By macleans.ca - Friday, December 14, 2012 - 0 Comments
Good: allowing laptops on planes for take-off. Bad: getting fired for giving a student a zero
The Harper government has slashed nearly 11,000 public sector jobs this year, and thousands more are on the chopping block. So what’s the good news for federal civil servants? The ones still standing are free to decorate their cubicles with tinsel, wreaths and menorahs. Repeating a directive issued last holiday season—after a senior bureaucrat in Quebec banished all Christmas trees from front-line Service Canada offices across the province—Treasury Board president Tony Clement said employees are free to break out the ornaments. The government “will not allow the Christmas spirit to be grinched,” he said.
The chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has urged the Federal Aviation Administration to finally let passengers use electronic devices during takeoff and landing. There is no evidence that tablets or laptops cause aircraft interference (some airlines have even replaced flight manuals in the cockpit with iPad versions) and thankfully, the FAA is now reviewing its policies. Because the last thing we need is 15 minutes of off-line existence.
By Bob Weber - Monday, December 10, 2012 at 8:59 AM - 0 Comments
A record loss of Arctic sea ice and faster-than-expected melting of Greenland’s ice cap…
A record loss of Arctic sea ice and faster-than-expected melting of Greenland’s ice cap made worldwide headlines in 2012, but research published in major science journals in the fall suggest warming in the North doesn’t have to continue.
We could refreeze the Arctic, proposed a paper in Nature Climate Change. It wouldn’t even cost that much, said an affiliated study in Environmental Research Letters.
The question is should we?
“In terms of pure technical capacity, any significant nation in the world could do it,” said David Keith, a Calgarian and professor of applied physics at Harvard University, one of the lead authors in both studies. Continue…
By macleans.ca - Monday, October 22, 2012 at 11:07 AM - 0 Comments
This week: Cuban travels, a bump for Quebec separatism, and an Ocean’s 11-esque heist in Holland
After months of stonewalling, the Conservative government started handing over details of $5.2 billion in spending cuts, outlined in the last budget, to parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page. Page has insisted he needs these numbers to do his job—that is, to inform Parliament about the state of Canada’s finances. Treasury board president Tony Clement’s assertion that Page was reaching beyond his mandate was disappointing and unconvincing. While it’s a shame Page had to threaten to take Ottawa to court to get his way, it’s nice to finally see the Tories give the PBO—a position they created—the leeway to do his job.
For the ﬁrst time in 51 years, Cubans will be able to travel outside the country without applying for an exit permit, a document that was historically difficult to obtain and often denied to dissidents. Depending on how it’s implemented in January, the proposed change could be the most significant reform introduced by President Raúl Castro, who has also launched experiments with a market economy, and could go a long way toward normalizing relations with the island’s neighbours.
Kudos to Air Canada this week for literally flying to the rescue of a solo sailor stranded in the Tasman Sea. After being alerted by Australian officials that a yacht was in distress, the pilots of an Air Canada Boeing 777, flying from Vancouver to Sydney, diverted course and descended to 1,800 metres to start the search. Circling over the ocean, the pilots and passengers scanned for the de-masted yacht, eventually spotting it and enabling rescuers to arrive on the scene.
New climate data from the U.K.’s meteorological office show that between 1997 and 2012 there was a pause in global warming, reported the Daily Mail. Scientists were quick to discount the newspaper’s declaration that “global warming stopped 16 years ago,” but the data have raised questions about just how fast global warming is happening and whether dire forecasting models are taking into account periods of reduced warming.
Tensions continue to escalate between Syria and Turkey, which has found itself uncomfortably close to the fighting between Syrian rebels and Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Both countries have imposed aircraft bans on each other after Turkey intercepted a Syrian passenger jet en route from Moscow to Damascus that it says was carrying Russian munitions. Meanwhile, clashes continue along the border as Assad’s forces hunt for rebels, and refugees (now over 100,000 of them) flee for safety. The bad blood threatens to turn a civil war into an even more dangerous regional one.
Not exactly Goldfinger
Canadian naval intelligence officer Jeffrey Paul Delisle pleaded guilty last week to spying for Russia. The details that came out in a Halifax courtroom revealed him to be a functionary struggling with money problems and a failing marriage who turned to stealing documents—everything from secret military contact lists to reports on organized crime—and smuggling them from his office on a thumb drive for the Russians. That there was a spy in our midst was bad enough. That he worked for $5,000 a month, then took a pay cut to a mere $3,000, is downright embarassing.
French President François Hollande announced that he will revive his country’s policy of “non-interference, non-indifference” on the question of Quebec independence, reversing Nicolas Sarkozy’s Canada-friendly opposition to separatism. The President made the announcement after his first meeting with new Quebec premier Pauline Marois, who delightedly announced that Hollande was “standing at our side.” At least he stopped short of declaring: “Vive le Québec libre!”
Art of the steal
Seven paintings, including works by Pablo Picasso, Lucian Freud and Henri Matisse, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, were stolen from a Netherlands museum. Thieves somehow bypassed a “state of the art” security system at the Kunsthal Rotterdam and evaded police who responded within minutes to an alarm. The works of art were on loan from a private foundation, and were part of a collection on display to the public for the first time.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 1:41 PM - 0 Comments
A new low for sea ice cover has climate scientists worried
A new report released from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in the U.S. says that the amount of ice in the Arctic is at an all-time low. It breaks a previous record set in 2007.
Satellite data from August 26 shows that sea ice extent dropped to 4.10 million square kilometres. That’s the lowest amount seen in the three decades since the polar cap has been observed. Scientists believe that with two to three weeks left in the summer melt session, the minimum ice extent could become even lower.
The previous record from 2007 was 4.17 million square kilometres. The report also noted that the six lowest levels have all been recorded in the last six years
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 5:53 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. To be fair to the environment minister, neither of the options presented to him by the NDP’s Megan Leslie were particularly worth choosing.
“Did the minister decide to hide the cost,” Ms. Leslie asked, “or is it that his government is simply incompetent and does not know how much it will cost?”
There was no right answer here. But then Peter Kent attempted to have it both ways anyway.
“Mr. Speaker, I agree with the commissioner that costing, as it becomes available, should be shared with both him and Parliament,” Mr. Kent conceded. “As for costing in advance of consultations with industry, for example, as we are with the oil and gas industry now, that would be premature and speculative.”
Indeed, Mr. Kent would never allow himself to be premature and speculative. At least as it pertains to anything other than the government’s targets for greenhouse gas reductions, of which, he later assured the House, his government will make good. How the Harper government will go about doing that remains to be explained. But of something that won’t be objectively determined for eight years, it is willing to claim certainty now.
And, to his credit, Mr. Kent is sure of at least one other thing: that Stephane Dion is not currently the Prime Minister of Canada. Continue…
By Erica Alini - Friday, February 24, 2012 at 5:53 PM - 0 Comments
Yesterday marked a rather unremarkable chapter in the ongoing PR battle between the Harper government and much of the rest of the world around Alberta’s oil. On Thursday the EU held a vote on whether to label the oilsands as a dirtier kind of feedstock, a move that would make fuel derived from it less competitive compared to oil refined from “cleaner” kinds of crude. It was a deliberation among technical experts–not elected officials–and it failed to reach the qualified majority required under the EU’s mind-boggling voting system anyway. The vote that matters (by ministers of EU countries) will be held in June.
Nonetheless, both sides sized this virtually irrelevant step in the EU’s Byzantine legislative process to make some noise in the press–there was also news this week that Ottawa threatened a trade war if Brussels goes ahead with the purported fuel-labelling. So it’s as good an opportunity as any to ask: Does Europe have a valid point about the oilsands?
Brussels’ Fuel Quality Directive, as the measure is called, is far from perfect. Andrew Leach, of the University of Alberta, points out that the EU’s classification of different types of fuel, which is based on definitions used by the U.S. Geological Survey, makes some iffy distinctions between oilsands and other kinds of heavy oil that are likely just as polluting. Trying to classify fuels as more or less dirty based on the type of crude oil they came from, concludes Leach, isn’t the best way to go: “The EU FQD, as proposed, will treat some high emissions crudes as low emissions crudes, and they could greatly improve the policy by initially including all … heavy oil production at a high benchmark.” Even Alberta’s Pembina Institute notes that the EU could fine-tune things by “differentiating in the directive between crude supply types (e.g. for heavy oil).”
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 2, 2012 at 4:25 PM - 0 Comments
Picking up where questions on Monday and Tuesday had failed to receive a straightforward answer, Megan Leslie tried again this afternoon to clarify Joe Oliver’s views on climate change. Here’s how that went.
Megan Leslie: Monsieur le Président, hier j’ai donné un break au ministre des Ressources naturelles afin qu’il prenne le temps de penser à ses réponses. On ne sait toujours pas si le ministre se range dans le camp des radicaux qui nient l’existence des changements climatiques ou s’il accepte le fait que la science explique les changements climatiques. Alors, qu’en est-il? Est-ce que le ministre croit à la science des changements climatiques, oui ou non?
Joe Oliver: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite gave me a break because I was not here. The science is clear that human beings cause global warming. Our government has shown its support with investments of over $10 billion to support a cleaner environment and fight climate change through innovation. What I do not believe in is the NDPs ideologically driven Luddite battle against thousands of jobs in Canada. Does the NDP want to deny Canadian families jobs and a secure future, yes or no?
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 4:19 PM - 0 Comments
Megan Leslie didn’t get an answer from Joe Oliver yesterday, so she asked him again this afternoon to clarify his understanding of climate change. And then she asked him again. And then she asked him again. Here’s how that went.
Megan Leslie: Surely the minister knows the basics of his file and he must know that hydrocarbons are a leading cause of climate change. So can the minister tell us if he agrees with the scientific link between hydrocarbons and climate change, yes or no?
Joe Oliver: Mr. Speaker, what I said yesterday, as the government’s policy, is that we will only approve projects that are safe for Canadians and for the environment. We are in favour of projects which will create jobs and economic activity and which will be nation builders for Canadians right across this country, from coast to coast to coast.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 30, 2012 at 4:37 PM - 0 Comments
Megan Leslie’s second question for the Natural Resources Minister this afternoon.
Mr. Speaker, we really do have a minister for the 19th century because the Minister of Natural Resources fails to understand the impact of Conservative inaction on jobs, on the environment and on future generations. Instead, he attacks people who actually care about the environment. It makes me wonder if the minister actually believes in climate change. Is the minister a believer or a denier?
Joe Oliver said—”since we are into theology”—that he wished to inform the House that he believed “no project in Canada should go ahead unless it is safe for Canadians and safe for the environment. He proceeded with his complaints about “radicals” who are “are opposed to any development of hydrocarbons,” none of which seemed to answer Ms. Leslie’s question.
See previously: Pop quiz
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, January 14, 2012 at 4:37 PM - 0 Comments
Liberals are spending much of the day discussing the concept of “evidence-based policy”—this curious and revolutionary and courageous notion that the government’s actions and promises should acknowledge demonstrable reality. Munir Sheikh, the former chief statistician, addressed the convention this morning. Delegates have spent the rest of the day in sessions dedicated to discussing this novel approach in the context of various policy areas.
One of these sessions was to deal with the environment, which thus seemed like something of a test: could the Liberal party have a discussion about evidence-based environmental policy that didn’t deal with the preferred prescription of the vast majority of expert analysts?
The answer is: almost. But with a few minutes to spare in the hour a young man from the riding of Mount Royal stood and put the Liberal soul up for discussion. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 3:24 PM - 0 Comments
Paul Dewar’s Greening the Grid Agenda would prioritize working with provincial and territorial governments to promote renewable energy innovation and development. It will support regional interconnections that will enable the sharing of renewable energy sources, enhanced grid reliability and development of local green energy initiatives and the reduction of costs to consumers through enhanced grid efficiency and the avoidance of unnecessary new generation.
Paul Dewar aims to build a truly “smart” electricity system that will leverage Canada’s existing knowledge of electricity systems to make our country a green innovation leader. The green grid is the backbone Canada will need to spur the development of a green economy in areas such as new renewable energy, energy efficiency, electricity system management, and green vehicles.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 2:49 PM - 0 Comments
Stephen Gordon invokes the law of revealed preference to explain Canada’s withdrawal from Kyoto.
Notwithstanding economically illiterate attempts to pretend otherwise, higher consumer prices for GHG-emitting goods and services are an essential component of any serious attempt to reduce emissions … It doesn’t matter what Canadians tell pollsters about how much they are concerned with climate change; what matters is the choices we make. And whenever we have been offered the choice of accepting personal inconvenience in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or of making sure that fossil fuels are cheap and plentiful, we have consistently and overwhelmingly chosen the latter.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 10:14 AM - 0 Comments
France is unimpressed.
“Canada’s announcement that it is withdrawing from the Kyoto protocol is bad news for the fight against climate change,” ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told journalists. ”It is out of the question to relax our efforts or to break the dynamic of the Durban agreement,” he said.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, December 12, 2011 at 6:14 PM - 0 Comments
Freshly returned from Durban, Peter Kent announces a withdrawal from Kyoto.
“We are invoking Canada’s legal right to formally withdraw from Kyoto,” Kent said outside the House of Commons. ”This decision formalizes what we’ve said since 2006, that we will not implement the Kyoto Protocol.”
Canada signed Kyoto in the late 1990s, but neither the current Conservative government nor their Liberal predecessors met targets. Kent says the move saves Canada $14 billion in penalties for not achieving its Kyoto targets.
Full statement from the Environment Minister after the jump. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 8:42 PM - 71 Comments
Meet Michelle Rempel, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of the Environment. She is short and smiley and perfectly patronizing. She speaks without holding a script, gestures with confidence and seems even to listen to what her counterparts are saying (even if only in search of a turn of phrase she can turn back on her opponent). Only 31 and barely six months into her first term in Parliament, she is already feigning indignation like she was born here. And so the government side is surely thankful that Peter Kent has been out of town this last little while. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 9:30 AM - 25 Comments
The Environment Minister spreads the good word.
Environment Minister Peter Kent repeated his sharp criticism of Kyoto at a high-level session of the Durban talks. “Kyoto, for Canada, is in the past,” Mr. Kent told a large audience of delegates and climate negotiators on Wednesday. “For Canada, the Kyoto Protocol is not where the solution lies,” he said. “It is an agreement that covers fewer than 30 per cent of global emissions.”
As he spoke, six Canadian activists stood up and silently protested by turning their backs on him, wearing T-shirts that said: “Turn your back on Canada.” Security guards quickly rushed over and escorted them away, leading them through a narrow corridor at the back of the room and then evicting them from the conference. But the protesters won louder applause than Mr. Kent, whose speech was greeted by a smattering of polite applause from delegates.
Earlier this week, Mr. Kent promised the Harper government wouldn’t withdraw from Kyoto during the Durban conference, but wouldn’t comment on what might happen after the talks. Officials from Brazil, Germany, India and South Africa are unimpressed.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 1:20 PM - 27 Comments
Andrew Leach considers the past, present and future of Canada’s involvement in international climate negotiations.
So, while Canada is right to abandon Kyoto, and Canada is right that an effective treaty to address global carbon emissions needs to include most/all countries, I don’t think they’re on the right track in demanding an agreement with binding targets for all countries. First, it’s unlikely you’ll see binding emissions targets imposed on developing countries. That makes it less likely that Canada will have a role in formulating whatever agreement does come around if they’ve disavowed interest based on that condition.. Second, an agreement with binding emissions targets for everyone is, in my view, the last thing Canada should be pushing for. Canada should, and I will write more on this later, be pushing for an international standard by which a facility operated in the UK, in Alberta, or in India would face the same effective carbon price, or the same reward for reducing emissions. That doesn’t mean carbon tax – it means a system which measures effort, and doesn’t reward historic emissions.
In a follow-up, he explains what withdrawing from Kyoto means in practical terms.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, November 28, 2011 at 6:04 PM - 50 Comments
The Scene.“Kyoto is in the past,” Peter Kent intoned today at an announcement about something else. Not that he was confirming his government’s intention to withdraw from it. But not that he was denying it either. “This isn’t the day,” he explained.
Doing stuff is easy. It’s justifying the doing that’s hard. And so Mr. Kent is not yet ready to say for sure that the government is willing to do something about what it now only implies. The correct day for that is apparently scheduled to be a month from now, just before Christmas. But then someone who knew as much went and told the evening news. Only now Mr. Kent is insisting on pretending that didn’t happen. ”I wonʼt comment on a speculative report,” he said this morning.
He will say that the previous Liberal government’s decision to commit to the protocol was “one of the biggest blunders they made.” And the Prime Minister did once dismiss the whole thing as a “socialist scheme.” And the Conservative platform in 2006 didn’t even mention it. And successive governments have now spent more than a decade successfully ignoring it. And the current government has said it won’t extend past next year its commitment to it. But let it not be said that the government is prepared to actually withdraw from it. At least not yet. At least not that Mr. Kent is willing to say.
Not that the government’s unwillingness to announce a decision stops the opposition from lamenting that decision. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, October 4, 2011 at 5:53 PM - 36 Comments
The Scene. For sure, Peter Kent’s task is an unenviable one. He who must stand and take responsibility for the Harper government’s oft-lamented environmental policy—he who must be regularly derided by the opposition’s critics—is owed all of our empathy and perhaps even some of our charity.
But if anyone is to hold the title of Environment Minister, it might as well be Mr. Kent. He may lack the swirling bombast and fierce dismissiveness of John Baird, but after so many years in front of a television camera, he is an unflinching pitchman. And having, as a journalist, spent so many years listening to the spin of political and professional communicators, he is now an awesome weaver of words and assertions.
By macleans.ca - Monday, September 19, 2011 at 12:55 PM - 24 Comments
Water absorbs enough heat to flatten global warming rate, study says
According to a new analysis from the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, Earth’s deep oceans might absorb enough heat to flatten the rate of global warming for up to a decade, even during a longer-term warming period. The new study says ocean layers deeper than 300 meters are the main location of “missing heat” during periods like the past decade, in which global air temperatures didn’t show a major trend. The 2000s were our planet’s warmest decade in more than a century. But the year with the warmest global temperature, 1998, wasn’t matched until 2010, even though greenhouse gas emissions climbed during that decade. The new study suggests the heat may have been building up in the ocean.
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 Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, August 3, 2011 at 11:27 AM - 44 Comments
While officials told Environment Minister Peter Kent in January that existing measures left Canada short of its emission targets, the National Round Table on the Environment finds the government has overstated projected reductions.
The report, produced by an independent arm’s-length agency, broke out eight specific federal policies and their estimates, and found that the government made reliable estimates for only three. The other five were “likely overestimated,” according to the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
All in all, the package of climate policies the federal government has adopted will likely have half the effect claimed when each policy was introduced, the report suggests.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 5:51 PM - 84 Comments
In the Speech from the Throne that followed its reelection in 2008, the Harper government stated its intention to “develop and implement a North America-wide cap and trade system for greenhouse gases.” A year later, the Harper government claimed to be “working in collaboration with the provinces and territories to develop a cap and trade system that will ultimately be aligned with the emerging cap and trade program in the United States.” At present, the government’s climate change website describes cap and trade as an “option” (though one that will “only” be implemented if the United States does likewise).
Nonetheless, when John Baird turned up at the National Press Theatre yesterday afternoon, apparently to restate his party’s doubts about Michael Ignatieff’s patriotism, he described cap and trade (at least as proposed by the Liberal party) as both “dangerous” and “unCanadian.”
I wondered aloud if this description indicated the Conservative side was renouncing any intention of ever bringing in a cap and trade system in Canada. Below, Mr. Baird’s answer in its entirety. Continue…
By John Geddes - Sunday, April 3, 2011 at 2:50 PM - 64 Comments
The most telling moment in Michael Ignatieff’s launch event for the full Liberal platform today in Ottawa came in an off-the-cuff comment he made after a video presentation on the party’s education policy.
Up on a big screen above a crowd arranged in a circle around Ignatieff, a series of Liberal candidates, all women, had been delivering brief presentations on the various key themes in the platform.
Wendy Yuan, who is trying to unseat NDP incumbent Don Davies in the hotly contested Vancouver-Kingsway riding, wrapped up her pre-taped pitch on education with a favourite Ignatieff slogan: “You get the grades, you get to go.”
The audience in the basement conference room of a downtown Ottawa hotel dutifully let loose with a longer than average burst of applause. “That sounds pretty popular,” Ignatieff crowed. “You get the grades, you get to go. It’s like all these policies—they’re simple, they’re easy to understand, they address a real need of Canadian families.”
By Charlie Gillis, Chris Sorensen and Nicholas Köhler - Friday, February 4, 2011 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
Kim Campbell schools the U.S. right, Naomi Campbell’s ‘Frost-Nixon moment,’ and Nabokov was right
A breath of fresh Canadian air
The usual right vs. left political jabber of American talk TV was punctuated this week by a few clear-eyed statements courtesy of Canada’s first female prime minister. On Real Time With Bill Maher, former Progressive Conservative leader Kim Campbell called Republican Jack Kingston‘s views on global warming “absolute rubbish,” pointing out to the Georgia congressman that scientists didn’t set out looking for a non-existent problem just to torture right-leaning politicians. When the conversation shifted toward the evolution vs. creation debate, Campbell asked if Kingston was concerned about the alarming rise of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms in hospitals. He squirmed. “That’s evolution,” she said to applause. Does 132 days as PM preclude Campbell from a future in politics?
In addition to writing great novels, Vladimir Nabokov was a self-taught expert on the evolutionary biology of butterflies—though, like any amateur, the Lolita author faced skepticism from the scientific establishment. Now one of his most audacious theories has been proven right. A paper published by the Royal Society has endorsed Nabokov’s hypothesis that butterflies are not indigenous to North America, but rather arrived in a series of “waves” from Asia. The new research was made possible by gene-sequencing technology Nabokov never had. Said Naomi Pierce, a Harvard expert who co-authored the study: “It’s really quite a marvel.”
Single White Premier seeks less idiotic press
With three female premiers and a female prime minister, Julia Gillard, Australian voters seem fairly accustomed to the idea of women in politics. The media? Not so much. The country’s biggest national newspaper, the Australian, ran a front-page story about Tasmanian premier Lara Giddings‘s first day in office that zeroed in on her comments (in response to a reporter’s question) about the challenges of snaring a husband when you’re a busy politician. The headline read: “Leftist Lara still looking for Mr. Right.” Critics shook their heads. “Why on Earth was this suddenly relevant the day Giddings became Tasmania’s first female premier?” asked one Sydney Morning Herald columnist, noting Giddings was previously an unmarried treasurer and an unmarried attorney general. “It was not as if she had landed from Mars.”