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In pragmatic move, Premier Rachel Notley appoints former Tory minister from Calgary to infrastructure portfolio

Fri, 2017-10-20 23:22
David J. Climenhaga

While tout le monde political Alberta was focusing on the province-wide municipal elections Monday, no one noticed NDP Premier Rachel Notley was busy cooking up a small cabinet shuffle.

Actually, shuffle is too grand a word. What got announced by the premier on Tuesday was too small for that, although quite significant just the same.

It was a cabinet enhancement, the addition of a single new minister -- importantly, Calgary-North West MLA and former Progressive Conservative cabinet member Sandra Jansen to the infrastructure portfolio -- plus two parliamentary secretaries.

It was interesting and probably meaningful that the premier made the announcement there would be a new minister of building expensive stuff in the hours after progressively inclined Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi fought off an effort to topple him by a collection of operators associated with both the Manning Centre and the increasingly Wildrose-like United Conservative Party.

As the provincial election expected in 2019 begins to appear over the horizon, everyone understands that the key battleground will be Calgary -- traditionally thought of as a conservative constituency but, as recent events have shown, maybe not.

NDP strategists obviously realize that most of rural Alberta is likely lost to them now, and barring a polling catastrophe, the Edmonton region remains their stronghold -- so their ability to hang onto government in 2019 depends on whether they can hold seats in Calgary.

So giving a portfolio to a former cabinet minister from the progressive wing of the old PC party, who not so long ago was campaigning to lead the Progressive Conservatives, is a pragmatic move clearly designed to position the NDP in the moderate middle, conservative enough to appeal to Calgarians and progressive enough to distinguish the government from the increasingly scary hard-right positions being taken by the UCP's leadership candidates.

Alert readers will recall that, not so long ago, the former national CTV news anchor was driven out of the PC leadership race by harassment from social conservative operatives suspected of being UCP frontrunner Jason Kenney's supporters, young Tory men of the sort generically known as the boys in short pants. She crossed the floor to join the NDP in November 2016.

The appointment of Jansen to the infrastructure portfolio will also free up former NDP leader Brian Mason, until yesterday the minister of transportation and infrastructure, to act as the government's pit bull in the pre-election period, a role in which he is likely to excel. Mr. Mason is Government House Leader in the Legislature as well.

The premier also appointed Jessica Littlewood, MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, as Parliamentary Secretary to the minister of economic development and trade, and Annie McKitrick, MLA for Sherwood Park, as Parliamentary Secretary to the minister of education. All three were sworn in at Government House in Edmonton yesterday afternoon.

The appointment of Jansen is pragmatic enough to recall memories of Alberta's first PC government, led by the late Peter Lougheed, a leader Notley has been known to channel from time to time. Lougheed, of course, was a conservative who wasn't afraid to pick economic winners when necessary, and who once nationalized an airline to keep it from pulling up stakes and moving from Calgary to Vancouver.

As such, the appointment wasn't necessarily greeted with complete enthusiasm by every member of the NDP base. But Notley's caucus itself is tightly disciplined and mostly disinclined to public eruptions of discontent.

Meanwhile, former Wildrose MLA Leela Aheer, now a member of the UCP caucus in the Legislature, seemed yesterday to be trying to take back Mr. Lougheed's legacy for the Conservatives.

Leastways, in an email drumming up conference participants and cash for the Manning Centre, Preston Manning's well-heeled Calgary-based PAC for market fundamentalist causes and politicians, Aheer complained about uppity Central Canadians who are happy about the recent demise of the Energy East Pipeline and wondered what has become of the Western conservative heroes of yesteryear.

"When Pierre Trudeau brought in the National Energy Program we had Peter Lougheed," the Chestermere-Rocky View MLA lamented. "These days, if we want to have a Premier fight for us, we have to rely on Brad Wall."

One could argue this is weird, coming from a loyalist to UCP leadership contender and former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, who lately has been advocating policies to wean Canadian refiners from what he calls "Dictator Oil" that sound suspiciously like the elder Trudeau's NEP.

Jean, Kenney and Manning should take some time to straighten out the kinks in the UCP's party line at the Manning Centre's Western bun-fest in Red Deer next month.

By then, perhaps, Jansen will have figured out how to build a new hockey rink for the Calgary Flames -- and to do it entirely on Mayor Nenshi's terms. We'll have to see about that...

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca. 

Photo: Premier of Alberta/Flickr

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The return of nuclear nightmares

Fri, 2017-10-20 20:57
Political ActionPolitics in CanadaTechnologyUS Politics

The first age of nuclear nightmares came in the 1950s and 1960s. They chiefly afflicted the young. Their parents had experienced nuclear realities by way of bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That was part of a war, and ended it. It was normalized and rational, though in a basically ungraspable way.

Their kids grew up in a peaceful world haunted by nuclear terrors. Their teachers taught them to "duck and cover" beneath their desks if they saw the nuclear flash. They had nightmares (and waking ones) of it. The only moment of apparent imminence came during the 1962 Cuba Missile Crisis. It all receded gradually, via détente, a non-proliferation treaty and the Cold War's demise.

Now it's back. The minds of the young (in particular) are haunted by nuclear annihilation. If, at this moment, as you're reading, you saw a nuclear flash illuminate the sky, you'd be shattered but not surprised. It's there again as imminent, due largely, but not solely, to Trump. Why not solely? Because generations of earlier leaders failed to act to eliminate those weapons and instead built dazzling models of international relations based on them. Trump has arrived, in a way, to demonstrate the true meaning of their bullshit.

Why especially among youth? They have a future but no (adult) past, and fear they won't live to see it. The rest of us have already had lives we steered ourselves. "Do you think God can exist in a world with nuclear weapons?" asked a millennial -- not hysterically, matter-of-factly. They are a quirky demographic.

Along with daily, waking horrors, come new ways to think about politics. I had a friend, the late Art Pape, who left university in his second year, in 1962, to become Canada's first full time worker for nuclear disarmament. It seemed daring then. Later that image morphed into elderly white people in Birkenstocks demonstrating outside nuclear facilities and looking like Jeremy Corbyn.

Now, remarkably, Corbyn is young again! In a U.K. parliamentary debate on renewing the Trident missile system, he was pilloried by his political and media peers for saying, "I do not believe the threat of mass murder is a legitimate way to go about dealing with international relations."

Another millennial I know was inspired, almost transported, by those words. Corbyn has been saying them in some form for half a century. The respectable voices in politics and public discourse simply snicker at his phrasing. But when the young hear it, in sober, adult forums, it gives them hope: they aren't alone.

In fact, what Corbyn says is entirely sensible, it's pure reason, and when the nuclear flash happens, and the skin is dripping off the faces of vast urban populations, everyone will suddenly get it. The sages of Mutual Assured Destruction will smack their own foreheads and say, "How did we miss that?"

Other signs of anti-nuke renewal? Last summer, almost two-thirds of UN members passed a non-binding ban on nuclear weapons. Did you know there was no such thing? The nuclear non-proliferation treaty way back in 1968 tried to prevent new nukers but left original possessors (the Security Council five plus Israel, with India and Pakistan since) untouched.

There's a hilarious clause by which they're supposed to work "in good faith" to eliminate their arsenals. The new ban is meant to "stigmatize" nuclear weapons, a weird idea. Rape and cannibalism don't need stigmatization (or far less). Chemical and biological weapons and anti-personnel mines are already illegal. The Nobel Peace Prize this year went to the nuke-banning campaign.

The U.S., U.K. and France chorused, "We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party," since a ban "is incompatible with...nuclear deterrence" which makes us so secure. They sounded petulant, like they'd taken Trump lessons.

Tell it to the young, watching through the terrifying prism of Trump. Maybe the next step in nuclear deterrence should be a Trump non-proliferation treaty.

Where does Canada stand? Nowhere. Didn't attend UN sessions or support the ban. Certainly didn't want to irk the U.S. in the midst of our brilliant, sunny effort to cling to NAFTA.

Also: Trudeau's government, for obscure reasons, wants desperately to win a 2019 seat on the Security Council. There it could be a "moderating" voice for causes like global peace. So it declines to speak out on the defining peace issue of the age. You figure it out.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: National Nuclear Security Administration/Wikimedia Commons

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nuclear arms controlarms raceU.S. politicsDonald TrumpRick SalutinOctober 20, 2017Canada was never a 'nuclear nag'Canada wasn't a 'nuclear nag.' If one were to rank the world's 200 countries in order of their contribution to the nuclear arms race Canada would fall just behind the nine nuclear armed states.U.S. restarts nuclear arms race with massive new weapons programU.S. President Barack Obama recently announced a 30-year, $1-trillion program to modernize the U.S. nuclear-weapon arsenal, also known as the "Trillion Dollar Trainwreck."Canada now a hawk on nuclear arms proliferationCanada's recent failure to step up for the UN vote banning nuclear weapons is just the latest in a series of bewildering decisions.

Bill 62 is now Law 62. What will happen to women on Quebec streets as they go about their lives?

Fri, 2017-10-20 13:43
October 20, 2017Anti-RacismCivil Liberties WatchPolitics in CanadaQuebec's face-covering ban encourages bigotrySome political leaders have condemned Quebec’s Law 62 as a violation of human rights; others not. Justin Trudeau has been circumspect, while Jagmeet Singh and the Ontario legislature have gone furtherban on nibnib CanadaCharter of Quebec ValuesCanadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

'I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore'

Thu, 2017-10-19 22:26
Civil Liberties WatchFeminismPolitical Action

"I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore." Helen Reddy sang those words in 1972, providing an anthem to the rising women's movement. Forty-five years later, the song could serve as the score to a movie documenting the abusive rise and abrupt demise of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. If only it were just a movie. Fifty-five women have bravely come forward so far, accusing Weinstein of everything from sexual harassment to rape and propelling the issue of violence against women to the forefront of American life.

The flood of personal statements has gone well beyond Weinstein now, channeled on social media under the hashtag "MeToo," posted on Sunday by actress Alyssa Milano. "If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem," she wrote, adding, "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet." Over half a million women (and some men as well) have used the #MeToo hashtag, exposing in a few short days how pervasive are the crimes of sexual harassment and rape.

While Alyssa Milano propelled "MeToo" into the public forum, it was founded 10 years ago by Tarana Burke, a longtime African-American feminist who now works as program director at Girls for Gender Equity.

"As a survivor of sexual violence myself, as a person who was struggling trying to figure out what healing looked like for me, I also saw young people, and particularly young women of color, in the community I worked with, struggling with the same issues and trying to find a succinct way to show empathy," Tarana Burke said on the Democracy Now! news hour. "'Me Too' is so powerful, because somebody had said it to me, and it changed the trajectory of my healing process."

Celebrity perpetrators, as well as victims who also are celebrities, can quickly bring an issue to the forefront. But Burke has for decades been working with regular people: "For every R. Kelly or Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein, there's the owner of the grocery store, the coach, the teacher, the neighbor, who are doing the same things...we don't pay attention till it's a big celebrity. But this work is ongoing, because this is pervasive."

Alicia Garza, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, also spoke on "Democracy Now!," saying: "I first have to just say a deep thank-you to Tarana for creating this space for survivors like myself. Without that space, I wouldn't be able to tell my story, and thousands and thousands of other people that I know would not be able to tell their stories." Garza added, "This kind of violence is as American as apple pie."

In addition to the torrent of accusations Harvey Weinstein faces, new criminal investigations are being undertaken by both the New York City Police Department and Scotland Yard. As the floodgates have opened, Amazon Studios head Roy Price has been forced to resign after allegations surfaced that he sexually harassed a female producer.

This all comes on the first anniversary of the notorious 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape on which Donald Trump is caught bragging to TV host Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women:

Trump: "I'm automatically attracted to beautiful -- I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything."
Bush: "Whatever you want." 
Trump: "Grab 'em by the pussy. You can do anything."

Two years later, in 2007, Celebrity Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos alleges, Trump sexually assaulted her: "He put me in an embrace and I tried to push him away. I pushed his chest to put space between us...he began thrusting his genitals. He tried to kiss me again, with my hand still on his chest."

Trump denied Zervos' accusations, as well as similar allegations from at least a dozen other women who came out last year accusing him of sexual assault. Trump promised to sue them after the election. To date, he hasn't. Zervos, however, has sued him, charging Trump with libel for using his vast bully pulpit (stress on the word "bully") to call her a liar. As part of her lawsuit, Zervos' lawyer has issued a subpoena to the Trump campaign for all documents relating to her and other women's allegations of his inappropriate or unwanted contact.

After our interview, Tarana Burke took off her leopard-patterned sweater and proudly displayed her black T-shirt. On the front, in pink letters, were the words "me too." She smiled and turned around. On the back were the words "You are not alone...It's a movement!"

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Image: Tarana Burke/Facebook

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#metoosexual assaultwomen's rightssexual violencesexual abuseDonald TrumpAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanOctober 19, 2017To understand sexual assault, we still need to listen to Donald TrumpSurvivors, primarily women, have been speaking out about Trump and other sexually aggressive men for decades. Why is it that we don't pay attention until these men speak themselves?#WeBelieveYou: Allies stand with sexual assault survivorsAs the verdict of the Ghomeshi trial was announced, allies continue to stand with survivors of sexual violence through social media and rallies across the country.Sexual assault in progressive spaces: Thinking about the Jian Ghomeshi allegationsAfter the Jian Ghomeshi allegations, let's think about how we handle sexual assault allegations in progressive spaces.

Independent Jewish Voices Canada congratulates Nadia Shoufani on victory for freedom of speech

Thu, 2017-10-19 19:17
Independent Jewish Voices Canada

Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) was thrilled to learn that Palestinian-Canadian teacher and human rights activist Nadia Shoufani successfully fended off a defamatory campaign that targeted her livelihood and reputation. Shoufani was targeted by Israel lobby groups after she spoke passionately at a rally in Toronto during the summer of 2016 in solidarity with Palestinians. A highly coordinated and malicious smear campaign against her was designed to ruin her career, and ultimately make an example of her, with the aim of silencing others who would consider speaking out publicly in support of Palestinians' human rights.

IJV is inspired by the steadfastness of Shoufani, who was suspended from her job for a lengthy period of time, and faced the prospect of  losing her career after her case was brought before the Ontario College of Teachers. In spite of the malicious and defamatory campaign directed against her, coupled with the unfair coverage she received in mainstream media that unquestioningly parroted the talking points of Israel lobby groups, Shoufani refused to be bullied into silence. She displayed profound courage, and her successful defense at the Ontario College of Teachers, which led to her being exonerated and her case being dismissed, marks a victory for all those in Canada who cherish our right to freedom of speech and expression.

Shoufani's victory over the well-resourced organizations that tried to make an example of her sends a strong message to Canadian civil society that those of us who support the human rights of Palestinians will never succumb to the bullying tactics of Israel lobby groups. We will continue to resist Israel's apartheid policies, and expose and challenge the undemocratic organizations that falsely claim to speak on behalf of diverse Jewish Canadian communities. We will also continue to hold our politicians and media accountable for their acquiescence in  Israel's systematic human rights abuses against Palestinians.

We reiterate our desire to promote an honest and open discussion in Canada on the situation in Israel and Palestine. In solidarity with the Palestinian people, and in the Jewish traditions of social justice and support for the liberation of all peoples, we continue to support the Palestinian-led campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, until Israel ends its occupation, and accepts and recognizes the Palestinians as equal human beings entitled to the same rights, freedoms and dignity that all of us should enjoy as a matter of course.

Image: darstv/Youtube

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Karina Griffiths uses film, music, theatre, panel discussions and storytelling for new Berlin show

Wed, 2017-10-18 12:47
October 18, 2017Anti-RacismArts & CultureCivil Liberties WatchCanadian curator’s groundbreaking slavery 'Republik Repair' festival in Berlin Karina Griffiths uses film, music, theatre, panel discussions and storytelling to address the 10-point Plan for Reparatory Justice produced by CARICOM in 2014 reparationsArts & Cultureanti-racismanti-slavery

House subcommittee hearings on mining in Latin America a public disservice

Wed, 2017-10-18 11:52
Jen Moore

The federal Liberals came into office promising to take action on human rights abuses associated with one of Canada’s largest and most controversial areas of foreign investment abroad: mining. But a rare study on the issue in the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights seems designed to justify the do-nothing status quo, since the process precludes any critical examination of Canada's current policy.

The subcommittee has been holding hearings on "Human rights surrounding natural resource extraction within Latin America," with no testimony from those most directly affected. The result is a discussion loaded with unchecked assumptions that is another affront to the voices of those too often silenced in Latin America to favour business as usual.

It is important to keep in mind that there are more mining companies headquartered in Canada and listed on Canadian stock exchanges than anywhere else in the world, and Latin America is their preferred destination abroad.

Abuses against Indigenous peoples, children, women, and affected populations as a result of Canadian mining operations have caught the attention of international human rights bodies since 2002. They have issued numerous and repeated recommendations to the Canadian government to adopt legislated measures to prevent and redress the harms taking place, including five times in the last two years.

A group of volunteer lawyers at Osgoode Hall Law School has documented 44 deaths, 403 injuries, and more than 700 cases of legal persecution that it associated with 28 Canadian mining operations in 13 Latin American countries between 2000 and 2015, noting that this is not comprehensive and does not include many other forms of violence taking place.

Several subcommittee members and witnesses have asserted that Canadian mining investment leads to progress. But they have not heard from any community member who has lost a source of water from contamination, whose farmland has been trashed by heaps of toxic waste, or whose relative has fallen ill since a mining project started upstream of their home and cannot get adequate medical attention because the company denies all responsibility. Nor have they heard from an Indigenous leader whose community has been denied its self-determination over the type of development they would choose for future generations, nor from any municipal leader who has refused to accept royalties from a mining operation because tens of thousands of citizens have voted against mining in their community, as a result of the long-term impacts they have observed from mining activities elsewhere.

Does the world need "more Canada?" The subcommittee has not asked what people on the ground think about the mining projects and policies that Canadian authorities have publicly backed in the region that have put communities, workers, and fragile ecosystems at risk and deliberately undermined local proposals and values.

While government and industry have been afforded full hearings to provide their opinions to the committee about the two mediation-based mechanisms that Canada currently offers as recourse, the committee has not heard from anyone directly who has tried to use them, allowing it to appreciate the considerable barriers to even partial remedy in this country for the many harms taking place abroad. Neither has it heard how poorly these mechanisms serve where trust has been completely destroyed as a result of threats, violence, and legal persecution of community leaders, or where communities just want a company to go away.

In considering possible solutions, the committee has not turned to dozens of Canadian organizations advocating for an independent human rights ombudsperson for the sector and greater access to justice in Canadian courts. Nor has it called to testify even one of the 180 Latin American organizations that signed a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in April 2016, calling on Canada to require community consent prior to any mining activities, asking that Canadian intervention abroad on behalf of the extractive industry end, and calling on Canada to adopt a model for international trade and investment that prioritizes people and the environment, which would not allow corporations to sue governments in international tribunals and cast a chill on making policy in the public interest.

It is unacceptable that the subcommittee on International Human Rights take a superficial approach to what is a defining issue for Canada's relationship with peoples of Latin America and the country's human rights performance internationally. If this government wants its stated commitment to Indigenous peoples and human rights to be taken seriously, serious change is urgently needed.

This article was originally published in The Hill Times.

Photo: EARTHWORKS​/Flickr

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First Nations-led renewable energy generation in B.C. offers promising path forward

Wed, 2017-10-18 01:55
Karena ShawDana CookEryn FitzgeraldJudith (Kekinusuqs) Sayers

These are exciting times in British Columbia for those interested in building sustainable, just and climate-friendly energy systems. The recent change in government could mean a shift away from a corporate agenda driven by the needs of a massively energy-intensive fracking and LNG industry towards one that prioritizes action on climate change, First Nations' self-determination and community-scale economic development. Indeed, First Nations-led renewable energy generation offers a promising path forward for each of these.

The momentum that First Nations have already built in this area, combined with developments in renewable energy technology, means they are well-positioned to be leaders in B.C.'s transition to a sustainable energy system.

We recently completed a province-wide survey of First Nations' involvement in the renewable energy sector, which turned up some provocative results. The survey was sent to all 203 First Nations in the province, and received a total of 105 responses.

A renewable energy project is defined as the development of power through solar, wind, geothermal, run-of-river, tides and biomass. The vast majority of survey respondents (98 per cent) are already involved or interested in becoming involved in the renewable energy sector. Thirty respondents report a combined total of 78 operational projects, with a total generating capacity of 1,836 MW. Thirty-two respondents report a further 48 projects in the planning or construction phase, and 77 respondents have an additional 250 projects under consideration. Projects vary considerably in size, technology and application. Some projects are intended to provide electricity to community buildings while others are meant to generate revenue through power sales.

First Nations experience myriad benefits from these projects. Many of the survey respondents identified renewable energy development as an economic venture that is consistent with their values and priorities. For some, commercial scale projects have the potential to generate much needed revenue and jobs with minimal damage to the environment. For others, project benefits include increasing community capacity, energy self-sufficiency and reducing their diesel or B.C. Hydro expenditures. One survey respondent stated:

"Our first project is a model of environmental, financial and community benefit. The social side has been fantastic because it has engendered pride in people who were challenged to be proud given the history of [First Nation] relations with the general population and media in Canada and the ongoing effects of residential school."

The complex story of B.C.'s experiment with run-of-river power

Much of the early involvement in renewable energy projects by First Nations has occurred through run-of-river hydroelectric projects. In 2002, B.C.'s provincial government began purchasing power from Independent Power Producers (IPP) through its Call for Power program.

First Nation communities have worked hard to negotiate financial benefits from this industry in a number of different ways. Many have signed Impact Benefit Agreements (IBA) with private companies developing projects on their territory. These IBAs can include equity in the projects, employment guarantees, royalty revenue, and other community benefits. Some have gone on to develop and own their own projects. Our survey found that 96 per cent of generating capacity comes from energy purchase agreements (EPA) signed through B.C. Hydro's Call for Power program.

Although First Nations have benefited significantly from the government's shift towards independent power production, the policy has been highly contentious. Concerns have focused on the implications of shifting a largely publicly owned electricity generation system to one intended to generate private profit; the consequences for ratepayers of B.C. Hydro locking into contracts with private producers at high prices; the pace and scale of development; social and environmental impacts; the adequacy of regulatory frameworks and enforcement in relation to both construction and operation of these facilities; and the appropriateness of the technologies being used.

Our survey results raise some interesting possibilities in relation to these concerns. Although not publicly owned at the provincial scale, renewable energy projects owned and developed by First Nations offer a model of public benefit from the development of public resources, as the profits generated by these projects are invested into local communities. As one survey respondent commented:

"[We are] undertaking the proposed project because it is an excellent opportunity for sustainable development with direct benefits to the environment and the community. The significant, long-term, steady cash flow to the community from an EPA [Energy Purchase Agreement] with B.C. Hydro will accrue to the community over time, with the economic benefits extending beyond the community, reaching nearby [communities] and benefiting members in other regions. Though somewhat limited in employment creation opportunities on its own, the cash generated from the project will enable [us] to invest in and grow other labour intensive sectors such as tourism, forestry and fisheries."

Many of the First Nations developing these projects also put a high priority on ensuring that they have minimal environmental impact. Survey respondents emphasised that it is only in this context that the developments are consistent with their values and priorities. One respondent stated:

"The...river system is home to many species of fish. Protection of these fish is [our] priority. [We] were involved in field studies and reviews, and in drafting terms of reference for the studies. The studies examined water, wildlife, habitat, vegetation, air quality, traditional and current use, and archaeology. The knowledge was used to adjust the project's design to offer better environmental protection."

A policy trajectory that supports the development of renewable energy projects by First Nations, and perhaps other local communities, thus has the potential to facilitate the public benefit of developing these resources.

Moving from run-of-river to solar and other renewables

In relation to concerns about run-of-river hydro projects, a particularly interesting finding of the survey is a shift in favoured renewable energy technologies among First Nations. The responses reveal an increase in the percentage of solar photovoltaic (PV), solar thermal, biomass and micro-hydro projects under development -- compared to already-operational projects, of which 61 per cent of which are run-of-river hydroelectricity.

This shift may be partly due to the growing affordability of certain technologies (especially solar PV), as well as their greater flexibility in terms of location (they are less site-constrained than hydro, wind or geothermal). Although these technologies are not without environmental impacts, it is frequently simpler to manage such impacts in both construction and operational phases than is the case with run-of-river projects.

This trend could indicate the potential to spread the benefits of renewable energy development more widely across communities, as more flexible and affordable technologies allow for more diverse applications. Sixty-one per cent of projects under consideration, for example, are being considered by communities with no current involvement in the industry.

In this way, the survey results reveal that First Nations have built significant momentum in the renewable energy industry, that their involvement is bringing real benefits to their communities, and that expanding and enhancing their involvement may similarly offer a double benefit: to communities seeking to increase their self-sufficiency and resilience as well as to B.C.'s efforts to decarbonize its economy minimizing the environmental impacts of its energy system.

If this pathway is appealing, what is currently constraining it?

Barriers to further progress: Enter Site C

Although survey respondents overwhelmingly expressed an interest in greater involvement in the renewable energy sector, they also identified three primary barriers to increasing their involvement: limited opportunities to sell power to the grid via B.C. Hydro, difficulties obtaining financing and a lack of community readiness. All three of these can be overcome with political will and resources.

Perhaps the most urgent of these is the significant decline in B.C. Hydro's interest in facilitating independent power production, which arises in part from the commitment to build the Site C dam, the most expensive public infrastructure project in the province's history. As Site C will produce such a large amount of power (1,100MW), it forecloses any opportunities to produce alternative forms of power, and for communities (First Nations and others) to benefit from this power production.

Respondents to our survey expressed that they have projects that are "…still viable and feasible and desirable. We want them to proceed [as] we've invested a lot of time and energy in advancing our needs, what we need is B.C. Hydro to free up the opportunity." These projects cannot be pursued until opportunities for power purchase are available from B.C. Hydro.

In this way, the development of Site C is a double blow to many First Nations: opposition on the part of those Nations directly affected by the dam is fierce, and many others see the dam as blocking the primary economic development opportunity available to them. First Nations are not alone in their opposition, of course; substantial concerns about the dam's necessity, impactspurposefinancial viability and the legitimacy of the approval process have been raised from a wide variety of sources.

Although Site C does offer a return to publicly owned electricity generation, it does not represent a sustainable or progressive path towards climate change mitigation. Site C is being developed to power a potential LNG industry that will be fed by fracked gas from Northeast B.C. Most likely, Site C will produce a surplus of power when it comes online in 2024, halting the expansion of positive benefits that First Nations have accrued from developing renewable energy projects.

Unfortunately, Site C is not the only barrier to First Nations' ambitions in this area; at the moment B.C. Hydro is awash with power, and predicting future demand is notoriously difficult. Much depends not only on whether any LNG projects are developed, but also on whether the shale gas industry continues without them as some have suggested it might, and what trajectory climate policy in the province takes. The electrification of sectors such as transportation, for example, has the potential to substantially transform electricity demand in the province. This makes it difficult to assess how much power will be needed, what prices the market will support, and thus what kinds of projects might be viable. However, this level of uncertainty -- combined with the arrival of a new government -- highlights the urgency for a new policy framework for renewable energy development in the province.

Beyond smaller-scale private versus mega-scale public development models

Those wanting energy systems in B.C. to contribute to a sustainable, equitable and just society have struggled with a troubling pair of options: on one hand, privately owned renewable infrastructure that channels profits from exploiting a public resource to corporations, and on the other hand, large-scale state-owned energy infrastructure that perpetuates the dispossession of First Nations and facilitates industrial development that is detrimental to a healthy climate. In the intervening years -- as First Nations gained traction in renewable energy development and the unjust and risky nature of Site C became ever more apparent -- other options have come into focus.

Part of the previous provincial government's argument for the need to privatize energy development was that the public sector simply couldn't develop enough diverse, small- to medium-scale renewable energy projects at the rate required to mitigate climate change. However, First Nations now appear ready to step up to this challenge, and there is no reason other communities couldn’t also be encouraged on this path. We are no longer stuck between two unpalatable alternatives.

Instead, public policy could prioritize and facilitate the development of renewable energy projects that are First Nation or community-owned. A supportive policy framework could be developed that acknowledges the social, economic, and environmental value of these projects: mandates could be developed requiring meaningful equity involvement -- or indeed full ownership -- for First Nations or local communities; dedicated Electricity Purchasing Agreement targets for First Nations or community-led projects could be set aside, as they do in New Brunswick; B.C. Hydro could be allowed to develop projects jointly with First Nations, as they are doing in Manitoba, where the provincial utility Manitoba Hydro has partnered with First Nations to build two large dams.

Investing even a small portion of the funds allocated to Site C would lead to substantial progress in relation to the other two barriers: difficulty obtaining financing and community capacity building. Fortunately, there are good examples from other jurisdictions of different models for tackling financing issues, and of promising projects underway to build capacity in the sector. The Northwest Territories supports financing small-scale projects developed by residents, businesses, communities and First Nations through an Alternative Energy Technologies Program that funds 50 per cent of project costs. Nova Scotia's Community Economic Development Investment Fund helps community groups access low-cost loans.

Shifting policy and addressing these barriers would unleash the potential for First Nations -- and possibly other communities -- to build projects with technologies and at scales that work for their communities.

A moment of opportunity

Action on climate change will require electrification of transportation, homes and buildings, to transition away from burning fossil fuels. While energy conservation (i.e. managing demand for electricity) has a pivotal role to play in this transition, new power production will still be required. With a new government in power that has committed to both climate action and reconciliation, we are at a moment of opportunity for First Nations-led development of renewable energy in B.C.

As a survey respondent expressed, "This is the only sector that offers any hope of current and future economic opportunities."

Another emphasized, "We believe that renewable energy is an important piece to allowing our Nation to be able to go back to the Traditional Territories and maintain a presence there."

Instead of proceeding with Site C, B.C. has an opportunity to produce what new power will be needed through a model of energy system development that takes advantage of emerging cost effective technologies and public ownership at a community scale. Doing so would enable an energy system that can be scaled up incrementally as demand projections increase. It would also ensure the benefits energy projects are channelled to communities impacted by their development, and help respond to past injustices of energy development in our province.

Choosing this path would result in a more distributed energy system, more resilient and empowered communities, a more diverse economy and a more just path towards climate change mitigation. And it would support First Nations to lead in an industry in which they have already built substantial momentum. The groundwork has been laid for moving towards a more diverse and equitable economy, should we choose to support it.

This report is published as part of the Corporate Mapping Projecta research and public engagement initiative investigating the power of the fossil fuel industry. This research is supported by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

This piece originally appeared on the B.C. CCPA's Policy Note blog.

Photo: Green Energy Futures - David Dodge/Flickr

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Oil spills pose unacceptable threats to marine life

Tue, 2017-10-17 18:01
David Suzuki

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says oil pipelines have no place in B.C.'s Great Bear Rainforest. Opponents of the approved Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion to the West Coast and the cancelled Energy East pipeline to the East Coast argue pipelines and tankers don't belong in any coastal areas. Research led by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation confirms the threat to marine mammals in B.C. waters from a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic is considerable.

After examining potential impacts of a 15,000-cubic-metre oil spill in B.C. waters on 21 marine mammals, researchers concluded most individuals would be at risk and a few local populations wouldn't survive. Baleen whales, for example, are highly susceptible to ingesting oil because they breathe through blowholes, filter and eat food from the ocean surface and rely on invertebrate prey. Oil residue can stick to the baleen, restricting the amount of food they consume.

Resident and transient killer whales, sea otters and Steller sea lions were most likely to see a drop in population levels from an oil spill. Killer whales are especially vulnerable because of their small populations, low reproductive rates, dietary specialization, long lives and complex social structure. The 76 southern resident killer whales off the B.C. coast, Canada's most endangered marine mammal, are particularly threatened by oil spills, as well as ship strikes and underwater noise that hinders their ability to feed and communicate.

If Trans Mountain's Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion proceeds and an oil spill occurs, the study estimates it would affect between 22 and 80 per cent of these whales' critical Salish Sea habitat. They already face severe chinook salmon prey shortages and other challenges. In court, opponents argued that adding pipeline and tanker impacts to the mix could lead to their extinction.

Following the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Prince William Sound, a unique pod of north coast orcas vanished forever. Nine of the 22 whales died and remaining pod members didn't produce any living offspring.

All marine mammals are vulnerable to oil spills because they surface to breathe. If that happens in a spill, oil can adhere to their bodies, and they can inhale toxic vapours and ingest oil. Marine mammals exposed to oil spills may suffer damaged airways, congested lungs, stomach ulcerations, eye and skin lesions, weight loss and stunted growth. When whales and dolphins surface to breathe, oil can restrict their blowholes and airways. When seals and otters try to clean oil matted on their coats, they ingest it. They also lose heat because spilled oil ruins their natural insulation, so they can die of hypothermia.

Even indirect exposure to small amounts of oil chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can have profound toxic effects on animals and fish, particularly the young. Two years after the Exxon Valdez spill, mortality rates in pink salmon eggs were 96 per cent higher than pre-spill levels. Researchers estimated that shoreline habitats such as mussel beds could take up to 30 years to recover fully.

Chronic oil pollution from ships travelling off Canada's coasts kills hundreds of thousands of seabirds every year. In the late 1990s, an estimated 300,000 birds died annually off Newfoundland's coast alone.

No technology will adequately clean most oil spills, especially diluted bitumen. Unlike conventional crude, bitumen can sink if spilled in water, according to a 2016 study by the National Academy of Sciences. It also found that current regulations and spill-response techniques can't manage the unique behaviour and higher risks of a bitumen spill. Tar balls sink to the bottom or hang in the water column, eluding conventional booms used to contain oil spills.

An Oil Tanker Moratorium Act before Parliament recognizes that B.C.'s north coast ecosystems and local economies must be protected from oil spill risks. B.C.'s new government will argue in its case against the Kinder Morgan pipeline that the federal government failed to evaluate the project's risks to the marine environment -- a breach of its obligation to consider the national interest.

It's certainly not in the interests of any marine mammal, especially endangered ones, to add more shipping traffic or increase oil spill risks -- nor is it in keeping with our Paris Agreement commitments to shift away from fossil fuels. Let's hope that the Kinder Morgan project goes the way of the Energy East pipeline.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Communications Specialist Theresa Beer. 

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Andrew Blazejewski​

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Finance Minister Bill Morneau is not the reason the Liberals are slumping in the polls, Justin Trudeau is

Mon, 2017-10-16 02:21
October 16, 2017EconomyPolitics in CanadaIs Morneau to blame for Trudeau's slump?Bill Morneau is not the first finance minister to back away from a major proposal. Canadians have many reasons other than a corporate tax change to be disappointed with Justin Trudeau's recordJustin TrudeauFinance Minister Bill Morneauincome sprinklingfair taxation

The Canadian Delegation: the story of 1989

Sun, 2017-10-15 19:10
Vimeorabble staffArts & CultureOctober 15, 2017Best-of-the-net

In 1989 a group of young Canadians traveled to North Korea to participate in the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students. The festival in Pyongyang represented the largest gathering of foreigners on North Korean soil since the Korean war. The Canadian Delegation is a documentary film that tells the story about how a group of activists from the Canadian arts, student, LGBTQ, and indigenous movements struggled to make sense of their political commitments with the collapse of Soviet Union in 1989.  Overall, the film is a personal story and history of the Left in Canada, and how the student leaders of one generation recommitted themselves to important political struggles after experiencing in quick succession the end of the cold war, the Chinese massacre of students in Tiananmen Square, the OKA crisis, and the rise of the HIV-AIDs pandemic.

Learn more and donate to the project at their Indiegogo page here.

activismpolitics in CanadaHistory of the LeftCA

In the era of Newsflix, public funding matters more than ever

Sat, 2017-10-14 00:37
Arts & CultureMedia MattersPolitics in Canada

Netflix says it'll voluntarily pour $100 million a year into Canadian film production over the next five years. The response here has been typical Canadian ingratitude: Is that all? Or: They're only doing it to evade being taxed directly. I wonder if that irritates Netflix, or just perplexes them. What's with these people?

My own reaction is that I'm worried less about Netflix than about Newsflix. Whatever its troubles, Canadian dramatic art is in far better financial shape than Canadian journalism. Does that sound like the most artless segue ever?

Allow me to double down. I think there's been a peculiar but strong historical symbiosis between Canadian journalism and Canadian film culture. This was always the land of documentary, shading into drama. The first feature doc ever made (more or less, these are inherently specious claims) was Nanook of the North, done by an American but made here, with early intimations of docudrama. The very term documentary was coined by a Scot, John Grierson, who migrated here and created Canada's luminous National Film Board.

The first Anglo-Canadian dramatic feature, 1964's Nobody Waved Good-bye, was made by Don Owen, at the NFB. Our films have retained a doc-like feel, as if the national sense was shaky enough that it needed a sense of being anchored in the real world, something that actually happened, because you probably read about it, eh?

Add the national bent for news-based satire, from Max Ferguson's brilliant daily radio sketches through Rick Mercer or all the Canadians who built satire in the U.S. One of Canada's sublimest dramatic creations, Ken Finkelman's The Newsroom, was based on CBC news, and filmed in the bowels of the CBC. It couldn't have existed without Canadian journalism, but transcended it utterly.

CBC, in fact, should be a key to resolving journalism's current crisis. That crisis is based on the sudden disintegration -- like a milkweed pod, poof -- of the advertising economic model. It was always accidental; there's no natural affinity between ads and news, but it worked, till internet behemoths like Google and Facebook swiped all the ad revenue. Now news outlets are gasping for air; many have already expired.

The obvious solution is public funding, as with other national necessities, like health care or the Armed Forces. For some reason, many people, journalists included, find this odious and a threat to press freedom. Why corporate pressures, via ads, are seen as less menacing than government ones, I have no clue. But CBC already exists and gets about $1 billion in public funds each year. So there's your new model, and it's been accepted for decades.

Sadly, CBC in its current incarnation is a wretched exemplar for news. For its own tawdry reasons, it's chosen to focus mainly on crime, weather and consumer tips. Its lead story for the Houston hurricane was how much it would cost Canadians at the pumps. That's an insult to the intelligence and citizenry of those whose taxes sustain it. CBC's motive for this contemptuous dumbing down was ostensibly to multiply eyeballs. The result is that more people now watch not just CTV news with Lisa Laflamme, but Global news with Dawna Friesen. Global for God sakes!

So I'm not arguing for support to the institutions just as they are, including the CBC. Fortunately, other models exist, like Vice News Canada. Vice News is a complex international octopus but has a lively Canadian component. Its U.S. reporter, Elle Reeve, did the splendid embedded coverage of racism in Charlottesville as well as a piece on progressive liberal wrestling heel Dan Richards. It is a kind of newsflix.

Here's my proposal, meant to gradually transition to a solvent news media with public financial backing: take CBC's entire news subsidy and funnel it to news outlets, old and new (Vice News Canada, Jesse Brown's Canadaland) that, unlike CBC, serve a public purpose. Turn CBC basically into a spigot. Add more funds as required. If CBC news ever smartens up, they can apply to get some of it back.

I know it sounds a bit improvised but we live in an era of mishmash. Work and leisure, culture and the economy, news and art, are less distinguishable than they were. Most jobs now involve an (albeit routinely overstated) element of creativity. It's all courtesy of the internet, which, at its electronic root, is about connections.

There you go. Crisis solved. Next?

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image: Flickr/Benson Kua​

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newsNetflixcanadian contentpublic fundingCBCCanadalandVIce NewsCARick SalutinOctober 14, 2017CBC television and the 'public' in public broadcastingThe "debate" about CBC resonates less and less. It's probably time for the super-verbalizing to end and for CBC to either produce or get off the pot.Canadians need to plan now to fund and develop dependable media for the futureThe best solution to our growing news crisis is for governments to provide the financial support needed so that community-based online news sites will be sustainable.The community media fund that never wasIf you haven't heard about Canada's community media fund, it's because it appears to have been mismanaged and put towards what many consider to be commercial television endeavours.

Calgary's popular Mayor Nenshi faces challengers in upcoming election

Fri, 2017-10-13 19:41
Penney Kome

Real estate plays a major role in any city election, but it's up front and center in Calgary's mayoral election this Monday.  

Running for his third term, Mayor Naheed Nenshi champions the Green Line rapid transit up the east side of the city, which would relieve congestion and presumably emissions on Deerfoot Trail, the busiest expressway in Calgary. The Green Line would also increase east side property values to some extent, especially for properties farther from the airport.

Then there's the new hockey arena. Despite persistent and public lobbying by the private owners, the mayor has offered Ken King and the Calgary Flames owners somewhat limited financial support for building a new hockey arena, on condition they put it near the Saddledome's current location on the Stampede grounds. According to Global News, “Under the City of Calgary's latest funding proposal, the total cost of the new arena was pegged at $555 million plus indirect costs. The city proposed a funding formula where they would pay a third of the total cost, Flames ownership would pay another third and users would pay for the final third through a ticket surcharge. Each share would be $185 million."

Ken King, who owns the Flames, wants the city to put up another $35 million. CTV reported, "Calgary Flames says they were willing to fork over $275M for a new arena built in Victoria Park while the city would have had to come up with $225M through what they call a Community Revitalization Levy." Not only is the Flames' estimate $55 million less than the city's estimate, but the Flames are also asking the city to pay almost half the cost, through hypothetical taxes on other businesses the Flames expect to attract to their new arena.

Running neck and neck with Nenshi is lawyer Bill Smith, leading the pack of other nine candidates.  Smith wants to "re-think" the Green Line route even though the province has promised funding for the project as it stands. A former Alberta PC party president, Smith is running on the slogan, "Time for a change," and uses the familiar PC tactic of criticizing his opponents rather than spelling out policies or initiatives for which they might criticize him.

Smith says he will "get the deal done" on building a new arena, but declines to explain how -- arousing suspicions, since he is known to be a sports fan, and sat with the athletes when Calgary Flames owner unveiled what the Flames want the city to contribute to the building. He told a recent Flames poll he'd need to study the project more before he could decide, although both sides have made their proposals public.

Bill Smith has a few other problems too. He refuses to reveal who his donors are. Embarrassing details of 2010 lawsuit recently emerged. As owner of a small law firm, he settled a $2.2 million lawsuit for failure to "exercise the care and skill to be expected of a reasonably competent solicitor" in a real estate case.

Nenshi is also under fire for an expensive defamation lawsuit against him for comments he made about local real estate tycoon Cal Wenzel.  The city indemnified the Mayor for legal expenses -- as it would any City Council member who was sued for performing their job --  which turned out to be $285,000. He settled out of court in 2016. Hundreds of donors stepped forward to contribute $10,000 each, the maximum Nenshi would accept from any one donor. He contributed more than $16,000 himself.
Coming into the Calgary election's final week, the company that owns both the Calgary Sun and the Calgary Herald commissioned a Mainstreet robocall poll that put Smith's support at 52 per cent and Nenshi's at 39 per cent. A Calgary Sun online poll showed Bill Smith far in the lead. On the other hand, an online Asking Canadians poll commissioned by  Green Line advocates, found Nenshi ahead by 43 per cent to Bill Smith's 26 per cent.  

All the world seemed to take notice in 2010 when Naheed Nenshi won his first mayoral election -- North America's first Muslim mayor. He was named best mayor in the world in 2014. His novelty has worn off a bit in his third campaign, and the egalitarian thrust of his policies has roused some serious opposition.

Squint a bit, and the contest could look a bit like real estate magnate Donald Trump challenging U.S. President Obama's legitimacy. One way or another, Monday, election day, promises to be dramatic.

Image: Flickr/Premier of Alberta​

Corretion: Please note an earlier veersion of this blog mis-attributed a quote to Bill Smith. 

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'I AM Affected' campaign addresses effects of residential school system

Fri, 2017-10-13 14:24
October 13, 2017'I AM Affected' campaign addresses effects of residential school systemThe official launch of the I AM Affected Campaign will be the start of an ongoing dialogue to lead the residents of Halton .RohingyaAsia Pacific Currents

Trump administration lies about climate change as lives are lost to 'natural' disasters

Fri, 2017-10-13 03:35
EnvironmentMedia MattersUS Politics

Legendary independent journalist I.F. "Izzy" Stone often cautioned, "All governments lie." But even Izzy would have been dizzy with the deluge of lies pouring out of the Trump administration, including President Donald Trump's claim that human-induced climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to hurt the U.S. economy. Global warming has exacerbated recent catastrophic events from Houston to Miami to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and, now, to raging fires sweeping across California. The corporate TV weather reporting aids and abets Trump's misinformation by consistently ignoring the role of climate change in this string of disasters.

This year's hurricanes have struck with historic force. On our warming planet, with rapidly warming oceans, hurricanes occur with more frequency and more strength. The tenth hurricane this year, Ophelia, has just been named. There have not been ten hurricanes in one season since 1893.

At least 82 people died when Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Gulf Coast, inundating Houston. The storm also led to millions of pounds of pollutants being released into the air and water by Houston's sprawling petrochemical industries. Initial estimates for the rebuilding are currently about $190 billion.

Hurricane Irma killed at least 134 people, of whom 90 were in the United States, including 14 elderly residents who were trapped in a hot, flooded, blacked-out nursing home in Hollywood, Florida. AccuWeather's founder and president, Dr. Joel N. Myers, said, "Also unprecedented is that this particular storm, Irma, has sustained intensity for the longest period of time of any hurricane or typhoon in any ocean of the world since the satellite era began." His initial cost estimate for recovery from Irma, primarily in Florida, is $100 billion.

Hurricane Maria's devastation of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean has yet to be fully assessed. Puerto Rico had its entire power grid destroyed. After three weeks, at least 85 per cent of the island remains without electricity. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reported that 63 per cent of the island's 3.4 million residents have access to clean water, although that claim has not been independently verified. The official death toll on Puerto Rico alone at the time of this writing is 48, with scores still missing, but these are surely underestimates, as remote regions of the island have had very little contact with the outside world, and a new wave of serious infections related to poor sanitation are now afflicting people on the island. Even less is known about the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

In the aftermath of the storm, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz waded chest-deep in floodwater, bullhorn in hand, helping people trapped in their homes and organizing rescue operations. Her repeated urgent calls for more help to stem the humanitarian crisis on Puerto Rico were rebuffed by FEMA chief Brock Long, who called her public cries "political noise." Trump himself accused the mayor of being "nasty," then engaged in a shockingly insensitive stunt during his short visit to the island, throwing rolls of paper towels into a crowd of hurricane survivors.

Across the United States, in California, over 20 wildfires are sweeping across the state. In Sonoma and Napa, fires have wiped out entire neighborhoods, turning thousands of homes into piles of smoldering ash and forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands. At the time of this writing, 21 people are confirmed dead from the fires, but hundreds are reported missing.

Scientists have found a direct link between climate change and the fires in California. Park Williams, bioclimatologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said on the "Democracy Now!" news hour, "The amount of area that has burned due to human-caused climate change...is about half of the area of forest in the western U.S. that has burned over the last 35 years: the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined."

When asked about the failure of network TV meteorologists to make the connection between extreme weather and climate change, Williams said: "The terms 'global warming' and 'climate change' have been politicized. But in the circles that I work with, with real climatologists who are working on these issues every day, there is no hesitation to use those terms. As you put greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the globe warms, whether it’s the Earth or another planet. It's just the law of physics. And so, it is surprising to see trained meteorologists on TV steer away from those terms."

It is not only surprising. This massive omission reinforces the efforts of climate change deniers to confuse the American public and stall climate action. You have to ask, if we had state media in this country, how would it be any different?

President Trump has withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement. His Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, declaring, "The war on coal is over," signed an order intending to rescind President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, which would have curbed polluting power-plant emissions. The Trump administration's lies about climate change are having real impacts today. More devastatingly, the lies all but guarantee a future filled with more and more deadly disasters.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Image: U.S. Department of Defense/Jose Diaz-Ramos

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Climate Changeclimate denialDonald Trumphurricanesnatural disasterAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanOctober 12, 2017What's 'natural' about a natural disaster? Not muchCatastrophic storms and other disasters are not anomalies but signs that systems of environmental exploitation, corporate greed, and laissez-faire government are working exactly as they should be.Nature offers solutions to water woes and flood risksAs climate disruption accelerates in concert with still-increasing greenhouse gas emissions, people are looking for ways to protect cities from events like flooding. Presidential climate change denial ensures catastropheAs catastrophic hurricanes have laid waste to large areas of the U.S. and Caribbean, it is clear what the real national security threat is: climate change, and the fossil fuel industry.

Lost in Translation: Understanding the campus free expression debate

Thu, 2017-10-12 14:36
Jacqueline Houston

What's happening on Canadian university campuses? It is a familiar question to anyone that's read any of the myriad of editorials, columns and think pieces on the state of campus free speech today. A list of relevant incidents should be equally familiar -- student protestors shut down a talk by pulling a fire alarm; a controversial speaker pre-emptively cancels their campus appearance due to security concerns; a University of Toronto psychology professor, purportedly against political correctness, sparks a national debate on the boundaries between free speech and discrimination.

The dominant story goes something like this: free expression as a principle is on the decline on Canadian campuses today. Taking its place is a culture of political correctness, safe spaces and students that prioritize other principles, like social justice and community standards of tolerance, over unfettered speech.

Clear battle-lines have been drawn, and where you stand seems to come down to whether you think this new trend is objectionable or not. If you do, you are a conservative and fall somewhere on the fascist spectrum. If you don't, you are a liberal snowflake whose progressive over-sensitivities can't handle the rigours of open debate.

It's less a debate than it is a shouting match.

Consistently absent from the conversation seems to be meaningful engagement between opposing views, as well as a more nuanced, specific discussion of what exactly we mean when we talk about free speech on campus. What do safe spaces and open debate entail, and are they mutually exclusive? At what point are effective criticism and counter-protest considered suppression of speech? How should we respond to the potentially harmful downstream effects of controversial speakers on campus, or when "alt-right" groups take up free speech as a catch-all defense for spreading hatred and inciting violence? These questions demand more than just a line in the sand between so-called pro- and anti-free speech camps.

It's those gaps in the debate that prompted CJFE to start our research project on campus free expression. To better understand the divergent views on the state of campus free expression, and to provide a platform to voices that have been thus far neglected, the first part of our project has been largely a listening exercise.

Over the past three months, we have interviewed student group representatives, student union leaders, student journalists and off-campus stakeholders for their perspectives on recent flashpoint events, as well as how they perceive the climate of free expression on campus today. We've tried to gain a picture of what's happening on campuses, according to the students that are there right now.

The project is ongoing. Based on what we've heard so far, however, the wealth of news and editorial content on the state of campus free speech today hasn't captured the full story.

So, what is happening on Canadian university campuses?

It depends who you ask. On the one hand, it's easy to see why the notion that free speech is under threat on campuses has gained traction. There's no lack of high profile incidents, particularly on U.S. campuses this past year, to point to as easily accessible evidence. Events at Middlebury College and UC Berkeley, or University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson's arguments allegedly against political correctness, also match and validate the experience of students that feel like they’re walking on eggshells on campuses where terms like “micro-aggressions” and “lived experiences” are the new status quo.

Moreover, the argument on that side of the fence is appealingly simple. To hear Nick Pateras and Matthew Zaffino, two Queen's University alumni petitioning their alma mater to adopt a hard line on protecting free speech, or Michael Kennedy, a representative of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms organization, describe it, the issue seems black and white. Speech should be protected up until the point that it violates the law. In Canada, that's up until the point of hate speech or defamatory libel. Safe spaces, de-platforming speakers and other such measures are wrongheaded in their attempts to create a more restrictive framework. However well-intentioned they may be, these new community standards coddle young adult minds into objecting to anything and everything they find offensive, and set a dangerous precedent -- if X can be shut down today, who's to say Y won't be shut down tomorrow? The best response to hateful speech is not suppression, but counter-speech -- to allow hateful views to be aired and exposed as wrong through the process of open debate.

That's one perspective. But speak to Cassandra Williams, a trans University of Toronto student and member of the trans, non-binary and intersex community organization INTACT, or Matthias Memmel and Chim Alao, the incoming President and Vice-President of Equity of the University of Toronto Student Union, and the debate shifts from black and white into the shades of grey inherent to any complex social issue. The case for open debate on a university campus is well and good, but does it adequately account for the situation of marginalized groups, who haven't had the same access to a microphone or to publication space as others? Or if engaging in the debate means engaging with hateful language that targets one's racial or gender identity, or being subject to vicious online harassment? Is it even accurate to frame, say, a push for trans and non-binary human rights as an attack on free speech?

These are concerns that free speech absolutists can ostensibly gloss over. For individuals in the crosshairs of reprehensible, bigoted ideas that can and do surface on campus, they are not so easily ignored.

The case of Professor Jordan Peterson at the University of Toronto is instructive in understanding these divergent narratives. In September 2016, Peterson released a series of online lecture videos, entitled "Professor against political correctness," challenging Bill C-16, which amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission's provisions on gender identity discrimination. He further claimed that there is not enough evidence to support the existence of a gender spectrum, despite broad scientific support for the concept, and that he would refuse to use gender-neutral pronouns in his classroom. Peterson has maintained that the purpose of the videos was to defend freedom of speech.

While Peterson has never been censored, he has faced severe backlash to his views from the University of Toronto community as well as from the university itself. The University of Toronto Students Union (UTSU) and several University of Toronto professors have publically condemned Peterson's comments as inaccurate and discriminatory against trans and non-binary students and faculty members. In response to Peterson's videos, Williams and INTACT organized a campus teach-in and rally in October 2016 to provide basic information on trans and non-binary individuals and to allow affected individuals to share their experiences.

Parallel to this widespread opposition, Students in Support of Free Speech (SSFS) emerged -- a University of Toronto student group formed to advocate for Peterson's right to free expression, as well as for free speech and open debate on campus in general. As Simon Capobianco, a current SSFS member, articulated it, the group's main goal is to recover space for expression and debate for everyone on campus, regardless of where they stand on the political spectrum. It sets itself in opposition to the perceived trend of hostility towards free speech on campuses, particularly from social justice activism circles. While recognized by the University of Toronto, the group has not been recognized by the UTSU due to transphobic and discriminatory posts on their now-private Facebook page.

SSFS's seminal event was a campus rally in support of free speech, held a week after the INTACT rally and teach-in. Peterson spoke at the rally, as well as Lauren Southern, a former commentator for right-wing media outlet Rebel Media. Southern had previously disrupted the trans teach-in by posing as a trans individual. During the rally, counter-protestors from INTACT and the trans and non-binary community played noise music through speakers. The rally ended with police intervention, after altercations between Southern and some attendees, as well as other incidents of assault. Peterson has since spoken at other universities, and has been met with both supporters and counter-protestors to varying degrees.

Even setting aside conflictual political stances -- although technically a non-partisan group, SSFS has attracted the support of predominantly right-wing figures, and Capobianco acknowledged that most SSFS members lean conservative -- there is a wedge between these two camps that surpasses disagreement over the limits of acceptable speech. They also operate on fundamentally different understandings of what it means to be silenced.

For Peterson's supporters, the professor is the newest target of a largely left-leaning campaign to stamp out unpopular or offensive ideas on campus. Opposing groups threaten to silence him because they don't agree with what he says, and that is wrong. Further, he speaks to the experience of some students that feel shut out of mainstream campus discourse, or otherwise voluntarily disengage for fear of saying the wrong thing.

For many of Peterson's critics, on the other hand, the controversy isn't even an issue of free speech. Rather, it's an issue of accessibility to a learning environment free from harassment and discrimination, as Peterson's remarks subject trans students to. As Williams explained it to us, the so-called "political correctness" that Peterson decries is not an infringement of free expression, but rather a standard of treating others with dignity, and that is a reasonable community standard to uphold.

Moreover, Peterson has never been prevented from airing his views -- in fact, he has only expanded his platform in the wake of last fall's controversy. Most instances of criticism and protest cited as evidence of the campaign to shut down Peterson -- and of the larger trend of free speech under attack -- can reasonably be classified as effective counter-speech.

Meanwhile, following Peterson's initial remarks and the October 2016 rally, several trans individuals on campus were subject to continuous online harassment. In one instance, a targeted student was forced into temporary housing because their home address was compromised online. Similarly, after engaging in a public debate with Peterson on Bill C-16, University of British Columbia professor Mary Bryson received a slew of violent threats and hate mail. Brenda Cossman, a University of Toronto law professor who debated Peterson in November 2016, has likewise received hate mail and physical threats.

Further confounding the issue is the way in which it has been covered by off-campus media outlets. The Varsity, a University of Toronto student newspaper, broke the story on Peterson's video series, and per their mandate as a local student newspaper, the coverage included perspectives from students and student groups. However, as Tom Yun and Rachel Chen, The Varsity's online editor and managing editor, explained to us, mainstream media outlets have centred Peterson in their coverage. The story as they tell it is about a controversial professor's struggle against a politically correct university institution -- conspicuously absent are the perspectives of those affected by his actions.

Peterson is a drop in the ocean of recent skirmishes on campus free speech, but he serves to illustrate that the debate is far muddier and more multifaceted than the loudest voices can make it seem.

It is, however, still a debate, and one that's not going to be solved by shutting down arguments that diverge from agreed-upon norms, or by simply saying free speech is free speech is free speech. There are missing pieces on both sides of the coin: it's unclear, for example, what circumstances condone disruptive protest, or where to draw the line between speech that is offensive but permissible and speech that is discriminatory. Even if consensus is impossible, confronting these more slippery questions requires meaningful engagement between opposing actors.

Through our ongoing survey of students and groups on campus, CJFE hopes to provide a platform for that kind of engagement.

Jacqueline Houston is a student at McGill University, editor at The McGill Tribune, and was CJFE's Communications and Research Assistant.

Image: Kevin Metcalf

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Great Lakes groups band together to challenge Nestlé and water crises in Flint and beyond

Thu, 2017-10-12 14:04
Emma Lui

"My grandson that's not here tonight, that's twelve years old, he was to be an academic ambassador to go to Washington in the year 2014 and 2015. Well he was an A-B student but by the time the lead began to corrode his brain, he was no longer an A-B student. He was a D-E-F student," said Bishop Bernadel Jefferson of her grandson, one of the thousands of children affected by the lead poisoning of Flint’s drinking water. Bishop Jefferson, who is with the local group CAUTION, was one of the speakers on the Friday night panel of the Water is Life: Strengthening our Great Lakes Commons held on September 29-30,2017 in Flint, Michigan.

Bishop Jefferson has been a pastor for 27 years and an activist for 25 years. She is married with ten children and ten grandchildren. She was one of the first signers of the emergency manager lawsuit against Michigan Governor Rick Snyder in 2013. Her passionate talk brought tears to many eyes of the 200 people gathered at Woodside Church for the summit. At the same time her talk energized the audience. Her message of doing this work for all children and the importance of coming together reverberated among the crowd. Bishop Jefferson said of the gathering, "Tonight we make history. We did something they didn't want us to do and that was to come together."

Water justice for Great Lakes communities

Maude Barlow gave an important keynote speech on Friday night on water justice struggles around the world and her work with other water warriors to have the UN recognize the human rights to water and sanitation. Jim Olson from FLOW gave an impassioned talk about Nestlé in Michigan and the importance of the public trust. Indigenous lawyer Holly Bird talked about her work with the legal team for Standing Rock, water law from an Indigenous perspective, that governments need to honor the relationships that Indigenous people have with the water and how that can be done without someone controlling or owning water.

Lila Cabbil from the Detroit People's Water Board, who many affectionately call Mama Lila, talked about how the water fights are racialized in Michigan. "The fight we have in Michigan is very much racialized. We need to understand that truth and we need to speak that truth. Because what is happening even as we speak in terms of how Flint and Detroit is being treated would not happen if it was a white community." She pointed out how the crises are being condoned by the silence of white people. She took a moment to remember late activist Charity Hicks who was a leader in the fight against the shutoffs and who encouraged people to "wage love."

In Canada, the lack of clean water is also often racialized. There are routinely more than 100 drinking water advisories in First Nations, some of which have been in place for nearly two decades. At the start of her talk on Saturday, Sylvia Plain from Aamjiwnaang First Nation taught the audience how to say "aanii" which is "hello" in Anishinaabe. The Great Lakes region is predominantly Anishinaabe (Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatami). She talked about how Aamjiwnaang First Nation has had methylmercury in the sediments in their river for a couple of decades. Plain also talked about how the Anishinaabe have cared for the waters and land for thousands of years.

Wearing a Flint Lives Matter t-shirt, Saturday's keynote speaker [starts at 23:00] Claire McClinton from Flint Democracy Defense League, further described the water crisis in Flint. She pointed out, "In Flint Michigan, you can buy a gallon of lead free gas, or a gallon of lead free paint, but you can't get a gallon of lead free water from your own tap."

Marian Kramer of Highland Park Human Rights Coalition and Michigan Welfare Rights Organizationtold Saturday's audience about her work to fight the shutoffs in Highland Park, a city within Metro Detroit where at one point half of the homes had their water shut off.

Nestlé's bottled water takings

Rob Case from Wellington Water Watchers of Ontario and Peggy Case of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation both talked about their grassroots organizations and the local resistance to Nestlé's bottling operations. Peggy Case pointed to the larger issue of the privatization and the commodification of water. "The dots have to be connected. We can't just look at bottled water. The right to water is being challenged everywhere. The privatization of water is a key piece of what's going on in Flint," she explained. The state of Michigan is suing the city of Flint for refusing to sign a 30-year agreement that requires the city to pay for a private pipeline to Detroit that will not be used by residents. 

In Evart, Michigan, two hours northwest from Flint, Nestlé pumps more than 130 million gallons (492 million litres) of water a year from the town to bottle and sell to consumers across the state and country. Last year, the corporation applied to increase its pumping by 60 per cent. Nestlé's current pumping and proposed expansion threatens surrounding wetlands and wildlife in the region, which at the same time violates an 181-year-old treaty that requires Michigan state to protect the habitat for the Grand Traverse Band and Saginaw Chippewa tribal use.

Nestlé continues pumping up to 4.7 million litres (1.2 million gallons) a day in southern Ontario despite the fact that both of its permits have expired -- one permit expired in August and the other expired more than a year ago. The Ontario government is required to consult with communities on Nestlé’s bottled water applications but still has not done so. The Ontario government recently made some changes to the bottled water permitting system including a two-year moratorium on bottled water takings and increased bottled water taking fees (from $3.71 to 503.71 per million litres) but local groups and residents want more. They are calling for a phase out of bottled water takings to protect drinking water. The Council of Canadians is calling Nestlé's and other bottled water takings to be an election issue in next year's Ontario election.

Summit speakers and participants were outraged that governments allow Nestlé and other water companies to take, control and sell water for a profit while failing to secure clean water for residents in Flint, Detroit, and many Indigenous nations.

Days before the summit, The Guardian reported that Nestlé only pays an administrative fee of $200 in Michigan while Detroit resident Nicole Hill, a mother of three, has her water shut off every few months and has to pay "more than $200 a month" for water.

During the summit, participants took a pledge to boycott Nestlé and single-use bottles of water. Immediately after the summit, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation announced the organization was joining the boycott. To join the boycott, click here.

NAFTA and the commodification of water

Trade agreements like NAFTA perpetuate and entrench the commodification and privatization of water. Water is defined as a "tradeable good," "service" and "investment" in NAFTA. Water must be removed as a tradeable good, service or investment in any renegotiated NAFTA deal.

As a tradeable good, NAFTA dramatically limits a government's ability to stop provinces and states from selling water and renders government powerless to turn off the tap. Removing water as a "service" would help protect water as an essential public service. When services are provided by private corporations, NAFTA provisions limit the involvement of the public sector. Removing water as an "investment" and excluding NAFTA's Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions would make it much harder for foreign corporations to use trade treaties to sue governments for laws or policies that protect water. Canada has already been sued for millions of dollars for laws protecting water.

A vow to end to Nestlé water takings

Over the weekend, participants of the summit listened to these moving and inspiring presentations and participated in workshops on Blue Communities, challenging the corporate control of water, the colonial enclosure of water and more. The gathering included local and Great Lakes residents as well as water justice, Great Lakes and grassroots organizations including our Guelph and Centre-Wellington Chapters of the Council of Canadians.

One thing was clear at the end of the summit: participants were ready to take action to end to Nestlé's bottled water takings in Great Lakes, work to have the human right to water implemented and bring water justice to all who live around the lakes.

To watch the videos from the summit, visit FLOW's Facebook page.

Image: Flickr/Ben Gordon

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