The City of Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan is an initiative to do what it says on the box, to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city by 2020. The plan that was launched in 2010 reads like it was written by mayor Gregor Robertson’s benefactors and former employers in the NGO and social enterprise industries.
Many Vancouverites are skeptical about the mayor’s big idea. Some worry about the potential for conflict of interest- who’s the plan’s primary beneficiary, taxpayers or the NGOs and foundations that helped put Robertson into power? Others doubt the mayor can deliver, it was only three months ago Robertson tried to blame his failed promise to “end homelessness in 2015” on what may be the most stupid excuse ever- claiming his team of “brilliant minds” took seven years to realize that a steady stream of homeless move to Vancouver for the more temperate climate.
On Tuesday evening both the mayor’s sceptics and unquestioning followers will have an opportunity to hear the city explain its progress at the half-way mark of the program. Billed as a “celebration”, the event will include a makerspace, a “battle of the brushes” painting event, and an opportunity to taste food and drinks from local vendors including a “greenest city cocktail”. The event’s speakers include the deputy mayor, a professor from SFU- and an RCMP monitored extremist who recently claimed he’s above the law because Canada is an illegitimate country.
Speaker 1: Deputy mayor Andrea Reimer
The first speaker listed on the invitation is deputy mayor Andrea Reimer, the lead councillor working on the greenest city initiative. Reimer has an interesting history, after spending her youth hitchhiking and experimenting with drugs she moved to Vancouver and overcame her addictions. Her path into politics was enabled by the same NGO power base that put Gregor Robertson into office.
After working with the Wilderness Committee as a student, she eventually took the reigns as managing director of the foundation funded NGO. Like many of BC’s most privileged NGO elite, Reimer was invited to teach at Hollyhock’s Social Change Institute- a TIDES Canada sponsored activist retreat held at a creepy New Age resort where rich people spend big money buying genuine indigenous knowledge. Robertson was formerly employed there, one of their funders explains how “Hollyhock helped cultivate” both his and Reimer’s political careers.
The Wilderness Committee is one of Vancouver’s more edgy and radical NGOs who also received funding from TIDES. We covered them on this website last year after the NGO was observed promoting a fundraiser for a violent group of extremists in northern BC called the Unist’ot’en Camp (who’ve been tracked by the RCMP since 2010).
Reimer joined the Green Party in 1996 and after several years of volunteering she ran and won her seat on Vancouver’s school board in 2002. After losing the vote for her second term she later joined Vision Vancouver where she co-chaired the mayor’s campaign and successfully ran for city councillor in 2008.
Reimer is a founding member of CitySquare, an NGO created as an “innovation” hub for the city’s greenest city program. Initially conceived by members of Simon Fraser University’s Centre For Dialogue, the NGO brings in students from local universities to work on greenest city programs. Projects have focussed on researching the path to achieving greenest city goals including zero waste, public bike repair stations, and building community gardens.
One of the most disturbing trends this website has observed after four years researching activist violence and corruption is that politicians and NGOs have a tendency to amplify the voices of professional protesters over the people they claim to represent. The city’s Downtown Eastside Local Area Planning Process is an excellent example.
Reimer was one of the two city councillors overseeing the project that was tasked with seeking input on long-term city planning from members of the community. The first person who stuck-out on their list was Burnaby resident Harsha Walia, a professional protester and a vocal advocate for violence who’s often on the front-lines. She was joined by fellow anarchist Tami Starlight- both activists were participating in the notorious Pidgin Restaurant protest just days before their consultation.
Speaker 2: Shauna Sylvester, Simon Fraser University
Shauna Sylvester is a director at Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue and executive director of SFU’s Public Square. She’s been executive director of both Carbon Talks, an initiative to provoke conversation about climate change funded in-part by SFU and the Real Estate Foundation of BC; and Renewable Cities, an offshoot of Carbon Talks led by ICLEI – local governments for sustainability and SFU’s Centre for Dialogue.
Sylvester’s work has been well-received by her colleagues, in 2010 she was awarded the Simons Foundation’s World Peace Leader award. Like the city’s “great success” being featured at the C40 conference, Sylvester’s award is a bit less impressive than it sounds- the Simmons Foundation is housed in SFU’s ofices, TIDES Canada manages their money, and their founder Jennifer Allen Simons is Sylvester’s colleague at the SFU Centre for Dialogue.
Representing Public Square, Sylvester helped facilitate the Mayor’s 2012 Taskforce On Housing Availability. Three years after the report was published of the cost of Vancouver housing continues to increase each month. This time, rather than blaming his failure on warm weather, the mayor laid the blame on the province- very publicly calling out Premier Christy Clark (who called back out at him).
Page 12 of the 2014-2015 Greenest City Implementation Update leaves readers with the impression that Vancouver’s success “eliminating fossil fuels” has put the city on the map:
“City staff were recently asked to lead a district energy working group for C40, an international network of large cities taking climate action”
It sounds impressive at first; right up to the point when one realizes the conference was run by Renewable Cities in Vancouver. Shauna Sylvester helped lead and organize the event, it’s possible she’s or one of her colleagues asked city staff to speak. When organizing international conferences, even when held in a tinpot dictatorship, it’s traditional to invite speakers from the host country- city staff’s invitation was no more impressive than a best man being invited to speak at a wedding.
A Dodgy But Beautiful Power Station:
The district energy project the city was invited to speak about was the Southeast False Creek Energy Company, a 2010 Olympics feel-good project built to tick the box on the city’s goal to create a sustainable games. The SFCEC was part of the notorious Olympic Village, an ambitious eco-friendly housing project that fell into receivership after cost overruns and the failure of a risky hedge fund based fundraising strategy. The failure left the CoV on the hook for up to $1 billion- the impact downgraded the the city’s credit rating which only recently recovered in February 2015.
Viewed on its own as a technical project, the SFCEC is as full of shit as the city’s claim that their C40 working group was a grand achievement. Connecting to a central pipe running from downtown, the SFCEC’s plant converts heat from the city’s sewage into “carbon free” energy. Exposing its dual-purpose as a PR exercise; the project retained architects, artists, and lighting consultants who turned the exhaust stacks into a smoke and light show that changes colour as the plant’s power output fluctuates.
A common problem with alternative energy technologies is that they often need axillary power to operate 24/7- SFCEC utilizes energy from two external vendors. First, similar to a problem environmentalists use to discredit the oilsands, it takes energy to sewage into energy- SFCEC’s heat exchanger depends on an electrical hookup from BC Hydro. Next, sewage supply is cyclical like solar and wind- when fewer people are flushing in downtown offices the SFCEC switches to from using sewage to natural gas.
The problem with using whiz-bang technology and creating public relations light shows is that the construction and operating costs will ultimately be paid by the consumer. One of the risks listed in the city’s 2014 Rates Report is that SFCEC is vulnerable to fluctuations in electricity and natural gas prices. Sucking more from consumer’s wallets, the city’s decision build their own power company required new systems, processes, staff, and office space- reinventing BC Hydro’s wheel without the same benefits of scale
The city’s rates report projected SFCEC would have a $1,478,000 budget shortfall in 2013.
Now here’s where the tragedy starts. The Olympic Village project offered a mix of high-priced condos, market rate rentals, and subsidized social housing units. It didn’t take long after people occupied their suites for the complaints to start rolling in about unreliable energy bills. An extra $50-100 isn’t likely to change the lives of people living in the $1 million suites, but for people living on fixed incomes it often means choosing between hamburger and cat food.
There are a number of tests one can use to determine if the SFCEC is as successful as the city is telling us. The first is to ask if it achieved the greenest city programs goal of “eliminating fossil fuels”- zero points, it’s backed up by natural gas and hydro is used to power the heat exchange process. The next question to ask is if the SFCEC is benefiting consumers- besides the city’s claim it’s lowering their carbon usage (we’ll get to that in a moment), saddling elderly social housing residents with higher and unreliable bills can hardly be called a success.
There’s one question very few people appear to have asked- how would things be different now if the city had stuck to using BC Hydro? Evidence shows that consumers would benefit from BC Hydro’s scale enjoying lower and more reliable bills- but what about their carbon output? BC Hydro is a world leader in this category- sourcing 93% of their energy from clean and renewable sources, and working towards a goal of 97%.
Calculating on the back of an envelope, the only way SFCEC can be more carbon neutral than BC Hydro is if downtown workers and residents produce enough sewage to keep to keep the heat exchangers working more than 93% of the time 24/7/365. Information isn’t available on how often SFCEC relies on natural gas, but considering their 2015 budget for natural gas ($586,000) is almost 15% of their income, it doesn’t seem likely they’re achieving this goal.
The final part of the 2014-2015 Greenest City Update’s section on eliminating fossil fuels gives another example of the kind of thinking that brought us the SFCEC- outlining the city’s efforts to reduce climate change by fighting the Trans Mountain pipeline. Both initiatives are great examples of city hall working outside of it’s jurisdiction- power generation is led by the province, and inter-provincial pipeline decisions are entirely in the hands of the federal government.
Speaker 3: Tamo Campos, RCMP Monitored Extremist
Tamo Campos is a “professional snowboarder” whose carbon deficit is rivalled only by his extremism and moral bankruptcy.Campos has spent years following the snow, spending his winters in BC and jetting down to South America during the summer- not exactly the behaviour one would expect from a climate activist.
Campos’ pet project to power his mini-bus with used vegetable oil is as equally as quixotic as the SFCEC. The concept first caught traction with anti-government rednecks attracted by the opportunity to avoid paying taxes. Campos is part of a new generation who claim that they’re being green and sustainable- there are a couple of problems though. First, there’s only a limited supply of used cooking oil in the world, only a fraction of what it would take to make it sustainable. Next, used cooking oil has similar drawbacks to diesel- with higher emissions of unburned hydrocarbons, nictic oxide, and fine particles that cause cardiovascular and respiratory problems.
Campos is most well-known for being David Suzuki’s grandson, it appears he’s being groomed to carry his grandfather’s torch. Following the same tradition as the city’s C40 conference success story,and Shauna Sylvester’s peace award, Campos was honoured as the “Top Activist Under 25” by Starfish Canada in 2014- an NGO that was co-founded by the David Suzuki Foundation.
Campos first came to public attention during last year’s protests against Kinder Morgan on Burnaby Mountain. He was arrested during that protests as part of a crowd that was using violence and force to push their way into the police line. Campos claimed he wasn’t doing anything wrong, the RCMP suspected him of trying to dive across the police line with the intention of getting arrested- they’ve been keeping an eye on him ever since.
Shortly after his arrest, Campos stood in-front of a Burnaby Mountain crowd and declared that the law didn’t apply to them because the government is illegitimate. Some observers saw his speech was an act of sedition, others just felt uncomfortable he was promoting his extremist views to the many impressionable young people in the audience.
As we discovered in Burnaby Mountain, Campos has some strange bedfellows:
– Harsha Walia was the person helping to stage the arrests of members of David Suzuki’s family on Burnaby Mountain. Walia is often in the front-lines during violent confrontations against the police and is one of the country’s most visible advocates of activist violence.
– Dan Wallace is a Vancouver based indigenous anarchist who, like Walia, is regularly at the front of the pack while masked thugs battle with the police. Wallace was recorded on video in 2014 calling on a group of Black Bloc protesters to “use violence against the police”- shortly after they did just that.
– Jakub Markiewicz has a long history of arrests and clashes with the police and is one of the few people arrested twice on Burnaby Mountain. Jakub was arrested on May Day after participating in a violent clash against the police alongside with Harsha Walia and Dan Wallace- he’s currently being tried for a number of charges including assaulting a police officer.
Like Walia, Wallace and the Wilderness Committee, Campos has been a prominent supporter of the violent extremists at the Unist’ot’en Camp and has spent time visiting them at the protest site. Canada is a free country and Campos has the right to question the government’s legitimacy as long as he doesn’t call on or take action to overthrow it. That said, the city’s lawmakers have a responsibility to not amplify the voices of people who promote lawbreaking to crowds of the city’s youth- his inclusion in tomorrow’s meeting is a slap in the face to the people of Vancouver.
If, like me, you’re wondering how a guy who rejects the legal system gets invited to speak at an event led by city lawmakers, the answer might come from Campos’ connection with Carbon Talks- perhaps he was invited by Sylvester?
Some Closing Thoughts:
Imagine for a moment that rather than being groomed by the NGO industry Gregor Robertson and Andrea Reimer’s path into office was greased by one of the country’s most powerful civil engineering firms. Next imagine that instead of a ten year project to build the greenest city Robertson and Reimer led a similar project to give Vancouver the world’s best roads. How long do you think it would take before people start asking questions about conflict of interest?
The potential for conflict-of-interest in the greenest city program starts at the very first goal to “create green jobs”- an activity Robertson’s former employer at TIDES Canada spends millions of dollars for every year. Robertson’s benefactor Joel Solomon runs a business investing in social and green ventures that invested in the mayor’s juice company, has donated to the mayor’s campaigns. When Solomon was an executive with TIDES USA the NGO purchased and turned a 150 acre property next door to the mayor’s Cortes Island home into a nature sanctuary.
Vancouverites who are uncomfortable with the stench of what appears to be unabashed corruption have a great opportunity to ask hard questions tomorrow. Being in Toronto, I won’t be able to attend. I’m hoping you can- and if you do, I’ll be waiting eagerly to hear about their reaction (even better if you can film it).