David Suzuki on applying COVID-19’s lessons to climate change

Noted environmentalist David Suzuki said COVID-19 presents opportunities to tackle climate change in a new ways. Photo Jennifer Roessler courtesy of https://davidsuzuki.org.

David Suzuki put more than 350 people on hold Thursday evening after spotting salmon leaping in the ocean through the window of the Quadra Island home where he’s currently riding out the coronavirus pandemic.

Canada’s best-known environmental activist, scientist and broadcaster was participating in a Zoom call hosted by National Observer to discuss the intersection of COVID-19 and climate change.

But unable to contain his excitement, the 84-year-old naturalist wandered off-screen to alert his family to the beauty unfolding before him.

The moment only underscored the point he’d been making during his conversation with National Observer CEO and editor-in-chief Linda Solomon Wood, that despite the havoc COVID-19 is wreaking on people and their families, public health and economies worldwide, the virus was providing a breather for the environment.

“I was looking up at the sky today, and it was filled with geese … we’ve had pods of killer whales coming through, and I have the sense that Mother Earth is saying, ‘Phew, thank God, these busy people are giving me a break,’” Suzuki said. “And I hope that people who live in places like Shanghai and Beijing, in Delhi or Bombay, are looking up and seeing what it can be like when air is the way it should be, invisible and odourless.”

The pause of human activity has allowed nature some rebound, he said.

Suzuki acknowledged the burden millions of people are facing, but noted once the pandemic subsides, there is an opening to respond differently to climate change.

“This is a very, very tough time, but it’s a time when we can discover community,” he said. “It’s a huge opportunity, now, to say, ‘What the hell have we done wrong that got us into this mess, and how do we go about getting out of it?’”

And that doesn’t mean trying to re-establish yesterday’s economy, but redesigning it for the future, in a way that values the common fundamentals of life such as air, water and food. The constraints and laws of the natural world are not flexible, but the economy is a human construct that can be adapted, Suzuki said.

“Let’s change the damn thing so it makes some sense,” he said.

Asked what he’d say to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in relation to tackling the climate crisis, Suzuki replied he’s stopped talking to Trudeau about climate.

“The COVID crisis is a crisis for human beings, but the climate crisis is a crisis for life on the planet.” David Suzuki on the importance of battling climate change.

There was much adulation and hopefulness about Trudeau’s environmental commitment after his election and following Canada’s signing onto the Paris Agreement on climate change, he noted.

“But then he bought a pipeline,” Suzuki said.

The federal government’s $4.5-billion buyout of Kinder Morgan’s struggling Trans Mountain pipeline demonstrates politics trump the environment, even if the results have lasting reverberations for future generations, he observed.

“Even the future for his own children … that has to come second to the political reality that his highest priority is getting re-elected,” Suzuki said.

People must stop looking to political leaders to lead change when it comes to the climate crisis, he said.

Suzuki cited various examples of the Canadian government’s dismal performance in protecting the environment over the three decades since scientists first sounded the climate-change alarm at the Toronto Conference on the Changing Atmosphere in 1988.

“The political system cannot deal with (the climate crisis) unless civil society rises up and demands they do it,” Suzuki said. “Then, they will jump on board.”

Massive efforts on the part of the public are critical, Suzuki said, pointing to the half-million demonstrators who accompanied Greta Thunberg in the global march for climate action this past September.

“Dammit all if that isn’t a demonstration that politicians will pay attention to,” he said.

Suzuki figured if just 3.5 per cent of the global population truly committed to pushing for climate action, it would make a huge difference worldwide.

When asked why government is listening to scientists about coronavirus, but not about climate change, Suzuki cited government’s short-sightedness.

“When bodies are being carted out to the crematorium or the graveyard, you respond in a different way to something that is 10 years, 15 years down the line.”

But we have to engage as if we are at war with climate crisis, he said.

“This is the existential crisis of our time. And once you commit to saying that this is the target … then get on with it.”

There are lessons from government’s rapid response to COVID-19 that could be applied to climate action, Suzuki said.

“Yes, absolutely, if we took climate as seriously as the COVID crisis. And quite frankly, in my view, the climate crisis is, in orders of magnitude, a greater threat,” he said. “The COVID crisis is a crisis for human beings, but the climate crisis is a crisis for life on the planet.”

Government’s measures and responses to contain the coronavirus and its effects were unimaginable before the pandemic, he said.

It demonstrates huge opportunities to stem climate change, Suzuki said.

“I think the important thing is you make the commitment to solve it,” he said. “Then, you pull out all the stops — the old rules and constraints no longer apply.” SOURCE

[Editor’s Note: On Friday, the day after the interview with Suzuki, Canada announced it would put a combined $2.5 billion toward cleaning up thousands of contaminated oil and gas wells in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan and to cutting a potent form of carbon pollution. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he wanted to support the industry’s workers and their families, help oil and gas companies avoid bankruptcy, while supporting his government’s environmental goals. The David Suzuki Foundation issued a statement lauding the Trudeau government’s action.]

With files from Carl Meyer / National Observer

Canada’s murky bailout deal for oil and gas will cost us all

Dianne Saxe is president of Saxe Facts, and was Environmental Commissioner of Ontario from 2015 to 2019

The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with low oil prices, have created extraordinarily hard times in oil producing provinces such as Alberta, and unemployment not seen since the Great Depression. Quite properly, the federal government has promised to help. But it is shameful that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is using your tax dollars to bail out the oil and gas exploration and production industry, perhaps the wealthiest and most polluting industry in human history.

The government is patting itself on the back for resisting some egregious industry demands and for one good program: a $200 million loan to Alberta’s Orphan Well Association to properly close some abandoned oil and gas wells. Due to the hard work of grassroots activists such as the Alberta Liability Disclosure Project, this $200 million is to be repaid by the industry, which, by law, was always supposed to clean up its own wells. An oversight committee will include local and Indigenous representatives.

But this is a drop in the bucket of what the oil and gas industry owes. Although elites have pocketed a lot of money, oil, gas and bitumen producers have a scandalous record of not paying their bills, especially:

    • compensation and repairs they owe to farmers who are forced to have oil and gas wells on their land;
    • taxes they owe to rural municipalities, and
    • the many tens of billions it will cost to clean up their depleted wells, so they don’t cause yet more contamination.

Despite this record, and Canada’s repeated pledges to stop subsidizing fossil fuels, the Trudeau government is giving the industry a billion dollar-plus bailout with taxpayer money: Up to $1 billion is being given to the Alberta government, whose lax rules and poor enforcement allowed the industry to create the ever-expanding, multi-billion dollar inactive well problem.

The terms of this enormous bailout are unclear. In defiance of the polluter pay principle, Alberta can use the money to take well cleanup costs off the balance sheets of oil and gas companies, so that neither those companies, nor the industry as a whole (through the Orphan Well Association) will have to pay for them. Even today, Alberta allows the industry to use bankruptcy and optimistic bookkeeping to pocket its profits while shirking its debts. Without knowing the exact terms of the bailout, the public cannot tell how much say the oversight committee will have over this billion dollars, or whether Alberta will finally make the industry pay its way.

Additional billions may flow to oil and gas producers through Export Development Canada (EDC) and the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). Loan guarantees, credit insurance and direct mezzanine loans will all be used to keep otherwise insolvent oil and gas companies pumping fossil fuels.

Export Development Canada has a long history of driving up climate pollution from Canada’s oil and gas industries. Between 2012 and 2017, EDC provided more than $10 billion a year to oil and gas, twelve times more support than it offered for clean technologies, according to the report entitled Risking it All: How Export Development Canada’s Support for Fossil Fuels Drives Climate Change. EDC’s massive support for oil and gas expansion is completely incompatible with Canada’s climate commitments and with our shared goal of a stable climate.


These multi-billion dollar bailouts are forcing young people to subsidize fossil fuel producers in creating the climate crisis that will darken their entire lives. And they are one of the most expensive and polluting ways of protecting jobs. As well as their mountain of debt, the oil and gas extraction industry creates a puny 2.7 jobs per million dollars of output, while pumping out 704 tonnes of greenhouse gases for each full-time job.


There are much better options for putting Alberta back to work, such as:

“It is shameful that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is using your tax dollars to bail out the oil and gas exploration and production industry, perhaps the wealthiest and most polluting industry in human history.” 

  1. Rapid deployment of renewable energy is a dependable path to a cleaner future, creates far more jobs per dollar invested and is increasingly the cheapest way to generate electricity. Alberta has some of the best wind resources in the world. Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan also get the most sunshine in Canada, which is why Alberta solar power recently beat out global competitors to win $500 million in foreign investment, and
  2. Energy retrofits of existing buildings create many skilled positions for only 22 tonnes of GHGs per job, lower operating costs, and provide more comfortable and energy-efficient homes, especially for the poor, low-income individuals and First Nations communities. Doing those retrofits with wood fiber will create many jobs in forestry communities, and sequester carbon in wood products.

The Trudeau government understands the importance of the climate crisis. So why isn’t it putting our money where its mouth is? SOURCE

Why not hold a virtual COP26 climate summit to dramatically cut carbon emissions?

Image: UNclimatechange/Flickr

Image: UNclimatechange/Flickr

On April 16, the G7 met for a one-hour virtual meeting to discuss measures to address the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. News reported that this session was “a follow-up to a March 16 video conference, the first time G7 leaders had met in that format, to go over efforts to defeat the coronavirus.”

That article adds, “in addition to the meeting this week, another session is expected in May to lay the groundwork for the June video conference.”

The G20 has also had a video conference call, gathering virtually on March 26. These meetings appear to be leading to significant decisions.

The media statement from the prime minister of Canada was headlined, “productive G7 Leaders’ meeting on COVID‑19.”

And following the G20 meeting, Al Jazeera reported that “leaders of the Group of 20 major economies pledged to inject $5 trillion in fiscal spending into the global economy to blunt the economic impact of the coronavirus and ‘do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic.'”

The statement from that G20 summit concluded, “We stand ready to react promptly and take any further action that may be required. We express our readiness to convene again as the situation requires.”

And yet, these world leaders don’t appear to be standing ready to take action to address the crisis of climate breakdown.

The United Nations COP26 climate summit that was to begin on November 9 in Scotland has now been postponed until October 2021.

Significantly, Reuters has previously reported that “the [Paris] agreement enters a crucial implementation phase in 2020, when countries are supposed to ratchet up their ambitions ahead of the next major round of talks in Glasgow.”

And the Associated Press has cautioned, “So far, the world is on course for a 3- to 4-degree Celsius rise, with potentially dramatic consequences for many countries.”

Clearly there’s an urgency to addressing the climate crisis too. Why not have a special COP26 leaders call and agree to take bold action?

Furthermore, if the G20 were to meet again, perhaps they could remember the G20 Leaders Statement that emerged from their summit in September 2009.

More than 10 years ago, they promised: “To phase out and rationalize over the medium-term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies while providing targeted support for the poorest.”

That statement also emphasized that “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies encourage wasteful consumption, reduce our energy security, impede investment in clean energy sources and undermine efforts to deal with the threat of climate change.”

In 2017, the United Nations even posted a plea from “investors and insurers with more than $2.8 trillion in assets under management” to the G20 “to phase out fossil fuel subsidies by 2020 in order to accelerate green investment and reduce climate risk.”

And yet the International Monetary Fund says that Canada provided almost $60 billion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry in 2015.

And more is reportedly on its way for “the struggling oil and gas sector.” The Globe and Mail has even reported that the federal government could be considering a $15 billion bailout.

In response, numerous environmental groups have launched online petitions — including this one from 350.org — that says, “Bailing out Big Oil in the midst of a global crisis will accelerate our path to climate catastrophe.”

Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president for the Green Deal at the European commission, has commented that “bailouts should all be linked with clear conditions that the money will be used for a green economy and a green society. The very least that should be done is to ascertain that none of our commitments are used to harm our climate goals.”

World leaders should commit to addressing the climate crisis and hold a virtual COP26 summit that advances the imperatives of climate justice. The pandemic has taught us that both virtual summits and dramatic action are possible. SOURCE

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer. You can find him on Twitter @CBrentPatterson

How do we pay off pandemic debt? Tax the rich

Image: KMR Photography/Flickr

Image: KMR Photography/Flickr

Governments across the world are spending trillions of dollars on emergency stimulus packages to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, debts across the Western world will skyrocket over the next two years. In October 2019, Canada’s federal debt-to-GDP ratio was just under 31 per cent. Some economists believe Canada’s total debt could increase to around 100 per cent. For every tax dollar Ottawa collected in November 2019, seven cents was spent to service the debt. By the end of 2021 that figure may increase dramatically.

Governments across the world will be desperate to find new revenues to reduce their massive debt burdens. While conservatives will argue for deep cuts to our education, health-care, pension and social support systems, that will be very difficult considering our social safety net is already cut to the bone. Ontario Premier Doug Ford initially wanted to make big cuts to Ontario’s budget, until he reckoned with the fact that Ontario’s spending per capita was the lowest in the country. Any cuts would have a big impact on the health-care and education services we rely on.

Governments across the world can make a strong case to increase progressive taxation. Make no mistake about it, there is a class element in the fight against coronavirus. Blue-collar workers risk their lives to keep our supply chain moving. While high-income, white-collar employees work from home, healthcare staff, delivery drivers, grocery store employees, truckers, factory workers and many others risk their health to make sure our economy doesn’t collapse. An agricultural employee from Nicaragua working on a Canadian farm has a more important role to play than a hedge-fund manager watching helplessly as stock markets collapse. Wealthy, white-collar Canadians owe their country a higher share of taxes.

Canadians can begin to end tax loopholes that allow wealthy Canadians to significantly cut their tax bill. By ending tax breaks on stock options, meals and entertainment, capital gains, dividend gross-ups and offshore tax havens, the Canadian government could recuperate $20 billion a year.

Once the recession begins to end, governments will be forced to pressure large multinational corporations across the world into paying higher taxes. Before 2020, governments throughout the world lost over US$600 billion in tax revenues every year through corporate tax dodging. The parliamentary budget officer estimated last year that Canada loses $26 billion through legal tax dodges every year.

Some will say it’s too difficult to tax wealthy individuals and corporations. Corporations have created a large web of international tax avoidance schemes to reduce their tax bill. If taxes go up, companies will simply relocate their operations and finances to tax havens. That argument may have been true in 2019, but I’m not sure it will hold up in 2020 and beyond.

Even before the pandemic, there was a growing global consensus for cracking down on tax havens. Last year, a European Union parliamentary committee created a list of member states who behave like tax havens. Here in North America, the IRS filed a lawsuit against Facebook for claiming its headquarters are located in Ireland, even though the vast majority of its work is done in California.

In other words, governments can crack down on individual and corporate tax avoidance schemes if they have the political will. While Canadians pay taxes to pay for police protection, sewage, water utilities, education and health care, some wealthy people don’t think they need to pay for the services they depend on as well.

Taxes shouldn’t be seen a necessary evil. Most people understand you get what you pay for. If you pay low taxes, you will have a weak government, inadequate health care, a poor education system, weak job security, very little mobility and a government that cannot respond quickly and efficiently enough to a global pandemic. If you pay high taxes, you will enjoy more security in your social and economic life.  SOURCE

Greg Dwulit works in the non-profit sector in the Toronto area. He has an MBA from the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics.

Take the 2020 vegan challenge

Image: Sonny Abesamis/Flickr

Image: Sonny Abesamis/Flickr

As we all commit to staying home and and protecting our communities, consider joining us and taking part in rabble.ca‘s #2020veganchallenge — this year from the comfort of your own kitchen.

rabble.ca staff, contributors and users are encouraged to go vegan — or as close to it as possible — for a week to help protect the environment, show compassion for animals and enjoy some wholesome nutritious and yummy food. Going vegan is one of the best ways to contribute to climate justice and Earth Day. It will drastically reduce your carbon footprint, diminish air and water pollution and help reverse the destruction of ecosystems being used to produce feed for farm animals.

During these chaotic times, if you’re able to, we encourage you to participate in the challenge with all the members of your household, and see what kinds of meals you can come up with. We’ll be here to share ideas on how to eat cheaply and healthily, and with few ingredients (as we know grocery stores can be a little tricky these days).

Share your experiences in the comments section of our Facebook page, and our on our Instagram (@rabbleca), tagging us and using the hashtag #2020veganchallenge. We would love photos of your favourite meals, and will do our best to repost them.

Resources for the vegan challenge:

The Invisible Vegan
The Game Changers
Forks over Knives
Meat the Future 

Toronto Pig Save
Toronto Health Save (co-host)
Food Empowerment Project

Vegan starter kit


Today, we saw a Commons without the usual stale theatrics — and it was a revelation

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons Monday April 20, 2020 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

In the midst of a deadly global pandemic — the likes of which almost no one alive today has ever experienced — Canada’s federal parties found themselves arguing over the weekend about whether the Parliament of Canada, the foundational institution of our democracy, is capable of organizing a video conference.

In fairness, there were some large principles involved. As large as those principles are, however, they risked getting lost in a very small debate.

However MPs proceed from here, and whatever technological glitches they face, voters have a right to hope they can now rise to meet this remarkable moment.

In light of the current health risk posed by public gatherings, the House of Commons has been mostly adjourned since March 13. A few dozen MPs returned for several hours on March 24 and then again on April 11 to pass emergency legislation. Otherwise, the main chamber has been quiet.

But the parties recently started talking about holding more regular sittings. Perhaps uncomfortable with the amount of airtime government ministers were getting, the Conservatives seemed the ones most eager to resume something resembling the House’s normal schedule.

Leader of the Opposition Andrew Scheer rises during question period in the House of Commons Monday April 20, 2020 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)


The weekend seems to have ended with two competing proposals.

The Liberals, Bloc Quebecois, New Democrats and Greens agreed to proceed with one in-person sitting each week and two “virtual” sittings to be conducted through videoconferencing.

The Conservatives wanted three in-person sittings each week.

The Liberals, Bloc, NDP and Greens argued that every in-person meeting of MPs in Ottawa constitutes a health risk. Liberal House leader Pablo Rodriguez noted on Monday that about 50 members of the parliamentary staff are required to attend whenever the House is in session.

The Conservatives suggested the risk could be mitigated and wanted a study of virtual sittings completed before any extraordinary measures are implemented. Though several committees of the House already meet via video and teleconference, Conservatives have complaints about how smoothly those meetings tend to run.

Who gets left out?

Supporters of the Liberal proposal argued that holding in-person meetings with a few dozen MPs necessarily puts at a disadvantage the other 300 MPs not in attendance. Green MP Paul Manly also noted on Monday that some provincial governments have been asking those who travel out of province to self-isolate for two weeks upon their return — which would impose a heavy burden on them every time they attend a Commons session.

Conservatives argued that virtual sittings could be unfair to MPs who live in rural areas and don’t have broadband Internet connections at home.

The context of this argument may be new; the basic issue isn’t. MPs have seldom agreed in recent years on how the House of Commons should conduct its business. The past decade has seen unending fights over how debate time should be allotted, how legislation should be studied and what reforms, if any, should be made to the parliamentary process.

The Commons has an image problem

There is much to be said for disagreement, of course. The Westminster system of parliamentary democracy is built on the idea of government and opposition being set against each other. But MPs’ inability to agree on process during no less than a pandemic is a sign of how the institution has become easier to dismiss as just a forum for squabbling.

Given the paeans to parliamentary democracy we’ve all heard in recent days, you’d be forgiven for not realizing that the House of Commons typically sits for fewer than 130 days each year. In 2018 —a normal, non-pandemic year — the House took off two weeks in March and another two weeks in April.

But it would be easier to wish Parliament was in session more often if it spent more time doing obviously inspiring work when it was sitting.

Rarely does any Canadian come away from watching a session of question period with a feeling of pride in their democracy. If ever that daily exchange of condemnation served as a forum for useful debate or information, these days it’s mostly a backdrop for shouty video clips that MPs and parties can push out through their own Twitter and Facebook channels.

Partisanship comes roaring back

Maybe no one likes the idea of Parliament being sidelined or avoided, but does anyone really miss the daily spectacle when it’s not being staged?

Then again, two things can be true at once: that question period is desultory and that some question period is still better than none at all

WATCH | Scheer questions Trudeau in QP as the Commons returns.

Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke in the House of Commons on Monday 2:23

The normal excesses of partisanship may have been curtailed over the last six weeks, but the familiar rumble has picked up in recent days.

Over the weekend, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre posted satellite images of the official residence at Harrington Lake to suggest that Justin Trudeau had secretly constructed a mansion on the property and also alleged that the prime minister was forcing reporters to gather in unhealthy conditions for his daily news conferences. Then there was some dispute over whether Trudeau was disingenuous when he claimed that all 338 MPs might be forced by the Conservatives to return to Parliament this week.

When Parliament does resume, maybe MPs on all sides can take the opportunity to show Canadians just how valuable and admirable the institution can be.

In that respect, the 45 minutes of question period on Monday afternoon were a minor revelation.

The Commons when it works

For one thing, it did not sound like a barnyard. There was neither hooting nor hollering. With just a smattering of MPs in attendance, it apparently was understood that the usual clapping and heckling would seem even more ridiculous than it already does.

Even better, there were actual questions, met with actual answers.

Andrew Scheer, as leader of the Official Opposition, posed relatively straightforward queries about the procurement of ventilators, the early warnings of an outbreak in China and the management of emergency supplies. And the prime minister came prepared to actually offer specific information in response, generally avoiding the platitudes and airy assurances that have defined the Trudeau government’s approach to question period over the last five years.

It wasn’t a perfect tribute to the Socratic method but it was a decent display of parliamentary accountability. Even if some of Monday’s sobriety was brought on by the horror in Nova Scotia, it showed that MPs are collectively capable of some seriousness.

What’s more, the government and the Official Opposition then agreed to put their differences to a vote. Shortly after question period, the Liberal plan for future sittings was adopted by a vote of 22 to 15.

How the parties got to that new arrangement was not particularly edifying. But the existence of our democratic institutions is a basic good. And there is still a chance now for MPs and ministers to show the best of themselves — as this country’s doctors, nurses, public servants and citizens have done every day for the past six weeks. SOURCE


Aaron Wherry, Parliament Hill Bureau

Aaron Wherry has covered Parliament Hill since 2007 and has written for Maclean’s, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. He is the author of Promise & Peril, a book about Justin Trudeau’s years in power.

Canada’s favourite gardeners share their plans for summer

Downsizing, sharing fresh produce, raising garden beds, and finally addressing the dreaded ‘forgotten zone’

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

After a harsh Canadian winter, the return of spring is always a gift — and this year the gift feels particularly precious. The determined blooms of Siberian squill and the sunny faces of daffodils remind us that time marches on and beauty persists. It seems both veteran green thumbs, who may be considering turning their entire front lawn into a garden, and those just learning of the inherent joy of sowing seeds are feeling horticulturally inspired — perhaps because gardening offers us a modicum of control that we so desperately seek right now.

I’ve been daydreaming about the things I’d like to do to my garden to make it even more inviting this summer and that got me wondering what Canada’s gardening experts are dreaming up. This is what they told me.

Mark Cullen, gardening expert/columnist

MC: I’m moving from a 10 acre garden to a one acre garden this year. With many prized perennials in my current garden, I am digging and dividing much of the spring to make the most of it. Hostas, Bee Balm (Monarda), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) to name just three, will all be poached in the nicest possible way. Not only are these mature and excellent quality plants, I will save a fortune by not having to purchase them new.

Also working on building a new potting shed, installing insect hotelsbird nesting boxes and arbours — not to mention creating a plan for the veggies, fruit, ornamental trees, kids’ natural play garden and a water feature.

From left to right: Hostas, Black-eyed Susan, Bee Balm (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)


Ben Cullen, gardening expert/columnist (and Mark’s son!)

BC: We live in a rented house in Guelph, Ontario and last year I got permission from the landlord to put in two oak trees — a red oak and a bur-oak. The trees I planted were bareroot, two year old trees about as thick as your big toe — but I am looking forward to seeing how they establish this summer. To see them leaf out will be a great joy. I chose native oaks because we have learned how they support hundreds of insect and caterpillar species, which in turn support the birds. My wife and I are starting our seeds now as well — this year we will be doing more paste tomatoes for preserving as we have found that we just can’t eat them fast enough when they are in season. As well, a friend recently gave us seeds for Palestinian Molokhia (Corchorus olitorius), a prolific leafy-green similar to spinach and related to okra. Friends are where most of my floral additions will be coming from — our master gardener friends are generous in sharing their perennials with us renters (and I’ll see what I can steal from Dad’s place during the down-size too).

Red Oak and Bur Oak (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)


Frank Ferragine AKA “Frankie Flowers“, gardening expert/author

FF: This summer, I look forward to motivating even more people to garden through my personal gardening project called ‘Elevated Eats‘. Elevated Eats is an urban test farm and the goal is to elevate people’s food growing knowledge and elevate food choices for Canada’s hungry at the same time by donating the food that’s grown. Located at Yorkdale Shopping Centre, people of all ages can sign up to volunteer and learn about our ‘milk crate farm system’ which has been used to successfully grow over 30 varieties of vegetables including cucumbers, swiss chard, kale, eggplant and lettuce as well as herbs such as basil, chives, mint, rosemary and thyme. And the best part is, we’ve been able to donate this fresh bounty to food banks for three seasons running! We’ve also created a free, full education plan to go along with it so new gardeners can find all the information they need to get inspired. Like a lot of gardeners, I’m really looking forward to getting my hands dirty this year.

(Source: Frankie Flowers)


Carson Arthur, landscape designer/television personality

CA: With all of this extra time on my hands, I’ve made a list of the projects I want to get done — including tackling the ‘ugly spot’ in my yard. Now I can totally admit to having that one spot that I’m not proud of and this is the spring to fix it!  If you have one of these spots on your property, possibly the side garden between you and the neighbour, or out near the storage shed, maybe it is time to do something about it. Here are my easy fixes for those neglected spaces.

Add something special. Sounds easy enough right? Give a space that has no visual attraction a focal point. The challenge is the level of visual interest can’t be too great. Now let me explain; for most of us, there is a valid reason why these spots in our yard are not where we often spend time in so adding a ‘wow factor’ to them may not be the best solution.

Plants in these spaces need to be low maintenance. I, unfortunately, have a bad habit of sticking plants that don’t have a home into these spots in my yard. If you are uninspired by a piece in your yard there is a simple trick. Go to a garden centre and get one flowering perennial with medium to big leaves that is currently in bloom. Add one perennial grass to the cart and one dark leafed shrub. This combination is my ‘go-to’ whenever I need to add pop to a space.

Every space in the yard has the potential to be something special. You just have to get inspired!

(Source: Carson Arthur)

(Source: Carson Arthur)


Marjorie Harris, plant & garden consultant 

MH: Gardeners think long term, and with that spirit, I am looking forward to seeing one of my favourite recent projects mature this summer. No matter what age you are, if you like to get your hands dirty, you will benefit from raised beds. For the aging gardener, who may find it even more challenging to stoop and bend, it’s the ideal place to collect all those special plants that you may have sprinkled about the garden.

To help me age well in the garden, I decided to have a large raised bed (3 metres by 1.2 metres by 1 metre high) to hold my collection of dwarf plants. Choosing a location for it was easy. I chose a spot with as much sun as possible and close to a bench where I could sit and admire the plants.

‘Dwarf’ is a mysterious term which can refer to a plant which is a couple of centimetres to five metres high. So be careful what you choose and only buy from a reliable nursery person or you could plant something that grows much larger than you expected. Mine came from Vineland Nurseries and I got ironclad guarantees that if these plants survived, they’d be small. I also put them in the main garden for a couple of years so I could observe them and gauge what to expect.

Rear: Cornus alternifolia ‘Argentea’ (will have to be kept bonsaied so it won’t overwhelm the plants in front of it); Left: Acer palmatum ‘Beni Komachi’; Right: Acer palmatum ‘Veridis’; Foreground: Acer palmatum ‘Mikawa Yatsubusa’; Chamaecyparis ‘Bridget’ (under the Japanese maple); Pinus mugo ‘Mitsch Mini’; Tsuga ‘Popaleuski’. (Source: Marjorie Harris)


You need to have good soil with excellent drainage for any raised bed — a mix of black topsoil, compost and sand worked for me (75 per cent soil plus 12.5 per cent for each of the other two). I top up with compost and add a bit of Epsom Salt for phosphorus and nitrogen (4 L water mixed with 2 tbsp Epsom salts applied immediately) about once a year. Compost does the trick keeping this soil healthy. I mulched with stones once the squirrels found how much fun this bed is and added sharp, thorny bits from rose pruning to help keep any other tempted marauders at bay.

My raised bed is fairly large but almost any size will work — just never jam a lot of plants in. Crowding means you can’t appreciate the quality of the plants, and that’s what this project is all about — an intense relationship with each plant.

Jon L. Peter, curator & plant records manager, Royal Botanical Gardens

As tree buds begin to swell and snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are at peak bloom under the canopy of my dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), I begin to contemplate the coming joys of my home garden.

A neglected trouble-spot in my property is the drainage swale that runs between my neighbour’s fence and my walkway. For five years, this area between our houses has evolved to include a foundation planting bed with some of my shade-loving favourites — bishop’s hat (Epimedium lishihchenii), large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) and false anemone (Anemonella macrophylla), an in-progress metal-edged walkway, a new gate and adjoining fence. Other than raising the grade slightly for the walkway, this drainage swale has remained turfgrass and difficult to maintain. It is an awkward corner that my lawn mower doesn’t quite do justice on and it’s time for a change.

(Source: Jon L. Peter)


My plan is to get rid of the turfgrass throughout this swale and replace the turf with cultivated plants which thrive in this “rain garden” situation where conditions fluctuate between wet and dry.

I wanted to take a herbicide-free approach to this project so my first step was to use a line-trimmer to shave the turfgrass to deplete as much of its energy as possible. Next, I raked some leaves that had accumulated in the corners of my garden beds and piled those leaves over the scalped turf area. The leaves will create a mat that won’t allow light to get to the soil surface and will smother out any growth.

(Source: Jon L. Peter)


Next, I used branches recently pruned from my Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) and the conifer boughs which were in my winter container displays, to lay on top of the leaves. This will ensure everything is held in place. I will continue to repeat this process along the length of this area until it’s all usable garden space.

After a month or two, the turfgrass will be smothered out and I can remove the majority of the debris, slightly cultivate the soil and incorporate some of the organic matter and then plant desirable species. I am particularly excited to have grown some Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus) from seed, so I have some one year old seedlings to transplant to this location. I am also excited to plant some Joe-Pye-weed (Eutrochium purpureum) and one of my favourite new introductions, Letterman’s Ironweed (Vernonia lettermanii or ‘Iron Butterfly’). Both perennial species along with lots of other natives, near-natives, and nativars will thrive in this renovated drainage swale location and the planting will help to reduce surface runoff, increase ground water holding and will require much less maintenance than the previous layout.  SOURCE

The day oil was worth less than $0 — and nobody wanted it

Are oil prices really negative? And how is that possible?

A pumpjack pulls oil out of the ground in central Alberta. Oil prices dipped below zero on Monday, as the deadline neared to unload futures contracts. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

During these extraordinary times of the COVID-19 pandemic, a few hours can seem like a few days, and last week can feel like last month. For those in the oilpatch, the heady days of 2014, when oil prices were above $100 US per barrel, must seem like a century ago.

The markets have been excessively volatile since the pandemic began, but on Monday the truly unthinkable happened — oil prices turned negative.

Alberta’s oilpatch history is full of ups and downs, dating back to the province’s first big oil rush more than 100 years ago near Turner Valley. But who would have thought oil would one day be worth less than $0?

On Monday, the price for West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the North American benchmark, fell more than $50 to close at negative $37.63 US.

“It’s certainly not something I ever thought I would witness,” said Matt Murphy, a Calgary-based equity research analyst with Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

“I won’t wager a guess how it may trade [Tuesday]. Could it go worse than negative $40? I don’t know,” he said.

Oil companies in Western Canada and offshore Newfoundland were already drastically reducing costs, slashing payroll and pulling back on oil production in recent weeks with commodity prices hitting multi-year lows. Now, the cuts are being accelerated further with Husky Energy and Crescent Point Energy both on Monday cutting spending more than previously announced.

It was a crazy day on the markets.

WTI prices swung wildly as oil traders began to panic as time runs out to get rid of oil contracts for May. The price of oil is determined by investments known as futures contracts, which are agreements to buy and sell a certain amount of oil at a certain time in the future. Typically, the contracts are bought and sold countless times before the oil is actually delivered to the final buyer.

But the May contracts are set to finalize on Tuesday, meaning anyone left holding one will have to physically receive the oil — and storage options are filling up, especially in the U.S. Midwest. No one wants to be stuck with the oil and traders were willing to take heavy losses to ditch the contracts before they come due.

“Crude is purchased in advance and the current collapse for May is signalling no demand for a lot of barrels,” said Bernadette Johnson, with Enverus, a Texas-based analytics firm.

It’s like drinking from a fire hose. You get up in the morning and you really don’t know what’s going to hit you.– Brian Schmidt, Tamarack Valley Energy

“To make matters worse, if that’s possible, the May WTI contract expires [Tuesday] and, like last month when the prompt month expired, we anticipate another price collapse,” she said.

The contracts for several other grades of crude in North America are also near zero or in the negative, including Western Canada Select, a blend produced from the Alberta oilsands.

The June contracts for WTI are similar to global oil prices and hover around $20 US per barrel.

Still, for now, oil in negative territory? It’s exceptional.

Alberta was already projecting a deficit of $6.8 billion this year and that was based on WTI at $58 per barrel. When the budget was approved last month, the oil price forecast already looked antiquated. Now, it’s just ludicrous.

“It’s like drinking from a fire hose. You get up in the morning and you really don’t know what’s going to hit you,” said Brian Schmidt, the chief executive of Calgary-based Tamarack Valley Energy.

“We’re talking to our crude marketing people and they’ve never seen it before and their computers aren’t set to handle it,” he said.

Natural gas prices in Western Canada turned negative a few times during the summer of 2017, however those price crashes were the result of pipeline maintenance issues, which cut off some storage options and caused supply to back up. That was a temporary regional problem, unlike the woes facing the oil markets today.

Optimism hard to find

There seems to be no easy solution to the crisis in the oilpatch as not even historical oil production cuts from the OPEC cartel — along with many other countries and companies — are enough to lift prices. There is still too much oil coming out of the ground and not nearly enough places to put it or use it.

Demand for fuels has plummeted as the aviation sector is hit hard by the pandemic and as most people stay home and park their vehicles.

Refineries are slowing down operations and don’t need nearly as much oil.

Storage levels are filling up quickly and there are concerns about when there won’t be anymore space left in tanks to hold more oil.

“I think you’re going to see these kinds of aberrations as the stockpiles continue to build up and we start running out of space. So I don’t think this is going to be anything unusual here for the next few months going forward,” said Schmidt.

Tamarack Valley Energy produces about 22,000 barrels of oil per day and has pre-sold about 60 per cent of it at $50 US on average, said Schmidt, while the remaining production is likely fetching about $10 to $12 a barrel.

The only response the industry has to low prices is cutting costs, said Schmidt and he finds it sad to think of all the people that rely on the sector including small businesses, contractors, and landowners, among others.

“Unfortunately, as a leader in the industry, you’re having to face people everyday and tell them they don’t have a contract, don’t have work, we have to wait and see what happens and try and make room,” he said. SOURCE


Oil price goes into negative territory as traders get squeezed running for the exits

The bottom just fell out on the price of oil.

Join Linda Solomon Wood for a conversation about the government’s bailout package for fossil companies with Tzeporah Berman, one of Canada’s leading environmental advocates.

Tuesday April 21, 4 p.m. Pacific Time, 7 p.m. Eastern Time
Register Here: 

This conversation is part of Canada’s National Observer’s Zoom series on the pandemic and climate change

Please join us.

Tell Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson to protect wild salmon and endangered orcas.

According to a recent report1, the Terminal 2 Project (T2), located at the mouth of British Columbia’s Fraser River, will have significant adverse effects on Chinook salmon and significant adverse and cumulative effects on Southern Resident killer whales.

If built, T2 will disrupt Chinook migration patterns and force young salmon into the open ocean before they are big and strong enough to survive there. Chinook are also the main food source for endangered Southern Resident killer whales. Just 72 of these whales remain, and those that do already suffer from chronic lack of food.

Now, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson has a decision to make: Approve T2 despite the risks, or acknowledge the project will have significant adverse environmental effects and pass the decision on to Cabinet.

We say, the choice is clear.

Urge Minister Wilkinson to make the right choice for salmon and orcas. Send your letter today.

Picture this: A world where salmon flourish and killer whales are well-fed.

Here at Ecojustice, we’ve spent years fighting to secure a world where Pacific salmon populations and Southern Resident killer whales rebound and thrive. That’s why we went to court to fight the Trans Mountain pipeline project2 and keep wild salmon disease-free3. And that’s why we’re continuing this work by opposing the T2 project.

But we can’t achieve this vision alone. We know from past victories that, when people come together and raise their voices, politicians listen.

Please, speak up for salmon and Southern Residents.

Take action by sending your letter today.