The world wasn’t ready for a Green New Deal in 2009. Today, it may be

There is no easy route to a greener global economy. But since coronavirus hit, politics and business are thinking again

Wind turbines off Seaton Carew beach, near Hartlepool. Photograph: AJ D Foto Ltd./Alamy

Timing matters. Early 2020 saw an economic collapse the likes of which have not been seen in living memory. Growth has collapsed, unemployment has soared, poverty has increased.

Yet in different circumstances the past few months would have been dominated by calls for countries to do more to cut carbon emissions. As 2019 drew to an end, everybody from the managing director of the International Monetary Fund to the governor of the Bank of England was warning of the threat of global heating.

A year of floods, hurricanes and bush fires had made a strong case for action to make economies more sustainable. What was lacking was a profound shock that would make change possible. Now we’ve had one.

Governments are creating, borrowing and spending money like never before in peacetime, in an attempt to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. They have the opportunity to reshape their economies in a way that would be consistent with preventing catastrophic increases in global temperatures. Businesses are already learning lessons from the lockdown, such as that modern technology no longer makes it essential for an executive to travel half way round the world for a business meeting, and that employees can be just as productive working from home as they can when sat in expensive set-piece city centre offices.

The world has been here before, though, and there is no guarantee that an opportunity proffered will be an opportunity taken. One was certainly missed at the back end of the 2000s, when the banks nearly went bust. Supporters of a Green New Deal (of whom I was one) said governments should avert the possibility of a second Great Depression by investing in decarbonisation of their economies and programmes that would put people back to work by making their homes energy-efficient.

As now, the global economy contracted. As now, this led to a fall in carbon emissions. Yet, there was only a brief flirtation with the idea of a Green New Deal, and the attraction of a return to business as usual proved more powerful. A 1% fall in emissions in 2009 was followed by a near 6% rise in 2010 as conventional stimulus packages kicked in. The banks were bailed out; governments took fright at the size of budget deficits and imposed austerity; nothing really changed.

Things look a bit different this time. The UK economy shrank by as much in March – when there was barely more than a week of lockdown – as it did in the whole of the 2008-9 recession. April’s number will be a lot worse, and recovery is going to be slow, even assuming there is no second wave of infections.

During the financial crisis, the then Labour government took a stake in two of Britain’s high-street banks. This time, a Conservative government has effectively nationalised the railways, announced plans to support strategically important companies, and is paying the wages of more than 10 million workers.

What’s more, it has been a case of money is no object. The UK is on course to borrow £300bn this year at dirt cheap interest rates. The Bank of England is creating money through its quantitative easing programme. The argument that a Green New Deal is unaffordable is still knocking around, but is much less powerful than it was a decade ago. Ministers can decide whether they want to do more than respond to the immediate crisis and they certainly have the power to shape the recovery by making demands of the companies they are supporting, if they choose to use it.

Here the picture is mixed. Governments make all the right noises about sustainability, yet many of them have used the crisis as an excuse for relaxing or suspending environmental regulations in order to stimulate activity of any sort. Those who think action of global heating should be a matter for markets not governments see Covid-19 as an opportunity too.

The mood has changed, though. The World Economic Forum, the body that organises the annual gathering of the global elite in Davos noted in a recent report that carbon emissions were on course to decline by 8% this year, but in order to limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.5C they would have to fall by a similar amount every year for a decade. When the world’s biggest investor, BlackRock, says it will vote against ExxonMobil at its annual meeting because the oil giant is failing to do enough to hit emissions targets, it is clear that global heating has permeated the mainstream.

But only up to a point. For some, lockdown has provided a glimpse of what a sustainable economy might look like. For others – those who face losing their jobs in carbon-intensive sectors – that sort of future doesn’t look so attractive.

Politics reflects this tension. If parties of the left sometimes seem less enthusiastic about a GND than they might be, it is because a lot of the people who vote for them like the idea of cheap flights and rely on their old banger to pay visits to their mum. No question, any transition to a greener, more sustainable economy will have to overcome not just active opposition but passive resistance from those who would like life to return to its pre-Covid-19 crisis state.

One solution might be to trial in one of the UK’s big cities – Manchester or Glasgow, say – to see whether a GND creates jobs, cuts emissions and generates a new wave of profitable environmental innovation. Opponents of change don’t need to do anything; they simply need to wait for inertia to kick in. Those who want a different sort of economy need to start somewhere. And they should start with a simple question: if not now, when?


Larry Elliott is the Guardian’s economics editor

Pivoting from a service economy to a sustainable, equitable economy

A supermarket checker works behind a plastic shield (Image: Russ Allison Loar​/Flickr).

Image: Russ Allison Loar​/Flickr

As Canadians seem to achieve success in flattening the pandemic curve, attention turns to the alarming headlines about the economy. Unemployment surges to 13 per cent! Army & Navy department stores to close doors permanently after 101 years in business! Housing prices could drop 14 per cent in Toronto! Interest on savings accounts drops to half of one per cent! JC Penney stores in the U.S. close and Reitmans in Canada files for bankruptcy protection!

And that’s the good news. The bad news is that the economy is in so much trouble because the North American economy is basically hollow. COVID-19 has highlighted  the fact that 70 per cent of Canada’s GDP comes from the service sector — 77 per cent in the U.S. That’s why so many of the frontline workers couldn’t work from home. Their jobs bring them closer to their clients than two metres.

Economists call service jobs “tertiary,” at a third level from extracting raw natural material. A 2018 TD bank economist’s report portrayed the service sector as a resilient and “stalwart” part of the Canadian economy, “largely due to its reliable nature … Bumps on the road may bring the current streak to an end, but it takes more than monthly gyrations to hold back the service economy … ”

On the other hand, the pandemic has created another term for service jobs — “non-essential.” Governments shut down hotels, restaurants, retail, travel, dentists, hairstylists and dozens of other tertiary industries. So far, more than 7.8 million people who were suddenly left jobless have applied for Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) cheques.

As trade has superseded diplomacy in international agreements, and especially since the World Trade Organization organized international agreements that override some national labor and trade laws, the gap between rich and poor has ballooned. According to a 2011 OECD report, from 1979 to 2007, the top one per cent’s earnings more than doubled from eight to 17 per cent, while the bottom 20 per cent lost ground, slipping from seven per cent to five per cent of the world’s wealth.

Meanwhile, Canadian women’s workforce participation rate went from about one third (37.1 per cent) in 1976 to almost half (47.7 per cent) of the workforce in 2018, according to Catalyst research. Often women ended up in retail sales or food service, the two fastest growing job categories. We also broke down barriers to the professions, especially in health care, where only seven per cent of doctors were women in 1970, compared to 40 per cent in 2017.

When the pandemic hit, then, women bore the brunt, taking two-thirds of the job losses in March, in what economist Armine Yalnizyan has called “the first she-cession.” A May 8 Marketplace report says that up to 40 per cent of lost jobs in the U.S. may never return, because of social distancing requirements. That is, up to two out of five of those non-essential service industry jobs may disappear forever.

In addition, in Canada, decades of health-care cuts, especially to women’s health and seniors health, meant “not only were women directly experiencing provincial cuts as patients but also dealing with the fallout as workers,” reported the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “The system overhaul hurt women also caring for sick relatives as caregivers, a role dominated by women.”

Some astonishing players are rising to acknowledge the double and triple work burdens that many women carry as the “carer” who takes care of others. “In the face of this unprecedented pandemic,” writes the CEO of Merck Group in the World Economic Forum, “it is more important than ever to recognize and appropriately support the pivotal role of providing unpaid care for family members and loved ones, to remove barriers, protect the health and wellbeing of the carer and to promote gender equality.”

“This crisis highlights the immense value of healthcare, the care economy, and women’s intensified care work burden,” says an April World Council of Churches statement. “While the care economy is now being valorised, care work in the current context of capitalism has often meant further oppression of women and migrant workers.”

With 85 per cent of Canada’s pandemic deaths linked to long-term care homes, Canadians are recognizing the value of care work. “When it comes to Canada’s social safety net,” the Broadbent Institute reported on a poll it commissioned, “a resounding 97% think that the long-term care system for ageing Canadians needs improvement.”

Take personal support workers (PSWs), for example. Care homes (like most employers these days) scrimp on workers’ hours to avoid paying for their benefits. Since most PSWs need at least two jobs to survive, they tend to work at more than one long-term care home — a practice that some provinces have now forbidden to prevent cross-contamination.

The Broadbent Institute found that most Canadians believe PSWs deserve, “Improvements to the availability of paid sick days and livable wages, as well as greater access to income supports and employment insurance [which] received broad support, 90% and 88% respectively.”

“Canadians want a recovery that is fair, focused on people, and builds up our resilience for future challenges,” said Rick Smith, executive director of the Broadbent Institute.

And, Two-to-one Canadians want the government to spend whatever it takes to get the economy moving again, the poll found. Seven in 10 want to strengthen the health-care system, including universal pharmacare, and eight in 10 say it’s very or extremely important that Canada rebuilds its own industries in key areas such as food and medical supplies, instead of relying on global markets.

While Canadians may no longer be hewers of wood and drawers of water, neither does the service economy have much of a future in a post-COVID social-spacing world. Shopping, meetings, conferencing and even doctor visits can all happen online now. A Japanese company has produced a lifelike robot that can be a companion to seniors with dementia. As soon as autonomous cars take over driving jobs, most of the service industries will be automated.

The problem is, “We need work,” as Andrew Yang said during his campaign for the U.S. Democratic presidential nomination, “and a lot of work won’t need us.” Indeed, consumer dollars drive more than half of the GDP. Rather than promoting entrepreneurship and encouraging people to invest in marginal tertiary businesses, he proposed a Universal Basic Income.

In Canada, 17 per cent of women and almost 15 per cent of men lost their jobs between February and April, and don’t know whether their former workplaces will re-open. My very rough calculation shows that federal payments such as CERB, Old Age Security, Guaranteed Income Security (plus Canada Pension Plan), and the Canada Child Benefit provide at least minimal financial security to about one-third (12.4 million out of 37.5 million) of Canadians.

So nearly half of Canadians should have a financial cushion to soften the distress when the smoke clears and the public can see the economic damage — how many businesses will never re-open, how many industries will have to be completely re-configured. That should buy time to re-design workplaces to accommodate the continuing virus threat and to re-structure the workforce more sustainably, equitably and efficiently.

We are watching the realization and destruction of the globalized economy that the November 1999 “battle in Seattle” was trying to prevent. On one side were corporations and national leaders who negotiated in hotels — trade deals which overrode national laws.

On the other side were unions, the Council of Canadians and their global partners who held teach-ins in libraries, and took over the streets to oppose the Multilateral Agreement on Investing. They warned that letting big manufacturers move to developing countries would undercut all the advances workers had made towards safer workplaces, higher wages and stricter environmental standards.

The MAI failed, but all its provisions survived to affect all our lives in the World Trade Organization. Looking back, “On the 20th anniversary of the protests,” wrote professor Deborah James in Al Jazeera:

“evidence of [globalization’s] harm to workers, healthcare, farmers, and the environment — and particularly to developing countries — has proven its critics right … Predictions of increased jobs and prosperity under the WTO system have failed abysmally. Inequalities have soared, leaving hundreds of millions impoverished while billionaires metastasize like cancer. This is because corporate elites hijacked ‘trade’ and rigged the rules to distribute income upwards, while reducing protections for people who work … ” 

They also hijacked our climate. All the extra shipping involved with globalization has accelerated global warming — starting with “global value chain,” where “raw materials and intermediate goods are shipped around the globe multiple times and then assembled in yet another location,” as defined by the World Economic Forum. But, the WE warned, “COVID-19 has struck at the core of global value chain hub regions, including China, Europe and the US.”

Awkward, frightening, and punitive as the shutdown of non-essential services may seem, there is a silver lining. Without factories and traffic emissions, “We’re seeing in some places the best air quality in decades,” said Bill Magavern, the policy director for the U.S. Coalition for Clean Air. If the pandemic hadn’t happened, globalization could have continued to produce ever more emissions, ever more plastic products. The pandemic is showing us all our weaknesses — including an economy based on what Depression era folks called, “taking in each other’s laundry” — so we have time to correct them, before we destroy the planet in the endless pursuit of profit.


Award-winning author and journalist Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local column in Calgary for four years. She was editor of from 2004-2013.

Canadian governments have ignored abuse of the elderly, despite care-givers’ repeated alarms

Image: Elien Dumon​/Unsplash

Image: Elien Dumon​/Unsplash

More than years ago, Pat Armstrong, a sociology professor at York University, released a study of long-term care of the elderly in Canada.

She exposed the abysmal lack of staffing required to provide quality care. Residents, she wrote: “sit in soiled diapers for hours because there are no workers available to answer their call … they miss their bath because there are not enough staff the get everyone adequately bathed. And they sit in their rooms without exercise or conversation … ”

Underpaid and overworked staff “come to work when they are injured or sick because they know that otherwise there will be no one there to provide care. They work unpaid hours to make up for the care deficit. They go home physically exhausted because they looked after far too many residents …”

Some residents “often become violent towards care providers because they are frustrated beyond endurance with the lack of care … Workers fail to report the violence, racism, and sexual harassment they face, in part because they feel their complaints will not be heard or, worse, that they will be blamed for the problem … This low pay and the limits on training reflect, at least in part, the value attached to this female-dominated work … ”

Professor Armstrong’s critique of the appalling conditions in mostly private long-term care homes was just one of dozens of such complaints aired by health-care specialists, care-givers and their unions over the past several decades.

Revelations of such colossal mistreatment were not overlooked by the media, where they were published and sometimes even headlined. But, after a few days, when Canadian political leaders failed time and again to react, the plight of the ill-treated elderly faded back to obscurity.

So it wasn’t until members of the Canadian Armed Forces released scathing reports of the terrible conditions rampant in some long-term care homes in Ontario that our federal and provincial governments finally expressed outrage and pledged to soon take proper corrective measures.

As if they had previously never been informed of such blatant mistreatment of the country’s retired citizens!

Will governments keep reform promises?

It’s far too soon, of course, to applaud this belated political pledge. To actually implement urgently needed reforms of the privately operated homes will necessitate upsetting their business owners. Owners whose abuse of their residents our political leaders have up to now dutifully overlooked by ignoring staff shortages and making very few inspections.

Whether the politicians will really deprive themselves of the financial campaign support and other benefits they derive from the private-care owners is far from certain. They certainly won’t insist that all such private care homes be converted to public care operations, which would be the ideal reform.

But the alternative, to be effective, would be to impose far better levels of care and staffing for residents, along with frequent oversight and enforcement. These measures, of course, would force owners to increase services and reduce profits — which in turn would undoubtedly cut or even stop their political donations.

Either way, our governments will have to accept such a decline in private-sector approval if they seriously undertake the necessary home-care reforms they now so vigorously guarantee.

In her 2009 study on Canada’s barbaric care system, Armstrong referred to the far superior service retirees receive in the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands.

“Even with significantly more dependent elderly,” she noted, “these countries are able to provide higher staffing levels and more time for social support, as well as more choice and autonomy for both workers and residents.”

Not surprisingly, in the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, public spending on long-term care is between 3.7 per cent and 3.2 per cent of GDP. This is about double the OECD average of 1.7 per cent. Canada spends just 1.3 per cent of GDP. In some other European countries where private care facilities are permitted, such as Latvia and Estonia, the amount drops as low as 0.2 per cent.

It should be kept in mind, however, that in Europe, a large share of the spending on long-term care services is covered by government or compulsory insurance schemes. In Germany, for example, although its long-term care spending is listed as only 1.5 per cent of GDP in the OECD’s scale, it actually provides the highest and most comprehensive long-term care in Europe. Germany’s mandatory social insurance plan covers virtually the entire population. About 90 per cent of its citizens are covered by a public insurance plan, while the remainder are covered by a funded mandatory private insurance plan.

Private operators must comply

However, even the European countries with the lowest long-term care spending have enacted laws and policies that compel private operators to adhere to high standards of service. These governments feel they have an obligation to monitor levels of care that ensure their elders are properly fed, socially engaged and free to have regular visits from family and friends.

A systemic cross-country collaboration in Europe helps professional experts and researchers in the aging health-care field to provide the best available training and care services.

Europeans are understandably horrified by the extent of the mistreatment and neglect of the elderly that they have recently seen on TV and read in their newspapers. How could an allegedly progressive country like Canada allow such malignant abuse of its oldest and most vulnerable citizens to fester for so long?

That’s a question Canada’s political leaders can’t possibly answer, a stain on our country’s reputation they can neither erase nor explain. Their only recourse is to live up to their promise to take prompt remedial action.

Let’s fervently hope and pray that they do.


Ed Finn grew up in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, where he worked as a printer’s apprentice, reporter, columnist and editor of that city’s daily newspaper, the Western Star. His career as a journalist included 14 years as a labour relations columnist for the Toronto Star. He was part of the world of politics between 1959 and 1962, serving as the first provincial leader of the NDP in Newfoundland. He worked closely with Tommy Douglas for some years and helped defend and promote medicare legislation in Saskatchewan.

Jason Kenney Keeps Calling COVID-19 ‘Influenza.’ Here’s Why He’s Wrong.

No, coronavirus is not a “strain of influenza.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney updates media on measures taken to help with COVID-19 in Edmonton on March 20, 2020.  JASON FRANSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It would be understandable if you think Alberta Premier Jason Kenney really wants people to believe that COVID-19 is like “strains of influenza” we’ve seen before.

“One thing I think we’re learning, epidemiologically, is that that population has a very high level of immune resistance, of immunity and resilience against an influenza of this nature,” Kenney told the legislature Wednesday.

This week the premier repeatedly made comments downplaying the threat of the virus to the general population, referring to COVID-19 as an “influenza that does not generally threaten life apart from the most elderly.”

Kenney’s words come amid his push to continue reopening the province. Alberta is set to lift its provincial public health emergency on June 15. As of May 29, there have been almost 7,000 test-positive cases there, with 143 deaths.

There are still 652 “active” cases in Alberta.

“We cannot continue indefinitely to impair the social and economic — as well as the mental health and physiological health of the broader population — for potentially a year for an influenza that does not generally threaten life apart from the elderly and the immunocompromised,” the premier said Wednesday.

On Thursday, Kenney walked back the comments.

“I was not trying to provide a comprehensive scientific exposition on the nature of this disease but rather that I believe Alberta has done very well,” he told reporters.

But here’s why experts say referring to COVID-19 as being “like the flu” is wrong — and can be incredibly dangerous.

Two totally different viruses

University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health professor Stephen Hoption Cann says it’s “wishful thinking” for Kenney to assume there’s resistance or resilience in the community without a lot of scientific proof.

“Albertans are healthy, as are generally most Canadians living in a good economy and we have good health care,” he told HuffPost. “But that’s not going to protect you and that’s not going to protect certain populations against the COVID-19 infection.”

Cann said it’s important political figures like Kenney distinguish between influenza and the coronavirus, because  it’s problematic if people think the flu vaccine or other treatments will work for COVID-19.


Canada was ready to abandon 1948 accord if UN didn’t remove ‘cultural genocide’ ban, records reveal

You should support or initiate any move for the deletion of Article three on “Cultural” Genocide. If this move not successful’ vote against the article

In the aftermath of the Second World War, as the United Nations debated a ban on “cultural genocide” in its 1948 Genocide Convention, Canada urged its delegate to try to spike it.

Early drafts included this controversial concept, now used by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to describe residential schools policy. It was known as Article Three, and if it was not removed from the final draft, Canada was willing to abandon the entire Genocide Convention, records show.

“Following for Wilgress,” reads a telegram sent July 27, 1948 from the Secretary of State for External Affairs in Ottawa to the Canadian delegation at the Palais Des Nations in Geneva. L. Dana Wilgress was an ambassador to the U.S.S.R. right after the Second World War, later High Commissioner in London. At the time, William Lyon Mackenzie King was acting as his own foreign minister.

Released later under access to information, the message had been copied to the Justice Department, delivered in code, labelled “IMPORTANT,” and approved by R.G. “Gerry” Riddell, who would later be Canada’s permanent UN delegate.

“You should support or initiate any move for the deletion of Article three on ‘Cultural’ Genocide. If this move not successful, you should vote against Article three and if necessary, against the Convention. The Convention as a whole less Article three, is acceptable, although legislation will naturally be required to implement the Convention,” it reads.

“The matters dealt with by Article three are more properly relevant to the protection of minorities.”

Canada was joined in opposition to “cultural genocide” by the United States and most of Western Europe, lined up against the Soviet Bloc, which supported it.

All this was done in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, against which some people viewed cultural protections as secondary. There was also disagreement on protection for political groups, as communists and anti-communists alike were the target of state-level extermination strategies.

When it came to a vote that October, Canada’s view won out, and both political groups and “cultural genocide” were excluded. Genocide officially became the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” not necessarily by killing, but also by measures that include serious mental harm and the forced transfer of children.

The term has been used in Canada in the residential schools context for several years, notably by Paul Martin, the former prime minister. But it was not until the past couple of weeks that it shot to national prominence, first when Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin used it in a speech, calling it the modern equivalent of “assimilation.” Then it became the main conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, under chairman Murray Sinclair.

It has been divisive, but enjoys growing, prominent support. Philippe Couillard, the Quebec Premier, for example, said on Friday that residential schools policy could “certainly” be described as cultural genocide.

No drafting change of Article III would make its substance acceptable to his delegation

Edward Sadowski, who has done extensive research and archival work for the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., unearthed the diplomatic cable in an access to information request for Canada’s historical records of the genocide deliberations.

He provided these records to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and although some of his other work is cited, he was surprised the cable was not mentioned in the final report.

“I don’t understand why they did not use that cable and some of the other documents,” he said, as it would have been a “smoking gun.”

The records he obtained also include reference to Canada’s apparent motivation in a transcript of a meeting in Geneva. In the transcript, an Egyptian diplomat summarizes Canada’s position, as articulated earlier by a Canadian delegate named Lapointe, who said Canada fundamentally disagreed with the idea of cultural genocide.

“No drafting change of Article III would make its substance acceptable to his delegation,” the Egyptian said of the Canadian. He acknowledged Canadians were “horrified” at the very idea of cultural genocide, but they were also “deeply attached to their cultural heritage, which was made up mainly of a combination of Anglo-Saxon and French elements, and they would strongly oppose any attempt to undermine the influence of those two cultures in Canada, as they would oppose any similar attempt in any other part of the world.”

The Canadian delegation “was not, therefore, opposed to the idea of cultural genocide, but only to the inclusion in the convention of measures to suppress it,” he said.



Racism In Canada Is Ever-Present, But We Have A Long History Of Denial

Prince George replaces outdated climate action plan with new emission targets

Previous targets set by by the city in 2007 were not achieved

A climate demonstration in Prince George in 2019. A new report from city staff shows how climate change has already affected the region, from historic wildfire events to long winter cold snaps, and lays out emission targets to try and mitigate the risks. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

By the year 2050, residents of Prince George, B.C., can expect to have six more days a year where temperatures soar above 30 C, according to a city report that outlines new climate targets for the municipality.

The 2020 Climate Change Mitigation Plan was approved by city council March 26 and replaces a 2007 energy and greenhouse gas management plan that had only set targets up until the year 2012.

Targets for the old plan were not met and there had been no plan in place in the municipality for more than a decade.

The targets now set by council include a five per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2017 levels by 2025, a 12 per cent reduction by 2030 (17 per cent for corporate emissions), 50 per cent by 2040 and 80 per cent by 2050.

‘We really don’t want to push everything off into the future. We want to make that incremental change,” said Andrea Byrne, the city’s environmental coordinator and author of the report.

The report shows how climate change has already affected the region, from historic wildfire events to long winter cold snaps, as well as hotter summer days.

The year 2017 was selected as the baseline for Prince George’s 2020 Climate Change Mitigation Plan and incremental goals have been set for the next 30 years. (City of Prince George 2020 Climate Change Mitigation Plan)


Both the previous goals, and the new ones, apply to both corporate emissions — which includes greenhouse gases created by city projects, such as road work or building construction — and community emissions from residents’ activities, such as driving.

In 2007, the city set a target date of 2012 to reduce corporate emissions by 10 per cent below 2002 levels, and reduce community emissions by two per cent below 2002 levels. It failed on both accounts.

Corporate greenhouse gases had actually increased 7.5 per cent by 2012, and were up 9.5 per cent by 2017. According to the 2020 report, this was due to burning fossil fuels to heat buildings and power vehicles.

The community reduction target was also missed, with a 0.8 per cent increase by 2012 and a 3.9 per cent increase by 2017, also due to a growth in vehicle emissions.

During an interview on CBC’s Daybreak North, Byrne said transportation is responsible for the majority of emissions and will be one of the key areas the plan focuses on, which will mean trying to encourage more Prince Georgians to walk, bike and use public transport.

Other key focus areas include land use, improving energy performance in buildings, waste management, increasing renewable energy use, and policy decision making.

Byrne said the city is hoping to hold public conversations about the plan in the fall.

To hear the complete interview with Andrea Byrne on Daybreak Northtap here

Investigations, prosecutions for polluting in Canada down sharply since 2015

‘It’s wild that there was only one investigation that led to a prosecution in 2018 and 2019’

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson speaks with the media following a cabinet meeting in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 4, 2020. Environment Canada is doing fewer inspections, investigations and prosecutions to enforce its law protecting people from toxic chemicals and air pollution. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Environment Canada has been doing fewer inspections, investigations and prosecutions over the last five years to enforce a law protecting people from toxic chemicals and air pollution.

According to figures provided last month in response to a written question submitted in the House of Commons, the department investigated 43 companies for violations of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act in 2015-16. There were 22 prosecutions and convictions.

In each of the last two fiscal years, however, the department investigated 12 companies. One was prosecuted and convicted.

“It definitely raises a lot of questions and concerns,” said NDP MP Laurel Collins, the critic for environment and climate change who posed the question.

I don’t think anyone thinks there is only one company violating.– Laurel Collins

“It’s wild that there was only one investigation that led to a prosecution in 2018 and 2019,” she said. “I think most Canadians would be surprised to hear that. I don’t think anyone thinks there is only one company violating.”

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) governs how Canada manages toxic chemicals and air pollution.

In February, Collins submitted the order paper question, which is what MPs use when they want a more detailed answer from the government than is usually possible during the daily oral question period in the House of Commons. She was seeking an update to a 2018 report on CEPA enforcement from the federal environment commissioner.

That report called out Environment Canada for disproportionately focusing on dry cleaners and the fluid they use for cleaning — known as perchloroethylene — even though it was not more toxic than other substances investigators were supposed to be monitoring.

Collins says she was disheartened to find that enforcement has fallen “dramatically.”

Asked to explain the drop in investigations under the act, a spokesperson for Environment Canada said only that investigations can be complex and take many years to complete.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson would not comment because enforcement is an arm’s-length process that must remain outside the political realm, according to spokeswoman Moira Kelly.

A substantial drop 

The data provided to Collins does not mirror the numbers the department publishes in its annual report on the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The response to Collins looked at investigations by the number of companies involved. The annual report reflected the number of investigations for each regulation under the act. Some companies are investigated under more than one regulation.

Those annual reports do show the number of total inspections the department is doing has also dropped substantially, from 3,898 in 2015-16, to 1,608 in 2018-19.

Companies that have been convicted end up on a national registry of environmental offenders. Some of the most recent cases involved selling products with volatile organic compounds above legal limits, chemical leaks and spills from electrical transformers, selling toxic chemicals to companies without making sure they had proper storage facilities available, and improperly disposing seafood waste in the ocean.

When you start digging into the numbers here you find that the government is not taking it seriously.-Muhannad Malas

Muhannad Malas, the toxics program manager at Environmental Defence, an advocacy organization, said the Liberal government tries to bill itself as having the “gold standard” of environmental protections but there is just not very much enforcement happening.

“When you start digging into the numbers here you find that the government is not taking it seriously,” he said.

Reform behind schedule

The Liberals formed government in the fall of 2015 and were re-elected, with a minority mandate, in October 2019.

The government is also well behind schedule in reforming the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The law has to be reviewed every five years. The last review began in 2016 and was completed by the House of Commons environment committee in June 2017.

The committee made more than 80 recommendations, including a suggestion to consider enshrining the right to a healthy environment in the law, mandatory labels for hazardous materials in a product, and better data collection on those products.

Malas said he was encouraged when strengthening the law was one of the items in Wilkinson’s mandate letter last fall. He is worried the COVID-19 pandemic, which has delayed numerous other environmental promises including better fuel standards and a single-use plastics ban, will also push back CEPA reform.

He said the government has spent the last 2.5 years consulting and working on it so introducing the amendments should, at this point, “be pretty simple.”

Kelly said in an email the government is still committed to reforming the act but also indicated the challenges posed by COVID-19 might be a factor in when that can happen.


PSAC: This is what a successful return-to-workplace plan looks like

PSAC is working hard to make sure the federal government takes every necessary precaution to ensure that the return to federal offices and workspaces across the country is safe for employees, their families, and the general public.

PSAC insists that the health, safety, wellness, and privacy rights of public service workers must be at the centre of the return to workplace plan and that it reflect the fact that, until a COVID-19 vaccine is created, the virus poses an ongoing threat to the physical and mental health of workers.

PSAC also takes the position that:

        • All return-to-workplace provisions must be in line with collective agreements and legal obligations.
        • Since specific equity groups have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, the plan must be created with a strong equity and human rights lens.
        • The overall plan and any specific measure must adhere to direction from public health authorities and assessments from professional experts in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Additionally, PSAC is urging the following measures:

Conditions for returning to the workplace

      • Provide clear guidelines for determining who will be selected to return to workspaces and who will continue to work from home. Decisions should not be left to the discretion of management to avoid discrimination.
      • Provide employees who are returning to the workplace with a reasonable notice period of at least two weeks to allow them to manage the transition and to do so gradually.
      • Allow workers living with an immunocompromised individual to continue to work remotely to minimize exposure within their household until a vaccine becomes available.
      • Continue our members’ access to “Other Leave with Pay” (699) to accommodate various circumstances including, but not limited to, child care responsibilities that are related to COVID-19, including if parents are unable to or choose not to send their children back to school or daycare.
      • Acknowledge that productivity will be negatively affected by the pandemic and that employees’ performance evaluations should not consequently be negatively affected.
      • Allow for genuine consultation and negotiation with bargaining agents on any reorganization of work. Especially in the event that changes would trigger Work Force Adjustment obligations.

Public transit and shared spaces

      • Consider how returning to offices or workspaces increases a worker’s risk of exposure to the virus as it may require them to drop children off at school or childcare, ride a bus or train, use a public washroom or ride an elevator.
      • Include a strategy to ensure workers can remain at a 2-metre physical distance from others, including in shared spaces, but still have access to necessities such as washrooms, elevators, microwaves and fridges.
      • Address how an employer will proceed when 2-metre physical distancing is not possible in elevators, entrance ways, stairwells, washrooms, and routes to and from public transit.
      • Consider the impact on workers who cannot take public transit because of risk of exposure, and therefore support accommodations like additional or reduced-price parking available for those who can drive to the work site.
      • Ensure that employers implement health and safety strategies such as staggered scheduling, controlling or restricting access to common spaces, more frequent cleaning/disinfecting of the workplace, preparing and training for emergency situations, as well as training and communication on COVID-related health and safety procedures and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

General health & safety, sanitation and workers’ needs

      • Provide a robust sanitation plan and risk assessment of federal government workspaces.
      • Include a plan to track cases of COVID-19 in the public service, including procedures that must be followed after a worker tests positive.
      • Address Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needs and align these needs with the recommendations of provincial and territorial health agencies who have called for the use of masks and gloves, especially when physical distancing is not possible.
      • Outline support for teleworkers in terms of ergonomic support, mental health, and appropriate working equipment.
      • Provide managers and Occupational Health & Safety Committees with additional situation-specific training to deal with the range of mental health problems that are likely to result, or have already, due to COVID-19.
      • Provide sufficient medical research and an assessment by a technical professional to determine how ventilation systems can contribute to virus transmission.
      • Include a plan to ensure all sanitation and ventilation systems are in ongoing compliance with the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (COHSR).
      • Consider slowing the pace of the conversion to Activity-Based Working. All work arrangements should be considered and evaluated in the context of COVID-19.

Child care

      • Provide clear guidelines on how to accommodate employees who may have to continue to provide childcare while also working due to COVID-19.
      • Allow parents to use “Other Leave with Pay” (699) to fulfill childcare needs related to COVID-19, including if some parents may be forced to keep their children home despite some schools and childcare facilities re-opening.
      • Include plans to negotiate with PSAC at the bargaining table so that its childcare proposal can be implemented as part of collective agreements.

Domestic and family violence

          • Provide an outline for the steps that will be taken to ensure employees are supported and feel protected from violence at home; whether they return to the workplace or continue to work from home.
          • Include a plan to finalize an agreement with PSAC on domestic violence leave.

Employment equity and human rights

        • Include a management approach that recognizes the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on specific groups, such as people with disabilities, women, racialized and Indigenous people.
        • Incorporate guidelines that will ensure that human rights, privacy rights and employment equity obligations are being met by the employer.
        • Include plans to consult with the NJC Joint Employment Equity Committee and departmental employment equity committees on changes to any practices, processes and policies that can potentially effect workers (telework, technological changes, workspaces, etc.) due to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on equity groups.


      • Stipulate that any disaggregated information (age, gender, race etc.) collected that may be relevant for collective bargaining will be provided to PSAC so that we can determine any disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our members.
      • Ensure that any health or employment data collected by an employer observes privacy obligations and is stored in a secure manner.

PSAC is demanding that the government continue meaningful consultation with federal unions throughout the development and implementation of a return-to-workplace plan.

Until an acceptable overall plan is developed, PSAC strongly recommends that our members continue to work from home where possible.

We will provide further updates on the development of a plan as more information becomes available.



CFIA bargaining: PSAC presses for improvements to working conditions at PIC hearing

PSAC calls on public service pension plan to pull out of the business of long-term care

PSAC National President Chris Aylward has called on Public Sector Pension Investments (PSP) to end its investment in Revera Inc. and instead put the second largest Canadian network of for-profit long-term facilities under public ownership and control.

Revera Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of PSP, which manages the investments of the pension plans of the federal public service, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Reserved Force. As the bargaining agent for members of the federal public service and federal agencies, PSAC represents a large proportion of the contributors and beneficiaries of federal public service plan.

PSAC made the call for a change in ownership of Revera Inc. as a result of mounting evidence that the incidence of deaths and illnesses attributable to COVID-19 is disproportionately large in private, for-profit long term care facilities. Also, a class action lawsuit by family members of deceased former residents of Revera Inc, has exposed the risk that comes with owning the long-term care chain.

This is not the first time PSAC has complained about Revera’s operations and conduct but the responses from PSP investments were inadequate and dismissive.

“PSP Investments must respond to the concerns of our members about the safety and security afforded to residents and workers at Revera Inc facilities.” said Aylward.

“In the midst of this unprecedented global pandemic, we should not have to convince PSP of the value of working to ensure safe services to the Canadian public and fair compensation and working conditions for workers in the facilities.”

“Operating these facilities with financial profit as a top priority, cannot continue. Only by turning control of the facilities over to provincial health authorities, can we ensure that the wellbeing of the Canadian public and workers comes first.”


Trudeau acknowledges ‘anti-black racism’ exists in Canada

A protester carries a U.S. flag upside, a sign of distress, next to a burning building on Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Minneapolis. File photo by The Associated Press/Julio Cortez

America’s anger, frustration and discord boiled over in Minnesota’s Twin Cities and spread across the country Friday at a remarkable moment in the history of the United States, sparked by the collision of racial injustice, freedom of expression and the worst public health crisis of the last 100 years.

After more than two months of pandemic-induced, self-imposed exile, protesters in Minneapolis — some wearing face masks not to conceal their identities, but to ward off COVID-19 — laid waste to city streets after the police killing Monday of George Floyd, an unarmed black man.

His torturous eight final minutes of life were spent begging for mercy, a white police officer kneeling on his neck.

The rage appeared contagious. As evening gave way to night on the East Coast and an 8 p.m. curfew approached in Minneapolis, multitudes of protesters massed in various cities in a show of solidarity. In Atlanta, violence erupted; protesters set fire to a police cruiser, pelted officers with bottles and smashed patrol car windows with pieces of barricade.

In Washington, D.C., people gathered outside the White House to register their anger, while in New York City, demonstrators rained plastic water bottles down on police, who responded with blasts of pepper spray.

But the flashpoint was Minneapolis, where a police station was among the structures that went up in flames after staff abandoned the premises of Precinct 3, which was subsequently overrun by protesters. Early Friday, CNN reporter Omar Jimenez, who is black, was arrested on live television and led away in handcuffs, as were members of his crew.

All of them were released a short time later following an abject apology from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, who characterized the arrest as a mistake.

By early afternoon, Derek Chauvin, the officer who is seen on cellphone video pressing Floyd’s neck to the ground, was himself arrested and facing charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter, prosecutors said. Activists vowed to keep up their fight until all four officers involved were in police custody.

All of it prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, unbidden, to do something he rarely does: comment publicly on another country’s domestic affairs.

“Anti-black racism, racism, is real; it’s in the United States, but it’s also in Canada,” Trudeau said Friday as he wrapped up his daily briefing outside his home at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa.

More than once he used the term “anti-black racism,” a specific phrase that black communities have long advocated for in order to distinguish the express injustices black people face in Canada and around the world from other forms of discrimination.

Trudeau acknowledges ‘anti-black racism’ in U.S., with ‘work to do in Canada’

“We need as a society to stand together, to stand up against discrimination, to be there for each other in respect, but also understand that we have work to do as well in Canada in our systems that we need to work forward on,” Trudeau said.

“I call on all Canadians — whether it’s anti-black racism or anti-Asian racism or racism discrimination of any type, to stand together in solidarity, to be there for each other and know just how deeply people are being affected by what we see on the news these past few days.”

Racial unrest, often sparked by deadly police action against black Americans, is nothing new in the U.S. But in a polarized country near the end of Donald Trump’s fractious and controversial first term, its economy now plumbing Great Depression depths in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed more than 100,000 lives, the conflict feels like a new low-water mark.

It’s not just Minneapolis. Earlier in the week, protesters in New York City defied pandemic-related bans on public gatherings, while demonstrators blocked traffic in downtown Denver and downtown Columbus, Ohio. Demonstrators also took to the streets in Los Angeles and Memphis, Tenn.

And in Louisville, Ky., police confirmed at least seven people had been shot Thursday night as protesters demanded justice for Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was fatally shot by police in her home in March.

“This is a moment where we don’t feel like we’re sort of northern Americans, that we’re kind of like the Americans, because this comes from a place that does not compute for us, and that we don’t share,” said Chris Sands, a Canada-U.S. scholar and head of the Canada Institute at the Washington-based Wilson Center.

“Moments like this are always profound — and profound for the way in which they set us apart.”

Trump drove that point home overnight when he promised a hard line against the “thugs” who were wreaking havoc — “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he tweeted.

Twitter responded with the unprecedented step of censoring the president of the United States, blocking — but not deleting — a tweet the social media platform said was “glorifying violence.”

Later Friday, what was billed as a news conference in the Rose Garden resulted only in the president delivering a statement on China, Hong Kong and the World Health Organization, refusing to answer questions or acknowledge the unfolding crisis in Minnesota.

He later explained that the tweet wasn’t meant as a threat, but rather that people get killed when looting takes place. And he said he spoke to Floyd’s family and offered his sorrow for their loss.

“That was just a horrible thing to witness and to watch … It certainly looked like there was no excuse for it,” Trump said. “They were grieving.”

A number of the protesters in Minneapolis were taking action “for the right reason” and “out of sorrow,” he added, while those who engaged in wanton violence and destruction of property “did a great disservice” to the country.

Walz called his state’s response to the violence an “abject failure” and promised to ensure destruction in the streets does not distract from the ultimate goal of those protesting peacefully: swift justice for the officers involved in Floyd’s death.

“Minneapolis and St. Paul are on fire. The fire is still smouldering in our streets. The ashes are symbolic of decades and generations of pain, of anguish unheard,” he said.

“Generations of pain is manifesting itself in front of the world — and the world is watching.”

Canadians could be forgiven for thinking that the election of Barack Obama in 2007 was going to usher in a new period of racial peace in the U.S., Sands said — and for wondering now where it all went wrong.

“There was a feeling that maybe you’re in a new era, in a very positive way. And for a variety of reasons, that didn’t seem to coalesce,” he said.

“Now all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Well, wait a minute, what happened?’ So I think that that is also part of it, too. Maybe we should be grateful that Canadians often hope for the best in America. We do have a good side.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2020.



Canadians protest George Floyd killing and racism in Canada in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver

Black Lives Matter: If They Can’t Breathe, None of Us Can