Protests in Queens Park on the Discontinuation of Nuclear Power (N. Esak)

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Photo: Indigenous and environmental group demonstrations in Queens Park


Last Thursday, November 9th, a large protest occurred in Queens Park by a number of indigenous and environmental groups. The groups demonstrations centered on the discontinuing of nuclear power usage in Canada. They at first gathered during a panel in the University of Toronto, and then migrated to Queens Park as the demonstration grew larger, even starting a drum circle. (Gignac, 2017)

Nuclear power uses radioactive metals such as uranium and plutonium to release energy as heat through changes in the nucleolus (BBC, 2014). The main advantage to this method of power is that fossil fuels are not burned into the atmosphere and releasing CO2 emissions. It is because of this benefit that many countries look at nuclear power as a valuable option for an energy source (BBC, 2014).

However, the main disadvantage to this energy source, and the reason as to why many oppose to it, is that nuclear fuels are both non-renewable and unable to break down. Therefore, the toxic wastes associated to nuclear power are required to be stored either in containers or underground. This hazardous waste, if spilled, can create very dangerous hazards not only to its environment, but to the health of those surrounded by the toxic nuclear waste (BBC, 2014).

This is not the first instance of Indigenous groups protesting against nuclear power. In fact, members of the Algonquin tribe have been protesting the halting of uranium mining in Kingston, Ontario since 2007. Other groups in Saskatchewan and Alberta have also been publically opposing nuclear mining and power plants for more than a decade as well. (AAFNA, 2017)

The protesters in this demonstration stressed that the consequences of accidental release of these radioactive wastes were too dangerous for this method of power to be used. They also claimed that the current provincial and federal government do not have sufficient enough policies to moderate and adapt to nuclear waste management. The president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, Dr. Gordon Edwards, for instance expressed during the demonstration the lack of consideration for nearby municipalities and First Nations groups as many nuclear power industries are near major rivers and lakes (Gignac, 2017).

A spokesperson for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, on the other hand, stated that radioactive waste disposal is “tightly regulated and safe for living” (Gignac, 2017). But, for indigenous communities, the earth isn’t just a space where you live, but is a spiritual being which has deep connection to them. “Would you poison your mother?” one protester stated, “that’s really what we’re doing when we poison mother earth” (Gignac, 2017). The only way to ensure the ‘purity’ of mother nature, is the priority towards renewable energy use and minimal waste through CO2 emissions and nuclear waste substances.



Green Party Win in BC

The provincial election in British Columbia was held yesterday. And it was a nail bitter down to the end.

It is fair to say, perhaps, that the Green Party emerged as the winner – even though they only won three seats. How does that work?

BC electionAs you can see from the graphic in the Globe and Mail, the Liberals won 43 seats and the NDP won 41 seats. In BC, you need 44 seats in the 87 seat House to win a majority government. Umm. If the Liberals only have 43 seats then they will need some ONE else to vote with them on legislation – to get the 44 votes need to pass. They would likely work to get the three Green Party members to vote along side them – passing a bill with 46 votes. HOWEVER, the NDP could just as easily work with the Greens to vote against the Liberals – because together the NDP and Greens have 44 votes. Wow. That means that EVERY time a bill is voted on, it will come to down to what the Green Party decides to do.

In fact, it could be the case that the Greens and NDP try to get together and form a coalition government. But that seems a little unlikely – given the relationship between the Greens and NDP in the province. It is not a strong one. Often those two parties are fighting it out! A more likely alliance might actually be for the Greens and Liberals to form a coalition government. But I am going to assume that Clark with try and govern from a minority gov’t position and negotiate on a bill by bill basis.

So, I am saying the Green Party won the election.

But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. There were a lot of close races and there will be a lot of recounts. The outcome could still change a little in the coming week(s).

What does this mean for the environment? I think it will mean staying on the course on aggressive climate change policy. I think it might present challenges to LNG/fracking and maybe to the Site C Dam. On the whole, it is good news for the environment. The NDP picked up seats in urban areas. All three Green Party seats come from Vancouver Island. That Liberals held their ground in rural areas. This means there is likely some tension between rural-urban populations and that will play itself out in environmental policy. But so long as the Greens carry the balance of power, the environment has a fighting chance.

Ontario Budget 2016

Last week, Premier Wynn prorogued the provincial legislative assembly. This ended the session and effectively “killed” all bills that were on the table. She wiped the slate clean. So all bills that were in progress will need to be re-introduced in this next session (if they are to become law).

On Monday, Wynne hit the “go button” with the launch of the Ontario Budget. You can find a link to the budget here.

I do not have a lot to say about it in terms of environmental policy relevance. The big announcement was a 8% tax CUT on electricity for residents. See the Globe and Mail article for more details. That isn’t really environmental. In fact, it might make things worse because people might use MORE electricity as it will become cheaper to do so. Um. So why is Wynne doing that? Cynical answer: re-election. Less cynical answer: people are angry and she is responding. The feed-in-tariff system in Ontario means that residents overpay for alternative energy – thus, incentivizing people to produce wind and solar energy. However, residents to do not like paying so much electricity… in fact, it made a lot of people really angry. So the government is going to cut the cost.

On the more environmental side, there are big promises around public transportation – especially in the ever-growing GTA. But like other green promises in the budget, it is all tied to “business” and “growth.” The main theme is really sustainable DEVELOPMENT. Wynne wants to grow – the economy. And suggests this can be done in a “green” way. A lot of the green promises involve “investments” as opposed to “protections” or “regulations.”

In fact, there is little spending on strictly environmental issues – like endangered species, parks, bodies of water, and air quality. The only mention of water is regarding public health (safety) and not environmental health.

This budget leaves a lot to be desired for the average environmentalist. Right now, almost 50% of the budget is spent on health care. There is a connection there, no?

Progressive Conservative Party takes Manitoba

Trump and Clinton… it is all we here about these days. Indeed, their story is the lead on the Globe and Mail this morning. But Manitoba also had an election yesterday. The Progressive Conservative party, led by Brian Pallister, won a majority government. An impressive majority government. The party won 40 of the province’s 57 seats… and took 53.4% of the popular vote.

The NDP have been in power in Manitoba since 1999 – and historically have been very strong in the province. But last night, the NDP won only 14 seats and 25.6% of the popular vote. Their leader, Greg Selinger, resigned immediately after the votes here counted. The Liberal Party won the remaining 3 seats with 14.2% of the vote.

What was this election about? Taxes. (As most elections are!) Salinger said he would not raise the HST (harmonized sales tax) in the province… and then he did. Voters did not like that. Pallister has promised to decrease the tax by the 1% that it was raised. He better come through. He has also promised to join the New West Partnership trade agreement with BC, AB, and SK.

I am surprised to even write this, but as of April 2016 ALBERTA is the only province to have a NDP government.


Status Quo in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan had a provincial election on April 4, 2016. However, there is really no update to the book – as the status quo resigned supreme. Indeed, the election was dubbed “the ground-hog day election.”

The Sask Party (the conservative or centre-right party) won 51 seats while the NDP (the centre-left party) won 10 seats. There are a total of 61 seats in the SK Legislative Assembly.  In terms of popular vote, the SP received 62.5% and the NDP won 30.3% (leaving 3.6% to the other parties, such as the Liberal Party and the Western Independence Party).

Prior to this election, the SP had 49 seats and the NDP help 9 seats. Thus, the NDP did gain a seat, but in a major setback the party leader, Cam Broten, lost his seat in Saskatoon. It is unclear as to whether or not he will remain party leader.

The Sask Party is a relatively new party – founded in only 1997. It gained major success under Brad Wall’s leadership in 2007. In the 2007 election the party won 38/58 seats and in 2011 it won 49/58 seats.  Last night we saw more of the same. And we can expect more of the same in the next five years. This is not good news for the environment – especially not good for any prospects of a national climate strategy in Canada.

2016 Budget for the Environment

7 billion. That is a big number. The Liberal government is planning on spending more than that on the environment in the next two years. Indeed, the CBC reported that the Liberal’s kept with their election promises on the environment.

So how does that shake down by the numbers?

$2.5 billion = public transit

$1.8 billion = green infrastructure, including (much needed) repair and upgrade to water systems

$1.7 billion = climate mitigation and environmental protection

$574 million = energy and water efficiency upgrades

$401 million = clean teach development spending

These are large numbers and can be sliced and diced in different directions. For example, it is actually $11.9 billion being spent on infrastructure and some of that is related to environmental protection and upgrades. I like this graphic from the Globe and Mail:



As you can see, in the infrastructure spending there is money for climate change mitigation and adaptation projects. That is clearly environmental spending. Then there are categories of an overlapping nature – water infrastructure. That is not exactly about protecting water quality for the sake of the environment. No, it is really about public health. But, hey, that’s okay – a win, a win. Similarly, “public transit” isn’t necessarily about the environment. It is really about getting people where they need to go to keep the economy and society functioning. But better public transportation means less carbon emissions. So, hey, that’s okay – a win, a win.

This all sounds good, right? Why is the David Suzuki Foundation not impressed? Over concern that “the level of investment doesn’t match the urgency of the environmental challenges Canada faces.” The DSF was hoping for more news on carbon pricing, alternative energy investments, and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. (Me too).

To that end, the Minister of Finance, Hon. Morneau, also announced an additional $1 billion in the next budget (2018-2019) to establish a “low carbon economy fund” that will give funding to provinces/territories that sign onto a Canadian climate agreement. Sounds like a bribe. I like it. It is also what we call “federal leadership.”


I am waiting for other environmental groups and the Pembina Institute to release their comments and analysis on the budget. We need some number crunchers to think this through from an environmental prospective. I will keep you posted on further details!

First Minister’s Meeting on Climate Change

The long-awaited First Minister’s meeting on climate change happened yesterday, March 3 2016. It was somewhat anti-climatic given that Trudeau made this meeting part of his fall campaign pledge. Essentially, he has been talking about this  meeting since last summer. And then it just… passed us all by.


The 13 premiers met with Trudeau and McKenna is Vancouver. (I imagined it was rainy). Prior to the meeting, Trudeau announced an aspirational goal of a set minimum price on carbon ($15 dollars a tonne is the number he threw out). Brad Wall of Saskatchewan immediately said no (see prior post).

What did happen yesterday? The CBC offers a gloomy recap here.  There was no agreement on a carbon price. Instead what emerged was yet another set of promises and goals. We call these “frameworks” or “strategies.” Officially, it is titled the Vancouver Declaration on Clean Growth and Climate Change (perhaps such a grandiose name makes it seem more important). The list of goals includes:

  • developing “regional” plans for clean electricity
    • this includes Indigenous and remote Northern communities
  • doubling investments in clean energy research over the next five years
    • this includes electric cars
  • more investments in green infrastructure (like public transit)
    • this includes working together to leverage the federal Low Carbon Economy Fund

That is really it. There was also an agreement to meet again in October.

The premiers did agree on the “need” for “some form” of carbon pricing – but there was no agreement on what approach to use (Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia are hindrances to creating a national price). This will be a focus for the next meeting. The Premiers are supposed to go home and figure out a carbon pricing mechanism that works for their province (so a tax or cap & trade or any pricing mechanism).  In addition to that task, they are also supposed to focus on clean technology, unique (province specific) opportunities to reduce emissions, and adaptation measures for their province.

Where does that leave Canada? Remember that our UN Paris Pledge is 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. That is what we promised the international community. Essentially, as a nation we need to bring our annual emissions down to 534 mega tonnes. Current trends suggest we will be somewhere around 750. Thus, the provinces must act.

Trudeau was not able to secure a carbon price from the provinces. This is disappointing, but not surprising. What we have is more promises but little action. Ontario and Alberta have announced new climate strategies. BC, MB, and QU already have strategies in place (albeit it might be time for BC to update its carbon tax). But that leaves us with 5 provinces out of 13 – that won’t be enough. Of particular concern is Saskatchewan, which has the highest GHG emissions per capita and Wall refuses to entertain any strategies other than “off-setting” the status quo through carbon sequestering.

In the next six months the provinces have a lot of homework. In October, Trudeau better circle the provincial wagons and get everyone facing the same direction. We don’t need new declarations – we need leadership and action.

EC has a new name & new webpage!

When Justin Trudeau became Canada’s Prime Minister and head of the executive branch he renamed some of Canada’s institutions. Environment Canada is now Environment and Climate Change Canada. That name change is meant to signify how serious Trudeau is taking the issue of climate change. And it is also supposed to signal the central mission of Environment Canada in the coming decade.

Environment and Climate Change Canada now has a new website – and it is one worth visiting.


As you can see, there are up-to-date news stories (headlines) as well as tweets and real information about different issues and priorities. There is also – smack on the front page – a tab for public consultations. This is a very different webpage than Environment Canada under Harper. That old Environment Canada had a stale page with mostly dead links. It is was frustrating and disappointing.

I encourage all students and scholars of environmental policy to peruse the website. There is a lot of good information in there. For example, today I found some frank data about our climate targets. Here is the graph from the website:


What you see is that Canada is no where near on track for meeting our 2030 Paris Protocol commitment. That is the little orange dot in the bottom right hand corner beside 534 megatonnes of CO2 emissions. Umm. Instead, we are track to be somewhere between 765 and 876 megatonnes. In the book, I present a similar table on page 276. This is an update. On that graph the government didn’t suggest where we might be in 2030 – it was left to the reader to connect the dots in an upward fashion.

We have a new Environment and Climate Change Canada, but we face the same problems. How Minister McKenna is going to get from reality to promise is yet to be determined. Stay tuned for updates on the First Ministers meeting for climate change!

Citizens, Accountability, & Government

Throughout The Canadian Environment in Political Context I try to focus on what citizens can do to improve the environment. Specifically, what role do citizens have in the political sphere that can influence environmental policy? There are many examples – from the obvious, like voting, to the more time consuming, shopping green. There are virtually hundreds of ways an individual can involve him/herself in the dirty work of politics – even without ever running for office.

I have recently come across the website This is a website intended to hold the Trudeau government responsible for promises made during the 2015 election. It is run by four men in Alberta who are self described data-junkies. But anyone can participate in the tracking of promises made or broken. The idea is not be partisan – it is just for citizens to check and see if the government is really doing what it promised to do.



 The authors/information trackers/founders.


In total there are 214 promises divided into 7 issue areas: culture, economy, environment, government, immigration, indigenous peoples, and security. You can click any tab and see a list of relevant promises. Each promise is tracked by “not started,” “in progress,” “achieved,” or “broken.” As of today, there are 25 promises in progress, 12 achieved, and 3 broken.


If we look just at the environment section there are 28 promises in 4 subcategories: clean tech, climate change, national parks, and water. Thus far there have been no broken promises. Are broken promises always a bad thing? Not necessarily – it depends on where you stand on the issue! It might be a bad thing that the government promised to do something and didn’t, but there may be good reason (like new information, new technology, or a different economic context). You can decide for yourself how you want to use the information provided. Ultimately, it is you who will stand alone in a ballot box in 5 years and help decide which party to elect. It may matter to you a great deal that promises were broken (could be a sign of no integrity) or you may be happy that he broke the promises he did. Or you maybe willing to overlook broken promises because other issues, ones more important to you, were addressed during Trudeau’s tenure in office.

This website is an excellent example of the “watch dog” function that citizens can play. In 5 years when people go back to the polls, it is important to have data like this to reflect upon and evaluate the government (as discussed in Chapter 12). The website is free and open to all. As long as they are careful to fact-check the information, it will be a reliable source of information for citizens to use to hold their government accountable. I know I will continue to check-in with the website and measure the progress of the Trudeau government.

Tootoo’s Goals

Hunter Tootoo, a businessman and Member of Parliament from Nunavut, was selected by Justin Trudeau to serve as Canada’s Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.

Tootoo was born and raised in Rankin. He served as member of Nunavut’s Legislative Assembly (Iqaluit Centre) from 1999 to 2013. While a MLA he served in cabinet as the Minister of Education and the Minister Responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation, Homelessness.

In his Minister of Fisheries, Oceans Mandate Letter, the Office of the Prime Minister asked Mr. Tootoo to prioritize and implement these goals:

  1. Base decisions about ecosystem management (including fish stocks) on scientific evidence and the precautionary principle.
  2. Work with all stakeholders – namely the provinces, territories, and Indigenous people – to co-manage Canada’s three oceans.
  3. Support Minister McKenna in protecting the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River Basin, and the Lake Winnipeg Basin.
  4. Work on restoring sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser River (as recommended by the Cohen Commission).
  5. Review the Harper’s governments’ changes to the Fisheries and Navigable Waters Protection Acts – and incorporate modern safeguards (this is to be done with the Minister of Transport.
  6. Formalize a federal moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on BC’s north coast (work with Ministers of Transport, Natural Resouces, and Environment & Climate Change).
  7. In conjunction with the Minister of Environment & Climate Change and Minister of Natural Resources, review Canada’s environmental assessment process and “introduce new, fair processes that will: restore robust oversight and thorough environmental assessments of areas under federal jurisdiction, while also working with provinces and territories to avoid duplication; ensure that decisions are based on science, facts, and evidence, and serve the public interest; provide ways for Canadians to express their views and opportunities for experts to meaningfully participate; and require project advocates to choose the best technologies available to reduce environmental impacts.”
  8. Re-open the Maritime Rescue Sub-centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland and the Kitsilano Coast Guard Base in Vancouver.
  9. Fulfill the commitments of the National Shipbuilding and Procurement Strategy to obtain new Coast Guard Vessels.
  10. Improve Marine Safety
  11. Examine the implications of climate change on Arctic marine ecosystems (in conjunction with the Minister of Environment & Climate Change and the Minister of Transport).

Of these 11 goals, only 3 are not directly related to the environment (8, 9, and 10). The other 8 are all environmental goals – although a few can be read as natural resource issues (ie. restoring salmon stocks is also about our economy). This means Catherine McKenna and Hunter Tootoo are going to have to work together closely to implement most – if not all – of their goals.