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Critics fear environmental impact of new Alberta anti-red-tape legislation

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EDMONTON — New Alberta legislation aimed at reducing red tape could do just the opposite while threatening parks and protected areas, say legal and environmental critics.

“It further centralizes authority with the minister and the higher echelons of the bureaucracy,” said Nigel Bankes, professor emeritus of resource law at the University of Calgary. “It actually makes the job of finding the law more difficult.”

Last week, the United Conservative government passed a bill as part of its ongoing “red-tape reduction” efforts that changes the way rules are made on public lands.

The legislation gives much broader power to the environment minister. It allows the minister to “set standards, directives, practices, codes, guidelines, objectives or other rules relating to any matter” involving public lands.

It also broadens the scope of who can set rules to any “government, board, agency, association or person” — a provision that did not exist under the old legislation.

That scope is now so broad that different rules could apply in different parts of the province, said Katie Morrison of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. Those local rules could end up working against wider land-use goals.

“It absolutely could open up to land uses in protected areas that are not appropriate or commercial purposes that are not appropriate to maintain the goals of those protected areas,” she said Tuesday.

New Democrat environment critic Marlin Schmidt said he is worried about losing public oversight of who is allowed to do what and where. He points out there’s no requirement for the minister to sign off on new rules.

“That’s extremely concerning from a transparency point of view. If the minister doesn’t even know what regulatory changes are being made, how are Albertans supposed to know?”

Alberta Environment spokesman John Muir said those concerns are overblown.

“Bill 21 does not allow the department to act outside of the legislation, regulations or land management intent,” he wrote in an email.

“There will continue to be public, stakeholder and Indigenous engagement on regulations, directives, rules, codes and standards as required.”

New regulations must also be officially published by the government.

Lorne Fitch, a well-known Alberta biologist, was not reassured. He wanted to know who asked the government for these changes.

“Without some transparency in this, without knowing what Bill 21 was designed to fix, it leads us to look at this with some skepticism and even some suspicion.”

He suggests it could be used, for example, to increase access for off-highway vehicles in areas already overloaded with roads and trails.

“Bill 21 to me looks like a blank cheque.”

Bankes said it’s not unprecedented for government rules to accommodate changes made by an outside body — International Organization for Standardization standards for pipelines, for example.

But he said the new law allows for regulations to be set by so many different groups it’ll be harder for people to know what the rules in force actually are. Nor do any new rules have to be proposed in advance and opened to public input.

“It leads to a loss of transparency and accountability,” he said.

Bankes adds that nowhere in the bill are there any standards for the standard-setters.

“It doesn’t say they have to be a credible professional organization or a national standard. It just seems way too broad.”

Bill 21 has passed third reading in the Alberta legislature and requires only royal assent to be proclaimed into law.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2022.

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

 

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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Russia is 'weaponizing' food, Joly tells Commonwealth partners – CBC News

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Commonwealth leaders, meeting for the first time in four years, discussed food security and the risk of starvation as Canada’s foreign affairs minister sought to lay the blame for the impending crisis at the feet of Russia.

“What is clear to us is that Russia is weaponizing food, and putting a toll on many countries around the world, and putting 50 million lives at risk,” Mélanie Joly told reporters late Friday, while giving a recap of the first day of the Commonwealth meeting in Kigali, Rwanda.

Ukraine is the world’s fourth-largest grain exporter and reportedly has more 30 million tonnes of grain in storage, waiting for export. Farmers are said to be building temporary silos and are worried because the summer harvest is only weeks away.

The country’s Black Sea ports of Odesa, Pivdennyi, and Mykolaiv and Chornomorsk serve as major terminals — shipping about 4.5 million tonnes of grain per month, but a Russian naval blockade is preventing movement.

A recent report from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) concluded that Russia is taking advantage of transportation bottlenecks to attack Ukraine’s food storage facilities.

Russian forces have attacked grain silos across the country and stolen an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 tonnes of grain from occupied regions, according to Ukraine’s Defence Ministry.

The CSIS report, posted online on June 15, noted “Russia destroyed one of Europe’s largest food storage facilities in Brovary, roughly 19 kilometres northeast of Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv.”

Journalists walk inside a destroyed warehouse for storing food, after an attack by Russia 12 days prior in Brovary, on the outskirts of Kyiv on March 29. (Rodrigo Abd/The Associated Press)

The subject of the Russian blockade of Ukraine grain exports will also be at the centre of the G7 leaders meeting, beginning Sunday in Germany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin last week delivered a scathing critique of the crisis, blaming the U.S. and not the Russian military actions in Ukraine for endangering food security, and rising inflation and fuel prices.

He reinforced the message in a phone call last week with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was one of the Commonwealth leaders to skip this week’s meeting.

Africa is heavily reliant on Ukrainian and — to a lesser extent — Russian grain.

For those leaders who did show up in Rwanda, Joly said Canada has been clear in assigning blame for the crisis. 

Sanctions not to blame, Joly says

“This is not the fault of the Western sanctions,” she said. “This is really Putin’s war of choice that is affecting food security around the world.”

Ten members of the Commonwealth abstained from condemning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in a United Nations resolution last spring.

Joly said she believes Canada made “headway” at the conference in convincing some of those nations to stand more firmly with Ukraine, but she wasn’t specific.

In a policy session held before the meeting of Commonwealth leaders, there was a call for African countries to be more self-sufficient in food supplies to offset imports.

Agnes Kalibata, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), told the conference said that the agriculture sector in developing countries of the Commonwealth is “heavily underinvested.” She called for adequate funding to boost “the sector productivity, strengthen its resilience and deal with climate change, as well as create jobs, according to local media reports.

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Immigration Minister: Applicants can soon expect normal service standards – Canada Immigration News

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Published on June 25th, 2022 at 08:00am EDT
Updated on June 25th, 2022 at 08:29am EDT

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Canada’s Immigration Minister Sean Fraser believes meaningful steps are being taken to get the immigration system back on track.

Fraser acknowledged ongoing application processing and client experience challenges when he sat down with CIC News for an exclusive interview in Toronto earlier this week.

Discover if You Are Eligible for Canadian Immigration

Minister expects things to return to normal by the end of 2022

“The COVID-19 pandemic hampered our immigration system in two main ways. It shut down a lot of our offices around the world…we lost a lot of our horsepower as a department.”

The second way, he explained, was Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) needed to pivot to transitioning those in Canada to permanent residence since travel restrictions limited the ability of those abroad to enter the country. This was happening as new applications continued to flow in, leading to an accumulation of inventory. Then in August 2021, Canada made the commitment to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees following the Taliban reclaiming power of Afghanistan and since February 2022, Canada has been looking to assist those impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The good news is I see light at the end of the tunnel…we’re on track right now to restore our pre-pandemic service standard by the end of this calendar year for virtually every line of business.”

Minister Fraser added the caveat that the service standard for Canadian citizenship applications may continue to lag a bit due to the inventory growing significantly at the start of the pandemic when in-person citizenship ceremonies were not an option.

Fraser: Three solutions to improve client experience and address backlogs

The minister believes the three solutions to improve the immigration system are “resources, policy, and tech.”

“On the resources side, we’ve added 500 more staff.” He also pointed out the additional $85 million and another $385 million allocated in recent federal budget announcements that will go towards improving application processing.

Meanwhile, Fraser believes Canada will need even higher levels of immigration to meet growing demand to gain Canadian permanent residence.

“The number one policy is our Immigration Levels Plan. We’re not going to chip away at the number of cases in the inventory if we don’t expand the numbers.”

In February, Fraser announced Canada would welcome over 430,000 immigrants annually beginning this year, by far the highest levels in Canadian history. He is set to announce the Immigration Levels Plan 2023-2025 by November 1st of this year, which may result in another increase in Canada’s targets.

With respect to the third solution, technology, the minister said that “digital platform modernization is going to greatly increase the reliability and pace of our system.”

“These measures are starting to have an impact…a couple of weeks ago we passed 200,000 permanent residents landed in Canada.” The minister noted this has broken the previous record by 1.5 months.

Work permits have almost 250% increased compared to last year.”

IRCC’s backlog has surged to 2.4 million persons during the pandemic and the department has struggled to achieve its own targets on the length of time it aims to process applications. Since the start of this year, it has made major announcements and changes as it seeks to reduce the backlog, processing times, and give its clients more certainty. In late January, minister Fraser held a press conference summarizing IRCC’s processing goals including the steps it was taking to increase staff capacity and modernize its processes and technology.

One of the benefits has been the reduction in the Express Entry backlog. The minister told CIC News that all-program Express Entry draws are tentatively set to resume on July 6. In addition, IRCC aims to get back to its pre-pandemic service standard of processing Express Entry applications within six months beginning in July.

Another benefit is that IRCC has introduced and is in the process of introducing more case trackers to allow applicants to review the status of their files. The minister says 17 lines of business will have case trackers by the end of this summer allowing applicants to digitally monitor their status.

While challenges remain, the minister expressed great optimism to CIC News.

“My sense is by the end of this calendar year, new applications coming in will have the kind of certainty that we’ll be able to meet our service standard and people will be dealing with 60 days or 6 months or 12 months, not an undetermined period of time.”

Discover if You Are Eligible for Canadian Immigration

Special interview series with Minister Fraser

CIC News sat down with the minister on June 21, 2022 to discuss the future of Canadian immigration.

Over the coming weeks, CIC News is releasing a special series of articles elaborating on the interview with Minister Fraser on topics including:

Minister Fraser was in Toronto to speak at Collision, one of the world’s largest technology conferences.

Discover if You Are Eligible for Canadian Immigration

© CIC News All Rights Reserved. Visit CanadaVisa.com to discover your Canadian immigration options.

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Rwanda to Germany: Canada to elevate small Commonwealth nations’ concerns at the G7

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KIGALI, Rwanda — Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says Canada will be bringing the concerns of smaller Commonwealth nations to the G7 leaders in Germany Sunday, particularly the growing threat of famine.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Joly arrived in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, on Wednesday for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, which has been dominated by the concerns of nations that are suffering from food scarcity.

She said Canada is in “listening mode” at the Commonwealth, where leaders of smaller nations are able to speak without the dominating presence of the United States, Russia and China.

Canadian officials have been trying to reinforce that the cause of the shortage is Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

“What is clear to us is that Russia is weaponizing food and putting a toll on many countries around the world, and putting 50 million lives at risk,” Joly told reporters Friday evening in Rwanda.

She said Russia has been targeting Ukrainian ports and grain silos and systematically preventing grain from reaching countries that need it.

Trudeau had attempted to meet with the chair of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, for several days during the Commonwealth summit but the sit-down was repeatedly postponed and eventually cancelled.

Shortly after Trudeau arrived in Rwanda the government announced Canada would dedicate a new ambassador to the African Union, which has suffered from the food shortages inflicted on the continent as a result of the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Both Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin have met with representatives of the African Union, with Russia blaming Russian sanctions for stopping up the flow of grain.

Trudeau travels to the Bavarian Alps in Germany for the G7 Summit Saturday night, where the conflict with Ukraine will be top of mind.

Joly said she spoke to her G7 counterparts Friday, and expects famine and safe passage for Ukrainian refugees to be the top concern.

Some of the other voices the prime minister has promised to centre at his international meetings belong to youth leaders who spoke at a dialogue event Saturday, focused on issues facing young people around the world.

Some of the delegates spoke about the devastating effects of climate change, particularly around remote island nations where infrastructure cannot withstand natural disasters and rebuilding efforts take years. The onslaught takes a toll on education and health services, one delegate told the forum.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2022.

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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