‘Beyond disturbing’ that Ford government remained silent for a year on massive sewage spill


Ontario Energy Minister Greg Rickford (left) and Environment Minister Jeff Yurek. Rickford photo by Tijana Martin. Yurek photo by Alex Tétreault

Doug Ford’s Ontario government knew about a massive leak of sewage in Hamilton more than a year ago, and the Opposition NDP wants to know why it didn’t think to tell anyone.

Some 24 billion litres of untreated sewage leaked into waterways in and around the industrial city between early 2014 and July 18, 2018, when it was discovered and reported to the province, the City of Hamilton said Wednesday.

The New Democrats’ Sandy Shaw said it was “beyond disturbing” that the Progressive Conservatives “refused to make (the leak) public” and “refused to step in and help the city with this emergency cleanup.”

“Minister, my constituents would like an answer as to why the ministry did not immediately tell the people of Hamilton when they learned of this incident that posed not only environmental risk but significant risk to human health,” the MPP for the riding of Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas wrote in a letter to Jeff Yurek, the environment minister.

Yurek was not at Queen’s Park due to a loss in the family and the premier deferred to Greg Rickford, the Progressive Conservatives’ energy minister, on the question of when the government first got word of the spill.

“The city reported the discharge to the ministry’s Spills Action Centre on July 18, 2018,” he said during question period at the legislature, adding that soon after the government learned of the leak, it asked the city for an assessment of the damage done and its plan to fix things.

Canada’s National Observer

“Shortly thereafter, the city was ordered to, among other things, to quantify the amount of sewage and what was in the sewage discharged to the creek, evaluate the impacts to the creek, assess the need for remediation and/or mitigation, provide the most effective method, including timelines, and submit that spill report with the cleanup efforts to date,” he said.

Shaw responded with the same question she had for Yurek, now directed at Rickford: why didn’t you tell us then? MORE

B.C. grants $1.2 billion in deep well subsidies to fracking companies in two years: new report

Although the amount of natural gas fracked in the northeast corner of the province has increased by 70 per cent over the last decade, British Columbia is increasingly out of pocket when it comes to collecting on this industry’s resource royalties, according to newly released data

Fracking Farmington B.C.
Fracking operations near Farmington. B.C. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

As deep well credits are used to reduce the amount of royalties companies pay to the province when the production process has ended, that means B.C. is increasingly out of pocket even though the amount of gas produced in B.C. has risen more than 70 per cent over the last decade.

The total in the deep well credit account now amounts to $2.2 billion.

Last year, natural gas royalties flowing into the provincial treasury amounted to $102 million compared to $1.3 billion a decade earlier and, although the decline is partially due to falling market prices for gas, the deep well credits are partially responsible for the shrinking revenues, says Ben Parfitt, CCPA resource policy analyst.

“And, with a combined $2.62 billion in credits sitting in the credit account, thanks to the credit program’s 17-year duration, those anemic revenues will be a fixture for years to come,” Parfitt, who is also a contributor to The Narwhal, said.

Oil and Gas Development. Farmington Area.Gas development near Farmington, B.C. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

“That’s a huge sum of money and it’s getting bigger each year. It’s high time the province explained why such subsidies are necessary or, if they are not, why they continue,” he said.

The ongoing loss of revenue means less available funds for healthcare, education and other public services, said Parfitt, who spearheaded a battle to force the provincial government to release the data, which was being kept a closely guarded secret.

From grain country to gas land

Deep well credit data withheld for two years

The CCPA made a Freedom of Information request for the figures two years ago, but the Finance Ministry fought release of the documents claiming that the information could not be made public because it constituted sensitive tax information.

That argument was successfully appealed by the CCPA, but last year, the government argued that publicizing such figures would harm the interests of “third parties.”

That was also successfully challenged by the CCPA and — finally — the figures were released.

The figures show that 26 companies received credits and the top three recipients last year, receiving almost half the credits, were the Cutbank consortium, led by Encana, Painted Petroleum and Tourmaline Oil. Between 2005 and 2017 Encana donated $1.2 million to the provincial Liberals and $113,000 to the NDP.

Also on the list of recipients is Petronas Energy Canada Ltd., one of the principal partners in the planned LNG Canada export facility at Kitimat, which is also benefittng from discounted electricity prices, exemptions from carbon tax increases, corporate income tax breaks and deferral of provincial sales tax on construction.

6 awkward realities behind B.C.’s big LNG giveaway

“If you see a pattern here, you are not alone,” Parfitt said.

Continuing the secrecy trend, the Finance Ministry is now fighting CCPA efforts to obtain figures on what each of the companies receiving credits pays the government in royalty fees. The ministry is again claiming the information would be harmful to undisclosed third-party interests, Parfitt said.

“We think it is shocking that we have to appeal such a decision to the Office of Freedom of Information and Privacy,” Parfitt said.

“Royalty payments are a form of rent and are made in recognition that resources like natural gas belong to the people of B.C. There is no reasonable justification for withholding such basic information,” he said.

‘Resources practically given away’

The aim in obtaining the information is to allow the public, for the first time, to compare credits to revenues and ask some necessary questions, Parfitt said.

“Is the government lowering royalty fees and effectively propping up fossil fuel extraction that would otherwise be unprofitable and, if so, at what cost?” Parfitt asked.

Pipeline construction near Farmington

A gas pipeline is laid across farmer Rod Strasky’s land in Farmington, B.C. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

The obvious comparison, Parfitt points out, is that, for decades, the public has had access to details of what logging companies pay the provincial government for trees cut on private lands.

“If the dollars paid by Canfor for the trees it logs are part of the public record, then the dollars that Encana pays for the natural gas it extracts from the ground should be part of the public record too,” he said.

“By withholding such information, the public is quite naturally left with the impression that its resources are practically being given away to private business interests with the government’s active and very generous support.”

The deep well credit program, which started in 2003, was initially supposed to cover some of the costs fossil fuel companies incurred when drilling deep or horizontal wells, but such practices are now common, meaning most companies are eligible for the credits.

The subsidies have also raised the ire of Green Party of B.C. leader Andrew Weaver who, speaking in the legislature earlier this year, said that, since the program started in 2003, the program has reduced existing and future royalty liability by nearly $6 billion.

“Why is there not a standard public disclosure of these credits and royalties that are received,” he asked in the House. “There is, for example, for stumpage fees in the province, under the harvest billing system. Why are we not making public the royalty credits that are being claimed here?”

 Weaver, in his blog, said the B.C. Greens are deeply troubled “by the generational sellout embodied in B.C. NDP corporate welfare aimed at trying to attract LNG to B.C.” SOURCE

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Alberta now says energy war room not subject to freedom of information laws as a private corporation

The Alberta government now says that Minister of Energy Sonya Savage misspoke Wednesday, when she told reporters that the government’s new Canadian Energy Centre, set up to combat what the government sees as misinformation about the energy industry, would be subject to freedom of information laws.

EDMONTON—The Alberta government’s new war room, recently named the Canadian Energy Centre (CEC), will be a private entity owned by the province and not subject to freedom of information laws after all, a spokesperson clarified Thursday.

In a press conference the day before, Minister of Energy Sonya Savage told reporters that the body would be open to requests under Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP).

FOIP allows journalists and members of the public to ask for documents, specific communications and certain other information about public bodies or organizations.

However, Christine Myatt, press secretary to the premier, sent a statement to reporters Thursday saying that the minister “was not sufficiently clear regarding FOIP legislation’s applicability to the CEC.”

“The CEC’s internal operations are not subject to FOIP, as this would provide a tactical and/or strategic advantage to the very foreign-funded special interests the CEC is looking to counter,” wrote Myatt. “For example, we would not let those foreign-funded special interests seeking to attack our province see our detailed defence plans.”

During the election campaign, and up until recently, the centre has been known as the “Energy War Room” — mandated with combating what the Alberta government sees as misinformation about the oil and gas industry in social and traditional media. The Alberta government accepts the controversial theory that a foreign funded campaign of misinformation has been deployed in Canada specifically to landlock Alberta oil — hamstringing the economy.

Critics suggest it is the stuff of conspiracy theories and the Opposition NDP say the war room doesn’t do anything to help get Albertans back to work. MORE

How Canada made the Koch brothers rich

Author’s note: Until this past February, I worked as a contracted television producer for Global TV and its current affairs program,16×9. Last fall, I was commissioned to do a story for the program about the Koch brothers, their holdings in Alberta’s oil sands and their interest in getting the Keystone XL pipeline built. In January, two days before the 22-minute documentary was about to air on16×9, Global’s senior management pulled the story. After Jesse Brown’s Canadaland published a story about its sudden disappearance, Global fired me, although I was not quoted in that story or had any involvement with it. What you’re about to read includes some of the material that has not yet been permitted to be shown on Global.

The attacks were nasty.

In the winter of 2011, Karen Kleiss, a reporter with the Edmonton Journal, wrote a story about how Koch Industries Inc. had hired a lobbyist in Alberta. The story provided background on the Wichita, Kansas-based energy conglomerate, its presence in Alberta, and its American billionaire owners, Charles and David Koch.

Kleiss reported at the time that no one from Koch Industries addressed her questions. Nevertheless, after her story appeared, Koch Industries went on the offensive. On their website, kochfacts.com – and in vivid red type – they lashed out at Kleiss’s article, claiming it was “slanted,” that it “parroted partisan political rhetoric and other distortions” and that its coverage of the Koch brothers registering a lobbyist in Alberta was a “purported story.” The Koch Industries representative summed up by saying:

“There is a place for opinion on the op-ed pages, on blogs, and on Twitter. It does not belong on the news pages of an objective journal.”

What the paragraph-by-paragraph rebuttal did not dispute was Kleiss’s assertion that Koch industries is “an American energy conglomerate owned by two powerful billionaire brothers who help fund the Tea Party and climate change denial movements in the U.S.”

The attack was so strong that Lucinda Chodan, editor-in-chief of the Journal at the time, felt compelled to write a lengthy response to Koch defending her reporter’s work. The company replied by taking further potshots at the newspaper and at Kleiss’s judgment.

Around the same time, a similar scenario was playing out after Reuters ran a story entitled “Koch Brothers Positioned To Be Big Winners If Keystone XL Pipeline Is Approved,” that also detailed Koch’s holdings in Canada. It discussed how the Koch brothers would benefit if the Keystone XL pipeline was built.

Written by David Sassoon, a journalist who runs InsideClimate News— a Brooklyn, NY-based, Pulitzer prize-winning website that covers climate change issues— the Reuters piece eventually elicited a ferocious response from Koch’s PR department. The company accused Sassoon of publishing “falsehoods” and of being an “environmental activist,” and Reuters of printing “advocacy journalism.”

Koch Industries even took out ads via Facebook and Google with a photo of Sassoon under the headline “David Sassoon’s Deceptions.”

Once again, a Reuters editor had to intervene with a lengthy letter to Koch defending their use of Sassoon’s reporting. These attacks went on for some months. Today, Kleiss and Sassoon refuse to discuss these events.

But at that time Koch Industries’ campaigns against the media were not unusual. Their website, KochFacts, criticized reporting in The New York TimesThe New YorkerMother JonesForbes.comThe Washington Post and Bloomberg’s Markets Magazine.

By 2011, the Koch brothers – currently the sixth richest people in the world, with US$42.3-billion apiece – were attracting attention because of their efforts at influencing the US political system, helping foster the Tea Party movement, and attacking attempts to curb climate change. They were also emerging as political kingmakers: two weeks ago, the brothers were in the news for endorsing Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, as their choice for the Republican presidential nominee (Walker is well-known for his attacks on labour rights in his state).

 Tax records show that since 2007 the Fraser Institute, one of Canada’s oldest conservative think tanks, has pocketed a total of US$765,000 from one of Charles Koch’s foundations.

Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the US, has become infamous for playing hardball.

Yet the broadsides on articles linking the Koch brothers to Canada might have had another purpose: to direct prying eyes away from their company’s history in this country. After all, few people know how Canada and its oil riches have been central to creating their vast fortune.

And what a fortune it is: today, Koch Industries is a global behemoth with annual sales of US$115-billion and a presence in 60 countries and employing more than 100,000 people worldwide. It has invested US$70-billion in capital expenditures over the past 12 years. They produce a wide range of products, and not only from the 750,000 barrels of oil they process every day: fertilizers, drywall, windowpanes, carpets, Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, chemicals, and fibre optics.

As it turns out, Koch Industries also controls anywhere from 1.1 million to as much as two million acres of Alberta’s oil sands – or the equivalent of around 4,500 square kilometers – thereby guaranteeing the company’s prosperity for decades to come. The value of their oil sands holdings is in the tens of billions of dollars. MORE

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Major global firms accused of concealing their environmental impact

More than 700 companies, including Amazon, Tesco and ExxonMobil, lack transparency, campaign group claims


ExxonMobil is accused of failing to reveal the full extent of their impact on the climate crisis. Photograph: STAFF/Reuters

A $10tn (£7.9tn) investor alliance has accused more than 700 companies, including Amazon, Tesco and ExxonMobil, of failing to reveal the full extent of their impact on the climate crisis, water shortages and deforestation.

The major global companies, with a combined worth ofmore than $15tn, lack transparency over their effect on the environment, according to the intervention by some of the world’s biggest financial names.

Campaign platform CDP has brought together a record number of investors, including banking giants HSBC and Investec, to demand companies reveal data on the environmental cost of how they do business.

The group said it was targeting 707 companies because of their “high environmental impact and lack of transparency” to date. The list includes the world’s largest fossil fuel companies such as BP and ExxonMobil as well as palm oil giant Genting Plantations and UK high street brands including Tesco, Ocado, WH Smith, Marks & Spencer and JD Wetherspoon.

The CDP said 546 companies were being targeted to disclose information on the climate crisis, 166 on water security and 115 on deforestation. More than 7,000 companies already disclose their environmental impact through the CDP platform.

The US is home to the highest number of companies named in the campaign, accounting for a fifth of the list, followed by Australia at 16%. UK companies make up 3.5% of the companies named and include constituents of the FTSE 100.

Many of the companies on the list report on their environmental impact in their own sustainability reports but the CDP claims this is insufficient because their reports do not use standardised data. This makes it difficult to compare company performances on the environment, according to CDP. MORE

The secretive role of SNC-Lavalin in the Site C dam

SiteCAerial2.jpg
Site C dam costs likely over $10 billion, completion date in doubt. Photo by Bob Fedderly.

The embattled company is reaping millions in public money from no-bid contracts for British Columbia’s third hydro dam on the Peace River — a project that is already billions of dollars over budget

SNC-Lavalin has received approximately $120 million in direct award Site C dam contracts, obscuring the embattled engineering firm’s role in building the largest publicly funded infrastructure project in B.C.’s history.

For one contract, SNC-Lavalin provided BC Hydro with a “shadow estimate” — number-crunching to confirm BC Hydro’s figure — for its forecasted $8.335 billion price tag for the dam, The Narwhal found after reviewing Site C documents.

The estimate proved to be wildly wrong, missing the mark by $2 billion.

But that hasn’t stopped SNC-Lavalin — which has been banned from World Bank infrastructure contracts for 10 years following allegations of bribery schemes in Bangladesh — from reaping years of no-bid work on the Site C dam for engineering design services.

Direct award contracts allow BC Hydro and other public bodies to decide which companies or consultants get contracts, instead of going through a more transparent and competitive tender process.

On Wednesday, a Quebec judge ruled that SNC-Lavalin must stand trial on charges of fraud and corruption for allegedly paying $47.7 million in bribes to public officials in Libya between 2001 and 2011. The RCMP has also charged SNC-Lavalin, its construction division and a subsidiary with one charge each of fraud and corruption for allegedly swindling almost $130 million from various Libyan organizations.

SNC-Lavalin also grossly underestimated cost of Muskrat Falls dam

SNC-Lavalin also played a major role in the cost estimate for the hugely over-budget Muskrat Falls dam on the lower Churchill River in Labrador, now the subject of a two-year inquiry to determine why the project proceeded. MORE

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‘You disappointed us’: Why is Canada opposing more transparency in drug prices?

Why was the Trudeau government fighting the international effort to force drug companies to commit to transparency about R&D costs, information that  is needed to evaluate what is a reasonable price for drugs?  If you believe something doesn’t smell right, you are justified.

Pharma industry says high prices are necessary to cover costs. Some nations want to see the data


Delegates to the World Health Assembly are expected to consider a transparency resolution demanding the pharmaceutical industry release confidential data about the costs of R&D, the outcomes of clinical trials and the actual prices that countries pay for drugs after secret negotiations and rebates. (L. Cipriani/WHO)

Behind closed doors at the World Health Assembly (WHA) meeting in Geneva this week, health officials from around the world began hammering at the black box of secrecy surrounding the pharmaceutical industry.

As the debate in the room heated up, observers were surprised that Canada was among the countries that seemed to be trying to weaken that effort.

The fact that transparency is even on the agenda for government health officials at the WHA is evidence of the mounting international frustration over high drug prices. The meeting sets priorities for the World Health Organization (WHO), which is already grappling with the global impact of drug prices on public health.

The WHA’s transparency resolution would demand unprecedented disclosure by drug companies about how much they spend on R&D, including the cost of clinical trials.

The resolution would also call for a system for countries to compare the true prices they pay for individual drugs. Right now, no country knows what another country is paying for the same drug. That’s because companies hold secret negotiations with individual governments, forcing officials to sign non-disclosure agreements preventing them from revealing any price discounts that they were able to negotiate.

But battle lines quickly appeared in the meeting room, with Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and several other countries, including Canada, proposing changes to the wording that would soften the resolution and protect industry secrecy.

“You disappointed us this week, Canada,” Love told CBC News. “You guys are supposed to be the good guys, right?”

Love described several examples where Canada requested changes that softened the resolution. MORE

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