By Aaron Wherry - Monday, March 18, 2013 - 0 Comments
Mike De Souza finds concerns about cuts at Environment Canada.
The Harper government’s budget cuts to scientific research at Environment Canada have compromised the department’s capacity to crack down on cancer-linked pollution and its mandate to enforce clean air regulations, say enforcement officers in a collection of internal emails obtained by Postmedia News.
As the government continues consultations with the oil and gas industry on regulations to address rising heat-trapping greenhouse gases, the emails, exchanged between Environment Canada enforcement officers from various regions including Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, said that the government was eliminating the only Canadian group capable of writing and supervising credible testing methods for new and existing rules to impose limits on pollution from smokestacks.
See previously: The quiet cuts
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 1:59 PM - 0 Comments
Keith Neuman of Environics argues the public is willing to accept a tax on carbon emissions.
Let’s start with the B.C. carbon tax, which was introduced by then-Premier Gordon Campbell with surprisingly little advance preparation of the political or public ground. Public opinion surveys conducted just after the announcement showed a modest majority of British Columbians in support of the new policy. This support wavered later in the year when the tax came into effect at the same time gas prices spiked, but later recovered and subsequently withstood a frontal attack by the NDP in the 2009 provincial election. Today, the B.C. carbon tax is supported by a clear majority (64 per cent) of provincial residents, and unlikely to be an issue in the upcoming May election.
Does British Columbia represent an anomaly that could not be repeated in other parts of the country? In fact, research conducted by Environics Research and more recently the Environics Institute shows that a majority (59 per cent) of Canadians outside of B.C. would support the introduction of a B.C. style carbon tax in their own province, a proportion that has been slowly building over the past four years. Majority support for such a tax is expressed in all provinces except Alberta (at 43 per cent), and is most widespread in Quebec (67 per cent), followed by Manitoba (59 per cent), Saskatchewan (58 per cent), Ontario (58 per cent) and Atlantic Canada (54 per cent).
The research from Environics, which has been asking about a BC-style carbon tax since February 2008, shows that support has gradually increased and strong opposition has decreased. But its finding would seem to clash with what a survey conducted for Environment Canada found last June. In that poll, 43.5% of respondents disagreed with the idea of a federal carbon tax.
On that count, it is probably worth noting how the survey questions were phrased.
Here is what Environics asked.
As you may know, British Columbia now has a tax on all carbon-based fuels used by consumers and businesses in the province, as a way to encourage reductions in greenhouse gas emissions generated in the province. This tax is now 7.2 cents per litre. This tax is “revenue neutral” which means the same amount raised through this tax each year is refunded – by law – to taxpayers in the form of lower personal income and corporate taxes. Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose this carbon tax for B.C.?
And here is the statement that Environment Canada tested.
Canada needs to implement a federal carbon tax to promote energy efficiency and protect the environment, even though it means increasing the cost of things like gas and groceries for consumers.
The “gas and groceries” elucidation is popular with Conservatives who seek to denigrate the NDP’s cap-and-trade proposal.
This would seem to suggest that how the proposal is presented has some impact on how the proposal is received. See also this survey from 2008.
And there are at least two other complications here. First, neither the Liberal proposal of a carbon tax in 2008, nor the NDP’s proposal of cap-and-trade match the proposal presented by Environics: Stephane Dion would have used some of the revenue to assist low-income families, Thomas Mulcair would use most of the revenue for environmental initiatives.
Second, if the Conservatives can successfully turn an election into a race between those who would tax carbon and those who wouldn’t, the polling split combined with the current political split still basically favours the Conservatives: supporters of a carbon tax (59%) split between the New Democrats, Liberals and Greens, while opponents of a carbon tax (38%) would have only the Conservatives. Of course, the Conservatives can’t claim that their policies on greenhouse gas emissions won’t include costs and of course the current Conservative position on cap-and-trade is entirely at odds with their position from 2004 through 2009, but if it’s a referendum on the phrase “carbon tax,” the Conservatives seem to start with the math in their favour.
The Stephane Dion experience demonstrated that no matter how much a policy can be justified, it still needs sufficient popular support and political execution to be enacted. Polling numbers such as these should have some impact on the discussion. But they obviously don’t quite win the debate.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 4:35 PM - 0 Comments
The Green MP had the the final question this afternoon and rose with the following.
Elizabeth May. Mr. Speaker, I rise today with a genuine concern and I hope the Prime Minister can allay my fears. I have heard, from credible sources within the government, that there is a proposal to eliminate Environment Canada by merging it with Natural Resources Canada. If it had not been from credible sources, I would not be putting this question to him. I would like assurances that no such plan is under consideration.
Stephen Harper. Mr. Speaker, I would be delighted to meet any of these credible sources and correct any misinformation they may be giving the hon. member.
This wasn’t quite a denial, so I followed up with the Prime Minister’s Office: Does the government have any plans to merge Environment Canada with the Department of Natural Resources? The answer, I’m told, is “no.”
By The Canadian Press - Monday, December 17, 2012 at 5:30 AM - 0 Comments
TORONTO – Waking up to a winter wonderland on Christmas Day will be more…
TORONTO – Waking up to a winter wonderland on Christmas Day will be more of a dream than reality for many parts of the country, cautions Canada’s top weather man.
Environment Canada’s senior climatologist David Phillips says he hates to be the grinch, but the chances of having snow on the ground on Dec. 25 are looking bleak for many Canadians.
“It’s one of the things where we’re seen united as Canadians, in wanting it to be a white Christmas,” said Phillips.
“We want it on that day to put us in the mood. It’s almost like (having) turkey and toys. It’s just part of the feeling at Christmas time.”
But the reality is that only about a quarter of the population will have that wish come true — especially if you live in Alberta, Saskatchewan or Manitoba.
“There are some areas in Canada that are clearly a done deal,” he said. “Out west, not only is it going to be a white Christmas, it’s going to be a white Easter. They’ve been buried in snow.”
Newfoundland, parts of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island also have some chances of a wintry Christmas, along with those living in Ottawa, Sault Ste Marie, Ont., Quebec City and Montreal.
Yet for those living in most parts of Ontario, British Columbia and many other locations, Phillips says it’s a “toss up” that you’ll probably get better weather on Christmas Day for football game than tobogganing.
Environment Canada defines a white Christmas as having at least two centimetres of snow on the ground on the morning of Dec. 25.
According to statistics the agency has kept since 1955, the chances of getting a white Christmas have been dropping across Canada year after year.
“We have this reputation. We are known as the Cold White North. But I don’t think we’re as cold and white as we once were,” said Phillips.
“Our reputation is being undermined. Winter is not… what it used to be. It was more of a done deal. It was more of a guarantee.”
In fact, on average there was an 80 per cent chance of having a snowfall on Christmas Day in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Fast-forward to the last 20 years, and those odds on average have slipped to 65 per cent, according to Environment Canada.
That’s most true in Toronto where there hasn’t been any snow on the ground on Dec. 25 since 2008. That winter, parts of southern Ontario was repeatedly walloped with snowstorms carrying high winds and bringing near-record snow fall levels.
Phillips says this year, even if you do get a wintry holiday, it is more likely to be a light dusting than a big dump come Christmas Day.
Many of the reasons for the warmer winters can be attributed to climate change, he added.
“The lesson for this is if you get one: embrace it, enjoy it because it is something that future generations will have be dreaming a little harder to get,” said Phillips. “We know the future is warmer and with less snow.”
By The Canadian Press - Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 6:40 AM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – Forget fashion magazines — a new survey suggests an increasing number of…
OTTAWA – Forget fashion magazines — a new survey suggests an increasing number of Canadians turn to weather forecasts to figure out what to wear.
The Environment Canada public-opinion survey examined where Canadians get their weather information and how they use it.
It suggests 36 per cent of Canadians use weather information to determine how to dress, up from 23 per cent in 2007.
The most popular way to use weather information remains to help plan outdoor events, though more Canadians are also using it for gardening, the analysis of the results suggests.
The study was carried out by Harris Decima between May 8 and 20, with 1,255 surveys completed by telephone and 1,257 completed online.
The analysis published by the department this week looks only at the phone results, which have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.
Environment Canada has carried out similar surveys in 1997, 2002, 2007 and 2011, using them to determine what Canadians think of the services the government provides and how people want to get their weather information.
Most say they want to look for such information themselves but where they are looking appears to be changing slightly.
Radio and television — both the Weather Network channel and other stations — are the dominant sources, though newspapers ranked higher this year than in 2007.
But the study suggests the Internet is increasingly becoming a go-to source.
General Internet is mentioned a source by 29 per cent of Canadians — the same percentage who note general television as the place they look for a forecast.
Meanwhile, about 12 per cent of Canadians mentioned smart phone applications as a source, nearly twice as many than 2011.
Canadians are also interested in other potential sources.
“Social media holds promise as an up-and-coming source of weather information,” the analysis suggested.
“Just under a quarter of Canadians (and over a third of 18 to 34 year olds) are interested in receiving weather information via Facebook, while one in 10 is interested in similar services from Twitter or YouTube.”
The online exception appears to be the government’s own weather website, weatheroffice.gc.ca.
Fewer Canadians reported being aware of it this year than last, and the proportion of those who say they use it once a day is down by five percentage points from 2007.
Awareness that the government also produces a special radio that broadcasts weather information around-the-clock also appears to be at an all-time low.
“Both of these services seem to be at risk of only serving a small niche of the Canadian weather information and services market,” the report said.
In a year of earthquakes, hurricanes and other serious weather events, the survey also looked at the extent to which Canadians believe their communities are at risk of extreme weather.
About 36 per cent of Canadians felt their community was somewhat at risk, and seven per cent felt they were very at risk.
But when they see a weather warning, fewer than half of Canadians reported they don’t respond.
What kind of weather matters depends on where respondents lived.
Those surveyed were presented four different weather scenarios and asked to choose a phrase from each set that would be the most significant if it appeared in a weather report.
British Columbians and Albertans viewed icy roads as being more significant than freezing rain or heavy snow.
Quebecers were more likely than other Canadians to believe the risk of thunderstorms was more significant than 90 kilometre-per-hour winds or power outages.
Ontarians were the only Canadians who believe a humidex of 43 degrees would be more significant than a high temperature of 35 degrees.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 12:33 PM - 0 Comments
Mike De Souza tallies the cuts at Environment Canada.
About $4 million in funding for response to oil spills or other environmental emergencies is being cut as part of a shift toward a “nationally co-ordinated” model that would focus on providing advice from a central location. Meantime, the monitoring of water pollution will “be made more efficient,” along with a reduction in “the overall number of monitoring stations,” for upper atmospheric ozone.
Thomas Duck, an atmospheric scientist from Dalhousie University, suggested the government has no evidence to support its plan. ”The observational network was put together very carefully by experts over many years,” said Duck. “This is reckless destruction of important scientific capacity that is needed to protect the health and safety of Canadians.”
Oil spill monitoring in British Columbia will also be cut, news of which drew an enlightening response from Peter Kent’s office.
The federal government has sought to downplay concerns about the changes. “This will not impact Canadians or the environment,” said a statement from Environment Minister Peter Kent’s office this week. ”These employees were not cleaning up spills. They were providing information about environmentally sensitive land and species at risk.”
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 16, 2012 at 12:07 PM - 0 Comments
Last week, Environment Canada declared 60 scientists and researchers to be surplus.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will apparently eliminate about 200 jobs that were originally added after the listeriosis outbreak in 2008.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 1:47 PM - 0 Comments
‘Secret’ presentation calls contamination of Athabasca River ‘a high-profile concern’
An Environment Canada presentation prepared last spring warns of the potential cost of not addressing collateral damage from the oilsands industry in Alberta, according to Postmedia. The report was marked “secret” but obtained via access to information legislation. It notes: “Contamination of the Athabasca River is a high-profile concern,” and highlights “questions about possible effects on health of wildlife and downstream communities.” Using figures from the Canadian Energy Research Institute, the report also indicates that the oilsands sector generates 100,000 direct and indirect jobs in Canada, and is expected to contribute $1.7 trillion to the Canadian economy over 25 years.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 3:53 PM - 18 Comments
Among various cuts at Environment Canada, the government is apparently about to eliminate an ozone monitoring program.
The British journal Nature says scientists and research institutes around the world have been informally told the Canadian network will be shut down as early as this winter, putting an end to continuous ozone measurements that go back 45 years.
“People are gobsmacked by this decision,” Thomas Duck, an atmospheric researcher at Dalhousie University, said in an interview with Postmedia News. He and his international colleagues say they’ve been told the network and a related data archive will be closed down as part of the Harper government’s deep cuts at Environment Canada, where hundreds of jobs are being are eliminated.
By Richard Warnica - Monday, August 8, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Gloomy weather in B.C. is taking its toll on tourism
While most of Canada has sizzled in recent months, it’s been downright gloomy in B.C. There were only seven days above 22° C in Vancouver between May and July (normally, there would have been about three weeks’ worth already). In fact, 2011 could be Vancouver’s coldest spring and summer on record, says David Phillips, a senior climatologist at Environment Canada. Making matters worse, it’s wetter than usual, too; the city has been drenched with 94 days of rain in the last four months. Victoria has also been colder and greyer than average.
Added up, it’s bad for business. Frank Bourree, a B.C. tourism industry analyst, says many restaurants have suffered because of the slowdown. Patios have been sitting empty and some proprietors have been forced to close. While the weather isn’t solely to blame, experts say it is giving potential tourists—especially Americans on the West Coast looking for a weekend getaway—second thoughts. (The plummeting U.S. dollar isn’t helping matters, either.)
B.C. relies heavily on U.S. tourism, and the industry had been hoping for a big year. While Tourism Victoria says the number of U.S. visitors to that city is up slightly from last year, the total is still down considerably from pre-recession levels. And things aren’t looking much brighter in the near future. The weather forecast for August: more of the same.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 11:00 AM - 17 Comments
Environment Canada is due to shed somewhere between 300 and 700 jobs.
He said the department was eliminating 300 positions, rather than the more than 700 positions cited by the unions. Attrition will cover many of the losses, while others affected will get help to transition to new jobs.
“While difficult, this decision will allow our government to continue to invest in clear air and a healthier environment for Canadians,” Morris said, adding that the department has no fewer employees than when the Tories took office in 2006.
The list of those affected includes two biologists, seven chemists, 45 computer scientists, 37 engineers, 19 meteorologists and 92 physical scientists.
By macleans.ca - Friday, July 29, 2011 at 11:09 AM - 7 Comments
Department spent $140K to store furniture it didn’t keep
Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent has remained tight-lipped over his department’s decision to replace a Gatineau, Que. office building’s workstations with new furniture. Environment Canada spent $141,000 to store the furniture for about a year, before putting it up for auction and purchasing new furniture for the building, which was under renovation. However, a spokesman told Postmedia News the government thought it was more “cost-effective” to replace the cabinets, steel metal wall panels covered in fabric, electrical outlets and wiring. The spokesman said the department is working on an explanation as to why it paid to store furniture it didn’t keep.
By Kate Lunau - Monday, July 5, 2010 at 3:33 PM - 0 Comments
Everybody talks about tornadoes, but nobody does anything about protection
Last week, a powerful tornado ripped through the town of Midland, Ont., knocking down trees, tearing up power lines, and tossing mobile homes through the air. In the half-hour it lasted, about 40 homes and businesses were destroyed, and another 75 were damaged. Almost 20 people were treated in hospital for injuries, some due to flying debris. Gregory Kopp, a University of Western Ontario professor who studies the impact of severe wind on buildings, sent two senior students to survey the damage. “It looks pretty bad, actually,” he says. “Mobile homes tend not to do well in windstorms.”
It’s a well-worn joke that tornadoes go looking for trailer parks. But other buildings are vulnerable, too, and Kopp can’t understand why homeowners do so little to protect themselves, even in places like Kansas, which is at the heart of so-called Tornado Alley.
So, does this mean we can finally be interested in something other than the economic crisis? Liveblogging the AG and Enviro Commissioners' embargoed press conference
By kadyomalley - Thursday, February 5, 2009 at 2:14 PM - 58 Comments
So you guys? Turns out it’s really too bad that we’re not caring about the environment at the moment, because for the first time i can recall, the Auditor General is about to be almost entirely overshadowed by newbie environment commissioner Scott Vaughan, whose debut report begins with the words “the government cannot demonstrate that some of its key environmental programs are making a difference” and goes downhill – or uphill, depending on your perspective and whether or not you happen to be Jim Prentice – from there. Unsupported claims of reduced air pollution, severe weather alerts that can’t be trusted, $370 million ostensibly spent on green farming programs with nothing to show for it, sustainable development strategies that “aren’t working” – it just goes on and on. Meanwhile, over in the main report. Sheila Fraser finds the awarding of contracts for professional services ‘well done”. “Well done.” Seriously. Sure, she has a few nuggets of criticism scattered through the eight chapters – apparently, the report on health indicators is “of limited value to Canadians”, the Correctional Service “could be missing out on savings” and there are ‘significant issues” in the central oversight of small government organizations, but anyone hoping for shocking revelations of government waste and incompetence will be sorely disappointed. Which is good for the country, I’m sure, but not so much for us journalists. Thank goodness for the environment commissioner, y’all.