As a policy analyst with the right-wing think tank, the Fraser Institute, Fazil Mihlar co-authored a paper that among other things, advised British Columbia to do away with its environmental assessment act.
That alone might explain the less than enthusiastic response by some to B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s announcement that Mihlar begins his new job as deputy minister, Climate Leadership, this week.
George Heyman, the provincial NDP critic for the environment, told National Observer that Mihlar’s appointment should have never been made.
“It’s a clear signal from the premier about how important she thinks the climate file is and it appears to be not very,” Heyman said.
The Fraser Institute has a track record of denying the science of climate change. In 2012, the Vancouver Observer learned that since 2007, the American oil billionaires, the Koch brothers, had donated nearly a $1M to the “charitable” Fraser Institute. The Koch brothers control as much as two-million acres of Alberta’s tar sands.
Mihlar is expected to lead the province’s engagement with the public, industry, environmental groups and other levels of government over the creation of B.C.’s new Climate Leadership Plan.
Shane Gunster, a Simon Fraser University professor in the School of Communications who has studied the B.C. government’s relation to the LNG industry, said Mihlar’s appointment is drawing a lot of concern.
“To bring someone with that kind of pedigree into this role really suggests that the goal of Christy Clark is going to be trying to make sure climate policy doesn’t interfere with the real priorities of the government, which is developing LNG and other fossil fuel opportunities,” Gunster said.
Gunster called it a clear signal to industry that they have nothing to worry about and that provincial policies won’t interfere with the capacity of the province to develop LNG.
“That’s really disappointing.”
Mihlar wasn’t available for comment at time of publication. But B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said in a statement to National Observer that the appointment further demonstrates the B.C. government’s commitment to climate action.
"Announcing our new climate leadership plan this spring is only the beginning. The real work then begins putting the new policies into action, and that’s where a dedicated deputy minister will be invaluable."
Polak called Mihlar an "ideal choice" as deputy minister of climate leadership and praised his experience as a professional public servant who has worked with a multitude of stakeholders around complex issues.
"Mr. Mihlar has been given a mandate to execute government’s vision around climate action. This includes reducing our greenhouse gas emissions in the context of a growing economy, and to maintain British Columbia’s global climate leadership,” Polak said.
Most recently, Mihlar served as the province’s assistant deputy minister for the B.C. Ministry of Natural Gas Development.
Within the department he led the Oil and Strategic Initiatives Division, which has responsibility for overseeing oil development in B.C. and serves as the province's first point of contact for current and future oil projects.
Just after he left the Vancouver Sun as its associate editor and just before he joined the natural gas development ministry, Mihlar tweeted out his support for B.C.’s natural gas industry.
The tweet linked to a Vancouver Sun column quoting Doug Bloom, president of Spectra Energy Transmission West, who told a luncheon “By shifting 25 per cent of current energy use from coal to natural gas, Canada and the U.S. could meet their national emissions (reductions) targets.”
To be sure, in a series of tweets throughout 2013 Mihlar demonstrated that his enthusiasm for LNG and natural gas was only matched by his contempt for environmentalists.
Mihlar retweeted the Canadian Association Petroleum Producers, quoting the former Mayor of Prince Rupert on how LNG in the area would benefit the community.
He also tweeted out a Vancouver Sun news story that claimed Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain Pipeline extension would spill less than two barrels of oil, adding: “Enviros should stop their hysteria.”
Scattered amongst the pro-LNG tweets were those excoriating environmentalists. He retweeted climate change denier Ezra Levant, whose 140-character message was: “$12 billion dollar Canadian jobs proposal called Energy East. Who will prevail: Canadian workers or foreign-funded environmental extremists?”
And Mihlar also retweeted Sheila Gunn Reid, the Alberta bureau chief working for Levant’s Rebel website whom the Alberta government recently tried to ban from covering news.
Reid’s tweet hashtagged David Suzuki and snarked: “Does anyone else thing it’s a tad ridiculous that a guy with 5 kids and at least 3 houses is lecturing us about overcrowding?”
While at the Fraser Institute, where he became director of regulatory studies, Mihlar authored a number of fiscally conservative papers. In a report card on the B.C. government, he recommended reducing welfare benefits, privatizing forests owned and managed by the Crown, and eliminating B.C.’s environmental assessment act.
A similar report on Ontario’s then-Harris government recommended trimming welfare benefit rates, privatizing all major public companies and Crown corporations, and ignoring the Canada Health Act while allowing private market forces to operate in the delivery of health care services.
While Mihlar didn’t specifically author any papers denying climate change, the Fraser Institute itself has consistently railed against global warming. The institute’s blogs are littered with such typical pieces as Greenhouse Gas Reductions: Not Warranted, Not Beneficial.
While at the Vancouver Sun, where Mihlar served first as an editorial writer and columnist, then editorial page editor and finally as associate editor, he penned a now-infamous column outlining his “BANANA” theory.
The latter stands for Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.
In the column - meant to be a riff on the NIMBY attitude - Mihlar wrote: “That means a picture with two oil-soaked seals or ducks is enough to dissuade people from allowing a tanker to go through our waters despite the fact there has been no major oil spill in British Columbia in the last 50 years.”
According to Mihlar, those affected with BANANA are those who oppose an oil pipeline to Kitimat from Alberta; will not allow oil tankers on the coast; and don’t want an LNG terminal in Kitmat, among other things.
None of this surprises Sven Biggs, a pipeline campaigner for ForestEthics Advocacy, who calls Mihlar staunchly pro-development and anti-environmental and an odd choice for the office.
Biggs said in some ways the appointment is a “good thing.
“We’re pulling back the kind of veil and revealing what this provincial government is all about when it comes to this important issue.”