The Montreal Climate March is tomorrow. It’s part of the student-started global Climate Strike movement, but with so much official support and participation, not to mention cancelled classes, I’m not sure the strike label fits.

Regardless, 300 000 people are expected to show up, making this one of the largest protest since the height of the Maple Spring in 2012. Plus one of the biggest current international stars will be here.

Getting Around Town

If there ever was a day to decide to leave the car at home, walk triumphantly to the metro and then discover you forgot to bring your buspass, it’s tomorrow. Public transit will be free all day in Montreal as well as Laval and the South Shore (Metro is recommended as some bus lines will be re-routed), Bixis will be free until 3pm and driving through downtown is, well, not recommended.

You can find a more comprehensive list of road closures as well as school closures and re-routed buses via the CBC and you can find a mini editorial by me right now:

I’m all for making public transit free for a day to help out the planet, but if we really wanted to reduce our carbon footprint, we’d make make travelling by bus or metro more efficient and either free or affordable with free as the goal all the time. Making driving unappealing with traffic laws is one thing, but you’ve got to have a carrot, not just the stick.

The Deets

The Climate March starts at noon at the Sir George-Étienne Cartier Monument, aka where Tam Tams happens, on du Parc. There will be Bixi “valets” near the sarting point.

It will find its way to Place de la Paix on St-Laurent by 3pm. Organizers say people with mobility issues can join the march there.

The exact route is unclear, though some political operatives clearly think they know its first leg:

Organizers say that not divulging the exact route is for “logistical and security concerns” though a part of me hopes it is a subtle action in solidarity with previous protesters arrested for not providing a route. Or at least an homage to them, I’ll take what I can get.

Greta, the Mayor and the Pipeline Owner

Montreal hosted quite a few celebrities over the summer and is currently hosting a handful with POP Montreal, but the biggest international star in town this week is playing an early show on a Friday. Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who has no problem slamming the UN and showing her complete contempt for the current US President will be speaking at the end of the march.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante will be giving Thunberg keys to the city and meeting with her after the march is over. She won’t be the only politician in attendance, though.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will also be marching, presumably in costume as one who cares about the planet (he does greenface now too). I wonder if Greta will confront him about the whole, um, you know, buying a pipeline.

Guess we’ll find out tomorrow, along with 300 000 people concerned about the future of the planet we all live on.

The 2019 Federal Election campaign is now underway, but before it even started officially, there were stories of the Green Party of Canada picking up support and poised for a breakthrough. This was largely at the expense of the NDP.

While I’m a card-carrying New Democrat and don’t plan on changing my vote, I’m always happy to see other progressive parties making inroads. The more the conversation veers left, the better for us all.

Unfortunately, this time, Elizabeth May’s success is fueled by a bigoted undercurrent that she and some in her party would rather the rest of us not notice. Plus some of their moves make it look like they are abandoning the left in favour of giving a coat of biodegradable green paint to some truly reprehensible stances.

Pierre Nantel’s Dubious Motives

Let’s start with Pierre Nantel. Member of Parliament for Longueuil – Saint Hubert first elected under the NDP banner as part of the Orange Wave in 2011. He announced a few weeks ago that he would finish out his term as an independent and run for re-election as a Green.

His rationale for leaving, as disseminated by the Greens to their email list (which, for some reason I’m on) is all about the environment. He didn’t cite any specific problems he had with the NDP’s environment platform, which is arguably more solid, or at worst, equally as solid, as what May and company are running on.

It’s also interesting that his concerns didn’t materialize sooner, given that getting elected as a Green was just as pie in the sky as getting elected as a New Democrat in Quebec at the start of the 2011 campaign. Guess he was just some misguided 48 year old kid who matured in the last eight years.

Or maybe, just maybe, Nantel’s defection has nothing to do with the fate of our planet, but rather what the current NDP leader wears on his head. Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh, wears a turban in keeping with his religion.

During the NDP leadership race, Nantel, aping Pauline Marois, told Radio-Canada that “ostentatious religious symbols are not compatible with power, with authority,” and that Singh’s bid for leadership doesn’t align with what Quebecers want to see from their political leaders. Sadly, Nantel’s bigoted views are what the Federal Green Party doesn’t mind seeing from its candidates.

Memo to Quebec Candidates: Try Not to Piss Off the Bigots

Bill 21, the CAQ Government’s new law that bars public sector workers from wearing religious symbols while on the job, will definitely be an issue in Quebec this election. The Greens would rather it not be.

While officially opposed to the legislation, the party has issued a directive to its Quebec candidates to avoid talking about it, if possible. Meanwhile, May has no problem with Green candidates supporting 21, a position the National Council of Canadian Muslims calls unacceptable and said so to her face.

It makes you wonder if official opposition to such a bigoted piece of legislation is worth anything if you let your candidates support it and discourage them from opposing it in the very part of the country where it actually affects people.

May’s New Brunswick Statement

Last week, we heard that 15 former NDP provincial candidates in New Brunswick had jumped ship to join the Greens. Then we heard that five of them didn’t and are quite upset their names were listed.

While this is an interesting political story, it’s also pretty standard brinkmanship and somewhat dirty politics. The part that’s relevant here is what Elizabeth May said about the possibility that racism played a part:

“Indeed, it may be a horrible reality that some people will not vote NDP because they are racist. I condemn these attitudes. But it is quite wrong to attack anyone who is disillusioned with the NDP by saying that the only reason they are disillusioned is because they are racist.”

– Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May

No. No it’s not wrong to attack someone if their racism factors into their reasoning at all.

Sure, there are completely valid reasons for being disillusioned with the NDP, even hating the NDP and Singh’s leadership, but if his brown skin or turban is one of them, then you are no longer someone making a political point, you’re just a racist. And it’s always okay to attack racism.

It’s also never okay to benefit from someone else’s bigotry, even if you’re not a bigot yourself. Even if it potentially increases your seat count.

Nazis Aren’t a Distraction, They’re a Threat

And then there’s Danny Celovsky, Green Party candidate in Bay of Quinte. That’s where, earlier this year, a man raised a Nazi flag over his property and Celovsky decided to try and stop a Twitter discussion and condemnation, arguing that fascism and even Nazism were distractions from the only real issue: climate change.

One part in particular was telling:

“I disavow the stupid fascist freaks called Nazis. Put them in jail. Covered? Now … let’s start solving the problems my kids futures face.”

Danny Celovsky, Green Party of Canada candidate, Port Quinte ON, Twitter, May 18, 2019

His kids’ futures. What about the futures of the children who aren’t so white and Christian. Climate change is a real threat to them, too, but so are Nazis.

Imagine if AOC or Bernie or any of the other proponents of the Green New Deal south of the border, people who have called climate change the greatest threat of our time repeatedly, came out and said that what happened in Charlottesville and the kids in cages on the southern US border with Mexico are distractions. It would never happen, because while their environmental bona fides are beyond reproach, so is their commitment to social justice.

That’s what a real alternative from the left needs to be. Climate justice and social justice go hand in hand.

Not Left. Not Right. So, By Default, Right

At this point, you might be expecting me to say something like: “The Greens aren’t real progressives. They’re just neoliberals playing to the left to get votes!” Well, that’s not what I’m going to say.

Our current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a neoliberal who likes to play to the left during elections to get votes if there ever was one, is clear in his opposition to Bill 21 and I can’t imagine him allowing anyone who thinks the rise of fascism and Nazism is a mere distraction to run, or continue to run for his party.

The Green Party slogan this election cycle is “Not Left. Not Right. Forward Together” and it’s a recipe for disaster. If you say “Not Racist. Not Anti-Racist.” you are essentially saying that racism is okay.

To illustrate this problem, let’s turn to another topic:

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer recently had to stress that his party would not re-open the abortion debate despite allowing individual members to try. Elizabeth May, meanwhile, said that despite the party’s official pro-choice stance, she wouldn’t stop anti-choice MPs from trying to open the debate.

Her party corrected her and she changed her tune later that same day, but if your party needs to issue a statement to correct the perception that you are to the right of Andrew Scheer, then you have a serious problem.

No matter how important the one issue you care about is (and the future of the planet is of paramount importance), you can’t ignore the rest. It’s not a distraction.

If Maxime Bernier woke up tomorrow and declared that he had been visited by three very white spirits and now believes that we need to stop climate change (dude’s loopy, could happen), he would still be a racist asshole. And, at this point, one I fear Elizabeth May would welcome to the cause.

Not All Greens

It’s important to note that quite a few people involved with and running for the Green Party are truly trying to be a progressive alternative to the mainstream political parties in Canada. In particular, I know that the Green Party of Quebec isn’t trying to bank on or ignore bigotry to get votes.

I also realize that a provincial party distancing itself from its national counterpart is risky. So is a federal candidate standing against their party’s leader on a particular point, while arguing for them to be Prime Minister because of a bunch of other points.

So I’m not calling on Green candidates and provincial parties to disavow their federal leader. I am, however, calling on potential Green voters to realize just who the leader is welcoming into the fold. And I’m calling on Elizabeth May and the federal Green leadership to, excuse the language, get their fucking shit together quickly.

People, myself included, have frequently warned the NDP against becoming Liberal lite. I never thought I’d have to warn the Green Party against becoming an eco-friendly version of the far right.

I really didn’t want to start this election campaign railing against the Green Party and I truly hope I don’t end it that way. Greenwashing bigotry is not how you save the planet, it’s how you marginalize yourself with voters who may otherwise rush to support you.

Featured image via CPAC

In a world that’s crumbling around us it’s good to showcase people and projects that give us hope. Canadian filmmakers Nova Ami and Velcrow Ripper have done just that with their film Metamorphosis.

Full of breathtaking cinematography, soothing meditative music, and incredible insights into the lives of those living through climate change and the artists, scientists, and architects fighting it, the film is one of the few nonjudgmental ones on the subject. It resonates without judging, stating the facts with beautiful images and heartrending stories of people living through what many would deny is happening all around us. The message is not one of impending catastrophe so much as one of hope and potential through creativity.

I had the privilege of speaking with writers/director/producers Nova Ami and Velcrow Ripper on the phone while they were promoting the film in Calgary. This is what we discussed:

Samantha Gold: You call the film a poem for the planet. What exactly does that mean?

Velcrow Ripper: It’s a cinematic poem… It’s not a literal essay. It’s more intended to spark the imagination, to inspire people and help us fall in love with the planet but also to wake up to what we’re doing to the planet. The examples of positive solutions in the film are all captured in spectacular visual style and they’re tended to be more design principles than literal projects that needed to be done.

If people could take one message away from seeing your film, what would it be?

Nova Ami: One message would be that crisis is an opportunity for transformation and that we have a choice in terms of how we respond to this crisis.

Who do you think needs to hear this message most?

V.R.: I’m thinking everyone really. You know from people who are very aware and concerned about the planet and who might be in a state of despair right now. Environmental scientists are probably the most depressed people on the planet right now because they know details so much… All the way to people who are in climate denial and who are suffering from psychic numbing. They also need to recognize the possibility inherent in this crisis and the fact that the solutions and the changes that we need to make to our society to combat climate change are also gonna make our lives better. It’s a win-win situation.

A lot of people think that fighting climate change is more of a task for people in the STEM fields – Science, Technology, Engineering and so on. Your film gave quite a bit of attention to artists doing their part. What do you think is the greatest contribution artists can make to this fight?

N.A.: In terms of art being a way to start a conversation and to allow the viewer to project their own meaning onto it as well. One of the responses that we’re getting about the film is that it’s not preachy or judgmental or lecturing and so it’s a more abstract way of representing what’s going on. It helps us think outside of the box and gives us something to meditate on.

V.R.: Art throughout history has been a very powerful force in social change. Art can wake us up and shake us up and move us on emotional and psychological levels and the film really explores the emotional and psychic aspects of climate change and we felt that art was a really powerful way to delve into these ideas and represent them visually.

You gave almost equal footing to scientists, farmers, and artists in the film. How do you think that science and art can converge in the fight against climate change?

N.A.: A lot of the solutions are very creative and in terms of using our creativity to find solutions to solve some of the problems that we’re facing. I think that’s one of the ways.

V.R.: Another way is that artists can communicate some of the concepts that scientists don’t necessarily express that well to the public.

What do you mean by that?

V.R. : There’s a communication problem with climate change. Just throwing more facts at people doesn’t always work. What we need more than anything is a cultural shift and artists can really help with that and I think scientists and artists working together have a lot of exciting possibilities. One of the things in the film is the Earthships – they’re like pieces of art that you live in that are a hundred percent sustainable – it’s a beautiful combination of art and practicality.

* Check out their site for screening info and their Facebook page for events

Endangered species are a pet cause for many and a nuisance for many others. Social media is regularly flooded with a barrage of memes, online petitions, and articles about species on the brink of extinction due to natural or man-made causes. On March 9th, Quebec’s caribou population came into the spotlight when the Couillard government announced that they would not spend money to save them in Val D’Or.

According to the provincial Minister of Forests, Wildlife, and Parks Luc Blanchette, it would cost seventy six million dollars over the next fifty years to protect the habitat of caribou in the region. The caribou in the area have been on steady decline since the 1950s due to the logging industry.

The government had originally planned to move the remaining animals to a zoo in 2016 but that idea was withdrawn when environmental groups pointed out that the animals would not survive in captivity. The government has deemed saving them too expensive, so instead the government plans to focus on saving other caribou herds in the province.

As it stands, Canada’s caribou are considered endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). While it is tragic that the animal that adorns our coinage is at risk, this article is not about them. It is about endangered species in Canada and what rules are in place at the federal and provincial levels to ensure their survival.

Sadly, protecting endangered species is not a simple matter in Canada, and we partly have the federalist system to blame. According to the articles of our constitution specifying federal and provincial jurisdictions, all waterways and marine life matters as well as land not claimed by the provinces are federal, whereas the management and sale of public lands in provincial territory, the exploration of non-renewable natural resources, and “the development, conservation and management of non-renewable natural resources and forestry resources in the province” are provincial. In cases where there is a jurisdictional conflict, the federal government takes precedence.

The current federal law to protect endangered species is the aforementioned Species at Risk Act which was enacted in 2002, though some of its provisions only came into effect in subsequent years. The main goal of the act is to prevent species from becoming extirpated or extinct. Extirpated as per the act means that the species is no longer found in Canada and “extinct” means the species no longer exists at all.

It has jurisdiction only over federal land, aquatic species, and migratory birds. Federal land only makes up about four percent of provincial land in Canada and even then, only areas classified as Critical Habitat are protected under the law. The federal act allows species to be classified as “at risk” or “not at risk” with assessments done by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

The Committee consists of experts, academia, politicians and aboriginal representatives and has the task of assessing the status of Canadian wildlife species; their recommendations for the classification of a given species are then passed on to the federal government. Their science-based findings are publicly available.

Once the Committee has classified a species, it must do a reassessment every ten years to see if the ones at risk are still at risk. The criteria they use are those established by the United Nations’ Red List for critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable species.

According to Environment Canada’s website, as of 2017 there are currently five hundred and twenty-one species of plants and animals classified under the Species At Risk Act as being at risk of extinction or extirpation in Canada. Once the Committee has established those at risk, it’s up to the government to decide whether or not to adapt their action plan to save a species by introducing measures such as incentives to support people helping to protect species at risk, awards and recognition programs, public awareness programs, and protecting habitats.

In Quebec, endangered species fall under the Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species. It mandates the Minister of Sustainable Development, the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change to carry out research regarding species that need protection or whose habitats need protection, establish programs to promote their survival, and delegate and enter into agreements with the people they delegate to in order to implement these measures. The Minister can also, with the government’s assent, lease or acquire land by expropriation for the protection and management of threatened or vulnerable plant species.

For those of you unfamiliar with expropriation, it is the process by which the government decides to take land for itself by offering the owner(s) compensation based on what the property is valued at. The value of the land is determined by government appraisers. In cases where the owner feels the indemnity they are offered is insufficient, they will often turn to private appraisers and attorneys to seek fairer compensation.

Several private appraisers in Montreal told me that this is quite common, and in some cases cities will even halt development on a given parcel of privately owned land for ecological reasons, resulting in them being sued for “disguised expropriation”. It is in this respect, among others, that endangered species protections can be a nuisance for some.

The Quebec government can also be gifted or left land in a will for the sake of protecting vulnerable species.

It is up to the aforementioned Minister of Sustainable Development, the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change and the Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks to come up with a list of threatened or vulnerable species in Quebec, how they should be identified, and where they are located.

The law does have exceptions and allows for parties to act in spite of it if an exemption is written into government regulations, if activities are carried out in accordance with government standards, the activity is required for educational or scientific purposes, or if activities are being carried out to repair damage caused by a catastrophe or to prevent it.

The government, like those who adopt it as a pet cause, recognizes the importance of protecting Canada’s vulnerable species as part of the fight against climate change. Let’s keep electing governments that continue to do so.

* Featured image by By Mickael Brangeon(Peupleloup) via WikiMedia Commons

Twinkle, twinkle little plastic shards, how I wonder how many of you there are?

I have always defended glitter when someone called it herpes! I have always been the person who outshines everyone by bathing in gazillions of tiny little sparkles. I am an asshole, a shiny, shiny turd.

This is not something I am proud of in retrospect. There have been times that I literally wore only glitter, then it seemed glorious, now I feel every speck cutting the throats of children drinking a glass of water, digesting in the bellies of my friends and family, and balling up in the ocean.

I am embarrassed by the amount of glitter pollution I alone have caused, let alone all of the glitter dripping sparkletastic burlesque dancers out there. The aftermath of one of my shows sent millions of microscopic pieces of glimmering plastic down the drain and into the water supply and tainting the food chain for years to come.

This must stop! I challenge all of you, every dancer and party girl, every gay activist that wants to glitter bomb a nazi or fascist politician, every drag queen with eyes on fleek, and everyone with little kids who are about to make holiday crafts: JUST SAY NO TO GLITTER!

The planet cannot suffer for fashion. My shine is NOT more important than the Earth and either is yours. It is so fucked up and sad how much plastic is out there because of vanity.

In every single sip of water we drink there are solar systems worth of micro particles that are too small for any filter. It’s horrifying! When I think of that the choice is easy to ban glitter. My hot scientist partner tells me I shine without it, I don’t need the synthetic brilliance. She inspires me to do better.

The NY Times recently posted an article about banning glitter. We cannot filter out this problem! Scientists studied the effects of plastic in the great lakes and had a huge part in the ban on plastic microbeads. I can’t imagine how much glitter and micro toxins I have ingested while wearing glitter on my lips. Cosmetic glitter is crazy and unnecessarily in a lot of products.

Artist Lara Buckley’s current show Alters of Erie is a lifelong collection of found discarded trash and natural materials mixed together harmoniously. It is currently up at the BOX Gallery in Buffalo NY.

Beauty in the decay. It looks like entire decorated Christmas trees and holiday wreaths from a distance and then you look close to see that it is just perfectly arranged garbage, fish heads on baby doll bodies with plastic rhinestone eyes, invasive plants also fill the room, discarded rubbish on a pedestal, hanging all around the gallery, floating and dancing, things that the world forgot now have new life as eye opening art.

Found pieces of man made bullshit that are polluting our world can be free art supplies. It is also incredible to pick up all of the straws, broken toys, streamers, and other broken bits from the ground and water. We can all get together, pick up rubbish, and make our Earth cleaner while making cool art in the process.

As an artist I need to be more sustainable. Every single painting I have ever painted has glitter on it. I was obsessed. But like anything, once you realized something is wrong abort immediately. Once you know about something and continue doing it even though you know it iss wrong, then you are the problem! You can’t play ignorant. People can grow and change, we call it evolution.

I have so much back stock of glitter I think I want to put it all in resin so it never has the chance to escape into this world. Make one final piece to immortalize the horrific craft herpes that I have loved for so long and now despise.

I never thought glitter would make me cry. It is not a harmless craft supply or fun makeup, it is pure evil in masquerade.

Ending this plastic nightmare is important for the sustainability of this beautiful planet. Plastics do not make it possible! Plastic is toxic and it is not fully known what the last 100 years of exposure have truly done to us.

Humans are killing the Earth at a astounding rate, climate change is real, so many animals are becoming extinct, and yet that little piece of glitter will still be here for the next 100 years no matter what.

I am going to fully make the change to non toxic biodegradable glitter. It is sold on Etsy and other places in the internet like Ecostardust, but I bet it is mad easy to make.

That way I can have my twinkle and be kind to mother earth too! Yay! It’s a win win.

All that glitters is not necessarily good. We have to take every step to make things safer and healthier, our health and the future of our world depend on it.

First we ban glitter, then who knows! Let’s learn from our mistakes and get better for it! Break the tradition and start new sustainable trends. Let’s all become eco friendly sparkle warriors!

Pierrefonds-Roxboro is one of the three Montreal boroughs under state of emergency, but you certainly wouldn’t know it from walking on the dry and clean parts of Pierrefonds Boulevard, where even the buses still run on time. Nothing to indicate the multiple disastrous and somewhat surreal sights that await only a couple of blocks down: entire streets flooded, picturesque houses and vehicles immersed in eerily still water, piles of sandbags scattered like battle fortifications.

Everyday, residents stop by the disaster area, anxiously appraising the situation from their cars or going as far as their rain boots allow to check on their property. For some, it’s been weeks since the water started seeping into their houses, others are still warily surveying the changing levels of the river, praying it won’t reach their doorstep.

Early Tuesday evening, the first signs that the water has – ever so slightly – receded, elicited cautious relief in many of them. However, everyone knows that even if the weather remains stable, they are still in for a long wait before the river returns to its bed and they can start to assess the actual damages.

One man, who wishes to only be identified as a “directly affected citizen of Pierrefonds” stopped to take in the striking sight of a half-drowned mailbox, which despite being a few meters away from the Gouin Boulevard, now looks as if someone made the odd choice of planting it in the middle of a lake.

“Terrible, isn’t it?” he said, his expression grim. “Everything we do to Nature, you know, there comes a point when she can’t absorb it anymore and then she sends this back.” For him, Pierrefonds’ woes trace back to a far larger issue: climate change.

“It will be necessary for people to understand the gravity of the situation. And watching a little TV, you see it’s not only Canada and Quebec that are affected. There are many countries in the world that live through the same situation, and they don’t always have the resources we do.”

The water had thankfully not reached his house yet, but, despite the first timid signs of improvement, he remained anxious. “If it rains, even one more day, I’m directly threatened,” he explained. He bought a water pump during the week-end “just in case.”

A few streets away, Maria** and her adult son were looking for their canoe to go check on their property. Originally from Poland, she and her two children had bought a brand new house here, on Vaudeville Street, only five years ago. Their beloved home has been flooded since last Friday. Like many of their neighbours, they were woken up by the army at five AM and told they had to get out, and quickly.

They are currently living in a nearby hotel with the help of the Red Cross. Last time they checked, the water was up to their chests in the basement. To say the least, stress has taken its toll. “It’s panic attacks and sometimes, you can’t sleep at night,” confided the mother.

She was not alone to breathe a sigh of relief when she noticed the few inches of wet asphalt, indicating that the water had slightly withdrawn. Still, her worry was palpable. “I look at the water and I tremble,” she admitted.

Nonetheless, just like the mailbox-watcher, they were thinking of those even less fortunate than them.“You always have to think of those who have it worse than you,” Maria said. “There are a lot of elderly people living here,” her son added.

Civilians and officials

Police officers guard the flooded streets to make sure that no one has the bad idea of trying to pass through with their car, or the heartlessness to rob the deserted homes. The firefighters, the army and many volunteers are also present to lend a hand to whomever needs it.

“[The officers] are doing what they can, but they have a different point of view because it’s their job, you know; we’re their clients,” Maria’s son observed.

His mother agreed but sighed: “This tragedy, it’s not theirs inside and when you see two policemen laughing and talking, it’s hard to welcome them.” According to her, it’s the Red Cross that is their ultimate life-saver. They provided them with a hotel room, a meal allocation, and even some money to buy clothes.

Maria found one thing to be happy about in this ordeal: a new sense of solidarity in the community: “We became like a big family with the people on the street, because everybody helps each other and we are all in the same hotel. Before that, we didn’t know each other.”

Indeed, everywhere you looked, there was a little cluster of neighbours chatting, asking for news and offering help. One man was making the rounds with his own canoe to help other people around the flooded streets whenever they needed to get something from home or just to check that it’s still standing. One of the policemen asked him to go check up on one of the rare residents who was still inside his house: “He’s been there for a while, see if he needs anything.”

Still, Maria reflected with a sad smile, “We shouldn’t need to have a tragedy to be together.”

State of emergency prolonged

By Wednesday afternoon, the water had significantly receded in the Montreal area. However the level of the Saint-Lawrence remains worrying near Quebec City and the Mauricie region. Nobody is out of the woods yet, since various amounts of rain are expected all over the province during the next few days.

The state emergency which is meant to allow the municipalities to mobilize staff and resources more efficiently is still in place in several areas including in Laval and Montreal.

As of Wednesday night, there was a total of 3301 people evacuated and 4141 houses flooded throughout Quebec. 166 municipalities were still affected.

The government has promised to deploy all the necessary staff on the field as well as financial aid for the affected citizens. However, the people of Pierrefonds and other flooded municipalities will also need all the solidarity they can get, not only form their own communities, but from all of us.

* Photos by Mirna Djukic

**Probably not her real name. Due to the engaging and organic nature of the conversation, this detail was lost. If her or her son read this and would like us to correct the record, please contact forgetthebox@forgetthebox.net and we will update the article

Montreal will invest $3.6 million over two years in a brand new institute dedicated to developing electric and smart transportation. This investment is part of the city’s efforts as a member of the C40, the Cities Climate Leadership Group.

The Institute of Electrification and Smart Transportation will have three main mandates: favouring cooperation between regional partners for research and development of sustainable transportation, establishing international partnerships and stimulating the commercialization of new technologies. It will be situated in the Quartier de l’innovation. The École des technologies supérieures (ÉTS) , McGill University, Concordia and UQÀM are all expected to partner in the project.

“The Institute will make use of Montreal’s assets as a city of innovation to galvanize efforts and knowledge, and shine on the international scene,” Mayor Denis Coderre claimed in a press release. The announcement was made on Wednesday, during the 52nd Congress of the Association québécoise des transports.

The Mayor’s office claims this is an “important step in the realization of [their] ambitious strategy for the electrification of transport.” Indeed, the creation of the institute is one of the 10 points of the 2016-2020 Strategy for electrification and smart transportation outlined last summer.

Other measures put forward in the plan include exchanging city vehicles for electrical cars, electrification of public transit and developing a second, purely economic plan to encourage the local development of the electric transportation sector.

However, the opposition at City Hall is not too impressed with the new institute. Projet Montréal’s transport critic Craig Sauvé says that they have seen no serious plan or content backing up the announcement.

“That’s pretty much the Coderre style,” he observed, “announce a project that will most likely garner positive headlines but without doing any substantive groundwork before the announcement.”

Although Sauvé admits that the city’s efforts for electrification are a good thing overall, he believes it is a short-sighted strategy.

“The Coderre administration is very car-focused,” he claimed, “they still have this vision that is out of the 1950’s!”

According to Sauvé, the city should put more money into better bike lanes, urban planning and public transit in order to reduce the number of cars on the road.

“You can electrify everything you want, but it won’t solve the traffic, it won’t solve the pollution still created by the production of new cars and road networks,” he argued.

FTB contacted the city’s executive committee for further comments, but was still waiting for a reply at publication time.

Mayor Coderre announced earlier this week that the city is investing at least $24 million in Formula E, a major international car race featuring only electric cars. The event will be held downtown on July 29th and 30th. The Coderre administration hopes that it will serve as publicity for electric and smart transportation in Montreal and boost the city’s status as a leader in climate action.

Back in November 2013, the government of Quebec had promised $35 million for the creation of a province-wide institute with the same purpose. Many cities were interested in hosting it. The promise did not survive the change of government.

 

* Featured image: electric cars in Berlin, Germany, all credits to Avda, Berlin – Potsdamer Platz – E-Mobility-Charging, CC BY-SA 3.0

The provincial government is officially on board with Anticosti joining UNESCO’s World Heritage list.  Although this would permanently ban oil exploitation on the Island, Petrolia’s oil exploration contract still stands, says Quebec.

The minister of Energy and Natural Resources Pierre Arcand announced that Quebec is endorsing Anticosti’s and Saguenay Fjord’s bids for the World Heritage list in a press briefing on Wednesday. As the government is well aware, oil exploitation is forbidden on UNESCO-protected sites, which has a particular significance for Anticosti, where Petrolia is in the early phase of a colossal project. “There won’t be any petroleum on Anticosti if they get the status” confirmed Arcand, as quoted by La Presse.

However, Anticosti’s application still has to be approved first by the federal government and then by UNESCO itself. Best case scenario: they get their status in 2020. Meanwhile, Petrolia is free to continue its exploration.

“For us it doesn’t change much of the project” Arcand told the press. “We always said, since the beginning, that we will respect the contract.”

In this case, respecting the contract means allowing Petrolia to continue digging wells and begin hydraulic fracturing, and giving them $57 million of public money to help. This is all for the first, “exploration” phase, the one where they look for shale gas and petroleum that they hope to extract. This phase includes massive investments, which will return no benefit until the “exploitation” phase – a phase that will never happen if Anticosti gets its protected status.

While Arcand was insistent that the government wasn’t backing out of its contract, a letter expressing Quebec’s support to the municipality had a slightly more reassuring tone.  The letter, signed by Christine St-Pierre, minister of International relations, and Luc Blanchette, minister of Forests, promises that the government is already working on ensuring that they will be able to protect the entire Island in 2020.

With the province’s blessing two days before the deadline, Anticosti’s application can now be evaluated on the federal level. Ottawa, which has been conspicuously noncommittal on the matter so far, will decide in December if they will submit Anticosti’s candidacy to the UNESCO or not. There are currently 18 Canadian sites listed as World Heritage, including Vieux-Québec and Nahanni National Park Reserve.

When you look back on 2016, you may think of all the greats we lost like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and, most recently, Carrie Fisher and her mom Debbie Reynolds. You may also remember it as the year the UK decided to leave the EU or the year the US decided to leave its senses politically.

No matter how you saw it, though, you have to admit that quite a bit happened. With that in mind, we take a look back at 2016 in the News.

As this post had two authors, parenthetical initials indicate if the section was written by Jason C. McLean (JCM) or Mirna Djukic (MD).

Canadian Politics

2016 was the first year of the post-Harper era and it was an agitated one in federal politics.

Justin Trudeau’s popularity soared for a while, still largely carried by the expectations built during his campaign and his undisputable quality of not being Stephen Harper. To his credit, he did score some significant points in his first months in office by immediately opening the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and rebuilding relationships with our neighbours (which gave us both the most hilarious handshake attempt of all time and the TrudObama Bromance).

One of the first flies in the ointment was the infamous #elbowgate incident in the House of Commons.  Last May, the Prime Minister took it upon himself to escort Conservative Whip Gordon Brown through a cluster of opposition MPs in order to move the procedures along and accidentally elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest. This was perhaps a fairly embarrassing show of temper for the PM, but it degenerated into something out of a Shakespearian comedy in the following days, with Trudeau issuing apology after apology and the opposition throwing words like “molested” around.

Inopportune elbows aside, the Liberals took quite a few steps during the year that caused the public to question how different they really are from their predecessors. Not only did they go through with the $15 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia, but they also quietly changed the country’s policies about export controls to ensure that they could continue to trade arms with shady regimes with a lot less obstacles.

As the year went on, the government kept up the progressive discourse that got them elected, but too often failed to follow it up with actions. The Prime Minister even blatantly went back on his promise of electoral reform, driving the last nail in the coffin for a good portion of increasingly disgruntled voters.

This year was not any less turbulent for smaller parties.

The NDP was licking its wounds and doing some soul-searching after their grueling 2015 loss. Fortunately, many members signed an open letter recognizing how disastrous their electoral strategy of aiming for the middle ground was and declaring their desire to go back to the unashamedly leftist positions they used to hold

As for the Greens, they started the year as the underdogs who were doing unexpectedly well. The increased attention, though, revealed a world of messy internal struggles. These started when the party voted in favour of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Leader Elizabeth May disliked this so much that she considered resigning. (MD)

Canadian Pipelines

Indeed, discrepancies between the government’s discourse and their actions accumulated throughout the year. None was more flagrant than their attitude toward pipelines.

The Liberals campaigned on promises to restore the trust of Canadians in the Environmental Assessment Process, “modernize” the National Energy Board and make Canada a leader in the worldwide climate change fight. Trudeau was the first to admit that the current environmental assessment protocols were immensely flawed and he mandated a committee to review them.

While still waiting for their conclusions, though, he had no problem with major projects still being approved by that flawed process. He had no comments when it was revealed that the NEB board members in charge of reviewing Energy East had secretly met with TransCanada lobbyists nor when indigenous resistance against various projects started rising.

If he thought that the population was on his side, or that they would remain passive about it, he was sorely mistaken. In August, the NEB consultations about Energy East were shut down by protesters. Anger and mistrust towards the NEB only grew after that, with environmental groups calling for a complete overhaul.

None of this stopped the government from approving two contentious pipelines in late November. Both Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project and Enbridge’s Line 3 were officially accepted. Fortunately, they did reject Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, which was set to go through the Great Bear Rain Forest. (MD)

Standing Rock

2016 was the year that saw the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe emerge victorious (for the moment) over big energy and the North Dakota Government.

In July, Energy Transfer Partners got approval for the $3.78 Billion Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, the tribe’s only source of drinking water. The plan also saw DAPL cut across sacred burial grounds.

The Standing Rock Sioux challenged this both in court and with water protectors on the front lines. They invited others to stand in solidarity with them and assembled the largest gathering of Native American tribes in decades.

Things came to a head on Labour Day Weekend early September when DAPL sent private corporate security to attack the water protectors with pepper spray and dogs. Democracy Now’s shocking footage of the incident got picked up by major networks and there finally was major media attention, for a while.

As more people joined the camp and solidarity actions, including Facebook Check-Ins from around the world, increased, corporate media interest waned. Meanwhile the Governor of North Dakota Jack Dalrymple activated the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which brought law enforcement from ten different states to Standing Rock.

With most media focused on the elections, police used tear gas and water cannons on water protectors in freezing temperatures. The US Army Corps of Engineers sent an eviction notice demanding the camp be cleared by December 5th and roadblocks went up.

The Sioux Tribe’s infrastructure survived, however, and once 4000 veterans showed up in solidarity, the official stance changed. President Obama’s administration got the Army Corps to change its tune and deny the easement over Lake Oahe, meaning the DAPL will not go through Standing Rock, at least not until the Trump Administration takes office.

While their fight may not be over, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe did flip the script in 2016 and was even named FTB’s Person of the Year. (JCM)

Indigenous Issues in Canada

Meanwhile in Canada, indigenous issues did make their way a bit more to the forefront in 2016. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women finally got underway September 1st.

While long overdue, the Inquiry will be independent of the Federal Government and has a budget of $53.86 million to be spent over two years. While overall optimistic, some in Canada’s First Nations communities are concerned that the scope of the inquiry is too broad, making it easy to not investigate police forces and specific cases.

Quebec is considering its own inquiry. It’s needed, especially when you consider that the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) treated accusations that its officers were assaulting native women in Val d’Or by going after Radio-Canada and its journalists for reporting on the story and no one else.

Meanwhile, conditions in many First Nations communities continued to deteriorate. An indigenous police force in Ontario even recommended its own disbanding for lack of proper funding. (JCM)

Quebec Politics

Couillard struggling during a TV interview

The provincial government keeps slowly but steadily dropping in the polls. According to a Léger-Le Devoir poll conducted in November, the Liberals hit their lowest approval rating since the 2012 crisis. With only 31% of the intended vote, they are now barely 1% ahead of the PQ.

This is undoubtedly linked to the fact that the real impact of the budget cuts in public services started becoming more apparent. In a memorable interactive interview with Radio-Canada last June, Premier Philippe Couillard was confronted with an onslaught of people suffering from his austerity measures. Some had lost their jobs and others were overwhelmed healthcare workers and angry parents.

The fact that they did reach a budgetary surplus as a result doesn’t seem to have calmed the popular discontent. The shadow of past corruption scandals also remains.

Couillard assured the public that none of the scandals happened under his watch and that his administration is fully committed to fighting corruption. This commitment was, however, brought into question by a recent report which accuses the government of lagging behind on the Charbonneau recommendations.

If the PQ is now breathing down their necks in the polls, it is hardly due to their own accomplishments this year. In fact, the Parti Québécois spent most of 2016 trying to find a new leader after the freshly elected Pierre-Karl Péladeau resigned, citing family reasons. His excuse, standard as it might be, is not very hard to believe, considering he was later found to be stalking his ex-wife and is now in a grim legal battle against his late girlfriend’s ex.

In any case, the party was left in turmoil. It wasn’t long before another of its prominent figures left. Bernard Drainville, champion of the infamous Charte des valeurs, but also a major architect of the party’s policies and democratic reforms, decided it was time to call it quits. In a slightly surreal move, he announced that he was retiring from politics to co-animate Éric Duhaime’s notoriously salacious radio show.

Those who had hoped that his departure would help the PQ move toward a better relationship with minorities and immigrants were disillusioned by the conclusion of the leadership race. Veteran Jean-François Lisée and his divisive views on immigration won by a landslide, while the favorite, Alexandre Cloutier was left in the dust with Martine Ouellet and Paul Saint-Pierre Plamondon.

However, let’s not forget that Quebec’s political scene is not limited to the two major parties. In fact, a new player is preparing to enter it before the next election. FTB learned that a provincial NDP is in the works, hoping to provide the voters with a progressive option that doesn’t aim for Quebec’s independence. (MD)

Rape Culture

Rape culture neither started nor ended in 2016, but it did seem to find its way to our newsfeed frighteningly often.

First came the disappointing conclusion of the Gomeshi trial in May. The fact that a celebrity with so much airtime on the CBC and elsewhere had been sexually harassing his colleague for years and committing multiple sexual assaults while his entourage and superiors turned a blind eye was outraging enough on its own. The fact that four counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking pretty much ended with a slap on the wrist from the court was worse. It made it very hard to keep pretending that our institutions and our society were not rigged to protect aggressors and silence victims.

Barely a month later, as if to demonstrate the scale of the problem, there was the Brock Turner case. Turner, a 20 year old student athlete at Stanford and a perfect mix of white, male and class privilege, was standing trial for raping a young woman on campus. Caught in the act by other students, he was found guilty. This could have landed him in prison for more than a decade, but he got six months in a county jail (he only served three).

A horrible event brought the discussion about rape culture a lot closer to home for many Quebecers in the fall. Multiple attackers entered the dorms of Université Laval and assaulted several students during one night in October. This sparked a wave of compassion and awareness with province-wide protests.

During a solidarity vigil in Quebec city, a young student named Alice Paquet revealed that she was raped by Liberal MNA Gerry Sklavounos back in 2012. Despite an onslaught of victim blaming and skepticism, Paquet decided to finally press charges, and her lawsuit is now in front of the Directeur des Poursuites Criminelles et Pénales. The latter will decide if the case goes to court. (MD)

US Presidential Election

Painting by Samantha Gold, buy the original on eBay

For most of the year, politicos everywhere, including here in Canada, were glued to what was transpiring in the US Presidential Election. And for good reason, it was an interesting one, to say the least.

First there was the hope of some real and unexpected change in the form of the political revolution Bernie Sanders was promising. The upstart Vermont senator managed to go from basically nothing to winning 23 states in the Primaries and even got to meet with the Pope, but that wasn’t enough to beat the largest political machine out there  and the Democratic Party establishment’s chosen candidate Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump, another upstart candidate, though one of the secretly pro-corporate and openly far-right variety, easily clinched the Republican nomination. With the exception of a bit of plagiarism on opening night and the whole Ted Cruz non-endorsement incident, the GOP Convention was quite unified behind Trump.

The Democratic National Convention was a completely different story. Sanders delegates booed speakers endorsing Clinton and connected to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and even left the room in protest when Clinton officially won the nomination.

The ensuing General Election campaign went back and forth for a few months with each candidate having their ups and downs. Clinton’s health rumours and Wikileaks revelations and Trump’s…well, his being Donald Trump.

Then it looked like it was finally over for the Donald with the release of the Access Hollywood tape. That was the last straw for several prominent members of the Republican establishment. Was the GOP going to implode?

Well, on Election Day, the unthinkable happened. The ideal “pied piper candidate” the Democrats had sought to elevate, because he would be so easy to beat, ended up beating their “inevitable” future President.

The bogeyman came out from under the bed and was elected to office. The joke went from funny to scary. Failed casino owner and third-rate reality star Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote and became President Elect of the United States.

As Trump started building his brand new bubble filled with climate change deniers, corporate execs and white supremacists, the fight against him in the streets started and shows no signs of stopping in 2017. The real question is now: will the Democrats change gear and become a progressive alternative or stay the establishment course that led them to defeat at the hands of an orange carnival barker? (JCM)

Montreal Politics

At least Montreal didn’t spend 2016 electing a frequently cartoonish populist who doesn’t listen to experts. We had already done that back in 2013.

This was the year, though, that our Mayor, Denis Coderre, really started to shine. And by shine I mean make Montreal nationally and even globally famous for some really bad decisions and ideas.

2015 ended with the Mayor dumping untreated sewage right into the river. With that out of the way, 2016 was going to be the year where we planned for our big 375th Anniversary in 2017.

By June there were already approved proposals for really ugly granite fake tree stumps for Mount-Royal and a national anthem for the borough of Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles. How was the city going to pay for all of this? In August a task force gave the Mayor one option: taxes on water consumption and trash collection.

Coderre’s focus was squarely somewhere else in the last half of the year, though. After a 55-year-old woman was killed by a dog in June, Coderre tabled rather extreme Breed-Specific Legislation aimed at pit bulls, despite no initial proof that a pit bull was the culprit (and the later revelation that it absolutely wasn’t).

There were protests and even international condemnation, including that of celebrities like Cyndi Lauper. Coderre would hear none of it, though, even ordering the mic cut on an citizen during a City Council meeting.

When the so-called Pit Bull Ban, officially the Montreal Animal Control Bylaw, became law in September, the proverbial other shoe dropped. People started picking up on some of the other aspects of it, in particular the fines and fees and the fact that it covered other breeds of dog and cats, too.

The SPCA got a temporary injunction on the “dangerous breeds” aspects of the law in early October which was overturned on appeal in December. The bylaw comes into full effect March 31, 2017, at which point the SPCA will no longer deal with stray dogs or accept owner surrenders.

In September, another project met with a legal obstacle. Turns out fines Société de transport de Montréal (STM) security officers were handing out constituted a human rights violation.

While the STM will be appealing the Montreal Municipal Court decision, for now at least, they’re not supposed to be sending out squads of transit cops acting as glorified revenue generators. In practice, though, we’ve heard reports they’re still doing it.

The Montreal Police (SPVM) were also in trouble this year. They were caught spying on at least four journalists in November. Famed whistleblower Edward Snowden even mentioned this story ahead of his livestream talk at McGill University.

What was really surprising was that the SPVM got warrants for this surveillance. What was not surprising at all is how high this probably went. Police Chief Philippe Pichet must have known, and he was handpicked by Mayor Coderre a few years prior.

The Mayor said he stands by his police chief before cancelling an investigation into the matter.

Coderre probably wants Montrealers to forget good chunks of his 2016 and focus instead on 375th celebrations, then vote him back in near the end of the year. The opposition has another idea, though.

Official Opposition party Projet Montreal held its first ever leadership race in fall 2016 culminating in the election of Valérie Plante early December. (JCM)

Black Lives Matter/Police Killings

2016 continued the sad tradition of police murdering innocent people of colour for no good reason and getting away with it (for the most part). The Black Lives Matter movement also continued to speak out against these killings.

There were two such murders in early July very close together, to the point where it was possible to confuse notification of one with the other. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile died at the hands of police in different cities in different states within 24 hours of each other.

This prompted solidarity protests across the US. There was also an impromptu BLM sit-in during the Toronto Pride Parade and a couple of Montreal marches which highlighted that racist police violence was not just an American problem.

BLM sit-in during Pride Toronto, photo Hector Vasquez (BlogTO, Creative Commons Licence)

In Dallas, Texas, a lone sniper, not part of the peaceful protest, decided to murder nine police officers, which, of course, became a national tragedy and an excuse for the right wing to incorrectly attack BLM.

In September, following the police murder of Keith Lamont Scott, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina erupted. There were days of protest and the governor declared a state of emergency on the second night.

There is sadly no sign that any of this will change in 2017, especially given the positions of the incoming administration on race and police. (JCM)

Syria

Sadly, this year was marked by the continuing conflict in Syria. Dictator Bashar al-Assad has again been accused of deliberately targeting civilians. The carnage in Aleppo reached new heights as the regime’s forces renewed their assault, driving residents to send their goodbyes over social media.

The Anti-ISIS coalition lead by the US is also responsible for a lot of civilian casualties. Amnesty International and the official opposition of al-Assad even called for a suspension of their airstrikes after they were reported to have killed between 100 and 200 civilians in the region of Manbij over two months.  This number is now confirmed to have surpassed 300, although the US still refuses to acknowledge it.

Local groups have been fighting the rising terrorist factions in Syria, namely the now famous Kurd “women’s protection unit”, also known as YPJ. However, despite their important role, their status with the international community is on shaky ground. One YPJ fighter is currently detained in Denmark under terrorism charges. (MD)


So that’s our look back at 2016 in the news. Here’s hoping for overall more uplifting stories in 2017!

A young Inuit woman addressed the assembly at the UN Conference on Climate Change on Canada’s behalf this past Wednesday in Marrakesh.

Maatalii Okalik, president of the Inuit Youth Council, accompanied the Minister of the Environment Catherine McKenna to the 22nd Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 22) where she pleaded for the world leaders to take native communities into account.

“With your continued leadership that will define our future on climate action, I am hopeful that it is done in cooperation with Indigenous peoples,” Okalik said.

Okalik’s brief allocution was showcased in Canada’s national statement. The Minister introduced her as “an incredible young leader for the Canadian Arctic and a strong voice for Inuit youth.”

The liberal government seems determined as ever to display its good intentions to include indigenous communities in its decisions, at least on social media. On Tuesday, McKenna shaed a picture of Okalik on a stage with several indigenous leaders on Snapchat. The picture was captioned “Amazing panel on Indigenous role on climate action. I want Canada to be a leader on this.”

cop22-enviro-can

According to National Post, the Canadian delegation in Marrakesh comprises around 17 representatives from various indigenous groups.

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) decided to send its own delegation to Marrakesh. Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart and Elder Francois Paulette of the Dene Nation are both attending. Their mission is to ensure that First Nations have “a strong voice” in the plan for climate action.

“First Nations are in a unique position to be leaders in climate change initiatives because of our knowledge of the sacred teachings of the land. We must not be situated as passive recipients of climate change impacts. We must be agents of change in climate action,” Elder Paulette declared in a communiqué.

Chief Hart, who is also co-chair on the Chiefs Committee for Climate Change, insisted on the importance of indigenous rights and responsibilities being fully recognized.

Both he and Okalik alluded to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Although the Canadian government officially supports this treaty, the Trudeau administration deemed it “unworkable” as a Canadian law.

Although Trudeau is not attending this year, Canada sent a sizable delegation. Several provincial Premiers and environment ministers are there, including Quebec’s Philippe Couillard and David Heurtel. Union representatives as well as environmental advocacy groups like Equiterre and Ecojustice Canada are also there.

Where does Canada stand in Marrakesh?

COP 22 is a two week long event that will end on Friday the 18th. Its purpose is to form strategies to reach the goals set one year ago in Paris for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

In November 2015, freshly-elected Justin Trudeau arrived at the COP 21 with nothing but the timid goals set by the Harper government: bring GHG emissions down to 30% under 2005 levels before 2030. But according to the grapevine, Canada will revise its ambitions upwards. Greenpeace Canada told La Presse Canadienne that Canadian officials in Marrakesh said that the new goal was to bring GHG emissions 80% below 2005 levels before year 2050.

The measures to be deployed in that regard are vastly unknown. Last month, the federal government announced that all provinces and territories will have to implement a carbon tax of at least 10$/ton by 2018, to reach 50$/ton in 2022. Canada had already promised $2.65 billion over five years to help developing countries access and create clean technologies.

On Wednesday, the government announced a contribution of $2.5 Million to the Climate Technology Centre and Network to that effect. The CTCN is an agency created by the UN to help emerging countries access and develop new technologies, both to fight climate change and to deal with its effects.

The government also promised an investment of $1.8 Billion to “mobilize” the private sector to do the same.

A more detailed national strategy is awaited in the next couple of days.

 

The National Energy Board cannot be allowed to review any projects until it’s completely reformed, pleaded 50 organizations in a letter sent to the Prime Minister on Wednesday. Signatories argue that the NEB has lost the legitimacy to approve massive pipelines like TransCanada’s Energy East or Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain.

“We are calling on you to put aside the fundamentally flawed work that has been done by the NEB to date. Overhaul the NEB, renew the confidence of Canadians in the federal government’s pipeline review process and, only after this has been accomplished, assess these projects in an atmosphere that is not plagued by the legacy of the Harper era.”

The letter is signed by multiple environmental activist groups, as well as the WestCoast Environmental Law Agency and the Aboriginal People’s Council.

Last week, the NEB was forced to suspend consultations on the Energy East Pipeline when it became clear that the concerns over the neutrality of its commission board were not about to die down.  The National Observer had previously revealed that two of the three commissioners on the board had covertly met with Jean Charest, then acting as a lobbyist for TransCanada.

The NEB first denied that it happened, then apologized for it but allowed the review to continue with all commissioners still on board. Last week, after protesters successfully disrupted the consultation in Montreal, the NEB agreed to suspend the Energy East consultations while they decide what to do with the two problematic commissioners.

A Band-aid over a bullet hole, claim the harsher critics of the NEB.

“Of course the board members who acted inappropriately should recuse themselves, but this will not solve the credibility gap that is plaguing the pipeline review process in Canada,” argues the letter.

The Problematic History of  the NEB

Misconduct of commissioners is not the NEB’s biggest problem; its entire history is. The National Energy Board Act is a 1985 reworking of legislation from the early sixties. It was meant to evaluate the safety and the practical matters of energy infrastructures. This only changed four years ago when Stephen Harper abolished the Environmental Assessment Agency and assigned the NEB to take over part of its duties.

It’s now clear that the NEB’s structure has failed to adapt to its new mission.

Commissioners of the NEB are politically appointed and many of them have been employed by oil businesses at some point in their careers.

Their public consultations are often criticized for their lack of accessibility. Anyone who wants to be heard must prove that they are directly affected by the project in question and register several months in advance.

The scope of their assessment is limited to direct consequences, which is in itself an archaic concept. Modern environmental assessments cannot refuse to consider impacts of oil production or tar sands development or of an increasingly oil-dependant national economy. All these matters are classified as upstream activities or downstream effects and as such, they are not considered by the NEB.

All of this might explain why the National Energy Board only rarely rejects a project. It had even approved (under 200 or so conditions) the Northern Gateway Pipeline, despite overwhelming opposition from the communities near its path. In fact, the appeals court later reversed their decision, judging that aboriginal communities had not been adequately consulted.

The NEB’s credibility is more than a little compromised. A CBC poll from last march suggests that 51% of Canadians have little or no confidence in the National Energy Board. People from Quebec and British Columbia, respectively affected by the Northern Gateway and Energy East, were most skeptical.

Just a couple of days ago, Ipolitics’ Chris Wood published a particularly scathing opinion piece on the matter: “The NEB is obsolete, an anachronism, a captive service agency for one particularly toxic, last-century industry, rather than a police force for the public interest. Increasingly, it’s also a laughingstock.”

“Modernization” in progress

The government recognized that the National Energy Board review process was facing a crisis of confidence long before the mess of the Energy East consultations. In fact, “restoring the population’s trust in the National Energy Board” was a key promise of the Liberal electoral platform.

An expert panel is already mandated to examine the National Energy Board’s functioning as part of a large review of environmental regulations launched this summer. They should provide the Ministry of Natural Resources with a report full of recommendations about how to modernize the NEB by January. These recommendations, if the government decides to listen to them (which is not a sure thing, history tells us), should be implemented by June 2018. Interim measures have been defined, but they do not seem to alter much of the process.

Meanwhile, the assessments of Energy East, Trans Mountain and other projects mostly piloted by NOVA Gas Transmission and Enbridge are allowed to go on unimpeded.

Environmental groups are pressing Trudeau to be consistent. Now that he has recognized that the NEB needs to be modernized, he should not allow it to take such major decisions until it is.

* Featured image from More Canada! Twitter

As the Sioux of Standing Rock persevere in their legal battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the promoters are resorting to violence to disperse peaceful protesters.

Energy Transfer Partners’s private security attacked the protesters with pepper spray and dogs on Saturday, near the camp set up by indigenous activists in Southern North Dakota. The same day, the company bulldozed sacred burial grounds on private land.

A video report from Democracy Now! shows a group of persons trying to disperse the crowd with dogs and pepper spray. We can see several protesters who have clearly been maced in the face and a man showing the bloody dog bite on his arm.

Activist Martie Simmons, who was present, tweeted that six protesters, including a pregnant woman were bitten. Four private security guards and two guard dogs were injured, according to the local Sheriff’s Office (Morton County). The nature of the injuries suffered by the dogs and the guards were undisclosed but eyewitnesses affirm that the dogs were out of control, and bit the guards too.

Police say they received no reports of injured protesters.The sheriff’s office confirmed there was no officers present at the confrontation.

Indigenous resistance to the DAPL

Standing Rock’s Sioux tribe has organized opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline ever since the project first became public two years ago. The trajectory of the pipeline is set to skim their reserve and cross the Missouri River twice, causing concerns about water contamination and protection of cultural heritage sites.

Thousands of indigenous people from the US and Canada responded to the call of the Sioux of Standing Rock and set up camps near the Missouri River. Over a hundred tribes are represented in what became known as the oil protest camps, what could be one of the biggest assemblies of Indigenous Peoples this century. Non-native activists also joined the ranks.

Meanwhile, the Sioux of Standing Rock are suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for fast-tracking construction permits without consulting them.

The DAPL is a $4.88 billion pipeline that should conduct half a million barrels of crude oil per day from the Bakken Oil fields of North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline will be just under 1900 km long and run through four states.

According to the Chairman of the Sioux Tribe of Standing Rock, Dave Archambault II, the pipeline threatens the lives of the people on the reserve and of the millions of people living downstream on the Missouri River, as well as ancestral Sioux sites.

“We never had an opportunity to express our concerns. This is a corporation that is bulldozing through,” Archambault told Democracy Now!.

His tribe is currently challenging the permits of Energy Transfer Partners in federal court on the grounds that the promoters did not adequately consult First Nations. They called for an emergency, temporary stopping of the construction on Tuesday, claiming that the company is already desecrating their burial sites. The federal court will announce its verdict on September 9th.

A Canadian Company

The DAPL is co-piloted by the American company Energy Transfer Partners and the Calgary-based Enbridge. Enbridge is no stranger to controversy, as it was recently forced by Canada’s federal court to give up on the Northern Gateway pipeline for similar reasons.

The $7.9 billion pipeline meant to export Albertan petroleum to the west coast had first been authorized by the Conservative government, despite the strong opposition of the native communities near its trajectory. However a federal appeal court revoked the permits in July, ruling that the Enbridge had not adequately consulted the affected aboriginal communities.

In 2015, Enbridge broke records by racking up $264 000 in fines from the National Energy Board, mostly because of safety and environmental hazards. However, the NEB ended up cancelling most of the fines due to lack of evidence.

Enbridge incidentally made the news today for acquiring Spectra Energy. The $37 billion transaction, if it is approved by appropriate authorities, could make Enbridge the biggest player on the North American market of energy infrastructure.

On Tuesday, the National Energy Board (NEB) announced the suspension of all their consultations on the Energy East Pipeline after opposition to both the pipeline and the assessment process hit a new high in Montreal.

The first of the three scheduled panel sessions in Montreal was aborted as soon as it started on Monday morning after protesters irrupted the proceedings in the Centre Mont-Royal.

A few people disrupted the assembly, brandishing banners and chanting for about thirty minutes before the police forcefully removed them. Three people were arrested. In a communiqué published later that night, the NEB called the incident “a violent disruption […] which threatened the security of everyone involved.”

Multiple activist groups, MNAs and Mayor Coderre himself have been asking for the National Energy Board assessment of Energy East to be suspended since concerns over the integrity of two commissioners have been raised. It was recently revealed that Lyne Mercier and Jacques Gauthier had secretly met with a TransCanada lobbyist – who happened to be none other than Ex-Premier Jean Charest- in early 2015.

The Front Commun Pour la Transition Énergétique (FCPTE) organized a “greeting committee” for the Montreal consultations on Monday. Environmentalists, but also some political representatives (namely from Québec Solidaire) were present.  Carole Dupuis, member of FCPTE and general coordinator of the Regroupement Vigilance hydrocarbures, described the protest as coloured and joyful.

In a short phone interview, Mrs Dupuis said that her organization had no plans to interrupt the session. According to her, the incident was the initiative of a lone individual that gathered spontaneous support:

“Actually a man ran to the front and then others joined him to chant slogans.”

After the no-go session of Monday, the NEB announced the postponement of the session scheduled Tuesday, citing security concerns. Finally, on Tuesday afternoon, they stated that all consultations are suspended until they decide what to do with the two commissioners who met with Charest:

“Given that two motions have been filed asking for the recusal of Panel Members, and given that the Board has invited written comments by September 7, 2016 on the these motions, the Board will not proceed with further Panel Sessions until it reaches a decision.”

What’s the problem with the National Energy Board?

A couple of days before the NEB arrived in Montreal, Coderre joined the calls for the suspension of the consultations. He said he was “ill at ease” with the fact that two of the three commissioners had met with Jean Charest.

Lyne Mercier and Jacques Gauthier, along with the director of the NEB, met with Charest while he was working for TransCanada, in January 2015.  The NEB first did not disclose that it had a meeting with a TransCanada lobbyist.

When it was discovered, they insisted that the subject of Energy East had not come up in the discussion. But thanks to the Access to Information Act, the National Observer got hold of some documents that proved the exact opposite. Handwritten notes from one of the participants included mentions such as “safety of the pipeline”,  “economy needs investment” and “what profits for Quebec?”.

The NEB apologized for lying but refused to remove Gauthier and Mercier from the Energy-East committee, until now. All appearance of partiality aside, the deficient French platform and the lack of accessibility of the NEB’s consultation have also been criticized.

Prior to 2012, the NEB had no experience whatsoever with public consultations. It’s only when the conservatives adopted a mammoth law abolishing the Canadian Environmental Assessment agency that the NEB’s role was redefined.

The National Energy Board is an independent federal organisation. Its purpose is to regulate the oil, gas and electricity projects that have international or inter-provincial reach. Although it often gets heaped with organisations like BAPE (Quebec’s Bureau of Environmental Public Hearings), its mandate is fundamentally different.

The NEB is foremost mandated to evaluate the safety and the practical aspects of the projects.

In 2014, it ruled that it did not have to consider upstream activities or downstream results in its assessment of a project. In other words, the consequences of EE on climate change, oil dependency or tar-sands development will not be examined by the NEB.

The Energy-East Pipeline: A Quick Rundown of the Facts

Energy-East pipeline is a TransCanada project destined to transport oil from Alberta to New Brunswick. The idea is to convert 3000 km of an old gas pipeline and extend it by 1600 km, to have a brand new 4600 kms of pipeline transporting 1.2 million oil barrels daily. It’s worth $15,7 Billion.

Eshko Timiou, Wiki creative commons
Eshko Timiou, Wiki creative commons

It will run through six provinces and under 860 watercourses, including the Outaouais River and the Saint-Lawrence River.

The divisive aspect of the pipeline climbed to new levels as other pipeline projects (namely Keystone XL) fell through, leaving EE as the last route to export Alberta’s massive oil production.

Supporters of the project argue that it would allow Alberta to boost up the exploitation of its tar sands and at the same time allow the rest of Canada to drastically reduce its oil imports from Europe, the Middle-East and Africa. TransCanada is also promising the creation of numerous – if temporary- jobs throughout the country.

 

Associated Minor Scandals

However, the oil travelling through the pipeline is not destined for Canadian consumption. Only a meager percentage of the product would be treated in Quebec’s refineries and the rest would be exported overseas from New Brunswick.

BAPE public consultations have also taught us that the oil will be extracted partly from Alberta’s tar-sands and partly from North Dakota. As Alexandre Shields once pointed out, Energy East will, to some extent serve to transport US oil to other US territories.

Environmental groups have raised red flags about the rivers affected by the pipeline’s trajectories. One of the primary sources of concern is the form of the oil in transition: a substance called dilbit. Dilbit is diluted bitumen that is easier to transport than crude oil, but it is very difficult to clean up in the event of a spill.

It is especially risky in rivers, where it rapidly sinks to the bottom before it can be recuperated. A detail that might be even more challenging in the often iced water of the Saint-Lawrence.

I personally believe this pipeline is an overall terrible idea and I could easily write another 6000 words about all the reasons why this project has been a complete trainwreck so far. Now I know this has been dragging on, so let’s take a moment to revisit some of TransCanada’s greatest moves:

  • Trying to build a port in an endangered species’ nursery
  • A leaked “press strategy” that erred somewhere in the area of barely-legal-and-definitely-unethical.
  • Refusing to comply with Quebec’s environmental law
  • Failing to provide proper documentation in French
  • Providing such unreadable gibberish in lieu of the documentation required by federal law that the NEB had to ask them to start over.
  • Responding that they will have something ready by 2018 when commissioners of the BAPE pointed out that they had no clear strategy in the case of an oil spill in the Saint-Lawrence.

* featured image from ÉcoQuébec’s twitter account: “greeting committee” for the NEB consultations on Monday

A young cyclist died after a collision with a truck on Monday afternoon in Montreal. The driver didn’t see the 24 year old woman when he made a right-turn at the intersection of Iberville and Rosemont. The opposition in City Council, along with advocacy group Vélo-Québec, are calling, once again, for enhanced protective measures for cyclists.

“It’s terrible,” said Luc Ferrandez from Projet Montréal, as quoted by Radio-Canada. “We are lagging behind. And Mayor Coderre is the mayor of these citizens who are getting hurt and who are dying. He should do something.”

Coderre responded by underscoring the work that is already being done on some intersections to make their configuration safer for cyclists. He also reminded the opposition that some changes have already been implanted in the existing regulations (namely law 107).

The issue keeps resurfacing as accidents keep happening. A few times a year, a cyclist gets run over and the city council promises that they are working on ensuring fair and safe sharing of the road.

Now, there is another phantom-bike to add to the city’s rapidly growing collection.  At the rate we’re going, they will soon be as much of a banal part of our urban landscape as the infamous orange cones.

Rising Accident Rates

Montreal is by far the Canadian city with the biggest number of cyclists and the largest number of bicycle lanes. While there is no doubt that Montreal’s bike culture is alive and well, the same can’t be said for its cyclists.

The number of bicycles on the road is on the rise and so are the number of accidents. There were 763 recorded bike accidents in 2015, including three lethal ones: a 16% increase compared to the previous year.

In fact, a study published in 2015 crowned the city as the Canadian queen of bike accidents. According to the Pembina Institute, Montreal has seven bike accidents for every 100 000 rides; much more than all the other large population centres in the country. In fact, a bike ride in Montreal is seven times more likely to come to a brutal end than it is in Vancouver.

These findings were based on data from 2008. However, considering that both the number of bicycles on the road and the rate of accidents have risen since then, the current numbers are probably even worse.

We Need to Keep Up

But wait, isn’t Montreal the most bike-friendly city in North-America, or something? Well, it was.

In 2013, Montreal ranked as the 13th most bike-friendly city of the world in the Copenhagenize Index. It was the only North American city in the top 20. But we’ve been slipping since then and Minneapolis (Minnesota) has surpassed us.

Montreal desperately clings to the 20th spot in this year’s ranking.

As population growth and air pollution put more and more pressure on urban centres, cities around the world are wising up. Investing in biking infrastructure is not progressive and cool anymore; it’s necessary.  It seems that our political leaders have failed to recognize that in today’s context, not going forward means falling behind.

Quebec’s ambitious plan of reducing its greenhouse gas emission by 38% in the next 14 years does not even contain any consideration for encouraging cycling as alternative transportation. And the strategy it put forward instead to address car-related pollution is being called into question.

According to the City of Montreal’s own numbers, there are now 1.3 Million bike riders on the Island. Consideration for their safety should amount to more than a couple of days of indignation after every tragic accident.

Getting our respectable number of protected lanes connected into a coherent network, and, for the love of God, ensuring their proper maintenance, would be a great place to start.

As the Copenhagenize Index recommends:

“Better winter maintenance is a must, cycle tracks along main arteries should be a no-brainer (especially with the shocking state of the asphalt on the roads), and feel free to borrow traffic-calming inspiration from Paris and Barcelona.”

* Featured image: homeexchange.com

A panel of experts has been mandated to review Canada’s environmental assessment process. On Monday, Minister of the Environment Catherine McKenna presented the four members of the committee in charge of this effort to modernize our environmental laws.

The committee is tasked with producing a report “in early 2017.” To do so, they will “engage broadly with indigenous groups, the public and a wide range of stakeholders across Canada,” according to the government’s website.

Who is on This Committee?

The chairwoman of the committee is Johanne Gélinas, a leading consultant on environmental law. She was the Canadian Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development from 2000 to 2007 and also served ten years in the Environmental Public Hearings Office (better known as BAPE) in Quebec.

Also sitting on the Panel are René Pelletier, a lawyer from the Maliseet community who specializes in Aboriginal rights and environmental law, and Rod Northey, another prominent environmental lawyer. The last member is Doug Horswill, who previously served as Deputy Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources of BC and as chairman of two Mining Associations.

What Will Happen Now?

The committee presented by McKenna will get input from Canadian citizens and organizations during September. People can already communicate their opinions via the internet. Dates for in-person hearings should be decided shortly.

By early 2017, the panel will present a summary of the input received along with its conclusions and recommendations. The Ministry of Environment will then “consider” the recommendations and “identify the next step to improve federal environmental assessment processes.”

Promises, Promises…

This is a step towards making the process more “open, transparent and inclusive,” according to a press release from Minister McKenna.

The review of the environmental assessment process is one of the three parts of the Liberal plan to improve environmental regulations that was officially launched this summer. The two other parts are modernizing the National Energy Board and restoring the protections under the Fisheries Act and the Navigation Act that were lost under the Harper government.

The Liberal environmental platform is mostly defined by two key points repeated ad-nauseam since 2015: restoring the population’s trust in the environmental assessment process and insuring that their decisions are based on “evidence, facts and science” (because redundancy sounds much more inspiring).

During and since the elections, they have advertised their intention to involve the population, and especially the aboriginal communities, more directly in the approval of projects that could be dangerous to the environment.

Indeed, they have launched and publicized many public consultations. They also announced up to $223 000 of funding for Indigenous participation to Federal Government reviews of Environmental Assessment Processes and National Energy Board Modernization.

They will hear the opinion of Canadians and they will “consider it.”

Consultation after consultation, the government is working to make the population feel more involved and to restore their trust in the system. But is it working to insure that this trust is warranted? They have yet to take any concrete action to put science and research at the base of their policies on environmental issues.

* Featured image of Squamish River by James Wheeler via Flickr Creative Commons

Fort MacMurray and large swaths of Northern Alberta have been burning for a few days. Homes and communities have been destroyed and people have died, too.

This is a time for everyone in Canada and beyond to come together and try to stop the fires and assist those who have been forced to evacuate as much as they can. That has been happening. There have been stories circulating of everyone from the people of Lac Megantic, Quebec to recent Syrian refugees pitching in.

Politically, though, there has been a fire of a different sort. At first, there were those online suggesting that the fires were directly caused by the oil being pulled out of the ground, but when it was clear that the fires did not start at the extraction site and had no specific correlation to the most prominent industry in the region, those rumblings gave way to a political argument about whether or not the wildfires were the result of climate change.

Ottawa Weighs In

Green Party leader Elizabeth May fired the first shot, so to speak, when asked if the fires were linked to climate change:

“Of course. It’s due to global emissions. Scientists will say we know with a destabilized climate, with a higher average global temperature, we will see more frequent, more extreme weather events … due to an erratic climate, due to our addiction to fossil fuels.”

Later in the same day, she walked that statement back a bit, saying there was no specific correlation and that “no credible climate scientist would make this claim, and neither do I make this claim.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau got the question next and responded like this:

“It’s well-known that one of the consequences of climate change will be a greater prevalence of extreme weather events around the planet, however any time we try to make a political argument out of one particular disaster I think there is a bit of a shortcut that can sometimes not have the desired outcome.

Pointing at any one incident and saying, ‘Well this is because of that,’ is neither helpful nor entirely accurate. What we are focussed on right now on is giving the people of Fort McMurray, and across Alberta, the kind of support that they need.”

Now, I, for one, am loathe to agree with Trudeau anything, let alone on environmental issues. He is, after all, the one who seems to think pipelines will lead to our green future. I also believe that most of Alberta’s oil should stay in the ground. In fact, I experienced quite the dilemma a few paragraphs back in this article. I absolutely refuse to use the term “oil sands” but thought that “tar sands” was a little too hardcore a term to use for the “coming together” point I was trying to make.

That dilemma is nothing compared to the one faced by people whose homes have recently burned to the ground. In fact, not all of those fleeing the wildfires are oil company executives, very few are. These are workers, their families, activists opposed to pipelines, First Nations communities and others who, a week ago, were fighting against the destruction the oil industry would bring to their home, and now are fleeing from their home.

With that in mind, I have to agree with Justin Trudeau. This is not the right time to be talking climate change.

Put the Fires Out First

Are these fires the result of climate change? Maybe. Could they also have been caused by inconsiderate campers? Maybe. Are wildfires a natural occurrence in the area? Yes. Do these fires have no other explanation? Maybe. These are all good questions that can be answered later.

Right now shit is burning and stopping that and helping those affected has to be our first and only concern. There will be time to talk cause and assign blame later.

When a spree killer is chasing you down the hall, you don’t stop running, turn around and pontificate on the lack of gun control or our failing mental health system, you get the hell out of there and hope the killer is stopped before he gets to you. If you survive, there will be plenty of time to talk about and hopefully stop the root causes of what happened.

Right now, metaphorically, we’re still running down the hall. The fires are still raging and we need to stop them and find a way out.

It’s fine to criticize the government at a time like this, but only on things they aren’t doing or could be doing better to deal with and hopefully end the situation (like not letting the Russians help). Linking the disaster to climate change at this point isn’t one of them.

I know that I may be annoying some people whom I otherwise agree with and may agree with on this issue, except that I don’t think this is the right time to be on a soapbox about it. I don’t really care, because, here in Montreal, I still have a roof over my head, which is more than some in Alberta, Manitoba and now Ontario can say.

When your soapbox is burning, run away.