Take Action! It’s one of the largest tar sands mining project ever.

Now is our chance to let the federal government know that this project is a serious danger to our boreal forest and poses risks that cannot be ignored. 

Photo by Pembina Institute Teck Resources’ proposed Frontier mine – a 293-square-kilometre, open-pit mine on the edge of Wood Buffalo National Park – could produce 260,000 barrels of heavy crude per day

In the northeast corner of Alberta lies Wood Buffalo National Park. Known for its sheer size and biodiversity, it is Canada’s largest national park and World Heritage Site. Its size and remote location have led many to believe it is untouched by human impacts, but it has sadly been affected by upstream industrial development outside of the Park. It is now additionally threatened by a proposed open-pit oil sands mine just 30-km south of its borders.

If approved, the Teck Frontier oil sands mine would be the largest open-pit mine in North America, with a massive 290 sq-km footprint. This mine would pose serious environmental risks to the approximately 1 million migratory birds that fly over the region, species at risk that depend on the intact boreal habitat, and negatively influence downstream waters on the Athabasca River.

The federal government has a public comment period open until November 24, 2019 to hear what people think of the proposed environmental assessment conditions that Teck would need to meet.

How strong are these conditions? The proposed mitigation measures do very little to address the startling list of impacts from the mine. It is clear that the conditions are inconsistent with a healthy future for our boreal and the communities that depend on the biodiversity of the region.

Want to speak up but unsure about what you will say? Use our public comment guide as a blueprint to your comment. We provide our key concerns about the mine and the proposed conditions to kickstart your comment.

The Climate Crisis Will Kill Women First

Two organizations want the Supreme Court to recognize the lethal vulnerability of girls and women to a changing planet.

ClimateStrikeWomen.jpg
Climate change is killing women, and that shouldn’t be kept a secret.’ Photo by Tommi Boom, Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 2.0.

Climate change is here, it’s happening and it’s going to forever change this planet if we don’t act soon. We have already seen some of its disastrous effects: disappearing ice caps, loss of biodiversity, animal extinction and increased frequency and severity of natural disasters.

But one of the effects excluded from the mainstream narrative is how the climate crisis is uniquely hurting women. The gender-climate link remains in the shadows. It’s a footnote rather than a headline, an appendix at the bottom of a report.

The effects of climate change disproportionately impact women and girls, especially those who are Indigenous, racialized and living in poverty. We should be shouting it from the rooftops: the climate crisis will kill women first.

Two Canadian non-profit organizations want to talk about the gender dimensions of climate change in front of the Supreme Court of Canada. Last week, the National Association of Women and the Law and Friends of the Earth asked the court permission to intervene in the controversial and highly publicized carbon tax case being appealed to the Supreme Court by Saskatchewan and Ontario.

If granted leave to intervene in the case, NAWL and FOE hope to argue that climate change disproportionately impacts women and girls, and that Canada needs an “all hands on deck” approach, rooted in substantive equality, whereby every level of government takes action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is important to include a gender analysis when it comes to climate change because this is necessary to ensure that the impacts of climate change do not further entrench gender inequality,” says Nathalie Chalifour, co-counsel for FOE and NAWL.

NAWL and FOE hope to put forth two arguments to support their position.

First, the federal and provincial governments must work together, through a cooperative approach to federalism, to fight climate change. The division of powers must be interpreted in a way that embraces collaboration amongst governments, which in turn promotes substantive equality rights and environmental justice for women and girls.

Chalifour says a cooperative approach to federalism “is the only interpretation that is acceptable from a climate justice perspective, since all levels of government have to work collaboratively to address the climate emergency.”

Second, the federal government should be able to enact legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the emergency branch of Peace, Order and Good Government. The POGG doctrine, laid out in Section 91 of our Constitution, affords the federal government power over matters under provincial jurisdiction in certain situations. Under the emergency branch of POGG, the federal government may invoke a state of emergency, granting itself special emergency powers. Given the scale, scope and urgency of the climate crisis, the interveners argue, the federal government should be able to use the POGG doctrine to take action against climate change on a national level.

The overarching message of NAWL and FOE is that a piecemeal approach to environmental justice, as Saskatchewan and Ontario are pushing for, will uniquely hurt women because women are more adversely affected by climate change. MORE

 

The Drilldown: Redwater ruling poses threat to the energy sector


The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. (iPolitics/Matthew Usherwood)

The Supreme Court of Canada passed the Redwater ruling earlier this year requiring energy companies to complete their environmental commitments before repaying financiers to avoid bankruptcy or insolvency repercussions. Before this ruling, financial experts vocalized that this decision could negatively impact the financial backing of the oil and gas sector, which is proving to be true.

“We also will be focusing in the next few weeks on doing everything we possibly can to mitigate the unintended consequences of the Redwater decision, which has done so much to restrict access to both capital and credit, equity and credit, for this industry,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at a Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors (CAODC) hosted luncheon on Wednesday, reported CBC News.

The Redwater ruling repealed two previous Supreme Court decisions that said bankruptcy law superseded the environmental obligations of the province. This allowed energy producers to refund their financiers before cleaning old oil and gas wells, which often led to companies abandoning oilfields without taking environmental responsibility.

Representatives from the oil and gas sector claimed they were content with the court’s decision as it was happening, but the ruling has had a “significant” effect on the sector, said Tristan Goodman, the president of the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, on Thursday.

The number of abandoned wells in Alberta has increase substantially over the last five years. According to the Orphan Well Association, orphaned well numbers were lower than 200 in 2014, and as of November 1, 2019, totalled 3,406.

CAODC projections show stagnant activity in drilling, and as companies continue to move to the U.S., layoffs in the sector are expected to continue. SOURCE

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Alberta seeks to lessen financial hit of Supreme Court ruling on orphan wells

 

How Doug Ford’s Tories set the table for costly failure in teachers’ talks

Teachers, parents and students gather outside of Tory MPP Sam Oosterhoff's Niagara office on Nov. 14, 2019 to protest the Ontario government’s cuts to education. The cuts could come back to bite the government, Martin Regg Cohn writes.

The table is set for teachers’ bargaining. But it is set to blow up, booby-trapped by government blunderbuss.

Doug Ford won’t be the first premier to be entangled by teachers’ unions. But he will prove to be the most myopic, oblivious to the lessons of recent history and the author of his own misfortune — despite enjoying the good fortune of good economic times.

This month, as negotiations reached their culminations with the major teachers’ unions, the Progressive Conservative government conveniently passed into law a 1 per cent ceiling on the outcome. Put another way, it wants the talks over before they truly begin.

It is not just a formula for unfairness, but a recipe for failure. To understand why Ford’s bullying will boomerang, let us go back in time.

Remember Bob Rae’s NDP government? New Democrats thought they could coax teachers into sharing the pain of tough economic times with a “social contract” — which union leaders burned at the stake (big mistake).

From its ashes arose the “common sense revolution” of Mike Harris that didn’t quite decapitate its victims, as Robespierre’s revolutionaries once did, merely cut teachers off at the knees. It was the undoing of the Harris PCs.

After that scorched earth policy, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals tried giving teachers what they wanted, including a handsome 12 per cent from 2008 to 2012. But when he asked for a freeze amid an economic crisis, he got the same cold shoulder that Rae received two decades earlier.

That’s when history was made. Joining hands with the opposition Tories, McGuinty’s minority government pre-emptively legislated restrictions on their collective bargaining rights. The Liberals won the day only to lose years later when the courts reinforced Charter rights for free collective bargaining unimpeded by political meddling.

His successor as premier, Kathleen Wynne, tried to make amends by giving teachers what they wanted ahead of the 2018 election. The elementary teachers’ union repaid that political debt by promptly endorsing the NDP (which didn’t stop Ford’s Tories from triumphing).

Which takes us to today, and back to the future. Like Harris before him — and without learning the lessons of McGuinty after that — our current premier has set the stage for confrontation.

With a difference. In their defence, the Liberals in 2012, like the PCs and NDP in the 1990s, were facing undeniable constraints — a recession, a runaway budget, and an economic crisis.

Today’s Tories, not so much. To be sure, there is a debt overhang, but the deficit figures are dramatically overstated — literally and figuratively speaking:

A $15 billion deficit trumpeted by Ford proved to be a fiction of his fertile imagination — disputed even by the auditor general, and disproven by his finance minister (who restated the deficit at $7.4 billion for the last fiscal year). A scary deficit helps set the context for cuts, but an overstated deficit only undercuts the case.

An inflated deficit devalues the currency of public finances and undermines the government’s public credibility. Not merely with teachers, but parents and voters (not to mention students).

Pretending that we face an economic emergency — as the premier did earlier this year with dark talk of a “carbon tax recession” — is not only irresponsible but unsupportable. The government’s own spring budget and fall update show steady economic growth today continuing through the next two years, with unemployment at the lowest level in decades.

So by what possible metric — deficit, economic or employment — do the Tories justify a harsh crackdown against teachers and other public servants, who faced wage austerity in 2012 amid the last (genuine) economic downturn? The only metric that matters is self-interest

During the recent federal election campaign, Ford fell on his sword to avoid school closures by CUPE support staff — ostensibly to spare students any hardship, but more obviously to shield his fellow Tories on the campaign trail from any fallout. Having conjured up a midcampaign truce with CUPE, the Tories are now gunning for a post-election confrontation with the remaining teachers’ unions.

It is not just unfair and unjust, it is politically injudicious. And almost certainly unlawful.

How does this government explain its phoney war to teachers and students, parents and voters, all of whom will pay the price for its miscalculations? Tell it to a judge. SOURCE

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Teachers tell Ford to stop hurting the children

Kenney says Alberta has reduced oilsands emissions, but oil-related pollution is actually increasing. Here’s why

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney often compares the province’s environmental performance to those of oil-producing juggernauts such as Saudi Arabia and Russia. While it is true that newer oilsands facilities have reduced their emissions over the last decade, data from Environment and Climate Change Canada suggests the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada’s oil and gas industry have actually increased.

CALGARY—When Swedish central bank Riksbank announced on Wednesday it had sold its investments in Alberta over concerns about Canada’s climate impact, the United Conservative government returned fire in characteristic fashion.

Industry representatives and the Alberta government routinely insist the province’s oil and gas industry is among the cleanest, most ethically responsible of its kind in the world. Shortly after Riksbank’s announcement, a spokesperson for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the central bank should actually invest more money in the province’s oil and gas industry because of its track record of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Kenney often compares Alberta’s environmental performance to those of oil-producing juggernauts such as Saudi Arabia and Russia.

While it is true that newer oilsands facilities have reduced their emissions over the last decade, data collected by Environment and Climate Change Canada suggests the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada’s oil and gas industry have actually increased.

Production (and reduction) of emissions in Alberta

“It is true that there’s been huge progress in reducing the carbon intensity of mining bitumen and other processes of extraction,” said Yrjö Koskinen, professor of finance at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business. “But overall, climate emissions are still going up.”

Total emissions from Canada’s mining and upstream oil and gas production rose by 32 megatonnes between 2005 and 2016, according to data from Environment and Climate Chance Canada (ECCC). This is mainly due to a massive spike in production activity: During that time, output at oilsands facilities spiked by 145 per cent. Technological and efficiency improvements between 2010 and 2016 brought down emissions intensity by 15 per cent, but experts say it isn’t enough.

Benjamin Israël, senior policy analyst at Calgary-based energy think tank the Pembina Institute said oil companies in Canada have come a long way toward reducing emissions intensity over the past several decades, including within oilsands operations, by far the most carbon-intensive aspect of the industry.

Through he said Alberta and the federal government have good regulations in place to handle emissions, the carbon intensity of the oil and gas industry as a whole is still very high. He said the increase in oilsands production specifically means any gains they’ve seen in the past few years have been offset by increasing pollution.

Getting oilsands crude to the point where it can be used requires a lot of carbon emissions. Canada produces the fourth-most carbon intensive oil in the world after Algeria, Venezuela (which also has oilsands deposits) and Cameroon, according to ECCC data cited in a Pembina Institute report.

“At the end of the day, we produce heavy oil. There’s no way around that,” Israël said.

The report also noted that newer oilsands mining projects can achieve “noteworthy” emissions performance, but said the sector is still dominated by more carbon-intensive projects.

Lack of regulations, differing calculations

Israël also said efforts to reduce the impact of oilsands operations on local communities and the environment haven’t progressed much over the past two decades. He used tailings ponds as an example: The first regulations governing the water formations filled with clay, toxic waste, metals, and leftover bitumen came into effect in 2015.

“We had no regulation for almost 50 years,” Israël said.

A recent study also raised questions about how the oil and gas industry calculates emissions. A series of airborne tests over the Athabasca oilsands region found about 30 per cent more carbon dioxide drifting from major facilities. The authors of the study published in Nature Communications earlier this year said the unaccounted-for CO2 totals roughly 17 megatonnes a year, the equivalent of all greenhouse gas emissions from a metropolitan area the size of Toronto or Seattle.

The way the study’s authors tested for CO2 emissions is very different from how oil companies track their emissions: a combination of sensors in the stacks of major oil facilities and United Nations-accepted calculations for fuel consumption. In response, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, a lobby group for the oil and gas industry, defended the industry’s practices.

On the whole, Koskinen said Canadian-headquartered oil and gas companies tend to fare better than American ones on environmental, social and governance scores — metrics used to determine the sustainability of investing in a specific company. He cited Suncor and Cenovus as particularly good performers, but said the type of oil found in each country also influences emissions.

“American companies, they extract lighter oil, which is less energy intensive to convert into gasoline,” Koskinen explained. “They don’t have oilsands and heavy oils, which is really very energy-intensive to convert into gas.”

The European view

In a speech on Wednesday, Riksbank deputy governor Martin Flodén said the Swedish central bank had shed bonds from Alberta and the Australian states of Queensland and Western Australia, saying both countries are “not known for good climate work.” He singled out Alberta specifically.

“Greenhouse gas emissions per capita are among the highest in the world, but vary considerably between the different states,” Flodén said during his speech. “For instance, greenhouse gas intensity is more than three times higher in production in Alberta than in Ontario and Quebec.” SOURCE

Toronto asks Supreme Court of Canada to overturn Doug Ford government’s council cut

The Supreme Court of Canada hears a select number of cases each year, typically of significant public importance.

The city is asking the country’s top court to overturn a decision that Premier Doug Ford’s mid-election council cut was constitutional.

In applying to the Supreme Court of Canada — which chooses to hear a select number of cases each year, typically of significant public and usually national importance — the city says the issues raised by the provincial government’s meddling in the election “transcend the specific election in this case and can affect any election in the country.”

“This appeal raises three issues of national and public importance relating to local democracy as well as broad, important constitutional interpretation issues that require further jurisprudential guidance from this Court,” the city’s application, filed Friday, says.

“The intervention of this Court is necessary to bring clarity to these constitutional issues of public importance.”

The application outlines how the province, without notice, passed legislation that cut the number of city wards in Toronto from 47 to 25 during the 2018 election. On the day it became law, the municipal campaign had been running for 105 days with 69 days before the vote.

“The result was widespread disruption and confusion,” the city’s legal team — comprising Diana Dimmer, Glenn Chu, Fred Fischer and Philip Chan — says in its written application.

It goes on to describe the fallout:

“Candidates had campaigned in areas that were no longer part of their ward and had never campaigned in areas that were now part of their ward; ward sizes approximately doubled; electors were no longer sure what ward they were in or who was a candidate in their ward; endorsements that had been provided for candidates were rescinded; people who did not run when it was a 47-ward election decided to enter the race when it became a 25-ward election; the Clerk, who was preparing for months for a 47-ward election, had to suddenly begin preparing for a 25-ward election; candidates spent more time speaking to electors about the reduction in the number of wards than election issues.”

In September 2018, Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba ruled that Bill 5, the Better Local Government Act, was unconstitutional and struck it down.

The province then appealed. First, the Court of Appeal granted a stay, which effectively put Belobaba’s decision on hold and saw an election proceed in October with the 25-ward structure now in place. A rare five-judge panel at the Court of Appeal then ultimately overturned that lower court decision in favour of the province. But the panel was split on that decision, 3 to 2.

The city’s application to the Supreme Court outlines three central issues: whether the charter protects the expression of people participating in an election from “substantial mid-election changes” to the electoral framework in place; whether what’s called the unwritten constitutional principles of democracy and rule of law can be used to strike down legislation; and whether municipal voters are entitled to effective representation.

On the first issue, the city’s application notes that the Court of Appeal panel was split on mid-election interference as it relates to section 2(b) of the charter, which protects freedom of expression, and that the appeal to the Supreme Court would allow that court to provide guidance for all municipalities going forward. Expressive rights are wielded by many people in an election, the city wrote: candidates seeking support, donors providing financial support, volunteers working on campaigns, and electors casting their ballots.

Singh says Prairie premiers ‘distracting’ from real issues, need to ‘do better’

Jagmeet Singh
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to reporters following a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA – NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says that clearly “people are feeling neglected” by Ottawa, but that the way the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan are going about raising those concerns are “distracting” from the “real” problems.

In an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CTV’s Question Period, Singh said that the issues and pressures Albertans and Saskatchewanians are facing are real, but are being felt in “many provinces.”

While discussing what his priorities will be for the new Parliament, including more action on climate change, Singh was asked about the ongoing conversation around western alienation and the requests being made by Premiers Jason Kenney and Scott Moe and what the NDP caucus’ response would be to the Liberals moving ahead with targeted measures for that region of the country.

“I want to see commitments at the federal level to help out those folks,” Singh said during a wide-ranging interview in which the NDP Leader also spoke about the intersection of his personal and spiritual beliefs, and why propping up the Liberal minority may be dependent on the promises in the throne speech.

“People are feeling neglected and ignored by Ottawa,” Singh said. “What Conservative premiers are doing is distracting from the real problem.”

He cited the health care and education systems, and the challenge in finding jobs as examples of the “real” issues.

Singh—who has just one elected MP in Alberta and none in Saskatchewan— opposes the Trans Mountain pipeline project that many in Alberta view as integral to their economic stability, and supports tougher environmental regulations.

As CTV Edmonton reported last week, Kenney announced that he would be creating a “Fair Deal Panel” to look into ending several arrangements with the federal government, including opting out of federal cost-share programs like a proposed pharmacare plan that Singh is a vocal proponent of; and enacting a system in which schools need provincial signoff before entering into federal government agreements.

In the interview Singh suggested that Alberta has to diversify its economy instead of doubling down on oil and gas. The Kenney government has previously said that becoming less dependent on oil and gas is a long-term initiative, though there have been steps taken.

“They need to do better,” Singh said.

“They need to be an economy that’s not subject to the whims of one commodity that might go up and down in price and that could completely upturn their economy,” Singh said. “What they need to do is this: They need to be committed to job creation, they need to be committed to making sure they have a diverse economy that creates real opportunities that aren’t subject to the global whims of a market that can go volatile up and down.”

Singh said he is open to looking at the equalization formula to make sure that it’s still working and fair.

“The future we know is a future where we’re fighting the climate crisis while creating jobs. There has to be a path that’s laid out where we show workers that there is a path to create jobs… that’s what people need to see and to hear and to feel, so that they’re not worried about their future,” Singh said.

SINGH WANTS ‘CONCRETE’ LANGUAGE IN THRONE SPEECH

In addition to action on climate change and job creation, Singh said that he wants to see “timelines” and “some real concrete commitments” for pharmacare and dental care in next month’s Liberal throne speech, otherwise he is prepared to vote against it.

“I want something concrete,” Singh said, downplaying questions of whether he is over exaggerating the bargaining position he will have in forth-party status, given the Bloc Quebecois’ indicated intention to work collaboratively with the Liberals so long as they stay out of provincial secularism matters.

Singh said it’s different to have the support of an NDP caucus that he says will be “fighting actively” for improvements to Liberal initiatives than the backing of a party that would just “not get in the way.”

“The Liberals can work with other people, there’s no question about it. The difference is that we’re actually fighting for things that Canadians want,” Singh said.

SAYS PERSONAL, SPIRITUAL BELIEFS ALIGNED

In light of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer being asked about his personal and religious views on social issues like same-sex marriage, Singh was asked whether as a Sikh he believes that being gay is a sin.

“No.”

He was asked whether he supported same-sex marriage.

“Yes.. I support it all the way.”

And does he support the right of women to access abortion?

“Yes, absolutely, without any question.”

Singh said that his personal and religious beliefs are “completely aligned.”

“My beliefs spiritually are fully in line with supporting same-sex marriage, supporting a woman’s right to choose. I have no, any sort of ambiguity with my personal, spiritual beliefs,” Singh said.

Asked whether it was appropriate for these kinds of questions to be asked of federal leaders, Singh said that he thinks it gives people confidence in his stance.

“In my case, people can be very confident that both my spiritual, my personal, my beliefs as a leader are all in line with my values, which are to support a woman’s right to choose, which is to support same-sex marriage, which is to fight for equality and fairness for Canadians, so people can have that confidence with me.”

SOURCE

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