New report revels Ontario Gov’t knew about Continued Mercury Contamination in Grassy Narrows (N. Esak)

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Photo: Sign contaminants in Wabigoon River System

 

The Toronto Star had recently reported this week that the provincial government had received a report back in 2016 stating that in 1990, the environment ministry at the time was aware of mercury contaminants in a mill by Grassy Narrows (Bruser, 2017). However, what is even more shocking is that this news was a surprise to the Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynne, who said she had never heard of any such report. This was confirmed by the Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister, David Zimmer, when he stated this week that the report was received in September of 2016, however was never sent to the premier (CBC News, 2017).

Grassy Narrows was a community which has been suffering from mercury poisoning since the early 1970s when it was first revealed that the communities’ fish supply had extremely dangerous levels of mercury (Free Grassy Narrows, 2016). This was due to the dumping of contaminants from a nearby paper mill owned by Reed Paper which resulted in devastating effects in the community from employment rates dropping from 90% to 10%, as well as lifetime mental issues and increases in criminal activity (Free Grassy Narrows, 2016). A larger tragedy was that years later, government officials continued to reiterate that mercury was located in the river and that the river would “clean itself naturally” (Bruser, 2017). However, based on these new reports, this was not true.

“We are not sure exactly how that information hadn’t made it to my desk, but we’re asking that question”, Wynne stated last week (Bruser, 2017). When Zimmer was asked, he stated that the environment ministry was not able to, at the time, publically release the information pertaining to the report due to the fact that it was, “derived from a third-party report that is owned by Domtar and was prepared by their consultant” (Bruser, 2017)  Moreover, the environment minister during the period where the report was sent to the government, Glen Murray, told the Star that he had no recollection of being told by his staff about the information in the report (CBC News, 2017).

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Photo: Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne

Personally, I am reluctant to believe that the Premier of Ontario can be completely unaware about a report pertaining to a significant health issue that had occurred in the province, especially since just weeks ago, Wynne had publically stated her commitment to the rehabilitation of Grassy Narrows. Nevertheless, whether she was aware or not, top advisors and officials must have been aware of this report and decided to turn a blind eye to the issue. Ignorance is not a good enough answer as to why Wynne was not aware of this report and it is extremely irresponsible on the part of the provincial government that this report was not publically addressed as soon as it was handed in, back in 2016.

I think it was put perfectly when the environmental coordinator of Grassy Narrows stated, “I think this latest report points to the need for additional activity apart from what we’re doing in terms of cleaning up the river, but there needs to be the federal government, the First Nation, the provincial government and Health Canada sitting at the table to determine what the next steps should be” (Bruser, 2017).  This report reveals just another instance of the provincial government not putting enough effort when it comes to their commitments on indigenous issues.

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Indigenous and Environmental Movements in the Cancellation of the Energy East Pipeline (N. Esak)

Picture1Photo: Protesters in Ottawa against the Energy East Pipeline

TransCanada announced this month that they will not be proceeding with its Energy East pipeline proposal. This cancellation sparked a variety of opinions among opposing sides from critics such as Alberta’s Premier, Racheal Notley and representatives of Irving oil who had strong economic incentives to the pipelines, to those considering this cancellation as a victory such as Grand Chief Serge Simon of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake and many environmental NGO’s.

The pipeline, if passed, would have brought more than 1 million barrels of crude oil every day from the Alberta tar sands to the eastern Canadian ports. This would have required the creation of a 1,400km pipeline across Quebec and New Brunswick as well as altering an existing pipeline already in the path (Greenpeace, 2017).

Picture2Photo: Map of potential Energy East pipeline route

The federal government announced that their reasoning for halting the pipeline was due to dropping oil prices (TransCanada, 2017). Initially when the pipeline was being proposed the cost of oil was at more than $80 a barrel. Although due to years of delay in the pipelines production, the price of oil then dropped to about $50 a barrel, which made the creation of the pipeline less of a necessity (Ballingall, 2017)

However, it could be said that that these delays were the leverage those opposed to the pipeline needed in order to stop its production. The pipeline was initially arranged be approved in 2014, but delays from environmental groups, NGO’s, as well as First Nations communities pushed the dates for approval back, giving time for the market price of oil to naturally drop. Once the price had enough time to drop on its own, there was less of an economic incentive for the federal government to approve the pipeline’s production.

One instance of these delays can be demonstrated in St Lawrence Port where environmental groups from the David Suzuki Foundation, Nature Quebec, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society were awarded a temporary injunction to stop exploratory work from TransCanada for the Energy East pipeline due to the projects risk of threatening beluga whales nursing in that area. It was found in this case that the Quebec minister of environment was incorrect in granting the permit for that project as they had not done enough research on the environmental impacts to do so, creating a delay in the pipelines approval (CBC News, 2014).

Another instance of delay was initiated by First Nations communities in December of 2013 when leaders from variety of First Nations communities assembled in Gatineau Quebec and demanded to not only be stakeholders but full partners when it came to the decisions made towards the pipeline’s construction. If made, the pipeline would have crossed by and affected 180 indigenous communities in its path. They stated that the company was violating their treaty rights by not consulting with these communities during every step of the process. This lead to their multi-million dollar suit towards TransCanada, creating more delays in the pipelines production (Tucker, 2017).

Although this is most definitely not the end for oil pipeline proposals in Canada, the cancellation of the Energy East pipeline is proof of the strong impact collective action and social movements can have in even the largest projects. As Grand Chief Serge Simon of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake stated “Both the Northern Gateway fight and this Energy East one show that when First Nations stand together, supported by non-Indigenous allies, we win” (The Canadian Press, 2017).

 

References

Ballingall, A. (2017, October 05). TransCanada ends bid to build Energy East pipeline after ‘careful review of changed circumstances’. Retrived October 22 2017, from https://www.thestar.com/business/2017/10/05/transcanada-ends-bid-to-build-energy-east-pipeline-after-careful-review-of-changed-circumstances.html

CBC News. (2014, September 23). TransCanada work on St. Lawrence oil port suspended by court. Retrived October 22, 2017, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/transcanada-work-on-st-lawrence-port-suspended-by-quebec-court-order-1.2775613

The Canadian Press. (2017, October 05). What’s being said about the end of TransCanada’s Energy East. Retrieved October 22 2017, from http://www.ctvnews.ca/business/what-s-being-said-about-the-end-of-transcanada-s-energy-east-1.3620833

The Energy East Pipeline (n.d). Retrived October 22, 2017, from http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/campaigns/Energy/tarsands/Energy-East-Pipeline/

TransCanada (2017, October 05). TransCanada Announces Termination of Energy East Pipeline and Eastern Mainline Projects. Retrived October 22, 2017, from https://www.transcanada.com/en/announcements/2017-10-05-transcanada-anounces-termination-of-energy-east-pipeline-and-eastern-mainline-projects/

 Tucker, B. (2017, October 13). Social movements played a huge part in derailing Energy East: Opinion. Retrived October 22, 2017, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/opinion/social-movements-energy-east-1.4344080

 

How a First Nations Community is to Understand Left Diesel and Joined Hydro (A. Koundourakis)

Wataynikaneyap is a power company that powers 20 First Nations communities in North Western Ontario. Out of these 20 communities, 16 are powered by diesel. Wataynikaneyap means “line that brings light” in Anishiniiniimowin, and was named by the Elders who provided guidance to the company partners. It’s a little ironic that the line that brings light also creates a black plume of smoke due to the diesel energy used. To remove this, the Ontario government is investing $1.35 Billion towards the Transmission Project. This Transmission Project will finance the connection of the First Nations communities to Ontario’s hydro grid.

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The use of diesel power in remote communities does have its downfalls, obviously. There are reasons why we don’t use diesel power in cities: mostly because it’s dirty, unreliable and costly. According to local residents in North Spirit Lake First Nation, diesel power is unreliable as power goes out at least once a week. The amount of diesel used and stored is also a huge issue: 3,000 litres a day is used from one generator during a cold winter night (this adds up to 5,688 lbs of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere); the diesel is kept 3 kilometres from the community; and 800,000 litres of diesel are transported in tanks across the ice road in winter. Furthermore, some days the weather isn’t cold enough to be transported by truck so it has to be transported by air, thereby adding to the CO2 emissions. The 800,000 litres of fuel required to power the community of 400 costs about $1 million. This does not include the millions of dollars to operate and maintain the diesel generators. North Spirit Lake community pays $1.25 million a year for their power supply. That’s one of the 16 communities that use the diesel power, so picture that figure but about 16 times larger.

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The plan is currently in Phase 2, to connect the communities north of Pickle Lake and Red Lake to the Ontario power grid. This includes construction of a 1,500 kilometre line connecting the two communities by 2020 and it will cost $1.15 billion. Wataynikaneyap Power is hoping to start construction on the project by 2018 once all approvals are secured. Once complete, the project will provide more than 10,000 people living in remote First Nation communities in northwestern Ontario with a more reliable, cheaper and cleaner supply of electricity. The project construction will create new business opportunities and skills development for the local communities. The project will also help alleviate load growth restrictions, where previously the amounts of homes were either fixed to a certain supply because the power supply couldn’t keep up with new homes.

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There are however some concerns about the construction of new power lines. Community meetings have expressed concerns about the power lines, arguing that they will disrupt migration patterns for birds and animals that people rely on for food. Off the top of my head, one concern I could think of is downed power lines. A few winters ago, there were some ice storms that caused some tree branches to break off and disconnect some cables. Northern Ontario is not known for having mild winters, so I’d expect downed lines to be a common occurrence. However, I’m not an expert in Northern cable lines.

The benefits environmentally and financially are numerous. Over 40 years the connection will save $1 billion for the 16 communities. Load growth restrictions will be removed and the community will finally be allowed to grow their businesses and residential zones. The project is expected to create over 680 jobs in Ontario during the construction period. The project will make a large infrastructure investment in hospitals, schools, roads, bridges and transit in Ontario and help promote a low carbon economy. Finally, the plan will help improve a more secure retirement for Northern residents.

So, here’s my review on the scenario. This has to be cooperation between Federal and Provincial governments. Anyone who has taken POL250 should know that the Federal government’s jurisdiction is First Nations and reserves; the Provincial government’s jurisdiction is power generation. The first phase started sometime in 2015, when the Conservative government was in power (this isn’t really important to the blog, just a fun fact). So power generation had switched from the Federal government – who will be saving a majority of the cost since they were the ones who paid for the diesel and is a major funder of First Nation communities – will be transferred to the Provincial government. The benefits of improving the lives of First Nation communities because of this cooperation between the two levels of government are good for all of Canada. While I’m not sure how much of a contributor to our carbon emission the diesel generators were, I’m quite sure removing the generators will help us achieve our COP21 targets. Furthermore, the costs of the diesel that are now removed from the Federal government can be put somewhere else, hopefully towards our deficit. For Ontario, as I said above, power generation is our jurisdiction. The 10,000 extra users of energy will greatly benefit the 40% stake taxpayers have for Hydro One. Maybe I should buy Hydro One stock.

Metis are Indians

Chapter 9 in The Canadian Environment in Political Context explains Indigenous politics in Canada. Standard in similar texts, the umbrella term “Aboriginal” is broken down into Inuit, First Nations, and Metis. The book also provides a chart of important Supreme Court cases that impact Aboriginal-Canada environmental relations. There is a new entry:

Daniels v Canada (Indian Affairs and Northern Development). The short story is that the court determined that “Metis” are Indians in Canada – thereby giving them (potential) land and resource rights. As Indians, Metis are the responsibility of the Federal government.

In this case, the court was asked to rule on 3 things:

  1. that Metis and non-status Indians are “Indians” as defined under the 1867 Constitution
  2. that the federal government has a fiduciary duty to Metis and non-status Indians
  3. that Metis and non-status Indians have the right to be consulted and negotiation with (in terms of things like land, environmental rights, etc.)

Initially, the trial judge (Federal Court of Appeals) granted (1) but used the R. v Powley (2003) case to benchmark which non-status Indians are included.  The court declined (2) and (3).

In October 2015 the Supreme Court heard this case and on April 14th made a ruling. It is now determined that Metis and non-status Indians are Indians under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

What does this mean in practice? It means that roughly 200,000 Metis and 400,000 non-status Aboriginal peoples (those not affiliated with a reserve) will become “Indians” and receive the benefits flowing from such status. Exactly who is Metis or non-status is to be determined on a “case-by-case” basis in the future. So, the court left it undefined.

What did the Supreme Court say about (2) and (3) – they rejected them BUT on the basis that confirming them would be “restating settled law.” This means that once you establish (1) then those Metis and non-status Indians would already have (2) and (3) by virtue of having (1).  Also worth noting, the Supreme Court did not rule that the Powley criteria is the basis for “Metis” – instead it will be determined “case-by-case.”

So this is a big victory for Metis and non-status Indians in Canada. What does it mean for the environment?  It is a bit too soon to tell. But the implication would be that Metis and non-status Indians may have the ability to make some land claims and resource claims. It should also mean that these groups will be involved in consultations on natural resource exploitation and exploitation (like oil and gas out West). Essentially, this case extended the scope of potential actors in the policy process.

For more information, see the CBC and APTN.