Put down that veggie burger. These farmers say their cows can solve the climate crisis

Reitz, South Africa (CNN)Danie Slabbert points toward the cattle that brought his farm back to life. Down the slope ahead of him, 500 black Drakensberger and mottled Nguni cows graze cheek by jowl.

The Free State farmer gestures with his giant shepherd’s crook.
“If cattle are part of nature, like they are now, then my cows are keeping the system alive,” he says. “How could you think that meat is the problem?”
Calls for plant-based diets to save the planet from the climate crisis are growing louder. But there is another, quieter, revolution reshaping the agricultural world. Farmers like Slabbert and their supporters say that what people eat is not as important as how they farm. They believe cattle and cropland could help save the planet.
“I have become a steward of this land and the cows are the key,” Slabbert says.

Mimicking the migration

Before settlers arrived with their guns and wagons, this part of what is now South Africa’s Free State province was an immense grassland. More than 30 species of grass anchored the rolling plains; fodder for millions of migrating antelope.

Danie Slabbert walks along a low voltage wire that keeps 500 cattle grazing in a dense herd to replicate bison or antelope herds. The high-intensity grazing helps with natural fertilizing and grass health.

Danie Slabbert walks along a low voltage wire that keeps 500 cattle grazing in a dense herd to replicate bison or antelope herds. The high-intensity grazing helps with natural fertilizing and grass health.
Over time, the wild herds were shot out and much of the plains became corn and potato fields.
There is still plenty of grassland here, or veld, as South Africans call it. Farmers such as Slabbert are looking back to those immense herds to recreate the natural cycle.
“What we are doing is trying to mimic nature,” he says, explaining that 200 years ago, huge herds of animals would have moved over this veld, avoiding predators in their tightly packed groups.”
Slabbert says he has rejuvenated the land by drastically increasing his cattle herd. He hems the animals into a rectangular patch of grassland with a low-current wire. For several hours, they eat all of the grasses they can find before the wire lifts, and the cattle rapidly move into a new section.
They are always moving, never selectively eating, just like a migratory herd. The method is called ultra-high density grazing. “These cattle are replenishing the land,” Slabbert says.

Five hundred cows and a few oxen graze in tight formation in a penned off part of Danie Slabbert's veld. The cows must eat all the grass, allowing better grasses to survive. Counterintuitively, though well proven with multiple studies, the more cattle he has in this system (to a point), the better the soil and grassland health.

Five hundred cows and a few oxen graze in tight formation in a penned off part of Danie Slabbert’s veld. The cows must eat all the grass, allowing better grasses to survive. Counterintuitively, though well proven with multiple studies, the more cattle he has in this system (to a point), the better the soil and grassland health.
As they eat, the cows do what livestock do. Slabbert kneels down, pulls apart a pile of cow dung, and tenderly picks out a beetle. It lies dormant for a second, then uncurls its legs and strolls across his hand.
“These guys are one of the heroes of the story,” he says, as he gingerly places the dung beetle into its hole. The small insects break up the dung, the big ones haul the natural fertilizer deeper into the soil.
Conventional thinking says that cows are bad for climate change. After all, livestock contribute to around 14% of all global emissions. Researchers at UC Davis estimate that a single cow can belch around 220 pounds — roughly 100 kilograms — of methane each year. There are more than a billion cows on the planet, so that is a lot of (greenhouse) gas.
But cows didn’t evolve to sit in feedlots getting fat. Their wild relatives were out in the grassland in large numbers, just like on Slabbert’s farm.
Researchers at Texas A&M University led by Professor Richard Teague found that even moderately effective grazing systems put more carbon in the soil than the gasses cattle emit. Around 30% to 40% of the earth’s surface is natural grassland, and Teague says the potential for food security is immense.
“We studied farms and ranchers that had the highest soil carbon, and, with no exception, they managed their land following the principles where they were trying to do exactly what the bison did. They were trying to improve their land and their profits,” Teague said.

It’s all about the soil

The key to climate sustainable agriculture is the soil, because soil has an extraordinary ability to store carbon. There is more than three times as much carbon in the world’s soils than in the atmosphere, and scientists say that with better management, agricultural soils could absorb much more carbon in the future.
Even a change of a few percentage points would make a huge difference to the battle against the climate crisis. There is an upper limit to how much carbon soils can carry, but it can take decades to get to that point.
Plants absorb carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, and then put it in the soil through their roots. More carbon is stored in the ground through organic matter and microorganisms. Taking CO2 out of the atmosphere is important, because humans put so much of the greenhouse gas in, for example through burning fossil fuels.
But to be able to store carbon, soil needs to be alive and left relatively undisturbed.
For decades, farmers across the world have ploughed their fields, pumped them with fertilizers and sprayed herbicides. Soil doesn’t need to be alive with modern agriculture; it became a medium for inputs. But it also lost its carbon along the way.
Many farmers and scientists say that the chemical revolution came at a cost and they want to bring the soil back to life. They believe that living soil harnesses sustainable yields and will help the planet.
And to do that, they must combine cattle with crops.
In North America and in South Africa commercial agriculture, crop farming and cattle ranching are generally done by different farmers on different land.
The key to regenerative farming is combining the two. Slabbert never ploughs his corn fields or leaves them fallow, so he is able to keep the carbon in the soil. The corn is tightly packed — he doesn’t need to get in there to spray.

In this farming system, the corn is tightly packed. The fields can look less uniform, but the yields are often strong.

In winter, his cattle herds will come here too and eat the residual corn, depositing natural fertilizer as they go. Slabbert has reduced his fertilizer and chemical input costs drastically, but his yields stay strong.
This begs the question, why isn’t everyone doing it?

Stacked against their favor

For one, shifting away from chemicals takes time. It can also lead to reduced yields in the short term.
The pressure to produce more crops has transformed the agricultural land. Large swathes of land are now used to grow just one crop at a time.
In production terms, that recipe has worked. In the US alone, agricultural production grew by 170% between 1948 and 2015 according to the US Department of Agriculture.
But while it leads to higher yields in the short-term, multiple studies show that ploughing, fertilizing and using chemical pesticides on the soil dramatically inhibits its long-term health.
The US Department of Agriculture estimates that in 2015, US farmers used 22 million short tons of fertilizer for plant production, or around 44 billion pounds (nearly 20 billion kilograms).

A tiny Dung Beetle crawls over Danie Slabbert's hand. "These are one of the heroes of the story, he says. By limiting pesticides, natural biological systems that include dung beetles, earth worms and micro-organisms help rejuvenate soil health.

For Art Cullen, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist reporting from the heart of Iowa’s corn country, the industry servicing agriculture is the problem itself. Cullen has spent a career living among, listening to and reporting on farmers. The editor of the Storm Lake Times, his writing has challenged powerful industrial agricultural interests in the state.
“What is really preventing the change, is all the money that is lined up. There is a lot of money invested in the agri-chemical supply chain,” says Cullen.
He says there has historically been little incentive for companies to embrace farming that limits chemicals and rejuvenates soil. And in the US, farmers are subsidized by the government to plant more corn and other crops than the market demands.
“We can actually solve the climate crisis by sequestering carbon in the soil and paying farmers to do it. And if you say to a farmer that you will pay him a dollar more to plant grass and sit on his butt, then he is going to take that deal every time,” he says.
Cullen says that strategy depends, in part, on who occupies the White House, but he says market forces will eventually drive widespread change in North America just as natural forces are driving change in Southern Africa.
“We cannot ignore this issue much longer. Nature is demanding that we change,” he says.

Surviving the crisis.

Farmer Danie Slabbert stands in one of his corn fields. The corn is tightly spaced, and he grows a cover crop under the corn that rises when the corn is harvested. In the winter, cows graze on the remaining plants. "Using the livestock is about closing cycles," he says.

Unlike in the US, South African farmers don’t get any subsidies to speak of. They need to make their farms work or they will be out of a job.
In the area where Slabbert farms, temperatures are rising at a rate double of the global average. Severe droughts in recent years have wiped out multi-generational farms and livelihoods.
“In Africa especially, we are feeling the heat. So climate change is an issue for us. I am not really a biologist or a scientist, but I can see the change in my short lifetime,” says Slabbert.
Research has shown that when droughts hit, regenerative farmers often survive while others go under. Their land retains water better and grazing systems make the grass more robust.
Slabbert’s farm is better at surviving climate change. And on a global scale, farming like this could help solve climate change.
“We need to go back to our roots as farmers and as people connected to the land and soil,” he says. “Change is very difficult and it will take time. But change will happen — it will have to happen.” SOURCE

B.C. taxpayers on the hook for $1.2 billion in mine cleanup costs: chief inspector report

Companies can operate mines in the province without any assurance they can cover the full costs of reclamation activities and a new annual report — which finds liabilities have grown to $2.8 billion — is emboldening calls for regulatory reform

Image result for the narwhal: B.C. taxpayers on the hook for $1.2 billion in mine cleanup costs: chief inspector report

A view of the Brucejack mine site, located in northwest B.C. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

British Columbians are still on the hook for more than $1 billion in clean-up costs for the province’s mines, according to a new report from B.C.’s Chief Inspector of Mines. The recently released 2018 annual report says the province has secured $1.6 billion in bonds from mining companies to cover land reclamation costs but estimates the total cost of reclamation is $2.8 billion.

If a mining company goes bankrupt, taxpayers are left to deal with abandoned mines or contaminated sites like the Mount Washington copper mine on Vancouver Island, abandoned by Japanese investors in the 1960s after three years of operation.

Criticism of B.C.’s antiquated mining laws has heightened in recent years, especially following the collapse of a tailings pond at the Mount Polley mine, which sent 24 billion litres of contaminated wastewater into the local environment, including Quesnel Lake, important habitat for sockeye salmon and a source of drinking water. The B.C. public shouldered $40 million in cleanup costs for the disaster and no charges or financial penalties were levied against Mount Polley owner and operator Imperial Metals.

No ‘hard commitment’ to cleanup

The chief inspector’s new report adds all the more urgency to discussions taking place in the provincial government around mining reform, said Allen Edzerza, a member of the B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council and a citizen of the Tahltan Nation.

“Each of these mines requires a closure plan be developed as part of the initial process to get permitted and licenced,” Edzerza told The Narwhal. “You should have cash, you should have bonds, you should have insurance. If they want to create a fund and have some public money involved, that’s their decision. The point is it should be a hard commitment.”

The council has previously called for reforms to mining laws to recognize Indigenous title and land rights, to better include First Nations in the licencing process and to align with B.C.’s new legislation to enshrine the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Economist Jason Dion, who contributed to the council’s recent report on financial assurance and mines, said there is some cause for celebration in the chief inspector’s report. The province’s reclamation bonds increased by $400 million between 2016 and 2018, Dion pointed out. “That’s an awful lot of money,” he said.

The total liabilities from  B.C.’s mines have increased from $2.1 billion to $2.8 billion, according to the report, while the gap between funds secured in reclamation bonds and the estimated amount of money the province would have to pay for clean-up dropped from $1.6 billion to $1.2 billion.

Dion said it’s more challenging to procure financial assurance for existing mines, noting B.C. should create more stringent regulations for future mines.

Quebec introduced reforms to require full financial assurance and “the sky has not fallen,” he said.

Heim Tsolum River

Caroline Heim from the Tsolum River Restoration Society walks along the banks of the Tsolum River, where fish populations were decimated for years due to pollution from an abandoned copper mine on Vancouver Island. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal

B.C. considers mining reforms

In May 2019 a coalition of 30 groups released a report calling for 69 specific reforms to B.C.’s mining laws, including a requirement that mining companies provide security for

100 per cent of independently verified cleanup and reclamation cost estimates before operations begin. The group also recommended estimated reclamation costs and securities be publicly disclosed and the province require companies to carry private insurance to cover unplanned events, such as a tailings spill.

The province is currently considering reforms to B.C.’s mining laws but, according to a government intentions paper, reforms will not address growing reclamation liabilities. New legislation is expected at some point in 2020.

In a previous interview with The Narwhal, Calvin Sandborn, legal director of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, said B.C. needs better assurances from prospective mining companies that they will assume responsibility for the environmental impact of their operations.

“You need to have a guarantee that, when the mine closes up, it’s not going to leave the long-term problems that we’ve seen all over the province,” Sandborn said. “The history of mining in B.C. has been that companies come in and get the quick profit and just leave the cost to the taxpayers.”

“When are they going to ensure the polluter pays rather than taxpayers picking up the tab?”

Colin Arisman Tulsequah Chief Tulsequah River

A wastewater pond at the abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine where contaminants have been leaking into a tributary of the salmon-rich Taku River for 60 years. The Narwhal visited the site of the mine in the summer of 2019. Photo: Colin Arisman / The Narwhal

Tougher rules, better mines?

While reforms could decrease mining activity, Dion said it would likely be because tougher requirements would weed out environmentally risky projects proposed by companies that can’t bear the cost of their own risks.

Edzerza believes strengthening mining regulations would increase public confidence in the industry.

“First Nations have never said they don’t support mining. They really do want to have responsible mining goals, and ones that recognize the environment is not to be compromised,” he said.

The First Nations Energy and Mining Council’s most recent report suggests First Nations should demand full financial assurances from companies wanting to mine in Indigenous territories, through the negotiation of impact and benefits agreements.

Edzerza said he has growing confidence in First Nations’ ability to assert self-governance after watching how Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are asserting sovereignty over their lands.

The hereditary chiefs opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline are now working with the provincial and federal governments to draft an expedited rights and title agreement, he pointed out.

“The Wet’suwet’en are leading the charge right now, taking the government on.”

The Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.

The NDP government’s 2020 budget forecasts revenue from mineral tax and fees will decline 29 per cent over 2020 and 2021, due to predictions that coal prices will fall while production costs rise.

Dion said part of the reason the province doesn’t require full remediation costs from companies is because it sees some financial security in the mines themselves, which could be re-sold.

“Falling commodity prices don’t help with the risk of that unsecured portion of remediation,” he said. SOURCE

 

Switzerland’s biggest bank backs away from the oilsands

Undated photo of a UBS location in Zurich, Switzerland. UBS Photo

Switzerland’s largest bank will no longer finance new oilsands projects, part of a public effort to chop more carbon-intensive assets off its balance sheet, trim its own greenhouse gas emissions and boost sustainable investments.

But while UBS Group AG said Thursday it wants to help achieve the low-carbon transition as well as UN sustainable development goals, one environmental group that tracks fossil fuel financing said the Swiss bank was promoting an “absurdly weak policy” that failed to include a major controversial element — pipelines.

In a statement, the bank said it would no longer provide financing for oilsands projects on undeveloped land, and will only finance firms that hold over 30 per cent of reserves or production in the oilsands if those funds are going towards renewable energy or conventional oil and gas projects.

UBS is also stepping away from financing any new offshore Arctic oil sites or coal mines, and will conduct greater scrutiny on translations related to liquefied natural gas and deepwater drilling, it said.

“We aim to be the financial provider of choice for clients who want to engage toward the achievement of the United Nations sustainable development goals, while helping achieve an orderly transition to a low-carbon economy,” said UBS chairman, Axel Weber.

UBS was the ninth-biggest European financier in the oilsands, providing a total of $165,589,992 USD from 2016 to 2018, according to data compiled by the Rainforest Action Network, Oil Change International and others.

The bank said it has signed on to the Principles for Responsible Banking, a UN-led initiative that commits members to align their business strategies with the Paris Climate Agreement.

But Patrick McCully, climate and energy program director at Rainforest Action Network, said the new restrictions were designed to look good, yet have “very little if any impact on UBS’s actual activities.”

For instance, the oilsands policy does not explicitly include restricting finance for pipelines that service the oilsands, he noted.

“This is an absurdly weak policy and keeps UBS far behind its leading European competitors in terms of its restrictions for fossil fuel finance,” McCully told National Observer Friday.

Swiss bank UBS is backing away from financing new oilsands projects and committing to the Paris climate agreement. But Rainforest Action Network has called the move an “absurdly weak policy.”

“In the face of rapidly growing public concern over the climate crisis, and the accelerating awareness in the finance sector of the massive risks climate change poses to the global economy, this policy is pathetically inadequate.”

A spokesperson for UBS who wished to remain anonymous declined comment Friday for all questions from National Observer concerning the new policy.

Latest in a long line of bank announcements

UBS has held shares in several oilsands-focused companies including Suncor Energy, Canadian Natural Resources (CNRL), Cenovus Energy and Imperial Oil, according to its filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for the calendar year or quarter ended Dec. 31, 2019.

The bank has also held shares in Vancouver-based mining company Teck Resources, which recently walked away from its application to build an ambitious oilsands project called Frontier, citing the need for “clarity” as to how Canada’s climate goals fit with the exploitation of Canadian oil and gas reserves.

The Swiss bank’s new policy is the latest in a long line of banks and other financial services firms making new pronouncements on restrictions on unconventional oil and gas regions like the oilsands. Alberta’s oilsands is home to the world’s third-largest reserves of crude oil after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

It follows a decision last year by Swiss insurance giant Zurich Insurance Group that it would no longer underwrite companies that rely on profits from “the most carbon intensive” fossil fuels on the planet, including in the oilsands.

Norway’s largest public pension fund also sold off its stakes in companies with oilsands operations last year, while Italy’s UniCredit established a new policy banning financing for oilsands oil.

Europe’s biggest bank HSBC announced in 2018 it would no longer finance new oilsands projects. The French bank BNP Paribas said in 2017 it would pledge to go fossil fuel-free.

Canada is the fourth-largest oil producer and fourth-largest oil exporter of oil in the world, according to government statistics. But almost all — 96 per cent — of Canada’s proven oil reserves are in the oilsands, most of which produces a heavy type of oil that is high in sulphur.

Heavy, high-sulphur crude oil is lower quality than light crudes and more costly and complex to refine, according to the Canada Energy Regulator, a federal agency.

As the oilsands have grown they have also become a growing source of Canada’s carbon pollution. Federal statistics show that from 1990 to 2017 as crude production rose 151 per cent, almost entirely due to oilsands activity, carbon emissions from the oilsands rose 420 per cent.

By 2017 it had hit 81 million tonnes of emissions, more than the entire economies of B.C. or Quebec.

The globally accepted scientific consensus is that humanity must severely cut back on its production and consumption of fossil fuels like oil, natural gas and coal which emit carbon pollution when burned that collects in the atmosphere, trapping heat and warming the planet.

These forms of energy must be replaced with low-carbon solutions such as renewables or other non-emitting sources. Only a third of the world’s proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050, according to the International Energy Agency.

Failing to do so will lead to a large range of consequences including extreme weather events, such as more severe and frequent wildfires, floods, droughts and cold snaps, irreversible damage to ecosystems, and the spread of disease and sea level rise affecting hundreds of millions of people, disproportionately the poor and impoverished.

Dealing with the fallout from climate change will cost many trillions of dollars  SOURCE

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Expect More ‘Conflict’ If Feds Push TMX Pipeline Forward: Indigenous Negotiator

Canada has still not figured out what “duty to consult” really means.

A woman holds a sign with a drawing of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's face on a snake as protesters...

A woman holds a sign with a drawing of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s face on a snake as protesters opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline extension demonstrate in Vancouver on June 4, 2018. DARRYL DYCK/CP

OTTAWA — Canadians can expect more disruptive protests if the federal government pushes forward with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion against the wishes of some of the Indigenous communities it will pass through, says a British Columbia lawyer and Indigenous negotiator.

In the last month, Indigenous people across the country set up barricades on train tracks, roads and bridges, in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs, some of whom object to the construction of a natural-gas pipeline through their traditional territory.

The conflict laid bare the fact that nearly four decades after treaty rights were affirmed in the Constitution, Canada has not figured out what the “duty to consult” Indigenous people on decisions that affect their rights really means.

Watch: Scheer claims Trudeau will give Indigenous groups a ‘veto’ over TMX

 

Cynthia Callison, a negotiator for agreements among Indigenous peoples, governments and private sector developers, said while there are some distinct differences between the natural-gas pipeline and the Trans Mountain project, both projects have gone ahead despite the fact that not all Indigenous communities affected by the projects have given their consent.

Numerous elected band councils along the Coastal GasLink pipeline route agreed to the project and the B.C. government approved it. But it doesn’t have the collective backing of the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en, who claim authority over the traditional territory of their nation that isn’t on a reserve.

“There will be conflict,” said Callison, a lawyer and member of the Tahltan Nation in northwestern B.C. “They clearly don’t have the support but they made a decision based on a model of risk — ‘Do we have enough Indigenous people that support this project?’”

Callison said the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples sets a standard for “free, prior and informed consent” from Indigenous Peoples for projects that affect their territories. At a Wet’suwet’en solidarity protest in Ottawa in late February, several protesters carried signs saying “consultation is not consent.”

Callison said even if the courts agree that just consulting on a project is adequate in law, it is not in the spirit of reconciliation, or the promise of nation-to-nation negotiation between Canada and Indigenous Peoples, if a government or a company says it’s OK to proceed without having secured consent.

Furthermore, said Callison, different nations will have a different thresholds for how many people have to agree, and every nation will have its own traditions about who gets to make that call, and what it considers acceptable accommodations for their concerns.

“You’re not going to find a definitive checklist based on what needs to be done to get support from Indigenous people,” said Callison. “If the company wants to rely on, or wants to risk going to court and having a court decide, that’s not in the spirit of getting consent.”

That lack of a clear road map is a major frustration for developers, said Calgary lawyer Maureen Killoran, who represents project proponents.

“When you can’t really graph what the result should be if certain hurdles are cleared then that becomes very difficult for an investor or proponent to properly assess the risk of a project,” she said.

Evolution of duty to consult relatively short

The evolution of the duty to consult in Canada is still relatively short, most of it since the Constitution Act of 1982 recognized treaty rights in Canada.

Many court cases have looked at whether particular processes to consult Indigenous communities have been proper. Killoran said the courts have not reached consistent conclusions.

The process generally begins with the company seeking to build something, but courts have made clear that the government, not the third party, needs to fulfil the duty to consult.

The Trans Mountain expansion project will build a second, bigger oil pipeline roughly parallel to an existing one between Edmonton and Burnaby, B.C.

In Trans Mountain’s case, its previous builder Kinder Morgan Canada recorded 24,000 engagements with Indigenous communities in 2012 and 2013, before it officially applied to the National Energy Board to proceed with the expansion. The National Energy Board then undertook its hearing process, engaging with 131 Indigenous communities and organizations. Some of the conditions the NEB placed on the pipeline responded to Indigenous concerns.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the Trans Mountain Terminal in Edmonton on July 12, 2019. ASON FRANSON/CP

 

Then in early 2016, a few months after the Liberals came to power, the government announced it was extending the consultation with Indigenous communities several months to make sure things were done properly. It would ultimately base its consultation on what the Federal Court of Appeal said the government did wrong when it approved a different pipeline, the Northern Gateway pipeline. The courts killed that project in June 2016.

When the federal cabinet approved the Trans Mountain project for the first time in November 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government had done what was necessary. The government was so confident that in the spring of 2018 it bought the existing pipeline when Kinder Morgan Canada decided to walk away from it amid political turmoil.

But that confidence was misplaced: the Federal Court of Appeal said in August 2018 that the government sent in “note-takers” to hear Indigenous concerns without any real plan to do anything about them.

The government then set out to do another round of consultations, hiring former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci to oversee them in an attempt, once and for all, to get it right.

‘You need to have support from Indigenous people’

The communities that objected the first time still felt they hadn’t been listened to, and that the government’s process was a rubber-stamping exercise to appease the court. Last month, the Federal Court of Appeal disagreed, ruling the government had fulfilled its obligation.

The decision also said that while not all the concerns raised by the communities had been accommodated, requiring that would give the communities a “de facto veto” over the project and the law doesn’t require that.

Killoran said the industry sees that decision as clear and hopeful. Callison said without consent, there will be more conflict.

“You need to have support from Indigenous people,” she said. “If you’re going to push ahead and rely on a consultative process or a consultative checklist that doesn’t result in Indigenous people’s consent it doesn’t really matter what that process looks like.”  SOURCE

Ontario Government Defends Nixing Basic Income After Study Shows Trial’s Benefits

Many participants were able to leave “dead-end jobs” for something better, a McMaster University study found

Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Todd Smith is seen at Queen's Park in Toronto...

Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Todd Smith is seen at Queen’s Park in Toronto on May 27, 2019. CHRIS YOUNG/CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO — Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government says it has no regrets about cancelling a basic income pilot project even though a recent study found it vastly improved people’s health and helped many find better jobs.

“One of the first campaign promises your government broke was to complete the basic income pilot,” Green party Leader Mike Schreiner told Premier Doug Ford in the legislature Thursday.

“Without citing any evidence, you told us that it wasn’t working because it was preventing people from getting a job. Well, we now have the first in-depth study of the basic income pilot, and lo and behold, the premier was off the mark. Three quarters of those who were working continued to do so. One quarter of low-wage workers moved to higher-paying jobs,” he said.

He asked Ford if he would revive the pilot.

Todd Smith, the minister of children, community and social services, answered on Ford’s behalf.

“No,” he said.

“A research project that only included 4,000 individuals is not an adequate solution to solving the problem in a province where we have far too many people living on social assistance … What we’re doing is actually taking action to ensure that people can get back to work.”

Smith’s predecessor, Minister Lisa MacLeod, cancelled the pilot early in 2018. At the time, she said the project was “broken” and was discouraging people from finding work.

The pilot, launched by Ontario’s previous Liberal government, provided income to people living on social assistance or in low-wage jobs. Single participants who lived on less than $34,000 could get up to $16,989 per year. Couples with a combined income under $48,000 could get as much as $24,027.

Participants who were working saw their payments reduced by 50 per cent of their income.

According to a survey of more than 200 participants, published by McMaster University on Wednesday, there was “a slight reduction” in the number of people employed once the basic income was put into place.

About a quarter of employed people left their jobs, while one-fifth of the unemployed people found work. Forty-one per cent of those who left work did so to go to school. And almost all of the people who left their jobs had been precariously employed.

If anything, the basic income pilot could be viewed as an employment policy.Wayne Lewchuk

The results show “exactly the opposite” of what the PCs said was happening, Wayne Lewchuk, a professor emeritus in McMaster’s school of labour studies and department of economics, told HuffPost Canada.

“If anything, the basic income pilot could be viewed as an employment policy,” he said.

“Because what it really did was provide people with a foundation and a base to improve their general health, improve their mental health, improve their outlook on life. And all of those things make people more employable, not less.”

Nearly 80 per cent of participants said that basic income made them “somewhat more motivated” or “much more motivated” to look for work, the McMaster study found.

Recipients said their health improved

Participants also reported better physical and mental health, improved relationships and fewer trips to food banks, doctors’ offices and emergency rooms.

“One common pattern was for recipients to report moving from low paying dead-end jobs to jobs with better working conditions and with improved long-term opportunities,” the study said.

“The pilot was nothing short of successful,” researchers concluded. “The results … dispel some of the fears of the opponents of basic income including that it will lead to a wholesale abandonment of paid employment.”

In a way, you could say basic income saved my life.Ontario basic income recipient

One young man, who said that he had tried to kill himself three times in a five-year period before the pilot, enrolled in university.

“In a way, you could say basic income saved my life,” he said.

Others reported that they could afford basic necessities — like a bed or a warm winter coat — for the first time.

“The desperate situation that some people were in before basic income was implemented, frankly, is a bit embarrassing in a country like Canada,” Lewchuk said.

“Some of these people were really struggling or just barely holding on … Receiving basic income, it was like the sun was shining again.” SOURCE

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In attacking the public sector, corporations miss the inextricable link between public and private

Living wage protest. Image: Flickr/Fibonacci Blue​

In the early 1960s, while I was working for the Canadian Labour Congress in Corner Brook, the paper mill unions won a 5 per cent pay raise for the mill’s workers — much to the dismay of the town’s business leaders. When I next shopped at our small neighbourhood grocery store, the manager complained to me about “overpaid” workers.

“Now I’m being pressured to raise the pay of my own staff,” he grumbled. “There should be some limit put on the pay increases the unions can negotiate.”

I looked around the store. There were a dozen other shoppers in the aisles, most of them members of mill workers’ families.

“Take a closer look at your customers,” I said. “The money they’re spending in your store comes from the wages they earn at the mill. This was the first raise they’ve had in three years. Did it never occur to you that, the lower their pay, the less they’d have to spend at your store?”

His eyes widened and his jaw dropped. Obviously he had never made the connection between the mill workers’ wage increases and the extent of his own profits from their purchases.

That was more than a half-century ago, but the same  purblindness still afflicts business owners and managers across Canada. They are especially enraged that the wages and salaries of public employees are substantially higher than the pay of most private sector workers.

Organizations such as the Canadian Taxpayers’ Association (CTA), the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), and the National Citizens Coalition (NCC) incessantly rant against this disparity, charging that public employees don’t deserve higher compensation and should have it cut back to match the private sector’s lower rates.

A 2015 report by the CFIB calculated that the millions of  public employees in Canada, on average, were being paid 13 per cent more than their private sector counterparts. With the higher public sector benefits and pensions factored in, the gap more than doubled for federal workers to 33 per cent.

Of course the main reason for these pay and benefit differentials is because most public employees are unionized, while most private employees are not. The higher salaries (and benefits) in the public sector are negotiated by the public sector unions. Workers in private industrial and retail service jobs, lacking unions to represent them, have to take the lower wages their employers decide unilaterally (and reluctantly) to offer.

So the reality is not that public employees are overpaid, but that private sector employees are underpaid. A much better case can be made for raising inadequate private sector pay rates than for lowering them in the public sector.

Commenting on the CFIB report in the Globe and Mail, Erin Anderssen pointed out that one of the main reasons for the higher public sector pay rates was that they emerged from the achievement of a narrower gender wage gap. This was partly due to the unions’ push for pay parity, and partly to more stringent pay equity legislation. A gap still exists, but is much smaller in the public sector.

Anti-government governments

It’s not just business organizations that are campaigning against what they misperceive to be “too large, too wasteful, and too tax-imposing” government. Governments run by neoliberal conservative parties — such as the previous Harper regime — have also been committed to smaller government, lower taxes, anti-unionism, fewer public employees, deregulation, privatization, and leaner public services.

A CCPA study released during the Harper reign, Scapegoating Canada’s Public Sector, found that “public services and the legislation that governs them have been seriously weakened by the Harper government, compromising our ability to help the unemployed, provide services to indigenous communities and veterans, curb climate change, and protect the environment. The ranks of the public service have been decimated, while revenue has been slashed by tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy.”

The study also pointed out that the public services for which Harper cut funding have been worth about $41,000 a year for the average Canadian household, or 63 per cent of the median family income. As the study’s author, Hugh Mackenzie, noted, “Public services reduce inequality, provide stability, and promote social and environmental security. They are demonstrably more efficient, less expensive, of higher quality, and more accountable than privatized services. They constitute the best deal we’re ever going to get.”

If privatization and unregulated market forces were superior to public services, as neoliberals contend, says Mackenzie, “Why was it the public sector that was called upon to deal with and manage every major crisis of the last 100 years, from the Great Depression to Second World War mobilization to post-war reconstruction to the ‘stimulus’ measures implemented to cushion the effects of the 2008 financial meltdown?”

The “small government” madness

It’s not just the public sector’s more generous pay and benefit packages that infuriate big business leaders, investors, and lobbyists. They are also determined to reduce the size and spending of the federal and provincial governments. “The smaller the government, the better,” they claim. And over the last few decades they have succeeded in slashing governments’ ability to improve or even maintain the levels of essential public services.

Privatization and deregulation have been rampant. Health care, education, the environment, public housing, gender equality, child care, tax fairness, trade, and even democracy have all been dealt punishing blows by the oligarchs of corporate and political neoliberalism. Their jehad against “big government” has been relentless. They seem oblivious to the fact that the more they shrink and cripple the public sector, the more they damage the private sector. Why? Because the two sectors are intertwined and interdependent.

The private sector, for example, would collapse if not for the billions of dollars it derives from the public sector. The federal government alone spends about $16 billion a year on the purchase of private goods and services — everything from paper clips to aircraft, from computers to scientific research. Add the amounts spent in the private sector by provincial and municipal governments, and such vast expenditures are probably more than doubled.

And then there are the purchases of private sector goods and services by the 3,600 million public employees in Canada. I haven’t been able to get an estimate of this huge sum, but it must run well into the billions annually. And for every public sector worker who is laid off because of anti-government business pressure, down incrementally goes private business patronage and profits. But the corporate moguls remain as unaware and unconcerned about this crucial correlation today as was the grocery store manager in Corner Brook 55 years ago.

The unbreakable public-private link

The public and private sectors have become so interdependent that one cannot be attacked or diminished without hurting the other. Public expenditures often stimulate private sector activities. Many industries could not get started or keep going without government services and infrastructure. And of course governments need a robust economy to boost employment and generate the revenue they need to provide social services.

Public funds spent on making workers healthier and better educated provide the private sector with a more efficient work force. Public funds spent on roads, airports, and other utilities are essential to the operation of private industry.

So intertwined are the functions of the two sectors that it is often impossible to differentiate clearly between them. Most production is the outcome of both public and private activities combined. Consider the following example.

A private company extracts public gas, sends it through a public pipeline to another private company with a public franchise, which sends it by a public railway to a private brickworks, where it is combined with public electricity and private clay to make bricks, which go by private trucks on public roads to a private contractor who is building public housing on public lands, to be sold to a private citizen with a first mortgage from a public housing agency and a second mortgage from a private bank.

I defy any neoliberal ideologue to sort out the public from the private sector in this not-so-farfetched example, and then explain how shrinking the public sector will enhance the private sector.

Would the result be less public gas going through a smaller public pipeline or a larger private one, to somehow make more private bricks which private contractors would put into less public housing to sell to more private citizens with fewer public mortgage loans?

That’s the absurdity of the neoliberal assault on the public sector. Somehow more private industrial development is supposed to flow from less public education and research. More private X-ray machines, MRIs, and other hardware is supposed to be made for fewer public hospitals. More private cars and trucks are supposed to be driven on fewer public highways. A smaller public police force is supposed to guard larger private fortunes.

What is more likely to happen — and what in fact has happened in recent years — is that restraints on growth in the public sector cause overall national production to be slowed down, rather than causing a shift in growth from the public to the private sector.

You would think that, by this time, our political leaders would realize just how illogical, inequitable, and impracticable this self-defeating business dogma really is. Instead, they submissively continue to aid and abet the corporate kingpins in their deranged attacks on the public sector and public employees.

As long as this ignorance of public and private sector interdependence prevails, so will the cancers of social and economic deprivation, inequality, poverty, deregulation, privatization, crumbling infrastructure, and environmental degradation. SOURCE

No place safe to go: Calls for more long-term women’s shelters in Canada

A national shortage of safe, apartment-style shelters puts women at risk of more violence and homelessness

Sarah Welsh, 38, had no job and only $300 in her pocket when she left her husband in 2016. She found refuge at Sofia House, a second stage shelter in Regina. (Matthew Howard/CBC )

This story is part of Stopping Domestic Violence, a CBC News series looking at the crisis of intimate partner violence in Canada and what can be done to end it.

If an abused woman is lucky enough to find a spot in an emergency crisis shelter in Canada, her stay there is limited and so are her prospects for finding a safe, affordable place to live when her time is up.

Dozens of abuse victims and shelter workers who spoke to CBC News say it’s unrealistic and dangerous to expect abused women who have been beaten up and broken down to be able to live safely and independently in the community after a short stay in a crisis shelter, often restricted to 30 days.

They’re calling for more second-stage shelters in Canada — secure, subsidized apartments in buildings with both security and social workers where women and children can typically stay six months to two years.  Women are protected by security doors, video surveillance and bulletproof windows while they receive counselling for complex issues, including trauma, addiction and poverty, and get support to become independent.

Without them, many women are at risk of becoming homeless, returning to an abusive relationship, or suffering another violent attack, said Jan Reimer, executive director of the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters.

“It’s when a woman leaves that relationship that she’s really at the greatest risk of being killed,” Reimer said.

The number of second-stage shelters has “got to skyrocket,” she added.

Women and children being turned away

CBC News found that women and children in need are being turned away from domestic violence shelters tens of thousands of times a month. The majority of those are short-term crisis shelters with stay restrictions ranging from 21 days to three months, but shelter managers say the lack of safe, affordable housing for women leaving the shelter forces them to keep clients longer and turn others away.

Women’s Shelters Canada is calling for the number of second-stage shelters to triple nationally, with more access in rural, remote, northern and Indigenous communities.

The national group says having more second-stage shelters would relieve pressure from crisis shelters.

CBC News contacted 65 second-stage shelters, nearly half of the 140 domestic violence shelters that offer second stage units in Canada, and nearly all were full.

About 1,900 requests for help were turned away by those shelters in just the month of November 2019.

Demand is likely even greater, since referrals generally come from first stage crisis shelters and many don’t refer clients to second-stage shelters unless there’s an upcoming vacancy.

Second-stage shelters are generally apartment-style units with security measures, including video surveillance and bullet-proof windows. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

 

CBC analysis reveals vast areas of the country are shelter deserts, meaning there is no nearby supportive housing for women leaving crisis shelters. For example, there aren’t any second-stage shelters on-reserve and only four apartment units in the north to serve Saskatchewan’s 70 First Nations. Nearly three quarters of Nova Scotia residents live more than 100 kilometres from a second stage shelter. Nunavut doesn’t have one.

‘I might have been on the streets’

Sarah Welsh, 38, a stay-at-home mother of three, says she might have become homeless or gone back to her abusive husband after reaching the 30-day stay limit at an emergency shelter in Regina if she hadn’t found a spot in a second-stage shelter in 2016.

“When I left, I had a suitcase, a big garbage bag full of clothes, $300 and no actual job,” Welsh said. “I might have been on the streets, or I don’t know where I would be.”

She says she didn’t realize, at first, how badly she had been “beaten down” and psychologically traumatized in her marriage.

Tmira Marchment, executive director of Sofia House, says the nonprofit agency makes its 10 units as ‘homey’ as possible for women and children, with donated furniture, toiletries, and welcome baskets, as well as teddy bears and toys for children. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

 

Her husband of 14 years used to monitor her every move on a GPS tracker on her cellphone.

“He would track me. If I ever turned it off, I would be in trouble,” Welsh said.

It was only after she moved into Sofia House in Regina, a 10-unit second-stage shelter with security cameras and weekly counselling, that she finally felt like she could breathe and figure out her next step.

“Trauma takes a long time to recover from,” said Tmira Marchment, executive director of Sofia House. “A second-stage shelter offers that safety and security, and then it also offers the ability to heal.”

Provinces pledge priority access to affordable housing

Some provinces — including Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia — have introduced social housing policies that give women fleeing violence priority access to affordable housing units.

In some regions, domestic violence survivors can also choose a portable subsidy that moves with them to the rental housing of their choice, rather than being tied to a specific unit in a social housing complex.

While domestic violence workers applaud those developments, they say it doesn’t give abused women and children the “wraparound services” they need to become independent and leave a violent relationship for good.

Abuse victims often cope with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress, as well as poverty. Support staff in second-stage shelters help them navigate daunting and complicated systems, including child welfare, court, social assistance, immigration, housing and employment.

They also support children who have witnessed or experienced violence.

That’s a life-changing, and even life-saving, distinction between low-rent housing and a second-stage shelter, Marchment said.

She would expand Sofia House’s services in Regina, but the nonprofit organization relies on private donations and grants to survive.

Jurisdictional snafu

Many of Canada’s existing second-stage shelters have told CBC News that they would expand and open up more apartments if they had stable, long-term funding to pay for staff and programs.

It’s a funding shortfall that is particularly frustrating for them at the moment, since Ottawa is offering up money in its $55-billion national housing strategy to all regions, except Quebec, to buy or build shelter spaces.

“The federal government is back in the business of housing,” Canada’s Minister for Women and Gender Equality Maryam Monsef said in an interview with CBC News.

But, in a jurisdictional gap, shelter organizations across Canada say they can’t tap into the federal dollars because the provincial and territorial funding they would need to actually run the shelters is inconsistent or nonexistent.

Two provinces — Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador — don’t give second-stage shelters any operational funding. In other places, it’s piecemeal from year to year.

“The status quo isn’t acceptable,” Saskatchewan NDP deputy leader Nicole Sarauer said in a press release this week. “Women in Saskatchewan urgently need the province to invest in operating funding for second-stage shelters.”

Quebec’s second-stage shelters celebrated a funding breakthrough in 2018 when the provincial government gave a five-year commitment of roughly $27,000 per unit, which works out to about 80 per cent of operational costs.

Alberta’s scored a similar victory in 2015, securing $34,000 per unit and two staff positions per shelter.

“It’s made such a difference. [Prior to that] shelter managers would wake up with anxiety attacks, not knowing how they would meet payroll,” said Jan Reimer. “Once you’ve got that security of funding you can really have your programming blossom.”

But the funding is limited to existing shelters, and hasn’t led to any significant increase in shelter units.

In Quebec, the construction of 98 new units has been put on hold because the province can’t commit to funding operational costs beyond the five-year mark.

“We still have to fight. We have no choice,” Gaëlle Fedida, head of Quebec’s association of second-stage shelters, said.

“We are really, really fed up with femicide.”

Sarah Welsh has settled into her own rental townhouse with furniture donated through her second stage shelter unit. (Matthew Howard/CBC)

Peace and independence

After two years in second-stage housing, Sarah Welsh was ready to live on her own. She moved into a three-bedroom townhouse, with room for her three kids and a cat.

Welsh sips tea from a cup that’s emblazoned with the phrase “You got this!” and reflects on her darkest hours when she would curl up in a ball and cry.

“You look back and say ‘Wow, I can’t believe that’s where I was, or who I was,'” Welsh said.

Today, she has found more than a job and a home. She has self-confidence and a sense of peace.

If you need help and are in immediate danger, call 911. To find assistance in your area, click here.

To read all the stories in CBC’s Stopping Domestic Violence series, visit cbc.ca/stoppingdomesticviolence

SOURCE

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‘Batten down the hatches’: Oilpatch braces as prices plummet

Concern for Canadian producers after OPEC deal to cut production collapses

‘Those who don’t manage their balance sheet — if this sell-off continues — are not going to make it,’ says Martin Pelletier, with Trivest Wealth Council. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Canada’s oilpatch is bracing for the impact of plunging crude prices after OPEC and its allies failed to reach a deal aimed at cutting production as economies slow because of the novel coronavirus.

Prices began sliding after Russia refused to support deeper oil cuts to cope with the outbreak of coronavirus and OPEC responded by removing all limits on its own production.

Brent crude, the global oil benchmark price, had its biggest daily percentage loss in more than 11 years on Friday, down $4.72 US, or 9.4 per cent, to settle at  $45.27 US a barrel.

The benchmark crude contract in North America, West Texas Intermediate (WTI), closed down 10 per cent on Friday, dropping $4.62 to $41.28 US per barrel. It was its worst drop in more than five years.

Brent and WTI are both down over 30 per cent so far in 2020.

‘Not good for governments reliant on oil revenues’

COVID-19 concerns and the impact on oil demand — plus the prospect of OPEC abandoning its role in trying to limit supplies — have the makings of a “toxic recipe” for oil prices, said Judith Dwarkin, chief economist at RS Energy Group.

“That’s not good for oil producers; it’s not good for governments reliant on oil revenues,” Dwarkin said.

“It’s generally not good for the Canadian economy, for which oil production and all the taxes and royalties and other revenue collected from that [are] an important part of the economy.”

OPEC sources told Reuters that Russia, one of the world’s biggest oil producers but not a member of OPEC, and Saudi Arabia, the biggest crude producer in OPEC, had failed to find a compromise despite several rounds of bilateral talks this week in Vienna.

Canada’s oilpatch is bracing for the impact of plunging crude prices after OPEC and its allies failed to reach a deal aimed at cutting production as the reach of the novel coronavirus spreads. (Leonhard Foeger/Reuters)

 

As a result, the existing deal for output cuts will expire in March, so OPEC members and non-OPEC producers can in theory pump at will in an already oversupplied market, sources told Reuters.

OPEC members are responsible for about 40 per cent of the world’s oil production.

Coronavirus is cutting world crude demand

Oil prices have dropped in recent weeks over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. It’s estimated the impact of the disease in China sliced about 900,000 barrels of daily oil demand from that country alone.

The impact has rippled out across global energy markets, including Canada.

On Friday, Calgary-based Vermilion Energy cut its dividend in half to deal with weakness in commodity prices and global economic fallout from the novel coronavirus.

Dwarkin said today’s news might add to the incentive for oil companies to cut capital spending, if they were already moving in that direction and should the price spiral continue.

At oil prices as low as they were on Friday, she said, the industry does not make money. Over time, that might mean gasoline will cost a little less at the pump, but it could also mean layoffs and even bankruptcies.

“We’ve seen the punch and the counter-punch today, the Russians and the Saudis,” Dwarkin said.

“Let’s see what emerges in the next few days on that front before you declare this bout over.”

Martin Pelletier, a portfolio manager with Trivest Wealth Council in Calgary, said he expects Canada’s oilpatch to “batten down the hatches” with oil prices falling.

“You’ve got to manage your balance sheet,” Pelletier said.

“Those who don’t manage their balance sheet — if this sell-off continues — are not going to make it.

“This [situation] could be over in a week or two weeks, but it may not be over for a couple months.

Western Canada’s oilpatch had been hoping for a better year, especially with recent progress on three key pipeline projects. But the shelving of a major oilsands project and now struggling oil prices are again heightening uncertainty.

Tristan Goodman, president of the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, whose membership represents a fifth of the oil and gas production in the country, said there is significant concern about where oil prices are headed.

Though he thinks oil markets have “partially” overreacted to the news, it will take time understand the true impact.

“We have to sort of give this a few weeks to figure out, OK, how is this really going to impact the global economy?”  SOURCE

 

 

Climate adaptation estimated to cost municipalities $5.3 billion annually

TORONTO , Feb. 27, 2020 /CNW/ – The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) released a report entitled Investing in Canada’s Future: The Cost of Climate Adaptation at the Local Level. The comprehensive report offers striking new data demonstrating the urgent need for new investments in local climate adaptation and the areas where that investment is needed most. This report is the first of its kind to quantify the cost for municipalities.

Insurance Bureau of Canada (CNW Group/Insurance Bureau of Canada)

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As the risk of more frequent severe weather events increases due to climate change, many areas across the country are becoming riskier to insure. Municipalities are on the front lines of climate change and require significant investment to protect the public, property and businesses from the devastating effects of climate change.

According to the report’s findings, avoiding the worst impacts of climate change at the municipal level will cost an estimated $5.3 billion per year, or equivalent to 0.26% of Canada’s GDP. Studies have shown that investments in resilient infrastructure have a return on investment of $6 in future averted losses for every $1 spent proactively. Those investments are critical to helping local communities adapt to the changing climate and to reduce risks to Canadians from extreme weather.

Given the scale and size of the long-term cost of adapting to climate change, the report suggests that future research and analysis by all levels of government must consider innovative ways in which private sector capital can be utilized to support enhanced community resilience.

The report also found that Canada’s eastern and northern regions are generally most in need of adaptation investments — with flooding, erosion and melting permafrost posing the greatest risk. Among infrastructure priorities, local buildings, dikes and roads require the most urgent upgrades.

Quotes

“When homes, businesses, farmland, and public infrastructure are hurt by extreme weather events, Canadians feel it in their communities first. Municipal leaders are prioritizing resiliency in their towns and cities, but there’s more we can and must do. FCM is proud to partner on the development of this crucial new data that underscores the importance of greater investment in municipal adaptation and prevention amidst the effects of a changing environment. All orders of government can work together to protect the public infrastructure that Canadians rely on in their neighbourhoods.”
–  Bill Karsten , FCM President

“Across the country, Canadians are feeling the devastating impacts of climate change as the financial and emotional costs continue to rise. Governments need to collaborate in funding the resilient infrastructure needed to protect Canadians from flooding, wind and wildfires. Given the size of the estimated investment needed at the local level, government should consider how the private sector and how private finance can help make our communities more resilient.”
–  Don Forgeron , IBC President and CEO

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What will it take to end blockades? Indigenous community members warn deal may not be enough

WATCH: On rail blockades, Trudeau says it’s ‘never appropriate’ to deploy military against Canadian citizens.

Image result for rail blockades:trudeau says it is never appropriate to deploy military

Members of Canada’s Indigenous communities are warning that a new deal reached by the federal government and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs may not be enough to end rail blockades that have disrupted the country’s economy.

The deal is meant to put an end to protests that have spilled out across the country in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who oppose the 670-kilometre Coastal Gaslink pipeline from northeastern B.C. to Kitimat that is expected to be built through their unceded territory.

The proposal, which has yet to be formally agreed upon by the hereditary chiefs, is said to address broader land claims, rights and titles.

READ MORE: ‘We support them’: Kahnawake railway blockade continues despite tentative deal in B.C.

But even if the agreement is ratified, Lee Maracle, a lecturer at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Indigenous Studies, said, “It’s not really up to what happens with the Wet’suwet’en and the government” whether the blockades come down. “It depends on the people making the blockades.”

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Maracle, who is also an award-winning First Nations fiction author, said the blockades have become about more than just a pipeline. She said different people are manning the blockades for different reasons.

“Some of the blockades are because people don’t want pipelines, period. And some of them are in support of Wet’suwet’en having some say in what happens in their territory,” Maracle explained.

Protesters set up new rail blockade in Montreal

“If they have decided that they’re going to keep the blockades up in opposition to pipelines, then whatever the Nation decided with the government may be affected.”

Tensions between the Canadian government and Indigenous Peoples have been mounting for decades, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau being accused of not taking reconciliation seriously and criticized for ignoring the plight of the First Nation until it reached its boiling point.

According to Maracle, the turmoil felt by Canadians affected by the blockades is happening because its government “refused to have a conversation” and undergo what she described as “legally required” consultation.

“The turmoil has always been right there, except we’re the only ones who are enduring it. Indigenous people are the ones that are enduring being ignored, enduring not being able to have a conversation with the government when they know very well that they’re supposed to consult us, and we’ve endured several governments that have not been willing to [help],” she said.

READ MORE: Indigenous people in Canada facing racism over Wet’suwet’en solidarity blockade action

“We’ve endured a lot of turmoil. Canada’s now sharing in the turmoil. That’s what’s happening.”

Coastal GasLink maintained they had the support of 20 elected band council members along the pipeline’s construction route, but the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who also lay claim to their ancestral territory, were not consulted.

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Prior to the finalized agreement proposal, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said she hoped it would serve as the “beginning” in a new relationship between government and Indigenous peoples.

She said the agreement could lead to a new consultation process where “at the very first idea of a project, the rights holders would be there at the table with their Indigenous knowledge and the voices of their nations.”

Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada said in a statement to Global News that they were working “around the clock” to resolve the issue in a “peaceful and lasting way.”

Blockades in Kahnawake continue despite agreement

This arrangement, they said, will breathe life into the Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa decision — the first comprehensive account of Aboriginal title in Canada — “so that future generations do not have to face conflicts like the one they face today.”

“While work remains, these talks have been an important step on reconciling complex matters of rights and title. We understand that we are at a critical time, and we need to begin to build a new path together,” they said.

But when it comes to the proposed deal, Andrew Brant of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory said “actions speak louder than words.”

Brant, who works as a teacher and is an active participant in the blockades, would not give a definitive answer on what exactly would be enough for him to end the blockades, but he said that a good first step would be for the government to redefine reconciliation and “come clean” about how much the government has hurt Indigenous communities over the years.

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“The truth is the treaty has been broken and it’s been broken for a long time,” he said, referring to the Numbered Treaties, which were signed between 1871 and 1921 and outlined Indigenous land ownership.

READ MORE: Indigenous land conflicts to persist unless sovereignty addressed, Wilson-Raybould says

Brant said he would like to see the government own up to what he called a past “genocide” against Indigenous Peoples and for the disproportionate violence against First Nations men, women and children to come to an end.

“They’re spending more resources and time fighting us than they are trying to help us, we’re treated as subhuman,” he said.

“They need to take some action that’s peaceful, non-forceful — because you can’t force people to negotiate, you sit down and negotiate as equals.”

When asked if there was anything the government could do to end the blockades quickly, he said only time would tell.

“Our lives have been blockaded for over 500 years. So I think a few days, weeks, years of trying to negotiate something, sit down and come to a peaceful resolution is not much to ask,” he said.

“We respect them and we want us to continue living together, but we want to have an equal voice.”  SOURCE