Day: April 26, 2019

Canada’s carbon fight heats up

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Champs: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took aim at the Ontario government for challenging the federal carbon tax in court. “Look no further than Ontario to find a provincial government that is wasting taxpayer’s money fighting climate action in court. It’s shortsighted and irresponsible and, frankly, Canadians deserve better,” he said in a speech to the Nature Champions Summit, an event sponsored by his government that also featured a Trudeau government-praising Harrison Ford. (CBC News)

Afterwards Trudeau sat for a one-on-one with Quebec environmentalist Steven Guilbeault, who the Liberals are courting to run as one of their MPs in the next election, and who put such probing questions to Trudeau as: Tell us how “entrenched” your love of nature is?

Ratcheting up the pressure on Ottawa, Manitoba joined Saskatchewan and Ontario in filing its own court challenge against the federal climate plan. Its case will be slightly different because Manitoba originally proposed a flat carbon tax of $25, with no future increases, which was rejected by Ottawa. The province’s lawyers are going to argue the Trudeau government had no right to rebuff its original carbon levy since it might have been equally effective. “The conduct by the federal government is unfair to Manitobans,”  provincial Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said, to which a spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Canada replied that Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is a flip-flopper.  (CBC News)

But will Alberta be next? Premier-designate Jason Kenney has threatened repeatedly that he plans to tear up outgoing NDP Premier Rachel Notley‘s carbon plan as Job One after he takes office. However Trudeau may be spoiling for just such a fight. Citing sources, the National Post‘s John Ivison says there’s an “active lobby” within the Prime Minister’s Office urging Trudeau to block the Trans Mountain Pipeline—which his government bought last year for $4.5 billion—if Kenney scraps a pledge by Notley to cap oil sands carbon emissions. The idea of holding Trans Mountain hostage was first floated publicly by former Liberal national director Jamie Carroll in a blog post two days ago, though Finance Minister Bill Morneau called it an “absurd proposition.” (National Post)

Of note, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said Thursday he can’t guarantee the federal cabinet will meet its June 18 deadline to weigh in on the fate of the pipeline, or even that a decision would come before the next election. (Canadian Press)

Networking: Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and other top party officials huddled with seniors executives from the oil patch earlier this month to draft a plan of attack to defeat Trudeau in the next election:

One session at the conference focused on deploying “litigation as a tool” to silence environmental critics and featured U.S. opposition researcher Mike Roman, who served as special assistant and director of special projects and research under Donald Trump until last year. He spoke alongside Arthur Hamilton, a lawyer with Quebec-based Resolute Forest Products, the agenda showed. Mr. Hamilton is also a lawyer for the federal Conservative Party. Resolute has waged a long-running and largely unsuccessful court battle against Greenpeace.

Another panel was dubbed “Paths to federal election victory” and was led by an executive for polling firm Ipsos Public Affairs who was introduced by CAPP president Tim McMillan. (Globe and Mail)

Talk about carbon hypocrisy: Andrew MacDougall has some advice for Trudeau as he battles to protect his climate plan—lead by example:

Whatever your position on climate change—and I am someone who believes we need to act using a carbon tax among other policy responses—we can all agree the Prime Minister is exacerbating the problem he seeks to solve. If everyone jetted around like Trudeau the earth would be toast in record time.

Yes, the Prime Minister deserves time with his family. That’s not the point. We all do. But it doesn’t mean we have to be carbon pigs doing it. If Trudeau can fly all the way across the country for a few days of rest and relaxation then the ordinary Canadians who the Prime Minister is trying to convince to limit their carbon footprints can go to the Caribbean (or points further) for the same.

What climate gospel can Trudeau possibly preach when he took the Challenger jet back and forth to Florida on vacation twice in one week? (Maclean’s)

A new report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer provides the Trudeau government with some fodder for its fights with its carbon tax critics. It confirms that households in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick will get back more in the form of carbon rebates than they pay in carbon taxes. Those four provinces do not have federally-approved carbon taxes of their own. (Canadian Press)

X marks the spot: Ahead of next month’s election in Newfoundland and Labrador, which will test the fate of one of the last two Liberal provincial governments in Canada, Ches Crosbie, leader of the Progressive Conservatives, says Premier Dwight Ball was “sneaky” in calling an early election, since only his Liberals have a full slate. Not sneaky, says Ball, just prepared. (The Telegram)

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Ontario Chamber of Commerce asks government to halt gas pump sticker plan

TORONTO — Forcing gas station operators to display Ontario government stickers on the federal carbon tax violates their rights and freedoms, the province’s chamber of commerce said Thursday as it asked the Progressive Conservatives to reverse their decision.

In a letter Thursday to the Energy Minister Greg Rickford, chamber president Rocco Rossi said the group’s members are concerned about the “political nature” of the decals, which were unveiled earlier this month as part of the Tory government’s fight against the federal levy.

“Our members — including gas station operators — have expressed concerns regarding the political nature of the stickers, viewing them as a violation of their rights and freedoms,” Rossi said.

Ontario has introduced legislation that requires stickers — in English and French — to be put on gas pumps showing that the tax has added 4.4 cents a litre to the price of gasoline and that will rise to 11 cents per litre by 2022.

The government said last week the stickers will cost taxpayers approximately $5,000 to print 25,000 decals but that does not cover the cost to distribute them to the province’s 3,200 gas stations.

Gas station operators who don’t display the government-mandated stickers could be subject to fines of up to $10,000 per day.

On Thursday, Rossi called on the government to scrap the section in the legislation which mandates the stickers.

“This initiative is an example of unnecessary red tape: it is both a new administrative burden and an increased cost to business thanks to the punitive and outsized fines for non-compliance,” he said in the letter.

Rickford defended the stickers, saying in a statement that the federal carbon tax will have a negative impact on every one in the province.

“Ontario families have the right to know exactly what the Trudeau carbon tax costs them every time they fill up at the pump,” he said in a statement. “The carbon tax will kill jobs and raise the price of nearly everything across our province, hurting every member of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.”

The letter is a rare example of the chamber publicly disagreeing with the Ford government on policy since it came to office last year. Rossi points out that the chamber has supported the Tories on a number of pieces of legislation and the government’s ongoing work to reduce Ontario’s deficit and debt.

The carbon tax is expected cost to a typical household $258 this year and $648 by 2022. Residents of provinces with the tax will be getting rebates on their income tax returns that start at $128 annually and increase for people with spouses or dependents at home. The federal government says a family of four in Ontario would get $307 this year.

Ontario is one of four provinces, including Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, where Ottawa imposed the levy because they opted not to impose their own pricing schemes on carbon emissions.

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Yasser Ahmed Albaz’s Detention In Notorious Egyptian Prison Renewed Yet Again

Yasser Ahmed Albaz's daughter Amal says his detention in Egypt's notorious Tora prison has been renewed yet again. He has not been charged.

The daughter of a Canadian man who has been languishing in a brutal Egyptian prison for more than two months says his detention has been renewed yet again.

Amal Ahmed Albaz told HuffPost Canada her father Yasser still hasn’t been charged with anything or told why he is being detained.

“A part of us is still in shock and can’t wrap our heads around what’s happening,” Albaz said.

The Oakville, Ont. family’s nightmare began on Feb. 18 — Family Day in their province — when he was taken in for questioning by authorities at the Cairo airport while waiting to catch a flight back to Toronto. After sending them a text message to say he loved them, Yasser vanished.

Amal Ahmed Albaz, centre, is photographed with her sister Maryam and father Yasser.

The family had no idea where he was for almost a week. Their confusion turned to abject horror when a lawyer in Cairo told them Yasser was questioned and taken to Tora prison, a notorious institution that has been accused of human rights violations.

Albaz said that since then, Yasser has been receiving extensions on his detention from the state prosecutor without being charged. The most recent renewal was on April 15.

“They just go [to the prosecutor], they just renew his extension and he leaves. It’s very routine,” she said.

“The Canadian government has no knowledge of anything and even our lawyer on the ground has no knowledge of anything.”

Father in ‘psychological shock’

Albaz said her father’s situation is only getting worse. He is still sleeping on concrete floors in a cramped cell and eating unclean food.

Her uncle in Egypt has been allowed to visit Yasser. He tells them he is physically unharmed but appears to be in “psychological shock.”

“He’s trying to tell us he’s strong, that he’s fine, but I know he’s just telling that my uncle for our sake, to give us some peace and solace.”

Albaz said her father’s absence has hit the family hard. She said she is reminded of how long he’s been away just by looking at how much her three-month-old son has grown since

The moment we start to envision or picture what he’s doing, what he’s like in there, we break apart.Amal Ahmed Albaz on her father’s detention

She said her mother did not leave the house for the first month.

“They’ve been married for 26 years. Her other half is literally gone.”

Albaz’s 13-year-old brother takes his dad’s watch to school.

“My mom says ‘this is huge on you, why are you taking it?’ He just responded ‘I want a piece of my dad with me.'”

And Albaz’s sister, who is getting married in almost two months, says she is “devastated” and afraid she’ll have to cancel the wedding if her father is not released in time.

“The moment we start to envision or picture what he’s doing, what he’s like in there, we break apart. So we try to not think of all the little details and just hope he’s OK,” Albaz said.

Yasser and his wife Safaa are pictured with their youngest grandson.

Albaz said Canadian consular officials have contacted Yasser to provide support. She also said that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland reached out in person to express her concern and support to the family.

“We just hope that she will take personal action on this case. She’s kind of our only hope in this situation,” she said.

The family is worried that fabricated charges will be laid in Yasser’s case, Albaz added, which would lob it into a whole new dimension of legal issues.

She is afraid the case will slowly resemble that of Hazem Hamouda, an Australian-Egyptian citizen who spent more than a year in Tora prison without ever being charged. Although he was recently freed, Hamouda “vanished” for a month shortly before his scheduled release date in February, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

How long is the Canadian government going to wait before they actually make this a priority?Amal Ahmed Albaz

“Right now is the best time for the Canadian government to intervene, because if it turns into a trial or if it enters the judicial process based on fabricated charges or evidence or anything like that, then it becomes much more difficult for the government to intervene.”

Throughout Yasser’s ordeal, Global Affairs Canada has only told HuffPost that the government is aware of a Canadian being detained in Egypt and is providing consular services. The department said it could not provide any more information due to the Privacy Act

On Wednesday, a spokesperson confirmed that Freeland reached out to Albaz’s family and that officials are working with local authorities to “obtain more information.”

More from HuffPost Canada:

To pressure the government to escalate its response, Albaz started a petition on March 28 — her father’s 51st birthday — to call on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Freeland to intervene. To date, more than 20,000 people have signed the campaign.

“How long is the Canadian government going to wait before they actually make this a priority? How long before they decide to bring him home?” Albaz said.

“They say this is a priority and I want to believe them, [but] the only way I can come to believe them is if he’s home, it’s if I know there’s a clear plan on what is being done to bring him home.”

Also On HuffPost:

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‘Foreign funded special interests’ and Jason Kenney’s UCP: The ‘new conspiracism’ comes to Alberta

David J. Climenhaga
Pizzagate protesters in Washington D.C. Photo: Will Sommer/Twitter

The new conspiracism has come to Alberta!

What is the “new conspiracism,” you ask, and how is it different from the old conspiracism?

“‘Classic’ conspiracy theories … arise in response to real events — the assassination of John F. Kennedy, say, or the terrorist attacks of September 11th,” observed Elizabeth Kolbert in a useful piece on the new conspiracism published on April 15 in The New Yorker.

As Kolbert observed, “America has always had a weakness for paranoid fantasies.” Canada less so, although if we look for the corner of Canada where such theories thrived in the 1930s, it was Alberta. The imaginary villains of these fantasies weren’t always wealthy Protestant families as they apparently are now.

Quoting Russell Muirhead and Nancy L. Rosenblum — authors of A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on DemocracyNew Yorker staffer Kolbert dug into the rise of a whole new class of conspiracy theory in an age when “a confirmed conspiracist now occupies the White House.”

What makes the new conspiracism different? Three things:

First, explanation doesn’t matter. Whereas old-timey conspiracy theories like the guy with a rifle on the grassy knoll in Dallas on November 22, 1963, are a form of explanation, the new conspiracism requires no explanations. “There is often nothing to explain,” wrote Muirhead and Rosenblum. “The new conspiracism sometimes seems to arise out of thin air.”

Consider Alex Jones, the conspiracy peddler recently deposed by a lawyer for parents of children massacred in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, whom Jones has accused of being “crisis actors” in a conspiracy.

“Jones, like most conspiracy theorists, presents himself as a close reader of reality, scrutinizing the gaps in the official narrative that reveal the big lie,” observed Charles Homans of the New York Times last week in a reflection on the testimony. “But when that close reading is itself subjected to a close reading, you realize that Jones’s appeal comes not from his attention to details but from the velocity with which he blows past them.”

Homans suggests the deposition of Jones exposes “the whole unstable architecture of influence in today’s politics.”

This is a worthy observation. Kolbert tells the troubling but entertaining story of “Pizzagate,” in which a guy with a rifle shot up a Washington D.C.–area pizza parlour in December 2016 because he was persuaded satanic rituals and sex trafficking involving Hillary Clinton and her minions were going on in the basement.

Never mind that the place didn’t even have a basement. (“The intel on this wasn’t a hundred per cent,” the shooter later told police.)

Second, it’s no longer out-of-power groups that are attracted to conspiracy theories to explain their powerlessness, “it’s those in power who insist the game is rigged.”

Wrote Homans: “When a particularly cancerous meme surfaces in Trump’s Twitter feed, or when white supremacists suddenly materialize en masse in the streets of a college town, the operative question now always seems to be: Where the hell did that come from?”

And, third: The Internet. We all understand how this works now, of course, with increasing clarity.

So what does this have to do with Alberta in the 21st century?

I give you Rockefellergate, or whatever you want to call it, the fruitcake theory that the scions of a famous American oil fortune are secretly financing and conspiring with Canadian environmental groups and prominent environmentalists to “defame” Alberta’s oilsands and throw roadblocks in the way of pipelines to tidewater in an effort to land lock our resources.

Needless to say, while there are certainly people all over the planet who are deeply concerned about the huge carbon footprint of Alberta’s bitumen mining operations (bigger than British Columbia’s entire carbon output, it is said) and money crosses all borders to support many political causes, the idea the Rockefellers are behind a big-money scheme to bottle up the resource is built on the stuff they use to fill bubble-wrap.

But this is now the official position of Alberta’s newly elected United Conservative Party government, due to be sworn in on April 30.

Said UCP leader and premier-designate Jason Kenney in his victory speech: “I have a message to those foreign-funded special interests who have been leading a campaign of economic sabotage against this great province. To the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Tides Foundation, Lead Now, the David Suzuki Foundation and all of the others — your days of pushing around Albertans with impunity just ended.”

Kenney has been talking about taking legal action against oilsands and pipeline opponents, and has said he will launch “a public inquiry into the foreign source of funds behind the campaign to land lock Alberta energy.” He vowed: “we will use every means at our disposal to hold you to account.”

Just how any of this is supposed to work is far from clear.

It’s ironic, I suppose, that a political party aided by think tanks and Astroturf groups funded and otherwise abetted by U.S. corporate money would gin up this kind of baseless conspiracy theory. As premier of Alberta, Kenney will not be in a position to direct federal policy, command the attendance of witnesses from other jurisdictions or delve into the books of organizations to prove this dubious theory.

One thing is for sure, though, he has handed the determined opponents of oilsands development — the people who really would like to lock up Alberta’s bitumen resources — the biggest fund-raising opportunity in their history.

Another is likely: The potential for taxpayer-financed boondoggles is huge, as Conservative lawyers and whomever Kenney hires to run the UCP Government’s $30-million “war room” rake up cash that will no longer be available for health care or education.

And unless conflict breaks out in the Middle East, disrupting world oil supplies and sending prices northward, which could happen sooner than you think, none of this is likely to make much difference to Alberta’s financial position — although it will give the government someone to blame for our self-inflicted troubles.

Finally, the ravings of several Postmedia columnists notwithstanding, since the whole edifice is built on an already fanciful conspiracy theory that cannot stand up to scrutiny, it will be very hard for an honest inquiry to reach the conclusions the government wants.

That suggests two additional possibilities: Either the inquiry will never be held, or it won’t be honest.

It will be interesting to see which way this unfolds.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post is also found on David Climenhaga’s blog,

Photo: Will Sommer/Twitter​

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