Farms of the future: the chicken farm run by a vegetarian

Chicken farming has an appalling reputation but can it ever be done ethically? This vegetarian farmer wants to prove it can be

When Maurits Groen approached the chief executive of Lidl in the Netherlands and asked him to buy 40 million chicken eggs, the supermarket boss laughed out loud. Harsh? Not really. For one, Groen had no eggs to sell. In fact, he didn’t even own a chicken.

Fast-forward four years and the inveterate Dutch entrepreneur (he also runs a social enterprise making solar-powered lights for rural African homeowners) has just opened his second state-of-the-art chicken farm in his home country.

It’s an odd venture in many ways. Chicken farming suffers from an appalling reputation, with reports of cramped cages and birds pumped full of drugs plaguing the industry.

Adding to the oddness is Groen’s status as a committed vegetarian. But nonetheless, he still believes that chickens have a crucial role to play in helping to feed the world without destroying the planet. “We can’t just wait for everyone to become vegetarians, much as I wish we could,” he says.

“So, what’s the next best thing?” His answer: eggs. As protein source, they’re way up there. The mission of this avian enterprise, christened Kipster, is be the most ethical chicken farm in the world. So, is it?

It’s impossible to say for certain, but, environmentally at least, its credentials seem sound. Banks of rooftop solar panels help meet the power needs of the two farms (which are in Beuningen and Venray, both near the German border) in full, with electricity to spare.

Then there’s the food. Instead of the commonly used soya-based pellets (which are linked to deforestation) or corn that might otherwise be used in human food supply chains, Kipster birds are fed on a specially developed concoction of human-grade food waste from bakeries, supplemented with vitamins and minerals. The team reckons the CO2 footprint of its feed is half that of standard chicken feeds.

There are further green touches, too. Like the packaging, made from potato starch and pumped with air bubbles, making it both recyclable and lighter to lug around.

On the issue of animal welfare, Groen claims that Kipster’s hens live three times longer than their ill-fated battery-farm sisters – a direct consequence, he says, of their better conditions. SOURCE

Michael Moore’s Garbage Planet of the Humans Has Been Removed From YouTube

Image: Planet of the Humans

Michael Moore’s Planet of the Humans is a trash film that contains massive amounts of disinformation and dabbles in ecofascism. Turns out it also contained copyrighted material.

The film racked up 8 million views and gained major traction with climate deniers and right wing groups thanks to YouTube hosting it and featuring it on Earth Day. But now the platform has pulled the video over copyright infringement. Good riddance.

Planet of the Humans is full of problematic themes. The so-called documentary ignores the promise of solar and wind energy, relying on an outmoded view of the industry. It then offers population control as the solution to the climate crisis. This line of thinking is dangerous. It borders on eco-fascism, which props up white supremacy for the sake of saving the planet. No thanks, dude.

Toby Smith, an environmental photographer, found another issue with the film: It contains some of his work without his permission. He was not happy to see, and he didn’t waste time trying to work with Gibbs and Moore. He went straight to YouTube, filing a complaint over the weekend.

“I went directly to YouTube rather than approaching the filmmakers because I wasn’t interested in negotiation,” Smith said to the Guardian. “I don’t support the documentary. I don’t agree with its message, and I don’t like the misleading use of facts in its narrative.”

YouTube is notoriously bad at taking down content. But the streaming video service listened in this case and took the film down to due to Smith’s complaint. It’s something environmental groups and climate scientists have been pushing for since the film’s Earth Day release, though for different reasons.

The company has a record of profiting off undeniably awful shit like pedophiliamisinformation, and hate speech. Every click, every view—even those supporting conspiracy theories or lies—sends money the company’s way. Climate denial, in particular, is big on the video streamer’s platform and another source of the company’s profits. A study last year found that conspiracy theorists and misinformation dominate the platform’s climate science content, and Planet of the Humans is the most high profile addition. Most recently, the company has come under fire for making money off videos promoting dangerous and unproven coronavirus cures, including “videos pushing herbs.”

The film’s director, Jeff Gibbs, is trying to bring the film back online. He sees its removal as “another attempt by the film’s opponents to subvert the right to free speech,” per a statement to Deadline. There’s a good chance that climate deniers will rally around this, adding fuel to the fire. It could also add fuel to the fire of untrue claims of conservatives griping about liberal bias online, including the president himself.

Will YouTube bring this dumb-ass movie back? I sure hope not. People need facts these days. One fewer terrible YouTube video alone won’t fix the climate misinformation crisis, but at least the company won’t keep making money off it.


Yessenia Funes, Senior staff writer, Earther. All things environmental justice.

Local news is being decimated during one of its most important moments

Readership has surged during this pandemic crisis, but keeping local news alive will require a collective solution, however imperfect it is.

The COVID-19 pandemic is revealing much about human nature. One of those revelations is that when it comes to matters of life and death, Canadians turn to trusted traditional news sources for information.

A Statistics Canada survey done in early April found that 51 percent of respondents relied upon local, national and international news outlets as a main source of information about COVID-19. Just under 10 percent cited social media. Twelve percent identified provincial health and political leaders as a main source of information while a similar number looked to government health agencies (figure 1). In a separate poll conducted around the same time, nearly three-quarters of respondents (74 percent) said social media platforms like Facebook are less accurate than traditional media.

The story told by the survey numbers is playing out in newsrooms like the Prince Albert Daily Herald, which serves a community of 35,000 located north of Saskatoon, Sask. Pre-pandemic, a top-performing story on the Herald’s website drew 2,000 to 4,000 unique page views, says editor Peter Lozinski. More recently, however, the paper’s two most read stories, which chronicled the spread of COVID-19 among people attending a snow mobile rally dinner, attracted 32,000 unique page views. When the first story about two attendees testing positive broke on March 25, the surge of readers came so quickly “it broke our website,” Lozinski says. “We had to upgrade to handle the amount of traffic we were getting at one time. Popular stories in the past have been more of a slow burn.”

Four of the paper’s top-performing stories since mid-March have been local pandemic-related items. The exception was coverage of a triple homicide in the city. Lozinski said there has been a slight uptick in subscriptions to the employee-owned paper. And the Herald, which has 2,000 daily subscribers and delivers a free edition to all households every Thursday, has also seen a spike in community engagement. “We are getting a lot more news tips from people who send us stuff to look into,” Lozinski says. “A lot don’t pan out, but some turn into great stories.”

This isn’t the first time that news organizations, the kind committed to the timely delivery of verified, independently produced journalism, have emerged as central players in a crisis. A Conference Board of Canada report on the City of Calgary’s handling of massive flooding in 2013 characterized the media’s role in reassuring the public and keeping people informed as “indispensable.” The media, one official said, were as important to the city’s emergency response “as police, fire and EMS.”

What’s new this time, however, is that public reliance on the news media has spiked at the same time as the pandemic’s eradication of advertising revenue is threatening the survival of many local news providers. The erosion of local journalism and its attendant risks for local democracy were cause for concern before COVID-19 came along: Although 121 local news operations have launched since the 2008 recession, more than 300 newspapers, online sites and broadcast outlets shut down in 214 communities over the same period, according to data from the Local News Map run by the Local News Research Project at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism and collaborators at the University of British Columbia. Layoffs have ravaged many of the surviving newsrooms.

Since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11, however, announcements about the closing of local newspapers and widespread cutbacks have proliferated, and apprehension about the future of local journalism has been overtaken by fear-laced discussions peppered with phrases like “Darwinian moment” and “mass extinction.”

To make sense of what is going on and address the immediate need for reliable data, The Local News Research Project, in collaboration with the Canadian Association of Journalists and the J-source journalism news website, launched the COVID-19 Media Impact Map for Canada. The map, which tracks news outlets that have closed, reduced service or implemented layoffs, reduced hours or implemented pay cuts since the WHO’s pandemic declaration, was viewed more than 10,000 times in the first 48 hours after it went live on April 29. This was not because it made for pleasant viewing.

Source: J-Source

To date, 29 newspapers and magazines have cancelled some or all print editions, 82 media organizations have announced layoffs, and at least 2,100 editorial and non-editorial workers have lost their jobs (figure 3). The community newspaper sector (publications that appear fewer than five times per week) has been hardest hit: 50 papers have closed or temporarily closed for reasons directly attributed to the pandemic. By comparison, 215 community papers ceased publication over the past 12 years. Companies such as Saltwire Network, a newspaper chain in Atlantic Canada that closed its 21 community papers and eliminated 240 jobs or 40 percent of its workforce, characterized the decisions as temporary. But advertising revenue has been eviscerated by the lockdown of businesses – by some estimates the newspaper sector’s ad revenue is down by as much as 50 percent. Uncertainty about when – or if – it will ever recover, raises the spectre that many of the “temporarily” closed publications are gone for good.

The data we have so far underrepresents the damage because details of cuts announced by some large employers with multiple media holdings are unknown. Quebecor Inc., for instance, announced the temporary layoff of 1,150 employees, but we do not have information on how those job losses are distributed throughout its divisions and its television, magazine and newspaper holdings in particular. Similarly, although privately owned companies such as Black Press Media and Glacier Media Group in Western Canada have implemented layoffs, pay cuts and reduced hours, we do not have details on the number of jobs involved or how the cuts have affected each one of their publications. Glacier owns close to 70 newspapers while Black Press owns nearly 100.

In the short term, the closing of local newspapers means there are fewer reporters to monitor how the pandemic is unfolding at the community level. But studies that pick apart the complex relationship between local journalism and local democracy have linked the erosion of local news to other consequences. Researchers have argued that local journalism in particular is as important to the functioning and vibrancy of local communities as clean drinking water, safe streets and good schools. Scholars have linked loss of access to local news to increased political polarization, reduced public input into municipal decision-making, drops in voter turnout, better re-election prospects for incumbents, and the emergence of hyper-partisan websites masquerading as straight news. Local reporting is also integral to democracy because it holds power accountable and builds a sense of community by providing residents with shared knowledge, which fosters empathy and understanding of other perspectives.

What’s become clear over the past decade is that there is no silver bullet to halt, never mind reverse, the decline and disappearance of local newsrooms. Smart phones have fragmented once-captive audiences. Facebook and Google have decimated advertising revenues. A recent report by Carleton University’s Canadian Media Concentration Research Project, for instance, shows that annual newspaper revenues at the end of 2018 were $2.6 billion lower than a decade earlier. Annual revenues at commercial broadcast television stations, meanwhile, were down $622 million from their 2011 peak.

Going forward, keeping local news alive will require a collective effort. The broad outlines of that new reality, and the roles various actors will need to play, are emerging and look something like this:

Audiences need to pay: Many local news media have removed their paywalls on COVID-19-related stories so Canadians can access information on everything from how safe it is to go to the local hospital to what’s happening to their relatives in long-term care homes. Revenue from paid subscriptions has become more important to local newsrooms as advertising revenue has declined. Currently, however, only nine percent of people have purchased a digital subscription or news app or made a one-time payment for online news. News consumers need to start paying for news.

News organizations, the CBC and journalism schools need to collaborate: Where there are multiple local news organizations in a community, in many cases they all operate on shoestring budgets. To better serve their audiences, it’s time for all these players, as well as local CBC stations and journalism schools, to rethink the hypercompetitive ethos that has characterized the last 100 years and instead explore collaborative models. The Institute for Investigative Journalism based at Concordia University has demonstrated the merits of this approach. Its Tainted Water series on lead contamination in drinking water brought together 120 journalists, six newsrooms and nine journalism schools from across the country. The Michener Foundation described the IIJ-coordinated consortium as “a new way to produce great public-service journalism” when it recently nominated the project for its prestigious Michener Award for meritorious public-service journalism.

Philanthropy needs to play a role: Philanthropic foundations are emerging as important funders of new ways to make local news work. The Rossy Foundation and McConnell Foundation, for instance, are major supporters of the Institute for Investigative Journalism’s collaborative efforts. Philanthropic funding can act as a catalyst for experimentation. The experience in other jurisdictions, however, suggests that like hospitals and museums, innovative news organizations will also require long-term support. Indeed, they may never be fully financially self-sufficient. They will, however, generate journalism that matters.

Google and Facebook need to pony up: The global tech giants have delivered a double whammy to local news media by vacuuming up digital advertising dollars and carrying content produced by news organizations without directly paying for it. Australia and France have announced that Facebook and Google must start compensating news organizations for copyrighted news content. In Canada, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has indicated he is contemplating measures that will require the platforms to start paying their “fair share.”  Calculating payments is no simple matter and will take time. It can’t happen fast enough.

Government needs to be a part of the solution: Before the pandemic, the federal government announced a series of measures to support local journalism. The details of who qualifies are still being sorted out for $595 million that over five years will fund labour tax credits and a digital subscription tax credit for news consumers. New tax rules now allow non-profit journalism organizations to qualify for charitable status. And the Local Journalism Initiative (LJI), a $50 million, five-year program, is being tapped to hire journalists at local news outlets in underserved areas. A Department of Canadian Heritage official said a complete list of participating media won’t be available until mid-summer. A check-in with some of the organizations overseeing the allocation of positions, however, found that 53 ethnic media publications, 28 community radio stations and 20 community television and online digital video platforms have all received LJI support. Additionally, 168 reporters have been hired to work at other eligible news outlets, the vast majority of them newspapers.

In response to the ravages of COVID-19, the Liberals have also rolled out a $30-million COVID-19 awareness campaign, purchasing advertisements in 900 newspapers and on 500 radio and television stations.

The rescue packages for journalism are controversial. Although there is limited evidence of problems in European countries with long traditions of media subsidies, critics have long insisted news organizations will become less willing to bite the hand that doles out public funds. There are concerns that the money will prop up the dying newspaper sector at the expense of more innovative digital initiatives, that the bulk of the aid will go to the big players, and that some companies will take taxpayers’ dollars but continue to scale back coverage and prioritize CEO compensation and shareholder payouts.

The early signs are that there is some basis for those concerns. Newspapers do seem to be getting most of the Local Journalism Initiative placements. And the big newspaper chains will make multi-million dollar claims each year for the federal journalism labour tax credit. Torstar Corporation, which publishes more than 75 newspapers, says in its latest quarterly filing it will receive $6 million this year from the program while Postmedia Network, which owns more than 100 daily and community publications, expects to receive $8 million to $10 million annually as well as about $1 million a year from a Quebec journalism tax credit.

Faced with the unique circumstances created by the pandemic, newspaper proprietors,  like employers in other sectors, are also tapping into the COVID-19 Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which pays 75 percent of employee wages to a maximum of $847 per week. In their respective quarterly reports, Torstar said it expects to collect $18 million during the first 12 weeks of the program while Postmedia says it will receive $22 million for the March 15 to June 6 period. Even so, Torstar has announced 80 layoffs and closed three community papers in Toronto. Postmedia has implemented pay cuts and shut down 15 community papers in Ontario and Manitoba.

While much of this rankles, it does not negate the need for government support for local journalism. Governments subsidize industries for all sorts of reasons that have little to do with textbook economics. Billions of dollars in government aid, for instance, are being directed to companies in the Canadian oil patch not because there’s an iron-clad economic case to be made for supporting an environmentally damaging industry with an uncertain future. Other values are in play, including concerns about national unity and the ability of Albertans to put food on the table.

In the same way that economic purists would leave the oil and gas industry to fend for itself, it can be argued that uncompetitive news organizations should be left to wither and die. Again, however, other values are in play. Canadians need access to timely, reliable independently produced information so they can participate in democratic processes, navigate daily life and make critical decisions during emergencies. For now, anyway, we also need newspapers because despite their enfeebled state, they are still the main source of news in many places: A study by the Local News Research Project that looked at how print, broadcast and online media in eight communities covered the 2015 federal election, for instance, found that more than half of all stories (53 percent) were generated by newspapers.

As it becomes increasingly evident that the private sector can no longer supply what is essentially a public good, governments must intervene. The result will be subsidies to the news industry that are inefficient and imperfect. Given the stakes, however, imperfect will have to do.


Britain, Host of U.N. Climate Talks, Proposes Full-Year Pandemic Delay

The postponement, expected to be approved, could result in national recovery plans with high environmental costs, some diplomats say.

Credit…Pool photo by Tolga Akmen

International negotiations designed to address the sweeping global threat of climate change will quite likely be delayed by a full year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Britain, the host of the talks, which were initially scheduled to be held at the end of this year in Glasgow, proposed on Tuesday that they be postponed until November 2021. A decision is to be made Thursday by countries that make up the rotating governing board of the United Nations agency that sponsors the talks.

“Given the uneven spread of Covid-19, this date would present the lowest risk of further postponement and the best chance of delivering an inclusive and ambitious COP,” British officials said in a letter to countries in the accord, using shorthand for Conference of the Parties, the formal name of the meeting.

The conference is meant to rally world leaders to chart ways to avert the worst effects of climate change, including fatal heat waves and flooded coastal cities.

It took more than 20 such conferences before countries agreed on the landmark 2015 Paris pact, under which they pledged to keep global average temperatures from rising well below 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with preindustrial levels.

The next round of talks, the 26th annual COP, is the most important session since then. Countries are expected to announce revised climate targets in order to reach that global target, which remains elusive.

Virus-induced lockdowns around the world have resulted in a sharp drop in greenhouse gas emissions in recent months, but the decline has been nowhere near enough to shake loose the thick blanket of gases that already wraps the planet.
 Delaying the talks by a full year could have other repercussions, some diplomats say. It could encourage countries and international financial institutions to enact economic recovery plans without paying much heed to their climate implications. If the climate talks take place sooner, said Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, the energy and environment minister for Costa Rica, government leaders will feel more pressure to align their stimulus packages with sustainability goals.

“We’re losing time,” he said. “If there are no strings attached to international aid and national recovery plans we may be in a very difficult spot. Having a COP soon would help influence global recovery plans.”

The British letter gave a nod to those concerns by saying that “Covid-19 economic recovery is an opportunity to build more sustainable and inclusive economies and societies.”

The United Nations announced in April that the talks, originally scheduled for mid-November this year, would be delayed but did not give a new date.


Pandemic and climate crises unmask inequalities

Transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, isolated from a patient. (Image: NIAID/Flickr)

A chorus of world leaders has declared we’re all in the same COVID-19 boat. In response, U.K. writer Damian Barr tweeted, “We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some are on super-yachts. Some have just the one oar.”

COVID-19 and climate change are threat multipliers. They compound existing risks and inequities, and make them more visible.

Data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show nearly one-third of COVID-19 patients are black, even though they’re only 13 per cent of the U.S. population. Numbers are similar for COVID-19 death rates. This pattern of disproportionate impacts is true across nearly all jurisdictions that collect data.

We often assume this type of inequality doesn’t exist in Canada. While a few jurisdictions here are beginning to think about collecting race-based data, most don’t.

The information we do have is telling. In Metro Montreal, COVID-19 cases are significantly higher per capita in Montreal North, an area with the lowest average after-tax income. Stats from Toronto Public Health indicate higher infection rates in areas with greater proportions of low-income people or newcomers.

“Many have said that COVID-19 is the great equalizer, in that it doesn’t discriminate,” said Toronto Health Board chair councillor Joe Cressy. “But that’s sadly not the truth. What we’re seeing is that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting those who are living in poverty.”

How can we address this?

It turns out the pandemic may have predisposed more people to support actions that target inequalities. Polling shows that people care more about what happens to others than we did before the crisis.

The outbreak is showing us the cracks in our systems, the fault lines. If we begin to address them, we’ll be in a better place to respond to the longer-term climate and biodiversity crises.

As early as 2009, Scientific American pointed out that climate change will affect the poor the most. If we continue with the status quo, those who have had the smallest role in creating the carbon emissions problem will pay the greatest price.

U.S. data show more Indigenous and people of colour people die in heat waves or floods. Studies show this compounded vulnerability is also true in Canada. As a warming climate causes extreme weather events to increase in frequency and severity, this trend will likely continue — unless we change things.

Climate activists must be part of this change. If the transition to renewables increases consumers’ energy costs, we’ll be hurting the most vulnerable, those who already experience energy poverty. We must develop policies to address inequities, create meaningful jobs for all and reduce emissions.

Thankfully, there are many hopeful things happening throughout Canada.

The Canadian Urban Sustainability Practitioners have launched an energy poverty and equity tool to explore energy poverty in Canada — defined as households that spend more than six per cent of their income on energy, more than double the national average. Even in my hometown of Vancouver, visible minority households are twice as likely to experience energy poverty.

If cities start using this tool, maybe they’ll make different decisions. For example, if the focus is solely on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, policy-makers might opt to provide incentives for single-family home retrofits, but this will primarily benefit affluent homeowners who are planning to renovate. With equity in mind, policy-makers could instead opt to invest in or provide zero-interest financing to retrofit social housing or multi-family, low-income housing. That would reduce greenhouse gases and energy poverty while improving equity, job creation and human health.

Portland, Oregon asked underserved communities, particularly vulnerable ones, to share their experiences, which helped the city ensure its energy transition plans were as fair and just as possible. In Canada, it’s exciting to see Vancouver building on Portland’s experience.

Recently a colleague asked, “How do we want to use our privilege to show up in this moment? Who do we show up for? And how?”

These are questions I hope we continue to ask ourselves long after this pandemic has passed. We must act now to become more resilient in the face of all crises, to ensure fewer people will be left behind to shoulder an unfair share of the impacts.


David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation community renewable energy manager Sherry Yano. Learn more at

Toronto Star sold to private equity investors: What it means for Canadian media

New owners are donors to Maxime Bernier and the Conservative Party

Late Tuesday evening, the Toronto Star published a short news item noting that their parent company TorStar, which also owns the Hamilton Spectator, five other dailies and around 70 weekly newspapers, was being sold for $52 million and taken private.

The buyers, Jordan Bitove and Paul Rivett, are financial tycoons. Bitove is a partner in a private equity firm, and Rivett retired from his role as president of a large private holding company earlier this year. They and their families wholly own NordStar Capital, the holding company that now owns TorStar.

John Honderich, the chair of TorStar’s board, wrote in an editorial that the new owners had “committed to build on Torstar’s storied legacy and also to adhere to the Atkinson Principles, which have been a cornerstone of the flagship Toronto Star.” Honderich added that the new owners bring “both resources and determination,” and noted that Bitove once worked as a paperboy delivering the Star.

The low price of the sale took many observers by surprise, while others noted that TorStar’s stock price inexplicably surged yesterday — before news of the deal was public.

But perhaps the most consternation on social media was generated by the political profile of the new owners. As Canadaland’s Jonathan Goldsbie first reported on Twitter, Bitove donated the maximum to the Conservative Party of Canada this February, while Rivett has a long history of maximum donations to the Conservative Party of Canada, the last of which was in 2018. Rivett donated the maximum to Maxime Bernier’s leadership campaign in 2017, and donated to Bernier again in 2018 to help clear his debts from the leadership campaign. He has also donated large amounts to the Ontario PC Party and several of its leadership candidates in the past. Bitove donated to both Liberal and Conservative federal riding associations in 2014 and 2015, and to one Ontario PC Party leadership candidate.

For Bitove, politics runs in the family. The Globe and Mail described his father, John Bitove, in his obituary as “a well-connected Conservative and party fundraiser over the years.”

Newspapers are a hot new toy for the super-rich

I don’t want to be pessimistic. I sincerely hope that this all works out well for the many great journalists employed by the Star and the other papers included in this deal. I hope that Bitove and Rivett are in this for the glory, and plan to leave the paper’s operations alone.

But if I was a betting man, I don’t think I’d take that action.

What we know about Bitove and Rivett is that they are wealthy investors who have made small fortunes in private equity. They’re based in Toronto, but it’s unlikely they’re in this as a charitable project. They no doubt have another venture capital-inspired scheme to streamline, optimize and gobbledygook their flim flam — but those haven’t worked out well for media outlets in the past.

Whether this is an investment vehicle or a vanity project, super-rich owners with longstanding ties to the Conservative Party wouldn’t seem to augur well for the Star’s ability to maintain one of the only centre-left editorial positions among Canada’s major newspapers.

With Postmedia’s foreign owners ordering all the papers in the chain to endorse the Conservatives in 2015, and presumably again last election, the Star was one of the only newspapers in the country to endorse a party other than the Conservatives over the last several cycles.

How comfortable will the Star’s editorial board be, under this new ownership, with endorsing something like a wealth tax? It’s backed by 75 per cent of Canadians but never comes up in the corporate media for some reason.

What about cracking down on tax havens? Will the Star be as forceful in its reporting on this subject? Will they continue to dedicate staff to combing through leaks like the Panama Papers?

Perhaps it’s my paranoid nature, but I’m not optimistic that the guy who donated the max to Maxime Bernier is going to uphold the Atkinson Principles.

Corporate media increasingly out of step with Canadians

At a time when polls show Canadians attitudes are shifting markedly to the left on everything from the role of government in the economy to wealth taxes and nationalizing old-age homes, this purchase seems likely to push Canada’s mainstream media ecosystem further to the right.

The Conservatives can probably look forward to a clean sweep of newspaper endorsements next election, even as those endorsements mean less than ever before.

And the ideas that animate younger generations — a Green New Deal, a wealth tax, a more caring and just society — will remain conspicuous by their absence from mainstream outlets.

Thankfully, as the mainstream media implodes, there is a thriving ecosystem of non-profit and crowdfunded outlets doing amazing journalism in this country. Many of them will be honoured at the Canadian Association of Journalists’ annual awards this weekend.

The future of media in this country is in non-profit, public interest journalism backed by the members of the community it serves, not corporate chains owned by U.S. hedge funds and storied outlets sold to rich dilettantes who decided to buy a new toy.

If you’re mad about the Star being sold off to a couple of finance bros who stand for Mad Max, don’t just stew in it. Pick your favourite non-profit media outlet and set up a recurring monthly donation.

Better media is out there, but we have to fund it.



‘I don’t think we will ever catch up’: B.C. methane targets out of reach amid growing LNG, fracking

The province committed to a 45 per cent reduction in methane emissions by 2025, but an explosion in fracking to feed a growing LNG industry has experts saying that goal is not achievable

Flaring B.C. fracking LNG methane emissions

Flaring at an Encana gas pad near the Tower Gas Plant in northeast B.C. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

There are currently seven liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects in various stages of proposal, planning and construction in B.C.

To feed those facilities, B.C. is anticipating an explosion in the amount of fracking in the province’s northeast at the same time as it’s trying to get a handle on one of the gas industry’s worst climate offenders: methane emissions.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with a climate warming potential 25 times that of carbon dioxide on a 100-year timescale. Global efforts are underway to curtail methane emissions, and as a part of Canada’s international commitments, B.C. set a goal of reducing provincial methane emissions 45 per cent by 2025, compared to 2014 levels.

But trying to meet that target at the same time as pursuing B.C.’s LNG ambitions sounds like wishful thinking to scientist John Werring, who ran for the Green Party in Surrey Centre in the last federal election.

“With the anticipated amount of fracking proposed over the next 10 or 15 years to supply the liquid natural gas industry, I don’t think we will ever catch up,” Werring told The Narwhal.

LNG Canada, the province’s largest LNG facility currently under construction in Kitimat, is expected to double fracking operations in B.C., according to the province. The much smaller proposed Cedar LNG facility is expected to require 5,276 new wells to be fracked in northeast B.C. over the next 30 years, based on calculations from the Wilderness Committee.

But just how great of a challenge it will be to contain methane emissions from growing fracking operations is difficult to ascertain because of a lack of monitoring and baseline data.

Data gaps plague study of methane emissions in B.C.

Just how bad fugitive methane emissions are in B.C. is notoriously difficult to pin down.

“We’re pretty shocked at the lack of data and research that has been done,” Sonia Furstenau, Cowichan Valley Green Party MLA, told The Narwhal.

“You can’t properly measure or understand outcomes of efforts being undertaken if you’re not doing that data collection, research and analysis right.”

In 2017, Werring used infrared cameras and gas detection equipment to estimate methane emissions from oil and gas operations in B.C.’s Peace Region and found they were 2.5 times greater than the province reported.

At the time of Werring’s research, B.C. reported 78,000 tonnes of annual fugitive methane emissions across the province.

GIFMethane emissions B.C.

Methane emissions made visible through a FLIR imaging camera at oil and gas sites across northeast B.C. The footage was made public by Earthworks and the David Suzuki Foundation. Video: Carol Linnitt / The Narwhal

But Werring and his team documented 111,800 tonnes of fugitive emissions were released from production in the Montney basin alone, where roughly 55 per cent of the province’s oil and gas activity occurs.

Werring said there are still major gaps in knowledge when it comes to understanding methane emissions in B.C., including who the biggest emitters are.

“We don’t know what needs to be done to control these emissions to the degree necessary to save the planet because we’re going to continue to drill and drill to create more and more wells,” said Werring, adding inactive and orphan wells are big contributors to methane leaks.

B.C. methane research team assigned to tackle knowledge gaps

In the spring of 2019, the B.C. government formed a methane research group — which includes the BC Oil and Gas Commission, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Pembina Institute, among others — to help the province prepare to meet its targets.

Earlier this month, after one year of strategizing, the team announced the details of a research plan aimed at getting a clearer picture of the methane emissions problem.

Ken Paulson, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of the BC Oil and Gas Commission, called the plan a “significant milestone” in a statement.

Karen Tam Wu, B.C.’s regional director for Pembina Institute, told The Narwhal the research team will review discrepancies between provincial tallies of methane emissions and what current research shows.

According to the collective’s research plan, comparing studies on methane emissions can be challenging as definitions differ.

For example, “fugitive emissions” are defined by the federal greenhouse gas reporting program as all sources of flaring, venting and leakage emissions. The province only categorizes unintentional leaks as “fugitive emissions” and categorizes vented emissions as intentional.

One of the research group’s goals is to come to a better understanding of methane emissions and where they are being emitted, Tam Wu said.

B.C.’s methane emissions amounted to an estimated 8.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2017, according to a spokesperson from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. That’s the equivalent of 1,724,724 vehicles on the road for one year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions calculator. The vast majority of those emissions, according to the research group, are from industrial venting of gases and leaky infrastructure.

Tam Wu said part of the research group’s plan is to identify better technologies and methods to deal with the problem, adding B.C. is ahead of Alberta and Saskatchewan, which rely on many older oil and gas wells for production.

But the LNG industry will require the drilling of thousands of new wells for fracking.

“We’re encouraging things like creating incentives for zero-emissions equipment, not just low carbon or low emissions,” she said.

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David Hughes, an earth scientist and one of the nation’s top energy experts, said it’s possible to cut methane emissions by 45 per cent through better technology and rigorous regulation, but doubling gas production for LNG exports will mean those methane emissions reductions will only amount to a 22.5 per cent cut overall.

“If you’re going to increase production because of LNG exports, then the total amount of methane you have to reduce becomes larger,” he said.

Hughes added that even if the current methane emissions numbers were accurate, they would still be significant from a climate perspective — and a growing LNG industry will only make things worse.

“It really makes reducing emissions to the level they want hopeless, even if every [other] part of the economy goes to zero.”

In an email to The Narwhal, a spokesperson for the BC Oil and Gas Commission wrote that as regulators of industry, they have many experts to contribute to the effort “to ensure robust regulatory oversight.”

The commission estimates $2 million will be spent over the next two years on research.

This is in addition to the federal government’s new $750-million emissions reduction fund, to be distributed among the provinces and territories. B.C. is the first province to announce a research collaborative.

LNG Canada’s director of corporate affairs, Susannah Pierce, told The Narwhal in an email that the company acknowledges reducing methane emissions is “a critical part of managing climate change” and supports the research.

Coastal GasLink declined to provide comment to The Narwhal. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, also a member of the research collaborative, both referred The Narwhal to the BC Oil and Gas Commission for comment.

Methane emissions not under carbon tax

Werring said he isn’t convinced of the usefulness of new guidelines that came into effect Jan. 1 under B.C.’s drilling and production regulations to more accurately detect leaks.

Those rules only apply to new wells, Werring said, while existing wells don’t have to be repaired for at least another three years.

A recent study of B.C.’s well database found 11 per cent of the province’s oil and gas wells were leaking. That study found wells in B.C.’s four major shale gas plays were together releasing 14,000 cubic metres of methane per day.

That is more than double the leakage rate of 4.6 per cent in Alberta.

Gas well Farmington B.C.

Northeast B.C. has been a major centre of conventional oil and gas production since the 1960s but is now the epicentre of a growing fracking industry. A recent study examined more than 21,000 active and abandoned wells in a B.C. database and found 11 per cent of them had reported a leak. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

As The Narwhal previously reported, there are more than 11,000 inactive fracking wells in B.C. that have yet to be decommissioned and cleaned up. There are roughly 7,700 oil and gas wells that are considered dormant, meaning they have been inactive for five consecutive years and are unlikely to return to service.

There are 348 orphan wells across the province, but that number is expected to double this year.

As new wells are drilled to meet LNG demands, the number of unattended wells is expected to rise dramatically.

Werring said modern drill sites can now house up to 20 wells, further undermining the aims of using improved technology to limit emissions.

“Sure, there’s a significant reduction there on each well, but now multiply that by 20. Where’s your savings?”

Werring also criticized the B.C. government for being all too quick to make exceptions for industry in backroom arrangements, especially when it comes to advancing the lauded economic benefits of LNG.

“Industry knows they’re the problem, but they’re not going to bring a solution unless their hands are tied behind their back and they’re forced to walk the plank.”

Fracking B.C.

Fracked gas development in northeast B.C. near Farmington. New drill sites can house numerous wells, some of which are fracked multiple times in different directions underground. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

Methane emissions are exempt from B.C.’s carbon tax, so while some technology exists to prevent leaks, there has been little incentive for industry to clean up aging infrastructure.

In the memorandum of understanding signed between the B.C. Greens and NDP to cooperate in governing B.C., the two parties committed to broadening the carbon tax to capture fugitive emissions. That has not happened yet.

Tam Wu said she is concerned about the potential for certain industry players to receive a free pass when it comes to methane.

She pointed out that LNG Canada received significant government subsidies in the past, including carbon tax exemptions estimated at a value to the company of over $150 million a year.

The methane research group’s work is focused solely on upstream operations — companies that extract or produce oil and gas — meaning facilities like LNG Canada are off the hook as an end-use, downstream facility.

If government wants to reach its methane target, Furstenau said, it needs to stop subsidizing oil and gas.

Political leaders should ultimately accept that oil and gas are non-renewable resources, so money should be put “into what you want to see as your future,” Furstenau said.

“We have a duty and a responsibility to future generations to stop driving climate change at the rate that we have been.”


Natalia Balcerzak is The Narwhal’s journalist for Northwest B.C., delving into the pressing issues of the region  as it rapidly grows and attracts national headlines. 


The Case for a Public Option for Housing

Our COVID-19 recovery is a chance to tackle various crises, while creating good jobs and more resilient communities.

Shipping container housing construction in Vancouver. A large-scale build out of public and non-market housing would address many of our COVID recovery needs. Photo by Darryl Dyck, the Canadian Press.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities within our communities and across the country. Public health recommendations to stay home have reminded us how important our homes are, and highlighted the disproportionate impacts that crises have on those struggling with homelessness, on renters, on the elderly, and other housing-insecure communities.

This crisis has reminded us, in no uncertain terms, that our well-being is deeply linked to the well-being of all of those around us. Our success has been in responding together. Our economic recovery must emulate this.

Governments have taken rapid action to mitigate the impacts of this crisis on people and business. But there is no fairness in socializing the costs of the immediate response and then privatizing the gains of the long-term recovery. We need a just recovery that puts people and the planet before profit. That recovery should include addressing massive inequalities in housing security and affordability through large scale investments in public and non-market housing.

Now is the time to prioritize the public good, to focus public dollars on rebuilding and expanding public services, and investing in new public programs and infrastructure. Now is the time to rebuild together, harnessing the ingenuity among us toward an economic recovery that respects ecological limits, that confronts the injustices of racism and exclusion, that strengthens our common humanity, and builds resilient and inclusive communities.

Our economic recovery requires ambitious and innovative public works plans, to get people back to work, and continue to address the systemic inequities that this crisis has made so clear. The inadequacy of Vancouver’s housing market was clear before the pandemic. Now there is an opportunity to create something better. Part of our economic recovery plan should be a large-scale build out of publicly supported housing, in Vancouver and in communities all around the province.

The provision of housing initiated by governments has been used around the world as an effective mechanism to ensure a long-term sustainable supply of affordable housing. A public option for housing means housing that is developed, regulated and funded by the public for the purpose of providing affordable housing for the public. This should be done in collaboration with the community housing sector, which has grown remarkably across B.C. in recent years, and has important skills and insights to share. A large-scale build out of public and non-market housing would address many of our COVID recovery needs. Most obviously, British Columbia remains entrenched in a housing crisis. COVID-19 has made housing even more precarious for renters across the province, widening an already unequal distribution of housing wealth and security, and further marginalizing poor, working class and racialized communities.

British Columbia’s housing crisis has contributed to the abundance of homelessness in Vancouver, as well as the numbers of seniors, renters, Indigenous people, communities of colour and working families having to relocate out of the city, pushing up rents elsewhere, while extending commutes, increasing carbon emissions and decreasing recreational and family time. What was true before this pandemic is even more true now: people need homes — homes that are secure, affordable, beautiful and community-oriented.

The opportunity of a large-scale, geographically dispersed build out of public infrastructure could also create thousands of good jobs in all regions of our province. While people need homes, people also need jobs — dependable, family-supporting training and employment for those who this crisis, and a boom-and-bust economy, have left behind.

The importance of a strong and healthy public sector has never been more evident. It has been clear for years that the private sector alone is incapable of solving our housing crisis. In the realm of housing there isn’t enough overlap between profit and public good, and no amount of negotiation or incentive can resolve that tension. A public option for housing, including robust community and co-operative housing, is our only practical solution.

Additionally, the urgency of the climate emergency continues amid and beyond this pandemic, and good housing policy is also good climate policy. In urban and suburban centers, the bulk of carbon emissions come from buildings and from transportation. Zero-emission buildings, as part of complete, walkable, transit-oriented communities, are central to the carbon-free economy we need to transition to as quickly as possible.

With interest rates at a historic low, well below the rate of inflation, governments stand to make money by borrowing and building. Particularly as we would be investing in infrastructure that would pay for itself through monthly rents, likely even generating positive net public revenue, while creating jobs, lessening the housing crisis, and taking meaningful climate action. This economic context makes it an opportune moment to be borrowing and investing like never before.

As municipalities face difficult financial decisions, it is imperative that their land holdings be used to serve community needs and not be sold for short-term gains. Building publicly supported housing on land in municipal land banks will ensure affordable housing in perpetuity that will contribute to socially and economically sustainable communities. Local governments like Vancouver are already contributing public land for non-market housing. We can and should be even more ambitious in our land acquisition in order to create the amount of public and non-market housing that is needed. And if senior levels of government aren’t funding enough of it, we should give the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency the muscle and mandate to build it ourselves.

This is the time for ambitious, public investments in people and in communities. This is the time to invest in a public option for housing, across British Columbia.  [Tyee]


By Christine BoylePenny GursteinMatthew Norris and Jim Stanford .Christine Boyle is a Vancouver city councillor with OneCity Vancouver. Penny Gurstein is a professor in the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC. Matthew Norris is vice-president of the Urban Native Youth Association. Jim Stanford is an economist and director of the Centre for Future Work.

Canadian producers to boost production as oil prices rise

A pumpjack works at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta., on October 29, 2016. File photo by The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh

Western Canadian producers are moving to restore some oil production as crude prices rise with demand thanks to the gradual opening of the world economy and OPEC and Russian output cuts.

But analysts say companies hit hard by low crude prices so far this year are being cautious and will choke back oil output again if recent higher prices prove unstable.

“Everything is moving in the right direction to continue to see oil prices recover,” said analyst Phil Skolnick of Eight Capital on Tuesday.

“As long as nobody cheats on their (production) cuts and we continue to see states opening up, provinces in Canada opening up, other jurisdictions around the world opening up, it’s more tailwind to the price.”

Oil’s recent rebound is being linked to signs that demand for fuel is growing in China and North America as lockdowns imposed to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic are gradually lifted.

Meanwhile, the world supply of oil is falling thanks to production cuts agreed upon by OPEC and Russia as well as voluntary cuts by producers in Canada and the United States.

Benchmark U.S. oil prices have settled above US$33 per barrel in the past week, up from less than US$13 a month ago. At one point in April, the price fell to a negative level for the first time.

Prices remain about 45 per cent lower than they were at the start of the year, however, which means individual operators are making project-by-project production decisions as the profitability of their particular operations remain razor thin, said Skolnick.

Oil producers are indicating that they are bringing back online some of the 875,000 barrels a day of announced volume curtailments in Canada, he said.

“If prices stay where they are, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that number start to come down,” said Skolnick.

About 300,000 bpd of oil production cuts can’t be immediately brought back, though, he said.

Higher prices encourage Canadian producers to boost oil production

That’s because they are due to project maintenance shutdowns, some of which were scheduled sooner because of low oil prices and some that are expected to take longer than usual because of physical distancing measures to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

Refinery utilization rates in Canada are beating expectations this month as fuel demand grows with the number of drivers taking to the roads, pointed out analyst Matt Murphy of Tudor Pickering Holt & Co.

“There’s a rise off the bottom of incremental demand for gasoline, for example, so it incentivizes these refiners to run a little bit harder,” he said.

“Western Canada and Ontario have both seen pretty healthy bounces off the bottom.”

Refineries in Western Canada are running at about 73 per cent of capacity, down from earlier in May but well ahead of expectations, he said, while the Ontario market has dropped back to about 70 per cent, equal to last year’s levels, after posting higher output earlier in the month.

The price of June contract Western Canadian Select bitumen blend oil is averaging about US$29.35 per barrel, up from the 2020 low of US$11.25 per barrel for May’s contract, according to NE2, a physical oil brokerage and derivatives exchange with operations in Calgary and Houston.

Last year’s June contracts averaged about US$28.75 per barrel.

Higher crude prices are helping oil company share prices on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

The S&P/TSX Capped Energy Index closed at just under 80 points on Tuesday, well ahead of the low close of 41.95 on March 18, but off by 45 per cent from 145.96 on the last day of 2019.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2020.

Military report reveals what sector has long known: Ontario’s nursing homes are in trouble

System has been ‘ignored’ and ‘neglected’ for decades, says province’s minister for long-term care

The Canadian Armed Forces on Tuesday released a scathing report about the conditions at five Ontario long-term care homes, but many — including the government itself — say problems have been known for years. (CBC)

Jacqueline Mitchell hasn’t been able to hug her 94-old-mother since March, and now, in the face of a shocking Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) report into the state of five Ontario long-term care homes, she is aghast.

Mitchell’s mother has Alzheimer’s disease, and has been a resident at Etobicoke, Ont.’s Eatonville Care Centre since 2017. That’s one of the homes listed in the report, which details disturbing observations made by military members who were called in to help after some of the province’s long-term care facilities were overrun by COVID-19 outbreaks.

The CAF report outlines instances in which members spotted equipment used on both infected and non-infected patients without being disinfected, as well as rotten food, cockroach infestations and a startling disregard for basic cleanliness.

“It is scandalous. It is shameful. It is shocking,” Mitchell said. “Our senior generation is living in that, and that is a national atrocity.”

There are many signs the provincial government knew, or should have known, what’s happening inside these homes, but it took military intervention to bring the details to light.

WATCH | Minister of Long-Term Care discusses military report: 

Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario Minister of Long-Term Care, says the province is committed to fixing long-term care homes in need of help after a report by the Canadian military on conditions in five facilities. 2:02

For weeks, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has been saying the province’s long-term care system is “broken.” And on Tuesday he said that he saw firsthand the limitations of the system when his brother, former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, was in palliative care before his death in 2016.

That, to Mitchell, signalled an acknowledgement on the premier’s part that something was very wrong with the system.

“That should have alerted him on a personal basis to what was happening in these homes.… He should not be surprised,” she said.

Since the first weeks of the pandemic, Ford has been advocating for the need to put an “iron ring” around Ontario’s long-term care homes, with the province touting measures it has enacted to keep people safe, like limiting visitors and preventing most caregivers from working at multiple homes. The province then asked for the military’s help late last month.

As of Tuesday, the Ministry of Long-Term Care was reporting 1,538 deaths linked to COVID-19, while the Public Health Ontario Daily Epidemiologic Summary listed 4,892 cases among residents.

Provincial officials have asked the military to continue its mission assisting at nursing homes for an additional 30 days. (CBC)


In a statement issued Tuesday, Opposition NDP Leader Andrea Horwath slammed the government’s response, and called for the resignation of Minister of Long-Term Care Merrillee Fullerton.

“It’s shocking that the Canadian Armed Forces needed to lift the veil when Doug Ford and Merrilee Fullerton ought to have known about these horrific conditions, and did nothing to take the homes over,” Horwath said. “The premier cannot pass the buck, finger-point and express outrage about what his own government is doing on his watch.”

System ‘neglected and ignored’ for decades

Fullerton said it was the novel coronavirus that pushed some of the province’s long-term care homes to the brink.

“This is something that everyone has known about for years. Our population is aging. Long-term care was ignored. Long- term care was neglected,” she said.

“We were shining a light on this. We were looking at fixing a system that had been neglected and ignored for decades — and then COVID … tipped the homes that were having difficulties with staffing already right over the edge.”

WATCH | Marissa Lennox of CARP says the system has long been broken:

CARP Chief Policy Officer, Marissa Lennox, says long-term care is something people don’t want to think about, and that the system has long been broken. 10:08 

Ford said Tuesday that it took a constant, watchful eye from the military to truly uncover the scope of the problem.

“Yes, inspections happen and these folks come in there, but it took the military to be there 24/7,” the premier said, adding it’s impossible to know the extent of the problems plaguing the system “until you live, breathe, eat it … until you’re there around the clock, at nighttime and during the day.”

Fullerton said Tuesday that the province conducted nearly 3,000 inspections last year at long-term care facilities, spurred by so-called critical incidents and complaints reported to an “action line” for families, residents and staff.

But a recent CBC News investigation found that last year just nine out of 626 homes in Ontario actually received resident quality inspections (RQIs), which are unannounced and more comprehensive than those arising from incident reports.

CBC News reviewed inspection reports from the last five years for all long-term care homes in the province and found that while most received an RQI in 2015, 2016 and 2017, the number dropped to just over half in 2018 and nine last year.

‘Immediate attention’ needed

In a news release issued Tuesday, Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) president Vicki McKenna said the association has contacted the Ministry of Labour about working conditions in long-term care homes, but the ministry has written few orders and has “rarely been on site to conduct physical inspections.”

“This sector needs immediate attention,” she said. “Government must act now to halt these outbreaks.”

ONA’s statement also notes that a number of long-term care reports have been issued in the last two decades that continue to make the same recommendations to improve the sector: more staffing, more funding, better training and increased resources.

A 2017-2018 public inquiry into the safety and security of residents in long-term care homes found “systemic vulnerabilities” in the system. The Ontario Health Coalition has for years been issuing reports about problems in long-term care, including understaffing and excessive violence.

The Ontario Personal Support Workers Association also said in a statement that these are not new problems.

“We have been working through these difficult conditions for years,” the statement reads. “They have worsened over the last three months.”

Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of national seniors’ advocacy organization CanAge, told CBC News in an interview it’s very telling that the state of these long-term care homes could shock even soldiers who go on peacekeeping missions.

“How much more do we need for this government and our provinces and territories to take needed action?” she asked.



Adam Carter, Reporter, is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at