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Federal environment minister approves Bay du Nord oil project off Newfoundland

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ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault has approved a controversial new oil project off the coast of Newfoundland with what Ottawa is calling the strongest emissions rules ever imposed.

His decision released Wednesday by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada says Equinor’s Bay du Nord project can proceed as long it achieves net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

That means the company will have to offset or capture any emissions the project produces by 2050. The announcement says this is the first time the federal government has imposed such a condition on an energy project.

Until 2050, Equinor is also legally required to consider and incorporate the best available options for reducing emissions.

“I have determined that the designated project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects,” Guilbeault said in the 22-page decision statement.

But the former environmental activist who used to lobby against oil and gas projects in his life before politics said the decision kept him up at night.

“It’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make,” Guilbeault said in an interview.

But he said the government established a new environmental review process for such projects and created the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada to do it, with an aim of taking the politics out of the process.

This project was reviewed using the previous system because of when the application was received, but Guilbeault said going against the recommendation of an independent agency was not something he could do.

“They made a recommendation to me that they, after studying the project for four years, with 137 conditions, including the project be net zero by 2050, their conclusion was that the project could have no significant impact,” he said. “So that was a challenge for me to go against this institution.”

Bay du Nord is expected to produce around 300 million barrels of oil over its lifetime, though industry insiders in Newfoundland and Labrador say that figure could be more than 800 million barrels. Equinor has said Bay du Nord would likely start pumping in the latter half of the decade, and continue producing for 20 to 30 years. Production is expected to peak at around 200,000 barrels a day.

Greenhouse gas emissions from production are anticipated to be as low as eight kilograms per barrel. The average emissions from oil production in Canada is 40 kilograms per barrel, and in the oilsands, it’s 80 kilograms.

Equinor predicts annual emissions from the project will be between 177,770 and 257,715 tonnes.

But climate scientists and environmentalists have opposed the project, saying it would undermine Canada’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and say the emissions from production ignore how many greenhouse gas emissions will be produced when the fossil fuels are burned.

The government signalled Wednesday that the conditions being put on Bay du Nord, including net-zero by 2050, will become the legal standard for any future oil and gas project seeking federal approval.

Guilbeault said oil consumption is going to drop by 2050 but there will still be some demand, and it will only be for oil that is carbon neutral. He said projects like this one, which have a carbon footprint compatible with addressing climate change, are going to ultimately displace oil production that do not.

“Well, that’s what we have to do,” he said. “I mean, unless those other productions find ways to to be carbon neutral, that’s the inevitable conclusion that the world is coming to.”

Equinor spokesman Alex Collins said the Bay du Nord project “has the potential to produce the lowest-carbon oil in the country.”

“Equinor is pleased with the strong support that the Bay du Nord project has received from stakeholders across the province and Canada,” she said.

Collins noted in an earlier statement the company and its partners haven’t yet sanctioned the development. That decision, she said, is expected “in the next couple years.” Equinor has said the project will provide about $3.5 billion in total revenues for the cash-strapped government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Premier Andrew Furey was beaming at an evening news conference, saying the project will be an economic driver for his province. He said greenhouse gas emissions from the project will be among the lowest in the world for an oil project and it will help meet global demand for “low-carbon, ethical oil.”

“This will be a giant step forward in our economic recovery,” Furey added.

Climate activists were not pleased.

“(The) decision represents a triumph of the kind of politics that will only deepen the climate crisis and global addiction to planet-wrecking fossil fuels,” Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada, said in an emailed statement.

“This decision isn’t just a climate failure, it is a failure to imagine and invest in a sustainable energy future for the Atlantic region.”

Caroline Brouillette, national policy manager at Climate Action Network Canada, said progress on climate over the last few years is being undermined by this approval.

“Frankly I think this is heartbreaking,” she said.

Brouillette said it’s coming just two days after a United Nations climate report that was clear there is no room for more oil and gas production if the world is to avoid the worst of the climate crisis.

“It’s so clearly not compatible with climate safety,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2022.

 

Sarah Smellie and Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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First case of rare monkeypox in the U.S. was someone who recently travelled to Canada – CTV News

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A rare case of monkeypox has been confirmed in a man in Massachusetts who recently travelled to Canada, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. 

A Wednesday press release stated that the adult male was tested late Tuesday and was confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The case poses no risk to the public, and the individual is hospitalized and in good condition,” the release stated.

The Masschusetts case is the first case to be reported in the U.S. since the U.K. announced on May 7 that it had detected a case of monkeypox. Since that first case, the U.K. has identified eight more cases. Portugal has reported five cases and Spain is investigating eight potential cases.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said in an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca on Wednesday that they are monitoring the situation, and that Canada has no cases at this stage.

“PHAC is aware of and closely monitoring the current situation concerning the reporting of monkeypox cases in Europe,” a spokesperson said. “No cases have been reported to PHAC at this time.”

Monkeypox is a virus that is common in wild animals such as squirrels, with most cases occurring in Western and Central Africa. Human cases are rare, with the first one recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1970s.

Generally, transmission to humans occurs through a bite or “direct contact with the infected animal’s blood, body fluids, or lesions,” according to Health Canada. Once a human is infected, it is possible for it to spread between humans, but it is not spread easily and has limited transmissibility.

The symptoms of monkeypox can include a fever, muscle aches and fatigue in milder cases. Most cases resolve in a few days, but if the case is more serious, it can progress to a two to four week period in which a rash spreads and develops into pustules on the body, with lesions potentially developing on the mouth, tongue and genitalia.

The virus is similar to smallpox, but is milder and involves the swelling of lymph nodes, which is not found in smallpox cases. In Africa, the case fatality rate is estimated to be around 1-10 per cent. 

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Bulldog willpower and work ethic: Jason Kenney led Alberta through COVID, oil crash

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EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, at the founding convention of his United Conservative Party in 2018, said he’d consider members’ input on policy but the bottom line was simple: “I hold the pen.”

Four years later, the membership took back the pen and made it clear to the driving force behind the reunification of conservatives in Alberta that the writing was on the wall and it was time for him to go.

Jason Kenney, the province’s 18th premier, told a shocked audience of invited guests and cabinet ministers Wednesday that 51 per cent support of party rank and file in his leadership review was not enough to quell internal dissension wracking his party.

He announced he would resign from the top job, saying that while his team had accomplished many things, a lack of unity put it all in jeopardy.

“We reunited the free enterprise movement in Alberta politics, and we won the largest electoral mandate in our province’s history,” said Kenney.

“We inherited profound fiscal and economic challenges. And then we went through three once in a century crises: the largest public health crisis in a century, the largest collapse of the world economy in nearly a century and for the first time ever we experienced negative oil prices.

“Despite all of that we got the job done.”

In his three years as premier, Kenney steered the province through the COVID-19 pandemic while seeking to expand the oil and gas sector, further diversify the economy and remake the public health system. On the strength of soaring oil and gas prices, he balanced the budget for the first time in years.

His trademark was bulldog willpower combined with work ethic and tenacity few could match.

His days often began early with a news conference, then meetings, question period, a speech in the house, party events, fundraisers and more phone calls long into the evening. There were Facebook townhalls and a radio show.

It was a brash, combative populist style that often sought to rally support by dividing Albertans against opponents, both real and perceived.

His favourite target was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s federal government. He blamed it for hamstringing the oil and gas industry through punitive legislation and a consumer carbon tax, but often ignored the fact Ottawa was paying the freight on the TransMountain pipeline to the B.C. coast.

He once publicly dismissed Trudeau as an “empty trust-fund millionaire who has the political depth of a finger bowl.” He characterized a pipeline-opposing U.S. governor as “brain dead.”

He picked fights with doctors, tearing up their master agreement just as the pandemic hit in full force in 2020. His government also tried to cut nurses’ wages.

He decried the folly of fixing the economy by “picking winners and losers” through targeted investments, only to lose $1.3 billion trying to revive the transcontinental Keystone XL pipeline.

His government fought with the Alberta Teachers’ Association and is still implementing a controversial school curriculum that almost all school boards have refused to test drive.

He created a so-called energy war room designed to fight with oil and gas foes. Instead, it stumbled through a series of gaffes, including a public fight with a children’s cartoon about Bigfoot.

His leadership, particularly during the pandemic, exposed contradictions that contributed to low poll ratings even as the economy started bouncing back.

He called for civility in public debate and then handed out earplugs in the house so his members wouldn’t have to listen to the Opposition NDP.

During COVID-19, Kenney tried to steer the province through the middle course, waiting until the last moment — as hospitals were reaching dangerous capacity — before imposing new health restrictions.

When the province reached dangerous levels last fall, to the point that patient triage might have been necessary, he accepted responsibility for not acting and then said he would have acted if the chief medical health officer had recommended it.

When he took over the health system, he blamed the former NDP government for problems he inherited. In recent weeks, as the system has continued to strain under COVID-19, he blamed Alberta Health Services, the front-line care provider.

The end came not from outside but from inside the caucus.

Backbenchers said Kenney had promised to bring them around the decision-making table but instead froze them out. Decisions, they said, were made by Kenney and a clutch of close advisers. Some dissenters found themselves kicked out of caucus.

With Kenney there was controversy. Always controversy.

He defeated Brian Jean in the inaugural 2017 party leadership race. It was later learned his team colluded with another candidate to try to scupper Jean’s chances. Kenney has said he didn’t know anything about it.

When the election commissioner investigated possible wrongdoing in that race, Kenney’s government, while he was away in Texas, introduced and passed a law to fire him. The RCMP continues to investigate allegations of voter identity fraud in that race.

This year, when Kenney’s justice minister, Kaycee Madu, was found to have tried to interfere in the administration of justice by calling Edmonton’s police chief to argue about a traffic ticket, Kenney simply moved him to another cabinet job.

Kenney, 53, has spent much of his adult life in the public eye, famous for saying he can’t help but march to the sound of rhetorical gunfire.

He has fought for conservative principles and the concept of ordered liberty, first as an anti-tax crusader and later as a key lieutenant in former prime minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet in portfolios that included immigration, employment and defence.

He is a Catholic and has spoken out against gay marriage and abortion in the past, but didn’t wade in on those issues as premier.

He is known for his drive, populist instincts and a nose for the political jugular.

To win the UCP leadership, he drove back and forth across Alberta in a blue pickup truck to meet and greet thousands of supporters and fence-sitters. In less than two years, he got 87 constituency associations and candidates running.

The blue pickup truck has become part of his persona.

Perhaps in a harbinger of what was to come, Kenney recently had that same truck at a news conference to announce a cut in gas taxes.

As the cameras rolled, Kenney filled up his tank, then pulled, yanked, yanked and yanked — at one point using two hands — in a failed attempt to pull out the hose.

Finally, he gave up, turned and looked sheepishly at the crowd.

The pickup was stuck.

And this time, there was no one to blame.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2022.

 

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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Canada's top court to hear appeal on whether or not to keep Doug Ford's mandate letters secret – CBC.ca

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The Supreme Court of Canada will hear the Ontario government’s appeal on whether or not it will be able to keep PC Leader Doug Ford’s mandate letters secret.

Had Canada’s top court refused to hear the case, the provincial government would have had to release Ford’s 23 mandate letters  — which, combined, run about 150 pages — to CBC News today.

With today’s decision, there’s no chance of the mandate letters being made public before the Ontario election, now two weeks away on June 2. 

Mandate letters traditionally lay out the marching orders a premier has for each of his or her ministers after taking office — and have been routinely released by governments across the country.

Ford’s government, however, has been fighting to keep his mandate letters from the public for nearly four years. CBC Toronto filed a freedom of information request for the records in July 2018, shortly after Ford took office. The government denied access in full, arguing the letters were exempt from disclosure as cabinet records.

Despite being ordered to release the records by Ontario’s former information and privacy commissioner in 2019 and having its appeals of that decision dismissed at every level of court so far — the province utilized its final option to prevent disclosure in March by seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada

When asked why his government has kept up the fight to keep his mandate letters secret for four years on Thursday, Ford told CBC News “it’s not secret.”

“Everyone knows where we stand,” said Ford. “I’m out here every single day, moving forward it’s going to be very very clear, what we’re doing. We’re going to continue to build — build roads, hospitals, highways, schools. We’re getting it done and it’s going to be as clear and transparent as you can get.”

WATCH | Ford says letters aren’t being kept secret:

Doug Ford responds to Supreme Court opting to hear mandate letter case

2 hours ago

Duration 0:33

PC leader says what’s in the letters his government has spent years fighting the release of is ‘not that secret.’

Delaying the release of the mandate letters until after the election is the only reason James Turk, director of Toronto Metropolitan University’s Centre for Free Expression, can think of to explain why the province appealed again.

“Whatever is in the mandate letters, they don’t want it out,” Turk told CBC News after the application was filed. “It’s a total waste of money — they’ve lost at every level.”

In a statement issued Thursday, the provincial Liberal party questioned what exactly Ford is trying to keep out of the public eye.

“The only credible answer is that he knows what’s hidden in those letters would lose him the election,” the statement reads. “It’s the same reason he hides his candidates and orders them to refuse local debates. Because he knows they would lose their local elections if they were accountable to the public and the media.”

Ontario court previously ruled letters should be released

In the government’s application, counsel argued the Supreme Court should hear the case because it raises issues of public importance, such as what constitutes cabinet deliberations.

“This will also be the first time this honourable court will consider the constitutional role of the premier in setting cabinet’s agenda and address whether the premier’s deliberations can reveal the substance of deliberations of cabinet,” the notice of application reads.

Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act states that any records that “would reveal the substance of deliberations of the executive council or its committee” are exempt from disclosure under what’s commonly referred to as the cabinet record exemption.

James Turk, director of Toronto Metropolitan University’s Centre for Free Expression, says access to future records is also at stake in the mandate letters case. (Zoom)

But in a 2-1 ruling released in January, the Ontario Court of Appeal found that both the privacy commissioner’s original decision, and the Divisional Court’s review of it, were reasonable in finding that mandate letters do not reveal the substance of cabinet deliberations and so must be disclosed. 

“The letters are the culmination of [the] deliberative process,” wrote Justice Lorne Sossin. 

“While they highlight the decisions the premier ultimately made, they do not shed light on the process used to make those decisions or the alternatives rejected along the way.

“Accordingly, the letters do not threaten to divulge cabinet’s deliberative process or its formulation of policies.”

Supreme court ruling will have ‘major impact’

Turk argues the stakes remain high — even though the appeal will be heard — because the cabinet records exemption is one of the most common ways governments withhold information under access to information legislation.

“It will have a major impact,” he told CBC News. “This is going to be a very important case for the public’s right to information in this country, because the Supreme Court will be able to use this case to be clear about what it considers the proper boundaries for cabinet secrecy.”

The privacy commissioner’s initial decision, and all of the court rulings so far in this case have supported a narrower interpretation of the boundaries of cabinet secrecy, which differentiates between deliberations and their results. 

“[Cabinet] discussion needs to be protected, their conclusions do not,” said Turk. “To deny the cabinet’s conclusions to the public is, in effect, denying the public the right to know what their government is going to be doing.”

For Turk, the Ontario government’s interpretation treats cabinet secrecy “like this big black hole, where anything that comes anywhere close to the cabinet falls into the black hole and can be kept from the public for years.”

The Supreme Court of Canada will release its decision on whether or not it will hear the Ontario government’s appeal to keep Doug Ford’s mandate letters secret Thursday morning. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

It’s unclear how many tax dollars and government resources have gone toward denying the public access to the mandate letters.

For more than two years, CBC News has been trying to obtain information on how much time Crown attorneys have devoted to the mandate letter case. The Ministry of the Attorney General has denied two freedom of information requests, claiming attorney-client privilege.

The latest request, which asked for the total number of hours counsel have spent on the case from July 2018 to July 2021, is now in the adjudication stage with the privacy commissioner.

‘Keep them to ourselves as long as possible’

Documents obtained by CBC News concerning its original freedom of information request for the mandate letters make it clear that senior officials inside the Ford government planned to keep the records from public view from the outset. 

In an email dated July 31, 2018, the then-executive director of policy to the premier, Greg Harrington, says, “here’s the letters. As I said, the intention is to keep them to ourselves as long as possible.”

Ford issued a new set of mandate letters to his cabinet ministers in the fall of last year.

CBC News filed a freedom of information request for the records, which was denied. 

The decision cited the cabinet record exemption in the provincial privacy act, along with three new exemptions for advice to government, solicitor-client privilege and records that “affect the economic or other interests of Ontario.” 

CBC News has appealed the decision to the privacy commissioner.

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