#PromiseKept: What is Bill C-18? (by V. Nader)

On July 19, 2017, Bill C-18 became law in Canada after receiving Royal Assent. Bill C-18 is an Act to amend the Rouge National Urban Park Act, the Parks Canada Agency Act, and the Canada National Parks Act.

The summary of the Act is as follows: “This enactment amends the Rouge National Urban Park Act to set out priorities in respect of factors to be considered in the management of the park. Additionally, it adds land to the park. It also amends the Parks Canada Agency Act to allow the New Parks and Historic Sites Account to be used in a broader manner. Finally, it amends the Canada National Parks Act to modify the boundary of Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada.”

The objectives of the Act are to protect the first national urban park’s ecological integrity and transfer land to increase the size of the park. It is said in a statement issued by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and Parks Canada that “Once complete, Rouge will become one of the largest parks in the world found within an urban setting. It will be 19 times larger than Vancouver’s Stanley Park, and 23 times bigger than New York’s Central Park.” This is really exciting and hopefully it will encourage people to visit the park more, which is about an hour drive away from Toronto and accessible by transit.

In related news, to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, the park is offering a free shuttle bus service from Toronto to the park from July to October this year. I definitely will be taking advantage of it and I think everyone should too!

Another aim of the Act is to provide greater long-term stability for park farmers and their families. The amendments will do so by replacing one-year leases with leases of up to 30 years. The Rouge National Urban Park website outlines the outcome which is “Farmers can continue carrying out agricultural activities within the park and providing an important source of locally-grown food to the Greater Toronto Area.”

Bill C-18, along with the many other bills that have been enacted this past week, are referred to as a #PromiseKept by the Trudeau administration. On Catherine McKenna’s official website, it states “With the passing of this Bill, our government has followed through on its promise to protect the ecological integrity of Rouge National Urban Park making this a #PromiseKept.”

Moreover, Rouge National Urban Park has been a location in which environmental preservation has been promoted. For example, it has been a place in which citizens could contribute to the protection of endangered species and preservation of wildlife conservation by engaging in a BioBlitz. In fact, the first two BioBlitzes were held in Toronto and they helped to measure an increase or loss in biodiversity in a specific large area. You can learn more about getting involved with BioBlitz here.

I feel that this Act is part of the 4th wave environmentalism that I believe we are experiencing now as it is promoting the preservation of the environment. It also strongly resembles the first wave of environmentalism when the Canadian government realized that resources, such as nature and wildlife, were finite which led to the creation of national parks. I foresee the expansion of the Rouge National Urban Park increasing tourism and, thus, the well-being of people and, most importantly, protecting the area’s ecology and biodiversity.

Advertisements

US and Canada Bicker, yet Again, About Soft Wood Lumber (by V. Nader)

bicker

Trudeau is clearly displeased with Trump’s anti-subsidy tariff on softwood lumber imports! Photo Credit

 

Last month, on April 24, 2017, President Trump announced that his administration would impose a tariff of up to 24 per cent on imported Canadian softwood-lumber effective September 07, 2017. This, unsurprisingly, evoked disapproval from the Canadian federal government and a joint statement released by Jim Carr, Minister of Natural Resources, and Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, which stated, “The Government of Canada disagrees strongly with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s decision to impose an unfair and punitive duty. The accusations are baseless and unfounded.” However, this is not the first time Canada and the United States disagreed over softwood-lumber. In fact, it is one of many dating back to the early 1980s. As pointed out in The Canadian Environment in Political Context, the trade dispute “is arguably the most significant one between Canada and the United Sates and one of the most notable trade disputes worldwide in the twentieth century” (Olive 2016, page 162).

Prime Minister Trudeau’s objection to the tariff can be seen in the following Tweets:

tweet

In the first Tweet, he provides a read out of his phone call to Trump in which he expresses that he “will vigorously defend the interests of the Canadian softwood lumber industry, as we have successfully done in all past lumber disputes with the U.S.”

Shortly after, he urgently speaks with premiers about the issue.

tweet2

 

A week later, he makes it known that supporting softwood lumber producers is a priority across Canada.

The disparate patterns of land ownership in the US and Canada is partly a cause of the dispute. Both the US and Canada have a mixed market economy, but the US’s economic system is based on private ownership whereas Canada combines private enterprise with government regulation. Therefore, “in the United States, the market determines the cost of harvesting most wood because most timber is taken from private land…In Canada, where most timber is harvested from Crown land under provincial control, the price to harvest trees is set by the provinces” (Olive 2016, page 163). As a result, the US accuses Canada of violating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as they are under the impression that Canada’s provincial and federal government unfairly subsidizes the lumber. Canada disagrees because, although the stumpage fees is set by administrative regulations opposed to market competition, the low fees cannot be considered subsidies since the lumber is used in various industries.

I doubt this policy will be effective because it serves to ensure larger profits for American landowners and lumber mills, but to the detriment of American consumers and workers. The joint statement mentioned earlier expressed that the tariff “will negatively affect workers on both sides of the border, and will ultimately increase costs for American families who want to build or renovate homes.” In anticipation of new tariffs, lumber prices have jumped 22 per cent adding nearly $3,600 to the cost of a new single-family home… each $1,000 increase in the median price of a new home makes homeownership unaffordable to 150,000 households.

The US is heavily reliant on softwood lumber imports from Canada because they do not produce enough lumber to meet the nation’s needs. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 33 per cent of the lumber used in the US was imported of which more than 95 per cent came from Canada. Although America is the largest exporter of hardwood lumber (raw lumber), it is too costly for them to produce finished goods (such as softwood lumber) due to high labour costs, hence why they import from Canada. Despite Trump’s interest to endorse protectionism and free enterprise, the tariff can be costly to the livelihood of both Americans and Canadians.

Trump’s desire to renegotiate NAFTA stems from the fact that he wants to ensure that the US fully benefits from the deal. Previously, Trump referred to NAFTA as the “worst trade deal” and wanted to rescind America’s involvement in the agreement altogether, but has decided to renegotiate instead. Since the fees associated with softwood lumber is in a grey area in relation to NAFTA, Trump wants to offset Canada’s low stumpage fees by imposing the anti-subsidy duty. The duty is supposed to ensure that the American forestry industry thrives and that jobs within the US are protected, but it has the potential to do more harm than good as the joint statement revealed. This is part of Trump’s efforts to make America “great again,” although he could very much so be doing the complete opposite.

It can be observed in Trump’s Tweet, which was made three days after his announcement, that he almost threatening both Canada and Mexico by making an ultimatum. It’s either his way or nothing.

trump

This relates to the environment because softwood lumber is an environmentally friendly building material that satisfies a need for more housing without increasing greenhouse gas emissions. For this reason, Canada’s International Trade Minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne, visited China to expand and strengthen lumber trade with the country shortly after Trump’s announcement. Champagne believes “there’s an imperative in China to have more green building material” to combat the issue of climate change. The US knows that they are largest importer of lumber and that the industry is of utmost importance to Canada which is why they are under the impression that Canada will submit to their demands, however Canada is refusing to be bullied and this is seen on Canada Trade’s Twitter page! Only a day after Trump’s announcement, the page made the following Tweets boasting about their softwood lumber trade relations with China and Asia:

 

It is evident that Canada is not willing to settle, once again in this long-winded dispute, and is showing off to the US that they have options (China) and will be more than fine without them. This almost reminds me of an on-again, off-again relationship where a couple fights and tries to inadvertently prove that they can be better off without the other by flaunting their new beau/belle, but secretly want the other to become jealous to get them back. Matter of fact, there should be a reality TV show starring Trump, Trudeau and other related political actors which follows their fun squabbles called Keeping Up With The Soft Wood Lumber Dispute!

 

 

 

 

My Letter to Parks Canada

The Government of Canada opened consultations about Parks Canada a few months ago. Essentially, the government was asking Canadians an important question:

“How should Parks Canada respond to the environmental and social changes it is facing in managing national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas?”

On Friday, I took some time to write to Catherine McKenna, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, about our national parks and why they must be protected for NATURE. She has promised Canadians a response in a few months time. I will keep you in the loop. In the meantime, I want to share my letter (some of the language is borrowed from CPAWS, the NGO that encouraged me to write the letter):

Dear Minister,

I am a Canadian from the prairie grassland ecosystem. Currently, I am a professor of political science and geography at the University of Toronto, where I study and teach environmental policy. My area of expertise is species at risk and biodiversity conservation. I cannot stress enough to you the importance of parks in Canada. Through the Species at Risk Act the federal government has the authority, and legal responsibility, to recover and protect COSEWIC listed endangered and threatened species. Given the limitations of the Canadian constitution, the federal government – as you are well aware – only has jurisdiction over federal lands, some aquatic species, and migratory birds. Federal lands do not amount to much across the ten provinces. However, national parks are federal lands. Thus, the federal government can – and should – use that land for nature first.

I am writing to you today to insist that you refocus Parks Canada on protecting nature as the first priority in our national parks. Conservation biology suggests that we need HALF for nature. Yes, 50% of our land should be for nature. This means that the federal government must stop expanding the development footprint in our national parks, particularly in Banff and Jasper. Natural resource extraction is important in Canada, but it does not belong in our national parks. No “ifs, ands, or buts” about it. The federal government needs to re-invest in science and ecological monitoring to guide park management. This is especially relevant in light of Donald Trump’s administration in the US. If Canada does not speak up for science, who will? The world – and nature – needs us today more than ever. The federal government must create more new national parks and national marine conservation areas. We made a promise – to the international community, to all Canadians, and to future generations. We need to protect more habitat. From sea to sea to sea. Canada is the second largest country in the world by landmass and we have less people than California. We are obligated to the world to protect nature. If not us, who?

I know you love parks Ms. McKenna. I follow you on twitter. I love parks too. The Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan is my favourite park. The prairie grassland system is fragile and in serious danger. It is possible that grasslands will go extinct from Canada. Can you imagine? We need the Grasslands National Park. We need more parks where nature is safe at home.

 

Sincerely,

Andrea Olive

Assistant Professor

Political Science and Geography

University of Toronto Mississauga

Andrea.olive@utoronto.ca

Forest Fires & Climate Change: Burning Scientific Truths (Khan)

 

Anyone who has been paying attention to the news recently will have undoubtedly heard about the forest fire in Fort McMurry, Alberta. According to the CBC, the fire is estimated to have burned over 500,000 hectares and is still burning in some areas. The fire has also prompted the evacuation of close to 80,000 people in the area. There has been a major outpouring of support from around the country, and many people have been amazed by the sheer size of the blaze.

fire-mapPerimeter of the Fort McMurry fire as of May 24th 2016 (Source: Cbc)

This incident might make you wonder: what causes forest fires, and are they becoming more frequent?

Forest fires are like any other fire, in that they are dependent on three components to survive: a fuel source, a heat source or spark, and oxygen. According to Natural Resources Canada, there are thousands of fires across Canada each year, but only 3% of these grow to over 200 hectares in size. In the case of larger fires like the one in Alberta, conditions such as high temperatures and lack of precipitation have a huge impact on the spread of the fire. According to the Global and Mail, it is a combination of these factors that have allowed the Alberta fire to survive. Another important factor in the growth of fires is the direction and speed of the wind. Winds can often hamper efforts to stop a forest fire.

Once a fire has started, it is important to limit its growth and minimize the damage. One way to fight a forest fire is to douse the fire with ammonium polyphosphate. This complicated sounding chemical functions by creating a layer over flammable material and insulating it from the high temperatures of a fire. This lowers the temperature that the fire burns at, and reduces the fuel available for the fire to burn. In addition to this method, firefighters in Alberta are creating firebreaks to stop the forest fire. A firebreak is a clearing in combustible materials in the path of a fire.

plane

A plane dousing a California Wildfire with ammonium polyphosphate (Elaine Thompson/AP)

A fact to keep in mind is that Canada has almost 10% of the world’s forest areas so forest fires are a common issue. Forest fires are often thought of as natural calamities when they impact humans, but that does not mean that they are necessarily bad for the environment. Fires clear out old trees and bushes and allow for new trees to grow out. In fact, Natural Resources Canada often sets a number of prescribed fires each year to allow healthy growth of forest ecosystems.

So are forest fires becoming more frequent? And is it a result of climate change?

Not exactly, fires today are not more frequent, but frequently more destructive. According to Natural Resource Canada, in 2014 the number of fires across Canada were down, but the area burned by fires across Canada had increased. Kerry Anderson, a fire research assistant with Natural Resource Canada says that more data needs to be collected and analyzed before a definitive link can be made between climate change and forest fires. What is known however is that climate change contributes to forest fires in two important ways:

  • Climate change has caused an increase in global temperatures and has disrupted the usual precipitation patterns. This has lead to increasingly hot and dry conditions which are more conducive to forest fires.

The government and local communities need to do more to protect citizens from the danger of forest fires. A FireSmart plan developed in response to the Slave Lake fire in 2011 has not been fully implemented by communities across Alberta; this plan needs to be reviewed to plan for future incidents. We are today in an era where climate change is finally being recognized as an important issue, but we need to work on adapting to a changing world in addition to trying to reduce emissions and limit climate change.