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Nova Scotia’s Dirty Secret: The Tale of a Toxic Mill and The Book Its Owners Don't Want You to Read

By Jimmy Thomson - DeSmog.Ca, February 9, 2017

Lighthouse Beach, a white sand crescent on the north coast of Nova Scotia, was once considered the jewel of the region. People would flock there from New Glasgow and Pictou on summer weekends, visiting the lobster bar and swimming in the clear waters of the Northumberland Strait.

There had been plans for a twice-daily train that would carry visitors between the seaside, a hotel and a local yacht club. Dreams began of a destination national park. But all of these plans were choked off by the introduction of a giant pulp and paper mill in 1967 that literally transformed a large part of Pictou Landing into a toxic dump.

You can smell it usually before you can see it: clouds of sulphur belching from the Abercrombie Point Pulp and Paper Mill smokestacks. For decades, the plant pumped contaminated water into the strait, using Boat Harbour, once an idyllic tidal lagoon used for fishing and clam digging, as a settling pond for highly toxic effluent.

It was also once my family’s home.

My family settled over 200 years ago in this piece of Mi’kmaq First Nation territory, eventually transferring their own property into government care for — as they were told — protection for future generations.

Waves now roll in on Lighthouse Beach dark brown and foamy, the colour of Guinness, where I — like so many other kids in the area — learned to swim and sail.

The story of Pictou Landing is one of desperation, of corruption and incompetence. So perhaps it’s no surprise that when Canadian journalist and anthropologist Joan Baxter tried to tell it, old forces of power moved in to silence her. The mill’s owners tried to banish Baxter and her book The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest from local bookstores.

Of course, that backfired in spectacular fashion: The Mill sold out two printings and became the best-selling book in Nova Scotia Chapters and Coles book stores the month it was released.

I reached Baxter at her home in Nova Scotia to talk about The Mill, the stories that were told to hide industry’s impacts from locals and the fight against years of environmental racism and degradation still plaguing the region to this day.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How Canadian universities can confront climate change: moving from greenwashing to action

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 6, 2018

Confronting Climate Change on Campus  is a newly-released guide by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT/ACPPU), in response to growing awareness and concern amongst the professors and researchers who are members. It presents a three-step plan of practical action to be followed by academic staff associations and researchers across Canada:  To reduce the carbon footprint of campuses by improving building energy conservation and promoting low-carbon transportation;  to expand course offerings dedicated to climate change, and to encourage climate change research through grants and awards; and to advocate for the creation of association or institutional environment committees, or work with established committees, such as collective bargaining or workplace joint health and safety committees, to push climate change concerns.  The French version of the guide is here .

The growing awareness and concern amongst academics can be partly explained by the research efforts of the Sustainability and Education Policy Network (SEPN) at the University of Saskatchewan, which CAUT has highlighted, most recently  in  “The Politics of Climate Change” in the CAUT  Bulletin (June 2017).  The article summarizes results of a survey of Canadian colleges and universities by researchers at SEPN, and calls for exactly the kinds of actions addressed in the new CAUT guide.  The scholarly article on which the CAUT Bulletin article is based is “Climate Change and the Canadian Higher Education System: An Institutional Policy Analysis” , which  appeared in the Canadian Journal of Higher Education in June  2017.  The key findings are: “less than half (44 per cent) have climate change-specific policies in place; those policies focus most often upon the built-campus environment with “underdeveloped secondary responses” to research, curriculum, community outreach and governance policies; and the “overwhelming” response of modifying infrastructure and curbing energy consumption and pollution, while important, risks masking deeper social and cultural dynamics which require addressing.”   A 2-page summary is here ; an infographic is here.

Other relevant SEPN publications include “The State of Fossil Fuel Divestment in Canadian Post-secondary Institutions” (2016) ; “50 Shades of Green: An Examination of Sustainability Policy on Canadian Campuses” (2015) , and the related Research Brief Greenwashing in Education: How Neoliberalism and Policy Mobility May Undermine Environmental Sustainability  (2014),  and “Greening the Ivory Tower: A Review of Educational Research on Sustainability in Post-secondary Education” , which appeared in the journal  Sustainability in 2013.

And elsewhere in the world:  According to The Guardian, on February 5, the University of Edinburgh , which divested from coal and tar sands investments in 2015, announced that it will sell its final £6.3m of fossil fuel holdings.  Edinburgh has a  £1bn endowment fund,  (exceeded in the U.K. only by Cambridge and Oxford). Signalling the change to a more climate-friendly investment strategy, Edinburgh has invested £150m in low carbon technology, climate-related research,  and businesses that directly benefit the environment.

Site C Dam Decision Causes Friction Within NDP Ranks Ahead of Provincial Council Meeting

By Sarah Cox - DeSmog Canada, February 2, 2018

When B.C. cabinet members arrive at the NDP’s provincial council meeting tomorrow in New Westminster, they will face a group of “very concerned” delegates and party members who are urging the government to reconsider its decision to proceed with the Site C dam.

We’re not going to let this rest,” said Jef Keighley, vice-president of the Surrey South NDP constituency association. “The NDP campaigned on the whole concept of transparency so let’s be transparent.”

Keighley is one of 400 people — the majority of them NDP members and supporters — who attended a Site C Summit in Victoria last weekend aimed at making the government accountable for its decision to continue with Site C and outlining an action plan to stop the $10.7 billion project on the Peace River.

We believe the NDP cabinet was misled in its ill-considered decision to proceed with Site C,” states a letter from summit participants to NDP provincial council delegates and observers, a copy of which was provided to DeSmog Canada.

A reconsideration and reversal of that decision, sooner rather than later, is critical to the long-term interest of the people of B.C.”

The letter says it is “imperative” that the provincial council agenda be amended to include a discussion on Site C. The main items on the agenda are currently the upcoming provincial budget and proportional representation.  

The council, which meets four times a year, is the governing body of the NDP between conventions, with input on issues from cabinet and the NDP’s provincial office. Constituency associations around the province elect voting delegates to the council.

Alberta is Losing Out on Millions in Natural Gas Revenue. Here's Why

By James Wilt - DeSmog Canada, January 25, 2018

Alberta oil and gas companies are wasting so much natural gas each year that Albertans are losing out on up to $21 million a year in provincial natural gas royalties.

Oil and gas companies let an estimated $253 million worth of natural gas escape through undetected leaks and the practice of venting annually.

According to Progress Alberta, a progressive advocacy group, the lost royalties could pay for five new schools, 84 new playgrounds or 36 new nurses.

This is a valuable resource that Albertans own and it’s money that should be going to things Albertans want and need that’s just being lost to the atmosphere forever,” said Duncan Kinney, executive director of Progress Alberta, in an interview with DeSmog Canada.

In addition to the lost royalties, the potent greenhouse house is leaked into the atmosphere without paying the province’s $30/tonne carbon levy, which results in a further loss of up to $1.4 billion in revenue, according to a new analysis by the Pembina Institute. When that carbon price increases to $50/tonne, as Premier Rachel Notley has indicated it will, those lost revenues rocket to $2.25 billion.

So why is this valuable resource disappearing into thin air?

Alberta underestimating methane leakage by 25 to 50 per cent

Reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is considered to be one of the easiest ways to quickly reduce emissions. Methane has 34 times the “global warming potential” as carbon dioxide over a century.

And Alberta’s oil and sector emits a lot of it, with 31.4 megatonnes of methane entering the atmosphere in 2014 — although a recent study by Carleton University suggestedthe province is underestimating pollution by between 25 and 50 per cent, meaning annual emissions are more likely around the 45 megatonnes per year mark (which is about how much we thought all of Canada was emitting in 2016).

Fouty-five megatonnes a year is the greenhouse gas equivalent to 240,899 vehicles on the road.

Oil and gas companies have resisted changes that would require them to limit the leaking and venting of natural gas, arguing that it would result in job losses.

However, the federal government has committed to reducing methane emissions by 45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025. Those reductions can be achieved through things like limiting the intentional “venting” of methane, using optical gas imaging cameras to detect unintentional leaks and installing flares to combust methane into carbon dioxide.

Federal draft regulations were released in May 2017, and proposed delaying full implementation of new rules by three years to 2023, instead of 2020. It was expected that Alberta would release its own version of regulations in November.

Industry  won a major concession from government in not having to pay any carbon tax on fuel used in the production of conventional oil and gas until 2023, including vented and flared gas.

The delay of action on reducing methane emissions ultimately impacts the entire country.

What Alberta does will really make or break the ability to meet that [methane] target at the end of the day,” said Andrew Read, senior analyst with the Pembina Institute and report author.

Canada needs a mix of reactive and proactive Just Transition policies across the country

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 26, 2018

Making Decarbonization Work for Workers: Policies for a just transition to a zero-carbon economy”  was released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on January 25th.  In light of  the federal government’s pledge to launch a Task Force on Just Transition in 2018, this report makes a unique contribution by using census data to identify the regions in each province with the greatest reliance on fossil fuel jobs. While fossil fuel dependence is overwhelmingly concentrated in Alberta, with a few “hot spots” in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, the report identifies communities from other provinces where fossil fuel jobs represent a significant part of the local economy – for example, Bay Roberts, Newfoundland; Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; Saint John, New Brunswick; Sarnia, Ontario.  The report also makes the useful distinction between “reactive”  just transition policies, which are intended to minimize the harm to workers of decarbonization, and “pro-active” just transition policies, which are intended to maximize the benefits.   The author argues that, if the broad goal of a just transition is to ensure an equitable, productive outcome for all workers in the zero-carbon economy, a mix of reactive and proactive elements is necessary. Thus,  a national just transition strategy is required for fossil fuel-dependent communities, but workers in any industry facing job loss and retraining costs will also need support from enhanced social security programs.  In addition, governments must invest in workforce development programs to ensure there are enough skilled workers to fill the new jobs which will be created by the zero-carbon economy.

Making Decarbonization Work for Workers is  a co-publication by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change research program . The author is  CCPA researcher Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood.

Canada, the World Bank and International Confederation of Trade Unions announce a partnership to promote Just Transition in the phase-out of coal-fired electricity

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 13, 2017

Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister is back on the  international stage at the One Planet Summit in Paris, which is focusing on climate change financing – notably phasing out  fossil fuel subsidies, and aid to developing countries.  In a press release on December 12,  Canada announced a partnership with the World Bank Group to accelerate the transition from coal-fired electricity to clean sources in developing countries, stating: “This work also includes sharing best practices on how to ensure a just transition for displaced workers and their communities to minimize hardships and help workers and communities benefit from new clean growth opportunities. The transition to a low-carbon economy should be inclusive, progressive and good for business. We will work together with the International Trade Union Confederation in this regard.”   The World Bank Group announcement was briefer : “Canada and the World Bank will work together to accelerate the energy transition in developing countries and, together with the International Trade Union Confederation, will provide analysis to support efforts towards a just transition away from coal.”  The ITUC Just Transition Centre hadn’t posted any announcement as of December 13.

Other Canadian partnerships announced in a general press release: a Canada-France Climate Partnership to promote the implementation of the Paris Agreement through  carbon pricing, coal phase-out, sustainable development and emission reductions in the marine and aviation sectors; Canada was selected as one of five countries for a new partnership with the Breakthrough Energy Coalition led by Bill Gates; and Canada , along with five Canadian provinces, two U.S. states, and Mexico, Costa Rica and Chile, signed on to the Declaration on Carbon Markets in the Americas, to strengthen  international and regional cooperation on carbon pricing.

The World Bank, one of the organizers of the One Planet Summit, made numerous other announcements – including that it will no longer finance upstream oil and gas developments after 2019, and as of 2018, it  will report greenhouse gas emissions from the investment projects it finances in key emissions-producing sectors, such as energy. Such moves may be seen as a response to the demands of the Big Shift Global campaign of Oil Change International, which  released a new briefing called “The Dirty Dozen: How Public Finance Drives the Climate Crisis through Oil, Gas, and Coal Expansion  on the eve of the One Planet Summit.  Over 200 civil society groups also issued an Open Letter   calling on G20 governments and multilateral development banks to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and public finance for fossil fuels as soon as possible, and no later than 2020.  Signatories include Oil Change International, Les Amis de la Terre – Friends of the Earth France, Christian Aid, Greenpeace, Reseau Action Climat – Climate Action Network France, WWF International, BankTrack, Climate Action Network International, Global Witness, 350.org, Germanwatch, Natural Resources Defense Council, CIDSE, and the Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development.

In Canada, Environmental Defence is collecting signatures in a campaign to stop fossil fuel subsidies , stating  “ Together, federal and provincial governments hand out $3.3 billion in subsidies every year for oil and gas exploration and development. In 2016, Export Development Canada, a crown corporation, spent an additional $12 billion in public money to finance fossil fuel projects.”

First year progress report on the Pan-Canadian Framework lacks any mention of Just Transition

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 12, 2017

On December 9th, the Governments of Canada and British Columbia jointly announced the first annual progress report on the implementation of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change – officially titled,  the First Annual Synthesis Report on the Status of Implementation – December 2017 (English version)  and Premier rapport annuel du cadre pancanadien sur la croissance propre et les changements climatiques (French version).     The report summarizes the year’s policy developments at the federal and provincial/territorial  level – under the headings pricing carbon pollution ; complementary actions to reduce emissions;  adaptation and climate change resilience ; clean technology, innovation and jobs; reporting and oversight; and looking ahead.  It is striking that the report is up to date enough to include mention of the Saskatchewan climate change strategy, released on December 4, as well as the Powering Past Coal global alliance launched by Canada and Great Britain in November at the Bonn climate talks – yet in the section on “Looking Ahead”, there is no mention of another important outcome of the Bonn talks: a Just Transition Task Force in Canada.  As reported by the Canadian Labour Congress in “Unions applaud Canada’s commitment to a just transition for coal workers”,  “Minister McKenna also announced her government’s intention to work directly with the Canadian Labour Congress to launch a task force that will develop a national framework on Just Transition for workers affected by the coal phase-out. The work of this task force is slated to begin early in the new year.”  No  mention of that, nor in fact, any use of the term “Just Transition” anywhere in the government’s progress report.

Environment Canada touts ‘good progress’ on climate after scathing audit” appeared in the National Oberserver (Dec. 11), summarizing some of the progress report highlights and pointing out that not everyone agrees with the government’s self-assessment that “While good progress has been made to date, much work remains”. Recent criticism has come from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development in her October report ; from Marc Lee at the Canadian Centre for Policy Analysis in “Canada is still a rogue state on climate change”  (Dec.11) ; and from the Pembina Institute in  State of the Framework: Tracking implementation of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change .  The Pembina Institute report calls on the federal government to speed up on all policy fronts, with specific recommendations including: “extend the pan-Canadian carbon price up to $130 per tonne of pollution by 2030, implement Canada-wide zero emission vehicle legislation, ban the sale of internal combustion engines, and establish long-term energy efficiency targets.”

National Farmers Union joins#MyActionsMatter campaign against Gender Based Violence

By Coral Sproule, Katie Ward, and Toby Malloy - La Via Campesina, December 5, 2017

The National Farmers Union (NFU) is participating in 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The campaign started on November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and continues until International Human Rights Day on December 10.

“We stand in solidarity with our global counterparts and add our voices to those of peasant farmers in our sister organizations in La Via Campesina,” said Coral Sproule, NFU President. “In Canada on December 6th, we recognize the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women and remember the 13 engineering students and one worker who were murdered by an act of gender-based violence at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal in 1989. We would also like to stand in solidarity at the many vigils that will take place this night in communities across Canada. We wish to acknowledge the disproportionate number of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and also of incidents involving members of the LGBTQ2 community.”

“Recently we have been hearing many stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment, as people are now more willing to come forward and speak about an issue that has far too long been silenced,” said Katie Ward, NFU Women’s President. “We add our voices to those who denounce any and all forms of gender based violence. We have seen a surge of stories that many of us know are all too common — of workplace, household, and everyday incidents of discrimination, harassment and violence against someone based on their gender (biological gender and gender identity or expression).”

“In particular, the rural communities where many of our members reside lack resources to support persons affected by gender based violence,” added Toby Malloy, NFU Women’s Advisory representative in Alberta. “We hope to work with our communities to increase both the awareness and resources needed to bring about positive change for everyone affected by any sort of violence or discrimination in rural Canada.”

“The National Farmers Union has taken concrete steps within the organization by adopting a comprehensive Harassment Policy along with a Code of Conduct and a Safe Spaces policy for our meetings. These mechanisms are now available to address issues related to gender based violence and discrimination,” noted Sproule.  “We have also called for the reinstatement of the STC bus service (Saskatchewan’s rural public transportation system). Safe rural public transportation for people in rural communities in every province is needed to prevent violence against vulnerable travellers and to provide access to support services for isolated rural residents who need them.”

“This year we are sharing the theme of #MyActionsMatter and asking everyone to step up, call out, and speak up on issues involving gender based violence and sexism,” added Ward.

The National Farmers Union endorses, and encourages our members, Locals, and Regions to embrace the following actions as set out on the Status of Women Canada website:

  • Listen – be open to learning from the experiences of others.
  • Believe – support survivors and those affected by violence.
  • Speak out – add your voice to call out violence.
  • Intervene – find a safe way to help when you see acts of gender based violence.
  • Act – give your time to organizations working to end violence, and be the change you want to see.

“Please share this information and do your part to put an end to gender based violence and empower the voices of victims who may have lived in silence far too long,” urged Sproule.

Climate change policy in B.C. must deal with controversies – Kinder Morgan, Site C, and more

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 4, 2017

In his November 30 article, “Where is B.C. headed on climate action?”, Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives begins with a bit of history – November 2017 marks the 10 year anniversary of the passage of  B.C.’s  Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act, followed by B.C.’s carbon tax, the first in North America, in 2008.  His overview then discusses climate change policy since the Liberal government and its Climate Leadership Team (CLT)  were replaced by the government of the New Democratic Party in Summer 2017.  Specific issues raised: the new government may still be considering the  development of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) on the north coast; an inadequate annual increase to the carbon tax of just $5 per tonne per year (instead of the $10 per tonne recommended by the CLT); the need for a public inquiry into fracking  (as called for by the CCPA and 16 other organizations); and the need for leadership on more stringent regulation of methane emissions.  The author concludes:  “The BC government’s opposition to Kinder-Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline expansion is laudable. But there is much left to be done on climate action in BC… We need an action plan commensurate with the urgency posed by climate change and the aspirations of leadership claimed by BC politicians.”

Although Marc Lee has written about the controversial Site C Dam project previously, he doesn’t include it in this overview, although it is still very much a live issue.   Following the Report of the Independent Review of the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC)  on November 1, the government indicated it would decide by December 31 whether to proceed with the project or not.  On December 1, the B.C. Green Party, the government’s coalition partner, sent an Open Letter to the Premier, arguing for cancellation of Site C on the grounds that it is likely to continue to exceed budget, and that alternative sources of energy are now cheaper.  Questions about the job creation forecasts used to justify the original decision have also been raised – most relying on the latest analysis from the University of British Columbia Water Governance Institute. Their latest  full report  was released on November 23; a 2-page Briefing Note also released argues that terminating Site C and pursuing  the alternative scenario put forth by BCUC would create three times as many jobs as the construction and operation of Site C by 2054, albeit with short-term job losses.  The longer term scenario forecasts jobs in site remediation, energy conservation, and alternative energy projects, including in the Peace River region.  Commentary on the jobs debates has appeared in “Digging for The Truth on Site C Dam Job Numbers ” in DeSmog Canada (Nov. 16) and  in “ A BC without Site C best bet for taxpayers ” an Opinion piece in The Tyee written by  Jay Ritchlin of the David Suzuki Foundation, which labels the call for current construction jobs as “a red herring”.

Also in The Tyee:Construction Unions Pressing for Completion of Site C” (Nov. 24) , which takes a deep dive into a recent press conference of the Allied Hydro Council of BC, a bargaining agent for unions at previous large hydro projects, and an advocate of the Site C project. The detailed article, outlining ties between the Council and the NDP government, is by Sarah Cox, author of  Breaching the Peace: The Site C Dam and a Valley’s Stand Against Big Hydro (UBC Press, forthcoming Spring 2018).    The Allied Hydro Council submission to the BCUC Inquiry is here .

Hamilton transit in the Age of Austerity

By Blake McCall and Caitlin Craven - Rank and File, November 29, 2017

Editor’s introduction: This is the second half a two-part series on how austerity has damaged public transit. In this article Blake McCall, a Hamilton bus operator and ATU Local 107 member, and Caitlin Craven, a CUPW Local 548 and local Fight for $15 and Fairness organizer, examine how decades of underfunding has undermined Hamilton’s transit system, the HSR.

Like all transit systems in the province, the HSR was the victim of city budget cuts in the 1990s stemming from provincial cuts under Premier Mike Harris and others.  A startling statistic is that the total number of buses on the street was higher in the 1980s than it is now, despite the city having grown in size. This unsurprisingly has seen a drop in ridership from 29 million trips per year in the late 1980s to roughly 22 million trips per year today.  In recent years the city has started to put more money back into the system, but it has never recovered from these cuts.

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