Largest all-electric aircraft to make maiden flight

(CNN) — As concerns over the environmental cost of flying continue to mount, green propulsion systems can offer an ethical alternative.
Electric motor technology is due to reach a new milestone Thursday with the first flight planned of the world’s largest all-electric aircraft.
The nine-passenger eCaravan plane is the result of a collaboration between engine company magniX and aerospace firm AeroTEC, according to a press release from magniX.

The aircraft uses electric propulsion systems manufactured by magniX.
The aircraft, an adapted Cessna Caravan 208B, will make its first flight on May 28 at an airstrip in Washington State at 8 a.m. local time (11 a.m. ET).
The original Cessna Caravan is one of the most widely used middle-mile planes in the world, with more than 2,600 aircraft working in 100 countries, the press release states.
The all-electric version will use a 750-horsepower (560kW) magni500 propulsion system.
“As the world’s largest all-electric aircraft, this first flight is a significant milestone in disrupting the transportation industry and accelerating the electric aviation revolution,” reads the press release.
It goes on, “magniX’s ultimate goal is to better connect communities by bringing to market an advanced all-electric propulsion system that offers lower cost of operations and zero emissions.”
The company also provided propulsion systems for a six-seater all-electric plane flown for the first time in October.
Operator Harbour Air called the flight a “world first” for the aviation industry after the plane flew for about 15 minutes after taking off from Vancouver, Canada.
At the time, magniX CEO Roei Ganzarski said in a statement that the transportation sector — and the aviation industry in particular — is “ripe for a massive disruption.”
Ganzarski added that the flight proved that “low-cost, environmentally friendly, commercial electric air travel” could be possible in the “very near future.”
All-electric powered aircraft are also being developed elsewhere in the world, including in the UK.
Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS) in England announced in November that it is working on electric planes, estimating that commercial flights might start as early as 2023.

Ottawa delays release of national action plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women

Minister blames postponement on pandemic but says work continues via Zoom meetings and conference calls

Longtime MMIWG advocate Gladys Radek has a moment with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau moments after he was handed the national inquiry’s final report on June 3, 2019 in Gatineau, Quebec. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

The federal government is postponing the release of an action plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls that was expected to land next month.

The unveiling of the strategy — which Ottawa is co-developing with provinces, territories, Indigenous leaders, families and women’s groups — was anticipated to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls releasing its final report.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett told CBC News more work and consultation needs to take place with Indigenous partners before a formal response to the report’s 231 recommendations can be finalized.

Although engagement continues via Zoom meetings and conference calls, Bennett said the COVID-19 pandemic has set back the government’s timeline and she can’t say when a plan will be released.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett says more consultation and work is needed to complete Ottawa’s national action plan on MMIWG. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)


“As hard as we are all working virtually, I think we will not have a plan in June,” Bennett said.

“We know it’s urgent. We are all impatient. But the kind of engagement that we’ve been able to do, I think, will deliver a quality plan.”

The $92 million federally funded inquiry was tasked with examining the root causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

In its final report, released on June 3 of last year, commissioners concluded Indigenous women and girls are the victims of a genocide in Canada.

The Trudeau government has already responded to some of the inquiry’s main findings, such as calls to overhaul the Indigenous child welfare system, and passing legislation to preserve Indigenous languages and eliminate gender discrimination under the Indian Act.

But other key recommendations have not been fulfilled — such as calls to reform the justice system to make it more culturally appropriate, and to transform policing to reduce racism and create national reporting standards.

Chief commissioner Marion Buller speaks at the closing ceremony for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Que., on Monday, June 3, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)


The inquiry also called for an immediate end to birth alerts  — a system used by child welfare agencies to flag a person’s history, which can lead to a baby being apprehended from its mother in the hospital.

The practice is still being used in Manitoba, despite a promise to end it from the provincial government.

COVID-19 no excuse for delay, says former chief commissioner

Bennett said the action plan will be frequently updated so governments can continuously measure progress and adapt.

“It’s been clear we need to build this national action plan from the bottom up,” Bennett said. “We will need to be able to be accountable for the results it’s getting.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, holds a copy of the report presented to him by commissioners Marion Buller, centre, Michele Audette, third from right, Brian Eyolfson, second from right, and Qajaq Robinson at the closing ceremony for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Que., on Monday, June 3, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

During an Assembly of First Nations meeting in Ottawa last December, Bennett said the federal government planned to have an outline and a document on the action plan by the anniversary of the release of the commission’s report.

Now, Bennett’s office says June was never an official commitment.

Former chief commissioner Marion Buller said governments had ample time to get the work done by the promised date.

“Using COVID-19 as an excuse for delaying a national action plan — to me — is really like saying, well, the dog ate my homework,” Buller said.

“So much could’ve been done, should’ve been done up to and including February and March.”

Buller said the federal government’s legislative moves to date are “small Band-Aids” and expects more.

Gladys Radek holds a photo of her niece Tamara Chipman who disappeared in 2005 along highway 16, the Highway of Tears, east of Prince Rupert in northern B.C.. (Gladys Radek)


Former commissioner Qajaq Robinson said she doesn’t understand what the minister means about the need for more talk.

“What I’ve heard during the inquiry and since is that the time for consultation is over,” Robsinon said. “It’s time for action.”

Strategy overdue, says relative

Gladys Radek, a longtime advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, has noticed little change, and said an action plan should have been in place months ago.

“I don’t like the fact that we have to wait to get the national action plan,” Radek said.

Lorraine Whitman, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said her organization will release its own action plan on MMIWG on anniversary. (Nic Meloney/CBC)


Radek has pushed for a national inquiry since her 22-year-old niece Tamara Lynn Chipman vanished from the northwest coast of B.C. in 2005.

Lorraine Whitman, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), said she feels badly for the families of missing and murdered women and girls.

“They did open their hearts to all of Canada and that’s not easy to do, and we as a country need to stand by the families and let them know that we are here for them.”

Whitman said NWAC offered to assist Ottawa with a national action plan, and provided Crown-Indigenous Relations a list of eight steps that can be taken immediately to reduce the loss of life and start the healing process.

Whitman said NWAC has not heard back from the department, but will wait until the anniversary of the final report on June 3 to share its suggestions publicly.

“I’m very distressed and disappointed in the government in holding back and using the COVID-19 as an excuse,” Whitman said. “I know it’s serious as well, but so are the lives of our Indigenous.”

Extra time needed to develop ‘good quality plan’

Although Ottawa is facing pressure to unveil a strategy, Chief Connie Big Eagle of Ocean Man First Nation in Saskatchewan said she does not want to see a rushed response.

“I think it’s still too soon,” said Big Eagle, who is in consultation with the federal government as chair of the Assembly of First Nations Women’s Council.

“Minister Bennett and the federal government need to give themselves the time to put out a good quality action plan.”

Big Eagle said the government must address the core issues that lead to violence against women and girls, such as poverty, education gaps, an overrepresentation of Indigenous children in foster care, mental health needs and sexual and physical abuse.

She said she personally knows of three Indigenous women who either have been murdered or have disappeared, including her childhood friend Shirley Lonethunder, who is still missing.

Ocean Man First Nation Chief Connie Big Eagle leads the Assembly of First Nations women’s council. (SRC)


Big Eagle said she wants to see First Nations women and the families who’ve lost loved ones consulted on the action plan before it is unveiled.

“It’s impossible to go to every individual, but there needs to be some sort of conversation or through a representative of each [geographical] area to come and convey the concerns, the ideas of that particular group or region,” Big Eagle said.

“If they allow all parties to participate and they give [the action plan] the time and attention that it needs, something good will come out of it.”

Inquiry has triggered change

Indigenous women accounted for nearly 37 per cent of female homicide victims in 2018, according to Statistics Canada. The figure marks an 11 per cent increase over 2014.

It is still not known how many Indigenous women and girls have been murdered or have gone missing in Canada.

Some estimates have suggested approximately 4,000 Indigenous women have been killed or have disappeared over the past few decades, but the inquiry said a true number may never be known.

MMIWG advocate and former MKO Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson said the national inquiry has already made an impact. (CBC)


Former Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North said the inquiry has already sparked change, despite the lack of an action plan.

“People can have discussions about it now and people can at least approach the subject,” said North, who is an advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“This has reached a level of consciousness that people were fighting for the last 20 years, and I would say we are the leaders in the world on this topic.”

For immediate emotional assistance, call 1-844-413-6649. This is a national, toll-free 24/7 crisis call line providing support for anyone who requires emotional assistance related to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. You can also access long-term health support services such as mental health counselling and community-based cultural services through Indigenous Services Canada.


Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC’s Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome:


Ontario taking over 5 long-term care homes following ‘gut-wrenching’ military report

Province reports 292 new COVID-19 cases, extends emergency orders to June 9

A bench decorated with flowers and signs is pictured outside of Orchard Villa Retirement Residence after several residents died of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Pickering, Ont., on May 26, 2020. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

The province is taking over management at five Ontario long-term care homes in the wake of a scathing military report a day earlier alleging “horrific conditions” ranging from cockroaches, rotten food, a lack of hygiene and aggressive behaviour by staff against residents that caused some patients to choke or cry out for help for hours.

Premier Ford made the announcement Wednesday after what he called “gut-wrenching” conditions detailed in a report by the Canadian Armed Forces from five long-term care homes overrun by COVID-19.

Effective immediately, the province will assume control of four of five homes identified in the report including Eatonville in Etobicoke, Hawthorne Place in North York, Altamont Care Community in Scarborough, Orchard Villa in Pickering, plus a fifth: Camilla Care in Mississauga. That brings the total number of homes in the province’s control to seven.

The premier said the government will be conducting “extremely rigorous” inspections of those homes, as well as 13 others facing challenges managing COVID-19, and will be doing random spot checks across the province. Ford also said he won’t hesitate to pull operators’ licences or shut homes down if necessary.

Also announced Wednesday, an independent commission looking into the province’s long-term care system will begin in July as opposed to in September, saying he would be willing to testify and would welcome his own offices being investigated if needed.

“In the face of those accusations, in the face of these problems, we will use every tool at our disposal,” Ford said.

Asked if he would consider firing his minister of long-term care, Ford defended Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, saying he would not.

Ontario Minister of Long-Term Care Dr. Merilee Fullerton defended the province’s track record of long-term care inspects questions during the government’s daily briefing at Queen’s Park. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)


Ontario has been under fire for a lack of comprehensive inspections in its long-term care system.

Fullerton said Wednesday there had been nearly 3,000 inspections done on the province’s 626 homes since June 2018. The minister also called media reports about just nine homes in the province receiving full resident quality inspections (RQIs) last year “a red herring,” saying a lack of staffing and the spread of COVID-19 were the real issues.

Inspections in long-term care homes fall primarily into two categories: complaint and critical incident inspections, which are reactive; and RQIs, which are broader and proactive.

In the case of critical incident inspections, homes usually know in advance that they will come under scrutiny. RQIs are more comprehensive and unannounced.

CBC News investigation in April found while most of the province’s long-term care homes underwent RQIs from 2015 to 2017, that number fell to just over half in 2018 and only nine last year.

The Ontario Long-Term Care Association said it supports provincial efforts to investigate any abuse or neglect, but also called for the government to help in other ways.

“Inspections are important measures, however they do not provide the immediate resources and hands-on support homes urgently need on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19, nor do they address long-standing systemic and structural issues exacerbated by the pandemic that threaten its sustainability,” CEO Donna Duncan said in a statement.

The association wants to see a greater supply of personal protective equipment, more rapid testing, infection control help for older homes, more supports from hospitals and expedited capital funding.

New cases under 300 after days of surging numbers

Ontario reported 292 additional cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, the second straight day with a growth rate in total cases of 1.1 per cent.

The numbers mark the first instance of consecutive days with less than 300 new cases each since late March.

They come after Ontario saw a renewed surge in daily COVID-19 cases at the end of last week and over the weekend, which Health Minister Christine Elliott linked to families getting together for Mother’s Day earlier this month.

Wednesday’s figures are accompanied by a relative jump in testing levels. Some 15,133 tests were processed yesterday — still below the province’s benchmark of 16,000 per day and far fewer than the 23,000 the system has capacity to handle, but the most in a single day since since May 16.

The backlog of tests waiting to be processed grew to 11,817, meaning about 20,000 samples were added to the queue yesterday.

Meanwhile, Ontario has extended its emergency orders to at least June 9, as some areas of the province continue to see a concerning number of new cases of COVID-19.

That means that gatherings are still limited to up to five people. Outdoor playgrounds, public swimming pools and bars and restaurants — with the exception of takeout and delivery services — will all remain closed.

The state of emergency, which provides the legislative framework through which emergency orders are enacted, was first implemented in mid-March and is set to expire on June 2. Given today’s announcement, it is likely that it too will be extended.

The newly confirmed infections bring the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in the province to 26, 483. Nearly 77 per cent of those are now resolved. Meanwhile, the total number of health-care who have contracted the novel coronavirus since the outbreak began in late January surpassed 4,500 today, accounting for about 17 per cent of all cases.

More than 75% of active cases in Greater Toronto Area

Ontario’s official COVID-19 death toll grew by 32 and now sits at 2,155. Data compiled from regional public health units, however, puts the real current toll at at least 2,248 as Wednesday evening.

A CBC News analysis published this morning found that more than three-quarters of the active cases of COVID-19 currently listed in the province’s database are found in the five public health units of Toronto, Peel, York, Durham and Halton regions.

Long-term care residents account for more than 77 per cent of all COVID-19-linked deaths in the province.

As part of its emergency orders, Ontario’s revised rules around staff redeployments at the province’s 630 long-term care homes will also remain in place.

The premier was notably absent from question period at Queen’s Park today, with Fullerton fielding a series of questions about the military report from the NDP.

Ford’s office said he skipped question period because “the premier’s primary focus right now is on ensuring we immediately address the situation documented in the CAF report that was released yesterday.

Ford has said Ontario has launched a “full investigation” into the allegations and will share the results with police so they can look into any possible criminal charges.

Four of the five homes are private, but Ford has said creating a fully public system wouldn’t be feasible without financial help from Ottawa.

More than 200 residents alone have died at the five homes where the military has been assisting. Orchard Villa has now recorded 69 COVID-19 deaths, while Altamont has recorded 52 and Eatonville 42.

Hawthorne Place has seen 43 residents die — more than double the number of fatalities at the time military help was requested, and four more than Tuesday. Eleven residents have died at Grace Manor.

The military report said the province wants to transition military support from those homes where the situation has
stabilized, and is looking to Downsview Long-Term Care Centre as the next location. That home has seen 52 deaths, up from 40 last week.

Dentists, optometrists, health providers can gradually reopen

Dentists, optometrists and massage therapists are part of a list of health-care providers that the Ontario government says can gradually reopen following a months-long shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chiropractors, physiotherapists, psychologists, dietitians, denturists, and midwives are also included on the list released
Wednesday as part of a new order from the province’s chief medical officer of health.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said while the order takes effect immediately, that does not mean that all health services will be available on May 27.

“Health regulatory colleges are now in the process of developing guidance to ensure high-quality and safe clinical care that must be met before services can resume,” she said.

The provincial guidelines say providers must also comply with public health regulations and physical distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In mid-March, the province ordered all non-essential and elective health services to close or reduce operations as COVID-19 cases increased.

Under this new directive, the province is also asking regulatory colleges to provide advice on which services can be provided virtually. The province said the order will also allow hospitals to continue to develop and finalize plans to resume scheduled surgeries.

Toronto unveils postal code data

Also Wednesday, the City of Toronto made public detailed postal code data showing where the city’s greatest concentrations of COVID-19 are located.

The province has said it can measure COVID-19 hotspots by postal code, but has so far declined to make that information public, saying doing so could have a stigmatizing effect.

At his weekly news conference on Wednesday, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown called on the province to release that information as soon as possible “so residents know where there are areas of greater concern and areas where the virus seems to be circulating in the community.”

Hayley Chazan, spokesperson for the provincial minister of health, previously told CBC News Ontario’s hardest-hit regions are in Toronto, Peel Region and Windsor-Essex County, but would not specify further.

Ford elaborated slightly Monday afternoon, saying “parts” of those regions were most affected. He also mentioned parts of Brampton, north Etobicoke and Scarborough.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province intends to release more detailed information, though she did not say when that will happen.


With files from Shanifa Nasser, Lucas Powers, Mike Crawley and The Canadian Press

TAKE ACTION! Orcas need a thriving habitat, not a new container terminal

Speak out against Roberts Bank Terminal 2 - David Suzuki Foundation

Please speak out against the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 to protect endangered orcas, Chinook salmon and the unique Fraser River estuary. These species can’t speak for themselves!

The project to build this new container terminal presents an unacceptable threat to the ecosystem. It will:

Please speak out against the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 to protect endangered orcas, Chinook salmon and the unique Fraser River estuary. These species can’t speak for themselves!

The project to build this new container terminal presents an unacceptable threat to the ecosystem. It will:

    • Compromise the estuary habitat of British Columbia’s most important salmon river. Its salmon nourish orcas, spectacular forests and the life within them, including bears, birds and people.
    • Further erode southern resident orcas’ legally defined critical habitat and contribute to underwater noise.
    • Negatively affect the Fraser River estuary that provides vital resources for the entire marine ecosystem and supports environmental functions throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

Tell Canada to stand against Terminal 2

Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson and his fellow cabinet ministers can protect these species by taking a stand against Terminal 2. Send a letter to encourage them to make the right decision.

With thanks,

Olga Shuvalova,
Communications Specialist
The David Suzuki Foundation

Tired of Plastic? These Businesses Have Ideas for You

Companies are developing alternatives to single-use plastic, and with options including seaweed and mushroom tissue, consumer interest isn’t disappearing, even during the coronavirus pandemic.

Credit…Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

This article is part of our continuing Fast Forward series, which examines technological, economic, social and cultural shifts that happen as businesses evolve.

The coronavirus pandemic and fears about its spread have brought to a screeching halt years of efforts to get Americans to do one small thing: bring their own bags to the grocery store and stop using plastic ones.

California has allowed stores to use plastic bags until late June under an executive order from Gov. Gavin Newsom, even though the state has had a plastic-bag ban since 2016. New York delayed enforcement of its ban until June 15. Other cities and states have taken similar steps with backing from the plastic industry, despite evidence that the virus can survive longer on plastic than on other surfaces (like paper or cloth).

The pandemic came at a time when momentum was building for a shift away from plastic, with many consumers demanding alternatives or halting use of products (plastic straws) altogether. Although about 72 percent of Americans say they actively try to limit their plastic use, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, the amount of plastic waste per person has remained constant: about 4 ounces per person every day, for a total of about 15.6 million tons in 2017.

But to those who are working on alternatives to single-use plastic, the consumer momentum is not disappearing. In fact, founders of several plastic-alternative companies said that they had seen even more interest from consumers in their products, and a renewed commitment from some of the larger companies they work with to press on.

“We’re fortunate enough that we aren’t seeing anyone say, ‘I’m not worried about sustainability, I’m just going to focus on survival right now,’” said Troy Swope, co-founder and chief executive of Footprint, which produces fiber-based alternatives to single-use plastics (cardboard, essentially). “If anything, we’ve seen an acceleration,” he added, since companies often see a boost from using sustainable packaging.

Fiber-based bowls being made by Footprint.

Mr. Swope said that his product, which supplied food service items at this year’s Super Bowl, was different from other fiber-based alternatives in several ways. The most important are a shelf life that is comparable to that of plastic, which helps prevent additional food waste; complete biodegradability and compostability; and the ability to be microwaved, unlike plastic.

Footprint was born of Mr. Swope’s work for 15 years as an engineer at Intel, where he became an “accidental environmentalist.” He saw firsthand the many different elements of plastic packaging that accompanied Intel products and was stunned by the amount of waste in the shipping and in the supply chain in general. He was even more alarmed that silicon wafers, elements of Intel’s processors, were considered contaminated after being transported in plastic that was similar to the tubs of cut fruit from the grocery store.

“We found the same level of contamination on the food that we did on the wafer,” he said, adding, “if it’s bad for a wafer, it’s bad for a human.”

Mr. Swope described a trip to Hawaii with Yoke Chung, his Footprint co-founder and colleague at Intel, many years ago where they realized that, because of ocean pollution and climate change, they were going to have to tell their children “what the ocean used to look like.”

“So that combination of what we saw happening to the ocean, and the food contamination and, later on, what it was doing to our kids, made us say, ‘Let’s go do something about it.’”


A COVID-19 Recovery Plan Requires Keeping People Housed

The Institute’s Senior Policy Analyst Brittany Andrew-Amofah interviewed former Deputy Minister of Ontario & Manitoba Michael Mendelson on Canada’s housing crisis in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what housing solutions should be considered as Canada moves towards a recovery. Michael Mendelson is currently a Maytree Fellow

As jurisdictions across Canada begin to move towards recovery, the COVID-19 pandemic has called for a renewed approach to combating Canada’s housing crisis. Employment losses and financial insecurity caused by the virus present risks to fixed costs like housing. Manitoba’s Rent Assist and Quebec’s Rent Supplement Program, two provincial programs that have been in existence pre-COVID-19, provide a precedent for government rent support programs moving forward.

Having access to safe, affordable and decent housing is the backbone of a COVID-19 response & recovery. The federal government’s National Housing Strategy, developed and implemented in a pre-COVID-19 scenario will need to be revisited to account for the pandemic. It’s Housing Benefit program, a program designed to provide support to those in housing need, while currently in flux, is not suitable to immediately respond to the issue of lost income and job precarity caused by the virus. For these reasons, COVID-19 housing solutions should reflect two time periods: the re-opening and recovery phase. The first, being an interim measure provided as people adjust to the realities of the new economy and the second being a long-term, permanent plan to support low income households in a post COVID future.

To provide a further examination of the state of housing across Canada, I spoke to the former Deputy Minister of Ontario and Manitoba, Michael Mendelson, to discuss Manitoba’s Rent Assist Program, rent supports and housing solutions for a COVID-19 recovery.

Brittany Andrew Amofah: As a former Deputy Minister in Ontario and Manitoba, what were the COVID-19 related issues that have stood out to you the most?

Michael Mendelson: Quite honestly, my first thought after the extent of the COVID-19 crisis became apparent was not about housing as such; it was about all those settings where provincial governments are responsible for congregate living arrangements. First, nursing homes and other congregate residences for seniors who are obviously an extremely vulnerable population. This has always been a poorly regulated sector and I fear that it has become worse as for-profit companies have played an increasing role in the sector.

But not just nursing homes – correctional facilities too. If I were a Deputy right now I would have called together a committee of the main actors in the correctional system – judges, prosecutors, defence bar, correctional officers and so on – and started to find ways to get all non-violent offenders and older prisoners out of the system immediately. There are also group homes, rehab centres, mental health residential facilities and many others.

Secondly, the most vulnerable people, people who are homeless or near-homeless, kids who are in uncertain living arrangements, undocumented workers and so on – these people are not going to be reached by mainstream programs like the CERB. For this we need people on the ground from social agencies who know the people they serve and are trusted.

BAA: From your view, what is the current state of rental housing across Canada?

MM: In one sentence: there is too little affordable good quality rental housing. We need to realize as they have long ago understood in Europe that cities need a steady and consistent program of building affordable rental housing that is attractive, modern and fits into communities. The dynamics of the housing market are such that households with lower incomes are never going to be adequately served through the private market. Building affordable housing should be part and parcel of the core infrastructure needed to make a livable city, just like schools, transportation and hospitals.

We have an endemic problem on the supply side but we also have an on-going problem on the demand side. Programs like the Canada Child Benefit have helped households with children quite a bit and provinces tend to be somewhat more generous in their social assistance rates for those with dependent children, but shelter allowances for single and couples without children are simply ridiculous.

BAA: How has COVID-19 exacerbated housing issues?

MM: The COVID crisis has made it more difficult to pay the rent for millions of Canadians. The federal government’s CERB program really helped many, many Canadians and it was delivered with amazing speed. But the economic fallout has just begun, and it is going to be felt for the next several years, not just months. There are going to be a lot more families having difficulty making ends meet and having to choose between feeding the kids and paying the rent. Also, many homeowners will have difficulty with mortgage payments. I am anticipating increased urgent sales and discount rentals in condos. So maybe we will have some decrease in rents for the first time in many years.

BAA: Do we need to be concerned about individuals not being able to pay their rent once the economy fully re-opens?

MM: Yes we do need to be concerned. And the people who are likely going to have the most trouble are those who have had the relatively low paid jobs in sectors that will take a long time coming back and may not ever come back in the same way. 1.8 million Canadians are employed in the hospitality sector. Those who were on social assistance before the COVID crisis are likely going to be just about as badly off as they were before but no worse, but the people who are going to be most affected are those who have been working full time or part of the time and who now find themselves unemployed or working far fewer hours.

BAA: Manitoba has had a rent support program in place prior to the pandemic, called Rent Assist. Can you explain what the program is?

MM: In 2015, Manitoba pioneered a brand-new type of housing program in Canada, called ‘Rent Assist’. Rent Assist is unique in making housing affordable for almost every resident of the province. Where other provinces and territories only provide subsidies for a limited number of renters in subsidized units or pay a few extra dollars to offset a small portion of their rent; Manitoba’s Rent Assist housing allowance is designed so that renters in the private market pay no more than 28 percent of their income on housing, if they are renting a modestly-priced apartment (defined as 75 percent of median market rent). The 28 percent has now been increased to 30 percent. The Conservative government in Manitoba has largely kept the program in place and supported it. This shows that a well-designed program that serves everyone equally can be politically viable. This is the only program in Canada that has managed to improve the material conditions for singles without children and maintain wide-spread political support.

BAA: Where did the inception for Manitoba’s Rent Assist come from?

MM: Manitoba has long had a rent supplement program, along with two other provinces: BC and Quebec. In Manitoba anti-poverty activists had initiated a campaign to improve assistance for rent. One of the sore spots was the extremely low social assistance rates for shelter for singles and couples without children. We discuss the origins of the Rent Assist program in the paper I noted in the previous question. The NDP government of the day was receptive but knew that just raising social assistance rates would not help the working poor and likely not be sustainable as the rates would just be eroded over time by inflation or even reduced if the government changed hands. The government responded to the campaign by going one step further than the campaigners had even demanded and introduced a rent assistance program for the whole population, whether working or not. Learn more about its inception here.

One of the unique features of Rent Assist is that it is based not on what a person pays for rent; rather the benefit is calculated according to Median Market Rent. Landlords in Manitoba also like the program because it is tied to an indicator of the real private market and keeps up with price changes. The other unique feature is that it is an entitlement program. Anyone meeting the income criteria can obtain the benefit. There is no waiting list.

BAA: How can a Rent Assist program help during COVID-19?

MM: Rent Assist is based on income tax reported in the previous year, like the Canada Child Benefit and GST credits. It is based on last year’s income as reported for tax purposes, so it will not respond to a sudden in-year emergency. So next year, Manitboa’s Rent Assist benefits will automatically increase for all those households whose income have declined the year before [the year we are in now]. As we talked about earlier, the effects of the economic crisis are going to be around for a while and the increases built into Rent Assist are going to be most helpful in the aftermath for Manitoba families. For the economy as a whole, the program is also acting as an automatic stabilizer, just as a good social program ought to.

BAA: Since a program like Rent Assist is not designed to provide immediate relief, what do you recommend instead?

MM: To reflect our current time, I would have a special emergency provision allowing households to attest to their most recent month’s income and have them eligible for Rent Assist and or subsidy on a month-by-month basis at least for the remainder of this year. Effectively the emergency Rent Assist would function as a top up. In some places where 75% of the median market rent is less than 30% of CERB, most households would not be eligible for any payment. In other words, this would truly be only an emergency top-up.

In terms of who is responsible: either the feds or the provinces could pay the emergency top up, but because median rents vary so much from region to region I think it would have been more appropriate for this to be a provincial program.

BAA: Do you recommend that a potential rent subsidy go to the landlord or tenant?

MM: The subsidy should go to the tenant with the tenant having the option of redirecting the payment directly to the landlord.

BAA: Where does the National Housing Strategy’s Housing Benefit fit into all of this?

MM: Quite honestly, the National Housing Strategy Housing Benefit is just too little money stretched out over too long a time-period to make much difference. Most provinces are using the benefit for narrowly focused special programs, such as supported shelter for victims of family violence. Obviously, these programs are important, but they are only for a few people and do not really do anything to address the broader issues in the housing sector. On the other hand, the National Housing Benefit is at least showing that it is possible for the federal government to play a positive role and it is perhaps laying the groundwork for a more broad-based program.

BAA: Where does Rent Assist fit in the context of affordable housing?

MM: Rent Assist addresses the ‘demand side’ of the housing market, but it does not address the supply side. Even with Rent Assist the private market will not create enough good quality affordable rental housing, so we need to complement Rent Assist with a consistent, steady program to build affordable, good quality housing. In theory Rent Assist could provide an added incentive to build lower rent apartments because it gives landlords a guaranteed floor for rent. However, I fear that even 75 percent of Median Market Rent is not enough to really stimulate much building, so we are going to need a complimentary supply-side program.

BAA: What can we learn from Manitoba’s Rent Assist program?

MM: I think the main lesson is that a well-designed program that is relatively simple to understand and addresses the whole population will be popular and sustainable, like the Canada Child Benefit. For anti-poverty campaigners the lesson is that we should not focus on raising social assistance rates, rather we should try and find ways to improve incomes for everyone with low incomes. Solidarity rather than division.

BAA: What should governments consider when designing a rent assist or subsidy program? What needs to be in place?

MM: Governments need to consider both ensuring fair treatment for low-income workers and setting up a more modern income security system, so in my view this calls for a broad-based program of rent assistance that goes to everyone whether employed or not. The program should be based on income tax so it minimizes additional paperwork and stigmatization: but then governments need to take into account the reality that some incomes will change radically during the year, so the social assistance system or some other program needs to be in place allowing households whose income has fallen below a minimum level to enroll mid-year. Finally, the amount of rent assistance needs to be based on some market-relevant indicator, like in Manitoba where it is 75 percent of median market rent, instead of being calculated according to the rent an household pays. This allows renters to make their own decisions about where they want to spend their money, it minimizes the impact on the rental market and it keeps the program indexed so it is not eaten away by inflation every time, and very practical.


This interview has been edited and condensed. Special thank you to Scott Leon, Housing Researcher at the Wellesley Institute for helping to craft this interview.  

This Affordable Tiny Dome Is An Example of What Zero-Carbon Living Could Look Like

Credit: @geoship

Traveling back in time isn’t possible, but developing plans as to how to lead a greener life for generations to come is. That’s exactly what Geoship, a regenerative village building platforms, strives to do with their bioceramic domes concept.

Geoship functions under the philosophy that bioceramic domes will replace wooden homes within the 21st century and uses its model to justify that claim, according to a press release. With many investors back up its plan, Geoship plans to reshape the global construction company with its domes—a sustainable-meets-affordable alternative to more traditional options in the housing market.

These domes will be made of 100 perceon bioceramic materials, such as basalt and hemp, that form the panels and framing. Geoship says that the product’s CO2 waste will be sequestered by the precast panels that can be recycled to make news ones, in turn creating a zero-carbon relationship.

In addition to its sustainable benefits, the domes would also be extremely affordable, especially when compared to purchasing a traditional house. Depending on size, pricing is expected to range between 45K and 230K, which is expected to cover the cost of everything—from the delivery and construction to all the interior furnishings and appliances.

Just when you think this model couldn’t get any more ideal, in comes the stability component. The ceramic material is fireproof and doesn’t attract mold or insects, and due to its adaptable structure, it’s created to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes as best as humanly possible.

Beyond the build of the dome, Geoship has an entire village-building model made up of these bioceramic domes, which you can read about here. For now, we’ll keep dreaming of this cheap, sustainable living option until it hopefully comes to fruition. SOURCE

Angela Merkel takes her cue from Alexander Hamilton to overhaul the European Union

With version of Canada’s equalization payments, EU would rescue Italy and Spain

German Chancellor Angela Merkel refused for 15 years to let the European Union offer grants to members in trouble. Now that’s changed. ‘Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures,’ she said May 18. (Markus Schreiber/Pool/Reuters)

“This is Europe’s moment.” The speaker was Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the bureaucratic motor of the European Union.

She was unveiling a vast program at the commission meeting on May 27, a program worth $1.12 trillion Cdn, to help European economies reeling from the COVID-19 crisis.

The EU would borrow the money and then hand it out to member states. And for the first time in EU history, two-thirds of the money handed out would be grants — not loans — that the recipient countries wouldn’t have to repay.

In fact, though, this was German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s moment. Nine days earlier, she had launched this quiet European revolution along with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Together they said their countries would put up $750 billion Cdn in grants to help Italy and Spain climb out of the economic hole caused by COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. That sum is now the core of the announced EU program.

Spain’s central bank forecast last month that the country’s economy could contract by more than 12 per cent this year, and unemployment could surpass 21 per cent. It has lost more than 27,000 people to COVID-19.

Italy, meanwhile, where more than 33,000 people have died of the illness, could see its GDP contract by more than nine per cent in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund, and see unemployment close to 13 per cent.

Germany and France, by comparison, are expected to see GDP contractions of around seven per cent, with unemployment of around four and 10 per cent, respectively.

“Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures,” Merkel said on May 18, and in European terms, that announcement was nothing less than what her finance minister called the “Hamilton” decision.

Hamilton’s legacy

That’s Alexander Hamilton, an American “founding father.” He lived a life of adventure, died in a duel and became the subject of a Broadway hit musical more than two centuries after his death.

He was also the man who set up the U.S. banking system and enshrined in law the concept that the American federal government would come to the financial aid of states in crisis.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is Merkel’s ally and point person, a former German defence minister who Merkel manoeuvred into her present job last year. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)


In Canada, the concept goes by the name of equalization, where the federal government transfers money to poorer provinces. It’s the economic backbone of a functioning federal system, but in the EU, even after the creation of a common currency in 2002, the euro, it didn’t exist.

That’s because Germany, at the head of a parade of northern European states — the Scandinavians, the Netherlands and Belgium — refused over and over to allow the EU to offer grants, equalization payments by another name, to states in trouble. They would have to ask for loans and pay them back.

Merkel led that penny-pinching coalition for almost 15 years. She once compared herself to a German housewife counting those pennies. That approach led to a major crisis in 2011, when Greece teetered on the edge of bankruptcy and threatened to pull out of the euro.

Spain and Italy demand more

Merkel and Germany tightened the purse strings and refused anything but loans with harsh conditions. Greece capitulated.

But Greece is small. Spain and, particularly, Italy are big, and they have been pleading for — and then demanding — such grants with no conditions in this crisis, warning of dire consequences if they didn’t get them.

People wearing protective face masks stand during a daily minute of silence to commemorate victims of the coronavirus at Puerta del Sol square in Madrid on Wednesday. Spain is one of the European countries hardest hit by the coronavirus – both in terms of deaths and economic impact. (Sergio Perez/Reuters)


The direst of those would be the shattering of the euro, the European currency, if Italy, say, dropped out of it. That would bring financial ruin on top of economic depression — unthinkable. As Merkel put it in the German parliament in 2011, “if the euro fails, Europe fails.”

And so the quiet, plodding chancellor suddenly ripped up decades of German policy, catching a whole continent by surprise.

It wasn’t her first time. Five years ago, in September 2015, she suddenly threw open the doors and allowed hundreds of thousands of refugees to flow into Germany. It was, she said, the moral thing to do.

Merkel’s popularity revived

Her neighbours in Central Europe such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria, chose the political thing to do and slammed their doors on the refugee flood.

There were cries of anger in Germany, a country of almost 84 million people, and the far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party rose sharply in the polls. In the 2017 German elections, it took 12.6 per cent of the vote and became the third-largest party in parliament.

But in the midst of this latest crisis, the AfD’s poll numbers have slipped back to below 10 per cent, and Merkel is once again phenomenally popular.

She will need that popularity to push through her proposed changes. She faces a coalition of “frugal” northern EU members and Central European states unhappy about the extra burden the new seven-year budget plan will place on them.

The “frugal” states, led by Austria, are still pushing for an all-loan deal for southern Europe. The Central European states, which have been supping richly at the EU trough for years, are vocally unhappy at the prospect of seeing some of their subsidies going to Italy and Spain.

Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron late last year: together their countries would put up $750 billion Cdn in grants to help Italy and Spain climb out of the economic hole caused by COVID-19. (Ludovic Marin/Pool/Reuters)

Unanimity required

“Solidarity has its limits,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on May 19. “I don’t like the idea of Europe burdening itself with debts.”

A key limit to European solidarity is the need for unanimity of all 27 members to pass the budget that EU commission president van der Leyen has unveiled.

But the “frugal” coalition has a huge problem. Its leader has switched sides. Germany has joined France, whose president has been arguing for two years for a Hamiltonian system in Europe.

Together the two countries are the biggest and richest political and economic engines of the EU, their weight even greater and their task easier since Britain pulled out.

They will lean very heavily on the smaller European states, which stand to gain in cash if they accept the new economic blueprint.

A woman serves customers in a recently reopened restaurant in Milan. Italy is one of the EU members asking for financial relief through grants to help its economy recover from the impact of the pandemic. (Flavio Lo Scalzo/Reuters)

Leaving in September 2021

Merkel has other aces in her hand. The EU commission president, von der Leyen, is her ally and point person, her former defence minister who Merkel manoeuvred into her present job last year. And in July, Germany takes over the rotating presidency of the EU for six months, giving the chancellor added clout in negotiations.

Those negotiations will be detailed, difficult and long. But Merkel has announced she will leave her post after the next German elections in September 2021. She has little to lose and one last battle to fight for Europe and for her place in its history.

She is an unlikely revolutionary. Most leaders who change the political landscape do it when they come to power. Merkel has waited until her final act to spring her biggest surprises and the biggest potential changes to the EU in decades.


Don Murray

Eye on Europe

A well-travelled former CBC reporter and documentary maker, Don Murray is a freelance writer and translator based in London and Paris.

European Union eyes producing 1 million tons of clean hydrogen

  • European Union eyes producing 1 million tons of clean hydrogen

  • Netherlands, Germany want to scale up breakthrough technology

A wind turbine operates at a wind power plant during a demonstration of a hydrogen supply chain system in Yokohama, Japan.

A wind turbine operates at a wind power plant during a demonstration of a hydrogen supply chain system in Yokohama, Japan. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

Europe is betting on emissions-free electricity for big industry in its economic recovery package, drafting measures to scale up the production of hydrogen.

The world’s most climate-ambitious stimulus package to be unveiled on Wednesday is poised to earmark tens of billions of euros for hydrogen technology as well as infrastructure for clean energy.

European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen is set to build her coronavirus economic rescue plan around the Green Deal that aims for climate neutrality by 2050.

Hydrogen is emerging as a fuel of the future in a growing number of European countries, including the Netherlands, Germany and Portugal. The region is well positioned for it thanks to its natural gas infrastructure, which can be used to transport hydrogen. The European Union’s growing renewable energy output could also be used for emission-free production of the fuel.

“The goal of net-zero emissions in 2050 implies basically a full decarbonization of the economy,” Noe van Hulst, the hydrogen envoy for the Dutch government, said in an interview. “Clean hydrogen is an indispensable climate-neutral energy carrier, in addition to green electricity.”

The EU economic package will include a proposal for the bloc’s next trillion-euro budget for the years 2021-2027 and a “recovery instrument” of at least half-a-trillion euros designed to cushion the economic blow from the coronavirus outbreak.

It’s poised to be greener than most national bailouts, with many of the biggest member states stopping short of attaching sustainability conditions to public aid despite encouragement from the commission.

EU Sets Its Price for Backing $9.8 Billion Lufthansa Rescue

The EU proposal will be subject to unanimous approval by the EU’s 27 governments. With varying national interests, the strength of industries and the extent of reliance on fossil fuels, member states are set for negotiations that could take months to conclude.

Here are some steps the EU is considering to kick-start the development of hydrogen, according to a draft document seen by Bloomberg News:

  • Scaling up clean hydrogen production to 1 million tons per year through between 5 billion euros ($5.4 billion) and 30 billion euros support from the so-called Innovation Fund
    • Introducing a “carbon contracts for difference” pilot program, which could pay the spread between a pre-set and actual price of permits in the EU Emissions Trading System to encourage investment in hydrogen
    • Introducing a tendering program for 15 gigawatts of renewable power capacity over two years
    • Doubling the funding for a hydrogen initiative under the next EU budget to 1.3 billion euros and strengthening collaboration with industry
    • Earmarking between 2 billion euros and 4 billion euros over the next two years to kick-start projects eligible for aid from the Innovation Fund, which will be financed through sales of carbon allowances
    • Boosting investment in renewable energy and hydrogen infrastructure through a special fund administered by the European Investment Bank; the fund would have at its disposal 10 billion euros per year, mainly in loans

Hydrogen currently accounts for less than 1% of Europe’s energy consumption and is mainly used as feedstock in the chemical sector. When burned, hydrogen leaves only water vapor and can produce ultra-high temperatures needed in industrial processes.

The catch is the cost. Most of the hydrogen used as fuel is derived by splitting it off from molecules of natural gas, which requires a good deal of energy and also produces carbon dioxide.

Source: BloombergNEF

What’s changing is the development of electrolysis, the process of sending an electric current through water to split hydrogen atoms from oxygen. And if the electricity comes from renewables, the hydrogen is made without any greenhouse gases. Industrial gas maker Air Liquide SA, steelmaker ThyssenKrupp AG and the oil major Royal Dutch Shell Plc have some of the highest profile demonstration projects.

Polluting Hydrogen

Only 4% of the world’s hydrogen production in 2018 was based on renewables

Source: BloombergNEF

EU member states are already advancing plans and eying partnerships on hydrogen. The Netherlands has a production target of 500 megawatts of electrolysis capacity by 2025 and is planning to scale it up to 3,000-4,000 megawatts by 2030.

Green Hydrogen to Help German Industry’s Corona Exit

The German and Dutch governments have also started a joint feasibility study to produce green hydrogen from their offshore wind plants.

“This very important study has generated a lot of enthusiasm in Dutch and German industry,” van Hulst said. “We hope it will enable a strong bilateral relationship in developing an integrated northwest European green hydrogen market. We will see the results in the fall of 2020.”

Large-scale H2 projects

World’s hydrogen project pipeline is estimated to be worth $90 billion.Source: Hydrogen Council

Further steps to boost the production of hydrogen will be unveiled in June, when the EU’s executive arm puts forward a strategy for a shift to a more integrated and decarbonized energy system.


Merkel Cabinet Seals Plan to Widen CO2 Price to Heating, Roads

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

  • Consumers, industry to face charges of 25 euros/ton of CO2

  •  Permit revenue used to cut electricity bills in quid pro quo

German consumers are set to pay more for heating and transport fuels next year after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet Wednesday sealed a national plan to extend carbon pricing across the economy.

From next year, consumers and industry will pay 25 euros ($27) per ton for pollution permits to heat their homes with oil and run vehicles, according to the new legislation. The permits, which will be purchased by fuel suppliers who will pass on the costs, will rise in annual steps as Germany tries to get a grip on emissions from transport and buildings.

The plan is part of sweeping legislation passed by parliament in December to meet 2030 carbon-reduction targets. Lawmakers squabbled over how to price heating and transport permits, leading to an amendment that raised their price tag from an initial target of 10 euros/ton.

The measure has a silver lining for consumers. Revenue from applying permit costs to heating and transport as well as from Germany’s membership of the European Emissions Trading platform will be used to cut the compulsory green surcharge in power bills.

Revenue from both platforms in 2021 may add up to about 7.4 billion euros, German news agency DPA reported today without saying where it got the information. Actual revenue is likely to vary with current prices for European carbon permits as well as domestic heating and transport fuel use in a Covid-19 battered economy.

The Finance Ministry in December earmarked total revenue from permit sales in 2021 at 6.5 billion euros. Consumers are expected to pay about 25 billion euros in all for the green surcharge next year, implying a saving on the bill of about 26%.

Bloated by ecological taxes and the green-power surcharge, Germany’s retail electricity prices have become the highest in Europe, prompting lawmakers to call for reductions as the economy struggles to recover from the corona crisis.