Georgia Strait Alliance is the only citizens' group focused on protecting the marine environment in and around the whole Strait of Georgia – Canada's most at-risk natural environment, and the place where 70% of British Columbians live, work and play. We are committed to a future for our region that includes clean water and air, healthy wild salmon runs, rich marine life and natural areas, and sustainable communities.

December 7, 2014

A tale of inaction – signifying nothing good for the orca

The news we received last week was troubling.  A young female southern resident orca was found dead in the Strait, the 4th death in a year for a population that now only numbers 77 individuals.

Today we found out that this orca was pregnant with a full-term fetus and the bad news is doubled.

Photo: Lance Barrett-Lennard
When a small endangered population of animals loses a young female, the long-term negative impacts are devastating. To learn that with her loss, we have also lost a new member of this population is even more disheartening.

But this story is about more than just the incredible sadness of seeing a majestic animal in trouble but about what happens when our government ‘fiddles while Rome burns.’  If we care at all about this species and want to understand why it has such an uncertain future, we need to be clear on who the finger should be pointed at.

Southern resident orcas were declared endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act in 2001.  Soon after, killer whales scientists were brought together to begin drafting a recovery strategy for the species using the best available science to identify key threats to the species. 

The recovery strategy was due to be released in 2006, but it took another year and the threat of a lawsuit before it saw the light of day in 2007, with the orca’s critical habitat identified.  For a species to recover, the habitat critical to its survival must be identified and protected.

By 2009, we and our partners were back in court as the government was accused of failing to issue an order under its own Species at Risk Act to protect critical killer whale habitat.  They had a plan, but were delaying action.

The lawsuit pushed the government to issue the order, but the foot dragging continued and by 2010 we were back in court, this time with the government being accused of failing to legally protect all aspects of critical habitat for southern and northern resident killer whales.

Are you seeing the pattern yet?

By the end of 2010, the federal court ruled decisively in our favour, but by then 4 years had passed as we fought our government to enact their own laws, as tax payers money was wasted when it could have been spent acting to make the Strait healthier for the orca.

In 2011, we fought the government again as it attempted to reverse some aspects of the previous ruling and in 2012 we won again.

And then we waited.

Once threats to a species are identified in the recovery strategy, an action plan for mitigating and addressing these threats must be created.  It took until early 2014 for the draft action plan to be released (a year late), a plan which one again revealed how little commitment the government has to making change for the orca as its pages were filled with more research and inaction – and very little good news for the orca.

So here we are. 

Photo: Lance Barrett-Lennard
Southern resident orcas are an important indicator of the health of the Strait.  Their struggles show how threatened this body of water is and how little that matters to those with the power to do something about it.  And it’s about more than that.  If our government is so disinterested in protecting an iconic and well-loved species such as the orca, what does that mean for the 118 other at risks species in the Salish Sea?  It means we have a serious problem.

As frustrated as I am by the federal government’s inaction, as always, I am heartened by the passion and love that those of us who live along these waters have for the Strait and the orcas that live here. We see the big picture – both environmentally and economically – and know what the orca’s fate really means.

It’s not too late, and our job is to increase the pressure – with all of you standing right by our side – and stop the foot-dragging by our government.  We will also work with the scientists, local governments, business and industry who understand what’s at risk if we continue to do nothing.  Lucky for us, that list is long.

As seems to be the way these days, our government has abandoned its job of being steward of the environment, so it’s up to us to take the reins.  And we will so that in the years to come the news will be happier for the orcas and all of us who call the Strait home.

November 25, 2014

Art for social change - The Wild & Scenic Film Festival


What motivates a person to standup paddleboard 400 km along BC’s Central Coast or spend the winter on a remote arctic island with little but his surfboard? Over 120 people gathered in Victoria on November 13th to find out!

Georgia Strait Alliance was proud to host these and six other inspirational stories at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival at St. Ann’s Academy. Now in its 11th year, Wild & Scenic focuses on films which speak to the environmental concerns and celebrations of our planet, and travels to more than 100 communities throughout North America. When Festival organizers reached out to offer us the opportunity to bring the films to British Columbia, we jumped at the chance to play our part in spreading the importance of nature in our lives and the joy and adventure it brings us. 

The Wild & Scenic Film Festival featured
8 inspirational films about nature and conservation.
A highlight of the evening was the chance to hear directly from Norm Hann, star of the film STAND, about his experience paddleboarding the 400 km tanker route from Kitimat to Bella Bella. The film is a hauntingly beautiful examination of the people and culture of the Great Bear Rainforest - and the lives of those committed to defending its fragile ecosystems against the threat of oil tanker traffic on BC's coast.  If you haven’t had the chance to see this film yet, we strongly encourage you to seek it out!

The threats to the Central Coast and those we are facing here in the Strait of Georgia due to the potential increase in tanker traffic if the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline is approved are eerily familiar. Films like STAND help us see what is at stake and motivate people to go out and make a difference in their community and around the world.  People in the north and south are standing up for their communities – you need only look at those people standing up on Burnaby Mountain  - and films like STAND make what’s important so clear.

Another crowd favourite was North of the Sun, which chronicles the adventures of Norwegian surfers Wegge and Ranum who spent 9 cold months on a remote arctic island off the coast of Northern Norway. With little food and meager shelter, they survived with their most important possession - their surfboards, as the remote bay holds a well-kept secret: some of the world's finest surfing waves. With humour, warmth and a strong sense of how important the natural world is to their lives, the surfers charmed the crowd, who left in awe at what these two adventurers endured and experienced, and with huge smiles on our faces!

A big thanks to the Wild & Scenic Film Festival for giving GSA the opportunity to explore art as a means of increasing the conversation about social change and our place in the natural world. It was a truly powerful and inspiring experience!

November 24, 2014

Local election results: a win for the coast, climate and communities

Election night 2014 was a great moment for all those in BC who want to stop pipeline and tanker projects that threaten our coast and our climate.

From big city mayors to small town councillors, communities up and down the coast elected local leaders who promised to work in office to stop the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines. Vancouver, Burnaby, Victoria, Esquimalt, Prince Rupert and Smithers all elected mayors who are opposed to tar sands pipelines.

In the Vancouver Island community of Sooke, 70% of residents voted YES to a referendum question that commits the district to opposing the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

Across the province, fossil fuel projects and community control over environmental decision-making proved to be a defining issue in many local races. Although traditionally considered federal and provincial matters, this year’s municipal election campaign saw many candidates speaking out about the risks oil, coal and LNG transport could bring to their area, and demanding a greater say in the decision-making process. It was a telling sign of how concerned communities are about this issue, and how ignored they feel by other levels of government.

At Georgia Strait Alliance, we contributed to the debate by working in selected strategic locations around the Strait: Nanaimo, Parksville, Gibsons and the Sunshine Coast. We sent questionnaires to all registered candidates in these locations – 125 in total – asking their views on the Kinder Morgan pipeline as well as oil spill risk and response capacity. We circulated candidates’ replies to our supporters via email and published them on our website and social media, encouraging people to get informed, ask questions at all-candidates’ meetings and above all, get out and vote. 

You can find the full survey results here. The vast majority of candidates who responded to our survey were opposed to the Kinder Morgan expansion project, did not feel their communities had adequate resources to prepare for an oil spill, and were concerned about the recent decision by the National Energy Board to overrule the City of Burnaby’s bylaws to allow Kinder Morgan to conduct surveying work on Burnaby Mountain. Most also said that if they were elected, they would work to ensure that residents’ views on Kinder Morgan are heard by the federal authorities who will ultimately decide the project’s outcome. 

We were thrilled that when the votes were counted, many of these candidates were chosen to lead in their communities – particularly on the Sunshine Coast, where 65% of those who completed our survey were elected – and we look forward to working with municipalities around the Salish Sea in the coming months to ensure that community needs and voices are not ignored in this historic debate.

As the dramatic events unfolding on Burnaby Mountain over the past few days have brought into sharp focus, we need local leaders who are willing to stand up for their communities now more than ever. How many municipalities need to say ‘no’; how many First Nations need to launch lawsuits; how many ordinary citizens need to get arrested before the federal government and Kinder Morgan get the message that this pipeline will never be built? Whatever the NEB and Cabinet decide, it is abundantly clear that Kinder Morgan will never gain social license in BC – and that the future we want will have to be created by the local communities showing such great leadership today.

October 30, 2014

It’s local election time!

On November 15th, British Columbians will go to the polls to vote for local leaders to represent their communities.

While local elections may not generate as much attention on the airwaves or around the water cooler as provincial and federal races, they are vitally important – and not only at the local level.  Newly elected mayors, councillors and regional representatives will not only make countless decisions that will affect daily life in our communities – they can also play a major role in a much wider political arena.

For many of us concerned about the local and global impacts of pipeline projects and other fossil fuel development in BC, it increasingly feels like the provincial and federal governments are simply not listening. But communities like Burnaby (which is using all the mechanisms at the city’s disposal to prevent the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, including a drawn-out legal battle to prevent the company from carrying out invasive surveying work on Burnaby Mountain conservation lands), or Kitimat (where last April, citizens rejected the Northern Gateway project in a plebiscite) are showing us how local governments can flex some serious political muscles and be influential players in this vital national conversation.

We need more local champions like these, and the upcoming municipal elections are an important opportunity to spark community debates about the risks and benefits of Kinder Morgan and other energy projects, and for citizens to choose representatives who will stand up for the rights of communities over fossil fuel companies.

Georgia Strait Alliance is working in strategic locations around the Strait to encourage such debates during the election period, and in particular to raise awareness among candidates and voters of the risks coastal municipalities would face in the event of an oil spill. 

If you live on the Sunshine Coast or the Nanaimo and Parksville areas,click here to find out where your candidates stand on these issues, and other useful information as you prepare to vote on November 15th.

Wherever you live, if you’d like to see your local government be a champion for the coast and the climate, here are three things you can do to make the most of the upcoming local elections
  1. If you have five minutes: ready, set vote! Visit your municipality’s website and make sure you know when and how to vote.  Talk to your friends and family and make sure they’re ready to vote as well.
  2.  If you have half an hour: write an email. Contact your candidates (see here for an email directory of candidates running across the province) and ask them their views on issues of concern to you (you can use our candidate survey as a guide). You could also consider writing a letter to the editor of your local paper – a great way to contribute to the debate in the wider community.
  3.  If you have an evening to spare: attend an all-candidates’ meeting in your area to find out more about your candidates, and ask them questions about what matters to you (feel free to use ours). Your local newspaper or municipality’s website is the best place to find out dates for the meetings.
If you would like help with any of the above – who to contact, what to write, no question is too big or too small – we’re here to help! Contact alexandra@georgiastrait.org or call 604-633-0530.
Whether it’s pipeline and tanker projects that worry you, or other local environmental or community issues, November 15th is too important an opportunity to miss – so mark your calendars, and get out and vote! 

October 29, 2014

Water's Edge Day draws Vancouverites to the shore


For Vancouverites, their city's Waterfront is many things: it's a place where they live, where they work, where they move around, where they access and protect beautiful nature - and not least, it's a place where they come together to connect with other members of the community.

On October 5th, we celebrated everything that makes our shoreline special together with citizens at the Vancouver's first Water's Edge Day. Almost 1,000 residents came down to the Maritime Museum to embark on boat tours of English Bay, to go on a bird walk, a paddle tour in kayaks and Tsleil-Waututh canoes, to join an art workshop or win great prizes.

Click through our photo gallery to see all the fun things that were going on at the waterfront on this beautiful October day. Did you miss out on Water's Edge Day? Make sure to join us next year!

Our next Waterfront event in Vancouver is already in the works. In January 2015, we are hosting a Citizens' Forum to envision what a positive future for our shoreline could look like and what can be done to make it a reality. This is your chance to get together with other citizens for a fun, interactive Forum and to become part of our effort to build a shoreline for all. Sign up to receive an invitation.

Water's Edge Day 2014

By Georgia Strait Alliance

  • The electric "E-Tolley" pulls into the harbour

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Bird watching on an all-electric motor boat

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Birdwatching

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Bird watching fascinates all ages

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Building a paper "Ocean Flotilla"

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Kayak Tours

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Kayak Tours

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Getting ready for a kayak tour

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Kayak Tours

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Salty the Seagull

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Getting ready for a paddle with Takaya Tours

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Takaya Canoe Tour

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Takaya Canoe Tour

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Art Exhibition

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Art Exhibition

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Water's Edge Day Fun

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Squidy Man!

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Water's Edge Day Smile

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Show Us Your Waterfront

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • The Vancouver Aquarium's touch tanks, a big hit

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Touch Tanks

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Touch Tanks

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Gabriel George Storytelling

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Gabriel George Storytelling

    By Georgia Strait Alliance
  • Prize Draw

    By Georgia Strait Alliance

     Thanks to our wonderful sponsors and partners for making Water's Edge Day possible:




September 18, 2014

Have fun on the waterfront ... and see the shore from a different angle!

We love our waterfront here in Vancouver, the beaches, the parks, the seawall, the river — whether you're on or off the water, there's so much to do. But how much do we actually know about the shore? Do you know what the ships anchored in English Bay are carrying? Have you ever wondered what False Creek used to look like 100 years ago? When was the last time you took a close look at the animals that live on the shore?

We at GSA think it's time to celebrate our shoreline and all it has to offer. On October 5th, we are inviting everyone to come down to the Vancouver Maritime Museum for Water's Edge Day and spend the day with us exploring and enjoying the shoreline as part of our Waterfront Initiative.

It will be a day of great fun! Together with our partners and sponsors, we have organized a range of exciting — and completely free — activities that you can take part in. You can:
  • Join a guided paddle tour in a real Tsleil-Waututh canoe
  • Go on kayak tours
  • Interact with ocean critters in the Vancouver Aquarium's mobile touch tanks 
  • Get aboard an all electric boat for a bird tours of English Bay
  • Cycle around False Creek and learn about the history of our shore and the return of the herring
  • Check out the exhibition "Where Land and Water Meet" with art and historical photographs of the water's edge
  • Get creative and join an art workshop
  • Learn about water science at Science World
  • Explore the "green shore" restoration project at Jericho Beach
  • Enjoy free access to the Vancouver Maritime Museum all day long.
You can find all details and updates here

See the city from a different angle — how about from a helicopter or a zodiac?

The best thing is: if you love the waterfront as much as we do, you can turn that into a great chance to win: We want you to share your favourite moments, pictures, videos, places or stories from Vancouver's shore with us in our #MyVanWaterfront contest: Did you snap a great sunset picture at the beach? Have you been out on the water? Did you spot a cool animal on the shore? What else did you, your family and friends do on the waterfront this summer? Simply post on twitter or instagram with the hashtag #MyVanWaterfront and tag your location our submit here, and you will be entered into the draw.

All submissions to the #MyVanWaterfront contest will be drawn at Water's Edge Day. Our exciting main prize is a scenic helicopter ride for 2 from Vancouver to Victoria and back with Helijet. And you can also win a kayak paddle from Feathercraft or awesome hoodies and other merchandise from Sitka Surfboards. 

And there will be more prizes on Water's Edge Day: We're giving away 10 tickets for 2 for a waterfront sightseeing tour of Vancouver.  

In other words, you really don't want to miss out on Water's Edge Day!

This could be your view! Photo: Feeling Photography

Thanks to our wonderful sponsors and partners for making Water's Edge Day possible:




September 15, 2014

Why you should come to the Peace Arch this Saturday

This weekend, the largest climate march in history will take place in New York ahead of the UN Climate Summit, and millions of people around the world will take to the streets to call for real, fair and urgent action to tackle the climate crisis.

Here in our corner of the world, the Salish Sea is poised to become one of the largest fossil fuel exporters on the planet. The dozen new or expanded oil, coal and LNG projects proposed for our region put the people, ecosystems and economy of the Salish Sea at risk, and make the Pacific Northwest ground zero in the battle to stop climate change.

Americans and Canadians of the Salish Sea share one coast, one ecosystem and one climate, and it’s time to work together across the border to stop our shared waters from becoming a fossil fuel superhighway.

On September 20th, if you care about the Salish Sea, or the creatures and communities that depend on it, there’s only one place to be: standing with our American neighbours at a rally at the Peace Arch border crossing to demand unprecedented action to defend the Salish Sea and our global climate from fossil fuel development.

You’ll hear inspiring stories and fantastic music. You’ll learn about a new treaty to be signed the next day by First Nations and US Tribes, which will reflect indigenous laws that have existed to protect the land and water since time immemorial and will act as a cross-border tool to defend the Salish Sea. You’ll sit down for a potluck picnic with your neighbours from both sides of the border, and swap stories, lessons learned, hopes and fears for our region and our planet. You’ll beinvited to sign a pledge committing to take action – whatever that means to you– to stop new fossil fuel exports on the Salish Sea. Most of all, you’ll be part of a moment in history when people came together and chose a different path.

We know that spending the afternoon at the Peace Arch takes a bit of time and effort. But we all know, deep down, that the climate crisis isn’t going to be solved just by switching to efficient light-bulbs or emailing your MP – or by anything you can do on your own. Like all the big social movements that have won sweeping change in the past, from the Suffragettes to the civil rights movement, we need millions of people to step out the front door, take to the streets, and stand up to be counted – together.

It’s going to be worth it. See you at the Peace Arch!

PS. In case you’re worrying about border line-ups or passport problems, don’t! The Peace Arch park is a unique place where you can meet and mingle with citizens of another country without crossing a border or going through customs. And we are providing buses from Vancouver to make the journey easy. Click here for more info on transport and other practicalities.  

August 8, 2014

Another environmental disaster – how do we say “enough”?

As I read article after article about the recent tailing ponds breach at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine, I am overwhelmed with the facts and the many more questions that the incident has left us
What we know is that 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden fine tailings were discharged into Hazeltine Creek.  We know that this water system is connected to the Fraser River,  one of our most important salmon bearing waterways. We also know that the breach happened after multiple warnings from the Ministry of the Environment about the pond exceeding its permitted height, the most recent warning coming this past May. 

Photo: Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press
What we don’t know is when communities in the area will be able to drink the water nearby.  We also have no idea what the medium and long-term impacts will be, in particular because the incident happened just as salmon are starting to enter the area.  Some say the region may never fully recover.  We don’t know.

But we do know something else - this incident was preventable and that it is guaranteed that similar incidents will happen again.  We know this because when industries are allowed to self- regulate and governments believe that economic growth can only happen one way – at all costs - harm is inevitable.

So what do we, the citizens of this province, do?

As issues of democratic reform and loss of democracy in this country bubble over, it is clear to me that the apathy that Canadians show regarding voting has left our governments with a false sense of empowerment.  Contrary to what Canadians say they want, they are deregulating our environmental protection laws and giving over environmental stewardship over to industry whose primary driver is profit, not protection. 

With every provincial and federal election that passes, fewer and fewer of us vote.  We have abrogated our right, and in my opinion, our duty to vote and take part in the most important opportunity we have to influence what kind of country we want to live in.  But it’s important to note, it isn’t our only opportunity. They are our governments, they work for us and that accountability has to be kept up not just at election time but every day in between. If we don’t like the way they protect our environment, we must let them know. 

Many of us our heartbroken about the Mount Polley incident, devastated by what we know will be impacts on our waters, salmon and other wildlife – for years to come.  But we can’t stop at hand-wringing.  If we want accountability, we must demand it.  If we want better environmental protection laws, monitoring and enforcement, we must ask for it.  

Please contact your MLA or MP and let them know that “enough is enough”.  We did not elect industry to protect our air and water, we elected our government and they must do their job.

We must raise our voices – because if we don’t, in a few weeks when this disaster fades from the headlines, things will go back to the new normal, where projects are approved without proper environmental assessment and monitoring of laws are left to this system which puts industry in charge.  And then, it’s just a matter of time before our communities, our environment and our economy pay another ultimate price. 


I say “enough”.

August 5, 2014

Helping the Kelp

Michael Mehta with the tools of the trade...
a GPS and rubber ducky thermometer
I'm very fortunate to have had some amazing experiences in my life, and last week while on vacation was no exception. I've recently moved to Gabriola Island, and was looking for ways to contribute to my new community...and Help the Kelp caught my eye. When I saw they were looking for volunteers to go out and map the bull kelp beds, I jumped at the chance, and am I ever glad I did.

Our crew consisting of Michael, Nancy, and I, mapped a chunk of the north end of Gabriola. My job was to take GPS waypoints and temperature readings, as Nancy took detailed notes. She noted everything from the temperature of the water, whether we were mapping single kelp, lines of kelp, or full beds, the density of the kelp beds, health of the kelp, and more. Not only that, but she swam out to get our 'sweet ride' and towed it back into shore...Michael figures she's about a half horsepower!

Me driving the boat!
Help the Kelp
volunteer Nancy Laird

Michael was our able Captain as we navigated shallow waters amongst kelp...of course...avoiding rocks and other hazards on a bit of a rough day. Rough enough to be fun, but rough weather also makes it more difficult to spot the kelp, and more dangerous as we had to get close to shore and over reefs where the kelp beds are found.

Not only did I have a fantastic time, as pretty much any day on the water is a good day for me, but I learned a ton about kelp, and got to meet some really great people too. As if that wasn't enough, I got to drive the boat...and so did Nancy!

But most importantly, this is citizen science at its best. There was no baseline data on kelp beds around Gabriola Island before this mighty and determined little group of folks came along. And baseline data is critical since Help the Kelp not only monitors the kelp around Gabriola, but advocates for its protection from threats (such as climate change, reckless boaters, and log booms), and plants kelp too.

So this is it...what we know about bull kelp around here, and a chance for its recovery, is thanks to a group started by Ken Capon, who sadly passed away in 2012. What an amazing legacy he leaves behind...I only wish I got to meet him.





July 21, 2014

Kinder Morgan hearings delay: a win for pipeline opponents

This week the National Energy Board (NEB) announced that it was ‘stopping the clock’ on its review of Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline expansion, which will delay the NEB’s final recommendation – and the ultimate federal Cabinet decision – until 2016.

Tanker under Second Narrows Bridge
Photo: Sarama (www.livingsalishsea.ca)
The delay is due to the fact that Kinder Morgan changed a portion of its ‘preferred route’ for the new pipeline after it filed its application to the NEB last December. The NEB is providing the extra time so that Kinder Morgan can carry out additional studies on the new route, which involves tunneling through Burnaby Mountain. When the route change came to light in May, many community members called for the NEB review to be paused or restarted, particularly those in Burnaby who could be most directly affected by the route switch.

There’s no doubt that major flaws remain in the NEB review process: there still won’t be any in-person cross-examination of the evidence presented, Kinder Morgan is still failing to adequately answer the questions intervenors have been asking, and the project’s climate impacts are still barred from discussion.

However, the delay is most definitely a win for all of us who have been criticizing both the project and the process.

The longer the review takes, the more likely it is that one of the many obstacles to the project’s completion will be successful, including changing market forces, a raft of lawsuits from First Nations and others, and citizens from across BC mobilizing to oppose the project. Perhaps most notably, the final decision to approve or deny the project will be made by whoever wins the next federal election in 2015, giving citizens a chance to hear where all the parties stand on Kinder Morgan, and the opportunity to vote accordingly.  

If you’re an intervenor or a commenter in the NEB review, here are the key new deadlines you should be aware of:

·         Deadline for commenters to file letter of comment: March 16, 2015 (commenter workshops will now take place in February 2015)
·         Deadline for intervenors to file written evidence: March 16, 2015
·         Deadline for intervenors to file written argument: July 29, 2015
·         Oral hearings: July 2015
·         NEB releases its final report and recommendations: 25 January, 2016

You can find out more from the NEB’s table of revised hearing events, and as always, if you have any questions or comments, please get in touch at alexandra@georgiastrait.org.win

July 14, 2014

Mixing concrete and asparagus on Granville Island

Why a polarized and non-transparent debate will hurt the future of Vancouver’s treasured waterfront hub

Years ago, someone came up with the idea of putting vegetables on concrete mixers to drive them around Vancouver, and guess what, it is working. Granted, the trucks aren’t used to bring veggies to market—quite the opposite: the larger-than-life ads depicting carrots and asparagus on cement trucks bring Granville Island’s public market to people’s attention and have become a familiar and endearing sight around the city. The trucks belong to the Ocean Concrete/Lehigh Hanson plant that is located right next to the market and keeps the island’s industrial heritage alive.

Ocean Concrete's cement plant is one of the last remaining 
industrial facilities on Granville Island
Photo: Joe Mabel (licensed under GNU Free Documentation License)
The marketing folks behind the ads knew how to make people pause and think. Their campaign encapsulates what makes Granville Island so special: it’s a place, in the middle of the city, where unusual things come together—like the public market, a cement plant, an arts school campus, theatres, galleries and other creative spaces, a next-door fishing harbour, and much more. The symbiosis of all these facilities is what has made Granville Island so popular with locals and international travelers alike.

Now the island is bracing for change. Emily Carr University is moving away to its new campus in East Vancouver, and the conversation about the future of the area has started to take off. In February, the Vancouver Sun’s Daphne Bramham suggested that Granville Island was in need of re-imagination and renewal to inject new life, creative energy and local flavour.

Recently, the conversation has taken a much more antagonistic turn. News leaked that Port Metro Vancouver was negotiating to take over Granville Island from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. This was not well received by everyone, including the City of Vancouver, who according to a statement by Mayor Gregor Robertson would like to see a “transfer or lease to the City, or the creation of an independent local authority” to run the island.

There are two things that concern me about the place we’ve suddenly found ourselves in as we are talking about the future of Granville Island:

First, it didn’t take long for the debate to be framed around camps, positions, antagonists, and strong conclusions about what’s right or wrong. Arguments about whether the Port has a “proven track record of running things” or represents a bureaucracy that Granville Island must be saved from provide easily combustible fuel for a heated discussion, but they are unlikely to produce good outcomes for the larger community.

Granville Island is a core part of the waterfront in Vancouver, a maritime city that owes much of its allure and prosperity to its connection to the ocean and the world. Consequently, the Port and the shipping industry should be part of this conversation. But so should citizens and other stakeholders—which leads me to my second concern.

The secrecy surrounding the negotiations and the lack of transparency and engagement in the process so far do not bode well for the discussion moving forward. Granville Island arguably plays an important role for Vancouver: as a public space, a tourist destination, and a source of diverse economic and job opportunities in the city centre. So all those who make Granville Island what it is and who want to contribute to and benefit form it in the future need to be involved: tenants, the City, industry, civil society, and citizens.

Photo: Ruocaled/Flickr (licensed under CC BY 2.0)
If the polarization and lack of transparency and engagement continues, we risk squandering great opportunities for our city. Granville Island really is unique as an amalgamation of creativity, public spaces, industry, and other economic activities (such as retail, services, hospitality). And I believe that if Vancouver is to achieve the goal of becoming the world’s greenest city, moving industries elsewhere won’t cut it. Real leadership and innovation would mean making our industrial activities on the waterfront more sustainable and harmonizing them with the ecosystems and the communities that surround them—without having to move more people to jobs in the suburbs and trucking more goods back into the city.

Divisive debates are not going to get us there. The way to innovative solutions that benefit us all is through engagement, open dialogue, and collaboration, which is the approach Georgia Strait Alliance is taking with our Waterfront Initiative. We are the backbone organization for a growing network of partners and stakeholders that works to restore, protect, and revitalize Vancouver’s shoreline. Our goal is to ensure that the waterfront can continue to be a place where we live, work, play, travel, connect with and protect nature—in other words, all that Granville Island represents so unmistakably in the heart of the city.

July 4, 2014

Ryan joins GSA for the summer

Hello GSA supporters,

Ryan with his friend and classmate Rabbi Salih
during his recent convocation ceremony. 
My name is Ryan Butler, and I am excited to be joining GSA’s dynamic staff this summer as the Clean Marine Outreach and Engagement Coordinator. Prior to this position, I’ve worked and volunteered with several NGOs and student organizations, such as: Camp Hornby, The World University Service of Canada, and The Radio Malaspina Society.

Having recently graduated from Vancouver Island University with a degree in sociology and political studies, I am thrilled to have found a summer job that is relevant to my field. Come September, I intend to carry my summer experience forward into my Master’s program at the University of Victoria.

I believe that all Canadians ought to undertake practices that protect or restore our environment whenever possible. As such, I am excited about joining GSA where I can fulfil this belief while still working. Here, students are able to making significant contributions to our public discussions regarding both regional and global issues.

Identifying environmental hazards is, of course, necessary but insufficient for creating change. Instead, change requires social and political processes to create and implement a variety of solutions. GSA’s Clean Marine BC program is one such solution, and therefore, I’m excited to contribute to its expansion this summer. Having previously researched the establishment of B.C.’s Forestry Stewardship Council, I appreciate how such eco-certification programs provide businesses and consumers with an avenue for reducing their environmental impact.

I am excited about the Clean Marine BC program, but I also recognize that GSA’s current Spills and Tankers Campaign, against the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans-Mountain pipeline and increased fossil fuel exports, is confronting the region’s greatest environmental threat. Many of the benefits of CMBC would be greatly diminished should the Strait experience a major tanker spill, but together these GSA programs show that achieving environmental sustainability will require both preventative and adaptive actions.

I am proud to be contributing to GSA’s encompassing environmental work to protect the Strait, its adjoining waters, and its communities. 

June 25, 2014

Summer Outreach Begins!


Hello Fabulous Readers!

Taking a break from field work with the Larabanga
Girls Dance Group in Larabanga, Ghana
My name is Natalie and I am one of the lucky students who was hired to work with the Georgia Strait Alliance throughout the summer.

I’m a life-time resident of Nanaimo, and I just finished the third year of my degree in Tourism Management at Vancouver Island University. In my free time I love trail running, gardening, and exploring as much as possible with Skeena, my one year old Shiba Inu.

I wanted to work with GSA because I love the Georgia Strait!  I also believe in the power of community conservation management. Last summer, I traveled to Ghana and visited the Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary, which is made up of several communities that work hard to protect the resident hippo population. The conservation model was very complex, but through tourism, the community was able to benefit in many ways. Some residents had to change their behaviors, but they were still able to go about their daily lives. Even though the Georgia Strait covers a much greater area and population base, I believe that the Strait Community can come together and experience many positive benefits if everyone participates in making it happen.

The thing I’m looking forward to the most this summer is traveling around and talking with the public. I love meeting people, chatting, and making sure that everyone is enjoying themselves.  The Georgia Strait Alliance has some very powerful campaigns on the go, and people are very interested. This past weekend, Ryan and I had some great conversations surrounding the Drift Card Study and the Kinder Morgan Expansion. People were in awe with the spill maps and seeing how far and fast oil from a spill could spread. Community outreach is a great way to spread awareness with people, and also hear what individuals have to say.  Make sure if you see us out on the road somewhere that you stop by to say ‘hello’!

The program I’m most excited to help out with is GSA’s newest program- The Waterfront Initiative! I’m so thrilled with this idea because it brings everyone together in a brand new way and for a powerful purpose. Regardless of how individuals use the waterfront in Vancouver – work, home, industry, or play – the Waterfront Initiative has the power to create a collective image of what the waterfront should look like and work to make that happen. After all, isn’t the waterfront one of Vancouver’s most beautiful assets? I hope to help out with the launch of this project as much as I can while I’m here, throughout the summer and beyond.

June 20, 2014

New chapter, new resolve against unwanted pipelines

The approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline makes it clearer than ever that BC is going to have to have to stand up for itself in the face of a federal government willing to impose unwanted projects despite overwhelming opposition – and the response of First Nations and British Columbians to the news this week has shown an unwavering resolve and an inspirational source of hope that we can win this fight.

Although Northern Gateway has now cleared another major regulatory hurdle, a combination of First Nations legal challenges, a citizen push-back that could range from a province-wide vote to civil disobedience, and (at least currently) a strong ‘no’ from the Provincial government mean that the pipeline is unlikely to ever be built.

When Enbridge first floated the proposal in 2005, no one could have imagined how controversial it would become: at the time such projects were usually nodded through without a great deal of interest. Now it’s shaping up to be a defining issue for many BC communities and  a top voting issue in the 2015 federal election.

The campaign to stop Northern Gateway has also built a broad and strong coalition, and sparked a powerful citizen’s movement. We are grateful to everyone who has worked so tirelessly for so long, especially First Nations and non-indigenous communities on the front-lines in northern BC, and we want you to know that we stand with you, and are inspired by your leadership and resolve.

We are also grateful for the path that has been forged –  the lessons learned and the alliances built –  that those of us working on the south coast are now following in our efforts to stop Kinder Morgan’s pipeline proposal. This project too was once seen as a “slam-dunk”, and now struggles against “overwhelming opposition” (to quote the Financial Post, no less). Polls are showing rising levels of concern, at least two legal challenges are already underway, and the NEB’s review process has more people involved as intervenors and commenters than any project in its history. In other words, the Kinder Morgan pipeline is shaping up to be a battle royale too.

Protect Our Sacred Waters rally, Vancouver, June 2014
Photo: Alexandra Woodsworth
And for good reason. Kinder Morgan’s expansion poses the same threats as Enbridge – an oil spill that could devastate our environment, economy and coastal communities, and a yearly climate impact greater than the combined annual emissions of 90 nations – and the same negligible benefits for BC. Opponents of these projects aren’t NIMBYs. British Columbians don’t want risky tar sands pipelines or tankers anywhere in our province – we want to go in a different direction.  Our investments should help us transition away from fossil fuels, not tie us to more resource extraction and increase our contribution to climate change.

In the days leading up to the Enbridge decision, Premier Clark came under immense pressure to say ‘no’ to Enbridge, and it worked: the province said Enbridge had not met their five conditions, and they would deny permits if necessary. Those same five conditions apply to Kinder Morgan, and we need to bring the same pressure to bear to ensure the province takes a strong stand on the southern tar sands pipeline.

Compared to the JRP’s Enbridge hearings, the NEB’s Kinder Morgan review has dramatically restricted public participation and speeded up the timeline. And this week we learned just how brazenly the federal cabinet ignored public concern expressed during the JRP. Together, this means we need to work even harder to generate public pressure outside the formal review process.

We need to talk to more people in our communities, make more noise on the streets, raise more money for First Nations legal challenges, and – whatever it means for each of us – step up to the next level of what we’re willing to do to protect our coast and fight for a better future. Here’s a list as some food for thought, and stay tuned for updates on our Save the Salish Sea page.

May 12, 2014

Where salmon and shipyards are neighbours

What North Vancouver's MacKay creek can teach us about urban shorelines


What gets two dozen environmentalists, scientists and planners to cram into a school bus on a cold and rainy Saturday morning? The prospect of exploring the latest urban stream restorations in the city, of course!

You would be forgiven for considering this field trip a decidedly geeky exercise, but as one of the people in the bus, it turned out to be a remarkable experience. It was the second leg of a Forum organized by Evergreen that brought together a wide range of people working on urban watershed issues, from storm water management to “daylighting” lost streams in the city.

The trip brought to mind the fascinating natural processes that are going on in the middle of a bustling city, sometimes in little green oases that are boxed in between roads, buildings and industrial lands. And it showcased how, amidst all the urban and industrial activity, we can restore some of the ecosystems we thought we lost if we bring the right people and the right resources together.

Two good news stories are unfolding at the mouth of MacKay Creek
Photo: Sebastian Merz
Standing above North Vancouver’s MacKay Creek, Ken Ashley, Director of the BCIT Rivers Institute explained to the group of—now visibly shivering—keeners how the creek’s estuary had recently been put back into a state that resembles more closely what it used to be. And that is in part thanks to its industrial neighbours, Seaspan’s shipyard, which is just gearing up to fulfill a multi-billion-dollar contract to build new Coast Guard vessels. Seaspan partnered with the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation to use funds from a “creative sentencing award” for the restoration of the estuary right behind the shipyard.

Like many other estuaries, the mouth of MacKay creek had been reduced to a straight channel with riprap armouring and a large concrete weir that interrupted many ecosystem functions. The weir, for example, prevented Chum and Coho salmon as well as cutthroat trout from returning to the stream to spawn.

In September 2013 work started on removing the weir and re-grading the creek’s tidal benches so they would be able to support saltmarsh vegetation. Logs were placed to provide shelter for fish and wildlife, and students from nearby Bodwell High School put shovels to the ground to help plant native species. Two months later—yes, only two months later—salmon were back in MacKay Creek, as if they had just been waiting for the weir to come down. In fact, that is pretty much what they had been doing, Ashley explained. Year after year, the salmon returned only to get stuck in front of the barrier and to be rounded up by opportunistic harbour seals.

It’s encouraging to see two good news stories unfold in such close proximity. The major shipbuilding work on the one hand that will bring jobs and economic opportunities to the community, and the return of the salmon on the other, literally a few meters away. It’s encouraging for Georgia Strait Alliance as we are working on our Waterfront Initiative that tries to enable exactly this type of balancing between different uses of our shorelines. Striking this balance won’t always be easy, and the results may not be as immediately visible as those in MacKay creek. Urban ecosystems remain urban, and it is often difficult to return them to their natural state because of practical limitations or because we have specific ideas of what nature in the city should look like—another lesson the Urban Watershed fieldtrip taught us.

But the fact that it is difficult and that there are so many diverse interests is precisely why GSA’s Waterfront Initiative is facilitating collaboration between stakeholders and partners with a wide range of perspectives on the waterfront.

What is your connection to the waterfront? 
Photo: Sebastian Merz
In April, we convened the first Waterfront Network Forum, a day of rich and engaging dialogue on what the future of the shoreline may look like. We will be posting more information on the outcomes on our website very shortly. Over the coming months, we will continue the conversation with our growing network and—importantly—with citizens. We want to hear from the city’s people how they use the waterfront and what they want its future to look like. In October, we will invite the public to celebrate our shoreline, with a range of exciting activities. Don’t miss out and stay in the loop on our website and on Twitter and Facebook.

And if you happen to travel along the North Shore’s Spirit Trail sometime soon, check out what’s happening at the MacKay estuary. Another piece of good news is that it will likely be much warmer by then.