Blockades Aren’t the Crisis. It’s the Crumbling Legitimacy of Canada’s Democracy

The Wet’suwet’en and their allies are responding to broken democratic institutions we need to fix.


“Cracking down on so-called ‘dissidents or radical activists’ with injunctions and police enforcement orders will not provide the legitimacy our institutions require.” Photo by Lars Hagberg, Canadian Press.

Our democratic institutions are in crisis. Their very legitimacy is in question, and Canada’s national leaders appear ill-equipped to respond.

The Indigenous re-occupation of Wet’suwet’en land and nationwide actions in support have sparked debate and deliberation about the causes, consequences, complications and solutions. The debate has been emotional and traumatic and, I fear, is defining — and threatening — Canada’s future.

People across the county had the chance to hear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s address to the House of Commons and Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer’s response.

Neither one presented a path forward that would ease tensions and address the root causes of Indigenous peoples concerns. Neither made an authentic effort to bridge the deep divide rocking Canadian society. Rather Trudeau asked for patience, co-operation and deliberation, while Scheer demanded the immediate enforcement of the rule of law and the prioritization of our national economy.

Canada’s colonial history and democratic institutions are founded on this constructed divide between Indigenous peoples and the rest.

A legislated, judicially enforced hierarchical divide allowed the relocation of entire Indigenous communities and the narrow determination of which Indigenous rights are to be ignored, minimized or recognized. It allowed the imposition of colonial band governance systems and the delegitimization of Indigenous governance and laws. The divide underpinned the efforts to push us from territories and allow destructive industrial projects, to erase our Indigenous languages and culture and forcibly remove Indigenous children from families.

And it’s behind the mediocre effort to include Indigenous voices within the political, educational and democratic institutions of Canadian society.

This divide still exists today. It shows up most visibly when issues, projects or the interest of the status-quo come into conflict with the interests of Indigenous peoples. This story has played out time and time again, whether with the oil and gas industry (Kinder Morgan TMX, Enbridge, Coastal GasLink, Mackenzie Valley, Energy East, SWN Resources); mines (Teck Frontier, Mount Polley); dams (Site C, Muskrat Falls); forestry (Meares Island/Clayoquot Sound, Stein Valley, Gwaii Haanas, Great Bear Rainforest, boreal forest); or in conflicts around hunting, aquaculture or fisheries.

And it’s revealed in the justice system, whether the issue is Indigenous deaths in custody, murdered and missing Indigenous women, Gladue reports, mandatory minimum sentencing or the Ipperwash inquiry and the killing of Colten Boushie.

This divide is not absolute. Demonstrations in support of the Wet’suwet’en have seen non-Indigenous allies in great numbers supporting the voices of Indigenous leaders, youth and land defenders.

Yet in contrast to this support, we are also witnessing increasingly volatile levels of online vitriol, threats of violence, individuals expressing hatred and now incidents of vigilantism. These acts are aimed at Indigenous and non-Indigenous land defenders, Indigenous community members in their daily lives and even Indigenous children in their schools.

As a result of this societal divide, Indigenous peoples have been denied the right to determine what’s best for them and their communities. They have been denied their inherent and treaty rights.

Across the divide, many non-Indigenous people remain unaware of the extent and consequences of Canada’s colonial past and present, and the degree to which it continues to impact the lives of Indigenous peoples while supporting the Canadian status-quo. This lack of understanding leaves many unsympathetic to Indigenous calls for change.

Our democratic institutions were not designed to address these social schisms, nor were they ever intended to. Indigenous peoples have been denied the ability to participate in these institutions in a way that would allow their voices, rights and calls for justice and restitution to be fairly considered.

When good-faith negotiations stall or fail and the alternative is expensive litigation in an over-burdened justice system, we can see how confrontations with Indigenous peoples become inevitable.

The actions and protests we have seen both in recent years and throughout Canadian history are a direct result of this failure to address the foundational causes of these schisms. Because some voices are favoured over others, Indigenous peoples (land defenders) and their supporters no longer perceive our representative institutions as legitimate. They no longer have faith in these institutions’ ability to address the root causes of settler-colonialism or to represent the voices of Indigenous peoples when interests collide across this divide.

When our governments are viewed as illegitimate, so are their processes, decisions and proposed projects. Cracking down on so-called “dissidents or radical activists” with injunctions and police enforcement orders will not provide the legitimacy our institutions require.

We can fix this crisis, but it will take considerable effort and a genuine commitment to reject the status quo and accept the challenge of building processes based on co-operation and consent.

Until that happens, convincing Indigenous peoples to participate in an illegitimate process will be a hard sell. Indigenous peoples are exhausted from seeing their words and input ignored by politicians and judges who continue to reinforce the status quo.

Canada must adopt fair, accountable and transparent processes that promote negotiations with Indigenous peoples, built upon the UN declaration’s principle of free, prior and informed consent. We must create a level playing field with renewed institutions designed for inclusivity, and disavow the status quo power structures fueling mistrust.

That’s not what Trudeau proposed. He proposed keeping the faith and hoping things would improve under the same broken system.

We need more than this. We need more than “respect and communication.” We need substantive systemic change.

In his House of Commons speech, Trudeau asserted that “the place for these debates is here in this House.” But if the legitimacy of that House is in question, how can it be the place?

Scheer was correct in one regard: our society is in crisis. But it is not primarily an economic crisis. The legitimacy of our representative institutions are in dire crisis, and it will take more than speeches in Parliament to repair them.  [Tyee] SOURCE

If We Plant Billions of Trees to Save Us, They Must Be Native Trees

Do it right, says Diana Beresford-Kroeger, who raised the idea 21 years ago. Last in a series flowing from our visit to her home.


‘We can’t plant trees everywhere higgledy-piggledy. That won’t work,’ says celebrated botanist Diana Beresford-Kroeger, writer of To Speak for the Trees. Photo for The Tyee by Colin Rowe.

Morning light glows the windows and breakfast is on the table as Diana Beresford-Kroeger reflects on the recent excitement about an idea she proposed over two decades ago.She’s eager to start sharing important stories about the state of well-being in BC. Get to know her.

She has listened to a growing scientific debate about the merits of mass tree plantings to fight climate change with both an air of detachment and resignation.

Last year, one group of researchers claimed that growing a new forest over a global landscape the size of the United States (a 25 per cent increase in Earth’s forest cover) was “the best solution” to battling climate change while others argued that cutting fossil fuel consumption was the true way forward.

The famed botanist and celebrated author of The Global Forest shakes her head about the level of the controversy, and then notes that both sides had a point.

Both sides also ignored her own, unique global bioplan to fight climate change, which she first published in 1999. Her proposal skillfully avoids the pitfalls of commercial tree plantations as well as hubris about licking climate change in one fell swoop.

“Jesus,” adds the eminent Irish-born scientist in her County Cork accent. “We need to know what we are doing, and you can’t go all asswise about stuff.”

“We can’t plant trees everywhere higgledy-piggledy. That won’t work.”

Yet that is what the world has generally done to date, and it is what many governments plan to do more of in the name of fighting climate change.

“Asswise” efforts in Ireland, California, Japan, India and China — all involving non-native trees — have done more damage than good, and bear no resemblance to her own plan.

Take China, for example, which destroyed many of its great native forests during the Cultural Revolution. The nation now boasts that it is the world’s largest tree planter. But it has largely constructed unfriendly monocultures of Japanese cedar, bamboo or eucalyptus that burn at a low flashpoint of 48 degrees Celsius.

Yet science shows that indigenous wild forests do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to storing carbon.

One recent British study found that natural or native forests covering 350 million hectares of land could sequester 42 billion tonnes of carbon, while commercial plantations could only store one billion tonnes.

“There is a scandal here,” said Simon Lewis, a professor of Global Chance Science at the University College London and one of the study’s authors.

“To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration.’ And worse, the advertised climate benefits are absent.”

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In the botanist’s hands, awaiting planting, the winged seeds of the wafer ash, Ptelea trifoliate. Photo for The Tyee by Colin Rowe. 

In contrast, Beresford-Kroeger offers the real deal and a community-based plan to boot. She proposes each person plant one tree native to their community, every year for the next six years.

“Get them in and get them growing,” she says.

It won’t solve the climate crisis, she adds, but it will buy us valuable time by bringing down atmospheric concentrations of CO2 from 400 parts per million to 300 ppm.

It all started with a paper published in Science last July by a group of researchers at the Swiss Institute of Technology.

Using remote sensing and computer models with fancy algorithms, the scientists calculated that mass tree planting could sequester an astounding 205 gigatonnes of carbon equal to 20 times the current annual output from fossil fuels, but over a 200-year period.

But to do so would require planting trees on 0.9 billion hectares of land, including savannahs and grasslands in Africa and Latin America.

Jean Francois Bastin, the paper’s lead author, characterized his findings this way: “And this is a beautiful thing, just to think that in order to fight climate change what you have to do is to plant trees, and you can do that everywhere.”

As a result, the paper left the impression in global headlines that “global tree restoration” was probably the “most effective climate change solution to date.”

Then came a flurry of serious rebuttals.

Researchers called the paper’s claim that tree planting was the most effective solution to climate change both “scientifically incorrect” and “dangerously misleading.”

Moreover, they said that Swiss researcher’s calculations had grossly overstated the ability of trees to sequester carbon by nearly 100 gigatonnes.

They also argued that the most effective solution remained systematic reduction in fossil fuel consumption and that tree planting alone wasn’t sufficient.

Others said the model relied too heavily on destroying the valuable biodiversity of million-year-old grasslands, peat lands and savannas by converting them into tree plantations.

A group of indignant African scientists added that “planting trees in the wrong places can destroy ecosystems, increase wildfire intensity, and exacerbate global warming.”

Beresford-Kroeger, who has studied trees and their medicines intensively for decades, couldn’t agree more.

“Keep the prairies and savannahs the way they are,” she insists.

“They have been largely destroyed but replant the native grasses and legumes that make that soil. You have to study what you have and what was there and reinvent the forest and put it back. But no ecological archaeologists have gone back and looked at what was burnt and what happened here before. We need to have an archaeological framework, too.”

Trees on the grounds of Diana Beresford-Kroeger’s home. If greed is the enemy, a step against it, she says, is to ‘start with something as small as an acorn and nurture it into an oak, a master tree that we have grown and protect and are the steward of.’ Photo for The Tyee by Colin Rowe. 

Still, Beresford-Kroeger believes that planting the right of kind of native trees in their native homes can restore ecosystems, reduce wildfires and slow down climate warming. (Her app, Call of the, serves as a geopositioning tool to help people do just that.)

But few want to take the care or time to do it right, she explains.

Ireland, for example. In ancient times, rich oak and broad-leaf forests enriched 80 per cent of the island and Celtic lore exuded a wealth of tree knowledge.

(As a child, Beresford-Kroeger was not only taught that lore by Gaelic-speaking elders but entrusted with its keeping.)

But by the 1900s, greed had denuded the Irish landscape of trees and reduced forest cover to one per cent.

Population growth and British imperialism in the form of penal laws all played a role. The colonizers also chopped down native deciduous forests to make charcoal, glass and war ships. The destruction of forests also became a military priority because they shielded and hid rebels opposing British rule.

Forests now occupy 11 per cent of Ireland and the country is committed to reaching 18 per cent coverage by 2050 with the hopes of offsetting its growing carbon footprint from dairy farms, vehicles and fossil-fuel power plants.

But most private interests and foresters can’t be bothered to replant what was lost. To date, the vast majority of Ireland’s new tree plantations consist of conifers including Canadian lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) or Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis). Why? Because they grow fast.

Yet industrial monocultures of lodgepole pines have acidified soils and waterways while plantations of Sitka spruce have crowded out native wildlife and created what rural residents describe as “load of crap forestry.”

“The Irish now know that the Pinas contorta are killing trout lakes and now they are taking the trees out,” added Beresford-Kroeger.

A rare mountain blue fir towers above Beresford-Kroeger’s home in the township of Loyalist, Ontario. Her former home of Ireland, once 80 per cent forested, aims for 18 per cent by 2050. Photo for The Tyee by Colin Rowe. 

The plain-speaking botanist also explains why the Irish didn’t plant native species like oak in the first place.
“Because there is more work involved in the planting of an oak tree than a pine. It is only laziness. That’s is all.”
She has observed the same convenient behavior in her own community in Ontario where native trees once flourished in poor soil.
“Our neighbours planted a jack pine, a tree from the arctic (Pinus banksiana). But they should have planted white cedar and hemlock. We are doing everything arse backwards and putting the cart before the horse.”

California has made the same modern mistake. It planted the alien eucalyptus because it grows rapidly.

The eucalyptus doesn’t shed its leaves but loses its bark which is full of resin and has a low flashpoint.

“It is like throwing petrol on a fire,” says Beresford-Kroeger. “They are a dangerous tree in California,” given the number of people throwing “beefers, reefers and all kind of cigarettes out the car window.”

In their native Australia, 900 species of eucalyptus trees are finely tuned to the landscape and at one time helped to ensure rainfall patterns now disrupted by the recent felling of 40 per cent of that continent’s native forest.

Instead of foreign trees, Californians should have planted more native redwoods and the giant sequoia, advised Beresford-Kroeger.

“They are tolerant of fires. Even with a quick flash fire, a redwood isn’t going to bat an eyeball. In fact a little ash around the tree will help make it more fertile. The redwood acts like a firewall and protects more open pastures and other trees in the area, not to mention houses.”

The redwood, which sports fire-resistant bark that can grow up to two feet thick, also plays another important role, says Beresford-Kroeger.

The giant redwoods gather moisture from the ocean. “They drink mist which is pure water and it saturates the trees,” explained the botanist. “They become condenser units. The trees make the whole area of California much safer from fire and fills the aquifers.”

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Diana Beresford-Kroeger on the trick to planting 48 billion trees: ‘Get them in and get them growing.’ Photo for The Tyee by Colin Rowe. 

Approximately 300 hundred million years ago, trees transformed a toxic cloud of CO2 in the global atmosphere into something that could sustain life by sequestering carbon and manufacturing molecular oxygen.

Beresfored-Kroeger thinks native trees planted in the right place can play a major role again in global history. Doing so is an answer to people who ask, what I can do?

“I think taking care of rare or native tree personalizes the response with hope. It puts the first boot on the ground.”

But she acknowledges that it is not the ultimate solution to climate change. Rather, “it is a means of reversing the damage done and of buying us time to find the solution, of stabilizing the climate long enough to address our destructive behaviours in earnest,” she writes in To Speak for the Trees.

Beresford-Kroeger believes that something as humble as planting hairy hickory in southern Ontario or an endangered Garry oak in southwestern British Columbia can seed a cultural revolution, too.

At the same time, she argues in a piece she’s written for The Tyee which runs today, the devastation of the world’s forests makes urgent using natural cloning and the creation of a “living bank of tree seeds” to “either mend or amend what remains of our global forests.”

My two-day visit with the brilliant botanist, and now friend, is winding down. Before it’s over, she again musters that liberation of the mind the Celts called saoirse in making the case why it is good and necessary for each of us to plant a native tree.

“If we start with something as small as an acorn and nurture it into an oak, a master tree that we have grown and protect and are the steward of, if we have that kind of thinking on a mass scale, then the planet is no longer in jeopardy from our greed.”

This ends our five-part series drawn from Tyee contributing editor Andrew Nikiforuk’s two-day visit with botanist Diana Beresford-Kroeger. Find the entire series here.



So should we just plant a bunch of trees everywhere, or what?

If Teck offered lessons, it’s not clear Alberta is learning them

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews insists the federal government is mainly to blame for the cancellation of the Teck Resources oilsands project.

By the time the Frontier mega-mine proposal died a swift and unexpected death last week, the proposal had taken on a national significance that dwarfed even the 29,000 acres of forest and wetland it sought to take over.

To Alberta’s United Conservative government, its approval would indicate whether Prime Minster Justin Trudeau really supported the oilsands. To environmentalists, it was a scourge.

But to Teck Resources, the Vancouver-based company behind it, it was a chance to balance oilsands development with environmental rigour, in a project they believe should have satisfied both sides. But, they argued in their letter to the federal environment minister, Canadian regulations have not caught up.

Global markets are changing fast, Don Lindsay, CEO of Teck, wrote in the letter last weekend.

“Investors and customers are increasingly looking for jurisdictions to have a framework in place that reconciles resource development and climate change,” he said.

“This does not yet exist here today.”

But if it’s true that oilsands projects are now forever tangled up in the climate change debate, observers say Alberta isn’t learning that lesson.

Mike Holden, the vice-president of policy and chief economist of the Business Council of Alberta, said he was surprised that the provincial budget had lots of plans for what they hope is a coming upswing in the oil industry, but almost nothing to say about climate change.

“I think that there was an opportunity that the province could have taken to spell out a climate strategy that could have helped with investor confidence, that could have helped with sending a message to the federal government that it was serious about working in this area, and it didn’t do that,” he said.

“That’s not to say that it might not at some point down the road, but it was fairly silent.”

The budget has one reference to the global challenge that is climate change, and notes that Alberta’s “global leadership in clean energy and (greenhouse gas reducing) technologies is also key to investment attraction.”

It also includes their TIER, or Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction, program, which places a $30 per tonne tax on large emitters. According to the budget, it will put $969 million into climate technology and emission reduction over 3 years.

Despite Teck’s lengthy letter, Alberta government officials don’t believe that the Teck cited the real reason for cancelling the project.

When asked about Teck’s decision in advance of the budget being tabled Thursday, Finance Minister Travis Toews cast the blame east.

“We have a federal government who didn’t categorically affirm its support for a project that’s gone through in every environmental hurdle put in front of them,” Toews said.

“The fact that the goal posts were seemingly, potentially to be adjusted at the last minute has a profound effect.”

In this, Toews echoed Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who has put the blame for the cancellation at the feet of rail blockade protesters across the country who have been affecting transportation for nearly three weeks, as well as federal inaction.

On Monday, Kenney said “there is absolutely no doubt” that the blame for the decision lies with the federal government and called for action from Ottawa to restore investor confidence in the province.

But Chris Severson-Baker, the Alberta regional director of the Pembina Institute, says sound climate policy is a major way to attract investors. It’s possible to pursue climate goals while still investing in oil development, he said, but there should be incentives for projects or types of development that are lower in carbon.

He said he was disappointed to see little talk of climate in the new budget, especially as the current federal government plans for Canada to be carbon-neutral by 2050.

He points to the oil industry leaders who have publicly supported a carbon tax. He says that many in the industry realize that many big oil projects now have to prove their green bonafides to get approval.

“Until this is resolved, it’s going to be a barrier to make further investments in Canada and in Alberta,” said Severson-Baker. SOURCE

Talks between Wet’suwet’en and Canadian state won’t produce a quick fix

Wet’suwet’en supporters in East Vancouver demanding the RCMP leave the nation’s traditional territory. February 19, 2020. Photograph by Jesse Winter

For the past three weeks, Indigenous-led demonstrations have blocked rail lines across the country in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en pipeline opponents in British Columbia.

And for three weeks, authorities have played a cat-and-mouse game in response, pursuing blockaders with court injunctions and arrests as more demonstrations flared up across the country.

The first sign that the impasse could be resolved emerged Thursday, when key demands of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs were met and the chiefs agreed to meet with provincial and federal officials.

But a long history of similar conflicts between settlers and Indigenous people in Canada suggests tumult will likely persist until the country reckons with its colonial legacy, said Lee Maracle, a member of Sto:Loh Nation in B.C. and an Indigenous studies instructor at the University of Toronto.

“This is going to go on and on,” she said. “We have been asking for this conversation (on Indigenous rights) ever since the beginning of Canada.”

Solidarity demonstrations erupted across the country earlier this month after the RCMP raided Wet’suwet’en camps on the nation’s traditional northern B.C. territory. Organizers have said they won’t stop until the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ demands ⁠— to have the RCMP and Coastal GasLink off their land ⁠— are met.

On Thursday, Coastal GasLink agreed to pause pre-construction work on Wet’suwet’en territory for two days to allow for talks, and the RCMP have agreed to stop patrols and pull out of a mobile detachment nearby. The hereditary chiefs met with federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett on Thursday, with plans to meet with her B.C. counterpart, Scott Fraser, on Friday.

In the longer run, however, a reconciliation between the two sides seems more difficult: the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ want a permanent halt to the pipeline, but the B.C. government has been unwilling to stop the project. And the federal government would like the solidarity blockades to end, something the hereditary chiefs have said they won’t ask other nations to do.

Though sparked by Coastal GasLink, the Wet’suwet’en solidarity movement has also tapped into an older anger that can be traced back to the founding of the Canadian state.

‘We’ve seen conflict after conflict transpire in a very predictable way’

Nearly every aspect of life as an Indigenous person in the country is regulated by either the colonial Indian Act or a piece of Canadian law that followed, a profoundly frustrating way to live, said Tara Williamson, an Anishinaabe/Nehayo scholar and research fellow with the Yellowhead Institute, a think-tank focused on Indigenous self-determination.

Experts say the Wet’suwet’en solidarity movement was predictable and will continue until Canada fundamentally changes its relationship with Indigenous people.

“It is so difficult to live as an Indigenous person in Canada,” she said. “It’s not a moment, it’s been a movement built upon lots of frustration.”

There are fundamental truths at play.

Canada’s foundation and continued existence relies on land stolen from Indigenous peoples. It relies on broken treaties that were supposed to create a nation-to-nation relationship⁠ and on the occupation of unceded territories where no agreement even exists. And it relies on the trauma inflicted by those processes, then and now.

People living on scores of First Nations reserves continue to live under boil-water advisories, despite election promises from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Youth suicides are a longstanding crisis in Indigenous communities, as are higher levels of poverty and violence.

Sean Carleton, an assistant professor at Mount Royal University who studies the history of Indigenous-settler relations, said the battle between the Wet’suwet’en and the backers and supporters ofCoastal GasLink is a repetition of an old pattern. It usually goes something like this, he said: Canada wants something. Indigenous people want to negotiate. Canada doesn’t like it and uses force to get its way.

If political leaders don’t want the same processes to play out again and again, they need to try something different and form real nation-to-nation relationships, he said.

“We’ve seen conflict after conflict transpire in a very predictable way,” he said. “Learn from it so that we don’t have to do this again.”

These truths must be recognized before Canada can truly move forward in reconciliation, Williamson said.

“I appreciate that it must be really difficult for the average Canadian to learn the truth about what’s happened,” she said.

“But nothing will change if they don’t.” SOURCE

Can Canada reconcile oil and the environment?

Image result for Elamin Rosemary barton

This week, Justin Trudeau’s cabinet had a tough decision on the docket: approve the Teck Frontier oilsands mine in Alberta, or turn it down? Turns out, they never had to make the call, as the company announced on Sunday they were pulling the project.

Teck’s CEO hoped the withdrawal might “allow Canadians to shift to a larger and more positive discussion about the path forward,” which has Rosie wondering — can we move forward on reconciling resource extraction and climate change?

And how can policymakers have that conversation, without getting bogged down in partisan politics?

Plus, with “reconcile” on the mind, Elamin looks into how the latest round of land rights protests — and the political response to them — might affect reconciliation. 25:19



Readers share their zero-waste shopping tips

(Isabel Terrell/CBC)

Last week, Isabel Terrell wrote about her one-week attempt to buy groceries without packaging. She cited a number of wins, produce being the most obvious. But she also experienced some frustration — for example, in sourcing frozen foods and cooking oil without excessive packaging.

We asked readers to share their own triumphs and setbacks in zero-waste grocery shopping.

Wendy Jeske in Tsawwassen, B.C., had suggestions for protein items: “I have been buying meats from the butcher counter, so that they are wrapped in paper (as my mother used to do!), rather than buying meat that is placed on a plastic tray and wrapped in plastic film.” Jeske also said that she gets her eggs “from a local farm and they want the cardboard cartons only, so I keep returning them to the farm. No styrofoam or plastic cartons! Yay!”

Catherine Irwin-Gibson in Montreal said her fishmonger gives her “a 15 per cent discount for my own container, and just zeroes the scale with my container on it, then prints the label for the cost. Yes, there is a label and that’s the waste, but it’s much lower than the whole packaging and styrofoam and such nonsense like that.”

Irwin-Gibson also had a fix for frozen food. “Buy [produce items] fresh when they’re in season and freeze them yourself. That’s really the only way to avoid packaging.”

“I dusted off my bread machine and I make my own,” said Marcia Parker.

Kiirsti Owen in Truro, N.S., said she brings her own growler (large bottle) to local breweries to get beer and cider. She also put in a plug for the SodaStream home-carbonization system: “I was skeptical at first, but it’s greatly reduced the number of bottles/cans we use.”

Kaitie Hoffmann in Toronto rhymed off a list of things she has “successfully gotten package-free: meats (bacon, chicken breast, ground meat), cheese, milk, yoghurt, sour cream, cream cheese, bacon, breads, fresh and frozen veggies and fruit, oils (olive, etc.), spices, pasta, oatmeal, potato chips, honey, crackers, tortilla chips, peanut butter, chocolate bars, coffee, tea… you name it.” She accomplished this, she said, by bringing her own containers to bulk and grocery stores.

Alex Denicola has “completely eliminated plastic bottled liquid soap for both dishes (hand-washed) and the bathroom sink and shower for over 10 years now. We use both a ‘laundry bar’ soap and a ‘shampoo and conditioner’ bar soap made by a Toronto company, and they awesomely come with zero wrapping. What we do in the kitchen is simply run or pour hot water over the soap bar, and voila, we have a sink or basin of sudsy water.”

Some readers bemoaned the fact that it’s hard to go zero-waste outside of Canada’s urban centres.

Ghita Jones in Calgary talked about her efforts to live zero-waste, and made this point: “I do not live in the downtown core so I have to drive, with my containers, to get them refilled. The question comes up: Is it better to drive (I do not have an electric car, am on maternity leave with two children) and create more emissions and wear and tear on my third-hand vehicle to refill my cleaning products (that are more expensive) rather than buying some while I grocery shop at the local store that is five minutes away from my home?”

Julie Poole in Swan River, Man., wrote, “even though [zero-waste shopping] is possible in big cities like Toronto and Vancouver, it is actually totally impossible in rural Canada.” She said she wrote in “to voice my frustration that I want to do better, but the things I need are not available where I live. No bulk foods and no butcher.”

Kaitie Hoffman offered this parting insight: “I have heard that ‘it’s not about a small group of people doing this perfectly, it’s about a large group of people doing this imperfectly.’ I think that is an amazing message that hopefully will resonate with your readers and beyond. It’s not about going 100 per cent plastic/packaging-free — it’s about avoiding single-use plastics and other packaging where you can.” SOURCE


How I gave up plastic bottles for shampoo, dish soap, and rinse aid

Can Canada find a housing solution for its homeless? These advocates think so

The Homes For Heroes Foundation was developed in response to the growing number of military veterans who are facing a crisis as they return to civilian life and find themselves on the path to homelessness. (Homes for Heroes)

Every day in Canada, thousands of people are living on the streets. And the situation is only getting worse.
Since 2006, Toronto’s homeless population has nearly doubled to more than 9,000. There are more than 2,200 people without homes in Vancouver, while Calgary’s homeless population sits at 3,000. National estimates put the number of Canadians who are inadequately housed at 35,000.

For one of the richest countries in the world, these statistics are staggering. The Sunday Edition‘s Michael Enright spoke to three housing advocates who are determined to find solutions.

Abi Bond is the executive director of the City of Toronto’s Housing Secretariat. (City of Toronto)


“It’s a really urgent, difficult situation for people who are homeless right now,” said Abi Bond, the newly appointed executive director of Toronto’s Housing Secretariat. She has been charged with implementing Toronto’s new housing action plan, which city council passed in December. She has more than 20 years of experience in government and the community housing sector, most recently in Vancouver.

“That challenge to find housing and keep it is actually facing many more people in our community, not just those who are homeless,” Bond told Enright. She explained that Toronto hasn’t managed to keep up with rental housing needs and there hasn’t been alignment on the issue between all levels of government.

Jennifer Breakspear is the executive director of SARA for Women, a non-profit society in B.C.’s Fraser Valley. (Submitted by Jennifer Breakspear)


Jennifer Breakspear is the executive director of SARA for Women, a non-profit society in B.C.’s Fraser Valley that provides housing and other services to women and children fleeing violence. She spoke of similar concerns in Vancouver.

“The pressure on the affordable housing or the pressure on rental housing that is here is huge,” she said.

Breakspear has also led a number of B.C. non-profit organizations, including the PHS Community Services Society, which provides housing and health care in Victoria and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

While Bond and Breakspear are focusing on citywide efforts to find a solution, Dave Howard, president and co-founder of the Homes for Heroes Foundation, is turning his attention to veterans.

Dave Howard is president and co-founder of the Homes for Heroes Foundation in Calgary. (Homes for Heroes)


“We created the Homes for Heroes Foundation to focus on assisting our vets that are having a difficult time transitioning and are experiencing homelessness,” Howard told Enright. In November, the organization opened 15 self-contained tiny homes for vets in southeast Calgary.

Modular housing

A common thread between Bond, Breakspear and Howard’s work is the concept of temporary modular housing.

“Temporary modular housing is housing that is erected quickly but not meant to be ‘permanent,'” explained Breakspear. “The idea there is that we can get someone off the streets quite quickly and they have a place they can call a home while [hopefully] other permanent supportive housing is being built further upstream.”

Bond and Breakspear both worked with the City of Vancouver to build 600 modular housing units in under two years.

Bond explained that these modular units were high-quality, up-to-code housing that could be moved to another site.

“So it’s a great opportunity that has provided flexibility for us in Vancouver and something that we’re keen to explore in Toronto as well,” she added.

The houses built by Howard’s foundation can also go up quickly and come down easily.

“We can have the site prepped and housing onsite between three and four months,” he explained. His foundation currently has a 25-year lease on a site in Edmonton.

“At the end of that term, we can pick these homes up and take them off,” he added.

Housing followed by support

Once housed, providing support to residents is important. Breakspear said that when she was working at PHS, mental health workers offered around-the-clock support. She says SARA for Women is looking to provide similar support, as well as legal assistance.

Homes for Heroes also has a resource centre onsite at its Calgary location. Howard said some veterans at that location have made quick and significant progress.

“We have three [veterans] who were unemployed and living on the street. They’re now working,” he said. “In three months they have gone from living on the streets to a home to working and to working on themselves. That’s incredible.”

Varying support

Support from local and provincial governments has varied when it comes to these housing initiatives.

Breakspear said some of the municipal governments have been active and supportive partners.

“I’m enjoying some really productive conversations with the folks in the district of Mission in the Fraser Valley as well,” she added. “But in some of the communities, there hasn’t been the same leadership. Non-profits and the provincial government trying to set up this housing are not getting the type of support that we enjoyed here in Vancouver.”

Howard says that when it comes to veterans, many cities believe housing is a federal issue.

“It’s individuals that have made our program successful,” he explained. “Veterans Affairs does help out with some of the funding for social servicing and our onsite counselor. But outside of that, this was 95 per cent private money.”

The problem of NIMBY-ism

One of the common challenges when devising solutions to homelessness is NIMBY-ism: not in my backyard.

Howard recalled one open house where some people expressed concerns about veterans endangering the neighbourhood children. Bond heard similar complaints from community members in Vancouver. She says research done by BC Housing shows there’s nothing for residents to worry about.

“But the research won’t necessarily change all hearts and minds,” she noted.

Bond stresses the importance of providing information to community members and talking about who’s joining their communities and what support they’re getting.

Breakspear said that one of the issues she ran into was people saying they didn’t want to bring the homeless into their community.

“What we tried to help them understand was we’re not bringing anyone anywhere. We’re actually housing your neighbours,” she said.

“Once we turn the light on, we provide housing and shelter, they’re able to come out of the dark in their own neighbourhood and be safely housed and become much more productive members of that neighbourhood.”

Federal, B.C. ministers wrap talks for the day with hereditary chiefs who oppose gas pipeline

Mood in the room was ‘very good, very respectful,’ B.C.’s Indigenous Relations Minister says

B.C. Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser said the mood at Thursday’s meeting between government ministers and hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en was ‘very good, very respectful.’ (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en who oppose a B.C. pipeline sat down Thursday with senior government ministers to discuss the dispute that has caused protests across the country, shutting down freight and passenger rail services.

Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and British Columbia Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser began the long-sought talks in the late afternoon and wrapped after about three hours, with a plan to resume Friday morning.

“Productive talks and we’re continuing tomorrow,” said Fraser, adding the mood in the room was “very good, very respectful” but it’s not appropriate to discuss the details of what took place.

“We don’t want to jeopardize anything. We had a productive day today and we’re hoping for a very solid day tomorrow, too.”

Bennett said it was a “very good start.”

No statement from Chief Na’Moks

Freda Huson, a spokesperson for the Unist’ot’en camp that has been set up near the pipeline work site, said the meeting Thursday only covered introductions and the mood was respectful. She said she will not attend on Friday because the meeting will only involve the head chiefs and government officials.

Hereditary Chief Na’Moks, also known as John Ridsdale, left without making a statement.

Chief Na’Moks, a spokesperson for the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, left Thursday’s meeting without making a statement. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)


Before the meeting began, both the RCMP and Coastal GasLink said they agreed to conditions requested by the chiefs to allow the discussions to progress.

The natural gas company agreed to a two-day pause in its activities in northwestern B.C., while the RCMP committed to ending patrols along a critical roadway while the negotiations unfold.

The chiefs praised the moves in a statement released before the talks got underway.

“We believe these conditions provide the space we need to be able to sit down at the table in good faith and a positive path forward,” the statement read.

“We are so close and have called on the provincial and federal governments to support this de-escalation of activities so that this issue can be resolved.”

‘First step’

The chiefs said the meeting with Bennett and Fraser is a “first step,” noting both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier John Horgan declined invitations to discuss the long-simmering issues that have gained fresh urgency in recent weeks.

The chiefs’ opposition to a natural gas pipeline cutting across their traditional territory, coupled with their efforts to limit police presence on their lands, have sparked shows of support across the country that have halted rail service for the past three weeks.

Bennett said she hoped the meetings would pave the way to end the dispute and protests.

“Obviously this is very important,” she said moments after arriving in Smithers, B.C. “We reaffirm our interest in talking to the Wet’suwet’en Nation and their issues of title and rights.”

Premier John Horgan, who declined an invitation to the talks, said the best government representatives for the meetings are Fraser, who understands the community’s governance issues and federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett. (Michael McArthur/CBC)


Horgan said he has met with the hereditary leaders twice over the past year and a half and is prepared to sit down with them again, but there need to be conditions for constructive dialogue.

Fraser understands the community’s governance issues and Bennett represents the Crown in Canada, so the best way forward is for them to be at the table, he said.

“I think that this is a good step. I’ve been seeking peaceful dialogue for a couple of weeks and here we are,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to harmony as a result of those discussions.”

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said the meeting was a victory for open dialogue and peaceful resolution, but it is only the beginning as there are underlying rights and title issues that will take time to resolve.

A divided community

Wet’suwet’en community members are divided on the pipeline and about a dozen supporters of the project gathered outside the Office of the Wet’suwet’en while the meeting took place.

Bonnie George, a former Coastal GasLink employee who describes herself as a Wet’suwet’en matriarch, handed out a statement that she attributed to the Wet’suwet’en people.

“The public attention brought to our community is having a negative effect on our people and eroding our traditional ways,” George said, reading from the statement.

People marched in Ottawa on Monday during a rally in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the Costal GasLink pipeline. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)


Hereditary chiefs are not decision-makers on their own and are instead meant to reflect the consensus of their clan or house and reach decisions together inside a traditional setting called a Feast House, she said.

George said she wasn’t invited to the meeting but she went into the room with others and they made a statement, telling the gathering that the entire nation needs to be represented.

Anti-pipeline demonstrators marched to block a container truck entrance in Vancouver on Monday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)


The dispute over the Coastal GasLink pipeline project has been raging for months, but entered a new phase on Dec. 31, 2019, when the B.C. Supreme Court granted the company an injunction calling for the removal of any obstructions from any roads, bridges or work sites it has been authorized to use in Wet’suwet’en territory.

The RCMP moved in to enforce that injunction on Feb. 6. Hours later, protesters started holding up railway traffic outside of Belleville, Ont., in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, thwarting freight and passenger rail travel.

Political conflict

In Ottawa, one Conservative MP questioned Thursday whether the blockades constitute acts of terrorism.

Doug Shipley put the question to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair during testimony at the House of Commons public safety and national security committee.

The rookie MP said he was asking on behalf of a constituent who sent him an email after a handful of protesters in the Belleville area lit fires near and on railway tracks the day before actions that were denounced by Trudeau.

“This resident wanted to know if the current illegal blockades that are happening across Canada are being deemed as a terrorist activity?” Shipley asked.

Blair said they were not, adding the government should not interfere with the police’s ability to identify and investigate criminal activity in their jurisdiction.

“It’s very appropriate that I be careful in doing that because I do not want to interfere with the operational independence of both the police and our prosecutors,” he said. “But at the same time that was terribly unsafe, deeply concerning.”

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair, right, speaks with RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki as they wait to appear before the standing committee on public safety and national security on Thursday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)


RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki testified at the same committee hearing, saying the Mounties have discretion on how to enforce an injunction.

“Of course, enforcement is the last option,” she said. “It’s about dialogue and trying to find a peaceful resolution to the

The Ontario Provincial Police took down a major blockade near Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory earlier this week. But about 20 demonstrators gathered near train tracks in Kingston, Ont., farther east along the same line, on Thursday morning.

Local police said the group gathered on the Canadian National Railway Co. overpass, but train traffic had not been affected and officers were monitoring the situation.

Police in Victoria said two protesters were arrested for mischief after using a substance to write messages that included profanity on the building, driveway and walkway of the B.C. legislature. SOURCE

Even if geoengineering can help mitigate climate change, is it ethical?

(Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/Getty Images)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and scientists from around the world have said it time and again: CO2 emissions need to be radically reduced in order to stop the world from warming to a point where it will trigger catastrophic climate change.

But radical reductions aren’t in place right now, which is why some scientists and policymakers are considering a controversial option: geoengineering, or the deliberate manipulation of the environment.

The discussion has recently taken centre stage as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S. received $4 million to research geoengineering, with no confirmation as to what that might look like.

One of the more popular methods of geoengineering is solar radiation management (SRM). In this method, particles of sulphur or calcium carbonate are sprayed into the stratosphere, which makes solar radiation “bounce” off clouds back into space, creating a cooling effect. It’s the same process that happens after a large volcanic eruption.

There are many issues concerning the potential of employing such a method, including whether it is scientifically possible, economically viable and how a body like the United Nations might govern its use.

But another big one is whether it is ethical.

Thus far, geoengineering studies have been done primarily in labs using models. It’s unknown whether it would produce the desired effect on a larger scale or what the consequences might be.

However, several studies that have modelled SRM find that large-scale use of it could increase precipitation in some parts of the world — potentially in some of the regions in the tropics.

“If you’re talking about justice and equity, then the impacts of changing rainfall patterns are going to fall disproportionately on the poorest around the world,” said Emily Cox, an environmental policy researcher at Cardiff University as well as the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the U.K.

Cox also noted that there is a philosophical discussion around intentional versus unintentional harm. For example, burning coal and emitting CO2 isn’t limited to borders and is already causing unintended consequences. Similarly, if we employ SRM, we could be causing unintentional harm for other countries.

“Everything we do affects other nations,” she said.

David Keith is a Canadian professor of applied physics at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University, which is home to one of the leading geoengineering labs in the world. He disputes the findings that state SRM will increase precipitation.

“We had a big paper that was very well reported last year in [the journal] Nature Climate Change that contradicts that assumption,” he said.

There is clearly still dispute over the effects of geoengineering, but given the potential differences in outcome, it’s unlikely every country in the world will agree on the specifics of SRM. So what happens when one country says it doesn’t support it? How ethical would it be for another country to simply proceed?

There are “big philosophical questions here,” said Cox. As a result, “there’s a real danger of polarization.” SOURCE

Fallout from coronavirus outbreak triggers 25% decrease in China’s carbon emissions

‘In terms of the absolute volume of emissions, this is absolutely unprecedented,’ researcher says

A man wearing a face mask rides a bicycle on a bridge over Yangtze River in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak in China. (Reuters)

In the midst of China’s COVID-19 epidemic, the conditions for an unprecedented climate experiment have emerged.

Climate researchers can measure in real time what happens to carbon emissions when one of the world’s largest economies is suddenly stalled, with entire cities locked down, highways emptied, airplanes grounded, factories shuttered and millions of people confined to their homes.

A continent away, from his base in Helsinki, Finland, Lauri Myllyvirta was able to piece together industry and financial data sources and satellite imagery to calculate the epidemic’s impact on emissions: a decrease of about 25% in three weeks.

“In terms of the absolute volume of emissions, this is absolutely unprecedented,” he said. MORE

How Canadians can prepare for coronavirus outbreak