Big Oil’s Climate Plans Don’t Come Close to Meeting the Paris Agreement

Photo: Getty

Climate action plans are all the rage for polluting companies. Last month, Shell pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. It’s just the latest example: Other oil giants have recently made similar pledges as well. These pronouncements use pseudo-inspirational marketing speak, promising to “leverage” their “assets” to “reimagine” the “future.” But as a new report shows, they’re largely full of it.

The analysis was released Tuesday by the Transition Pathway Initiative, an organization that represents investors managing a combined $19 trillion in assets. The group looked at the top European oil companies’ plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century or sooner.

Each of Europe’s six largest oil majors—Shell, BP, Total, Eni, Repsol and OMV—have made climate commitments. All but OMV have strengthened them in the past six months. And compared to U.S. oil giants’ pledges, EU companies’ are much stronger.

Adam Matthews, Transition Pathway Initiative co-chair, praised the six oil majors in a statement for incorporating plans to reduce emissions from consumers’ use of their products—also known as scope 3 emissions—in addition to direct emissions from operations and electricity they use.

However, some of the plans are stronger than others, and none of the companies’ pledges are aligned with the central goal of the Paris Agreement. The international climate treaty laid out a goal of limiting greenhouse gas emissions to keep warming to within 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of pre-industrial levels. But though each company says it will reach net-zero, their plans fall far short of that goal.

The report identifies Shell and the Italian multinational corporation Eni as the two companies with the most ambitious plans. Each has made the broadest commitments to reduce scope 3 emissions. Shell also aims to cut its overall carbon intensity—or its emissions per unit of energy produced—65 percent by 2050, which the report says comes the closest to aligning with the Paris Agreement. Eni is the only company which set an absolute emissions reduction goal, meaning emissions can’t rise with increasing production. By 2050, Eni plans for its carbon output to go down by 80 percent.

But close isn’t necessarily enough. Shell’s plan doesn’t even align with what’s needed to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius goal. On average, TPI calculated that each European company would need to cut its emissions intensity by more than 70 percent between 2018 and 2050. To get there, Shell’s plan would rely on its ability to only serve businesses and sectors that are themselves at net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But Shell’s clientele include highly polluting industries like aviation, freight, and marine based shipping, which the company claims it’ll help. Shell just doesn’t explain how it’ll do so as of now.

Other plans are similarly full of gaping holes. BP and the Spanish company Repsol, for instance, have pledged to bring down their overall emissions to net-zero by 2050, but they don’t factor in fuel they acquire from other producers and sell through their marketing businesses. The report also notes that Eni is the only company that discloses the expected contribution of carbon capture and storage and carbon offsets to their emissions reductions. And frankly, even in Eni’s case, disclosure isn’t everything: Carbon offset programs don’t actually lower emissions and can be horrifyingly unjust, and carbon capture and storage technology hasn’t been shown to work at scale.

The report makes a bunch of suggestions for how these oil majors could improve their climate plans, including setting higher emissions reductions targets, boosting transparency, and aligning with long- and short-term targets better. But really, the best way for energy companies to stop harming the planet would be to stop producing and selling fossil fuel products altogether, fast. SOURCE

A billion people live in the slums of the world’s megacities—and they’re being missed by coronavirus plans

Sprawling urban areas in Brazil, Nigeria and Bangladesh are all seeing COVID-19 infections rise rapidly.

A market area in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, crowded with people despite the coronavirus pandemic, May 12, 2020. [Photo: Ahmed Salahuddin/NurPhoto/Getty Images]

Having ravaged some of the world’s wealthiest cities, the coronavirus pandemic is now spreading into the megacities of developing countries. Sprawling urban areas in BrazilNigeria, and Bangladesh are all seeing COVID-19 infections rise rapidly.

We study the fragility and resilience of such cities and their urban peripheries, with the aim of encouraging data-driven policy decisions. Given its deadly trajectory in marginalized communities of hard-hit New York and London, coronavirus may well devastate much poorer cities.

Particularly concerning are the slum areas that are home to roughly a billion people— one in seven people on Earth. Characterized by insecure property rights, low-quality housing, limited basic services, and poor sanitation, these informal settlements aggregate risk factors that accelerate the spread of infection.

Yet, our research finds, many residents of slums and squatter settlements are not getting the help they need to survive the coronavirus pandemic.


Overcrowding is one reason slums are known incubators of disease. Informal settlements are typically 10 times denser than neighboring areas of the same city.

The Dharavi slum in central Mumbai, for example, has some 97,000 residents per square mile, compared to 11,500 people per square mile elsewhere in the city. It is far harder to practice physical distancing, at home or on the street, in such close quarters.

Most of the world’s poorest urban neighborhoods additionally lack clean potable water and a private bathroom, making lifesaving practices like handwashing a challenge.

To get to work—a necessity for those with very low incomes and no savings —many people in slums travel jammed together in vans and buses over long distances that are perfect vectors for disease.

For several reasons—among them little access to healthcare—people living in informal settlements also suffer disproportionately from underlying health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, according to a 2016 special edition of the Lancet on slums. All of these problems can exacerbate respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19.


In Brazil, which is fast becoming a global COVID-19 epicenter, at least 1.5 million of Rio de Janeiro’s 6.7 million residents live in the city’s 1,000 “favelas,” or slum settlements.

Many favela residents lack piped water or the resources even to buy soap. But Brazil’s national government, which denies the severity of its outbreak, is offering very little pandemic aid. That’s left community organizations to deliver food and hygiene products to Rio’s poorest.

[Photo: ADLC/iStock]

Hundreds of favela residents have already tested positive for COVID-19. But with 90% of intensive care beds occupied, those experiencing severe illness have little chance of getting proper emergency care.

The economic fallout of COVID-19 is also devastating for poorer people. In Rio’s favelas, where residents typically make less than $5 a day, over 70% of households report an income decline since the coronavirus outbreak, according to a survey supported by the Locomotiva Institute and the Unified Center for Favelas.


Fighting coronavirus is proving difficult in Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria and its COVID-19 epicenter. The city, Africa’s biggest, is home to an estimated 26 million people. Nearly three-quarters of them live in one of Lagos’s 100 slums.

A large proportion of those in slums subsist hand-to-mouth, working in the informal sector as street vendors, waste recyclers, artisans and the like. Such jobs offer no health insurance or pensions–no basic social safety net.

As in Rio, many informal workers in Lagos have been deprived of even this meager income during the capital’s intermittent coronavirus lockdowns. Staying home to survive a pandemic is only an option if you can afford it.

Similar crises are playing out in many poor megacities worldwide. In Bangladesh, for example, COVID-19 is spreading quickly through the capital of Dhaka, home to almost nine million people, 40% of whom live in slums.

The Bangladeshi capital has about 80 public intensive care units, far fewer than required. Nationwide, just over 190 ICUs serve Bangladesh’s population of 161 million—47 times less per capita than New York City after it surged its ICU capacity.


Some developing countries acted early to prevent outbreaks and appear to have dodged the first wave of COVID-19. With memory of past pandemics fresh, governments, businesses, and civil societies in Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Vietnam conducted extensive testing and contact tracing and to bolster their primary healthcare systems, combined them with targeted education campaigns.

Yet, our research finds many governments are responding to coronavirus outbreaks in slums in one of two ways: with a heavy fist or with neglect.

In city after city, we see strict lockdowns imposed on poor populations without regard to the factors that could impede compliance. Where food handouts are provided, supplies are generally insufficient.

People who violate quarantine—by trying to work, say—risk police violence. Conflicts have erupted over curfew enforcement in cities across Kenya, India, and South Africa.

Such tactics risk undermining residents’ already low faith in government, just when public trust is most needed to ensure compliance with health guidance.

State neglect also allows the criminal groups to consolidate their influence in slum areas. From Brazil to Mexico, cartelsgangs, and organized crime are handing out food and medical supplies, deepening their grip on power.


new Journal of Urban Health study recommends that developing countries facing infectious disease outbreaks prioritize getting water, food, and sanitation materials to their poorest residents.

Development economists also advise making cash payments to the poorest households and halting evictions, both measures taken to ease the coronavirus crisis in advanced countries.

To work in areas where trust in government is low, all these measures must be underpinned by a strong communications program involving credible neighborhood leaders, radio, social media, TV ads, and phone messages. Groups like UN-Habitat and Slum Dwellers International are working with local organizations in slum communities to reach people in places where assistance is most needed.

Global pandemics require global responses. But places like Rio, Lagos, and Dhaka face different challenges in the coronavirus fight than, say, New York City.

The public health response must look different, too. SOURCE

Robert Muggah is a lecturer at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio). Richard Florida is a professor at the University of Toronto

The coronavirus is costing us more than just our health and economy

A front-line worker adjusts her protective equipment as she walks past another worker unloading air filters and cleaning equipment at Orchard Villa care home in Pickering, Ont. on April 27, 2020.

Civil liberties are among the oldest, most recognized human rights. Their contemporary expression as legal claims based on civil and political rights is more recent, dating from the tumultuous period after the Second World War.

Today, we face a very different kind of emergency. And it’s been astonishing how quickly the values we once fought for have been set aside.

In pandemics, rights violations look different. There have been no mass detentions or arrests. No internments of enemy aliens.

But vulnerable seniors have been isolated and subjected to conditions that have sickened or killed them.

Collective agreements have been partially suspended for Québec teachers and for some Ontario health-care workers.

mandatory Sunday closing order for Québec businesses ignores established case law that permits religious minorities to choose their day of rest based on freedom of religion.

Rights slipping away

Civil liberties are not designed only for times of peace and stability. They assume special, even critical, importance during public emergencies. That is precisely because many of the checks and balances that we take for granted have been pushed aside. New orders emerge daily and the rule of law is taking time to catch up.

Legislative oversight is often the first casualty. In countries like Canada, democratically enacted laws confer the power to issue emergency orders without legislative scrutiny. Sure, citizens can vote out governments that overstep, but democracy should not evaporate between elections. At the time of writing, the legislature of every province in Canada was adjourned, although a few are tentatively aiming to re-opening soon.

There is a risk of overreach when we collectively agree to allow governments to do what is necessary to keep us safe. According to a recent Ipsos poll, Canadians overwhelmingly support stronger government measures to fight COVID-19. But that in turn creates a real risk that courts will show more deference to governments during times of crisis.

The province of Québec in particular offers a striking example of how quickly it can all unravel.

Québec Health Minister Danielle McCann responds to reporters during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic on May 4, 2020 at the provincial legislature. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot 

Since the March 13 declaration of a public health emergency, the province’s minister of health and social services has ruled by decree under Québec’s Public Health Act. My analysis of the eight orders-in-council and 28 ministerial orders shows that two-thirds of these orders limit civil liberties.

Yet, the public supports such measures: politicians are enjoying heightened popularity across the country. This support may be explained by the fact that we are only gradually waking up to the impact of COVID-19, especially on people who are vulnerable or unable to speak out.

On April 20, lawyer Jean-Félix Racicot launched a challenge to Québec’s emergency measures before the province’s Superior Court. Four days later, Justice Louis-Paul Cullen ruled from the bench that social distancing orders are not a form of illegal detention. An appeal of his decision, and a related claim seeking to strike down all the emergency measures, are pending.

Signposts for public emergencies

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the courts provide indications of what measures will be upheld and which ones may fall.

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that democratic societies founded on the rule of law require a legal basis for restrictions on rights.

Social distancing is essential, as a recent study in The Lancet has demonstrated. But the validity of bans on assemblies must be “prescribed by law.” Reports from Québec and Ontario indicate that police may be overstepping their bounds.

Toronto Police Mounted Unit officers patrol a city park in Toronto on April 16, 2020. Reports are surfacing that police are overstepping their bounds in enforcing social distancing efforts. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn 

Québec’s March 20 order-in-council, for example, mandates that people must stay two metres apart. Police have nonetheless fined people who have maintained those social distances, sometimes without prior warning. Neither scenario is prescribed by law. And yet, a Montréal police spokesperson is on record as suggesting that people are not allowed to “congregate” even if they keep their distance. MORE

Will The Pandemic Finally Make Us Talk About Palliative Care?

Devastating cancer diagnoses and critical diseases do not stop for a pandemic.

OTTAWA — In the thick of the pandemic, Dr. Paul Hacker drafted a palliative care plan to manage a patient’s physical and emotional pain that his grandchildren were going to forget about him after he was gone. The man was dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — more commonly known as ALS or “Lou Gehrig’s disease” — a terminal condition that has no cure. Separated by physical distancing rules, backyard visits were arranged so that the grandfather and his grandchildren, ages three, eight and 10, could enjoy each other’s presence from a two-metre distance.

Hacker, an Ottawa-based palliative care physician, said it was “very hard” for the man, whose ALS was progressing rapidly, to maintain physical separation from his grandchildren. Video chats were organized and, in between calls, the patient made scrapbooks and prepared messages so the kids could remember him.

As the degenerative disease severed connections between the man’s brain and muscles, the world became engrossed by the COVID-19 news cycle. He began losing his ability to speak. The disease continued to rob his body of its basic functions. The grandfather, who can’t be identified because of patient confidentiality, died mid-April. Days after his death, Hacker told me the case crystallized a new set of challenges currently facing palliative care doctors. In addition to the physical symptoms of his patient’s disease, it was isolation that caused the “most distress,” he explained. “We did what we could.”

Devastating cancer diagnoses and critical diseases do not stop for a pandemic. Approximately 270,000 Canadians die each year, according to government data, 90 per cent due to a chronic illness. An estimated 1,000 people die annually from ALS. Meanwhile, cancer is Canada’s leading cause of death. About 225,800 people will be diagnosed with it this year, according to the Canadian Cancer Society, with 83,300 expected to die from it. Heart disease is the country’s second-leading cause of death.

Some will beat the aggressive diseases they’ve been diagnosed with. Others, despite careful treatment plans, will die non-COVID-19 related deaths during the pandemic. But when the conversation between patient and doctor shifts to end-of-life planning, life expectancy from that point on can mean years, not just weeks and months, explained Sharon Baxter, executive director of the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association.

“Most Canadians would like to die at home or at least stay at home as long as possible,” she said. “So we need to do a better job of providing community-based or home-based care.”

Palliative care doctors and patients are increasingly moving in-person check-ins online amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a convenient workaround, but doctors are concerned about not delivering high-quality end-of-life care for their patients. GETTY IMAGES


Three-quarters of Canadians would prefer to die at home, but only 15 per cent have access to palliative home care services, according to a 2018 Health Canada report. That same year, Statistics Canada released data showing the number of people over the age of 80 is expected to more than double to 3.3 million by 2036. Unless changes are made, aging baby boomers living with advanced illnesses will face significant gaps in palliative care access.

These figures, taken in stride with news of the deadly coronavirus outbreaks in long-term care homes, underline the need for governments to review and update health-care strategies.

In 2017, the federal government pledged $6 billion over 10 years to improve home care services, including palliative care. The Liberals were re-elected to a second mandate, promising to “make home care and palliative care more available across the country.”

On top of the pandemic shining a spotlight on problems in long-term care home systems, where outbreaks have accounted for half of Canada’s COVID-19 deaths, some family caregivers are feeling increased stress taking on more day-to-day personal care responsibilities for sick and aging loved ones in light of the cancellation of non-urgent home-care visits. Good home care is reliant on access to professional, skilled support and equipment. Palliative care doctors who work outside hospitals told me that they’re concerned about the availability of ventilators. One said asking for help buying infusion pumps and bed pans isn’t an inherently “sexy” funding request that gets governments’ attention.

Public awareness is a major barrier to increased access to better palliative care. Death and dying just isn’t a hot topic of conversation. Though medical studies have shown patients assigned early palliative care can have “significant improvements” in mood and quality of life, funding in this area of health care isn’t always considered a top priority.

Hospices, where the sick and terminally ill stay for an average of 18 days, have come to rely on charity events and donations to cover the gap in operating costs in some jurisdictions, Baxter explained. Ottawa Hospice Care is a charity that provides palliative and end-of-life programs and services to patients and their families, but government funding only covers 60 per cent of its costs. Its biggest fundraiser, an annual hike, has been cancelled this year because of the pandemic. “Small charities do not have the reserves to withstand losses of this scale,” Baxter said.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is a form of specialized health care that seeks to remove suffering and improve the quality of life for patients living with a life-limiting illness or disease.

To understand the holistic philosophy behind palliative care, imagine three concentric circles with one person, the patient, in the middle. These are all rings of support. Now move outward. The first focuses on pain and symptom management. That’s where a palliative care doctor’s medical training kicks in. The second ring puts attention on a patient’s network of psychological, social, spiritual and practical support. Emotional support and social engagement from family, friends or religion play a special role here. The last circle is caregiver support. Depending on the severity of the disease, a patient may no longer be able to care for themselves, and become increasingly reliant on support workers for meals and personal care. It’s incredibly demanding work — one in three caregivers report stress and burnout. The pandemic has put strain on all three rings.

Essential framework of palliative care. ILLUSTRATION: ISABELLA CARAPELLA

A recent article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) warned, “In a viral pandemic, we expect the need for palliative care to increase substantially … A quiet and peaceful environment is recommended to support patient dignity in the last hours and days of life.”

Patient loneliness is a big issue on many palliative care doctors’ minds. Visits have gone virtual, which is a technical advancement that has brought new challenges in how doctors build trust with their patients entering palliative care. In-person check-ins are now decided based on urgency and available personal protective equipment (PPE).

Drug shortages are also a concern, which pre-date the pandemic. The drugs and go-to medications used by doctors to respond and manage rapidly escalating symptoms for patients at the end of their lives are also being stockpiled in hospitals for people with severe cases of COVID-19 to assist patients on ventilators, and to control pain and shortness of breath.

* * *

Dr. Brian Berger takes every precaution not to bring the novel coronavirus into his home after each hospital shift. The South African-born physician leads the palliative care unit at Mackenzie Health Hospital in Richmond Hill, Ont. He visits staff and patients every day. Under ideal conditions, some research suggests the virus can live on clothing for up to three days. When Baxter comes home now, he no longer enters through the front door to kiss his wife hello. He goes through the garage where he strips down and tosses his clothes for a hot wash in the laundry, then heads inside and upstairs to shower before interacting with anyone, including the family cockapoo, Buddy.

I don’t look at death as a failure, but I look at a comfortable death as a success. Dr. Brian Berger , palliative care physician

Since 1980, Berger has spent the bulk of his career split between family medicine and palliative care. But entering the “twilight” of his career three years ago compelled him to dedicate himself to palliative care full time. He described the work as “very satisfying,” allowing him special access to a “window into a lot of emotions and cultural norms.” Although the nature of his work is inevitably death, he described the times where he’s able to help facilitate good end-of-life care for a patient as rewarding. “I don’t look at death as a failure, but I look at a comfortable death as a success.”

A good death, to him, is one that’s free of pain, having a minimum amount of discomforting symptoms, and being surrounded by people or things they love.

Challenges in home care for doctors

COVID-19 has dominated the news for what feels like too long. The shortage of PPE continues to be a top concern for government and health-care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. Sourcing PPE, especially for palliative care doctors who tend to patients outside of hospitals in home care, has become its own challenge.

Palliative home care has been a lower priority than long-term care has been, Hershl Berman, a Toronto-based palliative care physician, told me. As a home-care doctor, his supply of PPE doesn’t come from a hospital. The items he and his team have been using are a combination of old (disposable gowns) and expired gear (N95 masks) left over from the SARS epidemic, plus donations from the community. It’s whatever they can get their hands on.

“We’re getting donations from tattoo parlours, aestheticians, dental offices,” he said, adding a pharmacist in Brampton, Ont. also contributed.

Insufficient PPE supply for palliative care doctors, nurses and support workers means a reduction in the number of in-person visits with patients. You have to assume that every patient could be positive, Berman said. Gloves, gowns and masks are tossed after every use. The face shields and goggles are meant for one-time use, but because PPE has become a scarce commodity, they’re being washed with soap, hot water, and treated with some disinfectant for reuse.

For doctors and support workers making home visits, one of the biggest challenges is putting on and taking off PPE without contaminating themselves in the process. Berman said the procedure is particularly difficult in apartments given all the communal surfaces in the building.

A health worker wearing personal protective equipment takes a person’s temperature. GETTY IMAGES


Susan MacDonald, an associate professor of medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland, feels that PPE pain. When the palliative care doctor makes a rare pandemic-era home visit, she’s had to figure out ways to put on her protective gear in between her car and a patient’s front door, all the while dealing with Newfoundland’s wild, windy and rainy weather.

The former president of the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians has made some observations in her 25 years working in the field. Though the coronavirus pandemic has encouraged health-care colleagues to learn more about palliative care, and training has been made more widely available in the wake of COVID-19, its evolution continues to be stunted by the stigma hardwired into the topic of death.

As human beings, MacDonald said, we are very uncomfortable with the notion of death and primed not to be happy over the thought of dying. “And so what do we do? We constantly avoid it. We put all our money into cure. Take a look at the massive telethons that we have for all sorts of things that raise millions and millions of dollars — and nothing on palliative care.”

We are very much a youth-oriented society, a beauty-oriented society, and we do not venerate our elders, and we do not talk about death.Dr. Susan MacDonald

How we talk about the end of life is in need of a change in order to evolve palliative care. “We are very much a youth-oriented society, a beauty-oriented society, and we do not venerate our elders, and we do not talk about death,” MacDonald said. The pandemic has raised the stakes because the fear of getting sick with COVID-19, and suddenly dying from it, has made the thought of death more omnipresent in our day-to-day lives.

The biggest barrier to palliative care, as it has been for “eons,” MacDonald explained, is the perception that it’s a death service rather than a symptom-management service. Before the pandemic, she said she had a patient who asked for “very aggressive” treatment for his cancer. He was miserable.

“And when you spoke to him and said, ‘What are you living for?’ He said, ‘I have to see my first grandchild being born. I have to see that.’” After speaking to the daughter, who had months to go in her pregnancy, MacDonald concluded “there was no way” he was going to make it that long, given his prognosis. So she brought in an ultrasound technician, as well as the daughter. “He was able to see the baby. And after that happened he was able to make some decisions about what he really wanted, which was a peaceful and dignified end of life.”

A palliative care doctor isn’t just responsible for managing physical pain. Hacker, whose patient died from ALS in April, said he’s arranged Christmases in March and July for patients fixated on the hard truth they weren’t going to live long enough to revel with family and friends for their favourite holiday one last time. That part of his workload isn’t necessarily traditional doctor’s work, he joked, adding caring about his patient’s emotional well-being at the end-of-life is part of his job, too. “Who cares what the calendar says,” he said. “Celebrations can be moved.”

* * *

Modern palliative care has three areas of focus: the management of symptoms; the discussion of advance care planning with patients by going over their values, expectations and wishes; and supporting the care network a patient will leave behind.

The spirit of palliative care goes back to the fourth century when early Christians in Europe created hospices to care for the impoverished and sick. The first modern hospice opened its doors in the 1960s in southwest London.

That pioneering effort is credited to the late Dame Cicely Saunders, a social worker and physician. Born in 1918, Saunders defied her parents’ expectation that she attend Oxford to become a secretary to a British member of Parliament, and instead became a social worker. Along the way, she became a committed Christian, which instilled in her a desire to serve. It was through her work helping the poor that she met David Tasma, a 40-year-old man dying in a hospital, with no family. They clicked and connected on a spiritual level. Through their discussions, according to the British Medical Journal, they talked about establishing a home for dying people to help them “find peace in their final days.”

Dame Cicely Saunders receives her doctorate of medicine from Dr. Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury, at Lambeth Palace in London on April 18,1977. (Photo by Frank Barratt/Keystone/Getty Images)


Through close friendships with her patients, it became increasingly clear to her that outside of hospital and hospice walls, a patient is, more often than not, a member of a symbiotic network of support. She founded St. Christopher’s Hospice in 1967, shortly after becoming a doctor. It was named in honour of the patron saint for travellers.

In a 1983 television interview, Saunders was asked if most people want to know if they’re dying. “I don’t think that anybody really wants to know that. Nobody wants to have bad news,” she said. The idea of “total pain” as inclusive of emotional, physical, social and spiritual elements is a concept she advocated. Saunders argued the environment surrounding a dying patient, the availability of emotional support and physical comfort for patients, their friends and family, as well as for caregivers, directly impact the quality of palliative, end-of-life and terminal care.

“You come to realize, by what’s happening in your body, by how people around you are behaving, by the things they don’t say as much as what they do say. But the body has a wisdom of its own. And if you can manage to say yes to the ending of life, almost in the same in the same way as you say yes to the other things that happen in life, then it can open up — and the strengths and the possibilities of that time can be made more apparent. And I think it’s rather like the rest of life: If you deny a problem, you don’t actually tackle it.”

‘People need a village to die at home’

Starting those hard conversations is part of a palliative care doctor’s job — sussing out which environmental and psychological stressors a patient could be feeling and responding to — and designing a care plan to palliate the symptoms.

With physical distance measures in place to encourage people to stay home in an effort to flatten the COVID-19 infection curve, palliative care doctors are also feeling environmental and psychological stressors. It’s a new reality that Ottawa physician Regine Krechowicz is still adjusting to. “The job that I love just doesn’t exist right now.”

On what’s changed since before the pandemic, she said “the saddest difference is that people are dying much more alone.” The home-care doctor quipped on some days she feels like a web technician who can write prescriptions.

The former rural family doctor specialized in palliative care two years ago and up until recently, she met new patients in-person. It’s important to establish trust with new patients, so she would sometimes spend two hours with someone for an initial consult. Being in a patient’s home has advantages, Krechowicz explained. Non-verbal cues can help a doctor offer “gentle signposting” to help prepare families for what’s next.

“There might be something subtle in someone’s breathing that tells me, OK, we talked about this yesterday that there might be weeks but what I’m seeing today is that the time can be shorter.” She said during video calls, it can be hard to tell if support workers or family caregivers have burnout. “People usually don’t come out and say, ‘I am burnt out,’ right? It’s like a feel in the house that you can get.”

With physical distancing measures in place, it’s hard for family caregivers to arrange brief relief of their home-care duties. Timing has been particularly cruel for some families. One patient’s children couldn’t come from Calgary to say goodbye to him, Krechowicz said of a man who was recently under her care in Ottawa. “People need a village to die at home.”

COVID-19 has changed end-of-life care, separating the dying from family and loved ones. GETTY IMAGES


Doctors are hopeful the pandemic can at least push people to talk about advance care planning for the end of life. One told me, quite frankly, that it’s hard to verbalize your wishes if you’re suddenly intubated. By then it’s too late.

In Canada, provinces and territories are not required to follow a national palliative care strategy — because there isn’t one. That’s not to discount efforts made in the past to develop a federal policy. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien appointed Manitoba senator Sharon Carstairs to cabinet in 2001 as minister with special responsibility for palliative care. In 2015, a milestone was reached when the Supreme Court of Canada overturned a ban on medical assistance in dying (MAiD). Legislation passed the following year made it legal — and it’s now subject to new changes.

Palliative care and how to improve it was discussed by the House of Commons health committee two days before the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic back in March. Christina Lawand, senior researcher at the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), appeared as a witness at the committee. Bloc Québécois MP Luc Thériault asked her if palliative care has been identified as the “gold standard” for dying with dignity for the past 50 years, what needs to be done to make it more accessible?

More medical training is needed, Lawand said, explaining that three in five doctors say they don’t feel ready to provide palliative care, despite 80 per cent of them seeing patients who need it. “The problem is that the patients’ need for palliative care is established only when their curative treatments are finished. Their situation can deteriorate very quickly and it is then too late to implement palliative care in the community. That’s why we see a lot of emergency room visits and hospitalizations.” CIHI data suggests in 2018-19, approximately 15 million visits were made to emergency rooms across Canada.

I’m a bit worried that it’s quieter than normal.Dr. Jessica Simon, associate professor of palliative medicine, University of Calgary

With no COVID-19 vaccine yet, the novel coronavirus is still untamed. Fear is having an effect on people and their willingness to go to hospitals, even for medical-related emergencies.

“Right now, I’m a bit worried that it’s quieter than normal,” said Jessica Simon, an associate professor of palliative medicine at the University of Calgary. “Where are all the people that we normally see who have advanced cancers or advanced heart disease … Is it because people are actually doing OK because there’s more family around and people aren’t working … or are people struggling and suffering home alone … and maybe people aren’t asking for help.”

Home care is not considered an “insured health service” for full government funding under the Canada Health Act, despite federal-level support for the change. A parliamentary committee on palliative and compassionate care report called home care “foundational” to the transformation of the health-care system.

MPs on the committee argued this evolution would make a difference in delivering palliative services to more people, especially in First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities. It would increase access to effective care while reducing costs, they said. That was nearly a decade ago.

Cheat sheets to learn basics of end-of-life care

The cost of palliative care in the last month of a patient’s life was noted in an Ontario auditor general report in 2014. At the time, expenses ranged from under $100 per day for at-home care; $460 per day for hospice, up to $770 per day in a palliative-care unit, and $1,100 per day in an acute-care hospital bed.

Naomi Goloff, a pediatric palliative care physician by training, thinks home care “110 per cent” should be considered an essential, insured service. In the wake of the pandemic, education gaps are being addressed on the fly. Medical professionals have been teaching each other with ad-hoc palliative care cheat sheets, helping those working at the frontlines in intensive care units to quickly learn the basics of end-of-life care.

Goloff was helping at a nursing home when I called her in late April. She had just wrapped a shift working in a unit for dementia patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the month but had now all recovered.

I asked her how she winds down after a rough day. On that particular evening, she said there were “ups and downs.” But in the spirit of trying to make the facility feel like a hospitable place where people are living, they planned a Michael Jackson dance party to celebrate the residents on the floor beating COVID-19.

The staff wore head-to-toe PPE. Residents on the floor joined in. They turned up the music and danced to “Thriller” — a brief, exquisite moment of catharsis. Though they wore face masks and shields, you could see people smiling just by looking at their eyes, Goloff said. The residents were “very much alive.” SOURCE

Right-wing neoliberals are softening up Albertans for austerity on steroids

Image: Jason Kenney/Twitter​

In trench warfare, before the shock troops go over the top, the artillery softens up the defenders with a barrage at the point of the attack.

In the midst of a great struggle with a mysterious coronavirus that threatens all mankind, we are being subjected to such a barrage by some of the most trusted economic commentators of the neoliberal right.

Yesterday, University of Calgary Professor Jack Mintz — “the brilliant economist,” as Conservative supertroll Pierre Poilievre recently called the man — joined the cannonade.

In a short jeremiad complaining public-sector jobs are too secure published in the financial pages of the National Post, Mintz asked, rhetorically, “How about some public sector sacrifice, too?”

I will leave a detailed critique of Mintz’s commentary to economists. Suffice it to say he argues that since there are heavy job losses in the private sector as a result of the worldwide fight to control the spread of COVID-19, there must be corresponding losses and rollbacks in the public sector too — including, presumably, among the health-care workers we are praising now for their efforts to protect us from the virus.

This is unlikely to be a popular policy prescription with that huge segment of the public that has grown wise to the depredations of neoliberalism’s Shock Doctrine.

Yesterday, Stephen Harper published a similar screed behind the paywall of the Wall Street Journal. The former Canadian prime minister argued that, “after coronavirus, government will have to shrink.”

Harper, who was never really an economist except in Conservative election brochures, nevertheless uses the bully platform provided by his current position as titular head of the neoliberal internationale to say of most governments’ responses to the coronavirus that “all this intervention has been economically ruinous.”

This is a sneaky and deceptive argument, designed to undermine the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. After all, the intervention Harper is complaining about was designed to keep the economy on life support while COVID-19 threatened our economic and actual lives. But we expect no less from the former prime minister, whose habits are familiar to Canadian voters if not to the Wall Street Journal‘s principal audience south of the Medicine Line.

As it happened, also yesterday, an April 9 article in the Post by Philip Cross, a “senior fellow” at both the neoliberal Macdonald-Laurier and Fraser “institutes,” was also creating a stir in Alberta where local politicians were retweeting the author’s “modest proposal” to cut public sector pay by 20 per cent.

The Post headline notwithstanding, it seems unlikely the proposal was intended as Swiftian satire by Cross, another fellow referred to as a “brilliant economist” by Poilievre, whose day job, despite the time he spends on Twitter, is federal Conservative finance critic.

All this stuff is being peddled now, of course, for a reason.

Nationally and internationally, the neoliberal stream of capitalism hopes once again to find a way to use the coronavirus catastrophe to implement policies that are the opposite of what ordinary people all over the world are praying for.

Expect to hear “we can’t afford it” a lot whenever policies to save us from some future global pandemic or the depredations of neoliberalism are proposed.

Here in Alberta, this poses special danger because Harper’s acolyte, Jason Kenney, is premier, and our province has the bad luck to be the beachhead for their destructive plans.

Mintz, another Fraser Institute fellow, was appointed in March to lead Kenney’s “emergency economic panel” to create policies to counter the collapse in oil prices that struck just as COVID-19 began its march through Canada. Harper, troublingly, is also a member of that group.

Mintz already has a history of telegraphing Kenney’s punches through his writing, as he famously did when he co-authored a paper in 2017 with Janice MacKinnon, a former Saskatchewan finance minister, calling for legislated rollbacks in public sector salaries in Alberta.

After Kenney’s United Conservative Party won the election in 2019, MacKinnon was appointed to lead a “blue ribbon panel” that, lo and behold, recommended pretty much what she had proposed with Mintz.

It hardly strains credulity to predict Harper’s and Mintz’s bloviations this week foretell exactly what we Albertans are going to face when Premier Kenney’s emergency panel reports.

As has been argued in this space before, Mintz is likely to recommend exactly what Alberta doesn’t need in response to a recession — lower taxes for the already wealthy, more privatization, elimination of public-sector jobs, use of legislation to force front-line public-sector workers to take pay cuts, elimination of regulations that protect workers and citizens (from COVID-19, among other things) — the usual neoliberal bromides.

The same can be said of Harper, with a cynical strategy tossed in to somehow use federal money to keep Alberta afloat while portraying the resulting national deficit and debt as a disaster, the better to take back Parliament Hill.

But first, we Albertans will have to face austerity on steroids. We are being softened up for it now. SOURCE

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog,

Pandemic prompts unionization drive for low-paid essential workers — and creativity in organizing

Despite providing vital services and risking their well-being just by going to work, many previously “invisible” private-sector employees — like janitors, personal support workers and truckers — now deemed essential are still among the most overworked and underpaid.

In response, Services Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2 has launched a national unionization drive for these essential workers.

The Unions are Essential campaign began on May 12, 2020, as a result of the pandemic’s major toll on workers, said communications coordinator Assya Moustaqim-Barrette. SEIU Local 2 has observed that some of its own members are still not getting adequate personal protective equipment and proper training on how to use it — a common concern in many workplaces. As a result, thousands of essential workers across Canada have contracted COVID-19, and some have died.

“Why am I getting the minimum wage when I’m so essential?”

For decades, the private-sector unionization rate in Canada has been in decline — it was just 16 per cent in 2019, according to Statistics Canada. This makes it hard to gather information and know the full extent of the impact of COVID-19 on workers, said Moustaqim-Barrette.

And these issues come on top of systemic challenges that many workers in these sectors face, including low wages and few to no paid sick days.

“While everyone else is able to work from home, these folks are still on the front lines working in dangerous conditions and for very low wages,” said Moustaqim-Barrette.

“It’s essential for them to have a voice, to be heard by their employers and the government, and to improve their working conditions in terms of wages and health and safety.”

‘A mixed bag’

Dr. Mark Thompson, a University of British Columbia professor emeritus of labour relations, sees “a mixed bag” for organizing during the pandemic.

He said the precarious situation is raising awareness and discussions among the public about the systemic issues that workers face — a trend that Moustaqim-Barrette also noted.

“If you’re called essential, you say to yourself, ‘Why am I getting the minimum wage when I’m so essential?’” Thompson said. “So if they are truly essential — and I’m not arguing with that — the rates of pay and working conditions don’t seem to be appropriate.”

Organizing “isn’t something that should be put on hold during a pandemic.”

But he pointed out physical distancing measures would increase isolation and pose challenges for organizing, since much of the process relies on face-to-face contact.

Moustaqim-Barrette agrees.

“Organizing a workplace involves a lot of sitting down with people, having coffee, listening to them,” she said. “A lot of labour people kind of felt very discouraged at the start of the pandemic because initially it seems like we wouldn’t be able to speak to workers directly anymore, we wouldn’t be able to hold votes.”

‘The more power we have’

But the union has since found some workarounds.

For instance, Moustaqim-Barrette noted that while essential workers at Lonsdale and Tsawwassen Quay Markets in B.C. started organizing before COVID-19, they voted to unionize with mail-in ballots after the coronavirus emerged and physical distancing was put in place. Bargaining is also going ahead.

“The organizing that we do in the future until a vaccine is created for this virus, we’ll just have to be adaptable and receptive to the conditions,” she said.

Organizing “isn’t something that should be put on hold during a pandemic. It should be prioritized.”

Thousands of essential workers across Canada have contracted COVID-19.

At the same time, SEIU Local 2 — which represents over 10,000 janitors in Canada — is still pushing forward its From Invisible to Essential campaign, which calls for employers to provide a $2-per-hour raise and personal protective equipment for janitors.

Despite the work required for both campaigns, Moustaqim-Barrette believes they are mutually beneficial.

“The bigger the labour movement, the more power that we have and the more receptive government and employers are to our demands … [and] the better it will be for all the workers,” she said. SOURCE

The state of the Arctic Ocean? Unpredictable

A broad report on Canada’s North finds transformations in sea ice, due to climate change, are altering the landscape — and ways of life that depend on it — in all sorts of significant, destructive and deadly ways

A new report called the State of the Arctic Ocean finds the loss of sea ice is making life less predictable in the North. Illustration: Carol Linnitt / The Narwhal

Transformations of Arctic sea ice are altering the ferocity of storms, the deadliness of polar bears and even the ovulation of ringed seals, according to a new report from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the State of the Arctic Ocean.

The broad, overarching study finds changes in ocean ice are influencing habitat and animals in the country’s North in unpredictable ways. These changes, largely due to climate change, are leaving natural systems in chaos.

No Arctic system is more clearly affected — and has more ripple effects — than the ice.

A long-term trend of thinning ice is interfering with the ability of sea creatures to grow, reproduce and even survive.

Each year, some ice survives the summer’s heat and refreezes thicker and stronger the following winter. But even in the High Arctic, multi-year ice is becoming increasingly rare — there’s 40 per cent less at the end of the summer now than there was just 20 years ago.

At the same time, that old ice is thinning over the Canadian Basin at a rate of 40 centimetres every decade.

“Nearly all of that ice has been lost,” says Chris Derksen, a climate research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

None of these changes happens in a vacuum: when the ocean’s chemistry changes, when seasons get out of sync with the living systems that depend on them, “that has effects right through the food web,” explains Andrea Niemi, a Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientist and lead author of the new report.

Unpredictable ice confuses, traps animals

According to the report, in the coming decades the last of the multi-year ice will likely be found in the western margin of the Canadian Arctic archipelago in a place called Tuvaijuittuq, which aptly means the place where the ice never melts.

The islands create a natural barrier where the swirling winds and currents of the Arctic Ocean deposit the old ice.

The federal government announced in August it would create a marine protected area covering much of the coastline where the old ice ends up. While the designation can’t stop the ice from melting, it can protect the species that make their homes in, on and around the ice.

Arctic ice is one of the most important habitat features of the North. Bears, foxes, seals and birds use it as a platform for hunting and resting. Underneath the ice, fish hide and algae, phytoplankton, zooplankton and bacteria grow.

The ice can also prevent marine mammals from accessing the air, and the predators above from accessing the water, so finding the edges of the ice is important.

Inuit knowledge has documented a shift in where that critical point occurs around Baffin Island in the last decade. The ice is also becoming less predictable and less consistent, causing problems for navigation, hunting and migration.

“If the ice becomes unpredictable, then species like narwhals or belugas can be caught off guard where they can’t get out,” Niemi says.

Killer whales, drawn into the newly accessible Arctic, have also become trapped in unfamiliar ice-covered waters. “Inuit observations are noting they’re coming in more frequently,” Niemi says.

The confusing, treacherous ice conditions also leave polar bears ashore longer. Hungry bears waiting for sea ice to form still need to eat, which forces them to eat bird eggs, raid human food sources or otherwise scavenge. While bears have been eating more bird eggs, the open water that forces them ashore also allows the birds to feed more, cancelling out the bears’ negative effect on their population.

When the bears show up in communities, however, the effects are much graver.

2017 study found a notable increase in polar bear attacks on people in recent years. Between 2010 and 2014, there were 15 attacks compared to an average of one per year in the 50 previous years. Nearly 90 per cent of those maulings happened at the time of year when sea ice is at its lowest extent.

Just outside Arviat, Nunavut, 31-year-old Aaron Gibbons was mauled to death by a polar bear while protecting his children in 2018, one of two deadly attacks in the Kivalliq region that summer.

The unpredictable ice also presents challenges for people who rely on it for travel and hunting.

Within living memory, dog teams could run on sea ice from mainland Nunavut to Pond Inlet, on Baffin Island, in July. Today, they would be swimming through much of their voyage, according to Pond Inlet Elders who were interviewed for the government’s report.

People from other communities such as Cape Dorset and Cambridge Bay told similar stories of waiting longer for freeze-up and having less time to safely travel on the ice.

They also noted the ice itself is different: powdery, less flexible, softer — the kinds of conditions that can make it more dangerous. Falling through the ice can be fatal, and stories of travel cut tragically short are not uncommon.

“All of this impacts the traditional way of life,” Derksen says. “Communities have to adapt very quickly.”

Thinning ice leads to severe storms that speed up erosion

Sea ice has a calming effect on the Arctic Ocean, lying on its surface like a weighted blanket. When the ice thins, breaks up or disappears entirely, storms can grab hold of the water and generate towering waves.

In the Beaufort Sea, the patch of the Arctic Ocean west of Canada’s Arctic islands, storms have been getting progressively worse since the late 1990s. Winds and waves have been pummelling the shoreline around Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, causing erosion and flooding.

This erosion is threatening to send homes toppling into the sea. Sandbags and concrete slabs have bought the hamlet some time, but the sea’s march inland is inexorable: now the local government is working on relocating its residents before it’s too late.

Just 150 kilometres away, along Yukon’s  Beaufort Sea coastline, enough sediment is being washed into the sea every year to fill a train 24,000 cars long. That annual erosion releases 35 million kilograms of carbon, decreasing the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and adding to the warming.

Storms can affect communities in other ways, too.

A 2016 storm over the second lowest sea ice extent on record contributed to the worst beluga hunt Tuktoyaktuk has ever seen. The storm kicked up waves that made it unsafe for hunters to leave shore. Those who did venture out may have had a hard time spotting the small whales — if they were there at all. Scientists have noted the creatures come into the estuary seeking calm, warmer waters.

Shipping, tourism take advantage of retreating ice

As the ice retreats, more shipping and tourism is making its way through the Canadian Arctic archipelago. The tiny communities nestled among the islands have seen the positive effects of more people showing up on their shores, in the form of income from tours and art sales, while they’ve also suffered negative impacts.

People fear noisy ships are scaring away narwhals and belugas, while the ships’ operators have been known to buy the local stores out of produce.

When it comes to shipping traffic, “all the risks are there for northern communities but they don’t stand to benefit from that activity,” Derksen says. Fearing oil spills and other catastrophes, Arctic communities have rushed to get training and equipment to help them respond.

Invasive species, introduced through the bilge water of ships, present a growing threat.

The threats to people and wildlife are exacerbated by a lack of scientific knowledge about biodiversity in the Arctic Ocean. In some places, scientists estimate up to 60 per cent of species — like the tubeworms living on undersea volcanoes and feeding on methane, only discovered in 2013 — are yet to be discovered.

In describing the cascading changes throughout the natural systems of the Arctic Ocean, from air currents to zooplankton, the new government report comes back to one central theme, Niemi says.

“When we talk about the changes being observed, we talk about how they can all be linked back to changes related to sea ice.”  SOURCE

Small farmers are big players in food security during pandemic

Tamara McPhail, executive director and land steward at historic Linnaea Farm on Cortes Island, is helping to bolster food sovereignty in her community. Photo courtesy of Linnaea Farm.

Every May, long-time farmer Tamara McPhail’s day begins and ends with frog song. Followed closely by the chatter of birds.

McPhail, her partner and their two kids live off-grid in a fortified yurt with a dugout basement, which means even inside the walls of their home, the family maintains a close connection to nature.

“We’re essentially living in a glorified tent, so in the mornings I awaken to the dawn chorus right now,” said McPhail.

“It’s just such a great way to wake up because you’re being awakened from your slumber by sounds of the outside world saying, ‘Come on. We’re waking up … let’s go.’”

McPhail, is executive director, a resident steward and all-around labourer at Linnaea Farm ⁠— a 314-acre organic co-operative land trust dedicated to sustainable agriculture, the environment and education on Cortes Island, B.C.

After frogs and birds herald the day, she has a cup of coffee and a conversation with her partner and Linnaea’s market gardener, Adam Schick, about the tasks that need doing in the fields by the farm’s team of residents.

Then, she must respond to the bellowing of the farm’s dairy cows, Zinnia and Quill, nagging to be milked.

McPhail, 47, has been working the land at Linnaea for 20 years, and this spring, as the COVID-19 pandemic blossomed, everything and nothing is the same.

“If I don’t lift my head up from farming, everything still feels very much the same. This time of year, you need to hit the ground running … that whole spring quickening,” McPhail said.

“Getting seeds in the ground, getting potatoes planted. It’s still business as usual in the plant world.”

But the pandemic has proved a powerful catalyst for change in her small island community.

“All of a sudden, there’s been a paradigm shift and conversations around food security, what it means for us, and how we can all look after one another,” Tamara McPhail, executive director of Linnaea Farm on COVID-19 boosting local food production.

“All of a sudden, there’s been a paradigm shift and conversations around food security, what it means for us, and how we can all look after one another,” McPhail said.

In the early stages of the pandemic, isolated islanders were fearful about potential food shortages where they are at the end of a very long supply chain.

But as the weather improved and dramatic food shortages due to COVID-19 didn’t materialize, the mood has shifted. People are more excited about the opportunity to increase food production locally, McPhail said.

“People are bread baking and raising chickens. They are excited about reviving their gardens and saying how much solace they have provided,” she said. “It’s been pretty fantastic.”

Cortes, off the east coast of Vancouver Island, is a tiny community of about 1,000 permanent residents only accessible by plane, boat, or ferry from the neighbouring island of Quadra. Food is trucked onto the island and dependent on the coastal ferry system to arrive.

Linnaea has always contributed to the island’s food supply. The farm’s stewards tend production gardens or raise chickens, cattle and sheep, which then supply produce, meat and eggs to the Friday market in Manson’s Landing or the Cortes Natural Food Co-op.

Cortes Island’s Linnaea Farm has always contributed to feeding the community through it’s market stall in Manson’s Landing. Photo; Courtesy of Linnaea Farm.


But during the pandemic, Linnaea is at the forefront of the island’s organized efforts to bolster food security and community resiliency. In response, Linnaea has started its Farm Food Security Guild.

Residents can purchase a membership that guarantees them fresh produce and farm products weekly. Members will get a list of what’s available and shop online for what they’d like.

But it’s not just about feeding the island locally sourced food, said McPhail.

Unlike other community-supported agriculture (CSA) food programs, Linnea is also offering guild members the opportunity to work on the farm and attend workshops on sustainable farming or on preparing or preserving seasonal produce with the overall hope of boosting the island’s food production capacity.

People will have the opportunity to really get their hands dirty, McPhail said.

“We’re really wanting our Cortes Island community to come out, learn and work beside people who have been tending the soil for decades here at Linnaea,” McPhail said.

“That experiential learning piece is a such a valuable part to food security.”

Linnaea is also concentrating on expanding its seed program.

In addition to putting more land into cultivation for food, the farm will also ensure enough space for seed crops, McPhail said, since suppliers have been overwhelmed by demand during the pandemic.

Linnaea is hoping to establish an island seed bank to ensure the island’s future ability to grow its own food.

“People sometimes don’t consider seeds when thinking about food security,” McPhail said.

“Making sure we can still produce seeds is of utmost importance because you can’t grow food without it.”

Linnaea will also put the focus on locally adapted seeds that will flourish in Cortes’ climate and allow islanders to grow more produce, she added.

Small-scale, regenerative farmers and local resiliency measures are playing big roles as COVID-19 disrupts the global food system, expert Ken Mullinix believes.

Local food producers can adjust more nimbly to changes in markets and demand than massive corporate entities, said Mullinix, director of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

Small scale regenerative farmers are big players in establishing food security as COVID-19 disrupts the global supply chain says Kent Mullinix, director of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Photo: courtesy Kent Mullinix. 

“The pandemic has absolutely revealed the fragility and tenuousness of our highly industrialized monolithic food system,” Mullinix said.

As COVID-19 paralyzes meat-processing plants across North America, the risks of being dependent on a large corporate food system has become obvious, he said.

“We put all our food system’s eggs in one basket … and that results in an inability to adapt to perturbance and, ultimately, a lack of resilience,” Mullinix said.

“Conversely, we’re seeing the small-scale, community-focused farming and food system sector respond very quickly.”

Sustainable farmers are seeing increased local demand and are expanding production accordingly, he added.

“They’re developing new ways to connect with consumers, develop new distribution schemes and working together more,” Mullinix said. “I’m hearing about all sorts of efforts by this sector to grow.”

To consolidate local food security gains, smaller farms need to remain diverse and focus on regional food needs, he added.

And all levels of government need to prioritize developing regional food systems while mitigating climate change and increasing productivity and farm profitability, Mullinix said.

That means targeted support for small-scale regenerative farmers and the development of regional infrastructure or hubs to aggregate, sort, sell and distribute their goods, he said.

But local food security requires local solutions, Mullinix stressed.

“One thing we need to recognize is that every strategy to address food system resilience and community food security must be unique to that community,” he said.

“We have been culturally obsessed with uniformity. And if there is anything nature teaches us, it is that the ability to adapt to change resides in diversity.”

Despite Linnaea’s role in fortifying Cortes Island’s food security during the pandemic, the farm’s core funding has taken a big hit, said McPhail.

Each summer, the farm typically hosts post-secondary permaculture field schools, ecological youth camps, as well as tours and group stays from people interested in learning about sustainable farming.

Linnaea Farm is a land trust on Cortes Island that hosts field schools, workshops and tours each summer for groups interested in sustainable farming and permaculture. Photo: courtesy Linnaea Farm. 

“It’s quite stressful for us right now,” McPhail said. “We’ve had a lot of cancellations in direct correlation to COVID-19 and our inability to gather.”

And since Linnaea is an unusual hybrid between a working farm, an educational organization and a charity, it can’t access any provincial or federal relief funding, which tends to be very sector-specific.

“Yes, we’re agriculturalists, but we also have an education role,” McPhail said. “So, we sometimes fall between the funding cracks of those two entities.”

Linnaea is not relying on the food security guild to ease the farm’s financial load.

“We’re not looking at the food security piece as a way to meet core funding. They are kind of two different conversations,” McPhail said.

The guild initiative has had a strong response and Linnaea has capped the number of members as it pilots the project, she said.

But McPhail is hopeful the interest signals a lasting commitment to local food security and farming even after the pandemic wanes.

“COVID, as awful as it is has been, is a catalyst for these amazing community conversations at a real deep level,” she said.

“And if we are moving into a time where we really want to look at making Cortes Island food-secure, that’s an amazing conversation to be having.”


Rochelle Baker/Local Journalism Initiative/Canada’s National Observer


Not so ready-to-pick: growers have been left hanging by COVID-19

Second oilsands mine work camp Covid-19 outbreak triggers reassurances

A haul truck carrying a full load drives away from a mining shovel at the Shell Albian Sands oilsands mine near Fort McMurray, Alta., on Wednesday, July 9, 2008. File photo by The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh

A second outbreak of COVID-19 at an oilsands mine work camp in northern Alberta is concerning, observers say, but not even a vocal critic of the Alberta government’s handling of the pandemic would shut those operations down.

The province relies too much on self-inspection and is too slow to take action on enforcement despite recent large outbreaks at meat-packing plants, said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

He added workers in the first oilsands mine outbreak at the Kearl mine should not have been allowed to spread the virus to other communities.

“We’re not necessarily saying shut down these operations but we are saying put an end to the fly-in, fly-out approach to staffing the projects for all of them,” he said in an interview on Thursday.

“Given the fact we have so many unemployed tradespeople here in Alberta, there’s no justification for continuing to fly in hundreds of people from other provinces. We could do the work ourselves and avoid the risk of spreading the infections beyond our borders.”

On Wednesday, the province reported there had been five confirmed COVID-19 cases at the Horizon oilsands mine camp operated by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., the minimum number to declare an outbreak.

A larger outbreak reported last month at the Kearl oilsands mine operated by Imperial Oil Ltd. had grown to 107 cases, it said.

Kearl’s ability to continue to operate and produce oil while taking measures to deal with the outbreak has been reassuring for investors, said oilsands analyst Phil Skolnick of Eight Capital.

“At Kearl, there have been no repercussions, production is still going on,” he said, adding the industry is expected to continue as normal because Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has declared upstream oil operations essential.

Other oilsands producers throughout the industry are slowing work and reducing staffing levels to reduce the risk of transmission, Skolnick added.

Earlier this month, Imperial said it would extend a planned one-month maintenance shutdown of one of its two production trains at Kearl by an extra month to allow more distancing between workers.

Reassurances emerge after second oilsands mine work camp outbreak

Those decisions have the added benefit of reducing production at a time when oil prices are at low ebb because global demand for energy products has fallen during the pandemic, Skolnick said.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Deena Henshaw said Canadian Natural has reacted to the Horizon mine outbreak in an appropriate manner.

“Testing is being offered to all employees, including those without symptoms, and I’m confident that the spread can be contained on this site as all measures are being taken to do this,” she said.

She reported speaking with other camp operators in the region earlier this week and found they were co-operative and aware of measures they should be taking before and after an outbreak is discovered.

“When you think of the thousands of people that go in and out of these camps on a regular basis, the fact that at Kearl Lake we now have 107 cases …, (now) we’ve had a small recent cluster, but again I think it’s a testament to the work that’s been done to reduce spread,” said Henshaw.

Canadian Natural said one of its maintenance service workers was confirmed on May 2 as positive for COVID-19. The person had completed a shift on April 28 and experienced symptoms after returning home.

The company traced the workers’ close contacts and provided information to Alberta Health Services to identify people who required testing. Three close contacts working with the same service provider then tested positive, Canadian Natural said.

In a separate case, Canadian Natural was notified that an employee of its camp services provider at Horizon tested positive on April 29.

Measures taken to control transmission include limiting numbers on air and ground transport so that physical distance can be maintained, and requiring face masks on flights and buses, the company said.

It said flight times are being adjusted to reduce the number of people waiting for planes and passengers must sit with empty seats between them on planes and buses.

All employees are being pre-screened before entering the site and have their temperatures checked. In camp, some dining hall seating has been removed and food is being served by camp staff or prepackaged, the company said. SOURCE

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2020

Tŝilhqot’in Nation wraps 30-year fight with massive victory over Taseko Mines

“Our war chiefs laid a bread-crumb path for us on how we should be fighting for our lands, laying it all on the line, and that is the mentality our nation carries. We don’t know how to lose, we’ll go down fighting,” elected Xeni Gwet’in Chief Jimmy Lulua says.

Tŝilhqot’in spiritual ambassador Peyal Francis Laceese lands at Teẑtan Biny last March for a water ceremony in the middle of a battle against Taseko Mines. Photo by Emilee Gilpin

As all six communities comprising the Tŝilhqot’in Nation continue to deal with COVID-19, good news Thursday morning gave people something to celebrate. The Supreme Court of Canada denied Taseko Mines Limited’s application for leave to appeal, shutting down its $1.5-billion proposed open-pit copper and gold mine for good, 30 years after the battle began.

“It’s been a 30-year battle, involving former and current leaders, a long list of people dedicated to this, guided by our ancestors,” elected Chief Jimmy Lulua of the Xeni Gwet’in community told Canada’s National Observer over the phone Friday. “Our war chiefs laid a bread-crumb path for us on how we should be fighting for our lands, laying it all on the line, and that is the mentality our nation carries. We don’t know how to lose, we’ll go down fighting.”

Lulua has been chief of Xeni Gwet’in for the past two years. He works with the other five elected chiefs, meeting over Zoom weekly and sometimes biweekly during COVID-19 to continue to stand as one unified nation, he said. This massive victory has been the first sigh of relief in 30 years, as all Tŝilhqot’in (known in English as Chilcotin) people can finally say their sacred Teẑtan Biny and Nabaŝ, (Fish Lake and surrounding area) will not be devastated by exploratory-mining activity.

These areas are used for cultural and spiritual activities, burial sites, Chinook and Sockeye salmon spawning grounds and a deer crossing where young people will shoot their first deer as a rite of passage.

Canada’s National Observer reached out to Taseko Mines for comment, but has yet to receive a response.

Elected Chief Jimmy Lulua of the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation said he’s just a small part of what has been a decades-long fight taken up by his nation to protect a sacred elevated lake and surrounding area from mining activities. Photo provided by Tŝilhqot’in National Government


The Tŝilhqot’in people have always lived around and used the Teẑtan Bin (Fish Lake) and the surrounding area; for hunting, fishing, harvesting medicines, healing, ceremony and cultural camps. Photo by River Voices


Thursday’s news that the Supreme Court of Canada would not hear the leave to appeal is just the latest move in a decades-long legal ping-pong game. Taseko’s “New Prosperity mine” has been rejected twice at the federal level, by former prime minister Stephen Harper, who led a Conservative government from Feb. 6, 2006, to Nov. 4, 2015.

Taseko’s original project (then called the “Prosperity mine”) received its environmental-assessment certificate from the Province of B.C., with 103 recommendations for the proponent, but the project was turned down at the federal level on July 2, 2010, due to its environmental and cultural impacts. The company applied again, with modifications to its proposal, and on Sept. 29, 2011, the province granted approval to carry out “exploratory work,” sparking a blockade by Tŝilhqot’in Nation members.

A little over a month later, the federal government called for a review of the New Prosperity mine by a second independent panel, which in 2014 concluded the proposal carried too many adverse effects. Ottawa rejected the project a second time.

Taseko filed in court for judicial review of the federal panel’s report, and later filed a review of the rejection. On Jan. 14, 2015, the province granted a five-year extension of the environmental-assessment certificate. In 2016, Taseko started to prepare a new exploratory program, several times the scale and magnitude of the drilling program that faced a blockade in 2011. This new drilling program was rejected by the Tŝilhqot’in on the grounds the activity was for a mine that had been rejected twice.

The exploratory-drilling program includes construction of 367 trenches or test pits, 122 geotechnical drill sites, 48 kilometres of new excavated trails, 28 km of existing-access modification, 20 km of cut lines, more than 1,000 square metres of timber cuts, a 50-person camp with 11 mobile trailer units, a base-camp staging area, storage of up to 10,000 litres of fuel on-site, seven water-pump locations, a temporary core shed and 15 km of seismic-refraction traverses.

On July 17, 2017, the drilling program was approved by Rick Adams, a senior inspector for permitting with the province’s ministry of energy, mines and petroleum resources. Taseko’s plans to proceed that year were thwarted by not just the Tŝilhqot’in appealing the approval in court, but also court proceedings brought by the federal government, which unsuccessfully argued in the B.C. Supreme Court of Appeal that the magnitude and purpose of the drilling program constituted the company actually beginning construction of the rejected New Prosperity mine.

In 2018, when Canada failed to block the drilling, the Tŝilhqot’in reactivated their court proceedings. On March 1, 2019, the B.C. Court of Appeal disagreed with the Tŝilhqot’in and upheld the drilling permit. The nation filed an injunction from the B.C. Court of Appeal on March 22, 2019, which was granted on Sept. 6, 2019. In December, the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the company’s appeals of the 2013 panel report and 2014 federal rejection of New Prosperity, to which the company applied for leave to appeal these decisions in the highest level of Canadian courts.

Finally, on May 14 of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the proponent’s application for leave to appeal, shutting down the massive mining project and all associated activities in Tŝilhqot’in territories for good.

“This has been a spiritual fight. This is a legal fight, Lulua said. “The wars have changed, but now we are laying a bread-crumb path for the next generation to follow, or even other nations to take notes. I don’t know any other nations that have defeated a mining company of this size.”

“We’re at war for our water. Our sacred water. Not only for us, for the salmon, for the wildlife, for the farmers, for everyone — everything relies on water,” Lulua said during a water ceremony at Teẑtan Biny on March 15, 2019. Photo by Emilee Gilpin


“It is a good day for Aboriginal rights and title”

In 2014, the Tŝilhqot’in became the first nation in Canada to have proven Aboriginal rights and title in the highest level of court in a case that took 25 years. It became a landmark decision in a country that continues to grapple with land claims, treaties, rights, title, territorial relationships and pre-existing Indigenous systems of governance. Just as the 2014 rights and title victory was a big day for the Tŝilhqot’in people, Lulua said this win against Taseko Mines is also history in the making.

The Tŝilhqot’in people are governed by traditional laws and governance, laid out by previous leaders and war chiefs, many who laid down their lives to protect their rights, title, territories and ways of life. The Tŝilhqot’in make decisions guided by elders, women’s council, elected leaders and knowledge carriers, and community meetings are rich with the Tŝilhqot’in language.

“It shows what you can accomplish when you are a united nation,” Lulua said.  SOURCE


Taseko’s loss in Supreme Court may not be the end of embattled New Prosperity mine, Tsilhqot’in warn