Elizabeth May — we don’t have to choose between the economy and the environment

Elizabeth May -- we don't have to choose between the economy and the environment. Image: Victoria Fenner

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When rabble.ca podcast producer Victoria Fenner heard that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was coming to the small conservative city of Barrie, Ontario, on July 18 for a pre-campaign town hall and rally, she could think of a lot of things to talk to her about.

Barrie is right in the middle of Tory blue country and tough territory for progressives. It’s the biggest city in Simcoe County, located on the traditional territory of the Haudensaunee, Ojibway/Chippewa and Anishnabek First Nations. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaties. Colonization by Europeans began about 400 years ago by French explorers. The first elections here happened way back in 1823 after the British took over and it’s been Conservative country for a very long time. It’s close enough to Toronto that a lot of people commute every day from the south part of the riding. The north part of the county, not so much. But out towards Collingwood, cottagers and skiiers from Toronto contribute a lot of money towards the local economy.

There are very few Red Tories in this county. Remember the Reform Party? That upstart right wing party that shifted politics further right in the late ’80s and the ’90s? The former riding of Simcoe Centre, which was right in the heart of the city of Barrie, was the only place in Canada east of Manitoba that ever elected a Reform Party MP. That’s an indicator of how conservative this area of the country is. The Liberals do come close sometimes but not enough to get them elected. In the 2015 election, the Green Party was the distant fourth party.

The Green Party message is a tough sell in places where people think they have to choose between a stable economy and a healthy environment to live in. But that’s not just here — that kind of dichotomous thinking goes on in so many places. The good news is that this can change with people moving in from other places, and a growing sense that the environment needs to be a bigger priority.

In today’s rabble radio, Victoria Fenner and Elizabeth May talk about that and a wide range of subjects — the disconnect that some people see between economy and environment, the first-past-the-post system, how international trade agreements have affected the health of the planet, and the role of media in fostering an empowered, informed citizenry. SOURCE

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British Columbia’s dirty natural gas secret


B.C. Premier John Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill in 2018. File Photo by Andrew Meade

When I told people I was heading to northeastern British Columbia to check out fracking sites, the most common response was: “We do that here?”

Few southerners have any idea what goes on in the Peace region, and even fewer will ever see it for themselves. For all the hype about liquefied natural gas (LNG) the last few years, not many of us seem to know where it all comes from.

One thing I can tell you is if fracking was going on in Vancouver or Toronto, people would’ve put a stop to it ages ago. After visiting local communities near Dawson Creek, B.C., it’s hard to believe their story has not been told.

Flying over the countryside is the only way to fully grasp the scale. Fracking infrastructure blankets the region from the Alberta border to the Rocky Mountains. Gas plants, compressor stations, well pads, flare stacks, pipelines, wastewater ponds — it just goes on and on and on. I was horrified at just how much farmland and wilderness have been lost to fracking infrastructure.

Folks on the ground told me stories of their lives turned upside-down. I’ve had my share of bad neighbours before, but these fracking companies take the cake. Constant industrial noise from machinery, bright orange flames above flare stacks lighting up the horizon, the smell of poisonous gas prompting abrupt evacuations — and everywhere residents are afraid to speak out.

Long-term effects are even more worrisome. Little research has been done on the cumulative health impacts of fracking in the region, but doctors report bizarre incidences of rare cancers and scarring of the lungs with no clear cause. One community health researcher found evidence of benzene contamination in people. Benzene, a known carcinogen, was found to be 3.5 times higher in pregnant women who lived close to fracking sites and six times higher if those women were Indigenous.

OPINION: Three LNG projects in Squamish and Kitimat would require over 13000 new fracking wells over the next 30 years between them. But we know the only path to limiting global warming to safe levels is zero-carbon renewable energy, not fracked gas

Earlier this spring, drought conditions linked to warming temperatures forced the BC Oil and Gas Commission to suspend water withdrawals for fracking companies in the northeast. These operations use an astonishing 550,000 water trucks worth of the dwindling resource each year. Much of that water eventually ends up deep underground, leaving local wetlands and rivers running dry and the land parched.

While the industry is already suffering from climate change, it continues to make the problem worse. Methane leaks from fracking operations are the key contributor to an alarming spike in levels of the highly potent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. And all it takes is one look at the mammoth flare stacks dotting the horizon in the Peace region to see for yourself the damage fracking does to the climate. MORE

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Pipeline fight is not over, and Canadians everywhere have a stake


A shot of Fort McMurray, Alberta in 2012. Photo by Kris Krüg from Flickr

The Trudeau government and the petrobloc (the fossil fuel industries and their political, financial and media allies) would like you to believe that the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline (TMX), intended to triple the flow of diluted bitumen from the Athabasca Sands to the port of Vancouver, is a done deal.

But the latest approval of TMX by the Trudeau government and the industry-friendly National Energy Board does not settle the issue.

There are significant legal challenges from six major First Nations whose territories include much of the proposed pipeline route through B.C. Ecojustice is litigating in the Federal Court of Appeal to defend the critically endangered southern resident orcas. The B.C. government is taking its case for jurisdiction over the transport of diluted bitumen within B.C. to the Supreme Court.

The Indigenous-led, grassroots place-based resistance that encouraged the Texas-based multinational Kinder Morgan (founded by two former Enron executives) to walk away from the project, is re-emerging, after the construction delay imposed by the Federal Court of Appeal in August 2018.

And the federal election in October could give the balance of power to two parties – Greens and New Democrats – which are opposed to the pipeline.

Now, a new front has opened up: a national campaign to halt fossil fuel subsidies on which projects like TMX depend.

B.C. residents in the sacrifice zones of the pipeline project know of its local, regional and global environmental risks, from tank farm fires, pipeline rupture, oil tanker spills and orca deaths, to intensified planetary heating. These concerns didn’t always resonate with Canadians elsewhere, facing economic insecurity and public service cutbacks.

But the federal government’s 2018 purchase of the pipeline has added an enormous new risk to Canadian taxpayers. While the petrobloc touts TMX as a route to economic prosperity, taxpayers may see more pain than gain.

Buying the pipeline alone cost taxpayers $4.4 billion, far more than analysts said it was worth, with a further nine to 12 billion dollars needed for expanding its capacity, locking Canada further into planet-heating infrastructure while creating far fewer permanent jobs than investment in renewable energy.

Independent analysts like Andrew Nikiforuk and J. David Hughes argue that optimistic pro-pipeline estimates of Asian demand for Canadian bitumen downplay such factors as escalating construction costs, the completion of two other pipelines by 2022, high transportation costs, alternative supply sources and lower-quality product.

“Trans Mountain has been losing money since Ottawa overpaid for it, leaving taxpayers on the hook,” economist Robyn Allan told me. “Revenues from tolls on the existing line are insufficient to cover all the interest expense or any of the principal amount the government borrowed to finance the acquisition of the 66-year-old pipeline. Billions more in taxpayer-funded subsidies will be required to finance the expansion since shipper tolls will not cover the cost of building it.” MORE

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Want to invest in Canada’s clean economy? Good luck


A solar project by iSolara at Maurice-Lapointe school in the Kanata area of Ottawa in August 2017. Photo by Alex Tétreault

As of last year, close to one thousand institutions with three per cent of global savings under management have engaged in some form of divestment from fossil fuels.

In June 2019, Norway’s parliament unanimously voted in favour of directing its $1.06 trillion Government Pension Global Fund (GPGF), the Norges Bank, to divest more than $13 billion from fossil fuels while dedicating more investments to clean technologies.

The caveat is that this will apply only to companies that are exclusively in the business of upstream oil and gas production and some coal sector investments. The GPGF is Norway’s sovereign fund derived from oil industry revenues to assure Norway has a steady source of revenues in the post-oil world.

Shell has expressed concern that the growing fossil fuel divestment movement could impact on the company’s performance.

Here in Canada, Export Development Canada has issued more than $2 billion in Green Bonds in the last half decade, however this option is only available to institutional investors. The Business Development Bank has a minimalist allotment in Budget 2017 through to fiscal year 2021-22 for clean technologies without opportunities to Canadian citizens to enhance the BDC clean tech activity.

Should a Canadian citizen want to make investments which exclude the fossil fuel sector or divest from fossil fuels, and is inclined to give priority for Canadian companies, they appear to be out of luck.

The problem is that, although there are a wide variety of socially responsible investing (SRI) and environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria funds in Canada, hardly any of these funds offer such a choice. And the options for priority for Canadian assets in this category are only slightly above zero.

A glance at the top ten investments of each SRI and ESG fund portfolio illustrates the problem. Typically, the portfolios of these funds include investments in one or more other financial institutions. This means that while one is investing in an “ethical fund” the third-party investors among the top holdings of a given portfolio are free to invest your money in anything they want, contrary to the good intentions of a purchaser of this stake in the fund.

To illustrate, should one want to give priority to placing one’s “ethical” money in Canada, there is the IA Clarington Inhance Canadian Equity SRI Class. The top 10 holdings for this portfolio include RBC; TD Bank; CIBC and the Scotia Bank. All of these banks are among the top 10 banks listed in the US as those that most heavily invest in fossil fuels. RBC tops the list for tar sands development. MORE

The Sad Reality of Liberal Partisans’ Response to Trudeau’s Scandal

‘Vote for us — we’ll screw you over in favour of cronies less often’ is hardly a pro-democracy campaign slogan.COVER.Trudeau-Two.jpg
Justin Trudeau promised a new way of doing politics. But his response to the ethics commissioner’s report on the SNC-Lavalin scandal was sadly familiar. Photo via Justin Trudeau Flickr.

The ethics commissioner’s report into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s abuse of power is depressing on many levels, from the sordid facts to the confirmation of the government’s past dishonesty to Trudeau’s attempt to dodge guilt.

But the saddest thing was the response of Liberal partisans.

The report is a litany of serious wrongdoing. Commissioner Mario Dion found the “authority of the prime minister and his office was used to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the director of public prosecutions as well as the authority of [Jody] Wilson‑Raybould as the Crown’s chief law officer.”

Trudeau and his team were working to advance SNC-Lavalin’s “significant financial interests in deferring prosecution” on bribery and corruption charges. “The evidence showed that private political interests were also put before Ms. Wilson‑Raybould, directly or indirectly, on at least four separate occasions,” the report found. (Which the government had repeatedly and falsely denied.)

And the report also found Trudeau and company continued to push Wilson-Raybould to let SNC-Lavalin avoid prosecution long after she made it clear that the actions were improper.

The findings leave the Liberals’ past denials of wrongdoing in tatters.

Trudeau’s response was the kind of political slipperiness that leaves voters dispirited.

He said Wednesday he accepts the report and takes responsibility “for everything that happened.”

But at the same time he said he disagrees with many of the findings, as if the report of the independent ethics commissioner was some sort of opinion, rather than a careful finding of fact.

And in the next breath Trudeau effectively denied wrongdoing. “I can’t apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs,” he said.

How many jobs? If SNC-Lavalin is convicted, it will be barred from bidding on federal government contracts for 10 years. But the work would go ahead. Other companies would bid, and would hire people to fill the jobs.

The company employs about 8,800 people in Canada. Not all of them work on federal projects. But say one-third of the jobs would be lost — that’s about 2,900 people. (Who still might be hired by the companies that do win the work.)

Some 3,900 workers have lost their jobs in the B.C. forest industry this year. Where is Trudeau’s willingness to stand up for their jobs? MORE

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Environment laws are stalling development in Ontario, study says


A major construction project on the 401 highway in Windsor and Essex County, Ontario. Flickr photo/Di Bédard

Imagine there’s a severe flood in a small Ontario town.

Imagine the flood washes out a key bridge, which serves as a fire and ambulance route.

The town leaders want to replace the bridge but in a different location, so that it’s safe from future weather events. They also want to elevate it, and reinforce the river banks below.

Under Ontario’s current environmental assessment laws, it will be two to four years before the town can even begin construction, said Frank Zechner, a civil engineer in Alberta’s oil and gas sector turned environmental lawyer.

It should take only five to eight months, he said in an interview with National Observer.

Zechner has written a new report that highlights the shortcomings of Ontario’s current Municipal Class Environmental Assessment (MCEA) process, which designates the planning and design of municipal infrastructure projects according to the requirements of the province’s Environmental Assessment Act to ensure that all environmental impacts of a development project are considered, and any effects appropriately mitigated before construction.

Entitled “Case Studies that Support Reforming Ontario’s Municipal Class Environmental Assessment Process,” the report is the sixth in a series commissioned by the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO) — an advocacy group for engineers and construction workers in the province — since 2009.

Zechner investigated 12 infrastructure projects across the province that faced significant delays and additional costs arising from “red tape and duplication.” Nine were road-related projects, two were bridges and one was a sewage water infrastructure project. In 10 cases, the MCEA process took between two and five years. Four of the projects required more than $2 million for consultants and reports; six required more than $500,000. These amounts, Zechner argues in the report, are too high.

 

Five things our next federal government needs to know about what Canadians think about climate change

Image result for Five things our next federal government needs to know about what Canadians think about climate change
Photo via Shutterstock

The numbers are in: poll after poll shows climate change is one of the top issues on Canadians’ minds heading into the federal election this fall.

To get a better picture of Canadian attitudes towards the climate crisis, Ecojustice and Climate Action Network Canada commissioned Environics to conduct an exclusive survey of our own. The results shed light on what Canadians think about the country’s climate progress to date and what type of laws they consider necessary to combat the climate emergency.

We drew on these survey results and other recent polling to come up with five key takeaways any party vying to form the next government should know:

Infographic - Climate polling

1.      Canadians care about climate change. Four in 10 say we’re in an emergency situation. (Abacus Data)

A survey from Abacus Data, released on Aug. 12, shows 82 per cent of Canadians say climate change is a serious problem. Seth Klein, an adjunct professor with Simon Fraser University’s Urban Studies program, commissioned the polling.

When asked to rate the seriousness of five key issues, respondents’ concern about climate change ranked second only to the rising cost of living. Concern about climate change surpassed worries about wealth and income inequality in society, increasing automation of work, and the loss of good paying jobs, and increasing immigration to Canada.

Furthermore, 42 per cent of Canadians told Abacus Data they believe climate change is now an emergency. Another 20 per cent said they feel climate change is not yet an emergency, but will likely be one in the next few years.

2.      Canadians have mixed views about the country’s efforts to date at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (Environics)

Just under half (46 per cent) of Canadians say Canada’s been very or somewhat effective at reducing GHG emissions. A similar percentage (45 per cent) say Canada hasn’t been very effective or has not been effective at all at reducing emissions.

Interestingly, however, the results suggest there is uncertainty across the board when it comes to how Canadians view efforts to tackle climate change.

When asked their views on Canada’s effectiveness to date at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, 72 per cent of Canadians opted for middle categories of “somewhat effective” or “not very effective.”

3.      A majority of Canadians say we need strict emissions targets to address climate change (Environics)

We know that Canadians care about climate change, but Ecojustice and Climate Action Network also wanted to understand what type of solutions people want to see. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, we were particularly interested in solutions grounded in the law.

Our polling suggests the majority of Canadians (61 per cent) think strict emissions reductions targets are necessary if governments are to effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

4.      A majority of Canadians believe that, in order to be effective, emissions reductions targets must be legally-binding, rather than voluntary. (Environics)

Importantly, Environics polling also showed Canadians support making emissions reduction targets mandatory and legally-binding. More than two-thirds of Canadians (66 per cent) told Environics that targets must be enshrined in the law in order to ensure governments take responsibility for meeting them and sticking to their deadlines.

5.      When Canadians head to the polls in October, climate change will be one of the top issues influencing their votes. (Abacus Data)

In March, a total of 69 per cent of respondents said climate change will be in the top five issues they’re voting on, according to a nation-wide Abacus Data survey.

According to the data, concern about climate change was relatively consistent across the country, with only a few provinces standing out as outliers. Concern over climate change was lower than average in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but notably higher in Quebec. MORE

Critics call for new rules for retired judges in wake of SNC-Lavalin affair

Judges judged: Former Justice John Major, left; former Justice Frank Iacobucci, and former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.

OTTAWA—The jury’s out on the judges.

As Justin Trudeau again refused to apologize Thursday after ethics commissioner Mario Dion found the prime minister violated the conflict of interest law by attempting to interfere in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, some critics turned their attention to the role played in the affair by three former Supreme Court of Canada judges.

Dion’s damning report put the blame squarely on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s shoulders for pressuring his former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to cut a deal to allow the Quebec engineering firm to escape criminal conviction.

But the report released Wednesday also shone a harsh light on the conduct of retired justices Frank Iacobucci and John Major and former chief justice Beverley McLachlin, who got involved to differing extents at the company’s behest.

And it has prompted new calls for tougher guidelines for former judges. MORE

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‘This is Our Land’: An Interview with Ellen Gabriel about Ongoing Land Fraud at Kanesatake

Land back is land back.

For the Kanien’kéha:ka (Mohawk) of Kanehsatà:ke, the return of stolen land – fraudulently sold first by a religious order and then by the municipality of Oka, Quebec and the Government of Canada – has been at the heart of their demands for 300 years. Mohawk resistance to the ongoing theft of Kanien’kéha:ka homelands is well-known. Most notably, in the summer of 1990, during the so-called “Oka Crisis,” Mohawks defended a forested area known as the Pines from development. Since then, community members like Ellen Gabriel (Katsi’tsakwas, Turtle Clan) have continued to protect the Pines and call on all levels of settler government – municipal, provincial, and federal – to return the land.

So when news broke in July that a developer was going to gift 60 hectares of land, including the Pines, to the community, many people declared it a win for the Mohawks. The developer – Gregoire Gollin – said that he is making the gift “in the spirit of reconciliation.” What’s more, Gollin has stated that he’s willing to sell an additional 150 hectares of the disputed land to the Government of Canada to then transfer back to the community.

On the surface, this story seems to offer a model for what reconciliation in Canada could look like. Stolen land is being returned.

But the devil is always in the details.

Gollin’s “reconciliation” comes with strings attached. His “gift” to the Mohawk does not actually return the land to the community, and his promises to stop development on disputed land is contingent on the federal government compensating him for land he fraudulently purchased with no guarantee that the land will be returned to the Mohawks.

More information, and a longer view of colonization at Kanehsatà:ke, reveals that Gollin is not unselfishly contributing to reconciliation but is rather continuing accumulation by dispossession. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Ellen Gabriel to shed more light on the situation. MORE

Billionaire Koch brothers dump Canada’s oilsands leases as foreign exodus continues

Once one of the largest landholders in the oilsands, Koch Industries sold off its upstream leases and abandoned licences, Financial Post confirms

CALGARY – Once among the largest landholders in the oilsands, industrial conglomerate Koch Industries Inc. has sold off its upstream leases and abandoned licences in the heavy oil play, joining a stream of foreign companies exiting the bitumen-bearing formation.

Wichita, Kan.-based Koch Industries struck an agreement to sell thousands of hectares of land in the oilsands to Calgary-based Cavalier Energy Inc., a subsidiary of the Riddell family-controlled Paramount Resources Ltd., in a transaction that occurred in June, the Financial Post has confirmed.

Koch, one of the world’s largest private companies owned by American billionaires and Republican donors Charles and David Koch, has also abandoned the licences it did not sell in the transaction with Paramount and has been allowing its leases in the play to expire.

“The majority of Koch Oil Sands licences have been transferred to Paramount Resources Ltd. All of the remaining licences for well sites have been abandoned, which means that they have been permanently sealed and taken out of service,” Alberta Energy Regulator spokesperson Shawn Roth said in an email. MORE

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