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June 26, 2007

Canada, U.S. moving toward clean air deal

OTTAWA - The Harper government is closing in on a new agreement with the United States to improve air quality in North America, Environment Minister John Baird indicated Monday.

In an interview with CanWest News Service, Baird said that he and the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were eager to expand the existing Canada-U.S. air quality agreement, a treaty on pollution not greenhouse gases.

"I don't want to wait two or three years for a successful conclusion to these agreements, and I think he's on the same page, which is great," said Baird, who will meet with EPA administrator Stephen Johnson and other U.S. and Mexican officials over the next two days (June 26 to 27) for a conference in Morelia, Mexico.

He said the talks could also set the stage for a new North American trading scheme for companies to buy and sell credits of air pollutants.

Last week, Johnson recommended improving pollution standards in the U.S. by 11 to 17 per cent to tackle smog.

Baird said he also hopes to encourage more co-operation when it comes to improving the tools used to measure air quality.

"The more you measure the quality of air, the more pressure there is to improve it, and you can compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges," he said. "That's something that's important."

Baird was also encouraged that Mexico, one of five emerging nations that participated in recent discussion at a conference of the world's eight largest economies, committed to take action on climate change.

Here at home, Baird said his government planned to stay the course with its own climate change policies and goals, despite a new law, adopted last week that requires it to tailor its plan to meet Canada's international commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, and submit annual reports on its progress.

"Parliament has passed a law, we'll obviously file the paperwork as required, (but) what we need to do is to focus on our action to reduce greenhouse gases," he said.

Although the government is required by the law to finalize regulations for large industries by the end of 2007, he wouldn't say whether he could meet that deadline.

Baird's plan calls for Canada to meet its Kyoto target in about 2020, even though the target is supposed to be met between 2008 and 2012. Baird has blamed the previous Liberal government's inaction for putting the Kyoto target out of reach, despite the fact that the Liberals ratified Kyoto and was on track to make changes that would meet the 2012 target.

June 25, 2007

Tories warned of possible lawsuits if energy retrofits cancelled

OTTAWA - The Harper government was warned by its own experts that it could face up to $4.5 million worth of lawsuits for cancelling a popular energy-efficiency retrofit incentive program for homes established by the previous Liberal government, CanWest News Service has learned.

The decision to end the EnerGuide for Houses program compromised 66 contracts worth nearly $19 million with contractors who performed inspections to help homeowners figure out what renovations would be necessary to improve a home's energy efficiency. But newly released documents reveal bureaucrats had raised alarm bells about the government's decision to scrap the old program and repackage it under its new name, the ecoEnergy Retrofit Program.

One of the documents, a memorandum dated Aug. 3, 2006 and prepared for Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn, warned the government to set aside new money to cover the cost of potential claims.

"Contractors are eligible to seek recourse for costs incurred or revenues lost as a result of termination for convenience," said the memorandum, obtained following an Access to Information request by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin. "An internal evaluation of revenues lost by all contracts estimates the total potential claim at $4.5M."

The program was among billions of dollars worth of climate change spending initiatives introduced by the previous Liberal government, but scrapped and then re-launched under different names after the Conservative government was elected. Although Lunn had argued that homeowners were only getting fifty per cent of the EnerGuide for Houses program budget, several federal studies and independent reports concluded that it was a popular and effective program.

Government officials also warned that the decision would spark a public backlash.

"Canadians expecting incentives for efficient (heating) systems will be disappointed," said another document that explained the cuts in the 2006 federal budget. "We anticipate a negative response from low-income householders who expected relief from rising energy prices as well as the opportunity to improve their buildings. Provincial, territorial and utility partners who have already announced - or launched - their own complementary programs based on the federal effort will also object."

A more recent briefing note for Lunn from Jan. 29, 2007, established the overall wind-down cost for the EnerGuide for Houses program at $650,000, including penalties for cancelled contracts and changes to promotional material and websites. It also estimated an additional $435,000 in costs to launch the new program.

But Lunn said the additional spending allowed the government to make changes that will encourage more people to do renovations with an average grant of about $1,100 per household. Under the original program, he said homeowners could get subsidies for a contractor to perform an evaluation without following through with renovations to improve their energy efficiency.

"Whether you make changes or shut it down, you're still going to assume costs," said Lunn in an interview. "But the costs are very minimal compared to what the program is doing ... Ninety per cent (of funding) is going directly to home retrofits which is having a direct co-relation on the amount of emissions going into the atmosphere."

He said the only major problem with the new program is in rural areas that are facing shortages of contractors who can perform audits. While he was working with his department to resolve this problem, he said he was never worried about the possibility of lawsuits from contractors because of the decision to cancel the original program.

"It's just about putting the facts out," he said. "People just want the facts and people expect our government to deliver, if they want to see results. we're hearing that loud and clear on the environment."

But a non-profit group that represents some of the contractors says the government's changes have done more harm than good.

"It's just been a nightmare," said Clifford Maynes, executive director of Green Communities Canada. "It's been an unnecessary inefficiency in a system that was working perfectly well. If they wanted to eliminate federal audit subsidies and continue with the system, they could have done that without much of a hiccup."

He added that the legal warnings suggest the government should be ready to pay out more in compensation for tearing up the old contracts.

"The fact is, it's a formal recognition that what they did was damaging to people with whom they had an agreement," Maynes said. "We should not be required to seek redress through the courts and go up against the federal government. They should do the right thing and pay out that compensation directly."

Liberal environment critic David McGuinty said it was another example of the government ignoring advice from its officials, as it had last year when it introduced a tax credit for bus passes which was deemed to be an inefficient measure for reducing greenhouse gases and air pollution.

"They just keep getting caught," he said.

"As one of my children just said to me, 'You know Dad, if you live by the lie, you can die by the lie,' and increasingly the government has been misleading Canadians, they are suppressing information, suppressing the analysis. This is yet another example of it coming to light, and there will be more."

June 18, 2007

Native Americans speak out about climate change

MT. MOOSILAUKE, N.H. (AP) _ From New Hampshire to California, Native American leaders are speaking out more forcefully about the danger of climate change.

Members of six tribes recently gathered near the Baker River in New Hampshire's White Mountains for a sacred ceremony honoring "Earth Mother." Talking Hawk, a Mohawk Indian who asked to be identified by his Indian name, pointed to the river's tea-colored water as proof that the overwhelming amount of pollution humans have produced has caused changes around the globe.

"It's August color. It's not normal," he said.

"Earth Mother is fighting back _ not only from the four winds but also from underneath," he said. "Scientists call it global warming. We call it Earth Mother getting angry."

At a United Nations meeting last month, several Native American leaders spoke at a session called "Indigenous Perspectives on Climate Change. "Also in May, tribal representatives from Alaska and northern Canada _ where pack ice has vanished earlier and earlier each spring _ traveled to Washington to press their case.

In California, Minnesota, New Mexico, and elsewhere, tribes have used some of their casino profits to start alternative or renewable energy projects, including biomass-fueled power plants. In New Hampshire, where Native Americans have become integrated in the broader society, some have questioned the impact of local development.

Jan Osgood, an Abenaki Indian who lives in Lincoln, and who attended the sacred ceremony, said she worries about several proposals that would clear acres of national forest on Loon Mountain for luxury homes. "It breaks my heart," she said.

She approached Ted Sutton, Lincoln's town manager, and gave him a collection of writings by North American Indians that details the history of the U.S. government's unfulfilled promises to their trips.

After reading the book, Sutton said he agrees with the Native American philosophy of life: Use nature respectfully, never taking more than is needed.

"American Natives have been telling us all along that this was going to happen to the earth," Sutton said. "They were telling us hundreds of years ago that what we were doing (to the environment) would come back and haunt us. They have been proven right. But hopefully we've started to listen to them and move back to some better management of our lives."

Those who study Native American culture believe their presence in the debate could be influential. They point to "The Crying Indian," one of the country's most influential public-service TV ads.

In the spot, actor Iron Eyes Cody, in a buckskin suit, paddles a canoe up a trash-strewn urban creek, then stands by a busy highway cluttered with litter. The ad, which aired in the 1970s, ends with a close-up of Cody, shedding a single tear after a passing motorist throws trash at his feet.

"Within the last six months, there's just been a loss of faith in the insistence (by some politicians) that global warming isn't happening, and that we have nothing to do with it," said Shepard Krech III , an anthropology and environmental studies professor at Brown University.

Krech is the author of "The Ecological Indian," which examines the relationship between Native Americans and nature.

Though many citizens will look for "a consensus in the scientific community" to convince them of climate change, Krech said, others will seek "perspectives from Indian society . . . Native Americans have a rich tradition that springs from this belief they have always been close to the land, and always treated the land well."

The New Hampshire ceremony was attended by members of the Passamaquoddy, Mohawk, Blackfoot, Micmaq, Lakota Sioux, and Abenaki tribes.

Thunderbull, a Lakota Sioux, offered a prayer for people who had suffered from recent flooding in the Midwest. Talking Hawk prayed for those who would suffer from natural disasters ahead.

"Think of the people who will die in the cleansing of Earth Mother, all around the world," he said. "Think of their spirits."

Ontario unveils greenhouse gas targets

TORONTO — Ontario announced Monday that it will aim to reduce greenhouse gases by six per cent below 1990 levels by 2014.

That's two years later than the deadline set by the Kyoto protocol, but is 1% more than the 5% that Kyoto demands by 2012.

Premier Dalton McGuinty said the reductions will be achieved through closing the provinces coal plants and investments in conservation measures such as home-energy audits and technological innovations such as hybrids and hydrogen-fuel cell cars.

The provincial Liberal plan also calls for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

"We're doing our part to fight climate change in an ambitious and realistic way by shutting down coal plants, promoting energy conservation and investing in infrastructure that helps Ontarians reduce their greenhouse gas emissions,” the premier said in a statement.

“We're going even further by setting tough new targets for the future that will build on all we have achieved … "

June 13, 2007

Canada Ranks 4th last in industrialized nations.


June 13th 2007.

OTTAWA - Canada is an environmental and innovation laggard, according to a major economic think-tank.

Canada gets a "D" and ranks the fourth worst - or 14th out of 17 -in both categories, the Conference Board of Canada says in a report, which ranks Canada's performance in those and four other areas against that of other industrial nations, including the United States.

"The report card paints a portrait of a mediocre performance that will not be good enough to meet the fundamental goal of a high and sustainable quality of life for all Canadians," according to a summary of the report, released Wednesday.

Canada scores poorly on the environment because it generates relatively more waste than any of the other countries, while its emissions of carbon dioxide per capita and as a share of its economic output are among the highest, the report says.

"On the environment, Canada is a yin-yang performer," it says, noting that it scores relatively well, or at least decently, in terms of water and air quality, and in protecting biodiversity.

"But we are dragged down by poor performance on climate change and waste generation," it says.

However, Canada ranked ahead of last place U.S., while Sweden, Finland, and Norway were the top three environmental performers.

Canada's poor score on innovation, meanwhile, reflects the fact that the country generates a relatively small share of its national income from new or significantly improved goods or services, that it has relatively few researchers, that Canadian scientists publish relatively few scientific articles, and that its investment in knowledge and knowledge based products, while about average, has stagnated over the past decade.

"We lag in investment in R and D, and in machinery and equipment, and we produce a lower share of graduates in science, engineering, and the trades," the report noted. "We are not keeping up either in the creation or in the commercialization of knowledge.

"This poor showing is a serious weakness in Canada's overall performance and an alarming portent for the future," it says. Canada lagged all the G-7 countries in innovation, which was led by Switzerland, the only country to get an "A".

The weakness in innovation is despite Canada offering among the most generous research and development tax subsidies, and having one of the best educated and skilled populations.

Canada gets an "A" for its delivery of a high quality education to its young people but does not produce enough post-graduates in the disciplines that support innovation, and fails to meet basic skills and literacy needs of its adult population, it said.

Canada, meanwhile, is a "B" performer in the other three areas - the economy, health and society, the report says, adding that those results underscore the board's warnings over the past decade that Canada is not keeping up with the world's top performers.

On the economy, where Ireland was tops and Italy was worst, Canada does well to average in most areas but fails in its ability to attract needed foreign investment.

"Canadians need to invest more in machinery and equipment to boost productivity," the Conference Board report says. "Governments need to invest more, much more, in physical infrastructure, reduce unnecessary regulation and lower effective tax rates on capital."

Canada's "health" performance, which scored eighth out of 17, is also a mixed bag with high scores for low death rates from the flu and pneumonia and public perceptions of health status, mid-level scores for male life expectancy, premature mortality, the suicide rate, and death from chronic diseases such as cancer, circulatory diseases and respiratory disease, and lower scores for female life expectancy and death from heart disease.

Canada, however, also gets two "Ds" -one for infant mortality and the other on death from diabetes. That "last score is alarming" and is a reason why children today may be the first in more than 100 years who can expect worse health care outcomes than their parents, the report says.

The report suggests Canadians need to adopt more healthy lifestyles and a health-care system that focuses more on prevention and management of chronic disease.

Switzerland was the highest ranked country in terms of health, while Ireland was the worst and the U.S. second worst.

On society, the U.S. was ranked the worst, but Canada's score is also hurt by its relatively poor performance in battling child poverty, and poverty among the working-age population, by low voter turnout, a lack of trust in political institutions, and a relatively high crime rate.

June 12, 2007

Voting Philosophy

If you vote for the Green Party or the NDP are you basically throwing your vote away?

I guess that depends on how much you hate Stephen Harper (aka, Canada's environmentally clueless minority government Prime Minister).

Stephen Harper was elected in January 2006 by fluke. His party won 124 out of 308 available seats. In order to form a minority government Harper has been forced to bribe voters in Quebec with huge payouts to gain support from the Bloc Quebecois' 51 seats which was needed to gain a voting block.

The previous Liberal government won 103 seats and had the option of making a deal with the Bloc, NDP and/or Greens to form a minority government, but Paul Martin decided to step down as party leader/Prime Minister of Canada and let the Conservatives form a government. Paul Martin had successfully led a minority government from 2004 to 2006.

Now here is the latest poll information, released June 12th.


Decima Research placed Liberal support at 32%, the Conservatives at 29% and the NDP at 18. The Bloc Quebecois and Green party were tied nationally at 9% each.

By Region:

Ontario voters peg the Conservatives at 33%, the Liberals at a whopping 39%, the Green Party and NDP making up the remaining 28%.

The Conservatives also trail the Liberals in Atlantic provinces - 37% Grits to 31% Tories - with the NDP at 20% and the Greens at 9%. The Atlantic Provinces counts for 32 seats.

And in Quebec: The Bloc leads with 38%, the Liberals with 28% and the Tories with a mere 16%. Quebec counts for 74 seats.

Similar statistics are to be found in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and B.C. Alberta is the exception where the Conservatives are up in the polls to 76%. Thankfully Alberta only counts for 28 seats.

Note: Historically approx. 50% of NDP and Green voters vote Liberal at the last minute.

Which brings me to an interesting question. Who do you think is better for Canada's environment?

  • Stephane Dion, Leader of the Liberal Party, environmental crusader and buddies with Al Gore.
  • Jack Layton, Leader of the NDP, peace and poverty activist.
  • Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party, who is thinking of resigning.

So if May resigns she's off the table. Jack Layton has been in the NDP seat for several years now and has done a whole lot of publicity gimmicks but otherwise really a lame duck. (As a former NDP member I can say I am thoroughly disappointed with Jack Layton.)

So we're left with Dion, the guy who started the recent furor about climate change. The guy who stands up to Stephen Harper and presses the issue of global warming. The only one who even has a chance of becoming Canada's next Prime Minister.

So if we use the statistics above and conclude that 50% of NDP and Green voters will vote for Dion at the last minute then the Liberals should get 45.5% of the popular vote (compared to 29% for the Conservatives).

Note: The Green Party didn't win any seats in the 2004 or 2006 elections, despite the 665,000 people who voted for them in 2006.

If, and this is a big WHAT IF, the Liberals got 90% of the votes from NDP and Green voters they could get 56.3% of the popular vote and would be a sure win for a majority government.

Which would mean Dion would have the MP votes to push through laws and budgets that support Kyoto, support cutting greenhouse gases, and support creating a network of green renewable energy plants across Canada that don't pollute the environment.

And don't believe those Conservative lies that this will hurt our economies. Germany and Japan have the toughest environmental laws in the world and their economies are booming.

There has never been any proof that switching to environmentally friendly energy will hurt the economy. Its total hogwash. The biggest change will be to shut down coal-burning electricity plants and replace them with solar panels, windmills and nuclear energy.

How will shutting down coal-burners hurt the economy?

Answer: It won't.

June 6, 2007

Harper to be ousted if he doesn't ratify Kyoto

Coalition threatens election over Kyoto

June 6th 2007.

MONTREAL - With Prime Minister Stephen Harper trying to persuade European politicians he has the right plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, four federal parties and Quebec environmentalists teamed up to call for his environment minister's head and threaten an election.

"It's not impossible that we will get to that ( an election on Kyoto)," Quebec Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez said in reference to Conservative stalling tactics in the Senate to block Bill C-288. A private member's bill piloted by Rodriguez, the bill is designed to ensure Canada honours its Kyoto protocol commitments despite the minority Conservative government's opposition to the accord.

Bloc Quebecois MP Bernard Bigras added that the critical moment, as far as he's concerned, will come if the government fails to take action in the 60 days after the adoption of Bill C-288.

"If it does not, it is clear parliamentarians will have to assume their responsibilities," Bigras said in a vague threat.

The two politicians made the comments at a Montreal news conference where they were joined by representatives of the New Democratic Party and Green Party in upping the pressure on the Harper government to end its filibuster on the bill.

They said the Conservatives are using their minority in the Senate to block final adoption of Bill-C-288. Also attending were members of a pro-Kyoto Quebec group and an industry representative from the Cascades paper giant, which has been reducing its emissions for years.

"He (Prime Minister Stephen Harper) is doing what he promised he would never do," said Rodriguez. "He is using his minority in the Senate to go against the will of the elected majority in the House of commons.

"We are here to send him a clear message. Respect the will of Quebecers. Respect the will of the majority of Canadians. Do it for your children and grandchildren."

In Ottawa, the Liberal majority in the Senate is threatening to sit through the summer in order to pass the bill.

At the Montreal meeting, Quebec candidate Thomas Mulcair said Harper's efforts to thwart Kyoto prove the Conservative government never had any intention of respecting its international obligations.

"Mr. Harper, all of us here today are giving you one clear message: stop being such an international embarrassment, start respecting our international obligations."

The four parties are also calling for federal environment minister John Baird's resignation in an open letter to be published in the Montreal media Wednesday.

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