Five tests to make sure bailouts benefit people, not corporations

Canada’s corporate bailouts need to cut out tax dodgers and profiteers, and show long-term commitments are attached to the money.

The great recession of 2008 was an expensive lesson for governments around the world. Specifically, why providing large corporate and banking industry bailouts with little to no enforced conditions is a terrible idea. Massive loans and grants were used too often to rack up profit, pad executive pay, buy back shares to further inflate profit margins, and shell out even larger dividends to shareholders. Adding insult to injury, some of these corporations then moved their operations offshore, taking much needed jobs with them and extending one of the most detrimental impacts of the recession: the loss of full-time well-paying work. Since then, we’ve discovered the wide use of tax havens. It begs the question of how many of corporations we were bailing out were partaking in such schemes to avoid having their publicly funded profit taxed.

The coronavirus crisis has pushed many businesses and corporations to the edge and government assistance to protect jobs is needed, but the learnings of the great recession should make us smarter this time around.

We need to focus our spending on workers, their livelihoods and our collective goals as a society. Strict conditions should be placed on large loans or other significant financial support going out the door to big corporations.

You can’t be a tax cheat

It’s pretty simple. If you are using tax havens and other schemes to avoid paying Canadian taxes, you’re out, even if some of those schemes are legal. According to Canadians for Tax Fairness, the federal government loses at least $8 billion yearly to the use of tax havens. While we likely can’t solve the complicated mess of international tax avoidance in the middle of a pandemic, we can send a strong message – we’ll support you when you pay your fair share. If you are using a tax haven for your head office, or if you are storing profit in offshore accounts, it’s time to stop.

You can’t use our money to get richer

Strict conditions that cap executive pay (including bonuses), ban share-buyback schemes and freeze increases to shareholder dividends should accompany any loan or financing to large corporations. Those conditions should stay in place for the term of the loan. In the instance of a grant, they should stay in place for the period that the economy is in recession.

No free money

Any large capital bailout that isn’t a short-term loan should come with an equity-stake in the company. If we are covering your debt and risk, then we should also get a share of profits (should they return) and the ability to influence corporate decisions in the future.

We need decent green jobs in return 

Companies need to commit to maintaining jobs, and further conditions should be created to ensure they are decent jobs, with livable wages and adequate paid sick days. We could go a step further, casting our eyes down the road to recognize that Canada’s long-term success relies on greening every part of our economy, and require commitments to environmental improvements.

No secret deals

For years following the 2008 financial crisis, murky details emerged about the bailout packages given to banks and corporations, opening up questions that should have been addressed at the time. Too often, the public found out after the fact that there were too few conditions to ensure public benefit or halt profiteering. This time, we want transparency up front. That includes disclosure of the conditions of the bailout and proof that those conditions are being met.

Our economy’s success should be measured by how well it provides jobs, goods and services in a fair and equitable way, and how well it aids our collective goals, like tackling climate change. Denmark, Poland, Germany, France and others have started putting similar conditions on companies seeking government bailouts. Canada should too. SOURCE

 We need to take action now.

Send a message to your MP that corporate bailouts must pass these five tests:

  1. No tax cheats
  2. No profiteering with public money
  3. No free money
  4. Decent green jobs
  5. No secret deals

As Katrina mentioned, the coronavirus crisis has pushed many businesses and corporations to the edge and will be searching for bailouts. While government assistance is necessary to protect jobs and workers, the government needs to ensure full transparency and disclosure.

Strict conditions should be placed on large loans and other significant financial support going out the door to big corporations. Any bailout must benefit people, not corporations.

Take action now and tell your local MP that corporate bailouts must pass the “five tests”.

‘The parallels between coronavirus and climate crisis are obvious’

Environmental journalist Emily Atkin hopes public pressure over the pandemic will be a model for forcing governments to act

A participant at the Fridays for Future rally in Halle, Germany, last month. Photograph: Hendrik Schmidt/DPA-Zentralbild

“I’m sorry,” says Emily Atkin, not sounding very apologetic, “but if you still refuse to see parallels between climate change and coronavirus then honestly you’re just stupid.”

A few weeks ago, the 30-year-old journalist wasn’t feeling so confrontational. Less was known about the global pandemic; the data and scientific research showing how the two global crises are linked was not as clear is it is today. But the connections quickly became obvious to Atkin, founder of the climate newsletter and podcast Heated. “Both are global crises which threaten millions of lives with clear science on how to solve them which governments have been too slow to act on; the same people who promote climate denial are refusing to accept the science of coronavirus, too.

Emily Atkin, a former reporter at New Republic, launched Heated, a climate-focused newsletter and podcast
 Emily Atkin, a former reporter at New Republic, launched Heated, a climate-focused newsletter and podcast


“Coronavirus makes climate change worse, and vice versa,” Atkin says from isolation in her apartment. “We can’t do our research on climate because of it, we’ve had to cancel the UN climate summit for international negotiations.” Meanwhile, Donald Trump has loosened existing emission regulations during the pandemic, yet studies are already finding that death rates are “significantly higher” in areas with worse air pollution levels. The destruction of biodiversity makes pandemics more likely. And just like with the impact of global heating, , the coronavirus is hitting black, brown and poor people the worst.

The two things are so connected, Atkin repeats, that it’s stupid to say they’re not.

Raised in New York and based in Washington DC, Atkin started reporting on the climate in 2013 after graduating in journalism from SUNY (the State University of New York) but three years in she was burnt out. “I was forced to write in this really straight way with no emotion, just fact,” she says of her time spent at the now closed liberal news site ThinkProgress and then a more conservative TV network. “We ran stories which focused on ‘balance’ in a bid not to alienate audiences.” When facts were presented, it was to be done without emotion: the science shows we’ll kill people if we don’t do anything, we’re not doing anything, end report.

Climate-change deniers were also being given airtime on TV segments she was producing. She recalls being asked to rerecord a voiceover because she sounded “too judgmental” when stating what had been said by an interviewee wasn’t scientifically correct. And, with editors regularly giving science and opinion equal value, all too often Atkin felt she was doing a disservice to her beat.

“I thought back to my journalism classes and how we were taught the first rule in the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics is to seek truth and report it.” Atkin came to the realisation that when it comes to the climate crisis, showing what is true requires more than facts alone.

“The truth is full of emotions, money and power,” she says. “It’s about people dying while others profit, the impact on lives and culture and jobs.” Atkin had told the climate story again and again but felt she was making little impact. “It seemed so irresponsible for me to be working as a journalist… without being explicit about what will happen if we don’t lower carbon emissions, and fast.”

And so in September last year she left her reporting job at New Republic and launched Heated: a climate-focused newsletter which aimed at speaking directly to an ever-growing, but under-served, environmentally-conscious audience. Atkin quickly found launching her own platform didn’t just offer her editorial freedom, but her more emotive and in-depth output was giving her subscribers more confidence to talk all things climate in their daily lives.

“I’ve had so many emails from readers telling me how before Heated the idea of speaking abut climate change to friends, family and colleagues made them anxious,” says Atkin. “Social science shows the best thing we can do as individuals on climate change is to speak about it, but it’s so controversial in the US that many people felt if difficult questions were asked they wouldn’t be prepared.”

 A boarded-up bar on the Upper East Side of New York City. Photograph: David Dee Delgado/Getty


Her paying subscribers have an expectation of regularly delivered content, and when the pandemic worsened she was struggling to write about the relationship between coronavirus and the climate crisis in a coherent and digestible way. “If I do a podcast, I thought, I could work it out as we go along by talking to really smart people,” she says. The moment matched the medium, and the Heated podcast was quickly launched.

She has interviewed the veteran US environmentalist Bill McKibben, Harvard’s interim director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment Dr Aaron Bernstein, and a host of her fellow climate journalists. Her response to Planet of the Humans, Michael Moore’s controversial climate documentary (“a bad faith insult to all the work climate and energy scholars, journalists and activists have done in the last ten years”) makes compelling listening.

The first episode, however, opens with Atkin offering her own realisation: that living through the coronavirus has changed her thinking on whether individual action on climate, rather than only big business, politicians and the world’s most powerful, has a significant role to play.

“Every day now I take an individual action to help protect people: staying at home, wearing a mask, sanitising my hands, avoiding my friends and family,” says Atkin. “And that’s not just to protect people physically, but to show everyone around me that I care about this problem too.”

Seeing how quickly most of us have adapted our lives to respond to the Covid-19 crisis and encouraged our peers to follow has been a lesson in the potential of virtue-signalling. Public pressure on governments has forced swifter action, and communities have proven that they’re willing to make major changes both to help themselves but also for a greater good. Maybe, thinks Atkin, the “we’re all in it together” attitude could help to progress the climate cause too.

 Part of an Extinction Rebellion protest in the Hague, Netherlands, last month. Photograph: Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto/Getty


That’s not to say that diving head first into the corona–climate crossover has necessarily made her more confident about the future. When the newsletter started there was momentum behind a Green New Deal, a host of candidates with different climate policies fighting it out in the democratic primary, and climate change forums being broadcast on network TV.

“Focus has always been climate change’s number one problem,” says Atkin. “Journalists aren’t willing to cover it properly, people don’t want to to talk about, politicians with vested interests can’t be bothered.” It’s a crisis in prioritisation, and the coronavirus has certainly sapped momentum from the movement.

The relative speed at which states have moved on the coronavirus compared to inaction on the long-running climate catastrophe front has also confirmed one of Atkin’s greatest fears: that we live in societies so focused on the short-term that we wait to see the worst happening with our own eyes before we act on it. She isn’t optimistic about that changing any time soon, so that’s where Heated fits into her thinking.

”I see my responsibility as documenting the short-term effects of climate change more aggressively so people understand, just like coronavirus, climate change is killing people right now,” she says. Some, Atkin says, might think this make her an activist. “But I think it simply makes me someone who cares about human life, which is a basic tenet of journalism.”

Far from being irresponsible to talk about the climate during the coronavirus crisis, as Atkin puts it: it’s irresponsible not to. SOURCE

Covid-19 is closing Canada’s carbon-intensive oil sands for business


An aerial view of Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) oilsands mining operation near Fort McKay. RYAN JACKSON / Edmonton Journal

From a climate perspective, oil sands are a carbon catastrophe.

Extracting crude from Canada’s oil sands is more complicated than tapping into a gusher of oil. Instead, oil companies must steam or mine a sticky, tar-like substance called bitumen out of the ground. For deep deposits, miners sink deep shafts to access deposits and force steam underground. In surface extraction, companies excavate massive open pits to process the oil-laden earth.

The energy required to pull this oil out of the ground and process it is enormous. It takes three to five units of energy from natural gas to produce one unit of energy from oil sands.

That makes it one of the most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet. Burning even a fraction of the 165.4 billion barrels in Alberta’s estimated reserves would likely raise temperatures far beyond the 1.5C rise scientists believe is needed to avoid more dangerous warming.

The oil price collapse could be temporary. Or it could be the start of a long-term decline for one of the most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet.

Is this end of the oil sands?

Globally, the Covid-19 pandemic has sent oil prices (and demand) to unprecedented lows. For everyone but the lowest-cost oil producers, particularly in Russia and Saudi Arabia, today’s oil price is unsustainable.

On April 20, a barrel of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil was selling in the US market for -$36.20 a barrel. American traders were paying people to take oil off their hands as storage space ran out, and Canadian crude spiraled downwards. That’s never happened before.

US oil prices turn negative as demand dries up - BBC News


While Canada’s oil prices didn’t quite plumb those depths, the industry is in even worse shape. Crude from Canada’s oil sands is sold as the Western Canadian Select (WCS) grade. Its price is calculated as a monthly average of WTI daily prices, usually at a 20% discount (or more) because it’s far more expensive to extract and transport.

While WTI has recovered to around $15, the price difference between the grades is even larger as Canadian crude bottoms out. Future contracts for crude from Canada’s oil sands are now trading at $7 per barrel (April 27) falling from $35/bbl in February. Firms reliant on the region have seen share prices cut in half.

The Canadian crude industry is getting more efficient, but no one can make money selling at that price. In the last five years, oil sands firms have fought to compete by slashing costs by about one-third. That’s brought the industry’s break-even prices down from $100 per barrel in 2014 to between $45 to $50 today (although some facilities are more efficient).

Stemming the losses won’t be as simple as slowing production. A halt in mining can permanently damage underground reservoirs if heat and pressure are not maintained. If companies do restart production, it may take months to reach previous levels (unlike conventional oil wells). Since most costs must be paid whether companies are pumping or not, it’s often cheaper to run at a loss for months or even a year.

ConocoPhillips, Husky Energy, Cenovus Energy, Athabasca, Hangingstone, and others have all voluntarily slashed production. Steeper cuts of more than 25% of production are on the horizon. The research firm GlobalData estimates crude oil production in Canada will fall at least 600,000 barrels per day this year, and continue to fall if prices don’t bounce back.

Thomas Liles, an analyst with research firm Rystad Energy, expects the industry to scale back spending by more than 40%, the lowest point in two decades, but resume extracting as prices recover through 2022. Projects deferred this year will be moved to the coming years as WTI prices recover to $30 or $40 per barrel, estimates Liles.

Meanwhile, capital may be slowly drying up. Trains and a very limited set of pipelines carry oil sands crude to refineries. The massive proposed Keystone XL pipeline, now years behind schedule, was blocked by the Obama Administration, local communities, Native American tribes, and others worried the new channel to transport billions of barrels of oil threatens their lives and lands. The longer the pipeline’s viability remains in question, the less attractive the oil sands will be. HSBC, BlackRock, and others have already said they will move their investments or financial offerings away from positions in Alberta’s oil sands. And Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, Sweden’s largest pension fund, BNP Paribas Group, Société Générale of France divested from the company building Keystone XL.

Those concerns may slow, but not stop oil sands development. This month, the provincial government in Alberta stepped in with a $5 billion package of financing and loan guarantees for Keystone XL, and the Trump Administration granted permission to resume pipeline construction during the pandemic (a court order from a federal judge halted this again). Smaller pipelines and railcars can also take oil sands crude to market. And although oil prices remain at rock bottom today, a modest global recovery could push them back up to levels that make at least some of Canada’s oil sands profitable.

Only a carbon price, or regulation, is likely to keep most of the oil sands in the ground. That might come after 2025, according to a study commissioned by Principles for Responsible Investment, a UN-supported investor group with $86 trillion in assets. Last year, it warned of an “Inevitable Policy Response” by mid-decade, a massive global correction that devalues carbon-intensive assets and industries. The research predicted a 3.1% devaluation, equivalent to $1.6 trillion to $2.3 trillion by 2025. The fossil fuel sector will be hit hardest.

But so far, Liles says, climate concerns are not part of oil sands producers’ calculus. “I wouldn’t say carbon is something we’ve seen factored into long-term production goals,” he says. “The default thinking is continued growth and lower upstream emissions where possible. I’m not sure anyone is thinking on a global scale.” SOURCE

Alberta Energy Regulator Must Consider the Honour of the Crown Within its Public Interest Mandate

Terri-Lee Oleniuk
Katie Slipp

In its April 24, 2020, decision, the Alberta Court of Appeal (Court) quashed the Alberta Energy Regulator’s (AER) approval of a bitumen recovery project (Project) proposed by Prosper Petroleum Ltd. (Prosper). The Project would be located within 10 km of the Moose Lake Reserves (Moose Lake), an area within Treaty 8 that is culturally significant to the Fort McKay First Nation (FMFN).

The Court concluded that the AER erred in finding that it was precluded from considering Moose Lake Access Management Plan (MLAMP) negotiations in its public interest determination. The Court directed the AER to reassess whether the Project is in the public interest after considering “the honour of the Crown and the MLAMP process.”


Moose Lake has been the subject of land management negotiations between Alberta and the FMFN for almost 20 years, with a focus on the development of the MLAMP “to address cumulative effects of oil sands development on the First Nation’s Treaty 8 rights.”

After initially denying the FMFN request for a 10 km buffer zone from oil sands development around Moose Lake, a subsequent review acknowledged that Alberta had “not taken adequate measures to protect [FMFN’s] Treaty and Aboriginal rights, Traditional Land Use and culture.” As a result, former Premier Jim Prentice and Chief Jim Boucher of FMFN signed a Letter of Intent in 2015 confirming their “mutual commitment and interest in an expedited completion of the [MLAMP].” While the letter envisaged that planning and implementation of the portion of the Access Management Plan within 10 km of Moose Lake would be complete by September 30, 2015, and a draft of the MLAMP would be complete by March 31, 2016, the MLAMP has yet to be finalized.


The Project, which would use steam-assisted gravity drainage to produce approximately 10,000 barrels of bitumen per day, has faced multiple regulatory and legal challenges since it was proposed in 2013. In June 2018, the AER ultimately concluded that the Project was in the public interest and issued an approval, subject to an Order in Council authorization by Cabinet. The AER considered the effect of the Project on FMFN’s Treaty 8 rights in general, yet declined to consider whether Project approval would frustrate ongoing MLAMP negotiations. In its reasons, the AER made three critical findings in this regard:

    1. Section 21 of the Responsible Energy Development Act (REDA) prohibits the AER from assessing the adequacy of Crown consultation
    2. Section 7(3) of the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP) prohibits the AER from “adjourning, deferring, denying, refusing or rejecting any application” by reason only of incompletion of a LARP regional plan
    3. AER approval of the Project under the Oil Sands Conservation Act is subject to authorization by Cabinet, which is “the most appropriate place for a decision on the need to finalize the MLAMP”

Ultimately, the AER concluded the status of the MLAMP “was not a valid reason to deny Prosper’s application.” Cabinet has yet to authorize or deny the Project, which itself has been the subject of additional litigation.


In January 2019, the Court granted FMFN permission to appeal the AER’s decision on the following question: “did the AER commit an error of law or jurisdiction by failing to consider the honour of the Crown and, as a result, failing to delay approval of the Project until the First Nation’s negotiations with Alberta about the Moose Lake Access Management Program were completed?”


In forming the Court’s decision, Justices Veldhius and Strekaf assessed the AER’s three primary reasons for declining to consider the MLAMP process in its public interest determination. The Court found that the AER erred on each count on the basis of the following:

  1. While section 21 of REDA precludes the regulator from assessing the adequacy of Crown consultation, “issues of constitutional law outside the parameters of the duty to consult remain within the AER’s jurisdiction, including as they relate to the honour of the Crown.” The Court relied on Clyde River (Hamlet) v Petroleum Geo-Services Inc., where the Supreme Court of Canada notes, “[a] project authorization that breaches the constitutionally protected rights of Indigenous peoples cannot serve the public interest” and therefore the AER has “a broad implied jurisdiction to consider issues of constitutional law, including the honour of the Crown” when making a decision on a project. As established in Manitoba Metis Federation Inc. v Canada (Attorney General), the honour of the Crown can give rise to duties beyond the duty to consult.
  2. The AER incorrectly found the MLAMP to be subject to section 7(3) of the LARP. The MLAMP is only briefly mentioned as a planning initiative that will “be assessed for inclusion in the LARP implementation,” and is not a “provision of either the LARP Strategic Plan or LARP Implementation Plan” or a “direction or commitment made in a provision” subject to section 7(3).
  3. The AER has a statutory responsibility to determine whether a project is in the public interest, which include “adherence to constitutional principles like the honour of the Crown,” and only then can a proposed project proceed to Cabinet authorization. Although Cabinet can take public interest matters into consideration, this “does not relieve the AER of its responsibility,” including considering the “MLAMP negotiations and related issues as they implicate the Honour of the Crown.”

The Court rejected Prosper’s argument that the appeal is premature pending a Cabinet decision, as well as Alberta’s argument that the result sought by FMFN would place “the AER in an improper role with respect to government policy decisions.” The Court concluded that “considerations of the effect of the project on aboriginal interests and adherence with constitutional principles are part of the AER’s public interest mandate” and that this does not “relieve the Crown of its ultimate constitutional responsibilities.” Justices Veldhius and Strekaf concluded, “the public interest mandate can and should encompass considerations of the effect of a project on aboriginal peoples, which in this case will include the state of negotiations between the FMFN and the Crown. To preclude such considerations entirely takes an unreasonably narrow view of what comprises the public interest, particularly given the direction to all government actors to foster reconciliation.”

In her concurring judgment, Justice Greckol clarifies the Court’s expectation of maintaining the honour of the Crown, stating that it does not mean that parties must agree to a particular settlement, but that “it does require that the Crown keep promises made during negotiations designed to protect treaty rights. It certainly demands more than allowing the Crown to placate FMFN while its treaty rights careen into obliteration. That is not honourable. And it is not reconciliation.”


The decision confirms a regulator’s obligation to consider the effects of a project on Aboriginal peoples, including the honour of the Crown, when considering whether a project is in the public interest. It also emphasizes that a statutory decision-maker must consider all matters relevant to the public interest, and cannot decline to consider issues that fall within its mandate on the basis they might be better addressed by another body.

Importantly for AER-regulated projects, it clarifies that the REDA prohibition against assessing the adequacy of Crown consultation does not insulate the AER from considering the honour of the Crown, or other constitutional considerations, more generally. However, whether or not regulators, proponents, Indigenous communities and other stakeholders will be able to draw a bright line between the honour of the Crown as part of the public interest determination and the adequacy of Crown consultation remains to be seen.

While the facts underpinning the decision are unique, the findings of the Court are important and are expected to have wide-reaching impacts on how regulators discharge their public interest mandates.


Blakes periodically provides materials on our services and developments in the law to interested persons.This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an opinion on any issue.

Why Jason Kenney Exploring a Green New Deal Isn’t Crazy

The world is shifting and politics will not stand still, even in Alberta.


Cartoon by Greg Perry.

Back in 1975, the Eastman Kodak Company sold 90 per cent of the film bought in the U.S. and 85 per cent of all cameras. At one time the company employed 145,000 people worldwide.

By 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection — destroyed by disruptive digital photography technology that was invented by Kodak’s own engineers in 1975. A former vice president described what will go down as one of the great business blunders of all time: “We developed the world’s first consumer digital camera but we could not get approval to launch or sell it because of fear of the effects on the film market.”

History sometimes happens fast and those who presume they have power to restrain unfolding events can be in for an unpleasant awakening.

Which brings us to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Last week he expressed his outrage that a local reporter would have the temerity to ask in the midst of a global collapse in oil prices and demand whether he had thought about reaching out to politicians advancing a Green New Deal in the U.S. Apparently even exploring a hard transition away from fossil fuels is considered a thought crime by the governing United Conservative Party.

“Listen, our focus is on getting people back to work in Alberta, not pie-in-the-sky ideological schemes,” the Premier fumed. “That kind of question, in the middle of an economic crisis, from a Calgary-based media outlet — really, frankly, throws me for a loop. It sounds like you’re reporting for The Tyee or something.”

Have I been cleaning all wrong?

Many household disinfectants promise to kill 99.9 percent of germs, but some of us might be cleaning too swiftly to let them do their job.


Ever since the coronavirus became a threat, many of us are doing a lot more cleaning at home, spraying and wiping pretty much everything in sight, especially high-touch surfaces like door knobs and faucet handles.

But many of us are used to giving a surface a quick spray, followed by a wipe or two, which may not allow enough time for the product to work. And once you start reading labels on cleaning products closely, it gets really confusing. Several readers pointed out that disinfectant wipes and spray cleaners have different instructions on their labels for how long a cleaner should stay on a surface to effectively kill germs, ranging from 30 seconds to four minutes or even as long as 10 minutes. What’s more, some labels recommend cleaning before using a disinfectant.

So what’s the right way to clean? We talked to infectious disease scientists and microbiologists who study and test cleaning products to answer your questions about cleaning in the time of coronavirus. The bottom line: Whether you’re worried about coronavirus or other germs that lurk in our homes, many of us are cleaning too fast for the disinfectant to do its job.

Here’s what the experts said.

You probably need to let your disinfectant stay on the surface you’re cleaning for far longer than you think.

“The longer you can let it be in contact, the better,” said Dr. Andrew Janowski, instructor of pediatric infectious diseases at Washington University School of Medicine St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “What I’ve been doing at home: I wait roughly a minute if I’m applying a spray product and then wiping.”

To find out how long the recommended time is for a specific product, check the label. The guidance could range from 30 seconds to several minutes of contact time before you wipe. Note that some products may claim to sanitize, which means they reduce the level of certain bacteria, but not viruses. A disinfectant claim means the product destroys or inactivates both the bacteria and viruses noted on the label.

Even cleaners from the same brand have different contact times. My bottle of Clorox bleach says five minutes of contact time, while Clorox Clean-Up Cleaner + Bleach advises 30 seconds. Clorox Anywhere Hard Surface says two minutes (but it promises to kill only bacteria, not viruses), while Clorox Disinfecting Wipes says four minutes. Even among similar Lysol branded wipes, the recommended contact time varies — the lavender scented wipe recommends 10 minutes of contact time, whereas the lemon-lime scented wipe says four minutes.

Why are the recommended contact times so different? It depends on which bacteria and viruses the product claims to kill. To make a disinfectant claim, a product has to go through a strict testing process set forth by a country’s regulatory agencies. In the United States, it’s the Environmental Protection Agency. To test a disinfectant, scientists cover a surface with a large dose of the organism being studied. They then douse the surface with a disinfectant and let it sit for a set amount of time before testing to determine whether any of the organisms remain viable.

Those tests are essentially worst-case scenarios using excessively high concentrations of germs — about 100,000 organisms per centimeter — which is far more than would typically be found in a home setting. “Most common surfaces in homes and hospitals have less than 100 organisms per square centimeter,” said Dr. David Weber, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

But even though the contact time advice is probably overkill, to be certain a surface has been completely disinfected, you should pay attention to the disinfection time recommendations on the label, especially when someone in the house has been sick. In some cases, organism contamination can reach very high levels in a home — like when you are working with raw chicken in a kitchen or when someone in the house is ill and an area has been contaminated with stool or vomit. And some organisms, like norovirus, which causes severe gastrointestinal symptoms, are particularly tough to eliminate and can cause illness in infinitesimal doses.

If your surface is covered in crumbs, grime or spilled food, then yes, you do need to clean away the debris and dirt before using a disinfectant.

“For a germicide to work, it has to touch the germs,” said Dr. Weber, who has consulted for PDI, a firm that makes disinfectants. “If you have a layer of grime, the dirt can protect the bacteria. Cleaning has to precede disinfection.”

Some cleaners promise to both clean and disinfect, but even those labels advise pre-cleaning a heavily soiled surface.

When wipes are tested in laboratory conditions, the clock starts with the first wipe and continues until the surface dries. So you don’t have to wipe for a full four minutes (or whatever time is advised on the label). The goal is for the wiping time and drying time to last four minutes, says Haley Oliver, a microbiologist and associate professor of food science at Purdue University.

In a recent study of disinfectant wipes, Dr. Oliver and colleagues tested a six-inch formica square covered with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. The surface was wiped four times with a disinfectant wipe and left to dry. Five out of six products tested remained wet on the surface until the label contact time was reached. One product dried 15 seconds too soon, but it still worked well against germs.

“I think being conscious of contact time is important,” says Dr. Oliver, whose research includes work with Diversy, a major producer of cleaning and disinfectant products. “If this is my house and I’m on a wipe campaign, I want to see that the wipe deposited liquid on that surface.”

You can use one wipe to clean multiple surfaces. As long as the wipe remains wet, an indication that it still has plenty of cleaner on it, you don’t have to worry about spreading organisms around. That said, most experts I spoke with prefer not to mix rooms. So they would use one wipe on multiple surfaces in a bathroom, for example, but they wouldn’t use that same wipe in the kitchen.

Dr. Oliver notes that there isn’t official guidance on how much surface area one wipe can cover. The key to disinfecting with wipes is to be aware when your wipe is running out of disinfectant. “If it’s not wet, then you’re not contacting microbes with the chemistry that was intended,” says Dr. Oliver. “If you’ve run out of the ingredient and your towelette is dry, you could be transmitting those organisms around.”

Product labels will say specifically what types of bacteria and viruses have been tested. But because SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is so new, most cleaning products haven’t been tested against it. The E.P.A. has, however, published a list of products expected to kill the virus because they are proven against harder-to-kill viruses or other types of coronavirus.

The good news is that the new coronavirus is actually much easier to kill than many of the organisms previously studied. So it is likely that even if you haven’t been following the contact time recommendations for disinfectants, you have probably been killing the virus. But you need to follow label direction to tackle harder-to-kill germs like e-coli, salmonella or staph.

“It’s important to note that these recommendations are generic and typically based on how long it takes to kill bacteria — for example, Staph and Strep, which are much harder to kill than a virus like SARS-CoV-2,” said Dr. Daniel R. Kuritzkes, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School. “Shorter times of exposure are most likely still quite effective to prevent Covid-19.”


Tara Parker-Pope is the founding editor of Well, The Times’s award-winning consumer health site. She won an Emmy in 2013 for the video series “Life, Interrupted” and is the author of “For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage.” @taraparkerpope


Pipelines, man camps and murdered Indigenous women in Canada

In Canada, resource extraction is not only endangering the land – but the lives of Indigenous women.

April Wiberg, an advocate for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), stands near the frozen Edmonton River Valley in Alberta, Canada [Brandi Morin/Al Jazeera]

Alberta, Canada – April Wiberg, 38, will always hate the smell of baby oil.

More than 20 years after a traumatising encounter with a man twice her age at a “trick pad” operating under the cover of a massage parlour in Edmonton, Alberta, she is still triggered by that smell.

“I will never forget the first guy,” she says, a distant expression momentarily settling upon her dark brown eyes.

April is visiting her good friend at her apartment near downtown Edmonton on a frigid winter afternoon. Sonya Purcell’s home represents comfort for April. The two have spent countless hours together, some of them organising events to advocate for the safety of Indigenous women and girls.

Sonya knows April’s story well. She knows it is full of hardship and redemption.

April wrings her hands nervously. “I will never forget the smell of baby oil,” she says, then takes a deep breath and refocuses.

“His hair: parted. Middle-aged. Blue-collar type.”

He would not take his eyes off her, she explains.

“That look in his eyes … He knew I was terrified, and he did it anyway.”

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April received a Woman of Vision award in 2019 for her advocacy work [Brandi Morin/Al Jazeera]

‘To numb my pain’

April is Cree from Mikisew Cree First Nation in northern Alberta but grew up in southern Saskatchewan, a province directly east of Alberta. She came from what she describes as a “broken, dysfunctional” home and experienced sexual, physical, emotional and verbal abuse growing up.

Her mother was absent for most of her childhood, dealing with the trauma of her own childhood spent in Canada’s residential school system, which ripped Indigenous children from their families and cultures and often subjected them to abuse and neglect.

April’s father, who was not Indigenous, raised her and her sister in a small town to the best of his ability. But there was always chaos, she says.

April and her sister were the only Indigenous children in their school, and they were often singled out and bullied.

By the time she was 16, April had run away from home, hoping to establish a relationship with her mother. But her mother was struggling with addiction, and April found herself alone on the streets of Edmonton.

She couch-surfed in friends’ houses, found herself in abusive relationships, committed petty crimes and eventually started using drugs and alcohol.

“I was learning how to numb my pain,” she explains. “And I was drifting further away from reality.”

As a vulnerable Indigenous girl with no fixed address, April believes she was targeted for sexual exploitation.

A First Nations woman, not much older than April, “groomed” her, she says, luring her into the sex trade.

Like her, the woman came from a difficult background and had been coerced into selling her body to survive, before eventually working her way up to become a recruiter of other young women and girls.

Soon April was being pressured into having sex with men for money.

It was the start of years of sexual exploitation.

‘He liked to torture women’

For weeks at a time, April would be sent to Alberta’s oil patch in Fort McMurray to sell sex to the men working there.

Alberta’s oil sands have the third-largest oil reserves in the world, after Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. It spans 142,000sq km (54,826sq miles) in northern Alberta, running through the traditional territories of the Cree, Chipewyan and Dene First Nations.

Thousands of workers from Canada and elsewhere work on the oil sands. To house these workers, “man camps” were built next to the processing plants. The “man camps” are precisely what their name implies: camps housing mainly male employees working on resource development projects.

For weeks or months at a time, these camps are their home. The overflow workers live in Fort McMurray, which was originally a fur trading post, established in 1870.

For April, being sent there was a terrifying.

Although she does not like to stereotype the oil industry because, she says, “There’s fathers, mothers, working in that industry who lead good lives”, she describes Fort McMurray as “a lawless place”.

“I sensed there were more violent people there than normal,” she explains.

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April cradles sacred sage [Brandi Morin/Al Jazeera]

But it was known as a hotspot where more money could be made, so that was where she would be sent, stationed in a rented apartment with other women and girls to work 23-hour shifts for weeks on end.

For the First Nations and Metis (of mixed Indigenous and European heritage) women and girls among them, the feeling of danger was heightened by the racism they would encounter if their customers knew they were Indigenous.

“[So] we identified as either Latina, Asian or exotic, because if we self-identified as Indigenous, we would be devalued and our safety would be at risk,” April explains.

“They believe we (Indigenous and Metis women and girls) are disposable and invisible.”

She recalls a time she was sent to a high-rise apartment to meet a man.

“But I came to the door and heard a room full of guys’ voices. I said to myself ‘God, please no.'”

“I opened the door and saw a dozen pairs of work boots. I took off!”

She managed to get away, but was “fined” by her madame.

Situations like that were common, she says.

Another time in Fort McMurray she was sent to an apartment where she met a man in his 50s who was “strung out on crack cocaine”.

“He was describing to me how he liked to torture women by hanging them in his bedroom,” she recalls.

She inched her way towards the door. “It felt like an eternity. My mind was racing. A little voice inside said, ‘get out of there!'”

Seeking justice

April took more drugs to help her deal with situations like these. Then, one day, she woke up in New York City having seizures from a cocaine overdose.

“I was very broken. I was drinking every day and addicted to cocaine,” she says.

It was then she made the decision to fly back to Edmonton, to get off the drugs and to deal with the heartaches of her past.

It has been more than 15 years since she was “liberated” from sexual exploitation.

In those years, she has built a good life for herself. She has a career, is a mother of two and an outspoken advocate for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). She founded the Stolen Brothers and Sisters Awareness Movement, a grassroots organisation with an annual walk that draws hundreds of participants. Then, in 2019, she received a Woman of Vision award for her advocacy work.

“Because of my own pain and experience, it has given me the tools to be an advocate,” she explains. “I have compassion and empathy for those who are suffering. And there’s so many families grieving, seeking answers, seeking justice.”

Loss after loss after loss

Just over 1,000km (621 miles) west along the infamous Highway of Tears where dozens of women, mostly Indigenous, have gone missing or been found murdered since the 1970s, Delee Nikal is mourning several family members lost to the MMIWG crisis.

Delee is a member of the Witset Nation, a community belonging to the Wet’suwet’en band of five nations in northern British Columbia (BC).

She knows about loss.

Her 15-year-old cousin Cecilia Nikal went missing from Vancouver in 1989.

Then another cousin, Delphine Nikal, vanished along the Highway of Tears near Smithers, BC in 1990. She was also 15.

Four years later, Delee’s friend Romona Wilson disappeared from Smithers. Romona was a member of the Gitanmaxx band not far from Wet’suwet’en. Her body was later found in a wooded area west of the Smithers airport.

More heartache came in 2002 when Delee’s foster sister Danielle Larue, a member of Shuswap First Nation, disappeared from Vancouver’s east side. Police believe she was murdered.

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Delee Nikal is a member of the Witset Nation in northern BC [Photo courtesy of Delee Nikal]


As a First Nations woman in an area where so many have gone missing or been murdered, Delee has always known fear. But her fears have been elevated since man camps and pipeline construction came to the area.

Construction on TransCanada’s $40bn Coastal GasLink (GCL), liquified natural gas (LNG) pipeline that will carry LNG from northwestern British Columbia to the north Pacific coast, began in late 2018.

Last June, Canada’s National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report, in which it identified a link between “boomtown” and “man camp” environments that emerged around resource extraction projects and violence against Indigenous women and girls, as well as increased sex industry activities in those areas.

‘The land is our life-giver’

Wet’suwet’en First Nations Hereditary Chiefs have opposed the construction of the pipeline on their traditional territories.

Earlier this year, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) arrested and removed Wet’suwet’en land defenders and their supporters from camps along the route of the pipeline.

For Delee, who grew up on the Yintah (the Wet’suwet’en word for land), it was traumatic to watch.

“I was born into Gidumt’en,” she explains during a telephone interview with Al Jazeera from her home in Wiset, approximately 25 minutes east of Smithers.

Gidumt’en is a clan of the Wet’suewet’en peoples, whose territory part of the pipeline will run through.

“There used to be a massive huckleberry patch where they built one of the man camps near the Unist’ot’en healing camp. It’s an area where I and my ancestors harvested our medicines. It’s an amazing terrain, close to the water – now it’s just decimated. This is really hard for people who have grown up there,” she explains.

Over the past few months, Delee has noticed an influx of pipeline workers not only filling up the man camps but overflowing the hotels in Houston, the nearest town to the CGL construction site. She says she feels intimidated by their presence and worries that she and other local Indigenous women are at risk.

“It’s scary because they’re transient workers who have no connection to us, but they have the backing of the police,” she says, referring to how, since the Wet’suwet’en blockades, CGL workers now have police escorts to enter Wet’suwet’en territories.

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Pipes for the CGL LNG pipeline project lay in rural BC near Wet’suwet’en traditional territories [Photo courtesy of Delee Nikal]


Even during the coronavirus pandemic, pipeline construction is continuing.

“They (CGL) said they’re slowing down work because of COVID-19, but I saw a hotel packed with about 50 trucks. There were guys standing outside shirtless, drinking beer with each other with Alberta plates on their trucks,” Delee explains.

James Anaya, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, told [PDF] the National Inquiry into MMIWG that his research revealed a connection between the influx of transient workers and violence against Indigenous women.

“Over the last several years, I have carried out a study and reported on extractive industries affecting indigenous peoples. It has become evident through information received within the context of the study that extractive industries many times have different and often disproportionately adverse effects on indigenous peoples, and particularly on the health conditions of women,” he said.

“In addition, indigenous women have reported that the influx of workers into indigenous communities as a result of extractive projects also led to increased incidents of sexual harassment and violence, including rape and assault.”

Delee is certain that there is a link between violence against Indigenous women and girls and such projects.

“We (Wet’suwet’en) are taught the land is our life-giver, that water is like breast milk – we need it to survive. It’s a continuation of our mothers – the remains and cells of our ancestors are in it. So, when our land is being ripped apart; it’s a huge threat to us. They’re out there killing the land – they’re killing us.”

Just two years ago, Delee’s cousin Frances Brown went missing while harvesting wild mushrooms in a forest area outside Smithers. Although the police have not treated her disappearance as suspicious, Delee does not believe that her cousin, who was experienced in the heavily wooded area, got lost. Friends and family searched for her for weeks after the official search was called off, but never found her.

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Industrial man camp trailers stand in the traditional territories of Wet’suwet’en First Nations during the pre-construction phase of the CGL LNG pipeline in 2019 [Photo courtesy of Delee Nikal]

‘Women are still unsafe’

In late February, an Alberta energy company came under scrutiny after an image it produced with the company’s logo appeared to depict the rape of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.

The decal shows an image of a naked woman or girl, with two long braids (something often associated with Indigenous women and girls)from behind. The word “Greta” is written across her lower back.

The X-Site Energy Services company issued an apology following a public outcry over the image.

“We recognise that it is not enough to apologise for the image associated with our company logo on the decals that circulated last week,” a statement from X-Site Energy Services read.

“This does not reflect the values of this company or our employees, and we deeply regret the pain we may have caused.”

It is a pain that Melina Laboucan-Massimo of Lubicon Lake Cree Nation in northern Alberta felt deeply. Her younger sister Bella Laboucan-Mclean fell 31 storeys to her death from a downtown Toronto condo building where she was attending a party on July 20, 2013.

Bella had moved to Toronto to study fashion design at college. The police have called her death suspicious and the investigation into it is ongoing.

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Melina Massimo-Laboucan and her sister Bella McLean-Laboucan before her death [Photo courtesy of Melina Massimo-Laboucan]


The decal brought back traumatic memories for Melina, who believes her sister may have been a victim of violence. When she saw the X-Site Energy Services decal circulating online, she felt disgusted.

“It was triggering because it made it very clear that women are still unsafe. I have the same views as Greta, so it doesn’t feel safe to speak that same message on Indigenous rights and climate justice issues,” she says.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), an organisation representing companies involved in oil and gas development, denounced the decal image via a media release on February 28.

“We find this action, whomever is to blame, completely unacceptable. This kind of behaviour is not representative of Canada’s oil and natural gas industry, service companies who work in the industry, or the province of Alberta,” said Stacey Hatcher, CAPP’s vice-president of communications. “The industry holds human rights and social integrity in high regard, and we must speak up when we see behaviour so contrary to our values.”

But it was not the first time an Alberta company working in the oil and gas industry had received criticism for advertising violence against women.

In 2015, BeDevil Enterprises, located in Killam, Alberta, took out a billboard ad along highway 16 heading east. It featured a woman surrounded by flames, a track hoe with a screw pile over the woman along with the slogan “Screw piles. We drill them to hell and back.”

One of the owners of the company, Dan McRae, told the Edmonton Sun the ad was misinterpreted.

“We do screw pilings and a lot of people, I guess, just don’t understand it. The idea of the billboard is you can see the track hoe, the drivehead and the screwpile on it, and the woman lying on her back is a demon who’s asleep in hell and what we’re doing is we’re just showing everybody that we will work like b******* to get the job done,” said McRae.

“When we say we screw them to hell and back, that’s just an example we’re using. It has absolutely nothing to do with violence against women, misogynistic stuff. It has nothing to do with that. I have as much respect for women as they have for me. We don’t abuse women. I have had women working for me, and I have had nothing but good luck with that.”

McRae said the RCMP investigated the billboard and found no reason for it to be taken down.

‘A gender lens’

In a statement to Al Jazeera, CAPP said it is committed to ensuring the safety of Indigenous women and girls. It also pointed out its long history of working with its Indigenous partners and in Indigenous communities.

“The Canadian oil and natural gas industry recognises the significant concerns related to the health and welfare of Indigenous women and girls. Our industry prioritises the safety of the residents living in or near communities directly affected by operations, as well as our employees,” it said.

In late 2018, some industry advocates were angered by a comment made by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the G20 summit in Argentina.

During a panel discussion with members of the G20 Business Women Leaders Task Force, Trudeau said: “Even big infrastructure projects, you know might now say, ‘Well, what does a gender lens have to do with building this new highway or this new pipeline or something?’ Well, you know, there are gender impacts when you bring construction workers into a rural area. There are social impacts because they’re mostly male construction workers. How are you adjusting and adapting to those? That’s what the gender lens in GBA (gender-based analysis)-plus budgeting is all about.”

Among those to criticise Trudeau was the leader of the official opposition, Andrew Scheer.

“This is political correctness at its most ridiculous. The impacts of construction workers building things are prosperity and strong families. They should be celebrated, not demonized,” Scheer wrote on his twitter account on December 1, 2018. “I guess when you [Trudeau] inherit family wealth you have the luxury to make such idiotic statements.”

But the Final Report of Canada’s National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was clear about the link between resource extraction and spikes in violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people. “Two-spirit” refers to a person who identifies as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit, and is used by some Indigenous people to describe their sexual, gender and/or spiritual identity.

The report included the issue as part of its 231 Calls to Action to help stem the crisis.

‘To speak for my sisters’

Former MMIWG National Inquiry Commissioner Michele Audette has personal experience with the industry. She worked in man camps in northern Quebec teaching cultural protocols when she was president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. During evening meals at the camp dining hall, Michele says she would often overhear derogatory conversations about Indigenous women.

“Every night, they (the workers) were making fun of Indigenous women at the bar. It’s a no respect, fly-in and fly-out culture,” she explains.

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Michele Audette, former MMIWG National Inquiry Commissioner [Photo courtesy of Michele Audette]


Along with the other inquiry commissioners, Michele travelled across Canada hearing the testimony of thousands of survivors and loved ones of MMIWG before preparing the final report.

In addition to hearing accounts of how Indigenous women and girls were directly harmed by people associated with resource extraction industries, it accepted evidence via a report by the Women’s Earth Alliance and the Native Youth Sexual Health Network which argued that the rise in alcohol and drug consumption associated with extractive industries also contributed to domestic violence within Indigenous communities.

Michele says she knows at least three Indigenous women who have been raped in a man camp in Quebec over the past decade, but that the women were too traumatised and afraid to press charges.

“There are attitudes in the industry that are still there since colonisation: that Indigenous women are considered Indians, savages and prostitutes. It’s sad to see and unacceptable,” she says.

Michele hopes Canada and industrial development companies will take the recommendations in the report seriously and address the issue of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

“We cannot keep doing this the way it has been done. If Canadians, politicians and industry want to include us, speak to us, create a safe space where we can have our say, then we can bring back that balance.”

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Michele Audette is comforted by her elder during her tenure as MMIWG National Inquiry Commissioner [Photo courtesy of Michele Audette]

For Melina, there is a connection between abuse of the land and abuse of Indigenous women and girls. In 2011, a pipeline owned by Plains Midstream Canada ULC leaked 4.5 million litres of oil onto Cree traditional territories 30km (19 miles) from Lubicon Lake, where she is from. In 2013, the company was charged with three counts under Alberta’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. The Lubicon Cree said fumes from the leaking oil made them sick with nausea, burning eyes and headaches.

The leak, Melina explains, was on a sacred area where the tribe harvested traditional medicines.

“There’s colonial values embedded with patriarchy in resource development industries,” she explains. “We all come from the same source (the land); our healing is connected to the healing and the protection of our land.”

Back in Edmonton, April remembers telling her story when the National Inquiry came there in 2017. She was scared; it was the first time she had shared her story in that type of setting. But it helped her to shed any lingering shame she felt and helped strengthen her to keep fighting for other women and girls.

She will keep going for as long as it takes, she says.

“I dream that we, along with our daughters, granddaughters can walk safely, with dignity wherever we go and be respected. I ask the Creator ‘why did I survive this?’ I believe, because as a survivor, I can speak for my sisters whose voices were silenced. They never had the opportunity to speak out.”




A smokestack

During the COVID-19 crisis there has been a huge amount of discussion around the oil and gas industry in Canada and how to respond to tanking oil prices and the shuttered industry.  

By Robin Tress

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen a lot of talk about a bailout (or ‘liquidity package’ as industry spin doctors like to call it), and federal funding for orphan wells and methane emissions reductions. We’ve seen the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, a notorious lobby group for the oil and gas industry, meet with government numerous times and submit an extensive wish-list of changes to energy regulation that have very little to do with responding to COVID-19. We’ve seen health professionals, Indigenous communities and thousands of Council of Canadians supporters calling for fossil fuel work camps to be shut down due to public health concerns.  The news has been coming fast. Read more for our analysis on the funding announced by the federal government, what it means for workers, and what we’d rather see instead.

Federal funding for oil and gas sector 

Last week the federal government announced the following funding packages for the oil and gas industry (from

      • “Up to $1 billion to the Government of Alberta to support the province’s work to clean up inactive oil and gas wells across the province”
      • Up to $400 million to the Government of Saskatchewan to support work to clean up orphan and inactive oil and gas wells across the province;”
      • “Up to $120 million to the Government of British Columbia to support work to clean up orphan and inactive oil and gas wells across the province;”
      • “$200 million to the Alberta Orphan Wells Association (OWA) to support its work to clean up orphan oil and gas wells and well sites across Alberta. The OWA will fully repay this amount.”
      • $750M to conventional and offshore oil and gas companies to reduce methane emissions to meet federal standards. $75M of that is for offshore oil operations. “A portion of these loans will be convertible to grants.”
      • An unquantified expansion of the Business Credit Availability Program. This is a loan program to “to help Canadian businesses obtain financing during the current period of significant uncertainty”

What does that all mean? Are these just fossil fuel subsidies?  Let’s look at the inactive wells funding, methane funding, and corporate loans.

Orphan and inactive well cleanup 

A lot of the federal money is for cleaning up inactive oil wells. Inactive and orphaned oil wells are a scourge across the prairies and B.C., leaving landowners – especially farmers – with toxic and dangerous wells on their properties. Cleaning up inactive wells is a huge job creation opportunity in Alberta and elsewhere, and it’s ecologically necessary. However, we’re concerned about the precedent this federal funding sets. The cleanup costs should be paid by the companies that made the mess – this is the  Polluter Pays Principle.

Another distinction should be made: the terms ‘orphaned’ and ‘inactive’ are not interchangeable. An orphaned well is one that is inactive and no longer has a functional parent company (maybe the parent company has shut down or gone bankrupt). An inactive well may have a solvent parent company but that company has not yet cleaned up the well. The $1.52B given to Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan “to support orphan and inactive oil well clean up” can include wells owned by existing companies. In fact, the federal announcement said, “funding will be prioritized to companies that are in good standing with respect to municipal taxes.” Public funding for well cleanup is being given to solvent companies. This is not in line with  the Polluter Pays Principle.

The well cleanup announcement includes $200M for the Orphan Well Association (OWA), which is a non-profit association that cleans up orphaned wells in Alberta – these are wells that have no parent company.  The OWA has community and First Nations oversight and the funding could be a great part of the reclamation boom we’re hoping to see in the future. Unfortunately, the $200M for the OWA is a repayable loan. It’s unclear at this point whether the far more substantial funds going to active companies for well clean-up is repayable or not.

The verdict: most of the inactive and orphan wells money can be considered a subsidy.  

Methane emission reductions funding 

The purpose of this $750M is to help companies adhere to methane emission reduction regulations set in 2018. Notably, these methane emissions regulations only apply to upstream emissions,  created through the extraction of fossil fuels. The regulations do not apply to the burning of those same fuels, which is where the majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from. (Worth noting: the implementation of these regulations was seriously delayed by heavy lobbying by CAPP at the time.)

The verdict: this funding is a direct subsidy to fossil fuel companies.  

Business Credit Availability Program 

This is a financing program through Export Development Canada (EDC) and the Business Development Bank of Canada. The federal government has long subsidized the fossil fuel industry by providing low-rate loans through EDC. Environmental Defense estimates that subsidies to the industry given through EDC between 2012 and 2017 total $62B.

We didn’t like EDC funding the fossil fuel industry before the COVID-19 pandemic, and we don’t like it now.

The verdict: the EDC is the typical vehicle for federal financial support to the oil and gas industry. We can consider this program to be business-as-usual support for fossil fuel interests. It’s a fossil fuel subsidy!

Polluter Pays, or Polluter Gets Paid? 

On the surface some of these financial programs look good – the federal government appears to be staying firm on methane reduction targets and is investing in cleaning up inactive oil wells. Digging a little deeper, we learn that these programs are direct subsidies to oil and gas companies. Public money – our money – is being used to subsidize private oil companies meeting their legal and regulatory standards.

I see the federal commitment to the methane regulations and inactive wells as a distraction from the larger issue – the continued subsidization of the oil and gas industry. While it’s good  that the federal government isn’t following CAPP’s list of demands and delaying the enforcement of these regulations, we should recognize that we are all collectively paying for these mega-polluters to adhere to our climate policies without any mechanisms leading us to the best climate policy of all – the wind-down of the fossil fuel industry.

This is the opposite of the Polluter Pays Principle. This is the Polluter Gets Paid Principle.

What about workers? 

Corporate bailouts do not have a history of benefiting workers. If we look back to the 2008 financial crisis and the mega bailout to the auto industry, we see that GM and Chrysler received more than $13B in support from governments on the condition that cost-saving measures were implemented. These cost-saving measures included job loss, cuts to pay, benefits and pensions to workers, and a two-tiered wage system where new hires made up to 40 per cent less than established workers. Just over a decade later, GM and Chrysler have both effectively packed up and left the country.

We must learn from this lesson and put workers ahead of oil and gas profits. Oil and gas workers, like all workers from all sectors, need to be able to immediately access income support in order to preserve personal and public health, including migrant and undocumented workers. Stimulus money should offer immediate relief directly to workers and provide opportunities for training, education and employment in existing and emerging low-carbon sectors. Money for orphan well cleanup should be administered by an independent fund with representation from Indigenous communities, local governments and landowners.

We wrote this open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau to demand supports for workers and a just transition today. Please sign and share with your friends.

Challenging corporate power – and winning  

Since the threat of a massive bailout to the fossil fuel industry was raised in mid-March, the pushback from our movements has been fierce. Within days of that first threat, organizations representing 1.3M people in Canada signed a letter calling for any financial support to the industry to go directly to workers, not CEOs, and for investment in low-carbon sectors instead. Numerous petitions opposing an oil and gas bailout garnered many thousands of signatures and letters poured into MP’s offices.

The current mobilization of opposition to a major oil and gas bailout was possible because of years of organizing by grassroots communities, within organizations like the Council of Canadians, and by Indigenous communities.

Our opposition to an oil and gas bailout over the past month made it impossible for the federal government to act on CAPP’s most recent lobby wish list and deregulated huge pieces of the oil and gas industry.

We must continue to be vigilant – CAPP is a powerful lobby group and the government continues to make decisions that benefit corporations. At this moment we can take stock of the power of our movement to effectively challenge that corporate power. SOURCE

Inspectors union calls for closure of 3rd Alberta meat plant with COVID-19 outbreak

34 cases connected to Harmony Beef, north of Calgary

Fabian Murphy, president of the Agriculture Union, says the federal government should take a more active role in stemming the spread of COVID-19 in meat-processing plants. (PSAC Union, J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press)

A third meat-processing plant in Alberta is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases, prompting the federal food inspectors union to call for the plant to be closed.

Alberta Health has connected 34 coronavirus cases to Harmony Beef in Balzac, just north of Calgary, as of Tuesday.

More than a month ago, the first case in the plant prompted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to temporarily withdraw its inspectors from Harmony Beef over safety concerns.

Now with nearly three dozen cases connected to that outbreak, the plant remains open.

The union representing those inspectors is calling for Harmony Beef — and all other meat-processing facilities with infected employees — to be closed immediately.

Only a closure will fully stem the spread of COVID-19 among workers and their families, said Fabian Murphy, president of the Agriculture Union, which represents thousands of inspectors.

“Our position is whenever you have an outbreak like this, you have to shut the plant down. You have to get this under control,” Murphy said Monday from Ottawa.

“We have to put the health and safety of those employees working at those plants at the forefront here. That has to be the top priority — people’s lives.”

Major outbreaks, worker dies

Alberta is facing two other COVID-19 outbreaks in meat-processing plants, one at JBS in Brooks and the other outside of High River at Cargill.

The Cargill outbreak — with nearly 1,000 related cases, including a worker who died from the illness — is considered the largest single-site outbreak in North America. The plant reopened Monday after a temporary closure.

A spokesperson for Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro declined to answer CBC’s questions about Harmony Beef and the inspectors union’s request.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Harmony Beef said it provides a new surgical mask to each employee at the start of their shift. The company said it has also increased cleaning, staggered the starting times of shifts, added Plexiglass separations, and prevented employees in the three sections of the plant from interacting with each other.

The company said it also tests each employee’s temperature before their shift.

“In the 49 days since the first case was reported at Harmony we are aware of a total of 25 employee cases,” spokesperson Crosbie Cotton said in an email. “There has been no hospitalizations and almost all cases were asymptomatic.”

Carriers of COVID-19 can spread the virus through droplets, such as from coughs or sneezes, despite not showing symptoms themselves.

Meat-processing plants in Alberta provide much of the beef that is sold across Canada. Many workers at the facilities have become sick with COVID-19 in recent weeks. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)


Murphy said he has spoken to food inspectors in Alberta who have said they’re concerned about how closely workers are standing together while on the job.

He said he doesn’t want to see Harmony become a third major outbreak, and would like to see closures last long enough that workers are past the 14-day cycle of when they might start showing symptoms.

“You have to give the folks the time to go through the incubation period to ensure they’re not positive for COVID-19 before they go back to that work site,” Murphy said.

Letter to prime minister

Prior to the news of the increase in Harmony Beef cases, Murphy and the Agriculture Union wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and various federal ministers asking them to step in to close meat plants, which are federally regulated, for 14 days after their first case is found, and to set national standards for how plants should respond to COVID-19.

“It’s not a consistent approach in Alberta and it’s not a consistent approach across the country,” Murphy said. “I think there’s a lot of political pressure to keep these plants open.”

On Tuesday, Trudeau announced an aid package for food plants. He said the funds could be used for companies to buy personal protective equipment. Officials with the federal Agriculture Department stressed that worker safety is a provincial responsibility.

WATCH | Prime minister on federal role in health and safety of meat plant employees:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes questions from CBC’s Tom Parry on why it’s up to the federal government to ensure international meat packing companies keep their workers safe. 1:20

CFIA has food inspectors stationed in every federally regulated meat-processing plant in the country. Companies cannot operate without the inspectors present.

CFIA withdrew its inspectors from Harmony Beef on March 27 after the first COVID-19 case was reported, the agency said in a statement. Harmony then closed the plant.

That same day, Alberta Occupational Health and Safety officials conducted a “live, virtual inspection” of the facility, a Labour Ministry spokesperson said. The company was then directed to provide workers with COVID-19 safety documentation.

The plant reopened March 31.

Alberta Health Services last inspected Harmony Beef on April 28. CFIA said its staff accompanied AHS staff for the on-site visit. Neither agency explained what the inspectors found.

AHS also said it had established a task force in the Calgary zone to handle COVID-19 at meat-packing facilities. SOURCE

Union calls for public inquiry, criminal investigations into COVID-19 deaths at long-term care homes

Close to 3,000 health-care workers have tested positive for coronavirus

Long-term care home workers take part in a moment of silence and rally in front of Midland Gardens Care Community in Toronto on Tuesday. A union representing thousands of healthcare workers is calling for a public inquiry into deaths at homes across the province. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A union representing thousands of Ontario health-care workers is calling on the province and local police forces to launch a public inquiry and criminal investigations into long-term care deaths tied to COVID-19.

Announced on Tuesday, the push appears to be the first major call for a public inquiry in the country, as the new coronavirus continues to spread through hundreds of long-term care homes.

In Ontario alone, more than 1,000 residents and several front-line staff members have died amid more than 200 outbreaks at such homes.

“A commission is urgently required because until we have a vaccine, or at a minimum, treatment available for the entire population, we must prepare now for consecutive spikes or waves of COVID-19,” said Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare, in a statement.

The union represents more than 60,000 Ontario health-care and community service workers.

The union is calling for:

      • A public inquiry by the provincial government into the rising number of deaths of residents and front-line workers at long-term care homes, to be commissioned immediately.
      • Criminal negligence investigations by Toronto and Peel Regional Police at a yet-undisclosed number of long-term care homes and home care providers.
      • An investigation into the deaths by Ontario’s Office of the Chief Coroner.

Sharleen Stewart, president of the union SEIU Healthcare, is calling on the province to launch a public inquiry into long-term care home deaths tied to COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

‘We’re pulling out all stops’

Asked about the request for an inquiry, Premier Doug Ford reiterated that his government is doing “everything” in its power to help long-term care homes: “We’re pulling out all stops on this.”

Health Minister Christine Elliott added the province is focusing all of its efforts on supporting those homes, and both officials noted a number of steps the government has taken, such as banning most visitors and bringing in outside workers to assist, including members of the military.

“We will continue to take those steps until these outbreaks are under control,” Elliott said.

So far, close to 3,000 health-care workers at various facilities, including long-term homes and hospitals, have tested positive for the coronavirus. Those workers make up nearly 16 per cent of all cases in Ontario.

Two hospital cleaners and three personal support workers have died in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, SEIU Healthcare held a memorial and rally outside Midland Gardens Care Community in Scarborough — where so far, no deaths have been reported — in honour of personal support workers who have died after working in long-term care.

“Both frontline workers and the elderly in our long-term care system are saying the same thing: keep us alive,” said Stewart.

“That’s why we’re calling for urgent investigations that will keep people alive and hold negligent operators responsible for the death of our health-care heroes.”

91 recommendations

Ontario’s long-term care sector was the subject of recent inquiry into their safety and security; tied to the crimes of serial killer and former nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer.

That inquiry wrapped in 2019. A final report made 91 recommendations, with several tied to increasing funding and staffing for facilities across the province given their “systemic vulnerabilities.”

One key recommendation called on the Ministry of Long-Term Care to conduct a study to determine adequate staffing levels on day, evening and night shifts — and report back on that study by July 31, 2020.

As of February, the province had completed 18 of the recommendations, including several tied to medication safety, though critics at the time warned many important recommendations were not yet implemented.

“I’m looking forward to seeing not only what comes out of further work on that, but widespread system improvements … some of that may come out of post-COVID,” Samantha Peck, executive director of advocacy group Family Councils Ontario, told CBC News.

Elizabeth Wettlaufer is escorted from the courthouse in Woodstock, Ont., on Jan. 13, 2017. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

Inquiry ‘too early,’ some warn

As for the latest call for an inquiry, Peck said it’s still “too early,” given what families relying on the long-term care system are going through right now.

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at the Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, agrees.

“I don’t think our focus should be on launching a public inquiry while we’re in the middle of fighting the fire,” he said.

However, with 20 per cent of the province’s care homes battling COVID-19 outbreaks, he stressed that people across Ontario — including residents’ families and healthcare workers — are looking for answers.

“We do need to understand why things happened the way they did, and if there are things we could have done to stem the level of death,” Sinha said.

WATCH | How to stay safe during the pandemic:

Infection control expert Dr. Susy Hota breaks down what we need to know to protect ourselves amid the coronavirus outbreak — from taking public transit to cleaning in the kitchen. 6:36


Lauren Pelley, Toronto-based reporter

Lauren Pelley is a CBC reporter based in Toronto. Currently covering COVID-19, previously covered Toronto city hall and municipal affairs. Part of the team behind CBC Toronto’s international win for multimedia at the 2019 Edward R. Murrow Awards. Contact her at: