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‘Money for free’: Critics warn proposed Alberta well cleanup plan a royalty giveaway



‘Money for free': Critics warn proposed Alberta well cleanup plan a royalty giveaway

EDMONTON — Critics fear Alberta’s new United Conservative premier is preparing to bring in a program that would use billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded royalty breaks to subsidize energy companies to fulfill their legal duty and clean up old wells.

The so-called RStar proposal, developed by an industry group, has been criticized by legal experts, energy economists and the province’s own internal analysts.

But for more than a year, Danielle Smith and newly appointed members of her cabinet have been outspoken advocates of the plan, which would enable companies to use reclamation spending to gain credits against royalty payments.

“I love it,” Smith said on a 2021 YouTube broadcast, when she was a lobbyist for the pro-business Alberta Enterprise Group. She also wrote a supportive letter that July as group president to then-energy minister Sonya Savage.

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Peter Guthrie, now Smith’s energy minister, has expressed his support in the legislature.

“I’m encouraging all members of this house and the community at large to support RStar,” he said in April 2021.

On Oct. 22, the day after joining the cabinet, Guthrie told the Airdrie Today newspaper that RStar was one of his top priorities.

“RStar is a pilot project that incentivizes the cleanup and reclamation of wells, and in doing so, it creates a royalty credit for future drilling,” Guthrie told the outlet.

Other newly fledged cabinet ministers such as Jeremy Nixon of Seniors, Community and Social Services have also expressed support for RStar.

The Canadian Press has asked both Smith and Guthrie if they still support RStar. Neither have responded.

But critics say the idea appears to remain high on the agenda for the new Smith-run government.

“(Smith) has made it perfectly clear this is a screaming hot, flashing-neon priority for her,” said Regan Boychuk of the watchdog group The Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project, whom Smith consulted on the program.

Under RStar, companies would earn credits for remediating old wells up to the total liability the well represents as calculated by Alberta’s energy regulator. That credit would then apply against revenue earned from new production to reduce royalties or be sold to another operator.

“It’s like moving more of your income into a lower tax bracket,” said Andrew Leach, a University of Alberta energy economist who has seen the proposal’s details.

Proponents say the program would encourage new drilling, help clean up Alberta’s 170,000 abandoned wells and create jobs doing both. In the letter written when Smith was still a lobbyist, she quotes a consultant who says $20 billion in RStar credits would create 366,000 jobs and $8.5 billion in royalties.

Critics aren’t so sure.

Leach said RStar would subsidize work that almost all companies do anyway as a legal condition of their drilling licence.

“The companies that are going to be able to take advantage of this are the companies that aren’t distressed,” he said.

“We’re not worried about companies that have active drilling programs and are meeting their reclamation targets. They’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to do and (we’d be) giving them additional credits with substantial value.”

There’s even less need for the program when oil prices are high, Leach said. He said it’s more likely $20 billion in RStar credits would simply cost the government $5 billion in foregone royalties.

Boychuk said in addition to transferring wealth to companies that don’t need it, RStar would use a taxpayer-owned resource to bail out hundreds of Alberta companies that have run their wells dry without cleaning them up.

“Danielle Smith’s program would hand them money for free,” he said. “It’s flabbergasting. It’s sheer robbery.”

Opposition New Democrat Energy Critic Kathleen Ganley said the plan reverses the foundation of environmental law.

“It’s a violation of the polluter-pay principle,” she said.

Ganley said there are no guarantees the program would create new work. Nor would it be open to scrutiny.

“There’s no clear, straight line that it would start new work as opposed to work that’s already underway except the public would be paying for it. And they would be paying for it in a way that’s not clear to them.”

Even Alberta Energy staff have expressed doubts.

In a June 30, 2021, letter obtained by The Canadian Press, Savage wrote to the Freehold Owners Association, a group representing private owners of mineral rights.

Savage, then energy minister and now in the Environment and Protected Areas portfolio, said: “The proposal does not align with the province’s royalty regime or our approach to liability management and upholding the polluter-pays principle.”

Nevertheless, said Boychuk, it may be coming Alberta’s way.

“It has been (Smith’s) personal priority for two years. Alberta is very close to having it rammed down its throat.”

Ganley warned that RStar could be brought in without going through the legislature — unless second thoughts prevail.

“One can only hope that being briefed on the file and having information from the department will assist them in making better decisions. Many might consider that optimistic.”

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

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960


Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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More 'police' centres run by China found around world: NGO – CTV News



A human rights organization says it has found dozens of additional overseas Chinese “police service centres” around the world, including at least two more in Canada.

In a new report released Monday called “Patrol and Persuade,” the Spain-based non-governmental organization Safeguard Defenders says it used open source statements from People’s Republic of China authorities, Chinese police and state media to document at least 48 additional stations.

This on top of the 54 stations revealed in September, bringing the total number of documented centres to 102 in 53 countries. Some host countries also have co-operated in setting up these centres, Safeguard Defenders says.

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The stations are accused of targeting Chinese nationals living abroad, particularly those who allegedly committed crimes in China, in order to coerce them to return home.

Safeguard Defenders reports that along with the three police “stations” previously confirmed in the Greater Toronto Area, which are operated out of the Chinese city of Fuzhou, it has found newly confirmed centres in Vancouver, operated out of Wenzhou, and another whose location is unknown but operates out of Nantong.

In a statement to CTV National News on Monday, the RCMP said it’s “investigating reports of criminal activity in relation to the so-called ‘police’ stations.” No further details were provided.

A similar statement was given by the police force to CP24 in late October following the previous report of Toronto-area stations.

The consulate general of the People’s Republic of China said at the time that the stations are to help Chinese citizens renew their driver’s licences, given many of them are unable to return to China due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the “local volunteers” facilitating this “are not Chinese police officers.”

However, Safeguard Defenders says the vast majority of the newly documented stations were set up starting in 2016, years before the pandemic began.

In its previous report in September, Safeguard Defenders found that Chinese police “persuaded” 230,000 claimed fugitives to return to China “voluntarily” between April 2021 and July 2022. Among the tactics used, Safeguard Defenders said, included denying suspects’ children in China the right to education and punishing relatives through “guilt by association.”

The U.S. Department of Justice accused seven people in October of a yearslong campaign to harass and intimidate a U.S. resident to return to China.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the G20 summit in Indonesia in November, his office told reporters that he had raised concerns with Chinese President Xi Jinping of “interference” in Canada.

Asked about what specific interference he referred to, Trudeau later told the House of Commons, “We’ve known for many years that there are consistent engagements by representatives of the Chinese government into Canadian communities, with local media, reports of illicit Chinese police stations.”

With files from CP24 Web Content Writer Joanna Lavoie, CTV National News Vancouver Bureau Chief Melanie Nagy, CTV News Toronto Videojournalist Allison Hurst and The Canadian Press 

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Trudeau 'extremely concerned' about report Canadian parts ended up in Iranian drones – National | – Global News



Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is “extremely concerned” over a report Canadian-made parts have been discovered in Iranian drones used by Russia in its war on Ukraine.

Trudeau shared his worries with reporters in Ingersoll, Ont., Monday after the Globe and Mail reported on Sunday the discovery by a non-profit organization, Statewatch. Its “Trap Aggressor” investigation detailed last month that an antenna manufactured by an Ottawa-based Tallysman Wireless was featured in the Iranian Shahed-136 attack drone.

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Read more:

Canada sanctions Iranian drone makers amid Russian strikes in Ukraine

Click to play video: 'Federal government ‘extremely concerned’ about report Canadian-made parts found in Iranian attack drones used in Russia: Trudeau'

Federal government ‘extremely concerned’ about report Canadian-made parts found in Iranian attack drones used in Russia: Trudeau

The drones have been used recently by Russia in Ukraine as Moscow increases its strikes on the country’s energy and civilian infrastructure.

“We’re obviously extremely concerned about those reports because even as Canada is producing extraordinary, technological innovations … we do not want them to participate in Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine, or Iran’s contributions to that,” Trudeau said.

“We have strict export permits in place for sensitive technology that are rigorously enforced, and that’s why we’ve been following up with this company, that’s fully cooperating, to figure out exactly how items that we’re not supposed to get into the hands of anyone like the Iranian government actually ended up there.”

The Shahed-136 is manufactured by Shahed Aviation Industries, one of two Iranian drone makers Ottawa sanctioned last month for reportedly supplying Russia with its lethal drones. After denying reports it was supplying Moscow, Iran acknowledged for the first time on Nov. 5 it had sent Moscow drones before the Feb. 24 war began.

Click to play video: 'Russian missiles smash apartment block in Ukraine’s Mykolaiv: mayor'

Russian missiles smash apartment block in Ukraine’s Mykolaiv: mayor

It denied continuing to supply drones to Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Iran of lying, previously saying Kyiv’s forces were destroying at least 10 of its drones every day.

Aside from its Iranian-made engine, the Shahed-136 consists entirely of foreign components, Statewatch said in its report. It cited Ukrainian intelligence managing to identify more than 30 European and American companies’ components, with most parts coming from the United States.

A drone is seen in the sky seconds before it fired on buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Oct. 17.

Efrem Lukatsky/AP

Drones like the Shahed are packed with explosives and can be preprogrammed with a target’s GPS coordinates. They can nosedive into targets and explode on impact like a missile, hence why they have become known as suicide drones or kamikaze drones.

Shaheds are relatively cheap, costing roughly US$20,000 each — a small fraction of the cost of a full-size missile.

Read more:

‘Game-changing’ drone warfare in Ukraine may tee up new phase of conflict: official

Drones “provide a critical capability” to exploit vulnerabilities in defences, and their use may be a prelude to a new phase in the conflict, U.S. Army Lt.-Col. Paul Lushenko previously told Global News.

Gyles Panther, president at Tallysman, told the Globe the company is not “complicit in this usage” and “is 100-per cent committed” to supporting Ukraine.

Ottawa is working to understand how the parts ended up in the drones, and wants to “ensure” incidents like this don’t “happen again in the future,” Trudeau said.

&copy 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Available Nexus appointments Canada



There’s good news for those looking to expedite their border crossing experience.

To mitigate the ongoing backlog issues at Canadian border crossings, border officials have reopened two Nexus and Free and Secure Trade (FAST) enrolment centres in Canada.

It’s the first time any Nexus and FAST offices have been open in Canada since the pandemic began, and federal officials say more offices will be opening in the future.

The Nexus program, which has over 1.7 million members, is designed to speed up the border clearance process for its members, while also freeing up more time for Canadian and U.S. border security agents to tend to unknown or potentially higher-risk travellers and goods.

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The benefit of Nexus is that it allows for those travelling between the two countries to save time, skipping long lineups and using the shorter, dedicated Nexus lanes when crossing the border, as well as designated kiosks and eGates at major airports, and quicker processing at marine crossings.

Reopening these two Canadian centres is the first phase of a larger plan to address the lengthy Nexus and FAST backlog, and will increase availability for applicants to book appointments to interview for Nexus pre-approval, the Canada Border Service Agency said in a statement Monday.

Those looking to get Nexus approval can now schedule interviews, by appointment only, at the Lansdowne, Ont. (Thousand Islands Bridge) and Fort Erie, Ont. (Peace Bridge) enrolment centres, through the trusted traveller programs portal.

Travellers looking to apply will still need to complete a new two-step process, and the Canadian offices don’t mean applicants won’t have to cross the border to finalize the process.

If conditionally approved for Nexus status, travellers can complete the first part of the interview at one of the two reopened Canadian enrolment centres, then complete the second interview portion just across the border at the corresponding U.S. enrolment centres on the other side. For Lansdowne, that’s Alexandria Bay, N.Y., and for Fort Erie, it’s Buffalo, N.Y.

To become conditionally approved, both the CBSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have to grant approval prior to scheduling the interview portion, and interviews need to be conducted on both sides of the border.

“Nexus and FAST are a win-win for Canada and the United States – and we’re working hard to find creative solutions to reduce wait times, address the backlog and help more travellers get Nexus cards,” said Marco Mendicino, minister of public safety, in a press release. “This new, two-step process is further proof of our commitment to it. We’ll keep finding solutions that leverage technology and streamline renewals.”

Applicants also have the option to complete a one-step process and schedule complete interviews at enrolment centres in the U.S., which may be a preferred option for those who don’t live near the two centres currently open in Canada.

And those who are already members of the Nexus program and are awaiting an interview can renew their membership ahead of its expiry date in order to retain their travel benefits for up to five years.

More centres are expected to open at select land border crossings in the future, as this initial phase carries on, CBSA says.

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