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Polar bear politics heat up in Churchill after province quietly gives company new permits – CBC.ca

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Polar bears and politics are causing a chill in Churchill after the Manitoba government quietly increased the number of special permits available to access the bears for the first time in decades.

It’s a move slammed by some tour operators and local First Nations who say the process lacked transparency and could hurt the area’s fragile ecosystem.

Last year, Lazy Bear Expeditions was given two permits allowing it to use Churchill Wildlife Management Area’s off-road trail network — and it seems no one in Churchill was consulted or informed new permits might be up for grabs.

New permits for this network, which is widely seen as the best way for tourists to see the most polar bears in western Hudson Bay, hadn’t been issued since 1984.

.”We’re extremely disappointed in the government’s actions,” said John Gunter, president and CEO of Frontiers North Adventures. “I just don’t understand. I’m stunned.”

‘Two sets of rules’

Frontiers North held 12 of the historic 18 tundra vehicle permits for decades, and says it earned these permits by investing millions of dollars into its business to help grow polar bear tourism for the North.

A limit of 18 permits was established by the government in the 1980s to preserve the ecosystem and tourist experience.

Gunter says there was no warning the government was considering expanding the permit system. Instead, he got a call from a government official in 2020 saying Lazy Bear was getting two permits.

The owner of Lazy Bear, Wally Daudrich, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Wally Daudrich owns Lazy Bear Expeditions, which was given two new permits to operate a tundra buggy in a protected area of Churchill. (Twitter)

Daudrich ran for the federal Conservatives in the Churchill riding in 2011.

He is an annual donor to the Progressive Conservatives, giving the maximum amount of $5,000 in 2019, according to Elections Manitoba’s annual returns.

It seems like there is two sets of rules,” Gunter said, “and I’m not sure why that’s the case.” 

Tour operator takes government, Lazy Bear to court

Fox Lake Cree Nation, whose traditional lands include the southern portion of the Churchill wildlife management area, also say they weren’t informed about the new permits. 

“There was no consultation with our resource management board or our community that share these traditional lands,” Chief Morris Beardy said in a prepared statement.

“Indigenous communities must be part of decisions that affect our territories, and our communities must be part of opportunities to promote and expand tourism in the north.” 

The Churchill Wildlife Management Area is a controlled zone that buffers Wapusk National Park. Visitor activity within the area is heavily restricted and a permit is required to use the off-road network where a tundra vehicle is used.

Each of these highly coveted permits translates into how many tundra vehicles a company can operate in the area at a given time.

The other company with access to these permits, Great White Bear Tours, took the government to court last year in a bid to get Lazy Bear’s permits revoked.

It filed an application on March 12, 2020 against the government and Lazy Bear, asking the court to revoke the permits because they were issued in “discriminatory, biased and unfair manner.”

Dennis Compayre argues it’s time to break up the monopoly on tundra vehicle permits held by two companies in Churchill. (Mike Macri/Merit Motion Pictures)

Representatives from Great White said they could not comment on this story as the matter is still before the courts. There is no hearing date set for a judge to hear the application. 

Caleb Ross, a smaller operator of polar bear tours, has owned Nanuk Operations for five years. His permits only allow him to take tourists to some parts of the area using the established road system.

He found out through the grapevine that Lazy Bear had been given two permits, and said there was no communication with the other operators.

“It was surprising and a bit disappointing that the rest of us weren’t given the option,” he said.

Some support expansion

Not everyone in Churchill is opposed to the expansion of the permit system. 

Dennis Compayre, a polar bear tracker in the area for 40 years, says he welcomes a break-up of the monopoly held by the other two companies.

“Daudrich is a very hard working man in Churchill, and he was trying to break into the business, but of course the door was slammed shut in his face,” Compayre said.  “These two companies enjoy great liberties and benefits that no one else has.”

Compayre spends most of his days lately with a documentary film crew and was the recent star of CBC’s Kingdom of the Polar Bears.

WATCH | Dennis Compayre with polar bears in Churchill:

Veteran polar bear guide Dennis Compayre watches as a mother bear teaches her young cubs to hunt, and he discovers how they are struggling to adapt to a rapidly warming Arctic 2:10

He says on any given day, not all 18 permits are being used, so if Daudrich is out with his two tundra vehicles, it won’t really change the original intent of the cap.

“They have control of this huge parcel of land that they don’t use,” he said.

Province says it is reviewing Churchill’s tourism sector

The wildlife management plan for Churchill was first published in 1980s and last updated in 2013.

Since 1984 the number of tundra vehicles permitted to operate in the area has been capped at 18, according to the plan. 

This was because of “concerns regarding the impact of this vehicle traffic on the vegetation and wetlands.”

However, special permits can be issued in certain circumstances.

However, the plan dictates the special permits are not for services connected with tourism “in fairness to applicants who have been denied the opportunity to offer services in the WMA [Wildlife Management Area].” 

Manitoba’s wildlife branch was moved last year to the agriculture portfolio from conservation.

A request for an interview with Agriculture Minister Blaine Pedersen was denied. 

In a prepared statement by the department, a spokesperson said the ecotourism sector of Churchill has “grown and evolved” since the original permit restrictions were introduced.

The spokesperson said the government is reviewing the entire tourism sector in Churchill, including whether the current permitting system is working.

He said consultations with Indigenous groups was not required when it comes to the use of a WMA as it “does not affect the exercise of Treaty or Indigenous rights.”

Gunter, who has been with Frontiers North since the 2000s, argues now is not the time to be adding more traffic to an ecosystem that is already facing global warming and diminished bear sightings. 

2015 review says no to more off-road vehicles

 A 2015 independent review ordered by the previous NDP government looked at Churchill’s tourism capacity.

They ultimately recommended they maintain the current number of allowable vehicles in order to mitigate further environmental factors that could impact the numbers of bears in the area. 

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) said it is “highly concerned” the government is choosing to go against the management plan for the area. 

Frontiers North, Great Bear Tours and now Lazy Bear Expeditions are the only three companies with permits for Churchill’s off-road network. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC News)

“We’ve been informed that there was no scientific assessment or consultations with local communities associated with this decision that may very well pose additional challenges to this threatened species,” said Ron Thiessen, executive director of the group’s Manitoba chapter.

The nationwide charity has long championed the establishment of a designated, protected park — dubbed Polar Bear provincial park — to replace the area that encompasses the wildlife management area. 

“It presents a sterling opportunity to protect the terrestrial habitats polar bears need to give birth and raise their young,” he said.

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Prince Philip took a keen interest in Canada, but stayed above politics, former GGs and PM say

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When former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien met the late Prince Philip for the first time, he told him that for an Englishman, his French was very good.

“He said ‘I’m not English and I’ve spoken French since before you were born,’” Chrétien told the Star Friday, commenting on his many encounters over 50 years with the Duke of Edinburgh.

“He was not dull, let me put it that way,” Chrétien said. “He had some strong views. Sometimes he had to show discipline to not speak up more than he would have wished.”

Philip, born in Greece in 1921 and husband to Queen Elizabeth II for over 73 years, died at the age of 99 on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he first met Philip when he was a little boy, described him as “a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others.”

Former prime ministers and governors general spoke of a man who understood his role and knew not to get involved in politics, but who was very knowledgeable about Canada and took a keen interest in the country’s success.

“I was always impressed by their knowledge,” Chrétien said of Philip and the Queen, Canada’s head of state.

He said he can recall Philip asking about the prospect of Quebec separating from the rest of the country. “Not in a very political fashion, just in terms of interest. Of course he was interested to not see Canada break up. He would certainly say that to me.”

 

Statements from former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper highlighted Philip’s devotion to the Canadian armed forces and charitable organizations, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international self-development program for young people.

Former governors general David Johnston and Michaëlle Jean, through their role as the Queen’s representative in Canada, were also able to get to know Philip more intimately, particularly at the Queen’s Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland.

Jean recalls being “overwhelmed” by all the protocol recommendations ahead of a Balmoral visit with her husband and six-year-old daughter prior to taking office in 2005, only to find Philip and the Queen greeting them at the door, with Philip paying special attention to her daughter.

“The memory I keep of Prince Philip is that of an affable, caring, elegant and warm man,” Jean told the Star, adding he was a man who was very attentive to detail.

She recalled attending a barbecue on the Balmoral estate, just the four of them, and Philip telling her, “Don’t forget to congratulate Her Majesty for her salad dressing, because she made it herself.”

What Jean also saw was a man sometimes hampered by the limitations of his role, like when he talked about one of his favourite topics, the environment.

“He said ‘I do a lot about it, I raise awareness, I take actions…I feel that whatever I do, no one cares,’” Jean recounted. “What I got from that is how lonely he felt…There was a sense of not feeling appreciated in proportion to his contributions, a feeling of being misunderstood.”

Johnston, who succeeded Jean, said Canada’s constitutional monarchy — where the head of state is politically neutral and separate from elected office — is an “important and precious” form of government, and Philip was key to making it work.

Philip showed leadership as a servant, Johnston said, “not taking centre stage, but by ensuring that the Queen and the monarchy were front row and centre.

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“He played such an important structural role, and did that with great diligence and commitment. He was selfless in that respect,” Johnston said in an interview.

For Matthew Rowe, who works on the Royal Family’s charitable endeavours in Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s political value to Canada was precisely that he was not political — that he, along with the rest of the monarchy, provided a stabilizing force outside of the partisan fray.

He was dynamic, irascible, exasperating, intriguing. And he was always three steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who utterly adored him throughout their 73-year marriage, flaws, faux pas and all.

“His presence, and the role of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, has been to be able to represent the nation, to represent Canadian interests, and commemorate Canadian achievements without being tied to a particular political ideology or regional faction,” Rowe, who met Philip at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2010, said in an interview.

 

Philip’s role meant he could speak more frankly than the Queen in public, and spoke “quite thoughtfully” about the constitutional monarchy in Canada, said University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.

At a press conference in Ottawa in 1969, Philip famously said that the monarchy doesn’t exist “in the interests of the monarch…It exists solely in the interest of the people. We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

Philip had a good, joking relationship with Johnston’s wife, Sharon. He recounted how the two joined the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral in August 2010, prior to Johnston’s swearing-in later that year.

One evening, they were returning to the castle from a barbecue at a renovated shepherd’s hut on the estate — just the four of them, the Queen driving with Johnston in one land rover, and Philip driving with Sharon in the other ahead of them on narrow, highland roads.

“We were coming home at about 10 p.m., as black as could be, he and Sharon were ahead, kind of weaving, and we could hear these gales of laughter coming out. They were cracking jokes at one another,” Johnston said.

“I had a vision of him going over the edge and down half a mile into the valley, and my first thought is: Do the Queen and I rustle down to rescue them?”

Chrétien said “it must be terrible” for the Queen to now find herself alone after a marriage that lasted for more than 70 years. He noted it’s been almost seven months to the day since he lost his wife, Aline.

 

“It’s a big change in life but she’s an extremely courageous person and she will face the situation with the strength that she has been able to show to the world for the almost 70 years she’s been queen,” Chrétien said.

With files from Alex Boutilier and Kieran Leavitt

 

 

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After warning, McConnell softens posture on corporations’ taking political stances

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., softened his stance on corporations’ getting involved in politics Wednesday, a day after he warned companies not to weigh in on hot button issues.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are,” McConnell told reporters. “My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.

“They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation … given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way,” he said.

McConnell was referring to a controversial voting law recently passed in Georgia, which came about in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the election result in the state last fall.

The law led the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola — which are based in Atlanta — to condemn the measure. And last week, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The game will, instead, be played in Colorado.

In recent weeks, McConnell has excoriated corporate America for boycotting states over various GOP-led bills. He said Tuesday that it is “stupid” for corporations to take positions on divisive political issues but noted that his criticism did not extend to their donations.

“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”

Major League Baseball’s decision drew the most outrage from Republicans, as Trump called for a boycott of baseball and other companies that spoke out against the Georgia law. McConnell said Tuesday that the latest moves are “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.”

McConnell, long a champion of big money in politics, however, noted Tuesday that corporations “have a right to participate in a political process” but said they should do so without alienating “an awful lot of people.”

“I’m not talking about political contributions,” he said. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law that passed. I just think it’s stupid.”

Source:- NBC News

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Facebook Removes 1,000 Fake Accounts Seeking to Sway Global Politics

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(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. said it removed 14 networks representing more than 1,000 accounts seeking to sway politics around the world, including in Iran and El Salvador, while misleading the public about their identity.

Most of the removed networks were in the early stages of building their audiences, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Tuesday. Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday, part of its monthly reporting on efforts to rid its platforms of fake accounts, represents one of the larger crack downs by the company in recent months.

“We have been growing this program for several years,” said David Agranovich, Facebook’s global threat disruption lead. “I would expect to see this drum beat of take downs to continue.”

In one example, the company removed a network of more than 300 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram that appear to be run by a years-old troll farm located in Albania and operated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group. The group appeared to target Iran, but also other audiences with content about Iran, according to a report released by Facebook.

The group was most active in 2017, but increased its activity again in the latter half of 2020. It was one of a handful of the influence campaigns that likely used machine learning technologies capable of creating realistic profile photos to the naked eye, Facebook said in the report.

The company also removed 118 accounts, eight pages and 10 Instagram accounts based in Spain and El Salvador for violating the company’s foreign interference policy. The group amplified criticism of Henry Flores, a mayoral candidate in Santa Tecla, El Savador and supportive commentary of his rivals, the company said.

The social media giant also took down a network of 29 Facebook accounts, two pages, one group and 10 Instagram accounts based in Iran that was targeting Israel. The people behind the network posed as locals and posted criticism about Isreali prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Facebook. The company also took down networks based in Argentina, Mexico, Egypt and other nations.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said the company has improved its ability to identify inauthentic accounts, but said bad actors continue to change their strategies to avoid Facebook’s detection.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Source:- BNN

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