Building Health: Canada’s opportunity to improve housing affordability

Decent, safe, and affordable housing is an absolute foundation for healthy lives. Research has shown the critical links between housing and health. Without appropriate and secure housing, our health suffers, our mental health deteriorates, we are more stressed. Without affordable housing we may need to skip on food or medications in order to pay the rent. Every single person requires affordable housing in order to be healthy, and yet so many struggle to find decent housing in Canada, one of the richest countries in the world.

In order to have a thriving population, individuals, businesses, and government must address the challenges head on. In our continued blog series, the Wellesley Institute and Broadbent Institute present three ways the new Parliament could improve housing affordability.

Improving everyday affordability for Canadians was repeatedly found to be one of the highest priorities for voters in the federal election. It is hardly surprising that housing affordability is top of mind for Canadians. Both rents and mortgages are consistently the single largest expense for households. Average middle-income families spend more on housing than they do on food, clothing, and recreation combined. On top of this, housing costs have been increasing much faster than household incomes, and the number of reasonably affordable homes has been dropping.

In 2017, the Canadian government announced the National Housing Strategy (NHS) and pledged to re-establish federal leadership on affordable housing. But two years into the strategy, experts have critiqued the inadequate spending levels and the low number of affordable units being built. Now that the election has concluded with a Liberal minority government, the future of the National Housing Strategy will depend on the support of one of the other parties. With three of the five parties in Parliament having expressed support for the continuation of the NHS during the federal election, it’s time to explore the new opportunities to improve housing affordability across Canada.

Opportunity to Build

Building more affordable housing is the classic way to improve affordability for those most in need. Affordable rental units, non-profit, public and co-op social housing has been shown to be a long-term cost-effective way of improving affordability. In turn, this improves the well-being and health of low-income tenants. Tenants with permanently affordable rents can devote more of their limited incomes to essentials that promote health, such as healthy food and medication. Building social rental housing also benefits tenants not directly living in the housing by taking the pressure off of our overheated rental markets and helping to moderate market rents.

We have done something similar to this before. Up until the mid-1990s, 20,000 non-profit and co-op housing units were built each year in Canada, a time when Canada’s GDP and population were both lower than they are now. There is also precedent for minority governments to be a period of opportunity where significant investments get put into affordable housing. Two recent examples of this are the Martin-Layton housing trusts of 2005, and the Harper stimulus of 2009, both of which invested heavily in affordable housing.

We can meet in the middle. During the election, the Liberals platform included 10,000 new affordable units a year for 10 years, while the NDP platform included 50,000 units a year over the same time frame. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has recently called on the federal government to increase funding to build an equivalent of 23,000 social and affordable homes over 10 years. Our new Parliament is an opportunity to come to an agreement on an ambitious new building program that parties agree should be a priority.

Opportunity for Housing Benefits

Housing benefits paid to families struggling with high housing costs are an important part of the solution to the affordability crisis as an interim measure to ease housing costs . An increasing number of people face housing costs that exceed their affordability threshold (shelter costs over 30 per cent of income). This forces cutbacks on other necessities such as healthy food and medications. Housing benefits can alleviate these shortages, be rolled out quickly and be tailored to provide the right level of support.

Increase benefits. The Liberals’ National Housing Strategy plans to harness the power of housing benefits with the Canada Housing Benefit. This benefit is set to begin rolling out in April 2020. However, it is unclear if benefit levels will be high enough to make a significant difference for families struggling in Canada’s city regions, where market rents have been increasing fast. The Housing Benefit will be dependent on provincial cost-matching, potentially leaving hundreds of thousands of eligible Canadians in need and unable to receive this benefit.

Higher, faster, more direct. A well-designed and financed housing benefit that reaches those in need and fast, can be one of the key opportunities for improving housing affordability for Canadians. It will be important that the housing benefit is paid directly to tenants, operated through the tax system, and is large enough to assist those in need.

Opportunity to Reframe our Housing System

Our housing system is currently structured to appeal to private investors, to favour homeowners over renters, and to view housing as an investment vehicle. Now is an opportunity to reframe what ‘housing’ means and bring it back to its foundation – a place for people to live, to grow up, to feel safe.

A rights-based approach to housing. The message that housing is a human right was brought to Toronto City Council in 2019 by Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing. A few months later, it was passed in legislation by the federal government. Both Toronto City Council and the federal government have acknowledged housing as a human right, but a rights framework needs to go further than simply putting it into law. It requires mechanisms to ensure that this right can be actualized — particularly by those who need it the most.

Implement a rights framework through policy. Farha’s recommendations include: creating pathways for people requiring advocacy; and legal and/or justice remedies in order to address deep-seated housing challenges. The newly created Federal Housing Advocate could integrate these elements, once implemented in 2020. Ultimately for a rights-based approach to be put into action, building more affordable housing is required.

Supply housing for the public good. Rather than a continuation of policies that benefit speculators and treat housing as a commodity, we need to focus on supplying housing directly for working and middle-class Canadians. Raising the capital gains tax as well as implementing a foreign buyers tax are two measures that remove the incentive for profit making from housing and re-center its original purpose.

Building a healthy and thriving Canadian population requires addressing Canada’s housing affordability crisis. Housing stability, quality, safety, and affordability all affect health outcomes. Adequate financial investments and ambition are required to achieve this. This minority Parliament serves as an opportunity for the government to work with opposition parties and housing experts who support their commitment to delivering a meaningful national housing program — one that would lay the foundation for a healthy population and responsive housing market for decades to come. SOURCE

A Methane Leak, Seen From Space, Proves to Be Far Larger Than Thought

Image result for ny times: A Methane Leak, Seen From Space, Proves to Be Far Larger Than Thought

The Ohio disaster leaked as much methane as the entire oil and gas industries of some nations release in a year.CreditCredit…Ohio State Highway Patrol

The first satellite designed to continuously monitor the planet for methane leaks made a startling discovery last year: A little known gas-well accident at an Ohio fracking site was in fact one of the largest methane leaks ever recorded in the United States.

The findings by a Dutch-American team of scientists, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, mark a step forward in using space technology to detect leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, from oil and gas sites worldwide.

The scientists said the new findings reinforced the view that methane releases like these, which are difficult to predict, could be far more widespread than previously thought.

“We’re entering a new era. With a single observation, a single overpass, we’re able to see plumes of methane coming from large emission sources,” said Ilse Aben, an expert in satellite remote sensing and one of the authors of the new research. “That’s something totally new that we were previously not able to do from space.”

Scientists also said the new findings reinforced the view that methane emissions from oil installations are far more widespread than previously thought.

The blowout, in February 2018 at a natural gas well run by an Exxon Mobil subsidiary in Belmont County, Ohio, released more methane than the entire oil and gas industries of many nations do in a year, the research team found. The Ohio episode triggered about 100 residents within a one-mile radius to evacuate their homes while workers scrambled to plug the well.

At the time, the Exxon subsidiary, XTO Energy, said it could not immediately determine how much gas had leaked. But the European Space Agency had just launched a satellite with a new monitoring instrument called Tropomi, designed to collect more accurate measurements of methane.

“We said, ‘Can we see it? Let’s look,’” said Steven Hamburg, a New York-based scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, which had been collaborating on the satellite project with researchers at the Netherlands Institute for Space Research in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

Natural gas production has come under increased scrutiny because of the prevalence of leaks of methane — the colorless, odorless main component of natural gas — from the fuel’s supply chain

The satellite’s measurements showed that, in Ohio in the 20 days it took for Exxon to plug the well, about 120 metric tons of methane an hour were released. That amounted to twice the rate of the largest known methane leak in the United States, from an oil and gas storage facility in Aliso Canyon, Calif., in 2015, though that event lasted longer and had higher emissions overall.

Demonstrators in Los Angeles called for the shutdown of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, site of another huge leak, in February 2016.

Credit. Mario Anzuoni/Reuters 

The Ohio blowout released more methane than the reported emissions of the oil and gas industries of countries like Norway and France, the researchers estimated. Scientists said the measurements from the Ohio site could mean that other large leaks are going undetected.

“When I started working on methane, now about a decade ago, the standard line was: ‘We’ve got it under control. We’re managing it,’” Dr. Hamburg said. “But in fact, they didn’t have the data. They didn’t have it under control, because they didn’t understand what was actually happening. And you can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

An Exxon spokesman, Casey Norton, said that the company’s own scientists had scrutinized images and taken pressure readings from the well to arrive at a smaller estimate of the emissions from the blowout. Exxon is in touch with the satellite researchers, Mr. Norton said, and has “agreed to sit down and talk further to understand the discrepancy and see if there’s anything that we can learn.”

“This was an anomaly,” he said. “This is not something that happens on any regular basis. And we do our very best to prevent this from ever happening.”

An internal investigation found that high pressure had caused the well’s casing, or internal lining, to fail, Mr. Norton said. After working with Ohio regulators on safety improvements, he said, the well is now in service.

Miranda Leppla, head of energy policy at the Ohio Environmental Council, said there had been complaints about health issues — throat irritation, dizziness, breathing problems — among residents closest to the well.

“Methane emissions, unfortunately, aren’t a rare occurrence, but a constant threat that exacerbates climate change and can damage the health of Ohioans,” she said.

Scientists said that a critical task was now to be more quickly able to sift through the tens of millions of data points the satellite collects each day to identify methane hot spots. Studies of oil fields in the United States have shown that a small number of sites with high emissions are responsible for the bulk of methane releases.

So far, detecting and measuring methane leaks has involved expensive field studies using aircraft and infrared cameras that make the invisible gas visible. In a visual investigation published last week, The New York Times used airborne measurement equipment and advanced infrared cameras to expose six so-called super emitters in a West Texas oil field.

In a separate paper published in October, researchers detailed the use of two satellites to detect and measure a longer-term leak of methane from a natural gas compressor station in Turkmenistan, in Central Asia. Researchers estimated emissions from the site to be roughly comparable to the overall release from the Aliso Canyon event.

The leak has now stopped, satellite readings show, after the researchers raised the alarm through diplomatic channels.

There are limitations to hunting for methane leaks with satellite technology. Satellites cannot see beneath clouds. Scientists must also do complex calculations to account for the background methane that already exists in the earth’s atmosphere.

Still, satellites will increasingly be able to both rapidly detect large releases and shed light on the rise in methane levels in the atmosphere, which has been particularly pronounced since 2007 for reasons that still aren’t fully understood. Fracking natural-gas production, which accelerated just as atmospheric methane levels jumped, has been studied as one possible cause.

“Right now, you have one-off reports, but we have no estimate globally of how frequently these things happen,” Dr. Hamburg of the Environmental Defense Fund said. “Is this a once a year kind of event? Once a week? Once a day? Knowing that will make a big difference in trying to fully understand what the aggregate emissions are from oil and gas.” SOURCE

Nova Scotia pulp mill may be allowed to pump effluent into water

The Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie Point, N.S., is viewed from Pictou, N.S., Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. File photo by The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan

For pipefitter Ben Chisholm, an imminent decision on the future of a Nova Scotia pulp mill could keep tradespeople he represents employed for years — or it could create frightening job losses.

“There’s nothing to replace this, economy wise,” the union leader said in an interview.

Like many other residents of northeastern Nova Scotia, Chisholm is anxiously awaiting word from politicians in Halifax and Ottawa on the contentious plan by Northern Pulp to pump 85 million litres of effluent a day into the Northumberland Strait.

“It’s a two-year construction project …. It’s a viable industry that wants to clean up the situation left by the previous owners,” he said in an interview from his office in Antigonish.

Gordon Wilson, the province’s environment minister, faces a Tuesday deadline for a decision on the company’s followup proposal to ensure the 15-kilometre pipeline meets environmental standards. Ottawa has said it will indicate by Friday if federal authorities will conduct their own review.

The company owned by Paper Excellence has suggested it would close if its pipeline option is rejected. The multinational has also said it would cease operations without an extension of the Jan. 31, 2020 deadline to stop sending its effluent into a facility near the First Nation community of Pictou Landing.

The proposal has created divisions, with opponents such as Mi’kmaq fisherman Warren Francis arguing their futures are also at risk.

The 50-year-old resident of Pictou Landing First Nation said in an interview his community has waited his entire lifetime for the mill to close the treatment facility at Boat Harbour — the polluted lagoon near their community which was once a source of food and recreation.

Former provincial environment minister Iain Rankin, now minister of forestry, has called it, “Nova Scotia’s worst example of environmental racism.”

Francis, 50, said he hopes the province “keeps their promise, and the mill goes away.”

Allan MacCarthy, a fisherman based in Pictou County, said fishermen remain convinced the effluent would pose a threat to lobster, crab, herring and other species in the strait over time. His protests landed him in court last year when a temporary injunction was imposed ordering him to stop blocking survey activities by the company.

“Until the minister announces it (the decision), there’s not much we can do. We did everything we could up until this point,” he said.

He notes that five federal departments made submissions to the provincial Environment Department during a public comment period on the so-called focus report by Northern Pulp. They were Environment Canada, Health Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Transport Canada and Public Services and Procurement Canada.

In documents obtained by several media outlets, including The Canadian Press, the departments were largely critical of the focus report, saying it lacked necessary information and noting the province’s 36-day comment period was not long enough for a detailed analysis of its more than 2,000-pages.

DFO said it identified a number of gaps in the mill’s information, particularly on marine species, which it found to be “lacking and at times, factually inaccurate.”

Even if an environmental approval is granted, it won’t be the end of the battle, MacCarthy says. If Wilson gives the green light, then Premier Stephen McNeil must indicate if the deadline to stop pumping effluent into the lagoon will be extended.

“If the government decides to let them (Northern Pulp) stay in Boat Harbour until this is approved, it’s going to be a very contentious issue,” he said.

However, Robin Wilber, the chief executive of the Elmsdale Lumber Co. Ltd., says if the decisions result in the closure of the mill, it would be a major blow to the forestry industry.

“If we lose Northern Pulp, we lose a market for the poorer quality wood in the forest, and we lose good forestry practices,” he said in an interview.

“But if the assessment does pass, even with conditions, it would be unbelievably important for Stephen McNeil to allow Northern Pulp time to complete this valuable project.”

Whatever the result, the communities in the region have lasting damage to repair, said MacCarthy.

“It’s a very emotional issue here,” he said. “Somebody is going to feel like they lost, and somebody is going to feel like they won …. It will take a little while, likely.” SOURCE



Violence against women includes violence against sex workers

When sex work is perceived as violence, actual experiences of violence — including assault, arrest, and even murder — become invisible

Image result for ricochet: Violence against women includes violence against sex workers

Dec. 17 is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. The day started in Seattle as a memorial and vigil for victims of the Green River Killer in 2003.

Now, it is an annual event for sex workers, their loved ones, allies, and sex workers’ rights activists all over the world to call attention to violence committed against sex workers, demand decriminalization of sex work, and eliminate stigma and discrimination against sex workers. There is much work to be done.

In 2016, I participated in the committee meeting of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) at the United Nations in Geneva. CEDAW is an international platform that advocates for the human rights of women, facilitating non-governmental organizations to play a role in advocacy and monitor governments and hold them accountable. They submit reports and speak to the CEDAW committee members about their concern.

I worked with the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform and other human rights groups to bring forward concerns about the violation of women’s rights in Canada. The violations included stereotyping (Article 5), infringement of labour rights (Article 11) and health rights (Article 12), not acknowledging equality before the law (Article 15), and assault, sexual assault, police violence, and murder (General Recommendation 19). We also expressed concern about the harm inflicted on sex workers by anti-trafficking policies.

Many of the feminist organizations that participated in this UN meeting took the moralistic stance that sex work is dangerous and a form of sexual slavery. They held the following positions: sex work is a form of violence against women; sex workers, particularly youth, migrant, and Indigenous sex workers, are forced or lured into the sex industry against their will or under economic coercion; human trafficking and sex work are the same thing and all sex workers are victims of human trafficking because all of them are sexually exploited; sex is not work, because sex is “not for sale”; and lastly, all third parties, such as bosses, managers, and clients, are abusive to sex workers.

The police were not interested in how she was assaulted by her abusive partner or other perpetrators. Instead, they wanted to know how she came to Canada.

During the committee meeting, we tried to develop a joint report with other organizations to submit to the CEDAW committee. However, these other feminist groups insisted that sex workers’ issues be confined to the “Trafficking and Exploitation of Prostitution” section and excluded from all others. They refused to address violence against sex workers under the “Violence Against Women” section because they perceived sex work itself as violence.

I was so frustrated and angry. It was very hard for me to understand why violence experienced by sex workers was not recognized as violence and thus excluded by those who claim to be concerned about the well-being of women.

This UN meeting took place a few weeks after the death of a migrant sex worker who was a member of Butterfly, a Toronto-based support network for Asian and migrant sex workers. Because of her position as a sex worker, her death was not recognized as the result of violence against women.

The police were not interested in how she was assaulted by her abusive partner or other perpetrators. Instead, they wanted to know how she came to Canada. Rather than looking into her death or her experiences of violence, the police investigation focused on human trafficking. Because she was being investigated as a trafficker, those close to her were forced to leave the country.

Migrant sex workers have described being investigated, harassed, charged, or arrested after reporting experiences of robbery, assault, or sexual assault. Instead of protecting sex workers, law enforcement is often the source of threats and violence towards workers. When sex work is perceived as violence, actual experiences of violence — including assault, arrest, and even murder — become invisible.

Many anti-trafficking initiatives and programs carried out by missionary organizations, anti-trafficking (anti–sex work) organizations, and radical feminists are based on a white saviour complex. Many of them are also based on the policing of sexual morals and the idea that people should not sell sex. These organizations protect law enforcement by silencing sex workers’ complaints while advocating for increased investigation, surveillance, raiding, and closure of sex workers’ workplaces or forcing sex workers to exit the profession.

For example, a national anti-trafficking organization has obtained millions of dollars of funding. Instead of listening to sex workers, they worked with politicians, law enforcement, and policymakers to advocate for racist anti–sex work policies (e.g., increased surveillance, investigation, and raiding of massage parlours) that targeted and harmed sex workers, specifically those who work at massage parlours and particularly those who are migrant and racialized. They could not see that sex workers are people with agency and rights who are being placed in danger by the anti-trafficking advocates and the police themselves.

On Dec. 17, sex workers across the world come together to fight for their rights, stand against criminalization, and demand an end to the harm caused by anti-trafficking initiatives and an end to violence against sex workers and their communities. On this important day, we call on allies, human rights activists, and real feminists to urge anti-sex work organizations to stop imposing their (im)moral values and to stop violence against sex workers. SOURCE

Canada ‘altered’ scientific reviews of oil spill research, court hears

In this photo dated Dec. 5, 2019, a worker in Alberta takes measurements for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Trans Mountain Photo / Facebook

Canada “altered” scientific reviews of oil spill research and “suppressed” information until after consultations over the Trans Mountain pipeline were over, says a lawyer for the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.

Scott Smith argued Monday at the Federal Court of Appeal that Canada had failed again in its duty to consult in a meaningful way, in part by intentionally withholding information associated with the Tsleil-Waututh’s concerns about the pipeline expansion project.

“My submission to you today is that Tsleil-Waututh was deprived of any opportunity to meaningfully dialogue,” said Smith in the Vancouver courtroom. “Either Canada was having a conversation with itself to resolve these issues, or it altered its scientists’ conclusions.”

Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson’s press secretary Sabrina Kim could not immediately offer comment when reached by National Observer.

Several B.C. First Nations are in court this week to argue against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The court is focusing on the federal government’s conduct after it re-launched consultations last year and through this spring.

Consultations had to be redone after the Federal Court of Appeal quashed the approval of the pipeline in August 2018. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau re-approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in June.

The expansion project, now being built by Canada through a Crown corporation, would nearly triple the capacity of the existing pipeline, to carry crude oil and other petroleum products from near Edmonton to metro Vancouver.

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation (TWN), Coldwater Indian Band, Squamish Nation and others submitted a memorandum of fact and law to the court that says Canada commissioned reviews of Tsleil-Waututh expert reports on oil spills without telling the First Nation.

This fact was “withheld” during government consultations, the memo states, and Canada instead “took positions contrary to those of its own scientists,” only providing the reviews to the First Nation after talks had wrapped up.

By comparing the draft and final reviews, the First Nation said, it became obvious that “the conclusions within were altered to advocate for project re-approval.”

The export reports were submitted by TWN to the government during a reconsideration hearing, held by what was then the National Energy Board in late 2018.

The reports were: an assessment of the risk of an oil spill during marine shipping by Simon Fraser University’s Thomas Gunton and Chris Joseph; an analysis of how an oil spill response might work, by environmental consulting firm Nuka Research; and an assessment of the behaviour of diluted bitumen during a marine oil spill, by environmental consultant Jeffrey Short.

Bitumen is a dense, viscous oilsands product that must be combined with chemicals in order to get it to flow smoothly along a pipeline. The resulting product is called diluted bitumen, or dilbit for short.

Government officials asked Environment and Climate Change Canada to produce a peer review of those reports, where new science could be brought to bear on the topic.

The initial version of those peer reviews is dated March 12, 2019 but TWN says they only received them on June 22. By that time, Trudeau had already re-approved the pipeline expansion, five days earlier on June 18.

“The duty to consult imposes upon Canada a ‘positive obligation’ to ensure it provides TWN with all necessary information ‘in a timely way’ so TWN had a meaningful opportunity to express its interests and concerns,” reads the memo.

“Canada failed to discharge that duty here.”

In between the March peer reviews and the June decision, TWN and Canada met on April 29, 2019, to discuss concerns linked to the expert reports that the First Nation had submitted.

TWN asked Canada if it had new studies or reviews on the project or on the reports it had filed — but was told by Canadian officials that “no such documents existed,” the court memo says.

Through cross examination, a senior bureaucrat at Natural Resources Canada confirmed that the peer reviews had been prepared by federal scientists before the April 29 meeting, and it was “possible” the request had been misunderstood.

Despite this, the First Nation also says it followed up on the April 29 meeting on May 17, asking again if there were any internal documents related to the expert reports and were told “there are no additional diluted bitumen studies to share at this time.”

Then, at a May 29 meeting, Canada finally revealed that the peer reviews existed, according to the court memo. It ultimately delivered the final versions on May 31 — hours after the final consultation meeting had just concluded that day.

“Canada suppressed and altered the peer reviews in relation to marine spills,” the memo states.

TWN says the peer reviews showed that government scientists “substantially agreed” on a central issue raised in the report by Short — how long it would take for diluted bitumen that had been released in an oil spill to submerge into the ocean, making it much harder to clean up.

Short had said that spilled dilbit in the Fraser River during the spring thaw could submerge within one to two days. Government scientists said dilbit in fresh water was at risk to submerge within five to 10 days.

Yet Canada maintained the view during the April 29 meeting that “diluted bitumen submergence can take approximately two to three weeks,” a much longer timeframe, the memo stated.

“How are we meaningfully dialoguing?” Smith asked the court on Monday. “Five to 10 days is not two to three weeks.” SOURCE

Experimental, net-positive energy development in India is a prototype for future sustainable housing

Communities around the globe are struggling to find feasible options for affordable and sustainable housing to meet the needs of growing urban populations. Now, one forward-thinking firm, Auroville Design Consultants, is leading the charge with Humanscapes, an 18,000-square-foot, net-positive energy, experimental housing complex located in Auroville, India. Designed to house up to 500 residents, the sustainable housing complex will be studied for years to come in order to create a future model of sustainable living.

entrance into Humanscapes

According to Suhasini Ayer, director of Auroville Design Consultants, Humanscapes is an experimental project designed to create affordable and sustainable housing for approximately 500 inhabitants. The ambitious project will be used as research into creating future developments that can withstand the impacts of climate change.

three-level brick housing complex with domed roofs

interior garden space with stepped levels

The project was based on three main principles. The first was creating a resilient structure that could meet India’s urban planning challenges. Secondly, the complex would be made available to house young adults, students and researchers in order to create an active and collaborative society, where the residents learn from each other. Finally, the habits of the community would be monitored for many years in order to create a field test prototype to help design future projects.

interior space with brick and wood walls

open door leading out to walkway

The large development was built by local workers using locally sourced materials, such as clay. Additionally, the complex will be net-energy positive thanks to its off-grid systems that work on various renewable energy sources, including solar power. The project has several water collection and recycling systems.

The landscaping around the apartments incorporates several drought-resistant native plants and trees. There is also ample space set aside for organic food production, which is a hallmark of the project.

walkway around housing development with iron screen

building with thin columns

Future tenants will also be able to enjoy the spirit of community within the Humanscape design. Using the co-housing concept of living, the development was laid out in a way to foster interaction among neighbors.  This “functional fusing” of living, working and recreational environment creates an open learning campus that could offer a real-world prototype for future urban development in countries around the world. SOURCE

Unifor national president Jerry Dias rejects GM announcement of job opportunities for displaced Oshawa autoworkers

Jerry Dias says if the company cared for its employees it would keep plant open

Unifor reacts to GM announcement

Gerry Dias, Unifor national president, spoke during a press conference held by Unifor Local 222. He says if the company cared for its employees it would keep plant open. – Ryan Pfeiffer/Metroland

OSHAWA — General Motors Canada officials say they have identified 2,400 jobs mainly in the Durham Region area that they want to help Oshawa plant workers transition to following the plant’s closure.

On Nov. 26, GM announced it would shutter its Oshawa assembly plant at the end of 2019.

GM Canada director of communications Jennifer Wright said that since the announcement, GM has been in talks with community partners including Durham College as well as local employers like Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and OPG’s contractor Aecon who are interested in recruiting GM plant workers.

“Our biggest message at General Motors is we’re committed to taking care of our people especially in these times of economic and technological disruption,” said Wright.

She said the culmination of the company’s outreach efforts is that employers have identified 2,400 jobs where they’re interested in hiring GM workers. That includes 300 open auto technician jobs in GM dealerships across Ontario, 100 jobs at other GM facilities in Ontario and 2,000 jobs in energy and other industries in Durham and the Durham-area including Northumberland.

Wright said there are 2,600 hourly jobs and 340 salaried or contract jobs expected to be lost in Oshawa. Of the 2,600 hourly workers, roughly half qualify for defined benefit pensions.

She said the company will be providing roughly $5,000 to $10,000 per worker for retraining and is working with Durham College to launch an online jobs portal for autoworkers with information about job openings and career training.

“What we have talked  about is in addition to the jobs portal that’s going to be created, is having some job fairs in the new year co-ordinated with our partners,” said Wright.

The news was not well-received by Unifor national president Jerry Dias.

“You want to talk about incredible arrogance, they should stick with the business of building vehicles instead of being an employment agency,” he said. SOURCE


End of an era as vehicle production ceases at GM Oshawa


Ontario cancels Hamilton LRT in chaotic announcement; mayor calls it a ‘betrayal’

Project would cost 5 times what previous government estimated, transport minister says

Protesters gather outside a meeting room where Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney was set to hold a news conference, in Hamilton, on Monday. She left abruptly, leaving the city’s mayor to announce that the province had pulled its funding for a light-rail transit project. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The Ontario government cancelled $1 billion in funding for Hamilton’s light-rail transit system on Monday, killing it amid a chaotic afternoon that included a hastily cancelled news conference, city councillors facing down police and Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney leaving the city with a police escort.

Mulroney left without actually making her announcement. Her press conference was called off at the last minute when protesters, anticipating that the LRT would be cancelled, filed into the room at the downtown Sheraton hotel.

It was Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who had only just been briefed by the province, who told the room.

“In my view that’s a betrayal of the city of Hamilton,” he said to reporters. “That is not working in good faith with a partner.”

“Their timing on this is just outrageous,” said Eisenberger. “If they were going to do this, they could have picked a better way.”

A police officer talks to Couns. Maureen Wilson and John-Paul Danko in the lobby of a government building where Mulroney relocated after the news conference was cancelled. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Provincial staffers moved Mulroney to a government building across the street. Two city councillors followed, refusing to leave the lobby until they were allowed to hear the technical briefing.

The property manager called the police, but even as officers arrived, Couns. Maureen Wilson and John-Paul Danko — of Ward 1 and 8, respectively — stayed.

“My constituents demand answers and my job is to give them that information,” Danko said. “For the minister to come to Hamilton and not be prepared to face the public or face council, that’s just ridiculous.”

Mulroney left in a police-escorted car.

Eisenberger described the project as a massive investment for the city that would have “created hundreds of jobs,” provided economic uplift, cut carbon dioxide emissions and added to affordable housing.

It has been in the works since 2007, and would have run 14 kilometres from McMaster University in the city’s west end to Eastgate Square.

The previous Liberal government pledged $1 billion for the capital costs. Premier Doug Ford said his Progressive Conservatives planned to follow through, and the project was in the spring budget. The regional transport agency Metrolinx spent $162 million on it so far. MORE


Hamilton slams Doug Ford government for pulling out of LRT

Trans Mountain pipeline expansion approval ‘unlawful,’ First Nations argue as new court challenge begins

Federal Court of Appeal hears arguments about inadequacy of government’s consultation process

Khelsilem of the Squamish Nation holds a news conference with four British Columbia First Nations groups challenging the re-approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline in Vancouver on Monday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Several B.C. First Nations are squaring off against the federal government in the Federal Court of Appeal in Vancouver this week, arguing that it failed to conduct meaningful consultations with them about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and that the project should be cancelled.

The case is similar to the previous Federal Court of Appeal case that quashed the approval of the pipeline expansion in August 2018 except it is focused on the specific window of time when the federal government revisited its duty to consult with First Nations before approving the project once again in June of this year.

“Canada has repeated many of the errors that led to the original quashing of the pipeline, and in some ways, consultation was worse than the first time around,” said Leah George-Wilson, elected chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation at a news conference on Monday.

“Today, we argue that the federal government’s approval of the pipeline is unlawful and must be quashed. Our experience is that consultation fell well short of the mark.” 

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Squamish Nation, Coldwater Indian Band and a collective of Stó:lō bands will be making arguments about why they believe the renewed consultation efforts fell short in each of their specific communities.

The Crown-corporation-owned expansion project would twin an existing 1,150-kilometre pipeline that extends from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C., nearly tripling its capacity to move oil from Alberta to coastal B.C., and then to markets in Asia. The cost has been estimated to be between $7.4 billion and $9.3 billion.

Tsleil-Waututh says Ottawa ‘unilaterally focused’ on re-approving project

Tsleil-Waututh’s legal team was first to present arguments in court on Monday morning, in a packed courtroom with more than two dozen lawyers, community members and media.

Scott Smith, one of the litigators on Tsleil-Waututh’s legal team, said Ottawa refused to budge on issues of concern to the First Nation, “or change its position because it was unilaterally focused on re-approving this project.”

Chief Leah George-Wilson of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation speaks at a news conference alongside other First Nations groups that are challenging the re-approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Tsleil-Waututh’s main concerns about an expanded Trans Mountain pipeline include an increase in tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet; the effect a potential spill of diluted bitumen could have in the inlet and the Fraser River estuary; and the capacity to recover bitumen from such a spill.

The First Nation is also concerned about the impact of increased marine traffic on the southern resident killer whales and argued in court that the federal government prematurely re-approved the expansion before conducting further research necessary to assess that impact.

Prior consultation fell short, 2018 court ruling found

The federal government’s duty to consult stems from Section 35 of the Constitution, which recognizes Aboriginal and treaty rights. Over decades, court rulings have been defining what Indigenous rights look like and under what circumstances the government can make a decision that infringes on those rights.

The degree of consultation required and the accommodations that may need to be considered depend on the project under consideration and the level of potential impacts on a specific community.

Khelsilem, elected councillor and spokesperson for the Squamish Nation, said at the news conference the court case is about fighting the “substandard” level of consultation his nation saw from the federal government.

“The Squamish nation is committed to building a community, a territory, that is clean and that is prosperous. Not just for our people but all the people that now live in our territory,” he said.

“An expanded pipeline export facility within our territory and within this part of the world does not make sense given the risks that it would pose and the lack of meaningful respect for the rights of the Squamish people.”

The initial Federal Court of Appeal ruling in August 2018 stated that some of the federal government consultation work was adequate but found “at the last stage of the consultation process prior to the decision of the Governor in Council … Canada’s efforts fell well short of the mark set by the Supreme Court of Canada.”

Workers survey around pipe to start of right-of-way construction for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, in Acheson, Alta., on Dec. 3. The expansion project would twin an existing 1,150-kilometre pipeline, nearly tripling its capacity to move oil from Alberta to coastal B.C., and then to markets in Asia. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

As a result of this ruling, the federal government was forced to revisit that last stage of consultation and tasked retired Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci with overseeing that work.

Over the next three days, several parties will be making arguments to the court: four First Nations groups, the federal government, Trans Mountain and several interveners. Proceedings will be livestreamed via the court website.

The case will focus on the work that happened under Iacobucci between Aug. 30, 2018, and June 18, 2019.

Upper Nicola and Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc, two of the six nations initially approved to proceed with arguments before the court, have since dropped out after signing agreements with Trans Mountain.

How Trans Mountain’s capacity compares against that of other pipeline projects.


People march during a climate strike in Montréal in September 2019. Climate change is a top concern for Canadians, but new Elections Canada rules left civil society organizations fearing they could not speak out on the need for climate action during the election. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

It’s almost 2020, and with a minority government in power, another federal election could be upon Canadians sooner than expected.

So as the dust settles on the 2019 vote, it’s important to examine the data on an issue that clouded the election campaign — the impact of new Elections Canada regulations on public debate by civil society organizations.

In June 2019, the federal government amended Canada’s Elections Act. New rules require third parties, including non-profit groups, to register with Elections Canada if they spend more than $500 on “political advertising.” That includes any spending to promote positions on public policy issues on which political parties have taken a stand, or to support or oppose particular candidates and parties.

The new Elections Act also sets specific spending limits on third-party election advertising.

These changes to the Elections Act are important measures to prevent the type of unlimited spending by political action committees (PACs) that followed the Citizens United decision by the United States Supreme Court in 2010. The court ruled that spending limits on third-party election advertising was an unconstitutional restriction of free speech.

Since 2010, what are known as super-PACs have subsequently become major players in American elections, enabling wealthy individuals to exert enormous political influence. Indeed, wealthy donors spent more than US$1.4 billion during the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Silencing voices

The new Elections Canada regulations impose spending limits on third parties ($1,023,400 in the pre-election period and $511,700 in the election period) and specific regulations against collusion between third parties that would prevent the type of unlimited spending by super-PACs in the United States.

However, the new Elections Canada regulations have also played a role in silencing the voices of many Canadian organizations on a wide range of public policy issues — from climate change to health care to international aid.

This chilling effect came into play most powerfully when Elections Canada indicated in a training session for non-profits that organizations with public policy positions on climate change would need to register and report on their spending, given that right-wing candidate Maxime Bernier had made public statements denying climate change.

The silencing impact may not have been intentional, but it is very real and represents a threat to healthy public debate and democracy in Canada. Elections are important opportunities for Canadians to debate public policy, and it’s crucial that civil society groups are able to contribute to those debates.

On the surface, the new Elections Act appears to strike a balance between free speech and excessive influence by wealthy individuals and corporations.

The Elections Act does not prohibit civil society organizations from spending money to promote public policy positions. However, many organizations saw the requirement to register and report on spending as ominous — especially after the crackdown on charities carried out by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

Fears of another crackdown

Justin Trudeau’s government made significant changes to the CRA regulations in 2019 that allow charities to engage much more freely in public policy debates. But many Canadian civil society groups still worry that the federal government will crack down on organizations that criticize its policies.

The regulations also add bureaucratic headaches and expenses to non-profit organizations, many of which cannot afford to pay additional costs for participation in public policy debates.

Staff with many Canadian civil society groups have reported that their organizations did not speak out on public policy issues during the election campaign for fear they’d be penalized by Elections Canada or the CRA.

The silencing effect is also clear in data from Elections Canada.

There are more than 175,000 registered non-profit and charitable organizations in Canada. Only 147 registered to report election advertising in 2019, only 50 reported spending more than $10,000 (the reporting threshold set by Elections Canada) and only two have charitable status.

Climate change a key concern

Climate change was a top concern for Canadians during the 2019 election campaign. However, my analysis of the Elections Canada data shows that only 17 environmental organizations registered, and only seven reported spending more than $10,000 (for a cumulative total of $634,307) during the election period.

Similarly, while Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer made Canada’s international aid an election issue by proposing to cut it by 25 per cent, only five international social justice organizations registered, and none of them reported spending over $10,000.

Health care is always an important issue to Canadians, but just one health-sector organization (the Canadian Medical Association) registered with Elections Canada, spending $113,242.

The data suggests the new rules kept conservative groups quiet too. Only one gun rights organization reported any spending ($32,091) and just seven explicitly pro-Conservative organizations registered, spending a total of $690,922. As of Oct. 14, 2019 — a week before the election —the total reported by all organizations was just over $9.4 million.

Canada’s new Elections Act may have prevented the type of mammoth spending seen in the United States via super-PACs, but it’s been at the expense of silencing many Canadian organizations with important positions on public policy issues.

With a minority government in Parliament, Canadians could soon head to the polls again, so there may not be much time to make these changes. SOURCEElections Canada needs to do more to make sure that the new regulations do not block public policy debates. It should also review the $500 threshold for requiring organizations to register with Elections Canada.