Oil Sector Propaganda Invades The Classroom

Source: Regina climate strike. Jeremy Davis/Flickr

Just when you think you’ve seen it all when it comes to the disinformation and outright deception coming from the oil sector propaganda machine, a recent report shows the depth of deception—a new low—that the industry can sink to in its relentless campaign of obstructionism to stall action on climate change. The report was written by Emily Eaton, a professor at the University of Regina and Nick Day, a classroom teacher in Regina.

Oil Sector Invades the  Classroom

Oil Sector Propaganda Invades The Classroom, Below2C

“Public education in Saskatchewan has become a key tool in securing the “hegemony” of the oil and gas industry and “obstructing” the transition to a low-carbon economy,” writes Fatima Syed in the National Observer.

For Saskatchewan’s oil and gas industry, the next stop is schools. — National Observer

In its analysis of the Eaton & Day report, National Observer highlights a disturbing pattern of infiltration by Big Oil in Saskatchewan’s public school system. The public education system:

  1. restricts “the imagination of possible climate solutions to individual acts of conservation that fail to challenge the structural growth of fossil fuel production and consumption;”
  2. accepts that “the influence of oil and gas has instilled in Saskatchewan’s education system a troubling worldview that doesn’t acknowledge the urgency of the climate emergency;” and,
  3. supports “how teaching practices and resources work to centre, legitimize, and entrench a set of beliefs relating to climate change, energy, and environmentalism that align with the interests and discourses of oil industry actors.”

Institutionalization of climate denialism

“They’re really obstructing the kind of scale of actions that we would need in order to confront the climate crisis that we’re in right now.”

When interviewed by National Observer, Eaton noted that “Gone are the days when fossil fuel companies have had the strategy of outright climate change denialism…They’re taking a more subtle approach now. And that includes, for example, insisting that any teaching about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions or energy resources must also include the perspective of industry… They also make the claim to students that modern life isn’t possible without oil.”

The report also looked at oil industry funded non-profits engaged in promoting the interests and perspectives as “legitimate and necessary to learning about environmental issues.” Some organizations deliver educational resources and provide teacher professional development directly in the classroom. With a firm grip on both content and development, the oil sector has institutionalized climate denialism. MORE

EPA to scale back federal rules restricting waste from coal-fired power plants

Agency chief Andrew Wheeler argues Obama-era rules ‘placed heavy burdens on electricity producers.’ Critics call the changes unwarranted and potentially dangerous.

The American Electric Power coal-burning plant in Conesville, Ohio.  (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
The American Electric Power coal-burning plant in Conesville, Ohio. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday plans to relax rules that govern how power plants store waste from burning coal and release water containing toxic metals into nearby waterways, according to agency officials.

The proposals, which scale back two rules adopted in 2015, affect the disposal of fine powder and sludge known as “coal ash,” as well as contaminated water that power plants produce while burning coal. Both forms of waste can contain mercury, arsenic and other heavy metals that pose risks to human health and the environment.

The new rules would allow extensions that could keep unlined coal ash waste ponds open for as long as eight additional years. The biggest benefits from the rule governing contaminated wastewater would come from the voluntary use of new filtration technology.

Trump administration officials revised the standards in response to recent court rulings, as well as to petitions from companies that said they could not afford to meet stringent requirements enacted under the Obama administration. They also reflect President Trump’s broader goal of bolstering America’s coal industry at a time when natural gas and renewable energy provide more affordable sources of electricity for consumers.

Under the Obama-era rule, coal ash ponds leaking contaminants into groundwater that exceeded federal protection standards had to close by April 2019. The Trump administration extended that deadline until October 2020 in a rule it finalized last year.

In August 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit instructed the EPA to require that companies overhaul ponds, including those lined with clay and compacted soil, even if there was no evidence that sludge was leaking into groundwater.

In a statement, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the Obama-era rules “placed heavy burdens on electricity producers across the country.”

“These proposed revisions support the Trump administration’s commitment to responsible, reasonable regulations,” Wheeler said, “by taking a common-sense approach that will provide more certainty to U.S. industry while also protecting public health and the environment.”

Under the new proposal, companies will have to stop placing coal ash into unlined storage ponds near waterways by Aug. 31, 2020, and either retrofit these sites to make them more secure or begin to close them. Unlike the Obama-era rules, the EPA will allow greater leeway and more time for operators to request extensions ranging from 90 days to three years, until Oct. 15, 2023, if they can persuade regulators that they need more time to properly dispose of the waste.

Moreover, if a company can demonstrate that it is shutting down a coal boiler, it can petition to keep its storage ponds open for as long as eight years, depending on their size. Slurry ponds smaller than 40 acres could get approval to stay in place until Oct. 15, 2023, officials said, while larger ones could remain open until Oct. 15, 2028.

Environmentalists have sharply criticized the proposals, arguing these containment sites pose serious risks to the public at a time when more frequent and intense flooding, fueled in part by climate change, could destabilize them and contaminate drinking water supplies that serve millions of people. The rules will be subject to public comment for 60 days. MORE

Ontario’s deficit last year was $7.4B — half what Ford claimed

Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips said higher tax revenues and lower than anticipated spending have seen the provinces defict cut in half.

Ontario’s budget deficit was half of the $15 billion the Progressive Conservative government initially claimed after defeating the Liberals last year.

Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy and Finance Minister Rod Phillips on Friday announced that the final deficit figure for 2018-19 was $7.4 billion.

The Tory ministers said the change — down from an interim $11.7 billion figure disclosed by former treasurer Vic Fedeli who was demoted 10 weeks after his April budget — is due to higher tax revenues and lower than anticipated spending.

“Our government’s strong fiscal management and smart policies mean we are overcoming the previous government’s record of waste and mismanagement,” said Bethlenfalvy.

But the actual deficit could be anywhere from $1.3 billion to $2.6 billion lower because the Tories are still in discussions with Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk over how to include billions of assets in government co-sponsored pension plans.

Lysyk used to account for the holdings in the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union Pension Plan and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan until a dispute with the previous Liberal government in 2015.

“Municipalities, children with autism, school programs, the arts, and community groups are all feeling the sting of Ford’s cuts, even while the government delivered tax breaks to the wealthy last year.” — Schreiner.

A panel of independent experts hired by the former administration and led by the chair of the Canadian Actuarial Standards Oversight Council concluded in 2017 that she was wrong. MORE

Why a UN declaration on Indigenous rights has struggled to become Canadian law

Image result for B.C. legislation tables historic Indigenous rights bill 
B.C. legislation tables historic Indigenous rights bill  Watch the Video

For nearly a decade, Canada refused to endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The country, under former prime minister Stephen Harper, was one of four in the world to hold back — 144 other nations accepted it.

The UN declaration, which was eventually adopted by the Trudeau government in 2016, is still considered controversial in Canada. The main point of concern is a clause that calls for “free, prior and informed consent” of Indigenous communities in matters that impact them — pipeline projects, for example.

READ MORE: B.C. becomes first province to implement UN Indigenous rights declaration

During the recent federal election campaign, the Liberals, Greens and NDP promised to enshrine UNDRIP into Canadian law, a move that would demand greater accountability from the country.

While the debate carries on federally, British Columbia is set to become the first province to make it law. The legislation sets a framework to align provincial laws with the standards of the UN declaration.

‘Shame’: Indigenous teen among youth suing Canadian government over climate harms speaks out  WATCH the VIDEO

Angela Mashford-Pringle, who works at the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health at the University of Toronto, told Global News she’s cautiously hopeful about UNDRIP becoming Canadian law.

“Even if it is enacted, I’m concerned that it could be just another lip service or way to pander to Indigenous Peoples,” Mashford-Pringle said.

She noted that Canada would still have to come to terms with issues such as systemic racism and the Indian Act.

But others are more optimistic about the impact UNDRIP could have on Canada’s relationships with Indigenous Peoples. MORE

New Zealand offers solution to Canada’s electoral woes

“Either you believe in democracy or you don’t. Any electoral system that gives a political party a representation in parliament that is far higher, or far lower, than it deserves compared to the popular vote, cannot be regarded as truly democratic,” Steven Spencer of Pickering writes.

Six reasons to say ‘No’ to electoral reform, Hepburn, Oct. 31

Regrettably, Bob Hepburn spreads the usual misinformation about the idea of introducing some degree of proportionality to our electoral system.

Either you believe in democracy or you don’t. Any electoral system that gives a political party a representation in parliament that is far higher, or far lower, than it deserves compared to the popular vote, cannot be regarded as truly democratic.

It’s true that a purely proportional system, such as obtains in Israel and Italy, leads to disastrously splintered parliaments. But no one in Canada is recommending such a defective system. Most advocates of reform call for a mixed-member-proportional (MMP) system, such as exists in Scotland, Wales, New Zealand, Germany and many other countries.

In such systems, half or more of the seats represent constituencies, won by first-past-the-post (as in our current system), and the remaining, proportional seats are allocated to give the parties their correct representation in parliament.

New Zealand introduced its MMP system in 1996, amid predictions of disaster. Yet it has worked so well that a national referendum in 2011 handed it a healthy majority in favour of keeping it.

How curious that Hepburn neglected to mention New Zealand — a fellow Commonwealth country — in his column. SOURCE

Ontario First Nation newsroom set on fire in ‘targeted’ attack: publisher

Damage to the The Turtle Island News newsroom building in Ohsweken, Ont. on Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation.

The office of an Ontario First Nation weekly newspaper was set on fire during a “targeted attack” earlier this week, the outlet’s publisher said Thursday.

Lynda Powless, who is also the owner of Turtle Island News in Six Nations of the Grand River near Hamilton, said the incident happened around 5 a.m. on Monday, when an unknown assailant drove a truck into the building.

“Police told me we were targeted,” she said in an interview. “This was an attack on free speech and a free press in First Nation communities.”

Six Nations police and the fire department did not respond to a request for comment.

Powless said security video shows a black pickup truck driving into the north end of the one-storey building. After the collision, the cameras melted in the fire and no images of the perpetrator were captured, she said.

Police told her that gasoline was used to set the building ablaze.

“It scared the hell out of me because this is a wooden building,” Powless said. “Thank God no one was hurt.” SOURCE

5 things to know about gender equality and human capital

A woman carpenter in Mexico. Photo: © Jessica Belmont/World Bank

The Human Capital Index (HCI) launched by the World Bank Group in October 2018 is a simple but powerful metric that measures the future productivity of children born today, compared to what it could be if they had benefited from ‘complete education and full health’. The index is made up of important components of human capital: education, health, and survival. The sex-disaggregated HCI emphasizes the World Bank Group’s priority on gender, and specifically in ensuring equal investment in human capital of boys and girls.

On this International Literacy Day, drawing on data from the World Bank Gender Data Portal, we present five facts on gender and human capital.

1. At a regional level, much progress has been made in closing gender gaps in human capital among boys and girls.

In 126 countries where we have sex-disaggregated HCI data, girls are on average slightly better off in all regions and all country income groups in the dimensions the HCI measures, like stunting rates. In fact, the distance between a country’s human capital and the frontier (1 in the figure above) is far larger than any gender gaps.

Breaking this down by the components of the HCI, there is a similar pattern in stunting, child and adult survival rates. However, the picture that emerges in education is more complicated.

2. For many at a regional level however, gender gaps to the detriment of girls remain in education, while gender gaps to the detriment of boys have emerged in other regions.

However, in a pattern increasingly noted and discussed (see this UNESCO report), gender gaps where outcomes for boys are worse than for girls emerge in some regions, most notably in Latin America & Caribbean. The trend suggests this is on the horizon for East Asia and South Asia.

3. There is still a large gap in literacy between adult men and women in many regions.

Given the large investments in education opportunities in recent years, literacy gaps in the population of adults look quite different than among youth. Since 1985, the gap in literacy rates between young men and women shrunk everywhere. Some gaps remain among current youth in Middle East & North Africa, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. However, the gender gap is considerably smaller compared to the gap to the frontier of universal literacy.

Nonetheless, the now-adult women are still disadvantaged compared to men, and these gaps are large. Comprehensive adult literacy campaigns would be needed to close literacy gaps among current adult populations. MORE


Canada not meeting gender equality goals says new report


B.C.: Steelhead numbers at yet another all-time low

steelhead fish trout

There are now fewer steelhead trout in the Thompson River system than there are letters in this sentence.

An Oct. 24 update from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations states that the current spawning population of the Thompson watershed is 86 fish. In the neighbouring Chilcotin watershed, 39 fish are expected to spawn.

For the Thompson, that figure is the lowest in 43 years of records. For the Chilcotin, in 49 years of records.

Each fish population remains in a state of extreme conservation concern.

steelhead update october 2019
This graph shows the expected abundance of spawning steelhead in the Thompson River system. The latest figure of 86 fish is the lowest across 43 years of record keeping. – Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations

The previous low point was established in March 2018, prompting the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (an advisory body to the government) to assess the populations as endangered. The body recommended an emergency order to place the fish on the endangered list under the federally controlled Species at Risk Act (SARA), which would stop fishing from recreational, commercial and First Nations sectors.

But the government’s plan released in July stopped short of any such listing, pledging instead to increase fish survival through improving freshwater habitats and conducting more science and monitoring activities.

On Thursday, five interest groups penned a letter to Premier John Horgan, pleading for action to save Interior Fraser River steelhead.

“Ocean survival, climate change and interception fisheries that use gill net are the three major factors attributed to the steep downward trend for Thompson and Chilcotin steelhead,” the letter reads, conceding that climate change and ocean survival are two factors that are beyond immediate control.

“The non-selective gill net fishery on the lower Fraser River is something that can be regulated and must be done forthwith before IFS [Interior Fraser steelhead] become extinct,” the letter continues.

The letter is signed by the BC Wildlife Federation, the British Columbia Federation of Drift Fishers, the British Columbia Federation of Fly Fishers, the Fraser Valley Angling Guides Association and the Steelhead Society of British Columbia. SOURCE


Alberta: Unions blast provincial decision to shift billions in public sector pension funds

Alberta Teachers’ Association president, Jason Schilling. taken on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019, in Edmonton. GREG SOUTHAM/POSTMEDIA

A decision in Alberta’s budget to consolidate public sector pension plans worth tens of billions of dollars into a provincially managed program has union reps up in arms after they say the move was done without consultation.

Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling said amid the budget revelations that have emerged from the provincial balance sheet was a move by the province to take over control of $18-billion of their teacher’s retirement fund, as well as pensions controlled by Alberta Health Services and the Workers’ Compensation Board.

The assets are set to be controlled by the Alberta Investment Management Corporation, a crown corporation administered by the provincial government.

“At no point did they talk to us about this — teachers contribute half the money to the fund in the plan,” said Schilling. “By making this decision, it actually takes away our say that we have over the management of those funds.

“I refer to it in my news release as a hijacking, and I think that’s a really good term for it. It’s concerning they would do this without consulting us. There’s a level of respect that should be met when you’re dealing with professionals on matters that are important to them, and this was a highly disrespectful manoeuvre on how to do this.”

In the government’s budget documents, the province explained the move was done to maximize the trio of funds by lowering costs and achieving “significant and necessary economies of scale that will protect the funds and government and protect returns to pensioners.”

“(The) government intends to reverse the option of public sector pension plans leaving AIMCo as a fund manager. Moreover, the Alberta Teachers Retirement Fund, Workers’ Compensation Board and Alberta Health Services will be expected to transfer funds to AIMCo for management, reducing redundant administration,” bureaucrats wrote in the 2019 tax plan, released earlier this week.

In a statement, Treasury Board and Finance spokesperson Jerrica Goodwin said AIMCo is a “reflection of our commitment to make government more efficient,” adding the teachers retirement fund will have “reduced investment costs and, therefore, higher expected investment returns.”

“Making this change eliminates duplication and reduces the cost of investment services,” said Goodwin. “The ATRF board will remain in place to oversee the pension.

“It is not a requirement to notify the ATRF of this change, and it is proposed until the appropriate legislation is tabled and passed in the Legislative Assembly.” MORE

Oh Canada, our home and native tax haven

The world is shutting doors to money laundering. Why are Canada’s still wide open?

Coconuts tax haven illustration
Illustration by Michael Haddad

Imagine you’re a lawyer who specializes in international taxation. You work at a prestigious firm whose clients include the world’s rich and powerful: Russian oligarchs, Wall Street executives, Gulf state sheiks, some heads of state and government, even a few famous rock stars. Your task is to find a suitable place to stash their wealth so as to “minimize liabilities.” An easy way to do it is to start shell companies, a trick you’ve pulled off many times before.

You look at a map of the world and start thinking. How about the old favourites: the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Bermuda? No, too obvious. The United Kingdom has passed legislation requiring the disclosure of the real beneficial owners of corporate entities in its overseas territories (see Erika Beauschene in this issue), spelling the end of shell companies as we’ve known them. Ireland, Luxembourg or the Netherlands, then? Sorry—like the U.K., the European Union recently mandated that each member state must set up a public beneficial ownership registry.

You start scratching your head as you realize this is becoming a trend, at least among wealthier countries, many of which are beginning to catch on to the free pass given to all kinds of financial wrongdoing. Looking back at the map, Mexico, Kenya and India catch your eye as potential alternative shell company hosts. Then you remember that these countries have signed onto public beneficial ownership transparency as part of the 2016 London Anti-Corruption Summit!

Close to giving up, you wonder aloud: “Is there a country left in the world that has all the privacy protections and the rule of law and good ease of doing business, but that still lacks beneficial ownership transparency?” You look back at your map and finally see what’s been there all along. How could you have missed that huge landmass staring right back at you? Of course! Canada, a country with the nicest and cleanest of reputations, is somehow still a relative laggard when it comes to the level of transparency expected of corporate entities registered there.

You call up your clients and announce you’ve found the perfect place to park their evaded taxes and illicit wealth. “It’s off to the Great White North!”

From Russia with laundered funds

It might be troubling for many Canadians to learn that their country has become a tax and laundering haven, but this is precisely what leaks like the Panama Papers have revealed. Internal records of the offshore firm at the centre of the scandal, Mossack Fonseca, show employees pointing to Canada as a particularly easy place to incorporate shell companies while advertising the country as a “good place to create tax planning structures to minimize taxes.”

A large part of the reason for this is that Canada is tied for last place among G20 partners with respect to fulfilling the group’s commitments to advance beneficial ownership transparency. More recently, the EU has committed to a publicly accessible database of individuals who ultimately own, derive benefit from or exercise control over a company or legal entity, whether or not these are the same as the formal legal owners.

The gap between legal and beneficial ownership reporting allows for any number of intermediaries, nominee directors and shareholders to obscure who really owns the entity, creating pathways for the circulation of wealth between shell companies and making it much more difficult for public authorities to detect wrongdoing of the following varieties.

Magnitsky Case

In May 2017, CBC News released the results of its months-long investigation into a possible Russian tax fraud and money laundering ring. Suspicious funds were routed through approximately 30 Canadian bank accounts, and $17.6 million was discovered to have been transferred from Canadian companies to the accounts of Russian criminal syndicates. Some of these Canadian companies undertook questionable business practices. (This was the case the slain Russian tax lawyer and anti-corruption icon Sergei Magnitsky was involved in exposing.)

Panama Papers

Since the release of the Panama Papers in April 2016, nearly 900 Canadian individuals and corporate entities have been named as being involved in Mossack Fonseca’s tax-dodging operations. However, as the Monitor went to print, no one had yet been prosecuted, and investigative efforts by law enforcement and the Canada Revenue Agency are still in process.

The ongoing Panama Papers probe, undertaken by the CRA in connection with a reported $77 million offshore tax evasion scheme, resulted in search warrants on two Vancouver properties this March. According to the agency’s press release, the scheme was an alleged attempt to evade non-resident withholding tax and was enabled by connections between “domestic and offshore entities,” as confirmed by “various information sources, including records obtained through the Panama Papers leak.”

Money laundering in British Columbia

In September 2018, the British Columbia government created an expert panel chaired by Simon Fraser University professor Maureen Maloney to shed light on money laundering in the province’s real estate sector, a practice commonly undertaken through the use of shell companies. According to the panel’s final report in May 2019, an estimated $7.4 billion was laundered in British Columbia in 2018, with around $5 billion hidden through housing. The report estimates there could be about $30 billion laundered throughout the rest of Canada.

Though the Maloney report did not put forward an estimate of how much of this money could be linked to tax evasion, it explicitly acknowledges the vital link between evasion and money laundering: “Money launderers are often also tax evaders. Less taxation revenue directly impacts the ability of governments to provide quality public services for residents,” it reads. The report also highlights linkages with entities in tax haven jurisdictions: “All of the complexity of the international financial system can be used in innovative ways to structure a series of transactions that can be difficult or impossible to trace back in practice.”

Oilpatch Case

In 2018, investigators from the CRA alleged that a company with holdings in Alberta’s oil patch, Sequoia Resources Corp, served as a vehicle for tax evasion in connection with offshore accounts. The CRA claimed the company’s owner received funds amounting to $2,666,865, “through a series of transfers involving foreign corporations that he is either directly or indirectly involved with.”

Though a relatively small-scale case of alleged individual tax evasion compared to the more notorious scandals, it is important in that it involves the Alberta oil patch, which is often touted as the economic mainstay and pride of the province. More care needs to be taken by the provincial government in Edmonton to address the vulnerabilities of the sector to tax evasion.

Project Sindicato

In June 2019, York Regional Police divulged information on the bust of the “Figliomeni Crime Family,” accused of laundering around $35 million through illicit funds and assets. Twenty-seven arrests were made, including nine individuals in the organization’s leadership who “face a litany of charges, including money laundering, tax evasion, and participation in a criminal organization, among others,” according to Global News.

The Figliomeni family’s alleged criminal enterprises include corporate entities in the form of accounting firms and real estate companies in and around Vaughan, just north of Toronto. Using these corporate entities, the organization was allegedly able to engage in “laundering millions through Ontario casinos, gambling between $30,000 and $50,000 a night,” as reported by the Vaughan Citizen.

Police involved in the case have remarked on the centrality of investigating “financial offences that can be documented.” The observation underscores the need for law enforcement authorities to have the tools and capabilities to trace illicit financial flows through whatever fronts and vehicles these funds may be channelled.

Ownership transparency and tax fairness

No one, not high-powered tax lawyers at an offshore firm or international crime syndicates and their confederates in corrupt governments, should be able to turn to Canada as a secrecy jurisdiction of last resort—and after everyone else has gotten their act together on corporate ownership transparency.

As these cases demonstrate, the need for a national public beneficial ownership registry has become more urgent than ever. Its establishment would eliminate the use of shell companies as a means of engaging in financial crime and allow Canada to realize advantages like potential increased tax revenues and an easing of the endemic money laundering of recent years.

Now, a national public registry would by no means be a panacea or a one-stop shop for tackling the complexity of financial crime. It would, however, provide a much-needed extension and supplement to the existing financial intelligence infrastructure, one that can help authorities by raising red flags in the event of suspicious transactions and transfers.

A public registry would fill in or match information from other databases, such as sanctions lists or the recently implemented Common Reporting Standard, and make it easier to co-operate with other jurisdictions in catching the culprits of transnational money laundering and tax evasion. For big cities like Vancouver and Toronto, where large infusions of anonymous wealth have inflated housing prices, a beneficial ownership registry would curtail the use of shell companies as vehicles through which to purchase property, and would do much to ease the affordability crisis.

For the federal government, a registry would close the avenues afforded by anonymous shell companies for directing the proceeds of crime to illegal outfits and assorted kleptocrats. Just as important, a beneficial ownership registry and database would allow Canada to challenge its growing international reputation as an alternative tax haven and money laundering destination.

We shouldn’t be the place deceptive tax lawyers settle on to set up shell companies for their rich clients. We should instead take a leadership role in the global campaign to restrict illicit financial flows, fight corruption and lay the foundations of a fairer economy and a more decent society at home and abroad.