Russia’s Gazprom finally acted on weeks of threats and hints overnight, cutting the already-reduced flow of gas through the Nord Stream One pipeline to just 20 per cent of its full capacity.
The move brought new worries to Germany, Italy and the other European countries that depend heavily on Russian gas piped from Vyborg, Russia to Germany’s Baltic coast.
But it also brought new questions for the government of Canada — which issued a controversial sanctions waiver that was supposed to enable Gazprom to restore normal flow to Europe, which had been reduced by about 60 per cent since June.
As of 3 a.m. ET Wednesday, the flow is reduced by 80 per cent — a rate that makes it virtually impossible for European countries that depend on Russian gas to fill their underground storage tanks for winter.
The Kremlin, which controls Gazprom, has been playing with the gas supply to Europe in an effort to weaken sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has argued that technical issues caused by sanctions were impeding normal deliveries.
The turbine dispute
At the centre of those arguments are half-a-dozen Siemens gas turbines that compress and propel gas through the undersea pipeline. Those turbines normally are removed from service on a regular, rotating schedule and refurbished in the Montreal workshops of Siemens Energy Canada.
But when Canada sanctioned Russia’s oil and gas sector, Siemens Energy was blocked from returning one of the turbines to Russia through Germany.
Russia warned that it would reduce the flow unless it got its turbine back. The government of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz asked Canada to make an exception to its sanctions regime to permit the turbine’s return.
“We were certainly under a lot of pressure from Germany and the European Union, and on the other side we were under pressure from the Ukrainian government,” Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told CBC News on July 11, one day after his government granted a “temporary” and “revocable” sanctions waiver to allow the turbine’s return.
The Trudeau government’s decision was criticized harshly by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and by Ukrainian diaspora organizations in Canada.
Canada not signalling any change to waiver
Ukrainian officials told CBC News today that the cuts to supply proved that the sanctions waiver should not have been granted in the first place.
“This decision of waiving sanctions actually did not have any practical impact on helping the European countries, first of all Germany, to secure their gas supply,” said Yulia Kovaliv, Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada.
“Instead we see the next steps of Gazprom blackmailing their European consumers.”
Kovaliv pointed out that the sanctions waiver was presented as “revocable.”
“Gazprom, we believe, took all the steps to provide the evidence that this permission needs to be removed,” she told CBC News.
Natural Resources Canada, which granted the waiver, was heavily critical of the latest move by Gazprom.
“The Russian regime and its propaganda arms are clearly creating additional false pretexts to further and deliberately cause energy instability across Europe in an attempt to sow division amongst allies, as it continues to wage its unjustifiable war against Ukraine,” department spokesperson Keean Nembhard told CBC News.
“We see through their lies. The only thing that would prevent gas from flowing to Europe is (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”
But neither Natural Resources Canada not Global Affairs Canada responded directly when asked whether the Trudeau government was considering revoking the waiver in response.
Calling the Kremlin’s bluff
No one can claim the reductions in flow came as a surprise to the governments of Germany or Canada — both of which have insisted they’re not naive about Russia’s intentions.
Wilkinson told CBC News after granting the waiver that his government was well aware that Russia was using the turbine as a pretext and might not restore the full flow.
Putin “was saying very publicly that unless the turbines were brought back, it would be our fault that Germany was losing access to Russian gas,” the minister said.
“That’s not to say that Putin may not shut it down on his own. But it’s quite a different circumstance from him being able to say that it was because of Canada’s unwillingness to assist our friends in Germany.”
WATCH: Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says sanctions waiver ‘not a gamble’
German leaders said that their country was determined to call Putin’s bluff over the turbine, knowing full well that he could still manipulate the flow based on political calculations.
“We’re delivering now in order to keep Russia from having the excuse that we are basically inflicting harm to ourselves,” Sabine Sparwasser, Germany’s ambassador to Canada, told CBC News.
“In many experts’ opinions, it’s a pretext, but we take away that pretext. We’re delivering the turbine and then we will see whether there is a weaponization of energy by stopping the delivery or not.”
Waiver called into question
As currently framed, the waiver would run for two years and allow numerous turbines to be cycled through Canada.
The exact location of the turbine already returned under the sanctions waiver is unclear. Russian media reported on July 18 that it was on its way from Germany to the Russian Portovaya compressor station.
On Tuesday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov claimed that it had still not reached Russia. “We hope that it will happen… sooner rather than later,” he said.
“The situation is critically complicated by the restrictions and sanctions, which had been imposed against our country.”
But Siemens Energy told CBC News that the only obstacle to the turbine entering Russia was the Russian government’s own failure to provide an import permit.
“The German authorities provided Siemens Energy with all the necessary documents for the export of the turbine to Russia at the beginning of last week. Gazprom is aware of this,” a Siemens spokesperson said. “What is missing, however, are the customs documents for import to Russia. Gazprom, as the customer, is required to provide those.”
Germany’s nuclear option
Germany has faced heavy criticism since the Ukraine war began for allowing itself to become dependent on Russian energy (against the warnings of allies) and for deepening its energy problems by choosing to close its nuclear power plants — a long-standing goal of governing coalition member the Green Party.
That decision required Germany to replace low-carbon nuclear with lignite, the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive form of coal. It also deepened its dependence on Russian energy.
Wilkinson defended Germany’s right to shut down functioning capacity even as it asked Canada for a sanctions waiver because of feared shortages.
But today, Germany’s energy inspector told the Bild newspaper that Germany is looking at cancelling the proposed closure of three nuclear plants this December and may also reopen plants that were already closed.
Ukraine makes a new offer
Ukrainian officials told CBC News they have made a new offer to Germany to supply it with electricity.
The power would come from Ukraine’s own nuclear, hydro and renewable generating capacity — in spite of the difficult wartime conditions Ukraine faces that include the occupation by Russian troops of its Zaporizhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest.
The electricity on offer, Ukraine said, would be equivalent to five billion cubic metres of natural gas and would help Germany and its western European neighbours reduce their dependency on Russia.
Olga Bielkova speaks for Ukraine’s state gas company. She said the overnight reductions in Nord Stream are “not a surprise at all.”
“I would want to say I told you so, but I was trained not to say so.”
Bielkova said that reporting on western and central European energy woes often overlooks the catastrophic energy situation that Ukraine itself faces.
Before the war, Ukraine was one of Europe’s largest producers of natural gas, pumping out 20 billion cubic metres per year. But it has seen pipelines damaged, its facilities attacked, a large part of its territory occupied and much of its industrial base destroyed.
Bielkova said it is time for European nations to face a reality that Ukraine has already accepted.
“It is very probable that at some point they will put us all in a very difficult situation by stopping this supply, regardless of which routes, be it Nord Stream One, the Ukrainian route, or TurkStream. And Europe as the largest consumer of Russian gas should exercise some power as a customer.”
“I support,” is an honest statement.
“I will” is not always an honest statement, but it gets votes.
A few days back, mayoral candidate Gil Penalosa (@Penalosa_G) tweeted, “Stop Tory/Ford from giving away PUBLIC Ontario Place to spa/waterpark tall building. Since 2018 Ford/Tory announced ‘amusement destination’ & he has supported it! The way to keep it as a magnificent PUBLIC park is to #VoteGil4Mayor. Together we’ll stop it in a #Toronto4Everyone.”
Gil’s tweet rubbed me the wrong way. The Ontario provincial government owns Ontario Place; therefore, Gil’s claim, “The way to keep it as a magnificent PUBLIC park is to #VoteGil4Mayor.” is, to be kind, an exaggeration. Toronto’s mayor does not have absolute control over Ontario Place.
Another recent tweet that rubbed me the wrong way was by Arber Pucci, who is running for Ward 10 (Spadina-Fort York) Toronto city council: ANNOUNCEMENT: I am promising to the residents of King West that as my first action as councillor, I will shut down Hyde Social so you can finally get a good night’s sleep.
In Toronto, a councillor does not have the authority to shut down businesses.
All elections have one thing in common: Promises.
As I watch those campaigning in Toronto for the upcoming election, I question whether many of the promises they are making are realistic. Are their promises outright lies or said out of “not knowing”? In the heat of campaigning, candidates will say anything to win votes.
Recently, I spoke with Glenn De Baeremaeker, a former councillor for Scarborough Center (Ward 38, before Doug Ford, reduced the number of Toronto council seats from 47 to 25) about some of the promises those running for council are making.
De Baeremaeker sees the role of a city councillor as one of serving the people rather than running on a political platform, which I am 100% in agreement with.
During our discussion of what Toronto councillors can and cannot do, Glenn and I touched on this election’s three hot-button issues: affordable housing, crime, especially gun violence, and public transportation.
De Baeremaeker pointed out that housing has been a Toronto issue for more than 50 years; it is not a “new crisis.” Every major city with a growing population faces the challenge of housing affordability. In 2019 Toronto welcomed 117,720 immigrants, along with all those who moved to Toronto from across the country.
The factors contributing to the cost of housing, such as interest rates, and immigration (supply and demand), are well beyond the control of councillors, or even the mayor. Affordable housing would have been built years ago if it were as easy as those running for office claim. Mayors and council members want to be re-elected, why wouldn’t they build affordable housing? Any councillor, or mayoral candidate, who claims to be able to single-handedly address Toronto’s housing affordability is, to be polite, misinforming voters.
Since the beginning of civilization, crime has existed in various forms. Glenn pointed out, “Less than 1% of the population resort to violent crime.” Most violent crimes are committed by angry young men. Therefore, the question becomes, what can be done to reach these young men before they begin committing violent crimes?
I do not see any councillor, current or running, having the education, experience, or ability to reach the disenfranchised youth in his/her ward.
There is also this fact: Toronto borders the world’s largest gun-toting population; thus, gun smuggling is inevitable. Border crossings are a federal responsibility, not a councillor’s. Glenn noted, “Toronto, like all of Canada, is the victim of the insanity in the U.S. today.” Toronto is part of the global village we all live in. Torontonians do not live in their own bubble.
Federal and provincial funding is required for Toronto to build any public transportation. De Baeremaeker noted that Toronto is currently building more public transit infrastructure than at any time in its history. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is governed by an 11-member Board consisting of city councillors and members of the public. Even if a wannabe councillor were to sit on the TTC board, their promise of a bus stop or increasing bus service being dangled to attract votes is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
With councillors pushing for more transit in their respective ward, public transit has become a highly sensitive issue. A councillor is only one vote out of 26, so ask yourself if a candidate has the political prowess to deliver on their transit promises.
Glenn and I then directed our conversation to what Toronto city councillors can and should do.
A councillor’s priority should be to assist their constituents.
Like myself, De Baeremaeker believes councillors should practice servitude. Constituents should be able to easily contact their councillor and/or their staff for assistance. It is important for constituents to know they can reach their councillor to expeditiously resolve issues such as graffiti removal, fixing a pothole, emptying an overflowing garbage can, or repairing a knocked-down stop sign.
Additionally, councillors should be informing their constituents about the numerous programs the city of Toronto has, many of which are underutilized.
Dealing with Development:
All of Toronto is pre-zoned. Therefore, a councillor cannot control (READ: stop) development in their ward, whether residential or commercial. However, a councillor does have influence over facilitating studies, public consultation, approvals and working with developers to help shape how a development project will integrate into the community. (e.g., stop lights, parks, sidewalks) Councillors can and should work with developers to create a net benefit for the community. For example, incorporating retail spaces at the bottom of a condominium development like De Baeremaeker negotiated with the developers of the Me Living Condos at the corner of Markham Road and Ellesmere Road.
A councillor can also push for additional infrastructure for the betterment of their ward, such as a community center, libraries, and parks.
Keep Taxes Low:
“Taxes are the price we pay for civilized society.” – Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Councillors cannot freeze or cut taxes. “I’ll vote to keep tax increases as low as possible,” while not designed to attract votes, is an honest statement. Inevitably taxes will increase year-over-year, ideally rising in line with inflation.
Perhaps I am being romantically naive, but I hope those running for mayor or council feel obligated to tell voters what they can and cannot do instead of what they think voters want to hear. However, at the end of the day it is the voters’ responsibility to not vote for candidates who make unrealistic promises.
Nick Kossovan, a self-described connoisseur of human psychology, writes about what’s on his mind from Toronto. You can follow Nick on Twitter and Instagram @NKossovan
Former Conservative senator Don Meredith charged with three counts of sexual assault
OTTAWA — A former senator who resigned from the upper chamber amid a sexual misconduct scandal is now facing criminal charges.
Don Meredith, 58, has been charged with three counts of sexual assault and one count of criminal harassment, Ottawa police said Saturday.
A source confirmed to The Canadian Press that the man in question was the former Conservative senator.
The charges relate to incidents that allegedly took place in 2013 and 2014 and were reported by an adult woman, police said, offering no other details.
Meredith has been released on a promise to appear in court.
A lawyer who represented him in the past did not immediately respond to request for comment on the charges. Alison Korn, a spokeswoman for the Senate’s Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, declined to comment on the matter as it is now before the courts.
Meredith — an ordained minister — was appointed to the senate on the advice of former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010, but resigned in 2017 after a scathing report from the Senate’s ethics officer.
The report from Lyse Ricard, who held the position at the time, concluded Meredith had violated the chamber’s code of ethics by engaging in a relationship with a girl when she was just 16 and recommended the upper house take the unprecedented step of expelling him.
Meredith resigned from the Senate weeks later just as the upper chamber was believed ready to expel him over the relationship. He also acknowledged the sexual relations outlined in the report but said nothing took place until she turned 18.
A second Senate investigation, released in 2019, found Meredith had repeatedly bullied, threatened and intimidated his staff, as well as touched, kissed and propositioned some of them.
Saturday’s announcement marks the first time Meredith has faced criminal charges related to sexual misconduct.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2022.
The Canadian Press
Jaded, cynical, disillusioned: report says federal whistleblowers fear reprisal
OTTAWA — Federal workers are increasingly cynical, skeptical and disillusioned about the idea of reporting wrongdoing in the public service, says a recent survey.
That pessimism is more “palpable and widespread” now than it was before the pandemic, and bureaucrats have become more likely to fear reprisals for whistleblowing.
Research firm Phoenix Strategic Perspectives Inc. delivered the report in March to the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, which investigates serious abuses within the federal government.
Commissioner Joe Friday says there is a maze of oversight mechanisms available to public servants and it can be discouraging or exhausting to figure out where to lodge a complaint.
He says he thinks public servants are feeling more isolated and disconnected during the pandemic, making it more difficult to feel confident in coming forward — let alone to gather the sort of documentation that whistleblowers require.
Chris Aylward, the president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says the protections in place for whistleblowers are inadequate and the regime must be strengthened.
“It’s discouraging to see that federal workers have grown more cynical about whistleblowing and reporting wrongdoing in the public service, but it is not surprising,” Aylward said in a statement.
“It can be intimidating to come forward as a whistleblower, and our members are right to fear retaliation. Strong measures are needed to protect workers that speak out. Instead, there are too many conditions on whistleblowers that unnecessarily restrict disclosure.”
The report, based on nine focus group sessions held in March, found that workers feared a wide variety of hypothetical repercussions, many of which are premised on the fear that confidentiality could be compromised.
These included a negative impact on the physical or psychological well-being of the whistleblower, a lack of support, the idea that they would acquire a reputation as a troublemaker, diminished trust and division among co-workers and “damage to the image or reputation of the public service.”
Some said they feared their careers would be derailed — that they’d be given poor evaluations, be taken off projects, be assigned less challenging work or have their workloads increased.
Compared to a similar report undertaken in 2015, public servants were more likely to say that their attitudes toward whistleblowing had changed over time. This time around, they described themselves as having become “less naive,” “more pessimistic,” “more cynical,” “more jaded,” “less bright-eyed” and “more disillusioned.”
Workers tended to see whistleblowing as a good thing and described whistleblowers as brave people who should be encouraged and supported. But they emphasized that prospective whistleblowers “need to understand what they are facing”: a process that is “long, arduous, stressful and uncertain as to the outcome.”
And while participants reported an increase in awareness and education about the process of reporting wrongdoing, they didn’t trust it.
“Many held the view that such changes amount to ‘virtue signalling’ or ‘window dressing’ as opposed to constituting real cultural change,” the report says.
A little over half of the focus group attendees were unaware of the existence of the office that commissioned the research in the first place.
That’s not necessarily such a bad thing, Friday says.
“I think if every public servant woke up every morning and first thing on their mind was, ‘How do I bring wrongdoing to light,’ that might suggest that there’s more wrongdoing than anybody thinks there is,” he says.
Still, it’s apparent that many don’t know how the whistleblowing process works, or don’t have trust in it if they do. “Clearly, there’s more to do,” he says.
It can be frustrating to push for cultural change on the margins of a 300,000-person organization, Friday says — and with no influence or authority over the internal, department-specific procedures that govern most of the whistleblowing system.
Still, his office of 35 people has reached thousands of public servants with events and presentations over the course of the pandemic, he says, in an attempt to demystify the process.
In the seven years he’s been commissioner — and during his time as deputy commissioner and legal counsel before that — Friday says he’s never given a presentation that didn’t result in a followup with someone in the audience who was considering reporting wrongdoing.
“We’re talking about something very personal, very often something that someone has not yet spoken to anybody about,” he says, lamenting that the pandemic has resulted in fewer opportunities to have face-to-face conversations.
“We’re trying our damnedest to continue with our outreach efforts.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2022.
Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press
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