Why Trudeau’s broken electoral reform promise could rebound on him

In a minority Parliament, he could find himself painted into a corner

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s about-face on electoral reform was an unambiguous example of a broken campaign promise. He probably hasn’t heard the last of it. (Terry Reith/CBC)

Four years after he made it, Justin Trudeau’s promise of electoral reform haunts him still.

But while reform is a nagging headache for Trudeau, it is still the dream of proportional representation’s advocates, including Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats — even if it’s rather unclear how any leader could now promise to move forward with the sort of change that Trudeau rejected.

While the greater question of whether Trudeau has lived up to his promises is at least debatable, when it comes to electoral reform, the answer is fairly straightforward.

In June 2015, Trudeau vowed that the federal election of that year would be the last conducted under the first-past-the-post system. In February 2017, as prime minister, he decided to walk away from that commitment.

Whatever the merits of that decision (Trudeau had misgivings about the ramifications of moving toward proportional representation and feared that a national referendum would be divisive), electoral reform is easily classified as a “broken” promise — an  example readily available whenever a critic or political rival wants to assess the Trudeau government’s four years in office.

Regardless of how many (or few) Canadians were eager to see the electoral system changed, that abandoned commitment has become a totem for the argument that Trudeau has failed to live up to expectations.

What do Canadians want?

But then, there’s also what happened after Trudeau broke that promise — when actual voters were asked whether they wanted to adopt reform through referendums in British Columbia and Prince Edward Island.

In December 2018, British Columbians voted against moving to proportional representation by a margin of 61 per cent to 39 per cent. Four months later, in Prince Edward Island, the vote was different but the verdict was the same, with Islanders saying no to proportional representation by 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

Ballots from B.C.’s electoral reform referendum are counted in Victoria, B.C. on Dec. 11, 2018. (Michael McArthur / (CBC)

Those results don’t change the fact that Trudeau promised electoral reform, nor do they answer questions that might be asked about how his government approached the issue after it came to office.

But those two referendums suggest a significant number of Canadians share the prime minister’s discomfort with proportional representation. The two votes also underline the risk that a national referendum would have produced a narrow or divided result that broke down along provincial or regional lines.

Still, those results have not deterred the New Democrats from promising to move forward with a change to a mixed-member proportional representation system should they form government after this fall’s federal election. MORE


Green Party: Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system must go.

It represents neither our voices nor our values.

A Canadian company’s mine waste is threatening a pristine Alaskan valley

“Every natural resource is being given away at bargain basement prices, and the environmental permitting process … they’re using their discretion to ignore any kind of environmental permitting.”  Guy Archibald, staff scientist for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

Last week, the Alaskan government issued a waste management permit to Constantine North, allowing the company to discharge waste water from an underground tunnel at its Palmer project, upstream of Haines, Alaska, and alongside B.C.’s Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park

Chilkat Lake
The Chilkat Tlingit village of Klukwan can be seen in the distance behind the confluence of the Tsirku, Klehini and Chilkat rivers in Alaska. Photo: Connor Gallagher

Jessica Plachata grew up spending her summers at Lake Coeur D’Alene in Idaho. She would swim in and drink from the lake, and eat fish she and her family caught in it. She didn’t know it then — nobody did — but she was slowly poisoning herself.

Upriver, a complex of mines had been dumping the leftovers from lead, zinc and silver mining into the river system that drained into the lake. She had spent her youth swimming in what would later become the largest “superfund” contaminated site in the United States.

Plachata found in her 20s that she had levels of heavy metals like cadmium, mercury, lead and even uranium in her body that put her in the 97th percentile for her demographic. The metals put her at risk of cancer, reproductive problems and more. She spent decades labouring to bring her levels down, fearful of what it might mean for her future children, but when she had a son at age 38, he was born at the 100th percentile anyway.

Today Plachata lives in the postcard-beautiful expanse of Alaska’s Chilkat Valley. The cool, glacier-fed streams are home to eulachon, trout and all five species of Pacific salmon.

The Chilkat Valley has the most species of mammals anywhere in southeast Alaska, 38 species in all, and a late salmon run that brings animals from all over when the other runs have ended.

Plachata has a well on her property that provides her and her family with clean, fresh water. Their freezer is full of fish from the river.

But now, even there, the prospect of metals in the water has found her.

“It’s terrifying,” she says, as someone who knows how difficult it is to rid her body — and the land — of heavy metals.

“It’s a chemical reaction that can’t be undone.” MORE

Research on capturing carbon from mining secures federal funding

The Gahcho Kue mine, located about about 280 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, is shown in an undated handout photo. Handout Photo by De Beers Group of Companies

A research collaboration between universities and mining companies to capture carbon in mine tailings has been boosted by a federal government grant.

Natural Resources Canada has awarded $2 million to the University of British Columbia-led project, while several industry members have contributed an additional $1.2 million.

The funding will allow testing of the carbon capture techniques at De Beers Group’s Gahcho Kue diamond mine in the Northwest Territories this year, and a prospective nickel mine in 2020.

“It’s allowing us to take things we’ve been doing in the lab for the last several years and move them into field trials,” said project lead Greg Dipple, a professor at UBC’s Bradshaw Research Initiative for Minerals and Mining.

The project aims to accelerate the natural reaction that happens when certain minerals come in contact with carbon dioxide and converts it in a solid carbonate mineral.

Testing at the Gahcho Kue mine will involve pumping carbon dioxide through a pipe into a pile of blended mining waste rock, known as tailings, to test the technique in real-world conditions.

Dipple said a nickel mine in Australia has already shown to be capturing about 40,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide naturally, so the idea is to make small changes at mines to increase the process at a reasonable cost.

“We’re looking at how one can do modest changes to how a mine is designed, and how materials are handled, so we really are targeting the less than $50 a tonne cost for the first deployments.” MORE

Why youth need to be part of climate emergency leadership now

A photo of High Level, Alberta on May 21, 2019 as a wildfire consumes the area. Fires in the High Level region are still blazing out of control. Photo by Chris Schwarz / Government of Alberta

It’s mid-summer, and the ancient boreal forests of northern Alberta have been on fire since early May.

Near the town of High Level, a 351,000-hectare fire still blazes out of control. The town and Indigenous communities nearby have been evacuated once already this fire season, and High Level remains in a state of local emergency. The wildfire has also periodically closed the only highway to Yellowknife, one of Canada’s most northern cities. Perched on subarctic tundra, it depends on the thoroughfare for fresh food and goods year-round.

Canada’s North is a young place. The average age of those in the region is a decade younger than the rest of the country. In Nunavut, to the northeast, the median age is 24.7 years old.

And in northern Canadian communities, young people watch the forests burn, the permafrost melt, the animals flee or die off and the oceans rise as the world’s older adults assure work is being done to solve what has become an existential threat to humanity itself.

The world’s youth, led by activists such as 16-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden, have risen up to demand immediate action. But what action is occurring often disregards young people at every level. While their voices may have reached media networks, the power of their collective talent has not been fully harnessed. It is imperative we act now to integrate youth into climate emergency leadership, and the work of adapting to the climate crisis.

At the ResiliencebyDesign (RbD) Research Innovation Lab at Royal Roads University in Victoria, B.C., our work addresses how to do exactly that. Our projects engage youth in climate action using art-based methods to increase awareness, actions and coping strategies. The outcome is a powerful social approach that helps youth explore and grapple with the harsh realities of the future.

In late May, as Europe’s youth held climate strikes and rallies, I joined my climate action colleagues at the European Climate Change Adaptation Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, to share the types of methods the RbD Lab uses to engage and involve youth in climate leadership. MORE


Canada’s fossil fuel industry may soon face the fate of the beaver

Economist Jim Stanford. Photo: David J. Climenhaga
Photo: David J. Climenhaga

If you forget everything else, just remember this about our country’s incessant and often bitter debate about fossil fuels: “Canada is never going to run out of oil, just like we never ran out of beavers.”

We owe this pearl of insight to Canadian economist Jim Stanford, late of the Canadian Auto Workers Union and Unifor, former Globe and Mail economics columnist, author of Economics for Everyone, and nowadays director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for the Future of Work in Sydney.

It’s something our fossil-fuel-obsessed United Conservative Party masters here in Alberta — where Dr. Stanford, a son of Edmonton, grew up — need to think about when they’re not spying foreign-funded environmentalists behind every bush and under every bed.

That’s because whether they like it or not we may soon face the fate once confronted by Canada’s beaver industry, which made a fortune exporting the pelts of the humble Castor canadensis to the hat makers of Europe for nearly 250 years.

For, as Stanford observed in a sometimes wry, occasionally profane keynote address to the spring biennial convention of the Alberta Federation of Labour, held in the heart of Calgary, a city that gets pneumonia when the oilpatch catches a cold, “we don’t export beaver pelts any more, OK? And this is worth thinking about.”

“I can assure you it isn’t because we ran out of beavers,” Stanford observed. “We definitely didn’t run out of beavers. In fact, you can’t get rid of the fuckin’ little things! Right?”

“So, we haven’t run out of beavers, but what happened? People stopped wanting beaver pelts. Technology changed, and tastes changed, and lo and behold, this natural thing that we thought we could just grab and sell to someone else, wasn’t worth so much any more.”

Stanford’s point, of course, is that as incredible as it might sound in 2019 — or, might have sounded a decade ago in 2009, anyway — the day may be coming soon when what happened to Canada’s world-class ethical beaver industry happens to our world-class ethical oil industry too. MORE

Latest Sisson Mine approval leaves First Nations, conservation groups uneasy

“It’s unfortunate but the economic arguments in favour of large mining projects almost always outweigh the environmental damages that projects like the Sisson Mine will do” — Lois Corbett, Conservation Council of New Brunswick

Tailings pond for proposed mine north of Fredericton requires damming two fish-bearing brooks

The proposed mine project includes a tailings pond and ore processing plant, covering 12.5 square kilometres of Crown land.(Northcliff Resources Ltd.)

For two years, Nick Polchies of Woodstock First Nation and his dog Arizona have been waking up in the woods, on land that someday — and for centuries to come — could be a toxic tailings pond.

Polchies initially went to the site, about 80 kilometres northwest of Fredericton, to help the Wolastoqi grandmothers already camping out there to protest the proposed Sisson Mine.

Northcliff Resources Ltd., a Vancouver-based company, says its open-pit tungsten and molybdenum mine would create 500 jobs during construction and 300 jobs for the 27 years it is expected to operate.

The $579-million mine near the community of Napadogan would also have a storage pond for toxic waste that would last for many years after the mine is abandoned. The waste facility would require the damming of two fish-bearing brooks.

Polchies’s resolve to fight the project only deepened when the mine and the tailings pond proposed for the unceded Wolastoqey land got approval this summer from Environment and Climate Change Canada.

“Basically, my mind kind of went to an old meme,” said the frustrated Polchies. “It’s like ‘how many times must we teach you this lesson, old man?’ Like it’s not going to happen, we’re not going to allow it to happen.” MORE


New Brunswick tungsten mine passes federal authorization hurdle
Wolastoqey Chiefs condemn decision to dump mine waste into two rivers


Canada: Accumulating mining problems at Macehcewik sipohsisol