Jane Philpott: ‘There’s much more to the story that needs to be told’

In an exclusive interview with Paul Wells, the former Treasury Board president says: ‘we actually owe it to Canadians as politicians to ensure that they have the truth.’

Philpott waits to deliver a keynote speech at an International Women’s Day event at Ottawa City Hall on Friday, March 8, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang)

Jane Philpott was deeply ambivalent about talking earlier this week when she welcomed a Maclean’s reporter to her MP’s office in the Confederation Building across the street from Parliament Hill. It’s not an office the former Treasury Board president knows well: she had fancier and more centrally located ministerial offices in a succession of senior roles in Justin Trudeau’s cabinet since 2015, before she resigned from cabinet on March 4. Now she is only the Liberal MP for the Ontario riding of Markham—Stouffville.

This is Philpott’s first interview since she resigned over Trudeau’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin controversy. She believes, as she put it, that “there’s much more to the story that needs to be told” but that it can’t come out because “there’s been an attempt to shut down the story”—an attempt she attributed to the Prime Minister and his close advisors.

But she is also keenly aware, because she has been hearing from Liberal colleagues, that “there are people who are afraid that they’re not going to get elected because of what I did.” As she described that anger, the former minister said: “My only way of living with myself on that, is that this is not my fault. I did not start this.” Now she is trying to figure out how to see it through. MORE


Europe’s forests threatened by biodiversity collapse, warn campaigners

Logging in Poland’s Vistula lagoon described by experts as part of a ‘war on nature’ across the continent’s ancient forests

Logging in Białowieża Forest in PolandLogging in the Białowieża Forest in Poland. Photograph: Adam Bohdan/Wild Poland Foundation

A logging operation at Poland’s spectacular 55-mile-long Vistula lagoon is casting a “dark omen” of deforestation and biodiversity collapse across Europe’s forests, campaigners say.

Tree felling around the Natura 2000 site is aimed at clearing a path to the Baltic Sea for use by Poland’s navy, to the alarm of Russia. But they are just one front in what some academics describe as a war on nature.

Campaigners blame the EU’s own use of biomass to meet most of its renewable energy goals for encouraging logging in Europe’s virgin forests.

The EU expects to lose about 125m tonnes of carbon sequestration potential from forests between 2010 and 2030, with countries such as Estonia, Latvia and Austria transforming from carbon sinks to carbon sources.

Poland still hopes to clear swathes of the Białowieża Forest, and several other ancient woodlands are also under threat across central and eastern Europe, with potential effects on Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions. MORE


B.C. Parks seeks public comment over plans to protect centuries-old Ancient Forest

Have we hit ‘peak beef’?

Meat production is central to the debate on climate change and ethical food. But how much is too much – for people and the planet?

 Illustration: Garry Walton/The Observer

…In many ways, our consumption of meat – and especially beef – has become the food issue of our times. By 2050, it’s estimated that the world’s population will be almost 10 billion, a rise of a third from today. Meanwhile, global meat consumption steadily, relentlessly grows at about 3% a year. (Growth in Europe and the US is slowing or even declining: the US reached “peak meat” in 2004 when an average of 83 kilograms was consumed by each person in a year. In the UK, we’re eating more chicken, less lamb, and about the same amount of beef. However, demand in the likes of China and Brazil continues to rise. In China, they now eat 55kg of meat a year, compared to 14kg per head in the early 1970s.)

Chicken might be the world’s most popular meat – 65 billion birds are consumed each year – but beef is by some margin the hardest to defend. Raising livestock is notoriously inefficient: last year an article in the journalScience  found that meat and dairy provides just 18% of our calories and 37% of our protein while taking up 83% of farmland. Cattle are responsible for an unholy proportion of agriculture’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

The controversial “planetary health diet” published in the Lancet in January – a three-year project compiled by 37 scientists in 16 countries – advised that global consumption of red meat needs to reduce by half. The recommended changes would be particularly severe in Europe and the US: Europeans should eat 77% less red meat and 15 times more nuts and seeds to meet the guidelines, while Americans should cut back on red meat by 84%. MORE


When it comes to sustainable food choices, is the customer always right?

New dollars, sure, but same political game

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick</p><p>Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau speak as they walk to the House of Commons to present the new budget in Ottawa, Tuesday.</p>

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau speak as they walk to the House of Commons to present the new budget in Ottawa, Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

In November 2005, in the waning days of a Paul Martin-led Liberal federal government, the Kelowna Accord was forged.

It was the result of an unprecedented 18-month consultative process between the federal government, provincial and territorial governments and all five major national Indigenous organizations.

The result was a $5-billion commitment over five years, aimed at addressing massive inequities in Indigenous health, education, housing and infrastructure, economic opportunities, governance and the relationship between the federal government and Indigenous nations. Just to close the gap between Indigenous Peoples and Canadians.

Four days after forging this landmark agreement, Parliament was dissolved, with Martin eventually losing the next election to Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. MORE


Trudeau government budget proposes billions to improve living conditions for Indigenous communities

Part 1 of 4 key recommendations from the recently released Food Banks Canada HungerCount 201

Image result for hunger count 2018
The Hunger Count tells us who needs food, how often and what their reasons are for using the emergency food network.

This year’s HungerCount captures a snap shot of hunger in Canada, and we’ve been asking the question – how many people using food banks is okay? In March 2018, Canadians visited food banks 1.1 million times. This statistic is unacceptable and it’s time to take action.

As part of our mandate, Food Banks Canada advocates for meaningful change. Continue reading below to see highlights from our first policy recommendation.

Recommendation 1: Federal Leadership towards a Basic Income for All Canadians

The fact is that the way we support our most vulnerable citizens has not evolved since the 1990s, and people remain mired in a cycle of poverty that is difficult to escape. 60% of those in need of food banks rely on some form of social assistance.

Individual provinces left to themselves are not a reliable option in the move towards a basic income for all. The recent change of government in Ontario illustrates this. The desire to take steps towards a basic income is a national issue that affects all Canadians in one way or another and we are asking the federal government to show leadership on this front.

There needs to be a better way. We urge the federal government to:

  • Fund and develop basic income pilot projects of various forms in different provinces and territories across the country
  • Accumulate and analyze the data of these pilot projects over multiple years
  • Allow low-income households access to non-cash benefits that are currently only available to people on social assistance
  • Convert federal non-refundable tax credits into refundable tax credits to support more low-income Canadians in the short-term

You can read all of our recommendations in greater detail here.

Hydrogen from seawater: Using solar power for electrolysis

 The breakthrough opens the door for widespread generation of hydrogen fuel powered by wind and solar energy.

Stanford University researchers have developed a method of generating hydrogen from seawater. The breakthrough harnesses solar power to drive the process of electrolysis to separate hydrogen and oxygen gas from water.

Previously, water splitting methods have relied on highly purified water, an expensive and precious resource.

Hydrogen fuel is a promising option in the fight against climate change because it doesn’t emit carbon dioxide when burned.

hydrogen from seawater such as this is being researched by Stanford University

Seawater could soon become a source of abundant hydrogen fuel after breakthrough research from Stanford scientists.

However, utilising the clean gas as a fuel to power cities and vehicles would be impossible, according to lead researcher, Hongjie Dai.

So the team turned to saltwater from San Francisco Bay. They created a proof-of-concept demo using solar panels, electrodes and ocean water.

A new way to harness hydrogen from saltwater

The Stanford prototype uses electrolysis: put simply, splitting water into hydrogen into oxygen using electricity. A power source (in this case solar panels) connects to two electrodes placed in water. Hydrogen gas bubbles from the negative end, oxygen from the positive.

Unfortunately, negatively charged chloride in seawater corrodes the positive end and shortens the life of the the The Stanford team found that by coating the anode with layers rich in negative charges, they repelled the chloride and halted the decay of the underlying metal. MORE

Stalled: why North American lags as China and Europe lead the way on electric vehicles

Image courtesy Brilliance China Automotive Holdings Ltd.

There’s not much urgency about tackling climate change and driving the switch to electric vehicles in Canada’s new federal budget. There are some incentives and voluntary targets for EVs but, on balance, the budget is an example of the mediocre policies holding North America back from catalysing the migration to electric vehicles (EVs). We now have proof from around the world that strong policies are what drives change.

China has disruptive legislation accompanied by a plethora of complementary measures. Canadian/North American initiatives are mild while the European Union is somewhere in between. The results are that China already offers a wide selection of EVs and sales are already booming, the European migration to EVs is imminent while North American governments and automakers are lagging behind, with modest exceptions in some progressive U.S. states and Québec and B.C..

These differences are important because the transportation sector accounts for approximately 60 per cent of oil consumption. Three studies confirm that even a moderate penetration of EVs will have devasting impacts on the petroleum sector. Even Shell believes peak oil is imminent and is engaged in major strides to migrate to clean tech and become the world’s largest power company.

The North American lack of urgency makes it harder for us to stop runaway climate change and even threatens the future of the North American auto industry. MORE




EXCLUSIVE: Doug Ford’s government slashing programs designed to save energy in buildings

Image result for national observer: EXCLUSIVE: Doug Ford's government slashing programs designed to save energy in buildings
Doug Ford greets people outside Queen’s Park in Toronto on June 29, 2018, following his swearing in ceremony. Photo by Alex Tétreault

The Ontario government is slashing a series of programs that were designed to help save energy in buildings. It’s all part of a plan that the province claims would help “businesses improve their bottom line,” says a leaked provincial document.

The cuts, which sources told National Observer were expected to be confirmed by Energy Minister Greg Rickford at a news conference at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Thursday, are the latest in a series of moves taken by Premier Doug Ford’s government to undo climate change action in Canada’s most populous province.

Details of the plan were initially posted on a government website on Wednesday, before promptly being removed, according to sources who saw the written version of the announcement.

The changes would affect the Save ON Energy program, which was designed and launched in 2010 in an effort to help Ontario residents save energy and money, and reduce the province’s carbon footprint. Its programs and incentives are offered by Ontario utility companies like Hydro One and Toronto Hydro. The programs themselves are powered by the Government of Ontario and the Independent Electricity System Operator, a Crown corporation that oversees and manages the province’s electricity operations.

Industry sources confirmed that most, if not all, local energy incentive programs are expected to be cut, which will in turn cause job losses in Ontario’s energy sector. MORE

Truth and power in the SNC-Lavalin affair

Image result for Truth and power in the SNC-Lavalin affair

Photo: Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick taking part in a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, March 18, 2019. Following the shuffle, he announced his resignation. The Canadian Press, by Sean Kilpatrick.

Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould noted in her opening statement on the SNC-Lavalin affair before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, on February 27, that the attorney general must “always (be) willing to speak truth to power,” a point that was reinforced by NDP committee member Murray Rankin.

It is ironic that this concept was raised first by politicians and not public servants: the concept of “speaking truth to power” is a mantra in the public service; it demands that public servants tell elected officials the truth, even when they don’t want to hear it.

The former Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick (who notified the Prime Minister on March 18 of his intention to resign) was asked when he appeared before the Justice Committee on February 21 if he had applied inappropriate pressure on the former minister of justice regarding the decision on whether to offer a deferred prosecution agreement to SNC-Lavalin. He replied, “Part of my conversation with her on December 19 was conveying context that there were a lot of people worried about what would happen ─ the consequences not for her, the consequences for the workers and the communities and the inapproprsuppliers.”

This kind of tough talk is central to the concept of speaking truth to power. In Wernick’s words, “I am quite sure the minister felt pressure to get it right.” MORE

What Norway’s Big Divestment Decision Means for Fracking, Tar Sands and Global Oil Exploration

Bergen, Norway
Main image: Bergen, Norway. Credit: Juan Antonio SegalCC BY 2.0

Norway’s sovereign wealth fund — a state-owned investment fund worth approximately a trillion dollars — recently announced it was divesting from oil and gas exploration companies around the world. Not surprisingly, many oil and gas stocks declined following the announcement.

While this is good news for the climate, this was simply a smart business decision. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, known as the Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), primarily exists due to Norwegian oil production. And the fund will continue to be a major investor in companies like Exxon.

It appears it’s just cutting its losses on money-losing endeavors like fracking in America, tar sands oil production in Canada, and frontier exploration by UK companies in Africa and South-East Asia.  MORE