at me. “Do you want to come to my place?” he asks. “I’ll make popcorn.”
Flick’s apartment is immaculate. Everything is organized, spotless. There isn’t even a dish in the sink. I sit at his kitchen table while he makes popcorn on top of the stove, melts a ton of real butter to put on it and adds loads of salt. He has a soda maker and makes fresh drinks. He hands me a linen napkin. “I’m moving away from paper,” he says sitting at the table.
Flick takes a handful of popcorn and a sip of the soda water. “Alligator Shoes,” Flick says.
“He said pump up benefits and play down risks. ‘If it spills it’ll get cleaned up.’ He’s on the inside. We need to find out who he is.”
“Whose name is attached to the phone number he reeled off?”
“I don’t know.”
“Reverse lookup. Who is Alligator Shoes working for?” Flick asks. He stands up and heads for his bedroom, so I follow after I take my notebook from my pack. In his bedroom is a large desk with three monitors, two keyboards and a padded chair. Flick walks to his closet and opens the door. His clothes hang neatly on hangers; small white boxes are arranged along the top shelf. I walk over to take a look. He has pictures of shoes attached to the front of the boxes. Cool. He knows what’s inside each box without having to look. Down the side of his closet are three cubbyholes. Underwear and socks, then T-shirts folded according to colour, then sweaters. Flick reaches inside his closet and pulls out a folded stool. He sets it beside the chair at his desk and motions for me to sit. Then he sits in front of his computer; his fingers move rapidly over the keyboard.
Flick comes up with ten possibilities for the partial phone number Alligator Shoes recited. Four are land lines. That leaves six cell phone numbers.
“I know the names of Kinder Morgan’s executive team,” I say, glad to offer some assistance. “Let’s go through the cell phones and see who they’re registered to.”
None of the names are familiar. Four are personal. The other two are registered to corporate names but with no obvious link to Kinder Morgan. One of them is just a string of numbers with ULC at the end, a numbered company.
Flick excludes the personal names based on Facebook accounts. One of the names belongs to a grade five student. The other female name belongs to an actress/waitress—more waitress than actress, it looks like. The cell numbers attached to what appear to be male names are owned by a schoolteacher and a parole officer. Flick’s work reconfirms why I don’t use Facebook. It’s too easy to track someone’s moves, see what they look like and find out who their friends are.
“Corporations next,” says Flick.
“How are we going to track them down?” I ask.
Flick starts typing. “Corporate search,” he says. Flick logs into the BC corporate registry. The information’s behind a paywall, but neither of us can afford that.
“Dead end,” I say, trying not to sound deflated.
Flick clicks some icons, browses a bit. He clicks some more and announces, “Yes! Pretend I want a business name—get around having to pay.” He types in the corporate names.
The search results tell us that the two corporate names are available. That means they can’t be companies registered in BC.
Flick scratches his forehead and stares at the screen. “They could be federal.” He pulls up a website called Industry Canada belonging to the federal government. Flick clicks on the corporate search icon.
Unlike the BC corporate registry, Industry Canada offers corporate searches for free. Flick runs both names. The first is a waste removal company based in Montreal. None of the corporate directors listed on the registration are familiar. The search results for the other company, 34578ULC, come back with nothing.
“We could try Alberta,” I suggest. “Kinder Morgan’s Canadian office is there.”
Flick clicks away. The Alberta site wants payment too, and Flick can’t find a way around it.
“What does ULC mean?” I ask.
Flick answers by searching.
It turns out the acronym means unlimited liability corporation. A quick search brings up a brief prepared by a lawyer that tells us ULCs are relied on by US companies to avoid taxes and liability. They have a unique standing under the US-Canada tax treaty. In Canada, ULCs are legal only in BC, Alberta and Nova Scotia. “That’s how Kinder Morgan probably gets around paying its fair share of taxes, but Nova Scotia makes no sense. Kinder Morgan doesn’t operate in the Maritimes.”
Flick goes to Nova Scotia’s corporate registry, which lets us search for free.
“Type Kinder Morgan’s name into the corporate search first,” I say. Kinder Morgan Canada Company ULC comes up.
“Why is Kinder Morgan registered in Nova Scotia if it doesn’t even do business there?” I ask.
Flick shrugs and types in the numbered company. There it is. 34578ULC is registered in Nova Scotia, too.
“Go to the list of directors,” I say.
Flick scrolls down. The document lists one director with an office in San Francisco, California. It’s a name I don’t know. The company’s status was revoked for nonpayment back in 2005.
“It’s a dead end,” I say. “The phone’s registered to a company that no longer exists. Alligator Shoes has covered his tracks.”
Flick continues to search but finds no link between 34578ULC and Kinder Morgan.
“We still don’t know who Alligator Shoes is,” I say. “And we can’t tie him to Kinder Morgan, but we’ve got his number.”
“We do,” says Flick. “Let’s figure out a reason to give him a call.”
Liz contacted her lawyer friend who works for River Rescuers. The group restores rivers, estuaries, deltas and ocean foreshores. They are approved intervenors at the NEB hearing but don’t have much of a budget, so they are open to getting a research report for free.
We’ve found a way to get our report in front of the NEB. Now we need to ensure it holds sway. More hurdles, more hoops. What a circus.
We need an economist, preferably one with a track record. Sandra Thompson, the executive director at River Rescuers, knows a tenured professor at Simon Fraser University who could do a peer review. River Rescuers has little funding to pay for an expert report but enough of a budget to pay for a peer review. She sent him our report, and he assessed it.
Sandra calls me late on a Sunday afternoon. “Trainer, our committee has reviewed Dr. Long’s comments on your report, and we’re comfortable with them. One or two small changes and we can submit it as our evidence.”
“That’s awesome,” I say. Our report passed a peer review. How exciting is that?
“Dr. Long has agreed to become lead author,” Sandra adds.
“You must understand that we can’t submit the report to the Board with just your names and résumés.”
“I thought the plan was to have Dr. Long do the peer review to ensure that the material is sound.”
“I know, Trainer, I’m sorry. Our committee has decided that he has to be named as the expert. We have to make sure the material is not only credible, but also seen to be credible.”
I feel tired. So much effort, so little progress. Nothing is easy.
“We don’t want to give the NEB an easy out,” adds Sandra. “I’m sure you understand.”
“If I do understand, what happens next?” I say.
“No, I didn’t say I understood. I said, if I do understand.” Sandra is rushing me. I try to cling to a calm façade by speaking very slowly. “Sandra, I want to make sure there are no further misunderstandings. Please tell me what happens if our group agrees to your request that Dr. Long become the lead expert.”
“Oh, okay,” says Sandra. “If you agree, your group and Dr. Long should meet, go over his comments, make the adjustments and provide us with a final report.”
I’m still furious. Sandra obviously has no idea how insulting it is for Dr. Long to parachute in and save the day after we did all the work. He gets paid for his time, but we don’t.
Sandra emails me the professor’s coordinates and copies him. Barbara and I get in touch with Dr. Long during our lunch break the following Monday. Just in case I can’t maintain my cool, I want Barbara there when I call him. We’re alone in the employee change room.
It rings only once before he picks up.
“Dr. Long here.”
“Hello, Dr. Long. This is Trude Richards calling. I’m using my associate Barbara Bains’s phone. We’re calling to discuss our report, which Sandra Thompson of River Rescuers sent to you for peer review. She suggested we call. Do you mind if I put you on speaker phone?”
“Not at all. I do have a class to teach at one, but we can chat for a few minutes.”
I do have to be back running security rounds in a parking garage at one, I think. I click Barbara’s phone to speaker.
“Okay, Dr. Long, are you there?” I say as I set the phone on the bench between us.
“Yes, let me pull up the report.”
We hear clicking from his computer and some murmurs. Dr. Long provides low-volume colour commentary background to his search. “Where...ah, yes, consulting…Rescuers…review, ah, here it is.”
“Great,” I say. “Sandra said you were co—”
“I explained to Ms. Thompson that I was willing to provide consultancy to her group and that I understand they want to submit this report,” Dr. Long interrupts. “I can see myself putting my name to it, with some revisions, of course. I’m sure she explained it to you.”
“So, if we could meet in my office, let’s say…” he’s clicking again, “say, Thursday at ten. I’m on the Burnaby campus.”
Barbara and I can’t take off from work to get a bus to Simon Fraser University way out on Burnaby Mountain. Anyway, why are we going to his office? Why doesn’t he come to meet us?
“Sorry, but this isn’t going—”
“Friday at two, then?”
“No, we can’t come to your office, Dr. Long. We work downtown. Could you meet us here?”
“No, I don’t think so. Downtown? No, that isn’t convenient at all.”
I roll my eyes at Barbara.
“Why don’t we compromise, Dr. Long?” she says. “Conference call a meeting?”
I am sure he’ll refuse, but he doesn’t. We spend the next quarter of an hour deciding on a time.
When we hold our scheduled phone meeting two days later, the erudite Dr. Long walks us through his comments. He doesn’t congratulate us on our work. He gives no words of encouragement. He dwells on semantics and provides what amounts to candy-coated wordsmithing.
Like when we get to the place in the report where Kinder Morgan tells its analysts in Houston that it plans to rip-off the Canadian economy. Our report reads, “Kinder Morgan will siphon $850 million a year from the Canadian economy for the benefit of its US based investors.”
Dr. Long doesn’t like the words “siphon” or “benefit.” They’re judgmental. He says to change the sentence to “Kinder Morgan will be in a position to distribute $850 million a year to its investors.” But that makes it sound okay. Business as usual, perfectly benign. It isn’t.
Or the part where Kinder Morgan blames whales for getting in the way of oil tankers. “Kinder Morgan believes its project will have a significant adverse effect on the sensory disturbance of orcas that use the shipping lanes.” Orcas have been around for about eleven million years. It’s not the orcas in the way of the shipping routes. Oil tankers are in the way of the orcas’ migratory path.
Our report highlights Kinder Morgan’s hubris and points out that Trans Mountain’s expansion is a death sentence for killer whales. “It is a conflict of interest when a party says it will develop a strategy to protect the orcas and that same party directly benefits from their extinction.” The good doctor tells us we must take that sentence out. It’s confrontational.
The more he talks, the less I like him. That’s dangerous. It arouses my inner brat.
“Hey, Doc. Can I ask you a question?” I say, fully aware I’ve asked him a question by asking him if I can ask him a question. I wonder if he’ll nitpick that. He doesn’t.
“Are River Rescuers paying you for your time?”
“Yes, well, yes, of course.”
“They aren’t paying us.”
I look at Barbara. She doesn’t motion me to stop.
“Well, I can’t discuss…you would need to raise this with Ms. Thompson.” Dr. Long is defensive.
“That’s a problem, Dr. Long. We don’t have billable hours. You do. You have an incentive to waste our time and call it value added. We get it, you have an advantage. You’re an expert; we’re just a bunch of kids who want to play beach volleyball without tar between our toes. Do you even care that these oil tankers mean death to orcas?”
Dr. Long sputters. “I’m…I’m…impartial…objective. I provide my client with advice based on facts. I have a duty to ensure my personal beliefs, my opinions, don’t taint my work.”
“Do you care? About oil tankers parked in English Bay. About tar sands ruining our beach. About orcas starving to death?”
“That’s not my role,” he says, regaining his lecturing aura.
“What is your role?”
“Well, I thought that was clear,” Dr. Long says indignantly, “but apparently not.”
I have gone too far. I know because Barbara puts her hand up, motioning me to stop. I’m relieved she takes over.
“Dr. Long, this is Barbara Bains. Your professionalism is beyond reproach, I assure you. But it’s important you understand how carefully we examined the facts,” she says calmly. “We tested Kinder Morgan’s case, impartially and objectively, then drew conclusions. If the facts are wrong, please tell us. We’ll correct facts.” Barbara puts her index finger next to her lips, telling me to remain quiet. We wait.
“Your facts are in order,” Dr. Long says after a pause.
“You can appreciate we worked very hard. We can appreciate your willingness to put your name on our report, but we feel strongly about our conclusions. Neutralizing them is not something we’re prepared to do. We’ll take out the reference to “siphoning” as we’ve already discussed, but the orcas…regrettably, they’re not up for negotiation. Neither is anything else in our report.”
Well spoken, Barbara. She gives him something small while being clear we’ve reached our thin red line. I smile and mouth, “Yeah,” punctuated by a thumbs-up. Barbara didn’t threaten to withdraw our report and Dr. Long’s consulting income with it. She didn’t need to. Her subtlety is amazing.
After a pause, the doctor says, “I understand, Ms. Bains.”
Gotta love the leverage of billable hours. We’re in—on our terms. Finally.
By the time I video-Skype Liz, her co-worker has left for the day. Liz works in an office cubicle, so usually she needs to speak quietly to make sure her voice doesn’t carry. Now she speaks freely.
“He wanted to be careful,” she says, after I tell her about the conference call with Dr. Long. “He wanted to make sure the report didn’t give the Board any reason to discredit it.”
“He was just so pompous about it,” I say. “We dealt with all the questions you had. You saw the final version.”
“The Board is going to ask him to swear an affidavit saying he prepared the report, or that it was written under his supervision.” Liz shuffles some papers. “He was probably trying to convince himself that he could.”
“It is quite a responsibility, putting his name to the report. It tells me just how good he thinks your work is.”
“Go easy on him, Trainer.” Liz laughs, “He’s probably not sure what he got himself into.”
“It makes sense when you explain it that way.”
“I’ve seen experts get exposed. It’s not pretty, and Dr. Long sounds too professional to allow that to happen, even if he doesn’t need to worry since the Board’s dumbed down the process by removing cross-examination.”
Liz has a real talent for putting things into perspective. “What made you want to be a lawyer?” I ask.
Liz arranges the stack of files neatly, then leans toward the computer screen. “Why do you want to know?”
“Just curious. It’s a lot of school.”
Liz shrugs, relaxes a little. “Look,” she says, “I could tell you I believe in the rule of law and the need for justice. I could say how important it is for a civilized society that truth and the pursuit of fairness prevail. Shit like that—shit that I believe, of course. But I became a lawyer because my dad was a crook.”
“Throughout high school—when he should have been grounding me for smoking dope or staying out too late—I watched him get busted, tried, re-tried and then packed off to jail. Don’t get me wrong. He was guilty, but so was Bobby Greene, his business partner. Dad’s lawyer was a loser while Bobby hired the best. Dad did ten years in a penitentiary back east; Bobby did six months of community service within walking distance from his house.”
“That must have been hard.”
“I’m the lawyer that Dad should have had. At least, that’s what my therapist says.”
“He’s out now?”
“He died of a heart attack in prison. Two months left on his sentence.”
“Wow.” Come on, Trainer, you can do better than that. “I mean, that’s really tough.”
“At least his heart attack didn’t compel me to go to medical school and become a cardiologist.” Liz smiles and leans back in her chair.
“Why are you helping us?” I ask.
Liz considers the question. “It’s not a fair fight. Kinder Morgan is big and powerful. It doesn’t play fair because government doesn’t make it play fair. But that’s not why I’m helping you. The real victim here—if Trans Mountain’s pipeline expansion gets built—is the environment. The air can’t speak; the water can’t. The orcas, caribou, grizzlies—they’re voiceless and defenseless in a world gone mad pursuing quarterly profits. It’s not a fair fight for what’s really at stake. But you, Trainer, you and Barbara and Wes and Flick are willing to speak up for the victims that can’t speak for themselves. I want to be around to help you say what you have to say.”
“Friends of English Bay was the right name, then.”
“Friends of English Bay, Foes of Big Oil, Farts on a Mission. It doesn’t matter what you call yourselves. What matters is fighting the pipeline expansion until it becomes obvious that it has to be stopped. It’s easy for Kinder Morgan executives,” Liz continues. “They get paid—a lot. It’s easy to be greedy. What’s hard is to be generous. What’s hard is to value things that don’t have a price. To see what matters before it’s gone and then, well, be willing to fight to keep it. That takes real courage.”
“Wow, Liz, that’s pretty insightful.”
“It’s nothing, Trainer. Nothing ten thousand dollars and a weekly meeting with a shrink won’t buy.”
“Your report is good. And having Dr. Long onside is good. Go easy, Trainer. You might want to spend a bit more time with him.” Liz looks at her watch. “I gotta go. I have a paying client. You know, billable hours. I need to finish something before I take off home to my very patient husband.”
“Of course. I’ll let you go, but I just want to say…well, thanks, Liz.”
“No,” Liz says. “Thank you, Trainer.”
I reach to close my laptop as a news banner streams across the top of the screen. “Breaking News—Canada Losing Fifty Million Dollars a Day, Every Day Trans Mountain Pipeline Not Built.”
I click the link. The news article cites a Canadian Chamber of Commerce report as the source for the alleged fifty-million-dollar-a-day loss. I access the report. On the list of supporters who paid to put the report out, Kinder Morgan is a silver sponsor. I wonder what it cost them to make a silver-plated investment in controlling public opinion.
The Chamber of Commerce report cites the source for the fifty-million figure in a footnote. The figure was given by a bank analyst interviewed by the Globe and Mail in an article a year and a half earlier. That’s the source, a footnote referencing a newspaper article! A figure given in a newspaper article is not a source. Sounds like the same place the ad men picked up their figure to pitch to Kat’s boss. I email the author and ask if she checked how the figure was calculated. Did she talk to the bank analyst interviewed for the Globe article? The report quotes a speech by Joe Oliver when he was natural resources minister. He’s also quoted as saying that we’re losing fifty million dollars a day. I wonder where he got his figure, so I email the Ministry of Natural Resources and ask. I Google the Globe article, find the name of the analyst and email him, asking where he got the figure. There.
Another article covering the release of the report from a different media outlet scrolls across my computer screen. I’m furious, mostly because I feel powerless. The article makes the same sensational conclusions. It’s a campaign designed to scare the public into begging for a pipeline. Misinformation is being splattered everywhere, and there’s nothing I can do.
We’re supposed to just get out of the way and get that pipeline approved because every day it’s delayed, oil producers lose fifty million dollars. Only a traitor to capitalism and Canada would stand in the way. The industry plays dirty. Articles confirming the phony conclusion, published in reputable media outlets, tell me the con has been successful. It doesn’t mean the journalists are necessarily complicit; they only need to be duped.
I click on Skype and call Kat. It goes to voice mail. I don’t want to leave a message in case it comes back at her.
I call Barbara. It too goes to voice mail. “Babs, where are you? I am so pissed. Kat warned us something like this might be coming. Well, the propaganda’s out in the mainstream media. Call me when you get this. I’m not so good.” I send Barbara links to the media coverage.
It’s dark out. I put my hands on the windowsill and lean on it as I raise my head. When I finish screaming, I pull the blinds. Maybe someone saw me scream. Not good. Get a grip, Trainer. I fall on my bed and lay there for a long time until I can finally close my eyes and go to sleep.
Skype’s distinctive chime wakes me. It’s Flick. I click on the video icon.
I feel cold. I turn up the volume to hear Flick while I go to my dresser to find a sweater.
“Did you look at the flyer?”
“Ah, no.” I find a hoodie and slip it on.
“Check your email.”
“Just a sec.” I return to my computer and check my emails. It’s the flyer for our meeting at the community centre. The colours are eye-catching. The text pops out: English Bay Is at Risk—and Only You Can Help!
“Looks awesome, Flick,” I say.
He’ll deliver the flyers on his postal route. Given the West End’s older demographic, social media is not enough to get people out. If Flick gets caught doing this, though, he could lose his job. When I had cautioned that we should figure out a safer way to let residents know about the meeting—a way that didn’t put his job on the line—all he said was, “It’s fine.”
“I left space at the bottom,” he says. “I can add in whoever Kinder Morgan sends. Heard back from them yet?”
“Oh shit.” It was my job to contact Kinder Morgan and arrange for someone to come and talk about the project. “I’ll email them tonight. Sorry, Flick. I screwed up.”
“You okay, Trainer?”
“Sure.” I bring my hoodie up to cover my head and put my hands in the front pocket. “Well, not really.”
“Want to talk about it?”
“It will get fun again after it’s over,” says Flick.
Flick sounds positive, optimistic even. I don’t want to ruin it by arguing with him. I like the way he sounds, even if I can’t get to where he is.
“I guess,” I say lamely.
“I’m listening,” Flick says gently.
“I know. Thanks. It’s just I have nothing to say, really.” I bring my feet up onto the chair and wrap my arms around my legs. I don’t want to say anything, but I don’t want the conversation to end.
“Why don’t you talk, Flick?”
“Talk about anything. Just talk, okay? I don’t, kind of, want to be alone, you know?” I bring my right hand up to my mouth and start biting the cuticle on my thumbnail. “Tell me how you came to Canada.” What an asshole I am. Flick is being really nice. Why would I bring that up? I know he was a refugee. A refugee’s plight is never easy. Do I want Flick to feel as awful as I feel?
“On a boat and then a plane,” he says.
“I’m sorry, Flick. You don’t need to—”
“You don’t need to bite your nails,” he says. “Take your thumb out of your mouth and I’ll tell you the story.”
I take my thumb out of my mouth, lower my legs and sit on my hands.
“Remember your birthday party in grade three, Trainer? Wes invited me. It was the first birthday party I ever went to. You had a pirate ship cake. Your mom gave us loot bags full of chocolate coins. Each of us had a pirate hat with a skull and crossbones and an eye patch. We put them on when we sat down to eat. When the party was over, I tried to give mine back to your mom. I thought we were supposed to, but she said they were mine. I was so happy I got to keep them. My mom told me I couldn’t go out on Halloween because I didn’t have a costume and we couldn’t afford to buy one, so I figured I solved that with the hat and eye patch.”
“I remember that party. And that boat cake. I thought it was hokey. I wanted her to order us one from Safeway.”
“Safeway doesn’t hide money in its cakes. I found a loonie in my piece.”
“I forgot about that part,” I say. “My grandmother made that cake. She told Wes and me that she had to make our birthday parties twice as much fun because she only got to help my mom throw one a year. She said it was our fault since Wes and I decided to be twins.” I laugh.
Flick nods. “I wore the pirate hat and eye patch home. When my mom saw me, she grabbed the hat, ripped off the eyepatch and slapped my face. Then she tore the hat in half.”
“We’d escaped Vietnam by boat. I was just two years old, so I don’t remember any of it, but the boat was attacked by pirates.”
“You survived a pirate attack?” I ask.
“That’s how my father died. The pirates beat and killed him. If the boat hadn’t reached the refugee camp two days later, Mom probably would have died too. We stayed there, at the Songkhla camp in southern Thailand, for a year before being cleared to come to Canada.
“Your father was murdered?”
“Flick, you’ve never mentioned your father before. I thought…I mean, you know…maybe he and your mom weren’t married or something, and she came to Canada to get away. I am so sorry.”
“I only found out how my father died because Wes invited me to your birthday party, and I wanted to go out trick-or-treating on Halloween.”
“Did you get to go out?”
“No. Trainer, my mother could’ve died. They could’ve thrown me overboard.” Flick stands up and walks out of view. I wait.
When he comes back, he sits and calmly says, “We have to stop the pipeline expansion. I could lose my job for putting a few pieces of extra paper into my mailbag. Big deal. And why am I not afraid of that? Because some Thai thug didn’t throw me into the ocean when he raped my mother.”
He looks at me without blinking.
“Thanks for telling me,” I say.
“Can you go for a hike up Cypress Mountain on Saturday?” he asks.
“I want to show you something that I think will interest you. Meet me at the corner of Georgia and Denman at nine in the morning.”
“Okay. Night, Flick.”
He clicks off.
Flick and I are enjoying the smell of wood chips mixed with the crisp air on this bright spring morning. Someone has been clearing fallen logs from this path up Cypress Mountain. The smell of freshly cut wood always reminds me of Papa. My grandfather was a banker who wanted to be a carpenter. When Wes and I were little, we used to spend rainy Saturdays in the basement with him while he worked. Papa taught us how to pound nails. He set up a tree stump on the cement floor and gave us each a bag of nails and a hammer. I hit nails into the stump with my hammer to the sound of rain outside and the whir of Papa’s table saw.
In elementary school, I asked Papa to help me with a project on the metric system. I thought Papa was the right person because when he made things he measured them, a lot. But Papa worked in inches and feet, not centimetres and metres. He said the Trudeau government introduced the metric system in the 1970s, but he was too old a dog to learn new tricks. Still, he was able to help me with my project. I thanked him and told him he wasn’t such an old dog after all. He chuckled.
When I asked why the government changed the system, Papa said it was to help businesses trade with each other. “Most of the world measures things in metric,” Papa explained, “but changing the system didn’t help. It’s not how but what you measure, Trude. Make a pound of nothing, it’s the same as a kilogram of nothing.”
Papa said he wanted to show me what he meant when nothing is made from Douglas fir in Canada because it’s shipped to other countries instead. We walked the two blocks from his house to Hastings Mill Park, at the foot of Alma Street in Kitsilano, and stood at the fence above the cliff. We looked out at English Bay and Papa pointed to a cargo ship.
“That ship, you see it?
“Yes,” I said.
“It’s loaded with our best logs. You know where they’re going?”
I shook my head.
“They’re going all the way to Japan, Trude. There, workers will turn our logs into something useful. The companies that cut down the trees, the logging companies, make more money that way.” Papa shook his head.
“How do they make more money that way, Papa?” I asked.
“When you work for a company, you get paid, Trude. Over in Asia, companies don’t have to pay their workers as much as they do here, so those companies have an advantage. They can pay more money to the logging companies for the raw logs. What that does, though, is lead to fewer jobs here. Hell, some of our mills have closed down, and the people who worked there have no jobs now.” When we walked back to Papa’s house from the park, he apologized for swearing. He said it just made him so angry that our best trees were exported along with good paying jobs.
“If you spend hours turning wood into something of value,” Papa explained, “the wood needs to be something of value to start with. They ship the best wood away, but the price for the logs that are left behind here in Canada keeps going up. I’ll be damned, but it makes no sense—oh, sorry for swearing again, Trude.” I chuckle to myself at the memory.
I’m brought back to the present when Flick walks to the edge of the path and peers into the woods.
I take off my pack and drink from my water bottle. “Something keeps bugging me about the fifty-million-dollar-a-day hoax, Flick. Not sure what it is. Anyway, I heard back from the author of the so-called report.”
Flick walks further into the bush, steps over a fallen tree trunk and crouches. “What did you learn?” he asks, staring at the decaying log. He reaches to move aside some leaves and other debris.
“The figure wasn’t checked. It was taken from the Globe and Mail article and Joe Oliver’s speech.” I close my eyes and tilt my face toward the sky to feel the sun’s warmth. It’s so much warmer today than earlier in the week. “Know where Oliver got his number from?” I ask Flick. He doesn’t answer, so I tell him. “From the Globe article.”
“Here,” says Flick.
I open my eyes. Flick is looking at the underside of the log.
I walk to Flick and crouch next to him. He points to a small white clump attached to the inside of the hollowed-out log.
“What is it?” I ask.
“A mushroom? It looks more like snow that forgot to melt.”
“It’s Lion’s Mane. Not that hard to find, if you know where to look. By the end of summer, it will be a cascading waterfall of long white tentacles looking more like coral than fungus.”
“Is it poisonous?”
“No. And no poisonous ones look like it either, so it’s safe.” He stands and looks at me, his expression questioning. “There’s one source, and it’s a newspaper article?” he asks, stepping over the log and walking back to the path. I follow.
“Yep,” I answer. “I tracked down the analyst identified in the article and asked him how he got the fifty-million-dollar figure.”
“Wait, don’t tell me. He said you can’t handle the truth.”
“Pretty close. He actually said, ‘I don’t have that data anymore.’ The analyst didn’t prepare a report. There’s no explanation of how he came up with that figure, and he doesn’t have data to back it up. He brushed me off when I pressed him. He told me, ‘We typically only deal with institutional investors.’”
“They typically only deal with people who don’t ask questions, you mean.” Flick chuckles. “They make it so easy, Trainer, to catch them.”
“What’s hard is getting out the message that it’s not the truth,” I say. “We have no way to do that and…”
The entire Lower Mainland has opened up to view as we crest the top of the hill. I take a deep breath and walk to the edge of the path where a stone wall has been built to protect hikers from falling over the edge. The tops of the trees along the mountainside are even with our feet because the terrain is so steep. Beyond the treetops, I can see the ocean, Stanley Park and the cityscape of Vancouver.
“This is what we’re protecting,” Flick says. He points toward the open ocean. “It’s not just our beach but all of this.”
It is such a clear day, I can make out Vancouver Island and its snow-capped mountains in the distance.
“I like coming up here,” Flick says. “Lion’s Mane grows in the same place every year, and no one has found my stash. The hike up here is even more beautiful when it snows. Come on, I want to show you something.”
Flick continues up the path flanked by the stone wall on one side. We reach a monument built into the wall, with a plaque attached to it.
“Read this,” he says.
It says that the development of Cypress Bowl was hotly debated through the 1960s. A member of the provincial legislature named Dave Barrett wanted the forest to remain a forest. “It says it took eight years for him to keep the mountain the way it was,” I say.
“It reads like all Barrett had to do was talk to the minister of forests, they disagree for awhile in the legislature and then eight years later it’s a park,” says Flick.
“I looked into it, Trainer. It was brutal. Barrett must’ve really loved this place. He took a beating in the press. He discovered secret plans to clear-cut the mountain and put up houses. The government said he didn’t know what he was talking about, that he was making it up, when all the while, ministers and their business friends were secretly behind it.”
Flick takes off his pack and unzips it. He pulls out two sandwiches.
“Here,” he says. “I thought you might be hungry, so I made you one.”
“Thanks, Flick. I forgot about lunch.”
We sit on the stone wall, our legs dangling over the edge.
“Would you believe that the logging of Cypress Park was financed with gambling profits from Bahamian casinos? The mob was behind it. Money laundering with the government of the day helping make it happen. The government even subsidized it by putting in power lines and road access.”
“How do you know?”
“The downtown library, fifth floor.”
“Flick, how did you find out it was money laundering?”
“Barrett went to the local forestry office, asked for the logging licences on Cypress Mountain. He found a name and a New York telephone number on the documents, then phoned the number. He was honest and said he was a member of the BC legislature. Maybe the person who answered thought he was part of the group conspiring to turn this mountain into high-end housing. Anyway, his call was passed to Meyer Lansky, head of the New York mob. Lansky confirmed his company had bought the forestry licences, were starting to log the mountain and later would build a housing development.”
“Why didn’t it stop when he exposed this scam?”
“The government hid behind all sorts of legitimate fronts, beginning with a company called Alpine Outdoor Recreation Resources. The city of West Vancouver was in on it too. City council changed the zoning so the province could lease the land to Alpine. When Barrett cried foul, they ignored him.”
“He was muted,” I say.
“Every time. They lied to shut him up. Logging was going on, but government officials said it wasn’t. All anyone had to do was come to the mountain to see it. The trees were loaded onto trucks, then cargo ships. But the government said it wasn’t happening, that Barrett was ‘spinning fairy tales.’ The media reported the exchange, but nobody checked to see who was telling the truth. If they had, they would’ve seen the logs being cleared.”
I finish my sandwich and hand the container back to Flick. “Thanks, that was good.”
“Do you want a fruit bar?” he asks and hands me one. “But Barrett kept at it. He created enough controversy that further development kept being delayed. When he became premier, he turned Cypress Mountain into a provincial park.”
“So…what we’re doing now might also eventually have some effect.”
“I don’t want you to get discouraged, Trainer. Dave Barrett saved this mountain, even though it never looked like he was going to be able to. All he had to do was keep delaying the progress until all the nefarious dealings were exposed.”
I finish my fruit bar. Flick offers to take the wrapper.
“You’ve thought of everything, Flick. Thanks.”
Learning that dirty money had financed the logging of Cypress Mountain galvanizes me. The deadline for filing evidence to the National Energy Board is looming, and our report needs a new section. It’s past midnight by the time I put it together and email Dr. Long.
In our report, we have proven that Kinder Morgan is structured to avoid paying corporate taxes and therefore their fiscal benefits case is without merit. We have decimated the notion that there will be a revenue benefit for oil producers by exposing the aggressive and unrealistic supply outlook. We have also countered their phony jobs claims. I’m worried that despite discrediting the benefits, the Board will decide that giving heavy oil producers unlimited market options is all that matters. Intervenors discredited Enbridge’s benefits figures during cross-examination at the Northern Gateway hearing, so the Board determined that as long as market options were available it didn’t matter if economic benefits materialized.
I have included an additional section for our report that follows the money and shows how the project is commercially challenged and not financially viable despite Kinder Morgan’s promises. Other than referring to the added information in the executive summary, this new section easily slips into the second section with minimal impact to the rest of our report. I’ve made the necessary changes.
Once you’ve reviewed it, if you have any questions, we should discuss them immediately.
Referring to “we” and calling it “our report” might help to warm the doctor to this last-minute addition. I don’t expect to hear from him until Monday, but his email reply comes as I’m getting ready for bed.
“When can we talk?” he asks.
I write back. “Now?” I put on the kettle and return to my desk. The Skype icon rings.
“Hello, Dr. Long.”
“Ms. Richards. You’re working late.”
“As are you.”
“I haven’t read what you sent, but why don’t you walk me through it? As it happens, I was working as well.”
“Okay. The US parent company, Kinder Morgan Inc., told the National Energy Board it would provide all financing for the Trans Mountain expansion project. I’ve linked the reference, and you can check it when you review what I’ve sent.”
Dr. Long clears his throat. “Yes, and Kinder Morgan has also said it has long-term take-or-pay contracts with shippers. The shippers are locked in, and that gives me plenty of confidence the project will carry itself. Those contracts demonstrate that the company has the commercial support to secure financing, and I’m sure that’s how the Board will see it too. Those contracts should make it easy to fund the project, don’t you think, Ms. Richards?”
“When the cost to build the pipeline expansion was 5.4 billion, Dr. Long.” I take a deep breath and relax. No need to feel defensive. “But during the quarterly investor call, Kinder Morgan quietly announced the cost had gone up to 6.8 billion dollars. What’s more troubling is that the company’s in financial difficulty.”
“Oh,” Dr. Long says. “They need 1.4 billion more to build the project than they thought. That’s a bigger financing challenge, but they still have the contracts. The shippers are locked in. Kinder Morgan can use the contracts to prove to investors there’s a secure revenue stream.”
“Have you read the shippers’ contracts?” I ask.
“Have I read them?”
He’s not the enemy, I tell myself. It’s okay to be less intense. I slow down. “Kinder Morgan didn’t file the contracts. The only reason I’ve seen them is that I heard about them in one of the online webcasts. Their executives told the analysts that the NEB had approved the contracts at a different hearing. I went through the documents from that other hearing—the toll hearing—and found the contracts filed there.”
“The contracts aren’t filed at this hearing?” Dr. Long asks.
“How can Kinder Morgan say the contracts are evidence of commercial support if they haven’t filed them? And if the contracts aren’t filed at this hearing, how can the Board say it relies on them?”
“Exactly. Read clause five in the shipper’s contract—it’s in Appendix A, attached to what I sent you. I’m going to make a cup of tea.”
When I return to my desk with a hot cup of tea I say, “You see, it says in the contracts that if the capital cost budget gets to 6.8 billion dollars, the shippers can walk. And now, Kinder Morgan has told its shareholders that’s what the project’s new cost is.”
“Then these contracts aren’t secure at all. Any of the shippers can decide after the hearing that it’s no longer interested in the project and simply walk away.”
“How’s Kinder Morgan proposing to raise financing?” he asks.
“It’s not, and there’s no way they can raise financing until after the hearing is over and the shippers have recommitted to the project. The contracts are clear. Even if the NEB recommends the project, and the government approves it, the shippers still have the right to kill the deal.”
“So the Board has to make sure it assesses the commercial viability of the application from the perspective that there’s no guarantee the contracts are certain—or that Kinder Morgan can, or will, provide financing?”
“If they have to go to the market to get financing, instead of providing it from internally generated funds, the return will be lower,” says Dr. Long. “Third-party investors are going to need their share. As long as Kinder Morgan was going to fully fund the project from internal sources, it stood to make a greater return. With the increased capital cost and the company’s financial challenges—well, that changes things.”
“We have to alert the Board by adding this section into the report. And we have to file those contracts. The project’s commercial viability is threatened and so is Kinder Morgan’s. That makes for desperate financial partners, and I think there’s no end to the kind of dirty money the project might attract.” I sip my tea and wait for Dr. Long’s considered expert opinion.
“Very good work, Ms. Richards.”
“Thank you, Dr. Long.”
“Kinder Morgan isn’t sending anyone to our meeting,” I say to Barbara. “But they said we’re welcome to attend their community presentations.”
“Way to control the agenda,” Barbara says, pointing to the floor. “You’re dripping.”
I’m holding Barbara’s raincoat. I walk to the bathroom and hang it over the edge of the tub. We are eating dinner together before heading over to the West End Community Centre for the inaugural meeting of Friends of English Bay.
Barbara sits on the edge of my bed. “Who needs them anyway? Every time we test these guys, they fail. If I didn’t already know a fix was in, I’d suspect it. What kind of turnout do you think we’ll get tonight?” she asks.
“Not sure. We’ve talked it up on social media. Flick’s delivered the flyers.”
“A couple dozen people signing on would be sweet,” she says.
“We’ve done as much as we can to get people out,” I say.
I feel pretty good about the turnout until Barbara and I arrive at the community centre. The only person in the room is the janitor, who’s stacking chairs. Sure, no one’s there, but I didn’t expect people to be on time. I look at Barbara. She shrugs her shoulders.
“Excuse me,” I say to the janitor. “There’s a meeting here. At seven.”
He looks up but doesn’t stop stacking chairs. “Not here.”
I walk further into the room. “Yes, there is. Could you please wait? Wait until after seven before putting the chairs away.”
“Meeting’s not here.”
“What do you mean, not here?” I approach the dolly half filled with chairs. “Babs, please, help me unstack the chairs.”
The janitor puts his hand up. “Whoa, just a minute little lady. They moved it to the school gym. Too many people. Didn’t you read the sign?”
Barbara grabs my arm. “Come on, Trainer, they’ve moved the meeting. It must be in the gym, at the school.” She pulls me toward the door.
Barbara and I start to run. I yell back to the janitor, “Thanks, Mister!”
If we had gone into the community centre by the front door, instead of by way of the ice rink, we would have seen the sign on the door with our group’s name and an arrow pointing to the gym. We run the short distance across the lane and along the sidewalk to the high school entrance leading directly to the gym, then up the three steps to the landing, and we burst through the double doors. There must be a hundred people in there. The spectator stands have been lowered. Some people are sitting. Other people stand in the centre of the huge room talking in small groups.
I see Wes on the stage placing a mic into a stand. He taps on the silver top of the microphone. I see his lips move, and then he shakes his head and looks offstage, into the wings. Then we hear Wes blow into the mic, followed by, “Ice, ice, icicles, pop, pop, popsicles, test, test, test…ing.”
Some in the audience chuckle. The noise in the room lessens. Wes smiles. “So, this is working,” he says.
I think this is working better than we ever hoped.
“Good evening, people. Thanks for coming,” Wes says. “We’ll get started in a few minutes.”
The noise in the room picks up. Wes flicks the mic switch, signals a thumbs-up, walks to the edge of the stage and hops off.
Barbara and I cross the gym floor. I hug Wes when we reach him. “Wes, this is…it’s…”
He grabs my arms. “Amazing, I know. People care, True.”
“This isn’t what we expected. It’s not a chat. Someone has to make a speech,” I say. “You’ve got to do it, Wes.”
Wes looks at Barbara, then at me. “We’ll figure it out. Flick and Liz are backstage.”
Barbara and I follow Wes. We climb the stairs at the side of the stage and pass through heavy black curtains into the wings. The technician sitting at the controls is frowning. Flick and Liz stand on either side, looking over his shoulders. We throw our coats with the others piled in the corner.
Liz looks up, “We just lost audio.”
The technician pushes his chair away from the soundboard and rises. “I’ll check the system path, but you might not have audio tonight.”
“It’s packed out there,” I say. “We need the system.”
“I’ll do what I can. I’m just saying.” He walks toward the mic stand, picks up the black cord and examines the point where it feeds into the microphone.
“Let’s focus, True,” Wes calls to me. “Over here.”
I join the group near the brick wall at the back of the stage.
“All right,” says Wes. “We all go onstage in a line. I’ll welcome everyone, give a brief overview of the project and our concerns, ask people to sign up and then we’ll take questions.”
The technician is back at the soundboard, and it looks like he hasn’t fixed the problem. Wes needs to start the meeting. The five Friends of English Bay walk onstage, and we stand in a row with Wes in the middle.
“Good evening,” he shouts to the crowd. Some of the noise subsides. “Good evening, everyone. If I could have your attention please.”
It becomes quieter.
“Anyone who hasn’t found a seat, please do. We’re going to begin.”
I see Kat and her mom and wave. They wave back, taking a seat in the front row.
Flick is at one end of our lineup. He leans in and whispers, “Let’s go down there, on the floor. Get close-up. Look people in the eyes.”
It makes sense. Yelling at people from the stage feels awkward. As I go down the stairs, I recognize Mrs. Hutchens, who’s sitting beside Ms. Swanson, the librarian. Wes takes one step forward, coughs nervously.
“My name is Wes, Wes Richards. On behalf of Friends of English Bay”—he motions with his hands to us—“all five of us are here.”
Polite chuckles are heard.
“There are five declared Friends of English Bay so far.” Wes pauses and smiles. “But, hey, we had to start somewhere, right?”
This time, the response is an unqualified warm laughter. It helps Wes relax.
“After tonight, we hope to have at least ten times that number who think of themselves as Friends of English Bay. Thank you all for making the effort to come out to hear what we have to say. We want to talk about the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. What it means for our bay, our beach, what it means for our community. More than that, we want to talk about what it means for our future. We had a small problem with the loudspeaker system tonight. Well, it’s not working, so I guess that’s a big problem.”
There’s more laughter.
“I’ll speak loudly,” Wes shouts, and the room goes silent. In a stage whisper, he asks, “Can you all hear me?”
There’s uproarious laughter. Wes has moved into his rhythm. I take a deep breath and relax.
“This meeting is about Kinder Morgan Incorporated—and what they have to do with English Bay. Kinder Morgan is a US multinational corporation from Houston, Texas. It already operates one oil pipeline called Trans Mountain, which goes from Edmonton, Alberta, to Burnaby. The marine terminal is just east of us. Some petroleum products, like gasoline and diesel, flow down the existing pipeline, but mostly it’s light oil that’s destined for refineries in Burnaby and Washington State.
“Only a small amount of what’s called oil—or tar—sands heavy crude comes down the pipeline. It’s shipped offshore to US markets. Kinder Morgan says it loads about five tankers a month through English Bay and up Burrard Inlet, but we have evidence that it’s only about two tankers a month at present. Kinder Morgan is exaggerating the numbers to make the current demand for its shipments off the dock seem bigger than it is. By pretending the demand is urgent, the thinking is it’ll be easier to get community support for expanding. By a show of hands, how many here knew that the Trans Mountain pipeline already shipped crude oil off the dock?”
Most of the people in the audience raise a hand.
“This new pipeline Kinder Morgan wants to build will have the capacity to ship five hundred and forty thousand barrels a day of oil sands heavy crude to the marine terminal. It also wants to build three new berths to load the oil tankers and send them into the Salish Sea. Kinder Morgan’s application says that the number of oil tankers moving through our bay will go up to thirty-four tankers a month—over four hundred a year.”
There are murmurs from the audience.
“Yes, that’s right. That’s more than two tanker transits a day. These huge oil tankers will have to park in English Bay while they wait to be loaded at the Westridge Marine Terminal. By a show of hands, how many people knew there would be this many oil tankers a day moving through Burrard Inlet and into English Bay with dangerous and toxic tar sands?”
This time not many hands go into the air.
Wes continues. “In order for Kinder Morgan to…basically ruin English Bay, the company needs our permission, via the government of Canada. Before the federal government can grant permission, the regulator—the National Energy Board—will review the project and determine if it’s in our interest.”
“It’s not!” yells a man wearing a red jacket. He’s sitting about halfway up the bleachers, over on the left. People around him nod in agreement.
“Friends of English Bay is participating at the hearing and is submitting evidence. We want anyone here that’s interested in having their voices heard to step forward and sign up. Become a member of Friends of English Bay.”
A man wearing a dark blue suit with a trench coat draped over his arm is leaning against the wall beside the bleachers. His shoes aren’t alligator. I had noticed he was typing into his smartphone instead of looking at Wes. Now he puts his phone away, pushes off the wall and steps forward, commanding his own space. “I have a question,” he says loudly. He doesn’t sound like Alligator Shoes either.
A woman’s voice says just as loudly, “Let Wes finish.”
I can’t locate where she’s sitting, but audience members murmur agreement.
“We’ll take questions in a few minutes,” Wes says directly to the man. “I’ll just explain a few more things, and if I haven’t answered your question by the time I finish, you can go first, sir.”
The man isn’t satisfied. He turns toward the audience. “What about all the jobs from the project? What about the taxes so that schools, like the one we’re in tonight, can get the funding they need or the audio equipment they deserve?”
It’s not a question, it’s an accusation. He takes a few steps closer toward the centre of the gym. Our line adjusts, giving him more space without meaning to.
Someone sitting in the bleachers begins to clap. He stands up. He’s wearing an unbuttoned raincoat, and it looks like he has taken off his tie and come straight from work. Young executive on the make. When no one claps with him, he stops and sits down, looking out of place.
“It is Wes, isn’t it?” asks Blue Suit.
“Well, Wes,” the man says, lengthening Wes’s name into two syllables, “isn’t it deceitful to bring us here to talk about protecting English Bay when what you’re really doing is taking away funding from public institutions, like this school?”
Liz leans toward Wes, and I hear her whisper, “He needs your permission to intimidate you. Don’t give it to him.”
Wes is trying to treat the guy with respect even though he’s taking over the meeting. “Please, sir, wait until I have finished and then there will be time—”
“I think we’ve heard enough,” Blue Suit interrupts, moving closer into our space. This time we refuse to step back.
“Sir,” says Wes loudly, “regrettably, you’re misinformed. Kinder Morgan has structured itself so cleverly that it effectively doesn’t pay corporate taxes in Canada. The idea that this pipeline will generate revenue to pay for hospitals and schools is a lie, and our report explains all the details.”
“I think jobs are important,” the man says, facing the audience and upstaging Wes. “Don’t you people think jobs are important?”
Something about him seems out of place. I look at his face, but it isn’t that. It’s his suit.
“You’re mistaken. More jobs will be lost than created if this pipeline goes through,” says Wes, but Clapping Boy stands once more, pointing at us and yelling over Wes, “Friends of English Bay want to take away our jobs. Kinder Morgan is giving us an opportunity for growth.”
People shuffle in their seats.
Pointing at Blue Suit, I’m surprised by how loud my voice is when I blurt out, “You! Do you work for Kinder Morgan?”
Blue Suit backs away, saying something we can’t hear over the heckling and calls for him to be quiet. Other people aren’t as polite. Some yell for him to go back to Texas and take his pipeline with him. Someone begins to chant Wes’s name, and others join in. The chant is like a metronome. “Wes, Wes, Wes, Wes.”
As Blue Suit reaches the edge of the room, he turns and walks out of the gym. Clapping Boy quickly makes his way to the end of the row and down the bleacher stairs.
I whisper to Flick, “They refused to send a representative when I asked them, but it looks like they had no trouble sending someone to destroy our meeting. I’ll be back.”
Wes begins to quiet the crowd. As I near the gymnasium door, I wait for it to shut behind Clapping Boy. Then I push on the door, opening it a crack. I can hear an angry voice but can’t make out the words. I open the door a little further and peer out into the rain. Both men are now walking up the street toward the community centre. I ease through the door, close it behind me and press myself against it in case either of them looks back. Foolishly, I don’t have my coat.
Where many schools have a chain-link fence marking their boundary, King George High has a hedge about head height between the school grounds and Denman Street. It adds a pleasing touch of greenery, and now it allows me to get off the landing without being seen by the two men. I jump to the ground and tuck behind the hedge. Staying crouched, I run to the end of it, where I spread apart branches to look out on the street. I see the men stopped about three metres ahead. They’re standing under the community centre awning, clearly visible by the light of the street lamp. Blue Suit takes a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, offers one to Clapping Boy, then lights them. He throws the match to the ground. A leisurely smoke after trying to sabotage our meeting. Figures.
I follow the hedge down the side boundary of the school far enough so, if either of them looks in the direction of the school, I won’t be seen coming from the shrubbery. I force my way through the foliage, and when I reach the community centre wall I press up against it, motionless, and can make out a voice.
“…They really pissed me off, so when that little bitch called you out—”
“Tyler, you shouldn’t have left the meeting.”
“Fine, but what do I do now?”
“Find out who these punks are. Go back in there and sign up. Become a Friend of English Bay. Get access to their plans.”
“A little court action?”
“If it comes to that. They don’t call them SLAPP suits for nothing.”
Tyler lets out a guffaw. “Yeah, slap them around a bit. Okay, I’ll go back in. All I came out for was a cigarette anyway, eh?”
A butt with a glowing red end flies past the corner of the building and lands on the curb. Thanks for littering, asshole.
“Meet me at the car when you’re done,” Blue Suit orders.
Tyler walks past me, heading back toward the school gym. His hood is up and his head is down as protection against the rain, so he doesn’t see the “little bitch” out of the corner of his eye.
Will Blue Suit go back to his car? I bend down as if to tie my shoelace. If his car is parked in the community centre parking lot, I’m screwed. Heading toward it, he has to walk right past me. The best I can hope for is he might think I’m a soaking wet homeless person bent down against the wall, probably high on something. A loser not worthy of a second glance.
Without raising my head, I look from the corner of my eye, but I don’t see Blue Suit. He must have continued up the street in the opposite direction. Still crouching, I inch to the edge of the building, as I hear, “Hey, yeah, it’s me.” I peer around the corner. He’s still standing under the awning, and his phone is placed to his ear. I pull back.
“No,” he says, “no hitches.”
I wonder how the person on the other end would react if they knew he’d been booed out of the meeting.
“They aren’t going to be a problem. They’re not retired professionals like that group in Burnaby. These are a bunch of kids, amateurs with no funding, hearts on their sleeves,” he snickers dismissively. “Front’s some smooth-talking Ryan Gosling look-alike. We’ll put an end to their meddling when we know more about them.” Another pause, then more snickering. “Exactly. Nothing deep pockets won’t solve. I’ll have all the information I need to make the pitch to Kinder Morgan. With this, I can’t imagine them not wanting to hire us. We can give them lots of intel on who to watch out for and how to neutralize this pathetic group. Sure, on your desk in the morning.” Blue Suit’s voice trails off, so he must be walking away.
I lean back against the wall and raise my head. Clandestine agitation at a legitimate community meeting and infiltration to gather information for Kinder Morgan. Wow.
I make it to the gym and go backstage unnoticed. The meeting has wound up. There’s a long line of people eager to become Friends of English Bay. Tyler is among them, sporting his best concerned community member look.
I put on my coat and bury my hands in my pockets hoping it will warm me up. The audio tech is leaning back in his chair with his feet on the soundboard, his hands clasped behind his head. I think his eyes are closed because when I nod to him, he doesn't react. I stand near the curtains peering out into the auditorium where I won’t be seen and watch our membership list grow. Momentum is building.
Tyler shakes Wes’s hand and I hear him ask if they can hook up and talk more. “Hey, bro, I want to do what I can to help, ya know.” He asks Wes where he works. I see Kat walk up the stairs and onto the stage.
“Kat, Kat,” I whisper. “Here, Kat.”
She walks into the wing. “Thought I saw you slink back here. Why are you all wet?”
“I tracked Blue Suit and his sidekick in the rain.” I grab Kat’s arm and pull her away, out of the technician’s earshot. “They’re infiltrating our group as we speak,” I whisper.
“I expected as much,” Kat says in a low voice. “Here.” She hands me an envelope. “Put this away.”
“What is it?”
“You know the financial viability questions you sent me? Well, there’s more. Kinder Morgan plans to put up very little of their own money for this project. With hardly any skin in the game, they can keep chipping away at the integrity of the regulatory process, and if they fail to dismantle it, well, they only write off a small loss.”
“Thanks, Kat, but I thought you couldn’t—”
“I can’t be a member of Friends of English Bay, but Mom’s signing up. And anyway, there’s nothing that says I can’t write a letter now and then to an old school chum. I was hoping you might call me to go for lunch one day soon. We can catch up, talk about our love lives, how to save the planet, you know, whatever might come up.”
I put the envelope in my inside jacket pocket and zip it safely. “Thanks, Kat.”
“There’s more where that came from,” she says. “Gotta go, but don’t forget to call me and we’ll do lunch.”
Obviously, Tyler wants to know where Wes works so he can seek out Wes’s vulnerabilities. Well, we know where Tyler works. It isn’t that hard to find out since the company’s name is part of his email address, which he put down on the group contact list. It’s called Progressive Business Solutions. The website says they’re experts in “solving business concerns and modern communications challenges.”
The next day, I call the company from a pay phone during my break. Pay phones aren’t that easy to find, but there’s one in the basement of The Bay, near the shoe repair.
“Good morning. May I speak to Tyler Cook?”
“Yes, I can put you through.”
“Please,” I say, “just in case he’s not available, can you tell me who he reports to?”
“And Mr. Porter’s title?” I ask.
“He’s Director of Communications. I’m sorry, who are you?”
“Me? I’m a concerned citizen trying to get answers to some questions,” I say. I note how easy it is to respond to a question without answering it.
“Oh, then it’s Tyler you’ll want to speak to.” She transfers me to Tyler’s line. It goes right to voice mail.
“Hi, this is Tyler, Community Relations Liaison. I’m sorry I missed your call. I’m either on the phone or out working with stakeholders to help make our communities better, but please leave me a message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. If this is urgent, please press zero and speak with the receptionist.”
I press zero.
“Reception, how may I help you?”
“Hi, could you please connect me with Mr. Porter?”
Two calls on the same quarter. I’m getting my money’s worth. Hearing Porter’s voice message, I can confirm whether he’s Blue Suit.
Think fast, Trainer. “Mr. Porter, oh good. Hi. I wonder…er…I understand your company may be assisting with the Trans Mountain expansion by attending community meetings. Could you tell me when the next one is?”
“How did you get my name?”
“I don’t have anything to tell you.” Porter disconnects the call.
Flick says we should expose our discovery that the NEB review is rigged. I call Liz and tell her that Flick and I tracked down a paper trail that led to Kinder Morgan through a Nova Scotia numbered company. But we had no luck finding the company that owns the phone Alligator Shoes is using, so we can’t tie him to Kinder Morgan.
“What do you plan to do?” asks Liz.
“That’s why I’m calling,” I answer. “We’re thinking about incriminating the government on tape by getting Alligator Shoes to give us more information, maybe even some names, but we’ll do it in a way we don’t break any rules.”
“Good idea. A recording would be golden. Let me confirm some stuff. I’ll get back to you.”
Liz emails me back a few days later to say we need a Friends of English Bay executive meeting. We meet at Letters.
“It’s risky,” Liz warns. “Whoever makes the call shouldn’t suggest or say anything that isn’t true. By the way, who’s making it?”
“Not me,” I say.
Flick shakes his head.
“I think it should be Wes,” suggests Barbara. “He’s the best actor.”
“Bad actor, you mean,” Wes says with a smirk, rubbing his palms together. “What name should I give?”
“If you’re asked, I advise you give your real name.”
“If he’s not asked?” I ask.
“Why offer?” Liz replies. “From what you’ve told me, there’s a legitimate reason for making the call and recording it. To start with, you intend to expose them for violating the Lobbying Act, Section nine, and the regulations.”
“Isn’t there some law that says we have to let him know the call is being recorded?” Flick asks.
“When you’re one of the two parties involved, you can record a conversation without telling the other person,” explains Liz. “If you record a call between other parties—if you eavesdrop and record it—you have to let them know.”
“All right, let’s get this show on the road,” Wes says. “Tell me what to say, counsellor.”
“I’ll prep you, Wes,” offers Liz. “But what you say during the call is up to you. We clear?”
Wes gets serious. “Clear,” he agrees.
We decide the call will seem more authentic if it’s made during office hours, late in the afternoon. Barbara and I book off work, and everyone meets at Flick’s apartment. Flick makes sure he finishes his postal route early that day. Liz doesn’t need permission to leave her office.
Wes is dressed in his suit. He says it helps him get into character. We role-play the call.
Flick is busy with a digital program that operates as a recording system, and he connects that system through his cell phone, which identifies itself as a private caller. Flick has earphones connected to his computer. He shares one of his earphones with me and asks me to nod when I’m sure it’s Alligator Shoes’s voice.
Wes dials the number. It rings.
A male voice answers, “Yes?”
Shit. We’d expected that whoever answered would do so by name. It never occurred to us that they wouldn’t. Is it Alligator Shoes? I’m not sure.
“Hello,” says Wes, adopting a British accent. “I was given this number as the contact.” He sounds legit.
“Who are you?” says the male voice.
“I’m assisting in confirming the details of your discussion with the minister.”
“I was clear when I talked to him last week.”
“I am sure you were,” says Wes. “But if you could go over the details, to make sure nothing’s been missed, that would be appreciated.”
“What about the letter?”
I’m sure now. It’s Alligator Shoes. I recognize his tone: entitlement with a chaser of irritation. I nod to Flick.
“Hmm, did you send a letter?” Wes maintains his composure.
“Asop sent it,” says Alligator Shoes.
“Asop,” Wes repeats, as if Asop had dropped the ball. I’m trying to figure out who—or what—that is. An abbreviation? An acronym?
“Yeah, Asop,” confirms Alligator Shoes. “How could you miss it? I told him it was coming from them. I can’t send a letter like that, and it certainly can’t come from any of the companies.”
“Sure can’t,” Wes agrees. “Was it by post or email?”
Quick thinking, Wes.
“Letter attached to an email. Hang on, I’ll check the date.”
We wait. Alligator Shoes gives Wes the date and says, “That letter covers some of the initiatives we need Ottawa to spearhead.”
“Great. Thanks, that helps.”
Wes shrugs his shoulders and looks at us with his eyebrows raised. What more can he say? Alligator Shoes hasn’t given up much. Wes might be forced to cut the conversation short before getting what we need.
“If I have any further questions, I’ll call you back,” he says.
“No,” says Alligator Shoes. “No more phone contact.”
“What if I have questions?”
“I’ll be in Ottawa next Thursday. I can meet you.”
“Next Thursday?” asks Wes. “Sorry, I’ll be in Vancouver next Thursday.”
“When are you here?” asks Alligator Shoes.
“All next week,” Wes says and grimaces.
“Look, here’s a summary,” says Alligator Shoes, sounding almost patient. “The Board’s done a good job of giving short shrift to project need, commercial viability and alternatives. Getting rid of cross-examination at the hearing was critical. Make sure the Board keeps using its rubber stamp. As for endangered species, particularly the orcas, Cabinet considers that, not the NEB; leave it to them to decide why species extinction is justified under the circumstances. The Board evaluating the impact of tanker traffic on whales under Sara is too risky.”
“Keep ignoring project need, commercial viability and project alternatives. Cabinet decides on species demise. Got it,” says Wes, as if writing it down.
“Yeah. Clever how the NEB excluded climate change impacts from oil sands growth,” scoffs Alligator Shoes. “You’d never get away with that in Quebec. The minister needs to keep the pressure on in Cabinet. He needs to keep asserting that growth will be aggressive whether or not the pipeline is built, so let’s just nix climate change impact.”
“Keep ignoring climate change. Got it,” Wes says.
“Is the other thing in process?” asks Alligator Shoes.
“The other thing?” asks Wes.
“Consultation little more than bureaucrats taking notes.”
“I’m not sure if I follow,” Wes says.
“We can talk more about it next week, since you’re in Vancouver. When’s a good time to meet?”
“Tuesday evening,” says Wes. “There’s a club I like. Letters on Davie Street. I’ll be at the bar. Seven thirty.”
“Letters?” Alligator Shoes pauses. “Letters. Okay, seven thirty.” He disconnects the call.
Wes clicks the red icon.
“Got it,” Flick says.
“Well, now. That was unexpected,” Liz says. “You did good.”
“He won’t know who I am when he sits at the bar and the minister’s assistant never shows, but we’ll know who he is.”
“So that’s what your Daniel Craig as James Bond voice was all about,” I say.
“I didn’t plan it. I just started talking like that.” Wes smiles. “I almost lost it when he asked about the other thing. I thought, you asshole, there’s more?”
“Sounds like bad faith consultations with Indigenous peoples are being staged too,” says Liz, shaking her head. “Bureaucratic note taking! If I hadn’t heard it, I wouldn’t believe it.”
“How can the Board not evaluate the impact of tankers?” Barbara asks.
“And who’s Sara?” asks Wes.
“The Species at Risk Act—SARA,” answers Liz. “The NEB has been evasive around its SARA responsibilities.”
“Now it’s clear?” Barbara asks.
“Not really,” Liz says slowly. “This project’s a death sentence to the orcas, but maybe the Board has no intention of meaningfully assessing the impact on them.”
“But it’s supposed to assess the impact on orcas,” says Barbara.
“That’s what I thought,” Liz agrees, “that the Board would have to weigh in on whether the orcas’ extinction is justified under the circumstances. Now I’m not so sure.”
“So, everything we wrote in our report on how tanker traffic will lead to the demise of the orcas is irrelevant?” asks Barbara.
“That would appear to be what’s going on,” says Liz. “It’s such a betrayal.”
“Alligator Shoes said the plan is to exaggerate benefits and play down risk, but I never thought it would be this extreme,” I say. “Looks like what we wrote on the supply projections will be dismissed too. The Board has no intention of questioning that phony supply forecast, and we can’t count on Ottawa to question it either. They’ll keep pretending billions of dollars of investment will magically appear to expand supply.”
“What I wouldn’t give for a copy of that letter. The one from Asop,” Wes says. “And who is he?”
“We might be able to get it,” says Liz. “Under the Access to Information and Privacy Act. Or ATIP. We have the date, and I just have to figure out who it’s from. I bet Asop’s an industry group, so I’ll start with that.”
“ATIP request to get the letter,” Flick says. “Brilliant.”
“That’s why you pay me the big bucks,” says Liz. “Because I know shit like that.”
Liz sends in the ATIP request once she’s figured out who Asop is. Identifying the acronym was a challenge. Then she deduced it stood for ACOP—the C is pronounced like an S—the Association of Canadian Oil Producers, an amalgamation of four fossil fuel lobby groups.
Paid for by the oil industry, of course.
“Pour me a water and fill me in, Wesley James. Fill me in,” I say as I slap the bar with my hand and sit down on a bar stool. It’s early on Friday night, two days after the phone call with Alligator Shoes.
“You look happy,” he says, reaching for a glass.
“I’m feeling pretty good. I came to tell my brother about it.”
“Big brother is listening.”
“New Century gave me an excellent review,” I say. “According to HR, your twin is dependable, hard-working and courteous. He performs—”
Wes laughs. “They still think you’re male?”
“They still think I’m male, yep, even with my longer hair. Your brother performs required tasks efficiently and effectively. The company showed their appreciation with the maximum percentage increase they give outside detail.”
“That’s awesome, True,” Wes says, smiling.
I don’t want Wes to know my raise is the same as money left in a shopping cart—twenty-five cents an hour. “Enough about my high finance! Fill me in on yours. What’s the latest with Kat?”
Wes leans back against the bar and crosses his arms, looking at me suspiciously. “What are you, psychic?”
“What do you mean?”
“The Kat called me today. She knows someone who might be interested in investing in this place with me. I have a meeting on Monday.”
“Wow! That’s incredible.”
Wes shrugs, “Guess so.”
“You don’t seem excited.”
“It’s not a deal ’til it’s a deal, True.”
“Guess so,” I shrug, imitating Wes. “You’re closer, though, to getting—” I jump off the bar stool and make a motion with my hands that takes in the whole room. “Wesley James, all this could be yours.”
Wes chuckles. “We’ll see,” he says. “Liz has been awesome going through the deal terms. She’s coming to the meeting.”
“Well, that’s good.”
Wes nods. “I’ll look the part at least, flanked by an investment banker and a lawyer. Not bad,” he says.
“Not bad at all.”
Loud laughter interrupts us. I turn on the bar stool and see a man stumble into the room as if pushed from behind. He falls against a booth, where he relies on the table for support. Regaining his footing, he slides into the bench. “Pushy bitch,” he says as another man enters the room. “I’ll charge you with assault.”
The second man adjusts his watch, then runs both hands down the front of his perfectly pressed shirt. When he reaches its hem, he tugs gently and then walks gracefully into the centre of the dance floor. Turning sideways so we can all see his pantomime, he faces an imaginary person and starts playing with this person’s imaginary tie. In the best pouty voice I’ve ever heard, he says, “But, officer, what else could I do? He got in the way of my entrance.”
Wes starts a slow clap, then picks up speed. “Bravo, Davis,” he says.
With a graceful wave of his hand, Davis takes a bow and says, “Thank you, you’re very kind. But none of it would’ve been possible without the talent and loving support of my life-long friend and companion…” Davis points to the man sitting in the booth. “What’s your name, again?”
“Aigan,” the sitting man says.
Davis walks over to Aigan, leans into him and kisses him. “Let me tell you again, you are marvellous, Aigan.” This sets off another round of laughter.
Davis sits beside Aigan and says to Wes, “Bartender, make us—”
“Two Sapphire Blue Martinis, the colour of James Bond’s eyes.” Wes finishes Davis’s sentence for him as he grabs a blue bottle of liqueur from the shelf.
Davis sits back in the booth and looks at Wes. “There’s something very sexy about a straight man who knows what two gay men want.” Davis and Aigan burst into laughter.
Wes prepares two sapphire blue martinis. When Davis walks over to collect them, Wes introduces me.
“Davis, this is my sister, Trainer.”
“A sister?” Davis looks at me. “Well, hello, Sister Trainer. A pleasure to meet you.”
“Pleasure to meet you too,” I say, laughing. I like him.
“What are you drinking, Sister?” he asks.
Davis turns to Wes. “Make your darling sister a darling martini, Wes. Put it on my tab.”
“Oh, no, really…” I say weakly.
“Oh, yes, really. Any sister of Wes is a sister of mine.”
I enjoy the martini. It would have taken more than a week’s worth of my pay raise to buy this drink and leave a tip. I drink it very slowly. When I have one sip left, I think about how simple it is. So delightfully simple to sit on a bar stool, legs crossed, enjoying a martini in my brother’s soon-to-be bar. The crooked grin on my face probably looks silly. The warmth I’m feeling gives me permission not to care.
The bar is beginning to fill. I’m not ready to go home, even though a week’s worth of documents have piled up from the Board hearing. I’m behind, but they can wait an hour or so. I watch Wes, busy responding to the drinking needs of others. My wonderful brother, Wes, I think, as I put my elbow on the bar and rest my chin on my fist. Wes’s hopes and dreams are coming true, and he deserves this.
Wes stops making drinks and reaches for the phone in his pocket. He says into it, “She’s right here. Hang on.” He hands me the phone. “It’s Flick. He’s looking for you.”
“Flick.” I am delighted. “Hi, Flick.”
I like the sound of Flick’s voice. He still doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does, I like listening to him. I wait for Flick to talk.
“Trainer, listen. Kinder Morgan’s planning to bore a huge tunnel through Burnaby Mountain. It wants to conduct geological tests to see if it can put the pipeline through the park.”
“No, Kinder Morgan can’t do that, Flick.” I sit up, feeling cold.
“It just filed the plan on the NEB site. They start Monday, removing trees, bringing in equipment. Clever, isn’t it? File late on Friday, begin on Monday.”
“Bastards. Where are you?”
“At home. Can you come over?
“Yes. Leaving now.”
I hand Wes his phone.
“What?” he asks.
“Kinder Morgan’s going to bore a tunnel through Burnaby Mountain, Wes. And we have to stop it.”
I gingerly get off the bar stool and steady myself, focussing on how to put on my jacket. I look at the last sip of my martini. Better to leave it, so I carefully hand Wes the glass.
“Come to Flick’s when you’re off. It’s going to be a long night,” I say.
When I arrive at Flick’s apartment, Barbara and Liz are sitting around his coffee table, which is covered with papers. Liz hands me a copy of the letter Kinder Morgan filed. I quickly read it.
“They want to put a pipeline through Burnaby Mountain from the storage tanks down to the Westridge dock, and because they aren’t sure if it’s feasible, they need to bore holes first?” I ask.
“They say the route change is a response to safety concerns expressed by residents,” scoffs Liz. “Rather than put feeder lines through densely populated neighbourhoods, they’ll go through the mountain.”
“News flash,” I say. “Risks don’t change just because you move the pipe a few kilometres. What are all these other documents?”
“There’s a lot of paperwork,” says Barbara. “Various correspondence with the NEB, the city of Burnaby, concerned citizens. We want to make sure we know all the facts about the change in the route before we figure out what to do,”
“I bet it’s about optics. Expropriating private land, chopping down trees, removing swing sets and swimming pools—it just doesn’t play well on the evening news. It’s a lot easier to bore a tunnel on one side of a mountain and exit on the other, particularly when you already own the land at both ends,” I say.
“With a tunnel,” adds Liz, “abuse of entry and exit happens only once. When neighbourhoods are involved, it’s abuse after abuse after abuse.”
“The mountain won’t fight back when the equipment shows up and the workers start to drill,” says Barbara.
“But if they can’t do the tests, they can’t build the tunnel, right Liz?” I shuffle through the papers, trying to figure out where to start.
“Right. For Kinder Morgan, the tunnel’s the path of least resistance and sure to win favour with the Board.”
“We have to show Kinder Morgan it isn’t so,” I say. “Let’s figure out a plan.”
“They’re doing tests on Monday morning,” says Barbara. “We all have work, Trainer. Maybe Wes can go?”
“Wes is busy Monday,” I say. It’s premature to let on he’s in the process of raising money for the bar. Liz gives nothing away.
“We need more help,” says Barbara. “We need people who have time to show up. We need to mobilize Friends of English Bay.”
Flick’s buzzer rings. It’s Wes. He walks into the apartment carrying two bags of Chinese food takeout.
“Tips were good tonight, and I thought you guys would be as hungry as I am,” he says. The papers on the coffee table are replaced by containers of food. Flick brings out plates. Wes hands out chopsticks.
We fill Wes in while we eat.
“We need to write a call to action,” Wes says. “Get people up there on Monday to witness this, maybe block the work.”
“What do we say in a call to action, then?” asks Barbara. She opens her laptop.
“Kinder Morgan plans to set up test sites for a tunnel they want to bore through Burnaby Mountain. They’re beginning on Monday morning, and it’s expected this work will last for the next two weeks,” I offer. Barbara begins to type. “They plan to clear brush and chop down trees to determine whether the mountain can support a four-metre-wide tunnel, which will be used for three pipelines to deliver diluted bitumen from the Burnaby Mountain tank farm to the docks, where it will be loaded onto tankers.”
Barbara reads back the opening sentences.
“Good,” says Liz. “Now something about the mountain being a public park that must be protected, not violated by forcing pipelines through it.”
“And maybe explain that the way to stop the tankers from polluting our bay and threatening our beach with their toxic cargo starts with stopping these tests,” offers Wes.
“Exactly,” says Barbara. “I’ll finish with the need to develop a strategy to deliver a presence on the mountain for the next two weeks and how we need members who are free to help.”
As the early dawn light begins to filter through Flick’s windows, we issue our call for help.
“It goes to all our members,” I say. “Except, of course, Tyler Cook. Don’t forget to remove his name from the mailing list, Babs.”
“Already done,” she answers. “Ready to send out the call?”
We all nod, and she hits the send button.
Flick picks up empty food containers and sorts them into various recycling bins under his sink. I wash plates and stack them. Liz dries.
“That was quick,” says Barbara. “I’ve just got a reply email. Seems someone is up late.”
“Or early,” I say. “A lot of our members are retired. It’s almost five a.m.”
“Here, I’ll read the email,” Barbara says.
“Dear Executive Team of Friends of English Bay,
Mary and I are retired elementary-school teachers who live in the West End of Vancouver. Mary and I are not going to let that pipeline ruin what we have here. We know the pipeline route passes by schools before it reaches the mountain. That can’t happen. Those children are in danger. Please let us know what we can do to help. We are ready to go to the mountain.
Sheila, in solidarity.”
Barbara and I meet the teachers at their home late on Saturday afternoon. Their view of English Bay from their condo on Morton Street is breathtaking.
Sheila and Mary are clear about their terms. Whatever we plan, it must be peaceful and respectful of everyone, including Kinder Morgan workers.
“I can tell you, dear,” Sheila says as she offers us tea and a plate of homemade shortbread cookies, “the only way this works is if we remain calm and courteous. We know. Mary and I were activists in our day, weren’t we, Mary?”
“Mary and I received our teaching degrees from Carleton University, in Ottawa, in ’68. That same year, we organized a huge march against the Vietnam War, and we scheduled it to coincide with the Liberal Party convention. That was the day Pierre Elliot Trudeau was elected Liberal leader. Thousands of protesters marched past the convention centre, where the Liberals were meeting. We had over a hundred marshals to keep the march peaceful. The newspapers could’ve reported on the thousands of citizens marching against an unjust war, but they focussed on the one busload of anarchists that came up from Toronto and smashed car windows and violently confronted police.”
Sheila looks out the window at English Bay.
“It must be peaceful protest on the mountain,” says Mary. “Respect laws whether we think they’re just or not. Make our voices heard, our presence known.”
Sheila turns away from the view of the bay and adds, “It’s a slow process, but it’s the one that works.”
Barbara and I nod.
“Are we fighting corporate power or an elected one? Who’s to say? It’s each, and it’s both,” says Sheila.
Mary passes me the plate of cookies a second time. “Please, dear, take another cookie; you’re so thin.”
I take another cookie.
Sheila continues. “It may look like we’re up against a corporation, but this corporation has the full force of government behind it. This is not as simple as the challenges we faced. The things we helped change in our day were straightforward compared to this.”
“No, not as simple at all,” says Mary.
“When we go to the mountain,” says Sheila, “we won’t find company executives there. It’ll be low-level employees or contract workers. We don’t need to get in their way. Our purpose is to get in the way of the job they’ve been ordered to do.” Sheila takes a sip of her tea.
“We’re the polite inconvenience that delays their work,” says Mary. “Passive, polite, designed to delay.”
“If you girls are good with that, then you’ve got Mary and me for Burnaby Mountain.”
Of course we’re good with that. Sheila and Mary know what they’re doing. They sign up a dozen Friends of English Bay members over the next twenty-four hours, people who are able to make the trip to Burnaby Mountain on Monday morning. The two teachers generate a longer list of people able to stand vigil, take photos and blog from the mountain over the entire two weeks.
On Monday morning, I’m anxious as I patrol the parkade at The Bay. I wish I had a smartphone; I want to see the online postings about our peaceful protest. My less-than-friendly colleague, Robert, is working the toll booth, but I’m not asking him to check his phone for me.
I meet Barbara on our lunch break. “I checked a few times this morning, Trainer, but there’s nothing,” she says as she turns on her phone. “Hope there’s something now.” We go into the change room, and the post comes up: “Friends of English Bay Blog” it reads. There’s a photo of a crowded bus stop.
When Friends of English Bay got off the bus at Burnaby Mountain there were a lot of people on the roadway. They didn’t look like Kinder Morgan workers; they looked like concerned citizens, just like us. Friends of English Bay hiked to the site of Drill Hole #1. There was no sign of Kinder Morgan workers.
We met many Burnaby residents who shared concerns similar to ours and First Nations peoples who arrived to protect their unceded land. There is no treaty giving away Indigenous Peoples’ rights to this mountain.
The next photo shows a large banner, tied between two trees, that reads “NO PIPELINES ON STOLEN NATIVE LAND.” A large group of Indigenous people sit on the ground beneath the banner.
The caption under a photo of a large crowd of cheering people reads: “We all wondered, where is Kinder Morgan? Then, at about 11:30 this morning, a message passed through the crowd. The City of Burnaby had issued a press release. Kinder Morgan had been denied a municipal permit allowing the company to access Burnaby land. The company is not able to enter the park to conduct their corridor studies.”
Perfect. Kinder Morgan frustrated by the City of Burnaby.
After work, Barbara and I stop by to thank Mary and Sheila. I tell them I’m sorry they went to the mountain for no reason. They both laugh.
“Friends of English Bay is now part of a large network of like-minded others,” Sheila says. “We shared stories and coordinates and made promises to stay in touch. The day was a success, my dear, and we were home before three.”
“What about the people who went with you today? The members who agreed to go there over the next two weeks?” Barbara asks.
“They know how it works. They know they’re needed, just not yet. Now we have time to properly organize and mobilize more people.” Sheila gives me a reassuring smile.
“Kinder Morgan’s lawyers ran crying to the NEB, Trainer,” Barbara says as we head for our lockers after work the following day. She hands me her phone. “Look, they’ve already filed a motion asking the Board to use its power to give Kinder Morgan access to the mountain.”
I sit on the bench in front of my locker and scan the document on Barbara’s phone. “Trans Mountain can’t run its borehole tests without cutting trees and disturbing the land. Burnaby’s bylaws prohibit that, and that’s why they were stopped yesterday. Now Kinder Morgan wants the NEB to ignore Burnaby’s bylaws?”
“That’s how I read it.”
“Given everything we’ve seen this Board decide so far, it’ll give Kinder Morgan what it wants,” I say. “At least we know it’ll be a few weeks before the Board rubberstamps the request, Babs. It’s not much, but it’s a delay. Then, I guess, Burnaby will take the Board to court about who has more power.”
“That’s why Kinder Morgan has included a constitutional question in the motion,” Barbara says. She takes back her phone and scrolls to a section toward the end of Kinder Morgan’s request. “It wants the Board to determine that the NEB has the constitutional power to override Burnaby, so in the future the company can ignore whatever concerns the city raises.”
“Well, we know where that goes. A national regulator versus a municipality means the NEB wins, but it’ll take a few months and a court case or two before it’s decided. So, when Kinder Morgan advances on the mountain armed with the full force of a court order behind it, we’ll be ready, just like Sheila said.”
“It really is a sham, Trainer, the way the NEB grants Kinder Morgan whatever it asks and refuses requests that are important to intervenors. We knew it might unfold like this. But I still had hope that the Board was more than Kinder Morgan’s lapdog. I didn’t expect it would be this bad.” Barbara takes out a tube of lipstick from her purse and applies it.
“I was hopeful too, Babs. Canadians are being screwed.” I unlock my locker and take off my New Century jacket. “You all set for tonight?” I ask, putting on a blazer for the occasion.
“Yes,” Barbara says, smacking her lips together. “We hang out in a booth and wait. If Wes asks, ‘You ladies okay over there?’ it means Alligator Shoes hasn’t given Wes a credit card to run a tab, so he may pay by cash and we won’t get his name. That’s when I go over to the bar, talk him up, get his name. Right?”
“Right you are. You look great, by the way.”
When Barbara and I walk into Letters shortly after seven, we ignore Wes and head straight to the booth where Flick is already sitting, a jug of beer in front of him courtesy of Wes. Flick pours three glasses. Liz and her husband plan to show up a little before eight.
Right on time, Alligator Shoes walks in. I know because of the shoes. He must really like them. He sits at the bar facing the door and orders a beer. I ask Barbara to tell us something, anything.
“I haven’t told you about the city bike tour my parents took when they were in Lima, have I?” Barbara asks. Without waiting for an answer, she launches into a story, and we all end up laughing at the end even though there’s nothing funny about it.
Flick gets up and walks by Alligator Shoes on his way to the bathroom. A few minutes later, Alligator Shoes looks at his watch. “You ladies okay over there?” Wes calls.
Barbara picks up her beer, gets up from the booth and walks over to the bar. “Mind if I sit here?” she asks Alligator Shoes.
He looks at her, shakes his head and motions to the barstool. “Not at all.”
Barbara sits. “I’m fine, bartender,” she says. Wes brings her a coaster, and she places her beer on it. I use my peripheral vision to watch things unfold. Flick returns and slides into the booth. I ask him how work is going because I can’t think of anything else to say. Then I reach over and take his hand.
“You know,” Barbara says to Alligator Shoes, “I’m feeling a bit like a third wheel over there.” She nods her head in the direction of our table, smiles and crosses her long legs.
After a while, Alligator Shoes doesn’t even look toward the door. He buys Barbara another beer and a second for himself. Liz and her husband arrive and slide into the booth beside Flick.
“This is my husband, Duncan,” she says.
“Hi Duncan, nice to finally meet you,” I say.
Barbara jumps off the barstool, squeezes Alligator Shoes’s shoulder and says, “Sorry, but it looks like I have to go.” Back at our table, she says in a voice loud enough to be heard at the bar, “We better hit the road, guys, if we’re going to make the concert.”
We stand and grab our coats. Flick leaves Wes a tip under the jug of beer. None of us look at Wes as we head out. Barbara throws Alligator Shoes a smile.
We walk up Davie Street away from the beach as if we’re heading to a concert at Rogers Stadium. Liz says through her teeth, “Do not look back no matter what.”
“So, who were you talking to, Babs?” as if picking up a guy in a bar were something she did all the time.
“His name is Dwayne Everthall. And he works for a public relations firm that specializes in, get this, government assistance, but he didn’t mention the firm’s name. I decided getting his name isn’t enough. We have a dinner date Friday.”
“What? You’re going out with him?” I ask.
“If it takes a dinner date to save our beach, then that’s what it takes.”
“What if it takes more than a dinner date to save the planet?” I tease and nudge her. “Just kidding, Babs, just kidding. You did great.”
We reach the end of the block and turn the corner. Flick calls Wes on Letter’s land line and puts his index finger to his lips. We’re quiet as Flick says, “Hello, I’m looking for a man sitting at the bar who looks like he’s waiting for someone. I wonder if I could speak to him.”
I imagine Wes nodding on the other end of the line and saying to Dwayne, who’s perhaps finishing his beer, “Hey, buddy. Are you expecting someone?” Dwayne will answer, “Yes,” and Wes will say, “There’s a call for you, then.” Wes will hand the receiver to Dwayne.
It must have gone down just like that because Flick says, “Hello, I’m calling on behalf of the minister’s assistant. Sorry, he didn’t have your name but said you were expecting him.” Flick pauses, then says, “Regrettably, something has come up, and he’s not going to be able to make it. He asked me to call and let you know.”
Flick pauses. “Sorry for the inconvenience. Okay, ’bye then.”
Kat is sitting at a table next to the window when I arrive at the Water Street Café. I lock my bike to the rack by the curb and wave. Gastown’s steam-powered clock finishes its twelfth chime as I enter the restaurant and make my way to the table.
“Hi, Kat. Good to see you.”
“Good to see you too. Thanks for meeting near my office.”
I pick up the menu and choose the cheapest item on it. “I know we don’t have much time, so let’s get right to it. I read the report you gave me at the Friends of English Bay sign-up meeting.”
“Pretty damning, isn’t it?”
“Perfectly damning. The NEB granted Kinder Morgan a slush fund at a different hearing to help push its project through regulatory approval. And then, when companies like Chevron told the Board it wasn’t fair or right, the Board ignored them. Is there nothing the NEB won’t do to get this pipeline built?”
“Letting Kinder Morgan off the hook for regulatory approval costs violates the whole idea that having capital to lose makes for sound investment decisions,” Kat says. “Watch Kinder Morgan really carefully, Trainer, because it’ll pretend to be closer than it is to making a final investment decision on the project. You need to see evidence that they have capital at risk before buying their hype.”
The server walks to our table and begins to fill our water glasses. “Do you have any questions about the menu,” he asks.
“The catch of the day…is that wild or farmed?” asks Kat.
“We only serve wild fish here. Today, it’s salmon.”
“I’ll have that.”
“I’ll have the soup of the day,” I say, trying not to think of the report Barbara sent me. The orcas’ main food staple is salmon, which is now overfished and in short supply.
I say instead, “You’ll never believe this, Kat. I found a report written by Kinder Morgan’s consultant Steven Kelly for a different hearing. Kelly completely contradicted what he’s saying at this hearing about producer benefits.”
“You’re kidding,” says Kat.
“Nope. I can’t believe the detail he goes into about how wrong the methodology behind the fifty-million-dollar-a-day loss is because it’s applied to all barrels when so few are exposed to spot pricing, just like we figured out. And he says that expecting higher prices in Asia is moronic.”
Kat laughs. “He actually says that?”
“Not quite. What he said is the suggestion that oil prices in Asia will be higher is…let me see, how did he word it?…‘of concern, as it is based on an overly simplistic view of crude valuation, pricing and transportation mechanisms.’ Like I said, anyone who believes prices in Asia will be higher is stupid.”
“What did he tell the Board in the report he filed at this hearing?” Kat asks.
“Prices in Asia are higher, excess supply will lead to price discounts, so hurry up and build that pipeline and get higher prices for all barrels supplied.”
“Same as in the fifty-million-a-day scam,” Kat says.
“Kinder Morgan didn’t file the fifty-million-a-day report as evidence, Kat. I bet they know there’s no analysis to back it up. They hired Kelly to do his own calculations, which are lower than fifty million dollars, but it all amounts to the same thing—trumped up figures.”
“No wonder the public gets confused,” says Kat. “Pipeline pushers keep spewing out nonsense from different sources, but when you look below the surface they’re all based on the same lies. How much did Kelly say producer revenues would go up if Trans Mountain is built?”
“His number works out to seven million a day.”
“Close to the Northern Gateway consultant. Wow, more proof the claim is nothing but propaganda.”
“I’m going to try to get River Rescuers to file a motion at this hearing requesting that Kinder Morgan submit Kelly’s earlier report. Kinder Morgan commissioned both reports as their evidence, and he’s their consultant. What better way to discredit the producer benefits Kelly prepared for this hearing than with his own words from an earlier report.”
Kat raises her water glass. “Here’s to exposing the bastards.” I raise mine and clink.
The server puts a basket of bread on the table. “A special occasion, ladies?”
“Sure is,” I say, reaching for a warm slice of sourdough.
“Congratulations, whatever it is,” he says. “I’ll be right back with your meals.”
“Speaking of slower growth in the oil sands, even though we haven’t,” says Kat.
“One of my favourite subjects because of the happy ending for the planet,” I say, spreading butter on the bread.
“We’re seeing signs that some big international players are getting ready to pull out. Companies like Shell, Norway’s Statoil, French multinational Total. They know the oil sands’ days are numbered. They’re cashing in while they can. We’ve even heard speculation that ConocoPhillips is looking to sell its holdings to its partner Cenovus.”
“Cenovus is full of nonsense,” I say. “If I was a shareholder, I’d be worried. Its CEO, I think his name is Ferguson, is big on propagating the fifty-million-dollar-a-day loss bullshit.”
“His name is Ferguson, and his public comments are unseemly for someone in his position,” says Kat. “We’ve put Cenovus at the top of our sell list.”
“What would it mean if Cenovus acquires ConocoPhillips’s tar sands assets?” I ask.
“It would double Cenovus’s production. But since it’d be supply that’s already being produced, there’d be no increase in overall supply. The real concern for Cenovus’s investors is how it would increase the reserves on Cenovus’s balance sheet.”
“Because those reserves are at risk of being stranded, right?”
“Why would Cenovus do that now?” The server appears beside us, so I stop and wait while he places our meals on the table.
“Why would it increase its exposure to an industry in decline, Kat?”
“I don’t know. My boss said he wonders if the company had some agreement requiring a sale. It’s just speculation, but he can’t figure out why else Cenovus would risk burying itself in huge debt with a purchase like that,” Kat says, picking up her knife and fork and cutting into her salmon filet. “We’ve also heard Kinder Morgan’s Texas executives have been making the rounds in Canada looking for financing for Trans Mountain.”
“They told the NEB they would finance the whole project, no problem. Now they’re on the prowl for funds? Where are they looking?”
“They must be in trouble ’cause they’re going after government money.”
“They’ve had meetings with the government of Alberta, but Premier Redford told them to take a hike. We also heard they’ve pitched the expansion project to the Canada Pension Plan.”
“Our pension savings? That’s outrageous.”
“Struck out there too, from what we heard.”
“Good. Send them back to Texas and see if capital markets in the US can be conned into investing in the expansion. If they can’t get financing, the project dies. Do you want the last piece of bread?”
“No, you have it.”
“Thanks.” I take the last piece of bread and finish the last spoonful of soup. “I prepared a motion for River Rescuers to ask Kinder Morgan to file new information on the project’s commercial viability and Kinder Morgan’s ability to finance it, and you know what?”
“Kinder Morgan refused to do it. When the Board was asked to compel Kinder Morgan to provide the information, the Board said Kinder Morgan didn’t have to. Wish I’d known the company was fishing around for government help and pension funds.”
“Would it have helped?”
Kat finishes her last bite. “We’re really in trouble. The National Energy Board is supposed to protect us from projects that don’t make commercial sense. But it’s just a toady to corporate interests.”
The server clears our table.
“Barbara found out who Alligator Shoes is,” I whisper. “His name is Dwayne Everthall.”
“Never heard of him.”
”He’s a shadow. We searched online, but he doesn’t have a LinkedIn account, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Really low profile.”
Kat looks at her watch. “Maybe that’s not his real name.” She motions to the server for the cheque. “Maybe he’s married.”
“Something’s up ’cause everyone has a profile.” She reaches into her purse for her wallet, and I reach for my pack off the back of the chair.
“This is on me, Trainer.”
The server arrives with a piece of vanilla cheesecake on a plate and two forks. “Here we are,” he says, putting the cake in the middle of the table and setting a fork down for each of us. “On me. Happy whatever it is.”
“Oh, lovely,” says Kat. “Thank you.”
I pick up my fork and take a bite.
“My boss summed it up, Trainer,” Kat says, picking up her fork. “Investors aren’t risking their capital on new oil sands projects, which means supply can’t grow, at least not enough to fill Trans Mountain’s proposed expansion. And since hardly any barrels are exposed to the spot market price anyway, even if supply were to grow, returns aren’t going to increase. Months ago, my boss told the lead commodities analyst to include only operating and in-construction oil supply in his modelling, and he told the VP in charge of the trading desk to intensify our exit strategy from the oil sands.”
Kat puts a healthy bite of cheesecake on her fork. “I’ve ended up looking like a star.”
“I’m glad I caught you,” says Barbara, as I’m hanging my New Century jacket in my locker after work.
“Hey, Babs, what’s up?”
“The Board ruled on Kinder Morgan’s request for access to Burnaby Mountain.”
“Let me guess. The NEB decided Burnaby’s right to protect its mountain is not as important as the right of a US multinational to ruin it?”
“Yep. The Board’s ordered Burnaby to stop interfering.” She rolls her eyes. “The NEB said it can override Burnaby’s bylaws because federal laws, like the NEB Act, have more authority. The legal term the Board used was ‘paramountcy.’”
“So, what’s next?”
“Exactly the question I called Liz about at lunchtime. Kinder Morgan starts its tests in a week, so we need to be getting a lot of people to arrive at the mountain, camp out and try to prevent the company from doing any work.”
“We have a week to get ready. We better let Sheila and Mary know.”
“Should we try to drop by now?” she asks.
“Hand me your phone. I’ll call while you change.”
“Liz and I talked more about my date with Dwayne. She advised me not to conceal any recording device, if we choose to use one. And to be careful about giving Dwayne too much personal information. I mean, he has my phone number and first name so he could confirm dinner, but I should be vague beyond that.”
“What name was on his caller ID?”
“It just said ‘private caller.’ Why?”
“Kat thinks he gave you a fake name, maybe because he’s married.”
Sheila answers on the second ring. After we finish chatting, I hand Barbara back her phone. “We’re good to go.”
We retrieve my bike and walk down Robson Street.
“Don’t worry about Dwayne, Babs. Flick and I’ll be in the coffee shop across the street if there’s trouble. Have you tested the camera yet?”
“Yeah. The quality is really good. That’s a pretty cool buttonhole camera Flick has. He’s a bit of a technology wiz, isn’t he?”
“Sure is.” I look at Barbara. “If it starts to go sideways, text Flick, and we’ll come into the restaurant.”
“I wasn’t nervous when I agreed to meet Dwayne, you know. Since I get paid to impersonate a shopper, I thought impersonating a dinner date should be easy. It’s a bit different taking it outside the corporate safety net I’ve got at work.”
As we walk past a sample table in front of Lush, I stop and pass Barbara my bike to hold. I squeeze lavender-scented hand cream on my dry hands. “Call it off, Babs. It’s not worth it if you’re worried.”
“I’m nervous, but I’m going through with it. Otherwise, who am I?” She hands me my bike. “Just another sellout waiting for someone else to do what’s right, and then, after it’s too late, a doofus sitting around and wondering where the climate went.”
“And by doing what’s right, right now, you get a nice dinner in an expensive restaurant. Think of it as dignity on a full stomach.”
Barbara laughs. “Dad says I have to think about the change we’re trying to make like it’s a spoke in a wheel.”
“I don’t get it.”
“The wheel moves forward, and the spokes make it strong, but no spoke ever thinks of itself as powerful.”
“Friends of English Bay is a spoke,” I say. “We’re not alone supporting the wheel of progress.” Barbara and I walk in silence. Then I tell her, “I’m going to put in for vacation time at work, so I can be on the mountain. Flick said he’d lend me his tent, sleeping bag and stove.”
“I’ll come up when I can, Trainer.” Barbara’s phone rings.
“Hi, Wes,” Barbara says. A pause. “You’ve found her, she’s with me.” I hand Barbara my bike; she hands me her phone.
“Hey, Wes. What’s up?”
“Kat heard from the investor, and he’s taken a pass. Not big enough. I’m not asking for enough money. Go figure.”
“That sucks. I’m sorry.”
“Barbara and I are off to Sheila and Mary’s. Kinder Morgan’s returning to Burnaby Mountain now the Board’s cleared its path, and we need a plan to stand in their way. I won’t be long, then I’ll come by. Do you work tonight?”
“Yeah, but not ’til nine.”
“We’ll have dinner before you go in, okay? Someone out there cares enough to make sure Letters ends up in your hands, Wes. We just have to figure out who. I’ll see you soon.”
On Friday night, Flick and I sit on the patio of the coffee shop across the street from the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. We watch Barbara walk through the main lobby entrance to meet Dwayne for dinner. An hour and a half later, she emerges from the hotel’s double doors and walks west along Waterfront Road. A text message appears on Flick’s phone: “Don’t think he’ll come after me.”
Flick and I pick up our travel mugs and follow Barbara as planned. We catch up with her in front of the huge Art Deco archway at the Marine Building on Burrard Street and turn the corner to walk down Hastings, towards Flick’s apartment.
“Kat was right. He’s married,” says Barbara. “He thought dinner at a swanky hotel might end with a little after-dinner romp.”
“How’d you figure that out?” I ask.
“Wait ’til you see.”
“Did you find out where he works?”
“Yep. And got his real name. But it doesn’t matter.”
“Why?” I ask.
“Wait ’til you see that too. I couldn’t begin to do justice to explaining how these lobbyists cover their asses.”
When we reach Flick’s apartment, Barbara removes the buttonhole camera from her suit jacket lapel, and Flick hooks it up to his computer. He fast-forwards to where Barbara has removed her coat, allowing the video camera to capture the action. We see her approach the bar where Dwayne is sitting, a glass of red wine in front of him. He smiles and rises from the bar stool, moving toward her. He hugs her, causing the screen to go black.
“Hi, Barbara,” we hear him whisper. “You look lovely.”
“Thanks, Dwayne,” we hear her answer demurely.
Dwayne motions to the maître d’. “Let me take your coat,” he says reaching toward Barbara and taking it from her arm. He hands the coat to the maître d’ and says, “Thank you, Stewart.” The maître d’ leads Barbara and Dwayne to a table in a corner at the back of the restaurant.
“I’ll have the waiter bring the wine you ordered and your glass to your table, Mr. Howard,” he says.
The video camera captures Dwayne’s expression, which barely changes.
“You must eat here often,” Barbara says, “if you know the maître d’?”
“One of the hazards of my business. Too many dinners with clients,” Dwayne answers and laughs, so Barbara chuckles.
“Then you know what’s good,” she says. “Any suggestions?”
“Whatever you like because it’s all delicious. Any special dietary needs, the chef will accommodate. But first, some wine? I ordered a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, from Italy. But if you prefer white…?”
“Actually, if you don’t mind, I do, and preferably one made in BC,” says Barbara.
“Of course, there’s a good selection of BC wines on the menu.”
The waiter delivers the bottle of red to the table and puts Dwayne’s half-finished glass in front of him.
“Will the lady be having wine this evening?” he asks.
Barbara nudges my shoulder and says, “The lady did have wine.” She turns to Flick. “Until the waiter removes our salads, it’s unimportant banter luring Dwayne into thinking I’m interested in him. Can you fast-forward to there, Flick?”
The video rushes through a glass of white wine being delivered to the table, Dwayne’s glass being refilled, menus removed and salads delivered. When Dwayne’s salad plate is lifted, Flick clicks a key on his computer to return the video to normal speed.
Dwayne wipes his mouth with his napkin and replaces it on his lap. He smiles and shakes his head. “No, networking isn’t what I do. We’re a communications company that helps clients deliver information to decision-makers.”
“Do you do analysis?” asks Barbara. “Research reports?”
“We rely on reports our clients provide to show where mutual benefits exist, how business and government can work together to create jobs and stimulate economic growth. These issues are complex and detailed, so it’s important the message is understood.”
“How’d you get into this line of work?” asks Barbara.
“I was communications director for a candidate during Stephen Harper’s 2008 federal bid for prime minister, which, of course, he won. Do you know much about politics?”
“Not really. I find politics boring,” Barbara lies.
“That’s what we count on,” Dwayne laughs. “Makes my job easier.”
“Disinterested people don’t ask questions.”
“I better stop then,” Barbara says lightly. Dwayne laughs.
“After my guy became an MP and then a Cabinet minister, I worked in Ottawa until the Conservatives were re-elected. Then I set up my own firm with a couple of partners about a year ago.”
“Working on the outside must be harder.”
“Actually, it’s easier and more lucrative. Companies will pay well to get things done, and guys like me mean governments can downsize. I provide information, so why keep a staff of bureaucrats?”
“How do they keep you honest if the workforce is downsized?” Barbara asks.
“Who says they want to?” Dwayne laughs, so Barbara does too.
“Point well taken,” she says. “Does that mean you travel a lot?”
“Meetings in Ottawa and Edmonton mostly. Conferences here and there in the US.”
“But you live in Vancouver?”
“I live in Calgary. I’m working on a file that brings me here most weeks. That’s why I have a room in this hotel,” he says.
“Hmmm,” says Barbara. “That sounds interesting.” The camera angle adjusts slightly as two dinner plates appear into frame. Smiling, Dwayne moves his wineglass to make room for the waiter to put a steak dinner in front of him.
Dwayne picks up his knife and fork. “Enjoy,” he says to Barbara before cutting into the meat.
“This is where you can fast-forward again, Flick,” Barbara says. “I don’t want to have to listen to his innuendos. Once was enough.” Flick drags the bar with his cursor. “I’ll tell you when to stop…here.” Flick hits a key, and we see Dwayne pick up his wineglass.
“…Risky, isn’t it? Well, what happens if something gets out? I mean, like something about your client you don’t want the public to know?” Barbara asks.
“We call that ‘uncomfortable release.’ My firm has a contingency plan for that possibility.” Dwayne says, taking a sip of wine. He looks at Barbara’s glass. “If you aren’t enjoying that vintage, why don’t you order something else?” he asks.
“No, I’m enjoying everything, Dwayne. The wine is lovely.” Barbara’s hand enters the frame as she reaches to lift her glass. “The dinner is delicious. Cheers,” she says.
Dwayne clinks her glass. “Here’s to being interested,” he says and drains his glass.
Barbara laughs. “To being interested.” Her wineglass returns to the table with barely any change in volume from when she picked it up for the toast.
“Strategists keep written material to a minimum, but there’s always a backup plan.”
“My client disavows knowledge. They’re off the hook, and I get a bonus when I cover for them by taking the heat as a rogue operator.”
“That’s written into your contract?” Barbara asks.
“Would you like another bottle, Mr. Howard?” the waiter asks as the last of the red wine is poured into Dwayne’s glass.
“No, I think we’re fine…for now,” Dwayne says, taking a sip. He puts his glass on the table and smiles at Barbara. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this,” he says, picking up his fork and putting the last piece of steak in his mouth.
“Oh, you can tell me.”
Dwayne swallows and says, “The bonus is hidden as part of the performance terms in the contract. If something comes out that embarrasses the government, it ends up as a one-day media wonder. No one talks. If ministers face questions in the House, they respond with speaking notes I prepared. Then someone else in my firm fronts the meetings from there on in, and I work behind the scenes.”
“And if your wife finds out about our dinner date, Dwayne?” Barbara says calmly, “what’s your backup plan for that?” We hear her utensils being put down.
Dwayne breaks into a grin. “You are something,” he says. “What makes you think I’m married?”
“Don’t answer a question with a question,” Barbara says chuckling.
“I’m beginning to think you’re—.” Dwayne stops talking as the waiter arrives at the table and takes away the dinner plates.
“It’s a simple question,” Barbara says.
Dwayne sits back in his chair. “I’m sorry. Here on in, only the truth.”
“Is that why you gave me a false name, Mr. Howard?”
“I was going to tell you.”
“Two easy questions and still no straight answers?”
The waiter returns with two dessert menus. He opens one and hands it to Barbara, then opens the second and hands it to Dwayne. Dwayne closes his menu without considering it and places it on the table. He looks at Barbara. After a moment, we see Barbara’s closed menu being placed on the table.
“It’s Cory Howard, and I’m married,” he says.
“Thank you,” says Barbara. “See how easy that was, Cory?” We hear Barbara laugh, and Cory smiles, relieved. The waiter returns to the table. “What would the lady like for dessert?” he asks.
“For the lady, nothing, thank you.” Barbara stands and drops a neatly folded linen napkin to the table. “But for Mr. Howard? I bet he’ll have the humble pie.”
I pitch Flick’s tent at the gravel parking lot near Kinder Morgan’s borehole on Burnaby Mountain. A camp is already set up. At night, our vigil numbers into the dozens, but during the day hundreds of people are successfully impeding Kinder Morgan from conducting its tests. A Squamish Nation elder starts a sacred fire, which she carefully tends to make sure it never goes out. Drums and chanting echo though the chill autumn air.
Flick shows up on the second night, a new sleeping bag under his arm and a grin on his face. It’s near dark and drizzling. The sacred fire is crackling.
“Hey, Trainer, mind if I bunk down for the night?”
After that, Flick arrives by bus every day after work and stays the night. He brings Sheila, Mary and me food and other supplies, then leaves to catch the bus early each morning.
Sometimes Wes comes by during the day and Barbara and Liz in the evenings. Wes brought a portable volleyball net the first time he came to the mountain. He said it wouldn’t hurt to play and protest. It never feels quite right, so we don’t. Still, I like seeing the unopened box lying inside the tent.
A tarp over Sheila and Mary’s tent gives them a place to sit protected from the rain. They have a portable propane firepit that provides warmth from the chill. I walk over to have a cup of tea with them on this drizzly afternoon. Mary is knitting a wool sweater for her granddaughter’s Christmas present.
“That sweater is really coming along,” I say.
Mary stops and holds the sweater up so I can see the progress more clearly.
“My daughter doesn’t approve of my being a lesbian, you know, Trainer,” Mary says, continuing to knit one, purl one. “But she does approve of my protecting English Bay.” Mary chuckles. “So, you see, my daughter’s torn. She said that if I’m still here this weekend, she’ll bring Samantha up to see her grandmother. You’ll like Samantha. That girl has a head on her shoulders, and she doesn’t give a hoot that I’m gay.”
Sheila pours a cup of tea from her Thermos and offers it to me. “Sit,” she says, nodding to the space on the tarp between them. The warmth from their fire immediately comforts me.
“I want to tell you something, Trainer,” Sheila says. “My father was in the Danish resistance during World War II. Denmark had demobilized years before the war started, so it was easy for the German army to simply walk into our country—there was no battle. My father vowed that he would help build a resistance. He took a lot of risks.”
“How did he do it, Sheila?” I ask. “Did your mother try to stop him?”
“My mother? She agreed with him. Life under the Nazis was not a world to bring children into. My father secretly organized freedom fighters—no public organizing in school gyms against the Nazis.”
“It makes this seem trivial,” I say, pointing to nowhere in particular with my mug. “I risk a few days of vacation. He risked his life.”
“No struggle for change is trivial, Trainer. The consequences may be greater for some than for others. Deciding to resist, though? That’s always hard, dear; it’s always heroic.”
“What did your father do?” I ask.
“He and my mother moved from farm to farm. My father formed resistance groups but never stayed long enough in one place to get caught. When weapons started to come in by air drop, he taught men how to use them. Sten guns, Bren guns, grenades and even a few bazookas. He could’ve moved to London with the other leaders once it became too dangerous to stay in Denmark. He wouldn’t, though. He wouldn’t leave my mother.”
“Did he get caught?”
“A boy he went to school with turned him in. In the fall of ’43. Gestapo took him.”
“The Gestapo? Nazi Germany’s secret police, right?”
“What happened to him?”
“He was interrogated. My mother tried to visit, but the guards wouldn’t allow it. Both my parents spoke German, but neither would speak to the Nazis. Because my father pretended he didn’t understand the language, he learned that he was going to be transported to a German concentration camp the following morning.”
“I can’t imagine how terrifying that would be,” I say quietly.
“Only one guard was on duty at the jail that afternoon. My father pretended he had a terrible stomach ache and called the guard to be allowed to go to the toilet. As soon as the guard opened the door, my father jumped him, took his Luger and shot him. He ran out of the building and made his way to my grandparents’ home, where my mother was hiding. My grandfather drove them to Copenhagen, and from there they made their way to Sweden, which was neutral. They could hide there.”
“Is that where they spent the rest of the war?”
“No. My father rested, grew a beard, changed their names, and they returned to Denmark. My parents called it ‘playing games with the Nazis.’”
“That must’ve taken a lot of courage,” I say.
“Courage, cunning and a little creativity. It helps to know the enemy’s language. That’s how he kept track of military supplies. Indirect resistance. Denmark may not have been able to mount a military resistance to the occupation, but the Danes mounted a civilian one.”
Sheila pours us more tea and continues.
“That winter, my father learned of three boxcars being loaded at the rail yard. The cars were headed to supply German soldiers at the Russian front. The night the train left, my father and his friends hid in the boxcars. My father’s boxcar was full of boots. He and three other men opened the boxcar door after the train pulled out of the station. As it travelled along the countryside, they pitched all the left boots out into the dark. They slit the laces of all the right boots and left those in the boxcar to make sure the Germans got the message. An empty boxcar wasn’t enough. The Germans wouldn’t receive the boots they needed at the front, but they had to know it was because they’d been sabotaged. That really gets to morale. As the train rolled toward Warnemünde ferry, they hopped off the train and got into a waiting car. My father liked to tell me this story, especially how he and his friends laughed about their prank all the way back home. More tea, dear?”
Two police officers walk into the common area of the campsite. One is carrying a bullhorn that she raises and begins to speak into. She has forgotten to turn it on. Her face flushes as she lowers the bullhorn, presses the on button and raises it again to her mouth. “I am going to read an injunction granted to Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC by Associate Chief Justice Cullen of the Supreme Court of British Columbia on November 14, 2014, at ten thirty a.m.,” she says.
The drums and chanting stop.
The officer reads the injunction and then is thoughtful enough to explain it in plain English. “Trans Mountain Pipeline has until December 1, 2014, to complete its tests, but Justice Cullen has given you until November 17 at four p.m. to pack up, dismantle the barricades and vacate the area.”
Drums and chanting start up again. No one makes any effort to move their belongings. The police officers calmly walk through the camp conversing with people.
“Hi, how are you doing?” the male officer asks, as he and his partner make their way to us.
“Fine, Officer,” says Sheila. “Would you and your partner like a cup of tea?”
“No, no, thank you. We just wanted to come by and make sure you understand the terms of the injunction. The judge has given you a few days to collect your belongings and move outside the restricted zone.”
“Thank you, Officer…?” Sheila asks.
“Banks, Officer Banks. My partner, Officer Vickers,” he says, motioning to her.
“Thank you, Officers Banks and Vickers. My name is Sheila, this is Trainer, and my partner, Mary. We appreciate your taking the time to come and talk directly to us.”
“We just want to make sure you understand the order and give you time to move.”
“You understand that we’re peacefully enjoying our time here in nature, in a public park, and have no intention to be other than polite and respectful while we do so?”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
“You should also know that we understand you have a job to do, and we respect you for that, but it won’t change the way we feel about protecting this mountain.”
“We want to make sure you understand the order.”
“Good.” He nods and says before walking away, “Thank you for the offer of tea. You have a good afternoon.”
Over the next two days, no one moves from the campsite and very little happens. On the third day, late in the afternoon, dozens of RCMP officers arrive and form a line. A tall male officer raises a bullhorn and says sternly to the crowd: “All persons camped inside the injunction zone must immediately pack up and leave the area or you will be arrested for violating the injunction. I will read Justice Cullen’s injunction order and then expect immediate evacuation.”
I’m standing beside Sheila. “Well, that’s a sexist good-cop, bad-cop if there ever was one,” I say. “The RCMP are serious this time, so they get a male cop to deliver the message.”
“Yes, I think female officers must be battling rampant sexism in the force. The commanding officer wouldn’t even be aware how demeaning he’s being, replacing her with a male officer,” says Sheila.
“I told Flick that if officers showed up again, I’d pack up and move outside the injunction zone,” I say. “So, I better start packing.”
The officers maintain their presence as many of us pack our gear while others link arms and form a circle in the middle of the parking lot. I move my campsite to a clearing in the woods big enough for Sheila and Mary’s tent too. It’s pretty there, much nicer than the gravel parking lot.
When I return from our new campsite, the police have cordoned off Kinder Morgan’s workspace as a huge square delineated by tape warning “Do Not Cross.” One edge of the square crosses the road that leads up to Burnaby Mountain. The circle of people who had linked arms remain seated on the ground inside the taped-off area. The police form a line inside the tape and begin to push toward the circle of people who are sitting, forcing them to stand and causing them to move toward the road. Some refuse to move and lie on the ground. It starts to rain more heavily. Sheila, carrying a camera, has come from the woods. She stands beside me, outside the police tape, and takes my arm.
“This is where you make a decision, Trainer. Go inside the tape and get arrested, or stand back and wait.”
“What are you doing, Sheila?”
“Oh, Mary and I are waiting. We’ll record what happens. Mary’s taking stills. I’ll take video. Remember, whatever you choose, stay calm and polite. These officers have taken an oath to uphold the law of Canada. They have no choice but to do as ordered. Some of them are even on our side. Your fight’s not with them. If you remember that, the decisions you make won’t be wrong.”
Sheila raises her small video camera and points it at a man lying on his stomach on the ground yelling, “The people! United! Will never be defeated!” He’s restrained by a police officer who has pulled the man’s arms behind his back, attaching cable-ties to his wrists. The officer lifts him to standing, since the man remains passive, and leads him toward a waiting paddy wagon. Sheila then aims her camera at two police officers who are lifting a woman off the ground. They carry her toward the paddy wagon.
Mary is standing by me, her camera aimed at a woman who has become separated from the circle and is standing in front of a police officer. She spits in the officer’s face. The officer calmly takes a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his cheek. He says nothing as he grabs the woman’s arms, puts them behind her back, cable-ties her wrists and, with the help of another officer, drags her away.
“Do you think they used more force than necessary for a woman her size?” I ask Mary.
“Do you think she should’ve spit in the officer’s face?”
“I guess not, even though I know why she did.”
“It’s not easy to stay calm when the scales of justice are tilted in favour of corporations with money,” says Mary. “Keep a clear head, Trainer. I’m going over to be near Sheila.”
The police slowly force the standing line of citizens to move outside the injunction zone. Other than the one who spit, no one becomes violent. The police repair the tape damaged by the mountain protectors forced outside it. The citizens now stand on the road, on one side of the injunction line, with the police officers on the side that protects Kinder Morgan’s workspace.
This is how it continues for days. The police on one side, mountain protectors on the other, except for the elder inside the cordoned-off area tending the sacred fire and, of course, the protectors who make the considered decision to get arrested by crossing under the line. Interactions on both sides remain cordial and respectful. The officers cut wood and stack it by the fire to support the elder attending to her ritual of peace. When Sheila makes tea, she walks to the line with two cups, offers one to an officer and shares conversation.
Sheila is talking to an officer, and I’m standing at the line with her when I hear distant voices singing, “We are all in this together.” I turn to see a group of people walking slowly up the hill. When they reach the line, they stop and a woman speaks into a portable microphone: “I am here for my children, their children and hopefully their children. In love and solidarity, I do this for them.” She hands the microphone to someone standing beside her and walks under the line while the crowd cheers.
After the woman is helped into the paddy wagon and the door closes, the crowd becomes quiet. The next person in the group speaks into the microphone, then walks under the line. We witness this ritual until the final member of the group is helped into the paddy wagon. Since holding vigil, I’ve watched many protectors walk up the road with friends and family, give an explanation as to why they’re crossing the line and duck under the tape while a cheering crowd offers support.
The days are dark. The rain comes down, then stops, but the sky won’t clear. Our peaceful protest is right. When you’re right, there’s no need to get angry or disrespectful or violent. No need. No need. I’ll believe it if I repeat it enough. But under my calm exterior an intense rage builds.
Mid-morning the following day, Sheila says to me, “Would you mind taking over as videographer, Trainer? It’s time for Mary and me to cross the line.”
Sheila offers me her video camera. Her other hand is holding Mary’s.
“Are you sure?” I ask.
Mary smiles at Sheila, who squeezes her hand. “Oh, yes, we’re ready,” Mary assures me.
“We’re going to let the officers know we intend to cross the line peacefully,” says Sheila. “I want to say a few words first. You can video; put it online for Friends.”
I feel sick. Sheila and Mary are going to walk across the line, be arrested, handcuffed and taken away in a paddy wagon. Treated like bad people when they are good.
Sheila turns and waves to the other side of the line. “Charlie,” she calls, just loud enough to catch his attention. He walks forward, smiling. Sheila and Charlie have chatted often over the past days, sometimes laughed, steam from their mugs of tea rising into the cold autumn air. Charlie had taken Sheila under his wing, so he thinks.
“The rain may hold off today, Sheila. How are you and Mary feeling?” he says.
“That it’s time. I wanted you to know.”
“Time?” Charlie’s smile fades. “I don’t think you want to do this, Sheila. No, you don’t want to do this.”
Sheila pats Charlie’s arm and leaves her hand there. “This isn’t something you could’ve stopped from happening.” Under different conditions, Officer Banks could claim assault for such a simple act, but Sheila is consoling him.
“When I drop my hand from your arm, I’m going to say a few words and then lift the tape so Mary and I can cross the line,” she says. “We won’t resist the arrest you have to make. We’re engaging in a deliberate act of civil disobedience. I want you to be the officer that arrests us. Is that okay with you, Charlie?”
Charlie’s face shows concern and stress. “I’m just doing my job, Sheila—”
“I know. What can we do? Kinder Morgan has given us both jobs we didn’t apply for.”
“Maybe just take a few minutes, Sheila. Go have a cup of tea…this is a big step.” He looks at Mary and says, “Mary?” She smiles at Charlie.
Sheila turns to me. She says, “You can begin recording now, sweetheart.”
Sheila drops the hand she had placed gently on Charlie’s arm and raises the hand she is using to hold Mary’s. Their two arms raised together look like a symbol of triumph.
I hit record and lift the camera.
“My name is Sheila, and I am a proud mountain protector,” Sheila says loudly. People closest to us stop talking. I hear “Sshh” moving through the crowd.
“My name is Mary, and I am a proud mountain protector,” Mary says loudly. The drums go quiet. People move closer.
Sheila continues, “Mary and I were teachers in many communities throughout Canada. Toward the end of our careers, we taught children in Alberta’s Athabasca region where oil sands are mined. We watched the health of these children deteriorate and cancer rates climb. Something needed to be done. It wasn’t. Too much money was at stake for their lives to matter.”
I hear cries of “Shame, shame.”
“Mary and I are ready to cross a line. It’s a line the court has drawn because Kinder Morgan will lose money if its tests are delayed. Mary and I are going to cross this line and be arrested, but we all know it is Kinder Morgan that’s crossed the line. Kinder Morgan’s pipeline means more development of the oil—ah hell, I’m going to call it what it really is—the tar sands. It’s the tar sands that need to be arrested. We, all of us, will arrest the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline, one arrest at a time. Put Mary and I down for two.”
The crowd cheers. Sheila and Mary hug.
Mary turns to the crowd and yells, “Thank you to all of you. United, we will protect our future.”
Sheila nods to Officer Banks and lifts the tape for Mary to cross under it. She follows, still holding Mary’s hand. I move in, recording their arrest. The crowd begins to chant, “The people! United! Will never be defeated!” I hear the drums start up.
Officer Banks speaks to each of them, but I can’t hear what he’s saying over the background noise. Another officer comes over with plastic cable-ties, but Officer Banks shakes his head and waves the restraints away. Sheila and Mary walk toward the paddy wagon on their own accord; they aren’t even taken by their arms. Officer Banks does offer his hand to help Mary, then Sheila, into the wagon. Before Sheila climbs inside, she holds onto Officer Bank’s hand a little longer than she needs to and gives him a reassuring smile.
I know some fellow Friends of English Bay will be among those people at the station to greet them after their release. Sheila and Mary will come back to the mountain, and I’ll help them pack up their belongings.
Kinder Morgan is clever. The company removed itself from the confrontation by putting RCMP officers on the front line. The executives of Kinder Morgan are safe in their offices in Houston, counting their money, while Canadians confront each other in the rain. Know thy enemy. The enemy is not the police officers who live in Burnaby and send their kids to schools that could be incinerated by a tank-farm explosion. It’s the Canadian government, its pipeline regulator, the NEB, and a Texas-based oil company.
As Officer Banks closes the blue doors to the paddy wagon, I zoom in on the name in white lettering on the vehicle, “Big Blue.” I live in a society that can nickname a truck that transports concerned citizens, environmentalists and Indigenous peoples to jail. I live in a society where I know no harm will come to Sheila and Mary; they won’t be beaten for standing up to big business. I know I will see them in a couple of hours. My right to help them pack their belongings will be upheld. I know they will make it safely home to a hot shower and their bed.
“Trainer, dear,” Sheila had said, “use my chair after we’re gone if you want.”
A Thermos of hot tea is on the ground beside the chair. I sit and pick it up. A piece of paper is taped to it. I remove and unfold it. It reads:
Mary and I are in the late stages of our lives. The act of being arrested is somewhat less of a concern at our stage than yours. Do not get caught up in the moment. You may be inspired to cross the line, but we ask that you wait until we return before making any decision in this regard. We also need your help to pack our things. We are going to be quite tired later this afternoon, I should think. Thank you, dear.
In solidarity, Sheila
Sheila knew how I’d be feeling. She wanted to keep me safe from my impulse. I put her note in my pocket and pour myself a cup of tea. I wish Flick were here. And Wes had meetings today he couldn’t miss. Maybe I should’ve bought a smartphone because then I could text Barbara. She’d make me feel better.
Time to finish my tea, go back to the front of the line, be there for whoever is crossing next and wait for Sheila and Mary to return.
“Our strength is our capacity to disrupt,” Flick says as he secures the last corner of Sheila and Mary’s tarp to a tree. He positions it so it covers our tent and provides shelter we can stand under, like a vestibule. Sheila suggested we use it since their arrest meant they’d no longer be standing vigil. Sheila and Mary left for home after Flick and I helped them pack.
Flick wipes his wet hands on his pants as we duck under the tarp. It’s raining hard. We stand under it, protected. Streams of water have already begun flowing off its corners. It’s almost dark.
“I’m going to cross the line tomorrow, Flick. I want you to be at the station when I get released. Maybe tell Barbara. You know what, I’ll cross at six in case she wants to come up.”
Flick speaks slowly and quietly. “Getting arrested only contributes to the spectacle of opposition, Trainer. It doesn’t stop the drilling.”
“You don’t think what Sheila and Mary did today means anything?” I ask, not as slowly or as quietly. “All those people who got arrested this week—that doesn’t mean anything?”
“It draws attention to what’s happening on the mountain, but it doesn’t disrupt.”
“Well, I don’t know what else to do, Flick. My holiday’s almost up. I have to go back to work. All I’ve done is…spectate. I want what I’ve done to matter. Crossing the line is the only way I know how.”
“What we have to do is stop Kinder Morgan from completing its work.”
“How are we going to do that, Flick? We can’t get near the workers. The police protect them.”
“I know. It’s just bothering me, this whole thing. At this rate, close to a hundred people will be arrested, and it’s not going to make a difference. Now you want to do it too?”
“I have to do it.”
“You need to be free for what’s next. This time on the mountain isn’t the last of it. It’s only the beginning.”
“But it’s wrong. They’re testing so they can bore a tunnel through the mountain for their pipelines. I’m crossing the line in protest. I want my name to be on the list that said no, this isn’t right. Then, later on, I’ll be the one that waits outside the police station to thank the next wave of people willing to get arrested, or I’ll bring food and clean clothes to people up here, like you have.”
“It’s your choice, Trainer,” Flick says and gives me a hug. “I’ll be there tomorrow when you get out, and I’ll help you pack up after. But I wish there was another way. I wish that it would cost Kinder Morgan as much as it’s going to cost you.”
“I know, Flick. I know. Me too.”
“Hey, Trainer,” Barbara calls. She’s easy to spot, dressed in a Hudson’s Bay-issue raincoat with matching high-heeled boots and a designer umbrella. I run down the road to meet her so we can walk back to the line together.
“Know what the question of the day is?” Barbara says.
I smile. It’s so good to see her. I didn’t know how alone I felt until I saw Barbara coming up the hill. Knowing she’s going to be here when I cross the line makes me feel better.
“No, Babs,” I say. “What’s the question of the day?” I go to take her arm, but Barbara resists. She stands still, looking at me.
“How did it come to this, Trainer?”
“Before you go across that line, I want you to tell me. How did it come to this?”
“You know how,” I say. “We promised we wouldn’t let Kinder Morgan take away what we’ve got, and here they’re doing it. We have to stop them.”
“It’s just testing. They aren’t building. Let it go. You’ve done enough. Don’t risk your job. Don’t get arrested. It’s too much.”
“I thought you came to help me, to support me. This isn’t easy, and now I feel like shit.” I step back from her and turn away, but Barbara reaches forward and catches my arm.
“What do you expect is going to happen if you do this, Trainer? When you go back to work and they find out you’ve been arrested, what do you think is going to happen to your job?”
“I don’t care.” I’m wet and cold and hungry. I’m tired. I run up the road. Barbara, in her high-heeled rain boots, won’t be able to keep up. When I reach the line, I’m out of breath.
“Officer Banks, I’m crossing.”
I didn’t want to seem angry. I had planned to be calm. I had planned to say something insightful. Instead, I pick up the yellow tape and escape under it. I stand there looking back at the other mountain protectors, my back to the small group of RCMP officers who have moved into position because of my warning call.
Barbara reaches the line as I put my arms out to my sides and Officer Banks grabs both my wrists. He puts them behind my back, and I feel the cable-tie tighten around them. Barbara looks at me, her face distraught.
“Trainer, I’m so sorry…I didn’t want this to happen…not like this,” she says.
I look past her to the crowd. “Stop,” I shout.
A few people near us yell, “Stop.”
The crowd responds, “Stop. Stop Kinder Morgan,” as Officer Banks leads me to the waiting paddy wagon. When I reach the van, the chanting changes to, “The people! United! Will never be defeated!”
Then why am I feeling defeated?
“Sorry about the restraints, Trainer,” Officer Banks says as he waits while I climb the stairs.
“It’s okay,” I say. “I know you have to put them on.”
“I’ll be glad when this is all over,” he says in a low voice. “Watch your head, Trainer. There you go.”
It has been a busy day for mountain protectors willing to take a stand, so the paddy wagon has made regular trips between the RCMP station and the mountain. This late, however, it’s almost empty, with only three other mountain protectors sitting inside. I nod to my comrades-in-cable-ties and sit near the door. A man moves to make room and smiles at me.
“I’m Stan,” he says. “And you’re…?”
“What are you in for, Trainer?”
“Pardon?” I ask.
“What moved you to cross the line?”
“Oh,” I say, seeing Barbara’s worried face from the other side of the police tape and steeling myself so I don’t cry. “I don’t know Stan, so many things…our beach…I’m trying to save our beach.”
“Well,” he says, “smart move. You sure never want to see that stuff spill.” Stan tells me about living through the Burnaby oil gusher of 2007. He was working at his kitchen table the day his house, car and garden were saturated by Albian heavy synthetic crude.
“What still gives me sleepless nights, though,” Stan says, “is the sight of Angus, my Irish setter, drenched in that toxic brew. He tried to find cover from the geyser and I found him whimpering under the hedge in the backyard. I loaded him into the backseat of my car and rushed him to the vet. I could barely see out the windshield because of that heavy black shit…you have no idea of the stench,” he says.
The vehicle starts up. “What a nightmare,” I say, my voice raised. “Was the vet able to clean Angus? Were your vet bills covered?”
“Yes to both, eventually, but that was a whole other set of challenges.” Stan is shouting now. “You know, Angus still won’t go outside when it’s raining. I think he’s afraid it’s raining tar.” He stops talking because the engine’s so noisy. The ride to the station is uncomfortable, and all four of us squeeze together on the same bench, trying not to be thrown.
When we arrive at the station, the paddy wagon door is opened and two officers stand on either side. We’re told to get out, which is tricky because our hands are tied behind our back. How will Stan and the other two elderly protectors manage? I feel enraged that I can’t do anything to assist. “Keep your head forward and keep walking,” I’m directed. Once inside the station, an RCMP officer leads me to a cell, where my cable-tie handcuffs are removed. My wagon mates have been led to processing.
“You can keep one layer of clothing,” the officer says. “Empty the contents from your pockets, take off your belt, if you’re wearing one, and your boots.” She holds a bag open toward me. I do as I’m told, fill the bag and hand it back to her.
“And your phone,” she says curtly.
“I don’t have a phone.”
The officer looks at me suspiciously and puts the bag on a trolley already full of personal content bags. “Well, I’m going to pat you down, so you better not have one. Spread your legs.” She frisks me. “Hmm, no phone,” she says. “Okay, in you go,” and points toward the waiting cell. “Someone will bring you dinner, later.” She closes the barred door behind me and locks it.
I start shivering, alone in the small room. It has a bench covered by a thin mat and, in the corner, a matching stainless steel toilet and sink. I turn on the tap to rinse my hands. My wrists are rubbed raw from the plastic ties, and the cold water feels soothing. I dab them with my hoodie and start to pace. Doing some lunges begins to calm me, and I move into my routine, but only the exercises that keep me on my feet.
I wouldn’t call it dinner, but much later a stale processed-cheese sandwich, muffin and plastic glass of milk are brought to me on a plastic tray. Good thing I have no appetite. When I’m processed, it doesn’t take long but longer than it should. The processing officer fills out the paperwork very slowly. There is a Promise to Appear and an Undertaking. He fills out each twice, one for me and one for them. No mug shots or fingerprints because I’m being charged with civil, not criminal, contempt. I’m asked personal information and my record is checked for previous crimes.
“Trude Richards, you are required to make your court appearance at the Supreme Court of British Columbia on January 12th, 2015. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you will be provided one.” The officer looks at me; I nod. “In order to leave the premises,” he continues, “you must read and sign these forms.” He shows me where to sign in four places and when I’m done gives me two of the four sheets of paper, which tell me why I’ve been arrested, not to violate the injunction again and not to miss my court date.
“Thank you, Officer. May I go now?” I ask, glancing at the clock on the wall that reads ten fifteen.
“You can go,” he says.
Flick is leaning against the bus stop, and he’s grinning.
“Hi, Trainer,” he says, walking toward me. He gives me a long hug. When he pulls back, he’s still grinning—even bigger.
“What?” I say. “You think my walking out of a police station is a joke?”
“We’ve got them, Trainer. We can stop them.” Full-on gigantic smile.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“You didn’t cross the line.” He’s laughing. Has he gone crazy?
“Yeah, I did. Why do you think I’m here? I got arrested. Now I have to get a lawyer, go to court. I don’t feel the way I thought I would, Flick. I just want to go home. I really screwed up.”
“No, you didn’t. Remember when Kinder Morgan’s pipeline burst in Burnaby, and when its gas line exploded in Walnut Creek, because the company didn’t have the right locations for its own pipelines? Well, I got to thinking, maybe that’s a corporate habit. I checked it out and sure enough, these guys are serially incompetent. You didn’t cross the line. Nobody did.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Kinder Morgan gave the judge the GPS coordinates for the area it was asking to protect while it did its tests. Those are the coordinates in the injunction. But when the police got to the mountain, they didn’t use the injunction coordinates for the no-go zone. They cordoned off an area based on where Kinder Morgan showed them they’d work. The locations don’t match; I checked. The police line you crossed isn’t even identified in the injunction.”
Flick shows me an aerial photo of Burnaby Mountain on his phone where he’s mapped out the zone specified in the injunction superimposed on the physical work area in the park.
“Here it is,” he says, outlining a red line with his index finger. “Red line shows the no-go zone approved by the court. Black line is the tape around the test site on the mountain. They’re not the same.”
“So…I didn’t cross the line?”
“You crossed a line but not one identified in the court order, so you didn’t violate the injunction. You can’t be arrested for crossing a line that had no business being put where it was in the first place, Trainer.”
I throw my arms around Flick’s neck. “Oh, Flick, I am so sorry. I should’ve listened to you and Barbara.”
“No, Trainer. You did what you had to do, but now it’s not going to cost you. Kinder Morgan’s reputation will pay. We have facts to stop those idiots.”
“Wow. It’s nothing short of brilliant, Flick.”
“Call Liz,” he says as he hands me his phone. “Call her now.”
I hit Flick’s contact list on his phone and call Liz. She answers on the first ring.
Mrs. Frampton calls me into her office on my first day back at work. She’s warm and pleasant, wanting to know how my vacation went.
“Trude, as you know, we’re very pleased with the work you do. New Century has entered into a contract to provide private security support to a major company. A position has opened up that I’d like you to apply for. It’s quite a step up in pay. You’d be in charge of a team of security workers providing round-the-clock protection of the company’s property.” Mrs. Frampton hands me a file folder. “Take that home and read it over. Let me know what you think.”
When I get home after work, I read what’s in the file. The contract is with an unnamed company that’s “building a project through communities in the Lower Mainland.” It doesn’t take me long to figure out who might be gearing up security. I couldn’t apply for the job. We might live in a world full of contradictions, but for me, this isn’t one of them.
The next morning, Mrs. Frampton calls me into her office again. This time she isn’t warm or pleasant.
“Thank you, Mrs. Frampton,” I say, putting the file on her desk, “but I think I have to take a pass on your suggestion.”
“I imagine so,” says Mrs. Frampton. “After all”—she pauses—“is there anything else you want to tell me?”
I shake my head.
“Well, that’s unfortunate because it has come to our attention that you may have got into a little trouble while you were on vacation.”
“What do you mean, Mrs. Frampton?” I ask, trying to get a sense of where this is going.
“We have video surveillance of you on Burnaby Mountain.”
“Do you? Why? Who took the video?”
“It doesn’t matter, Trude. I’m suspending you.”
“Oh, I get it. Your new contract, so you can have footage of who to watch out for.”
“That’s irrelevant.” Mrs. Frampton opens a drawer in her desk and places the file in it. “Were you arrested?”
She closes the drawer and looks at me. “Either you were, or you weren’t.”
“But I saw the video. You were led away, restrained by an officer.”
“I wasn’t arrested.”
“Now you are lying. Now I have no choice but to fire you.”
“It was a false arrest.”
“A false arrest? Who are you trying to kid here, Trude? Please go to your locker and collect your things. I’m calling security to escort you off the premises.”
“I want it in writing.”
“I want it in writing that you’re firing me because you don’t believe I was falsely arrested. That you say I’m lying.”
“I do not have to give you any such thing, Ms. Richards.”
Ms. Richards—so she knew.
“Yes. Ms. Richards. What did you think? I’ve known for some time. I should’ve fired you for lying then.”
“I never lied to you, Mrs. Frampton. You believed what you wanted to believe and, besides, it’s New Century that’s wrong. The law says you can’t discriminate on the basis of gender, and yet you do. So don’t judge me for what you think I did when I applied for the job, or for what you think I did on Burnaby Mountain.”
Mrs. Frampton picks up her phone to call security. I stand.
“I’ll be at my locker. And, by the way, I want to say, ‘You can’t fire me, I quit,’ but I won’t because I’m going to sue New Century for wrongful dismissal. You say you’re firing me for cause, but I was falsely arrested, and I’ll prove it.”
I want to slam the door when I leave, but I’ll make more of an impression if I don’t. I need someone who’ll be able to say I was calm and reasonable. I walk to the assistant’s desk. “Hey, Cindy,” I say quietly. “Is Mrs. Frampton all right?”
“Yeah, I think so. Why?”
“You’ll never guess what just happened in there.”
“I could’ve busted my butt for years, just hoping for an opportunity like this, Trainer,” Liz says, “and here it is. But since you’re not a party named in the injunction, even though you were arrested because of it, I don’t get to be the lawyer that saves the day.”
“I can’t wait to see Kinder Morgan’s lawyer’s face when your friend gets up and tells the judge we didn’t cross the line, because of Kinder Morgan’s GPS screw-up.”
“My friend couldn’t believe how careless Kinder Morgan is. He said he owes me big time.”
I’m walking beside Liz while a Friends of English Bay contingent trails behind, placards in tow. Drivers honk their car horns in support. Sheila has a bullhorn and is leading chants. The sidewalk outside the courthouse is packed. Police officers direct us to a back entrance because people have chained themselves to the courthouse doors, restricting entry and hoping this might impede Kinder Morgan. The company’s lawyer is back in front of the judge, asking for a two-week extension to the injunction.
When a pipeline company says it needs to return to court to arrange more time to ravage a mountain with drill holes, word travels fast. Kinder Morgan says it hasn’t obtained all the information it needs.
Liz introduces herself to a police officer when we reach the back door. He points us in the direction of the gallery. Friends of English Bay members pile in behind us. I wish Flick could have taken the morning off. After all, exposing the GPS screw-up is his show.
“All stand, the court is in session with the Honourable Justice Cullen presiding,” the clerk says.
I don’t understand courtroom protocol. It takes a while before things start to happen. Kinder Morgan’s lawyer, Mr. Kaplan, eventually requests the extension to the injunction, then pauses and says, “The GPS coordinates that we provided to you were created from a computer as opposed to on the ground, and when they got on the ground, they found out that they were wrong….We do seek to correct the approximate GPS coordinates.”
I lean close to Liz, “Wow, they knew?”
“Apparently,” she murmurs, “but I wonder for how long.”
“Apparently people have been arrested on the basis of—an order that refers to some other piece of property,” says Judge Cullen.
Because Kinder Morgan is incompetent, I say to myself.
Next, we learn that Kinder Morgan knew for more than a week that people were being falsely arrested, and it did nothing to alert the court. Kinder Morgan let people go through the agony of wrongful arrest.
Mr. Kaplan continues, “I know my friends from their application response intend to make lots of submissions about whether arrests were lawful or not—”
You bet Liz’s friend is ready to argue our arrests aren’t legal.
“My submission on that is—frankly, not today, it’s not relevant. It may be relevant on January 12th, but it’s not relevant today.”
“Well, the concern,” Judge Cullen says firmly, “is in part that people have been arrested and are subject to restraints on their liberty, and they’re being compelled to come back on January 12th, and if it’s based on an order that is flawed—and won’t sustain a prosecution for contempt—then it seems to me something should be done now, not wait until January 12th.”
Kaplan presses the judge to wait until the new year to determine whether those arrested are in civil contempt of court.
Kinder Morgan ineptly administers a court order, knowingly allows false arrests and does everything it can to force us to wait until after the holiday season to have our charges dismissed. Merry Christmas to you, too, Dick Kinder.
A lawyer acting for one of the defendants stands and seeks permission to speak. Judge Cullen grants it.
“My Lord….Even after finding out that they were in the wrong location, they continued to allow the RCMP to arrest people. That takes, that takes this maladministration of the order from the realm of inadvertence into the realm of bad faith…it would have been nothing at all to appear before Your Lordship and ask for the GPS coordinates to be fixed as soon as they learned of the error. And in fact, they did no such thing. They continued to allow protestors engaged in lawful protest to be unlawfully arrested under the guise of this court’s authority. And that, My Lord, is a deliberate and advertent, advertent step or conduct that threatens to bring the administration of justice into disrepute.”
Judge Cullen considers the submission, then turns to Kinder Morgan’s lawyer. “Mr. Kaplan?”
Instead of addressing Kinder Morgan’s error or explaining why the company allowed false arrests that threaten the court’s reputation, he explains the situation as an ambiguity, then turns his attention to arguing for an extension to the injunction. His disdain for our rights disheartens me.
Another lawyer rises, drawing attention to a letter that Kinder Morgan wrote to the NEB confirming that the company should have no trouble finishing its test work by December 1st, and therefore does not need an extension to the injunction. “The oil company is confessing or conceding that it has already obtained the information it needs to proceed,” he says. Kinder Morgan is telling the Supreme Court one thing, while its letter to the NEB says quite another.
“I conclude…that an order to extend the injunction as sought by the plaintiff is no longer necessary to prevent the irreparable harm which was envisioned when the injunction was sought and when it was granted,” Judge Cullen says. Then he revisits the unlawful arrests. “In my view, prompt attention should be brought to the likely impact of the flawed description in the original order on any contempt applications in this case, with a view to an application to vacate the Undertakings and the Promises to Appear relating to the bringing of any of the affected parties before the court.” He looks at Mr. Kaplan.
“My Lord….My application would be to vacate the Notice to Appear and the Undertakings in respect to arrests made, other than those that are based upon criminal charges,” Mr. Kaplan concedes.
Liz smiles and whispers, “You’re all going free.”
Unbelievably, despite how reasonable it may seem to the judge that the charges be dropped, it can be done only at the request of the prosecutor—Kinder Morgan. So Judge Cullen grants Kinder Morgan’s application and allows ninety-nine mountain protectors to go free.
A courtroom full of joyous protectors empties out on to the street.
“I have something to tell you,” Wes says when I open the door to my apartment and let him in. He walks over to my desk and turns to face me. “I want you to be the first to know.”
He laughs. “Yeah, True. I’m having a bar.”
“Of course you are,” I say, walking over to him and giving him a hug. “That’s great! Sit down and tell me what happened. I was just making some tea; you want some?” Wes nods. “The question is, what are you going to name it?”
“Sunset Beach Club.”
“Wow, that’s a great name.”
“And there’s something I want to ask you.”
I face Wes and lean against the china cabinet, my arms crossed. “To be Sunny’s godmother? Wes, you know I don’t believe in God.”
“No, better than that. I want you to be our head of security. And I can use help in the office, too. You could be…head of administration…you know, manager.”
“I could use a job, so thanks. Do you want Savory Zinger or Berry Delight?”
“Berry Delight, with a bit of honey if you have it.”
“Coming up.” I finish making tea, hand Wes his cup and sit on my bed. “I’ve gone after them for wrongful dismissal. Liz thinks they’ll settle because they won’t want to go to court. I was planning to take more time off before looking for another job. I’m exhausted. These past months have been…intense.”
“Perfect. Take the time you need and then come work with me. It’ll be a few months before I take over anyway.”
“Deal.” We click teacups. “So, tell me,” I say, leaning in closer and drawing out the words, “where did you get the money, Wesley James?”
“Davis and Aigan.”
“Davis and Aigan! Awesome.”
“They’re going to be silent partners. After the first investor fell through, Kat and I couldn’t come up with any leads. I felt pretty hopeless. Davis and Aigan figured something was up. It was almost the end of the year, and I was running out of time. They pressed me until I told them what I’d been trying to do. They’ll invest on two conditions. One, I make all the decisions. Two, I make all the martinis.”
“I’d like to see that contract,” I say.
Wes laughs. “I’ll let you read it.” He moves a pile of papers on my desk so he can place his teacup on it. “What are you working on now?” he asks.
“Our final written argument for the hearing.”
“I’ve got to hand it to you, True. I would’ve been so pissed with the Board’s unfairness, I would’ve thrown in the towel long ago. It’s mind-boggling, like when Kinder Morgan refuses to answer questions about why it doesn’t pay corporate taxes but tells the NEB it will pay them.”
“It’s unbelievable,” I scoff. “And when the chicanery is brought to the National Energy Board’s attention, the Board doesn’t cry foul. It eagerly relies on Kinder Morgan’s phony tax claims and pawns the bullshit benefits off on an unsuspecting public. All anyone hears is ‘benefits.’ That’s what they all count on—Kinder Morgan, the NEB, the government—because they know most people don’t have time to figure out what a scam it is.”
Wes looks at the papers on my desk and picks up a copy of Kelly’s earlier report, discrediting his newest one where he predicts revenue benefits to oil producers. “What happened with getting this on the record?” he asks, flipping through the pages.
“That’s been a nightmare,” I say. “Kinder Morgan refused to file it, and the Board sided with the company.”
“Of course,” Wes says, dropping Kelly’s report back on my desk.
“So, River Rescuers cut the nonsense and filed Kelly’s earlier report itself. The Board probably won’t look at it, but it’s on the record and raises doubt about Kelly’s credibility. More importantly, because it’s on the record, I can refer to his contradictions in our final argument.”
“You’re using Kelly’s earlier analysis to discredit the benefits he estimated for this hearing.”
“Yep. Kelly discrediting Kelly’s version of the flawed methodology behind the fifty-million-a-day claim.”
“I like it. What about Liz’s access to information request? Any luck there?”
“Not yet,” I say. “Her first try turned up nothing, so she sent in a reworded request asking for all correspondence on anything to do with energy or the environment within a range of dates around the date Cory gave you. Now Ottawa is asking for an extension because of all the documentation involved.”
“They’ll approve a pipeline faster than they’ll find a letter,” Wes says, and takes a last sip of his tea. “Are you hungry? Of course you are. Let’s go out. I’m buying. We’ll celebrate my new bar, your new job and better days to come.”
“Yep, better days to come, Wes. Way better days to come.”
The wildfires start first in British Columbia’s northern Interior and rage out of control as hot days arrive earlier than usual. Rain doesn’t come, so the fires spread south through the province. Thousands of people are evacuated to Kamloops, then to Kelowna. The smoke travels further and spreads like a heavy blanket of grey over Vancouver. The first day the smoke moved in, I was confused. The forecast had been for a hot, sunny day. When we’d played volleyball the night before, the sun had set in a clear evening sky. By morning, it was densely cloudy. I opened my window to climb to the sundeck, but I smelled smoke. And the air felt different. The moisture had been sucked out of it, and the heat was trapped.
Today, I climb the wrought iron ladder to the deck. A blanket of smoke is not like fog or mist. It doesn’t move; it feels lifeless. Maybe it’s the absence of moisture—or maybe it’s the absence of hope. The fires are hundreds of kilometres away, and yet they’re right here but without a call to action to put something out or to flee. There is no break on the horizon, no way to see where the sky begins. It’s a dome of dense grey. I need to go inside and close my window because the air inside is cleaner than it is outside.
As the days progress, the air pollution from the smoke exceeds safe limits. Health authorities tell us it isn’t safe to breathe, but we all keep breathing in the burnt dead trees that were gobbled up in an inferno caused by global warming, caused by fossil fuels. Yeah, like those in the Trans Mountain pipeline.
Being stuck inside and venturing out only to go back and forth to the club fuels my rage. I call Kat at work. “I’m going crazy,” I tell her, coughing. “Can’t go to the beach, can’t exercise inside ’cause I have a cough I can’t shake.”
“It’s awful. At least we have a system that cleans the air here at work.”
“They say it’s particulate matter so tiny it gets lodged in the lungs. Anyway, I’m finishing up our final argument to the NEB and wonder if you could help.”
“I’ll try. What’s up?”
“At one hearing, Kelly said there isn’t a market in Asia for Alberta’s heavy oil, while at this hearing he says there is.”
“And you want to know which Steven Kelly is right.”
“Exactly. I can’t find much that helps. China’s refinery needs aren’t well documented, but I’m beginning to see comments in the media from officials in Ottawa”—I cough and take a sip of water—“suggesting markets in Asia are thirsty for tar sands. The comments feel planted, so I want to know the scoop.”
“Sure, I’ll look around. Anything else?”
“No, except it seems bizarre that while BC burns, Ottawa is dismantling the integrity of the regulatory system in order to, you know, force through a tar sands pipeline that’ll only make things worse.”
“It’s bizarre, Trainer. Hold tight. The smart money sees the smoke for what it is.”
A news banner scrolls across my screen. “BREAKING: Harper gov’t appoints Kinder Morgan consultant to NEB.”
What? I click on the link. “Wait, Kat. It’s from the National Observer. Let me read this to you: ‘Calgary-based petroleum executive Steven Kelly’—oh my god, Kelly—‘will become a full-time board member of the federal agency that helps Cabinet decide if oil and gas pipelines should go forward.’”
“That’s what it says. I’ll send you the link.”
When Kat opens it, she reads aloud: “‘Mr. Kelly’s consulting firm was hired by Kinder Morgan two years ago to prepare an economic analysis justifying the 5.4 billion dollar Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Mr. Kelly himself, in his capacity as vice-president of IHS Global Canada, authored and submitted the Kinder Morgan report to the National Energy Board.’ That’s an outrageous conflict of interest. Kinder Morgan paid Kelly to convince the Board to approve the pipeline. Now he’s been appointed to the Board by the Harper government while the hearing is still under way! Trainer, there’s no way the Board can do this and remain credible.”
“This’ll have to put a halt to the hearing,” I say.
“You’d think. The Board can’t rely on the report Kelly wrote for Kinder Morgan as evidence once he’s a member. I mean, Kelly isn’t actually going to review the Trans Mountain expansion, but the Board members at the hearing all know him and that he supports the project.”
“The feds have already decided to approve the project, Kat. They don’t care if they completely destroy what little credibility the NEB might have left by appointing Kinder Morgan’s own consultant to the Board.”
“Why do it now? Why not do it after the hearing is over?”
“The article says the federal election’s being called in a couple of days. Harper’s stacking agencies and boards with political appointments in case he loses.”
“We’ll see what happens, Trainer. I really don’t know how the credibility of Trans Mountain’s review is going to survive this. You still want me to look into Asian oil markets?”
“If you don’t mind, I’d appreciate it. This should kill the review, but it probably won’t.”
“Okay, talk later.”
Over the next week, journalists from various media outlets run to Kelly for comment, but he won’t make himself available. They run to Kinder Morgan for comment, but the company says, “It isn’t appropriate for Trans Mountain to comment on the workings of the NEB such as an appointment to their Board.” They run to the NEB and are told Kelly has a valuable background that will enable the Board to “fulfill its mandate to ensure the safety and security of Canadians and the environment.” They run to the Harper government but get only a press release issued by the minister of natural resources, Greg Rickford. His quote reads much like the NEB’s statement: “I am pleased to announce the appointment of Mr. Steven Kelly to the National Energy Board. He brings a wealth of expertise to his new role and will be a valuable asset to the National Energy Board as it continues to fulfil its mandate to ensure the safety and security of Canadians and the environment.” Yeah, right.
The Liberal and NDP party leaders are too busy preparing for the upcoming election to comment on the inappropriateness of Kelly’s appointment. After a short while, the outrage dies down and the hearing continues. The Board strikes Kelly’s economic benefits report from the hearing record because Kelly is now a Board member and relying on his evidence would be a conflict of interest. It delays the hearing for four months while Kinder Morgan finds another consultant to submit a new benefits report.
I call Liz, seething. “The Board couldn’t allow cross-examination at the hearing, Liz, because it said there wasn’t enough time. Then it delayed the hearing by seven months to let Kinder Morgan bore holes in Burnaby Mountain, and now Harper appoints Kelly to the Board, so it delays the hearing another four months! What bullshit!”
But someone seems to be taking notice. Justin Trudeau, the Liberal leader, jumps into the ring campaigning for a National Energy Board the public can trust. He wants an overhaul of the NEB. He promises on CBC Radio that, if his party is elected, “we will restore a level of independence and intellectual rigour…to boards like the National Energy Board.” He talks about the need to protect the environment, not just short-term profits. “You can’t separate what’s good for the environment and what’s good for the economy anymore," he says. I’m encouraged a politician seems to be getting it.
Trudeau attends a campaign event in Esquimalt, on Vancouver Island. Energy and Democracy Director Kai Nagata is there on behalf of Dogwood, a major public awareness organization that stands up for BC’s environment. While his video recorder is running, Nagata asks him, “All I want to know is, does your NEB overhaul apply to Kinder Morgan?”
“Yes, yes,” Trudeau says. “It applies to existing projects, existing pipelines as well….Because we’re going to change the government and that process needs to be redone.”
Justin T is Just in Time. He’s actually serious about replacing the Board and starting over with cross-examination, a scope for proper assessment and respect for facts and science. Wow, am I happy. A legitimate review is all we’ve ever needed.
Kelly’s evidence gets replaced with a new consultant’s report. Neil Earnest, of Texas-based Muse Stancil, had done the benefits report for Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project—the one that said producer benefits from building a pipeline to the West Coast was worth thirty-eight billion dollars. Earnest says the benefits from Trans Mountain’s expansion will be 73.5 billion dollars, almost twice what he had said Northern Gateway would deliver and way more than Kelly had estimated. How did Earnest come up with twice the benefits for a similar project?
I start to dig. Earnest’s report is a recycled version of the one he did for Northern Gateway. And it’s a rush job, I can tell—and not just because it’s so similar to the one he did for Enbridge—he includes an entire page of figures titled “Northern Gateway Case.” Oops.
The new report is easier to discredit than Kelly’s. It has the same exaggerated supply outlook and absurd claim that all barrels are affected by the spot price, but it’s riddled with more flaws in logic and factual errors. Like Earnest pretending that the US and Canadian dollars are at par, when everyone knows our dollar, like the tar sands, is deeply discounted.
Dr. Long and I develop an outline, and I write it up. When I finish my first draft, I send it to Dr. Long. Then I take a chance that Barbara is still up and call her. It’s late, but the air hasn’t cooled yet. Thankfully, the smoke hasn’t returned. There’s been enough rain to keep the fires under control.
“Hi, Babs, it’s me. I finished writing.”
“You want to go for a swim?”
“At midnight? Okay, sure.”
“See you in fifteen.”
I meet Barbara at the English Bay Bathhouse. We walk across the sand to the line of logs closest to the water. We pull off our T-shirts and shorts and strip down to our bikinis. The tide is high, the moon is full and the light reflects off the water.
Barbara leans against a log and crosses her legs. “We used to come here without a care.”
“We had cares, Babs. They just don’t seem like it, compared to the ones we have now.” I listen to the soft lapping of the waves and dig my feet into the sand. “Oh, I forgot,” I say. “Liz finally got a look at that letter from ACOP.”
“What does it say?”
“It confirms everything Cory said. A veritable shopping list of actions Ottawa can take to get pipelines rushed through review. ACOP even helped draft legislative changes.”
“And you forgot to tell me.”
“Sorry, Babs. I was so busy rewriting our report, and what’s the point now anyway? It won’t matter, not after what Cory told you. And look what happened with Kelly’s appointment. Nothing, except more work for people like us.”
“It’s pretty disheartening,” Barbara sighs.
“Race you to the barge,” I suggest, nudging her.
Barbara is up and running the short distance to the water without answering. I run after her. She reaches the water’s edge first, taking two full strides before diving in. I’m right behind her. We swim hard and touch the edge of the barge at the same time. Holding onto the wood with one hand and treading water, we laugh and high-five.
Barbara takes a breath and dunks herself underneath the barge. Swimming underneath it, even in daylight, used to scare us when we were kids. But we did it so often, it eventually became a blissful place, like a secret cave for just us.
I take a breath and submerge, then swim three strokes underwater in the direction of the centre of the barge. When I come up, I hear Barbara’s breathing. It’s dark, but a few beams of moonlight make it through the cracks in the barge deck and reflect off the water. I can see the outline of Barbara’s head.
“Babs,” I whisper as I brush the water from my face and taste the salt on my lips.
“Trainer,” she is whispering too.
“Notice how we always whisper when we come in here?”
“What do you think Cory would say about Trudeau’s promise to redo Trans Mountain’s review, Babs?”
“Good question. I bet he’d pass it off as pre-election grandstanding.”
“Cory knows how the real world works. Corporations have control of government policy-making. Do you think electing Trudeau will be enough to change that?”
“Dad says the Liberals campaign from the left and govern from the right.”
“We can’t get complacent, Babs. We can’t leave our future in the hands of politicians until we know they deserve our trust.”
“It took us our whole childhoods to find this spot,” whispers Barbara. “We’ll keep doing what we can to protect it.” Barbara ducks her head under water and resurfaces, lifting her head back so her hair falls away from her face.
“We’ll win this fight or drown trying,” I say, laughing and pushing Barbara’s head underwater. Neither of us is in a hurry to leave the safety of the barge.
After our swim, we dry off and pull on our clothes over our wet swimsuits. We walk home along Denman Street with beach towels hanging around our necks. On this clear summer night, with a full moon peeking at us between buildings, it almost feels as if climate change is not already upon us.
Four days before the October election, Just in Time becomes Just in Conflict. Turns out his campaign co-chair, Dan Gagnier, is a pipeline company lobbyist, not for Kinder Morgan but for TransCanada, another company that wants to construct a pipeline to the east—Energy East. Inspiring project name.
Gagnier writes a detailed memo to TransCanada executives that gets leaked. It says, in part: “If there were ever a time for energy companies to act with aclarity and uniformly, it would be in a change of government scenario….We need a spear carrier….Federal leadership and a discussion with Premiers will take place early. This is where we can play and help them get things right.”
The memo is a page out of Cory’s playbook. Looks like Gagnier might be angling for work after his candidate has won the election. Telling TransCanada how to lobby government after the election, that’s a serious conflict of interest.
Media reaction is quick. At first, Trudeau tries to defend Gagnier, but when that doesn’t work, he throws Gagnier under the campaign bus. Publicly, Trudeau tells us that his campaign co-chair “acted in an inappropriate way a few days ago, and when we found out about it, we sat down with him. He chose to do the responsible thing and step down from our campaign.”
I can just hear what was said when they sat down. I bet it went something like this: “Hey, Dan. We didn’t expect it to become public. I know, it hurts for a little while, but think of your performance bonus.”
I watch the media frenzy during the day and call Barbara before heading off to Letters. “Babs, you’re never going to believe this.”
“Dan Gagnier, right? He’s been working both sides of the fence.”
“How did you know?”
“I’m sitting here, having dinner with my parents. Dad knows all about it. Gagnier advised Trudeau months ago that he worked for TransCanada as a lobbyist, and still nothing was done. Dad says that Trudeau doesn’t have a sense of appropriateness around influence peddling.”
“Did you read the leaked memo?” I ask.
“Haven’t had a chance. Is it online?”
“Yep. I’ll send you the link. If Trudeau’s campaign co-chair is a lobbyist for big oil, and Trudeau was well aware of it, do you think Trans Mountain’s review will be redone?”
“I’d hate to think he’d make a promise like that and then break it.”
The Liberals win the election three days later.
Burnaby’s newly elected Liberal Member of Parliament, Terry Beech, is interviewed the day after the election by Burnaby Now. He confirms Trudeau’s promise: “We are going to redo the National Energy Board process. We’re going to broaden the scope. We’re going to make sure it’s objective, fair and based on science….Kinder Morgan will have to go through a new, revised process.”
I feel encouraged, until I read a little further on in the article what NEB spokesperson Craig Loewen says about Trudeau’s promise. “The reality is there were a lot of things said in the campaign.”
Who to believe? Then it looks like someone in Trudeau’s office gets to Beech because after those initial comments, he no longer talks about the do-over when questioned by journalists. I begin to worry.
I sign on to Kinder Morgan’s quarterly earnings call with investor analysts since it is broadcast in real time. Trudeau’s promise to redo the NEB review will surely be discussed.
An analyst asks the all-important question halfway through the call: “How will the new Liberal government impact Trans Mountain’s application?”
Ian Anderson, president of Kinder Morgan Canada, clears his throat. “I’m wearing…I’m wearing my Liberal red tie.”
If his disdain for democracy didn’t disgust me, I might laugh along with the audience. Anderson knows how the real world works. Heck, the federal lobby registry lists the numerous meetings he’s had with Harper’s government to make sure the government knows it too.
My stomach starts to churn.
“It’s too early to speculate on what a Liberal government is going to mean for us,” Anderson continues. “You know we’re going to continue to focus on the NEB process that we’re involved in and all the requirements of that while we continue our project planning and preparation. We’ll certainly be briefing the Liberal government in due course on the project and kind of the progress we’ve made…We’ll just keep working very hard and keep them informed and plan to execute the project as soon as we get approval.”
Wham. Slam. Bam. Nothing’s changed except the colour of this guy’s tie.
Anderson and his team get busy. I monitor the meetings listed on the federal lobbyists’ website. Kinder Morgan meets all the right people, including Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, and Bob Hamilton, the deputy minister of natural resources, so they get a direct channel to the new minister of natural resources, Jim Carr. When Hamilton is replaced with Christyne Tremblay, they meet with her. They meet with Jonathan Wilkinson, Liberal MP for North Vancouver, who also promised—before the election—that Trans Mountain’s review would be redone because the NEB had lost the trust of Canadians and a new evidence-based process had to be established. Wilkinson had a whole webpage dedicated to why the review needed to be rigorous and based on science. After the election, he backpedalled, just like Beech, and his web page mysteriously disappeared.
When I meet Barbara for lunch, I vent. “Trudeau’s election promise is broken, Babs. Notice how he hasn’t said a word about Trans Mountain’s redo since the election? He keeps deflecting it. They’re up to something.”
Barbara takes the last bite from her sandwich and chews slowly, then says, “Trudeau has played Canadians.”
I nod. “We thought it was Harper and his henchmen, but the Liberals are the same, only worse, ’cause they pretend to be different. Wilkinson sure changed his tune after the election.”
“Did you keep a copy of his web page, by any chance?” she asks.
“No, I only copied his quote. I should’ve downloaded his website page. I wrote to him, though, to ask for a copy of it, and he responded saying he couldn’t find it. I thought about suggesting he look underneath all the Liberal bullshit.” I bite into a crisp red apple, obviously picked at the right time.
“In Trudeau’s speech at the Paris climate summit,” I say between bites, “he said Canada’s back and here to help the world tackle climate change. As if the only thing needed to stop the planet from frying was his own election.”
“Well, he agreed to holding global warming below two degrees Celsius. That means we’d have to get greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels, and we have to do it in the next fifteen years, but he has no plan for it,” says Barbara. “A man without a plan.”
“Any chance you know what our greenhouse gas levels were in 2005?”
“You’ll be surprised, but I do know that.” Barbara smiles.
“Actually, Babs, I’m not surprised.”
“Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions were seven hundred and thirty-two metric tonnes then, so the goal is to take emissions down to five hundred and twelve metric tonnes by 2030.”
“Tell me something, Babs. How do you transition off fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gases and expand the tar sands at the same time when they’re our biggest source of emissions? Trudeau can’t think he can meet the goals set in Paris if Trans Mountain’s expansion goes ahead, can he?”
“There’s no way those goals can be met if the expansion’s built. I’ve looked at the numbers, Trainer. It makes no sense. If Trudeau were serious about climate change, he would’ve ordered a redo of Trans Mountain’s review before going to Paris.”
“Maybe he’s afraid that, if the Board considers climate change, the oil pipeline project dies. There is no scenario where producing two million more barrels a day of dilbit helps us move away from fossil fuels, which are killing the oceans, the air, the planet.”
Barbara sighs. “They must really think Canadians are stupid.”
“Canadians aren’t stupid, Babs. That’s why they all lie—Trudeau, the NEB, Kinder Morgan, oil companies, their lobbyists—they lie to keep us distracted, hoping that by the time the truth struggles to the surface, it’ll be someone else’s responsibility to fix the problem. It’s the same in the US, Europe, England—wherever corporate interests control the agenda. Talk talk talk about dealing with climate change, but nothing meaningful is done.”
“It’s like they keep working together from their privileged positions of power to keep us from figuring out what’s really going on, isn’t it?”
“They aren’t just coming for our beach, Babs. They are coming for all the beaches.”
Nothing is done about Trans Mountain’s review, just as Barbara and I expected. By May, the NEB issues its report—a report Trudeau had said couldn’t be trusted and wouldn’t be accepted by him or his Cabinet. He accepts it anyway. The NEB report recommends that Cabinet approve the pipeline expansion. No surprise there. It’s easy to get to “yes” when the NEB was there from the start. Reports submitted by numerous intervenors and their experts, some world-renowned, are treated dismissively by the Board. The only reports that hold sway are the ones bought and paid for by Kinder Morgan. What a farce.
“There are numerous errors in the NEB report, Liz,” I say, as we walk along the seawall on a beautifully clear sunny day in early June. Liz is pregnant and wants to keep active outside while the air is still fresh.
“You mean like the Board asserting that producer benefits are more important than the probable extinction of the Southern Resident killer whales?”
“There are no producer benefits,” I say, exasperated. “The Board had to rely on a phony supply outlook in order to pretend there were. How did they get away with writing off an entire species with a contrived benefits assessment?”
“By pretending to review it when they really didn’t, because they ignored the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act—CEAA. But I understand there are groups getting ready to take the NEB to court over it.”
“Plaintiffs have to wait until after Cabinet has ordered the NEB to issue the certificate allowing construction, so Ottawa has to approve the project first. To answer your question, the Board could avoid treating the demise of the orca population as an adverse effect by asserting that the project ends at the dock. That means the NEB got away with not having to examine the impact of tanker traffic on orcas under CEAA.”
“And by ignoring CEAA, that means the Board didn’t have to consider the Species at Risk Act—SARA. Have I got that right?”
“Yes, otherwise the Board would’ve had to recognize Ottawa’s legal obligation to protect orcas under SARA. Clever how the NEB avoided its responsibilities, huh?”
“So, most people would believe the Board considered marine risk when it really didn’t. How did you figure out what they were up to?”
“I didn’t. I mean, I had an inkling from what Cory said to Wes about Ottawa being the decider on the orcas’ demise, but it clicked when I read the final argument filed at the hearing by another intervenor—Living Oceans and Raincoast Conservation. If Ottawa approves the expansion, they’ll see the NEB in court for not following the requirements of CEAA or SARA.”
“CE yaAA in court, for violating SARA,” I say.
Liz laughs and sits on a park bench overlooking Coal Harbour. “You’re hilarious, Trainer.”
“You should see me when I’m funny,” I say, crossing my eyes and sticking out my tongue. I sit beside Liz.
“What else did the Board get wrong in its report?” Liz asks. “I’m famished…all the time,” she says, biting into her wrap.
“Where do I start?” I take out my peanut butter and banana sandwich. “The Board pretends the contracts with shippers are firm, when they’re not. Oh, and you’re going to love this—it deliberately got the cost of the project wrong. It said it was 5.5 billion when Kinder Morgan had already raised the price to 6.8 billion dollars, months before the Board released its report.”
“What difference does that make?” asks Liz, taking another bite of wrap.
“If the Board had recognized the shipper contracts were no longer firm because the capital cost has risen to 6.8 billion, it also would have needed to recognize that the project is commercially challenged.”
“The shippers are the ones who ultimately pay for the project through their tolls. Thirteen shippers have signed up, long-term.”
Liz has finished her wrap and takes an apple from her bag. “Okay, so if the cost to build the project goes up, that is, if it gets more expensive for these oil companies, the prohibitive cost could threaten the project’s viability because the shippers may cancel their contracts.”
“Right. The contracts say that after Ottawa approves the project and Kinder Morgan gets a permit from the NEB, then Kinder Morgan has to provide a budget to its shippers. If the shippers think the toll rates are too high, they can walk. So by pretending the contracts are firm, when they’re not, the Board doesn’t have to question whether the project is commercially viable.”
“Typical NEB strategy, Trainer. Don’t look at anything too closely that might expose the project’s flaws—”
“The Board didn’t ask Kinder Morgan to file the contracts, and it didn’t ask about capital cost increases. That’s why the NEB can get away with claiming that the cost is 5.5 billion, when everyone knows it’s not, and the Board can mislead Cabinet by claiming the contracts are firm, when they aren’t.”
Liz takes a fruit bar from her bag. “What do you think Trudeau will do next?” she asks.
“He’ll pick up a set of red pompoms and lead the cheer for Trans Mountain’s expansion. Chant slogans. Repeat them over and over. Become the purveyor of propaganda about oil price benefits, jobs and the need for new markets, exactly the way Kinder Morgan writes it for him.” I reach into my bag and pull out a chocolate chip cookie. “Here.”
“Thanks, I’m still hungry,” she says.
“Trudeau is spouting nonsense. Kat found me a report that shows how Pemex—the Mexican National Oil Company—tried to deliver heavy crude to Asia. It couldn’t break into the Asian market because Saudi Arabia has it sewn up. Pemex dropped its prices and still couldn’t penetrate the market, so it gave up. Trans Mountain claims five hundred and forty thousand barrels a day will go to Asia, and Trudeau pretends Asia is thirsty for tar sands.” I put my half-eaten sandwich away for later. “Do you want to keep walking?”
“Sure,” Liz says, getting up. “Do you smell smoke, Trainer?”
“Summer fires can’t be back already,” I say. “We’re barely through spring. So, Liz, when do you think Trudeau’s going to approve the expansion?”
“The feds have to finish consulting with First Nations first, if you can call it that. From what I heard, there’s—”
“I know that smell, Liz. It is smoke. It’s travelled here from the Interior already.”
A few days later—days of hazy skies and smoke-filled air—the next pipeline lobbying scandal breaks in the National Observer. “Quebec’s Jean Charest had private meeting with pipeline watchdog after TransCanada hired him” reads the headline.
I stop working on the Friends of English Bay newsletter update to call Kat. “Geez, Kat, you’re not going to believe this, but Jean Charest, former Quebec premier, is now TransCanada’s lobbyist! He met secretly with NEB panel members, the ones responsible for the Energy East review, on how to get the project approved.”
“Responsible and NEB? That’s an oxymoron, wouldn’t you say?” Kat asks.
“Yeah, the only thing the NEB is responsible for is an erosion of public trust. Holding secret meetings with the NEB to get a pipeline approved is supposed to be a big no-no. It’s against NEB rules, but that didn’t matter to them.”
“How do you know about this?”
“I’ll send you the article. There are handwritten notes that prove their scheming.
“What does Charest say?”
“He won’t answer questions. I bet he’s worried about losing his performance bonus.”
“What does TransCanada say?”
“Where’s the accountability?”
“You tell me.”
“I’ve got the link, thanks.” Kat pauses to read. “The Board members were Watson, Mercier and Gauthier. Wait a second, Gauthier? Why do I know that name?”
“Was he by any chance at that meeting with the ad guys trying to pawn off the fifty-million-a-day hoax?”
“No, that’s not it. Umm. Oh, I remember, it was in the news. Gauthier admitted to relying on insider information when he sold shares of an energy company a while back. Had to pay a fine for insider trading.”
“How can he even be a Board member?”
“He shouldn’t be. But that’s the NEB for you. Seems that political connections are a requirement for sitting on the Board. Must be nice to know people in high places.”
Over the next few weeks, I watch for the fallout from the Charest affair. There isn’t much. The Board members who met with the lobbyist—a former premier!—were asked to step down from the Energy East panel, but they kept their jobs as NEB members.
“Energy East has a new panel,” I tell Kat, “with a new list of issues that says the impact of greenhouse gases will be considered and cross-examination allowed. They refused to do either of those things at Trans Mountain’s review.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Nope. If Trans Mountain’s review had included those features, there’s no way the Board could’ve recommended the project proceed.”
“You must be pissed.”
“I don’t have time. I mean, if Trans Mountain’s review had been fair, the project would be dead, and I’d move on. But now I need to focus on getting people to the mountain, you know.”
“How can I help, Trainer? I mean, I can’t get arrested, but there must be something I can do.”
“There is. You can help me with some more intel.”
“On Kinder Morgan. I need them to answer questions, but they won’t even acknowledge my emails any more. Do you know any analysts that follow the company and can ask a question during one of the investor calls?”
“Let me see who I can find. I’ll get back to you.”
Throughout the summer, Sheila, Mary, and I work to organize people who will go up the mountain. We use their apartment as our organizing base, where the beautiful view of English Bay keeps us inspired. When smoke gets in the way of our view, it motivates us even more.
Sheila and Mary’s TV is tuned in to the press conference scheduled for the afternoon. Tea and cookies on hand, we’re ready to witness Trudeau’s decision on Trans Mountain’s expansion. Rain pelts against the living room windows. It’s been raining all of November. Where was it when we needed it this summer to hold the fires at bay? Another unanswered question in the age of climate change.
Trudeau walks up to the mic. “Just over a year ago,” he says, “Canadians elected a new government. Their marching orders for us were clear: build an economy that works for me and my family and protect the environment, so we can leave a better, cleaner country to our kids.”
“JT, you must know you can’t do that and build a tar sands pipeline,” I say. Mary giggles.
“We know the world is changing,” Trudeau continues. “And Canada must change with it. Climate change is real. It is here. And it cannot be wished or voted away. I have said many times that there isn’t a country in the world that would find billions of barrels of oil and leave them in the ground.”
“That’s it,” I say. “We’re doomed.”
Sheila reaches over and puts her hand gently on mine.
“Our challenge,” Trudeau says, pausing for effect, “is to use today’s wealth to create tomorrow’s opportunity. Today, we are taking a strong step in that direction.”
“Trudeau’s going to walk the economy and the environment, hand in hand, right off the edge of a cliff.”
“The Government of Canada has approved the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project.”
“Fuck,” I say softly, standing and walking over to the window. Whitecaps dot the bay, and the remaining leaves on the oak trees that line the street below are being swept off their branches. I take a deep breath to hold back tears. There’s enough water in the atmosphere today.
“The project will effectively triple our capacity to get Canadian energy resources to international markets beyond the United States,” he says.
“You liar,” I silently respond.
“It will create fifteen thousand new middle-class jobs—the majority of them in the trades.”
“What?” I ask, unable to keep quiet. “Where did that number come from? Kinder Morgan estimates twenty-five hundred jobs—and only for two years—after that, it’s ninety.”
“Come sit back down and hear him out,” Sheila says.
“And let me say this definitively,” Trudeau continues. “We could not have approved this project without the leadership of Premier Notley and Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan—a plan that commits to pricing carbon and capping oil sands emissions at one hundred megatonnes per year.”
“You see, Sheila. He always intended to approve it.”
“It’s all propaganda, dear,” Sheila says reassuringly.
“Yes, propaganda,” Mary echoes.
“Today, Canada’s pipelines are operating at full capacity,” Trudeau says.
“How can he say that? It’s not true. Pipeline statistics show there’s capacity available and it’s not being used.”
“That means any significant new production must find another way to get to market. Those modes of transport are less safe than pipelines.”
“He means rail. Why doesn’t he just say it? And the last time I checked, he’s the guy responsible for rail safety. If rail is dangerous, why doesn’t he make sure it’s safe?”
“The Lac-Mégantic rail explosion was a tragedy,” says Mary.
Sheila pauses the TV, freeze-framing Trudeau in mid-smirk.
“Of course it was,” I say. “Forty-seven people died, but they wouldn’t have if Ottawa properly enforced its regulations. ‘Sorry about your downtown core becoming an inferno on what should have been a safe summer night, but we were just trying to save a few bucks by laying off staff.’”
Mary picks up her teacup and says, “They say that if Trans Mountain isn’t built, the heavy oil will come by rail. How do we counter that?”
“With the facts. If Trans Mountain’s not built, the heavy oil won’t come at all because there aren’t any marine loading facilities capable of loading it onto tankers.”
Sheila releases Trudeau.
“If I thought this project was unsafe for the BC coast, I would reject it,” he says. “This is a decision based on rigorous debate, on science and on evidence.”
“‘If I thought’…Justin, that’s just it…you don’t think. If you did, you’d know there was no real debate, the science was ignored and the evidence was never tested.”
“That poor boy,” Sheila says sympathetically. “He has no idea that he’s just thrown down a gauntlet.” She clicks off the TV. “He’d better brace himself.”
I pour Barbara a glass of our best house white and put it on the bar. It’s early, so we are the only ones in the club.
“Gerald Butts orchestrated a trade-off with Premier Notley’s people,” I say. “Trans Mountain’s approval in exchange for Alberta agreeing with a carbon tax and cap.”
“You believe the approval was always a foregone conclusion?”
“Babs, remember, we couldn’t figure out why Trudeau didn’t order Trans Mountain’s do-over right after the election, like he promised?”
“Because the fix was in.”
“Everything that took place for the next year, right up to when Trudeau announced its approval, was all for show. The decision had been made within days of the election.”
“Trudeau has no plan to fight climate change,” says Barbara, taking another sip of Chardonnay. “I like this wine, Trainer. How long, do you think, until all the vineyards in BC have gone up in smoke?”
“Not so fast with the doomsday scenario, Babs. Legal challenges have been filed in the Federal Court of Appeal by First Nations, environmental groups and the Cities of Burnaby and Vancouver against Kinder Morgan, the NEB and the government. The charges? Consultation with First Nations wasn’t meaningful, and the NEB ignored environmental assessment requirements. Just as Liz said would happen.”
“I’ll drink to that,” says Barbara, lifting her glass.
“The Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s one of the Indigenous groups that filed a court challenge,” I say. “They’ve got a strong case because, if anyone owns the inlet, they do. Tsleil-Waututh means ‘people of the Inlet.’ They’re deadly serious about protecting the beaches and waters of Burrard Inlet. But Ottawa didn’t listen to them.”
Colin, a new bartender Wes hired, walks into the club to start his shift.
“Well, Babs, have a good night. I’ve got to go do payroll. Colin, if the lady wants another drink, it’s on me,” I say, heading toward the backroom.
“Thanks, Trainer,” Barbara calls.
I sit down and pull up Sunset Beach Club’s payroll program. I’m almost finished when Wes walks in.
“Hey, True, it’s getting good and busy out there.”
“Great! Guess what, Wes? Kat was able to get a question to one of her buddies, who got a question to one of theirs, and now I have some evidence that Kinder Morgan’s finally admitting to difficulty financing the expansion. It promised the NEB that financing wouldn’t be an issue, but now it is. We warned the Board that financing would be an issue—a big one.”
“Trouble getting financing should kill the project,” Wes says, as he takes out a stack of Sunset Beach Club coasters.
“Sure it should. The company’s now desperately looking beyond its own resources to other sources of revenue. It turns out its debt is too high. Combined with construction risk, it’s a double whammy,” I say. “Kinder Morgan likes to pretend the financial risk is due to uncertainty from public protests, but it has always low-balled the construction cost. US investors aren’t gullible. Now Kinder Morgan said it’s going to take the company’s Canadian pipeline assets public.”
“So it’ll do a share offering and raise money that way?”
“That’s what they said on the investor call. We’ll see what happens next, but Kinder Morgan isn’t in the financial shape it pretends, that’s for sure. Kat says that when a project is shopped too many places, interest dries up. Potential has a shelf life.”
I pick up one of the coasters. It depicts a glorious sunset over a tar-free beach, the bay bordered by coastal mountains, the evening sky unfettered by smoke.
“Wes, you know, Sheila, Mary and me, we’ve signed up quite a contingent of members for Friends of English Bay.”
“You’ve got my support, True, and I’ll even cover for you if you do jail time,” he says. His eyes look tired. “But, you understand, I just can’t put the effort into this anymore, with the bar and all.”
“I understand, Wes,” I tell him, and I do. But I’ll miss his help.
“You have to handle it with as little disruption as possible,” Flick says, as he unscrews the top of the container holding homemade pizza dough that has been fermenting for three days. Carefully tipping the container, he allows the dough to fall under its own weight onto the floured counter.
“You just press the edges outward, like this,” he says. I watch him turn the dough ball into a pizza-shaped circle that grows larger as he works. “Tell me about Kinder Morgan’s latest effort to finance their Trojan Horse.”
“Well, you know that investor interest has dried up.”
“Quicker than groundwater in a California drought,” Flick says, lifting the dough to rest on his fists, then spinning it into the air and deftly catching it.
I chuckle. “Exactly. So Kinder Morgan takes its Canadian assets public, saying that would move the project forward.”
“The share offering raised equity, right?” he asks. “Sell shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange and then use the cash to finance construction.” Flick places the dough on a wooden peel and shakes it gently to make sure it doesn’t stick.
“That’s what Kinder Morgan led the public to believe and how the media reported it, but that’s not what happened,” I say, grating mozzarella. “More than 1.7 billion dollars raised from Canadian investors, but none of that money is going to the project because it’s been siphoned to the US parent company. Kinder Morgan is using all the money it raised in Canada to pay off Daddy’s debt in Texas.”
Flick finishes spreading tomato sauce on the surface of the dough and begins sprinkling cheese, onions and mushrooms over it. “So they still need to raise the money for construction. How much?”
“About six billion dollars.”
Flick takes a breath. “Wow.” He opens the oven door and shakes the peel gently. The fully dressed pizza slides from the peel onto the hot pizza steel. He closes the door and sets the timer on his watch. “Six billion.”
“Yeah, Flick. The boys from Enron said that financing Trans Mountain’s expansion is no longer the US company’s problem. That’s what they told their American shareholders during the last call I listened to. They said Kinder Morgan Canada will have to find the financing for the project. But the US parent still owns the majority of shares in the Canadian company. It’s a sweet deal. The US parent will get most of the profits, but if the project fails it’ll bear none of the risks.”
“So, you’re telling me the Texas company has packed up and left town, taking piles of money with it.” Flick pauses. “So the Canadian company has to raise all the money itself. How’s it going to do that?”
“I don’t know, but if it doesn’t raise the money, it won’t start construction. But the last thing the company wants is for people to know the truth.”
Flick’s watch beeps. He opens the oven door and slides the pizza onto a wooden cutting board. “All we read and hear about is the City of Burnaby causing permitting delays that prevent Kinder Morgan from starting construction,” he says. “Burnaby’s being demonized, isn’t it? I think it’s a way to keep everyone from asking the obvious question: Can Kinder Morgan finance its project?” He takes a pizza cutter from the drawer. “And the answer is no.”
“Kinder Morgan will keep pretending it can’t start construction because of permitting delays, and if that doesn’t work, it’ll find some other excuse. Just watch.”
“Should be interesting,” he says, cutting the pizza and placing slices on two plates. He hands me one. “Next pizza, you get to learn how to spin the dough.”
Wes walks into the Beach Club office, his phone in hand. “Hey, True. Kinder Morgan just announced it’s suspending all non-essential activities on the expansion project. That sounds like good news, doesn’t it?”
I look up from the printer; I’ve been changing the cartridge. “It’s just a smokescreen. The company announced suspension of spending last December.”
“You’re going to want to read this.” He hands me his phone. “Kinder Morgan’s delivered an ultimatum to the feds to provide security against delays or it’ll kill the project. The company claims that it would build the pipeline, but the BC government, with its Green/NDP alliance, has promised to use every tool in the tool box to stop it.”
“What? How come it’s an issue now? Horgan’s government’s been in power for almost a year. I bet Kinder Morgan lobbyists thought Horgan would buckle as easily as Trudeau did. I still don’t trust Horgan to play hardball, but at least he’s not throwing the game.”
I read the press release. “If we cannot reach agreement by May 31st, it is difficult to conceive of any scenario in which we would proceed with the project. The time period for reaching a potential resolution is short, but necessarily so because of approaching construction windows, the time required to mobilize contractors, and the need to commit materials orders, among many other imperatives associated with such a large project.”
“Oh, so they’re going to start construction. And they want to get going pretty quickly,” I say. “But Kinder Morgan’s worried about the Horgan government stopping the project. You know, Wes, this is a ransom note, but Kinder Morgan is grandstanding, giving Trudeau until May 31st,” I scoff.
“Why is that grandstanding?”
“Kinder Morgan isn’t being honest. The press release glosses over the court challenge, but it’s mentioned as being key in every investor call I listen in on. There isn’t an investment firm out there, I bet, that will even talk about raising the equity that the project still needs until after the court issues its decision. Meanwhile, Kinder Morgan’s on the hook for mounting capital costs, and it wants out. The whole thing smacks of a set-up. The deadline adds an urgency that will play right into Trudeau’s desperation to pander to Alberta. And Kinder Morgan is using Horgan as its latest scapegoat.”
“When does Kinder Morgan expect the court decision?”
“Maybe June. I bet Kinder Morgan’s testing Trudeau. It’s betting the federal government will jump in and offer up all kinds of support. What has Kinder Morgan got to lose? Almost none of its own money is at risk. If Kinder Morgan walks away, I estimate it writes off only about two hundred million.”
Wes whistles. “Wow, that’s hardly anything.”
“Kinder Morgan is worried about mounting costs but isn’t being upfront about it. Look at the last sentence in the press release—it’s not going to update the construction costs or the timeline. Why not? Why even mention it, in that case?”
“That does sound suspicious.”
“Something’s going on, and experience tells me it’s sure not what Kinder Morgan pretends it is.”
The following morning, I listen in on Kinder Morgan’s investor call to hear what Kean has to say about the ransom note. Kean talks about the company’s demands: clarity on the path forward, particularly on the ability to construct through BC; and adequate protection of Kinder Morgan Canada’s shareholders. Then Kean says, “Even if we have the other things in place, we still need to see a resolution of the federal appeal.”
The Federal Court of Appeal combined all the First Nations, environmental groups and municipal challenges into one case. That must be the federal appeal Kean’s referring to.
And, Kean adds, if the court rules that more consultation needs to be done before the project can proceed, this would be “too much to bear.”
In other words, the company has no intention of building anything until it knows the outcome of the court case. Actually, without a court victory, Kinder Morgan will cancel Trans Mountain’s expansion. So why all this grandstanding about proceeding if Ottawa were to provide compensation? There’s no way a court decision will come down before the May 31st deadline. It doesn’t add up.
Too bad no one in Ottawa seems to have tuned into the call to realize that Kinder Morgan’s ransom note is more spin than substance. It’s holding a gun to its own head while threatening Ottawa, “Pay up or I’ll shoot.”
“You must’ve heard the latest from Morneau,” I say to Kat as we walk toward the beach. “The finance minister held a press conference announcing he’ll use taxpayer money to compensate Kinder Morgan for any losses because of actions to stop the pipeline.”
“Yeah,” she says, “but we aren’t following developments all that closely since we didn’t buy shares when Kinder Morgan Canada went public last year, so what can you tell me?”
“Kinder Morgan assures its investors that construction won’t start until the court challenge is decided. If the court orders more consultations, Kinder Morgan’s CEO suggests it’s going to cancel the project.”
“Then why does Morneau think that compensating for any interference would get construction going? Didn’t you tell me the court case won’t be decided until at least June?”
“Yeah, we should know by then if the Northern Gateway decision is any indication, but the judge could take longer. I don’t know, Kat. It just doesn’t add up. Kinder Morgan’s capital costs keep mounting, so I’m sure the company wants out. Why doesn’t it just admit defeat and leave?”
“The Sons of Enron are as wily as they come, Trainer.”
“Morneau, Trudeau—they don’t stand a chance in the room with those guys. I just wish I could figure out what Kinder Morgan’s after. It sure isn’t an insurance policy against the project’s detractors.”
“So our message today is simple,” says Minister Morneau from Ottawa. He has called a press conference two days before Kinder Morgan’s deadline, taking me by surprise. I was sure negotiations with Kinder Morgan would go down to the wire. “When we’re faced with an exceptional situation,” Morneau continues, “that puts jobs at risk, that puts our international reputation on the line, our government’s prepared to take action.”
“What have you done, Bill? What kind of action have you taken?” I say to the computer screen, expecting Morneau to offer up a grotesquely generous insurance policy.
“To guarantee the summer construction season for the workers who are counting on it, and to ensure the project is built to completion in a timely fashion, the federal government has reached an agreement with Kinder Morgan to purchase the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, and infrastructure related to the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.”
You’re buying it?
“This 4.5 billion dollar investment represents a fair price for Canadians and for shareholders of the company, and will allow the project to proceed under the ownership of a Crown corporation.”
You’re buying it with our money?
“The core assets required to build the Trans Mountain Expansion Project have significant commercial value, and this transaction represents a sound investment opportunity. That's why we chose not to provide a subsidy to Kinder Morgan, but rather to enter into a commercial agreement that will make the most of the economic potential of this project.”
Oh, so the insurance policy, which you said last week was a good investment, is now a subsidy. What a bunch of bullshit. You’re nationalizing an aging pipeline and the rights to build a global warming machine and pretending it’s an investment.
“Make no mistake: this is an investment in Canada’s future.”
Oh, it’s a mistake, Bill, a big mistake. Probably the biggest blunder of the century.
Morneau’s announcement sends shock waves through the nation—the kind that come from an explosive combination, equal parts betrayal and bewilderment. Kinder Morgan’s hostage taking makes more sense now. Trudeau has talked himself into a political corner with clever sound bites and poorly negotiated backroom deals. That’s what happens when you blindly champion a pipeline project, dismantle the regulatory safety net to get it through review without due process and then, armed with nothing but political spin, charge ahead to make sure it gets built.
Dr. Long emails me. “Can we talk about Trans Mountain’s purchase?”
Of course we can. What would you like to know, Professor?
Dr. Long offers to take me for lunch. I suggest we meet for a picnic on Burnaby Mountain. I want him to see the Watch House—“Kwekwecnewtxw” or “a place to watch from”—built by the Coast Salish peoples. From there, we’ll walk to Trans Mountain’s terminal gates, where people stand in peaceful protest every day, waiting to get arrested. He tells me he’ll bring the sandwiches.
We sit on a log bench near the Watch House. Warmth from the spring sun makes it comfortable to sit outside. The air is crisp and clear. I open the lunch bag Dr. Long brought and pull out a sandwich.
“I never expected Trudeau would buy a pipeline,” he says. “What a mess. Up to the announcement, we were led to believe Ottawa was simply going to provide financial assurances against politically motivated delays. Who would’ve thought the government would take over the project?”
“I was shocked too,” I say. “Three billion dollars to buy an old pipeline plus a billion-and-a-half for little more than the right to expand it.”
“Oh, so the purchase price did include what Kinder Morgan has already spent on the expansion project to date,” he says.
“But Ottawa still needs to find the money to construct, because what Kinder Morgan spent to date really only covers the cost of getting the project through regulatory review and a bit of preparation on the marine terminal. No actual construction’s taken place. Ottawa expects the deal to close by September, and Morneau agreed to pick up all the costs for the expansion project between now and then, thinking construction can start this summer. Kinder Morgan talked to its investor analysts about what a good deal the company got.”
Dr. Long looks at me, his expression asking how I know.
“I listened to the call. I’ll send you some links that explain everything Trudeau has agreed to buy,” I say.
“Thanks. I assume you have an opinion about the purchase price,” he asks.
“Yeah, Ottawa overpaid. Ottawa overpaid by 4.5 billion dollars.”
Dr. Long laughs. “No, seriously.”
“I am serious. We know oil producers have stopped investing in the tar sands. That means there won’t be enough supply to fill any expanded capacity.” I take a bite of my sandwich.
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Ms. Richards.”
I don’t ask Dr. Long to skip the formality. As long as he wants me to call him Dr. Long, he can call me Ms. Richards. “What’s that?”
“The take-or-pay contracts, the toll agreement.”
“What we know,” I say, “is the shippers had an opportunity to walk from the project about a year ago when they were presented with an updated budget of 7.4 billion. Some left; others stepped up and took their place, but Kinder Morgan still has to pick up the lion’s share of cost overruns beyond 7.4 billion dollars.”
“The revenue from the tolls that shippers will pay to use the new pipeline won’t cover all the costs of building it, then?”
“No, that’s why Kinder Morgan wanted out. It knew project costs were rising, and without the option to pass all the project overrun costs on to the shippers through higher tolls, it would have to pay them. Now the government is going to be the owner, and that means taxpayers are going to pay for overruns that can’t be passed on to shippers.”
Dr. Long looks at me again with his quizzical expression. This time I wait, so he has to ask.
“How do you know?”
“The hearing transcripts.”
“For the toll hearing?” he asks.
“Yep. It’s discussed in detail during cross-examination.”
“Very frustrating that the NEB would give shippers time to cross-examine Kinder Morgan at their toll hearing but not give us any time at the public interest hearing, isn’t it?”
“The Board’s biased and unfair,” I say.
“Can you send me the relevant transcripts?”
“Sure,” I say, pulling a Nanaimo bar out of the lunch bag. “Do you think it’s wrong?” I ask.
“You mean, do I think it makes economic sense?”
“No, do you think it’s wrong for Trudeau to have bought the pipeline?”
“That’s what I want to calculate. Over the life of the project, can the federal government make back the money it spent to buy it? I need to model the cost-sharing in the contract to determine that.”
“It can’t possibly make it back,” I say. “I’d like to see your spreadsheet after you’re done, but I’m sure the return is negative, not positive.”
“That’s a qualitative, not quantitative, analysis.”
“Yes, well, Trudeau’s purchase is qualitatively negative.”
“If that’s the case, then it doesn’t make any sense. It’s taxpayer money subsidizing oil producers,” Dr. Long offers.
“If the purchase wasn’t a subsidy, then you’d think it was okay?”
“You know, Ms. Richards,” Dr. Long says as he puts the wrapper from his sandwich in his paper bag and pulls out his Nanaimo bar. “Ottawa buying Trans Mountain is wrong, no matter what the numbers say.”
“You know what, Dr. Long? You can call me Trainer.”
Officer Banks could have used a bullhorn. Instead, he comes to speak to each of us. He discusses the situation, lets us know that the injunction will be read and then, if we’re still standing in front of the terminal gates, we will be arrested. Fair enough. Those are the rules. We know the consequences.
It’s a hot day, and more smoke from the summer wildfires has settled in. Everything, the trees, the sky, my skin, is tinged with grey. It’s the worst of all colours.
As Officer Banks begins to read the injunction, Barbara gives me a hug. She resigned from New Century as a show of support and just landed a job in the fraud department at Vancity Savings Credit Union. Still, she can’t really afford to be arrested. But her father, William Bains, can.
Liz hands her daughter, Faith, to Duncan and gives me a hug. “I can’t thank you enough for what you’re doing for our children’s future, Trainer.” I smile at her.
Flick takes Liz’s place and says, “I am so proud of you, Trainer.”
Now I turn to Wes, and we hug. I hold him tight. “We’ll be there when you get released from custody, True,” he says.
“Go,” I say to him, so I don’t get emotional. “You have to go with the others, behind the line.”
Mary’s daughter and granddaughter are here, and Dr. Long—I mean, Derek—is here too. It’s comforting to have so many people here in support of our action. They’re standing on what the court has determined is the right side of the law. We stand on what we have determined is the right side of history.
I grab William’s hand. Beside William stands Sheila, then Mary. Three more Friends of English Bay members stand beside them.
Banks is flanked by two other officers. When he finishes reading the injunction, he folds the paper slowly as if drawing out the time, in case any of us wants to change our mind. We don’t, but I appreciate the thought.
We are led away three at a time. Then I stand alone, the last to be restrained. I figure I’m probably left for last because I’m the only Friend of English Bay under sixty, and we’ve all been standing for quite a while today.
Officer Banks walks up to put the arm restraints around my wrists. I smile and look down at my hands.
“I know the drill, Officer Banks, and I’ll go peacefully.”
“I know you will, Trainer.”
After he cuffs me, we start to walk to Big Blue. He has me by the arm, and we walk in step. Maybe feeling in step with Officer Banks is why I ask him about his daughter. Sheila’s told me about her.
“How’s Megan doing?”
He doesn’t answer right away, and then he says, “Not good.”
“Oh, I hope it’s not serious.”
“Well, it is, kinda,” he says. “She developed a respiratory infection last summer. From the smoke.” He nods to the opaque air. “These days are really hard on her. But what can I do?”
What can he do? I don’t know. He has a family to support, bills to pay, probably a mortgage, and here he is arresting people who are trying to protect the air so it’s safe enough for his daughter to breathe.
“The world is full of contradictions, Officer Banks. And maybe today, the wrong people are getting arrested.”
I look up from writing when I hear the corrections officer say, “Richards, you’re going home.” She’s standing at the doorway of my cell, holding a cotton bag.
“What?” I’m not supposed to get out of the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women until the day after tomorrow. The judge found me guilty of criminal contempt and handed down a two-week sentence. He looked at me with contempt when he issued it. I sent the look right back at him. He’s guilty for allowing the planet to die.
“Stop writing, Richards. Come on, or they might change their minds. You wouldn’t want that, would you?” She throws the bag onto my roommate Trish’s bed. “There are your clothes. Put your prison sweats and bedding in there after you change.”
I close my notebook. It’s a really nice journal that Flick brought me. “Thanks, Officer Hill. I’ll pull my stuff together. Be ready in a minute.”
She continues standing at the door. “I’ll wait.”
I jump off the bunk, take my belongings from the bag and stuff the bedding into it. I won’t miss the pad that pretends to be a mattress.
“I’m not supposed to tell you this,” Officer Hill says. “So you didn’t hear it from me.”
“Hear what?” I ask, smiling.
“The court stopped Trans Mountain. That’s why you’re getting out early. You’ll still have a record, but your sentence was shortened.”
“Well, I’m no lawyer, but I’ve been around the block.”
“The cell block,” I chuckle. She smirks.
“The judge said the government and the NEB screwed up, because the NEB didn’t consider what all those tankers will do to the whales, and if Ottawa wants to build that pipeline, it has to talk more with the Indians.”
“Because Indigenous peoples weren’t properly consulted?” I ask, hoping she notices the correction.
“Nope, they weren’t. Trudeau has to go back and do it right. You ready?” Officer Hill leads me down the corridor. “We’ll get you processed. Then you can make a call, in case you want someone to come pick you up.” She plugs in a code to unlock the door.
“Can you please tell Trish goodbye for me?” I ask. “She’s taking a course this morning, so I won’t get a chance.”
“I can do that,” Officer Hill says, holding the door open to let me through.
“The court quashed Trudeau’s approval, so there’s no longer a permit to build Trans Mountain’s expansion,” Liz says loudly as she hands Faith to Barbara and moves to stand in front of the bar. “Work had to stop.”
Applause erupts, accompanied by cheers and whistles. Sunset Beach Club is packed. It’s a welcome-home-from-jail party for our group of seven who were arrested together on Burnaby Mountain. Before festivities start, we’re having a meeting.
“However,” Liz continues when the noise dies down, “it’s likely Trudeau will move quickly to bring the project back on track. He’ll have the NEB do a reconsideration hearing on the impact of the increased tanker traffic caused by the project, and this time, meaningful consultations with First Nations will need to be undertaken.”
“The NEB will try to do as little as possible,” says Cliff, who’s on the list of the next protector group willing to be arrested. Cliff’s a retired engineer. “The Board refused to assess the risk of a tanker hitting the railway bridge in Burrard Inlet. I remember when that bridge was hit by a vessel back in 1979. That wasn’t supposed to happen, and that ship was much smaller than the tankers they plan to bring into the inlet every day. Utter madness.”
“The NEB is likely to narrowly scope this hearing, as it did with the earlier one,” Liz says. “They’ll do only the minimum required to meet the court order.”
“Ottawa will pretend it has a plan for the orca population to recover, but it won’t,” says someone loudly from the back of the room. “When Trudeau approved the expansion, he said the Oceans Protection Plan would make the project safe. It comes under his ridiculous idea that more than four hundred tar sands–laden tankers a year is an example of the environment and the economy going hand in hand.”
“Trudeau’s a liar,” yells Jordan, an urban planning student. He’s one of the few members of Friends who might lose his cool in a peaceful protest. As Sheila, Mary and I developed the engagement strategy, we were careful to put him with a more seasoned group who could keep him focussed on our end game and hopefully avoid him resorting to the short-term relief that comes with expressing anger. “Why would anyone believe him when all the experts say there’s no way the orcas can survive the tanker traffic? Trudeau said, ‘Governments may grant permits, but only communities grant permission’ because it sounded clever, but he doesn’t care about our communities.”
Murmurs of agreement go through the crowd. Tension is rising.
“You’re right, Jordan,” I say. “He breaks promises and distorts the truth. We can’t afford to let his lies distract us, though. He’ll say whatever he needs to say to get the pipeline built.”
“And what did Trudeau do when the court found him guilty?” adds William. “He blamed the lack of consultation on Harper. Three years into government, and he’s still blaming Harper.” William’s comment gets a laugh. “Trudeau refuses to accept responsibility. He’s in charge. It was his process. He ordered bureaucrats not to negotiate.”
“Now he has to go back and engage in meaningful consultation,” says Liz. “That’ll take longer than a reconsideration review.”
“How much time do you think we have, dear?” asks Sheila. “Before construction starts and we need to return to the mountain?”
“Maybe you can answer that, William?” Liz asks.
“Cabinet will likely direct the Board to do its review quickly,” answers William, speaking to the group, “and consultation with First Nations will take a bit longer, as Liz said. Ottawa will also want to make a political statement to Alberta’s premier and the oil companies that it’s going to get back on track expeditiously, with a short review. I think we should expect the review to be done by April and consultations by June.”
“Won’t that put them right back in court?” asks Kat. “I mean, if they rush the review. Isn’t that what got them into this problem in the first place?”
“Yes,” answers Liz. “There will be more court cases if the NEB behaves true to form, but once Cabinet issues a new Order in Council approving the project, and the NEB issues a new certificate, Ottawa will probably proceed with construction even if the approval is being challenged in court.”
“Because Ottawa will throw taxpayer money into construction, while Kinder Morgan wouldn’t have dared to do that with shareholders’ money,” I say.
“There’ll be pressure from Alberta’s premier to proceed with the construction,” says William, “particularly since she has an election to fight next spring. She’ll do all kinds of things to keep the pressure on in Ottawa. But until proper consultations with First Nations are complete, Trudeau can’t reissue a certificate allowing his pipeline company to restart construction.”
“So maybe next summer?” asks Sheila.
“At the earliest,” confirms William. “And then there’s the federal election a year from now. Cabinet may wait until after the election to approve the project.”
“Hard to campaign pretending to be concerned about climate change while charging forward with a tar sands pipeline,” yells someone.
“Exactly,” William confirms. “Thousands and thousands of people on the mountain willing to be arrested to stop construction in the midst of an election campaign isn’t something Trudeau should risk.”
“Then we have some time before we need to make our presence felt again,” says Sheila. “We’ll just keep planning until we know more.”
“There is something we can do in the meantime,” I say, looking at Derek. “Derek and I will continue our work on Trans Mountain’s financial challenges and mounting taxpayer-funded subsidies. If Kinder Morgan still owned Trans Mountain, the court order would’ve killed the project.” I smile. “I never thought I’d say this, but, unfortunately, Kinder Morgan doesn’t own Trans Mountain.” People laugh.
“Not so fast, Trainer. You went past the taxpayer-funded subsidies too quickly,” Kat says. “The finance minister promised that Canadians wouldn’t be burdened by buying Trans Mountain. Tell us why we are.”
“Kat’s right,” I say. “Despite what Morneau promised, subsidies started the day Ottawa took ownership. It overpaid for the aging pipeline and for the right to build its twin. How much it overpaid will depend on how much it costs to build and how big the toll subsidies have to be to keep the shippers tied in. If we aren’t careful, taxpayers are going to be on the hook for as much as fifteen billion dollars.”
“What can we do?” asks Barbara.
“Derek and I will keep following the money and making that information available through the Friends of English Bay blog post, but each of you here can keep the pressure on by discussing the subsidies on social media, writing to your MP and MLA, sending in letters to the editor.”
A woman whose name is Andrea, I think, asks, “Tar sands producers know Trudeau buckled to Kinder Morgan’s pressure, so what’s going to keep them from beating a path to Ottawa, asking for more toll subsidies on the expansion? All those tar sands producers have to do is threaten to leave the project, and all sorts of money will rain down on them.”
“Acid rain down on them, you mean,” Jordan chimes in, but he’s not confrontational. People laugh.
“We have to watch out for that,” I answer. “And you’re right, tar sands producers are facing toll costs they never expected, so they’re in a position to threaten to leave. We have to do what we can to expose the mounting subsidies. What may kill this project in the end is the fact that it’s not commercially viable, and even with exorbitant subsidies from Ottawa, the oil companies—the shippers—could still abandon the project.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” says someone in the crowd. “These tar sands producers keep saying they need the expansion.”
“They have to say that,” I say. “Their contracts require it. It’s in their agreement. Oil companies can’t say they want out, but even if they do, they’d wait to see just how far Ottawa will go to pay for the pipeline with our money. They want to know how much they control Trudeau.”
“Trainer’s right,” says Derek. “The project delay is a huge cost, and because the certificate is quashed all the project delay costs are supposed to get passed on to the shippers. They’ll be lobbying Ottawa for ways to avoid the costs and, when they’re successful, Ottawa will try to hide the subsidies.”
A man raises his hand and says, “Trainer, Derek, I’m a retired accountant and I’d like to help expose the creative accounting.”
“Great,” I say, looking to Derek. He nods and adds, “We won’t know for about two or three months after Trudeau approves the expansion whether the shippers will leave and the project dies or whether Ottawa sweetens the pot so much with toll subsidies, they stay. It’s complicated, so we could use your help.”
“Ottawa will use every trick in the book to make the project appear like a good investment, when it’s a boondoggle,” I say. “We have to hope Canadians aren’t as stupid as Trudeau and his ministers think we are.”
“I’m here because my mother asked me to come,” Roger says.
“That’s why I’m here too, so I guess we’re even,” I reply.
Roger’s mom, Celia, had pulled me aside at the Friends of English Bay party. “I need to ask you something, Trainer,” she said. “My son doesn’t want me to go to the mountain, but I promised Sheila and Mary I would. He says we’re losing eighty million dollars every day the project’s delayed, and thousands of jobs are at stake. I don’t know what to tell him.”
I told Celia I would do what I could to address her son’s concerns, and she should ask him to call me. When he called, we agreed to meet for coffee.
“Look,” he says, taking a sip of his latte. “From what I can tell, you’re filling my mom’s head with nonsense. She says she wants to get arrested on Burnaby Mountain. She’s seventy—she can’t go to jail.”
“Nobody wants to get arrested, Roger. I understand why you’re concerned, but it’s her decision. Your mom wants to make a stand to protect your future. The consequence for doing that is arrest.”
“To protect my future? It’s definitely not having a mother who’s been radicalized to the point where she thinks standing in front of a fence is a moral statement.”
“Okay, let’s get down to it. Why do you think the expansion is a good idea? Why shouldn’t your mom get in its way?”
“All the benefits, of course,” he says. “I looked into the eighty-million-a-day figure. Alberta’s premier based her information on a report by Scotiabank.”
“Yes, that report was released in February. It’s called ‘Pipeline Approval Delays: The Cost of Inaction.’ Did you read it?” I ask.
“Yeah, well, it’s been discredited. The Scotiabank analyst doesn’t understand how the market works. Scotiabank is the largest source of bank financing for the tar sands, so it’s in a conflict of interest. And furthermore, the bank said the loss was forty million dollars a day. How did Alberta’s premier get twice that?”
Roger doesn’t say anything.
“Alberta spent twenty-three million dollars on propaganda about benefits and jobs, Roger. You know how many permanent jobs will come out of Trans Mountain’s expansion?”
“Ninety thousand,” he says, nodding. “That’s a lot.”
“No. Ninety, period. Nine, zero.”
“Ninety jobs?” He looks out the window. “What about the projected revenue—that’s eighty million dollars a day. That has to lead to job creation.”
“What eighty million a day? That figure is fabricated. It’s not a loss, so it can’t become a gain if the pipeline is built. Let me tell you the history of that number, Roger. About five years ago, industry got together and devised a plan to invent a loss that could only be offset by building a pipeline. The original figure was 5.8 million a day. But spin doctors and charlatans decided that wasn’t large enough to scare Canadians into accepting a pipeline we didn’t need and the ecosystem can’t afford, so they increased the loss—to fifty million a day. They even paid for a glossy pamphlet that cited this figure. Eventually, the issue died down—until, that is, Scotiabank comes out with its contrived assessment and gets the loss figure to come in at forty million a day. Alberta’s premier doesn’t think that figure’s big enough, so she doubles it to eighty million a day. The Alberta government is throwing millions of taxpayer dollars at an ad campaign to get that totally made-up figure to stick. They know that people like you, who have no idea what you’re talking about, will use it to discipline the behaviour of family members concerned about climate change.”
Roger takes a deep breath. “Tell me what you really think.”
I burst out laughing, and he laughs too.
“I get it,” I say, taking a sip of my latte. “You’re worried about your mom’s safety. What’s important to your mom is protecting English Bay from an oil spill and protecting the orcas from extinction.”
“That’s the National Energy Board’s job.”
“But the NEB isn’t doing its job. Even the Federal Court of Appeal said so.”
“The government told the NEB to do it properly this time.”
“That’s what you think,” I say. I pick up my coffee cup. “Come on, let’s get out into the sunshine. We’ll walk to the beach.”
Roger gets up and we walk outside.
“I’m not going to tell you all the ways the NEB’s review is rigged. That would probably bore you, but I will tell you this: the NEB restricted the scope of its new marine risk review to a twelve-nautical-mile limit. You know what Canada’s commercial responsibility for marine waterways extends to?”
Roger shakes his head.
“Two hundred nautical miles.”
“Why would the Board limit it, then?”
“Why do you think?” We walk across the street, stopping in Morton Park to admire the giant bronze statues of laughing shirtless men, installed for the Vancouver Biennale. “Maybe they’re hysterical about the farce that’s the National Energy Board,” I remark.
“There are many more examples of how biased the Board is and how the public can’t afford to trust the NEB to protect our environment or our economy. BC’s commercial fishers are really worried about job losses from the tanker traffic, but the Board wouldn’t even consider their concerns.”
“How is that possible?”
“The same way it ignored climate change. The Board said it wouldn’t consider upstream or downstream impacts, and commercial fishers are downstream. Sneaky, isn’t it?”
We head to the Seawall path.
“The jail time worries me,” Roger says.
“I’m not going to pretend it’s easy. I spent almost two weeks in there, and I’ve heard the judge may increase the sentence to a month. Sleeping is the hardest part because the beds are uncomfortable, but the guards are respectful, particularly to the older women, and so are the other inmates.”
As we turn toward Second Beach, I think carefully. “If your mom decides to go through with getting arrested, and it would ease your worries, I’ll time my next arrest with hers,” I offer. “That way, I can watch out for her on the inside.”
“You’d do that?” Roger asks.
“Yes, but it’s not going to happen right away. There’s no need to break the injunction while the project is on hold, and it could be another year before construction starts. A lot can happen between now and then. Your mom may not have to be arrested.”
Roger motions to a bench, and we sit down and stretch our legs.
“Trudeau takes his direction from a few companies that make billions of dollars a year causing climate change. He won’t do anything to alter the crash course the ecosystem is on,” I say. “That much we know, so he has to be stopped.”
Roger and I look out over the bay.
“And you think you can stop him?” he asks.
“You mean, your mother and me?” I tease.
“Yeah.” Roger smiles.
“Your mother, me—all the members of Friends of English Bay—along with the tens of thousands of other people who are going to show up on Burnaby Mountain if Trudeau approves a new certificate.”
“Tens of thousands?”
“You watch. If Trudeau approves the project again, responsible Canadians in numbers we haven’t yet seen will let oil companies know that a pipeline permitting irreversible climate change does not have the public’s permission. We’ll see who wins in the end—the people or the petro state.”
“Would you really go to jail with my mom?”
“That’s what I said.” I stand and reach for his coffee cup. “Anything else you’d like to talk about, Roger, before I have to go?”
Roger stands and hands me back my portable mug. “Do you mind if I call you again?” he asks. “Maybe we could have dinner?”
“We’ll put it under the window in the dining area,” I say to Barbara, as we carry my desk into my new apartment that overlooks Sunset Beach. We set it down, and I slide the desk flush against the wall.
“That’s perfect,” I say. “When I work, I can see the water from here.”
Trudeau ordered the Board to go back and assess the environmental impact from the increased tanker traffic triggered by Trans Mountain’s proposed expansion. Friends of English Bay didn’t even try to participate in the NEB Reconsideration Hearing. We’ve stopped wasting our time with the Board.
Just as we expected, the NEB held another rigged review, headed up by none other than Lyne Mercier, one of the Board members who met with TransCanada lobbyist, Jean Charest, where they schemed about how best to con the public into begging for the Energy East pipeline project.
Barbara walks to the sliding door and opens it. I hear seagulls and feel a fresh breeze.
“This is really nice, Trainer. Enough space out here for two chairs and a coffee table, and you’ve got a full view of the bay. You’re literally steps to the beach.” Barbara walks onto the deck and leans against the rail, looking out at the water.
“Watch the corner,” grunts Wes. “I’ll back up into the living room and give you a better angle to move into the bedroom.”
“Sure,” says Flick, as he and Wes maneuver a queen-sized mattress.
I follow Barbara to the deck and stand beside her. We look out at my unrestricted view of the bay. “A beautiful place to watch the sun setting, isn’t it,” I say.
“Sure is.” She hesitates. “So…where do you think it goes from here, Trainer?”
“You mean, now that the NEB has recommended to Ottawa that dilbit-laden tankers killing off the orcas is justified under the circumstances?”
“Yeah, that’s what I mean,” she smirks.
“Morneau keeps misleading the public about the depth of Trans Mountain’s financial losses, then turns around and gives the current shippers more than three billion dollars in toll subsidies. So Ottawa’s got to be scrambling to find ways to deliver toll subsidies for the expansion too.”
“I wonder how far Ottawa will go.”
“Neither Trudeau nor Morneau could negotiate their way out of a paper bag, so I bet the oil companies are taking taxpayers on a joyride as we speak. Ottawa’s new game is called ‘how to hide the subsidy,’” I say, laughing, and turn to the living room at the sound of Kat’s voice.
“What a view,” Kat says, putting down some bags and boxes and joining us on the balcony.”
“We worked through a plausible scenario with Hugh, the retired accountant. He’s been a big help,” I say, turning back to look over the bay as Kat joins us against the railing. “We’re already looking at twelve billion dollars in subsidies, and that’s before the project starts construction.”
“Wow,” says Kat, “that’s huge. And major projects like this are notorious for increased costs during construction. I bet Ottawa will figure out a way to pass those cost overruns onto taxpayers too.”
“How to hide the subsidy,” sighs Barbara.
“I still can’t believe the NEB refused to consider new economic information during its review—if you can call it a review,” says Kat.
“Yeah,” scoffs Barbara. “Trainer told me the Board relied on Earnest’s stale-dated report from 2015, with all those inflated benefits to justify killing off the orcas.” She sounds discouraged. “I don’t know what to say. That’s a travesty.”
“And it’s because the economic benefits and financial viability chapters in the new report are the same chapters that were in the first report,” I say. “What the NEB has done infuriates me. The Board’s new report claims the project’s cost is 5.5 billion—which it hasn’t been since 2015—and the report says Kinder Morgan Inc. still owns Trans Mountain, and the Houston-based company will provide all the financing for the expansion.”
Barbara’s shocked expression dissolves into hysterical laughter. Kat and I join in.
“The NEB is living in a world that no longer exists,” Kat laments. “Everyone knows that half the major players in the oil sands have left, while the remaining companies are desperately trying to figure out how to avoid stranded assets on their balance sheets,” she adds.
Barbara grips the railing and leans back. “I can’t get my head around it. Using logic doesn’t work, science doesn’t matter and doing the right thing doesn’t count. The NEB’s report is just more evidence that playing by the rules doesn’t make sense anymore.”
“True, your bed is all set up,” announces Wes, stepping out onto the balcony.
I turn to face him. “Oh, thanks, Wes. I’ll go take a look.” Passing Flick in the hallway, I tell him, “Hey, Flick. Everyone’s on the balcony. I’ll be right back.”
The bed looks great in my new spacious bedroom. On my way back to the balcony, I make a detour to the fridge, grab the bottle of chilled Okanagan rosé and find the box with my wineglasses in it. I carry both to the balcony.
"Okay, guys, time to get a wineglass and celebrate my move!”
Barbara takes wineglasses from the box one at a time, passing them along. “Let’s think about the future. So Trudeau says he’s going to approve the expansion, and it’s a given that the government’s going to subsidize the oil companies so heavily they stick with it. Now what?”
I pour wine into everyone’s glasses. “Once Trudeau issues the certificate, Ottawa and the NEB will be taken to court because the NEB didn’t scope its reconsideration review properly and because Ottawa still didn’t accommodate First Nations’ concerns.”
“But Ottawa proceeds with construction even though there are court challenges, because Trudeau has no discipline when it comes to wasting taxpayer money,” says Kat.
“No,” I say, putting the empty bottle down and raising my glass. “Ottawa doesn’t proceed with construction.”
As we all clink glasses, I add, “Because we stop them.”