Our Casual Treatment Of Canada’s Fresh Water Supply Must End

We Canadians have a strange relationship with what is perhaps our most important natural resource, our fresh water. That would be the same fresh water that flows in our rivers and lakes, beautifies the countryside, and drives the economy of places like Muskoka.
It is the same fresh water that lies just beneath the surface of the land and nourishes our fields and forests, the fruit and vegetables that are essential to our health, the trees that offer protection from the hot sun and the cold winds, the trees we harvest to build our homes and heat them.
It is the same fresh water that fills the wetlands, bogs and marshes, which store and cleanse it, while also protecting against floods and drought. It is the same fresh water that replenishes the seas and oceans, home to the rich harvest of fish and marine life that feed billions of the world’s inhabitants.
And it is the same fresh water that we too often take for granted, often abusing it with our waste and garbage, and contaminating it with spills of oil and gas and the careless disposal of chemicals and medicines.
And perhaps worst of all, we allow our elected representatives to dispose of it relatively indiscriminately, at prices far below the value it offers us, and despite the evidence indicating that the world’s supply of fresh water is at considerable risk.
Think I am exaggerating those risks or being overly dramatic in speaking of the threats to our fresh water supply? Consider the following:
The Ontario Ministry of Environment currently lists about 6,000 water-taking permits on its website, showing multiple permits issued to many companies, often for similar time periods but with different expiry dates;
Those permits allow municipalities, mining companies and golf courses — in addition to the water-bottlers — to take a total of 1.4 trillion litres out of Ontario’s surface and ground water supplies every single day;
The water-taking permits can be valid for up to 10 years, even longer in some cases, and can allow the removal of several million litres a day by individual commercial operators. The Ministry of Environment has issued multiple water-taking permits for some rivers;
Those permits do not include farmers who are not required to pay fees to take water for agricultural purposes, but take less than 0.5 per cent of the total water removed;
Ontario charges private companies just $3.71 for every million litres of water, after they pay a permit fee of $750 for low- or medium-risk water takings, or $3,000 for those considered a high risk to cause an adverse environmental impact;
Former environmental commissioner Ellen Schwartzel took the Government of Ontario to task in her recent annual report for not acting on recommendations to raise the amount it charges to take large amounts of water, which she called “a drop in the bucket”;
Schwartzel also pointed out that even the Ministry of Environment conceded that the $3.71 per-million-litre charge recovers only about 1.2 per cent of the government’s total water-quantity management costs
Let me be very clear. I have no problem with use of our fresh water by municipalities and non-profits. I have no problem with the controlled sale of surplus fresh water to commercial enterprises at prices that are fair and reflect the cost of management of water quantity and quality.
But I do have major problems with long-term and largely uncontrolled sale of fresh water during a time in our history when supplies are uncertain, drought conditions in parts of the world, including parts of our own country, are on the rise, and at prices that are far below the cost of managing the quality and quantity of fresh water in Canada.
And I have genuine concerns that our current approaches to protecting the quality and quantity of fresh water in Canada’s lakes and rivers does not adequately reflect the changing times and conditions in which we live. I suggest individual citizens, the business and corporate sectors, and the governments we elect, all need to get serious about a resource that is under threat from a changing climate, and is also one we all too often take for granted.

Time For Ontario,Quebec And Manitoba To Trade-in Cap-and-Trade For A Carbon Tax?

Even with the best of intentions and on the basis of the best available advice, politicians can make mistakes. Such was the case when Premier Kathleen Wynne of Ontario, Premier Philippe Couillard of Quebec and Premier Greg Selinger of Manitoba agreed in 2015 to join the California cap-and-trade program to restrict greenhouse gas emissions.
On the surface, the idea had merit. The California program was up-and-running and had enjoyed some success in its early months. Using the experience of that large U.S. state which had earned a reputation as a strong voice on the environment and had considerable experience in initiating successful programs dealing with environmental issues, seemed to make some sense. Besides, access to the large potential market in California and other parts of the U.S. was attractive to the much smaller Canadian provinces.
Unfortunately, all was not what it seemed to be.
First of all cap-and-trade are complex programs. They involve allowance auctions, registries to keep track of who can sell and who must buy, careful monitoring of the markets, and the establishing of carbon offsets.
By contrast, a straight carbon tax is simpler to administer in that it does not involve allowance auctions or tracking registries, market monitoring or carbon offsets. Emitters just pay a predictable (and gradually rising) fee for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit, not unlike the tax on a pack of cigarettes. Even a modest tax is likely to be more environmentally effective because it is a direct and predictable incentive to lower emissions and use cleaner technology.
Although cap-and-trade has lowered emissions in California and is still popular with many environmental groups and others, its critics point out both in times past and present, it is viewed as overly complex, subject to manipulation and giveaways, and as an engine for the expansion of government.
A study by the Brookings Institute which appeared recently in the Los Angeles Times makes a strong case that California should replace its current cap-and-trade system with a straight up carbon tax. It bases that conclusion on a combination of pretty convincing arguments including the following:
The current program will require legislative approval when it expires in 2020, and gaining support may be difficult. Many American legal and policy analysts believe the state’s cap-and-trade regime is functionally a tax, and that reauthorizing and that extending it will require a two-thirds majority vote of legislators or voters;
In the most recent auction of cap-and-trade permits, California sold only 11% of the available supply. The lack of demand called into the question the whole scheme and raised much less money for “green” projects than expected. On August 16, the state will hold another allowance auction whose results are unlikely to be much better;
For most of its history, its emissions allowances have sold at or very near the minimum fixed price dictated by the state. Those revenues have funded a range of green measures, but the Brookings report argues that an actual carbon tax could bolster a wider array of programs and allow for tax cuts, making California an even more competitive economic dynamo.
All of which brings us back to Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba. Given the experience of their chosen U.S. partner and the challenges it now faces, does it make sense to continue to stubbornly cling to what may well turn out to be a sinking ship?
Or is this the time to face up to the reality that the evidence in favour of a straight carbon tax to replace the more complex cap-and-trade system is pretty darn compelling?
Admitting a mistake is never easy for either individual citizens or for the governments that represent them. The Brooking Institute argues that “A well-designed carbon tax alternative could reclaim California’s mantle of national climate leadership, while also assuring continued emissions reductions, simplifying its regulations, and burnishing its reputation as a place to do business.”
If that is a valid suggestion for California to consider, is it not also an equally valid suggestion for the three Canadian provinces that hitched their wagons to California with the best of intentions, but now face a reality that may well be far different than what they anticipated?

It Is Time For Serious Reform Of Canadian Senate

News of the return of Senator Mike Duffy to the stage provided by the national media was exactly what was needed to get this old observer of things political in Canada and beyond, awake from a long mid-summer nap and eager to again put pen to paper.
In case you missed it, the senator, deemed to be from Prince Edward Island by a former Prime Minister, but who has actually lived and worked in Ottawa for several decades is back in his seat in the Canadian Senate. He is also back being compensated for what is loosely described as “living expenses” while away from his residence of record in P.E.I, and while residing in his real home in Ottawa.
Having worked in the private sector, the public sector, and what is often described as the broader public sector for many a year, and had the benefit of being compensated for eligible expenses in all three sectors by my various employers, I can offer the following comment without fear of contradiction.
Based on Mike Duffy’s experience, the generosity of the reimbursement for expenses for members of the Canadian Senate far surpasses anything considered fair and reasonable in most places of employment in this country. I recognize as well that Mike Duffy is not the only abuser of the entitlements available to Senate members.
But by any standards it is a boondoggle and one desperately in need of fixing, and in the opinion of this observer, not sometime down the road, but right now. And while that may not be easy, it is essential if Canadians are to continue to maintain faith in their governments and the way in which carry out their responsibilities.
I offer that as someone who has repeatedly supported the contributions of individual members of the Senate, and on more than one occasion argued that the Senate has in times past, and could again in the future, provide a real and needed service to Canadians.
I also recognize that after many years of being increasingly politicized by governments of all political stripes, the current Senate has strayed from its original role of providing sober second thought related to legislation approved by Parliament, and has been overly influenced by the Prime Minister of the day and his or her staff.
But I reject completely the notion that more tinkering by the current Senate membership or subtle fixes by the government of the day, to fix the all-too-obvious problems is the answer.
What is needed instead is a major overhaul of the Canadian Senate based on thoughtful input from constitutional experts and academics; the current leadership of the Senate itself, as well as former selected Senators and Prime Ministers; and the full participation of the leaders of all official federal political parties, and the provincial and territorial premiers.
Who should accept the responsibility of initiating what some will see as drastic action? The Prime Minister of Canada, that’s who. He alone has the moral and legal authority to take the necessary steps related to significant Senate reform. It is time for strong leadership by Justin Trudeau on a problem that continues to reflect not only on the Senate itself, but on government in this country generally.
One has only to spend few moments reflecting on the current problems in the U.S. or the dramatic withdrawal of Britain from the European Community to get a clear sense of what happens when voters lose faith in the ability of their elected representatives to take needed action on issues of serious concern to those they represent.
The Senate alone is clearly unable to take meaningful action. It is time for our elected representatives to act.

Time For An International Agreement On Sharing Great Lakes Waters

For many months now the primary focus of Canadians and those that represent them at various levels of government when it comes to pipelines has been on proposals to move oil. The merits or otherwise of projects like Energy East, Trans Mountain, Northern Gateway and Keystone XL have been fully debated in legislatures, on television and radio, in newspapers and magazines, in town hall meetings, and around board room tables.
And while all of that has been happening, one much smaller pipeline proposal to move fresh water from the Great Lakes to a small city in Wisconsin by the name of Waukesha has gone relatively unnoticed. Our grandchildren and their grandchildren may well live to regret that.
For the bottom line is that the recent approval of that much smaller and arguably less important pipeline may well set a precedent that will have much greater and longer-lasting impacts on their lives than all of the oil pipelines currently existing or soon to be built in Canada.
Let me begin by making clear that it is not the volume of fresh water that is going to flow through the pipeline from the shores of Lake Michigan to Waukesha, Wisconsin that is the issue. It is rather the precedent it sets for future pipelines or other ways of transporting fresh water from Canada to its soon-to-be very thirsty neighbour to the south, that is potentially, a very, very real problem for future generations of Canadians.
To fully appreciate the possible magnitude of that future problem, some understandings of what lies ahead for our currently friendly neighbour is essential.
Begin with the reality that the current sources of fresh water for much of the U.S. are under significant multiple stresses that all indications suggest will only increase in the not-too-distant future.
An April 2016 report by Jason Travers, director of the natural resources conservation policy branch at Ontario’s ministry of natural resources warned “The issue of increasing radium concentrations in public groundwater water supplies is occurring up and down eastern Wisconsin and is therefore not restricted to just Waukesha.” That same report indicated that the potential impacts of the proposed diversion on Great Lakes water quantity had not been sufficiently assessed.
More importantly, the aquifers that currently supply fresh water to much of the mid-western states are gradually being depleted by growing municipal and agricultural use. For example, the Ogallala Aquifer underlies portions of eight states (South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas).
It contains primarily fossil water from the time of the last glaciation. Annual recharge, in the more arid parts of the aquifer, is estimated to total only about 10 percent of annual withdrawals.
In addition, since 1980 significant global warming has led to glacier retreat becoming increasingly rapid in the North American northwest so that some glaciers have disappeared altogether, and the existences of many of the remaining glaciers are threatened. Those are the source of fresh water for much of the heavily populated states of Washington, Oregon and California.
Just how big a problem are fresh water shortages likely to pose in the years ahead?
An April 2015 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office summed up the potential problem by pointing out that as drought, flooding, and climate change restrict America’s water supply, demands from population growth and energy production are set to increase. These changes will squeeze American natural water reserves from both directions. In the words of that report, “The stress is becoming clear and will soon manifest as water scarcity problems all over our country.”
The report went on to warn that 4o out of 50 states have at least one region that’s expected to face some kind of water shortage in the next 10 years.
The reality is that access to the fresh water in the Great Lakes have been jointly controlled by agreements between the Canadian provinces and U.S. states that border those bodies of water since 2008. Known as the Great Lakes Compact, it restricts water withdrawal to communities located with the Great Lakes Basin.
What is also true is that agreement has now been successfully challenged in U.S. courts by Waukesha, Wisc. While that decision by itself doesn’t exactly open the flood gates, it does set a dangerous precedent that should send a warning shot across the bows of all levels of governments ─ local, regional, provincial and federal─ here in Canada.
Muskoka is located within the Great Lakes/St.Lawrence watershed. The economy, the sustainability of our communities, and the health of the people who live in them is directly linked to the continuing health of that watershed.
I suggest it is way past time for us to join in the call for a binding international agreement on the responsible sharing of the waters of the Great Lakes basin.

A Letter Worth Reading From U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden

What follows is an open letter written by U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden to the young American woman who was raped on the campus of Stanford University.
The sexual assault survivor read a powerful message to her assailant in court detailing the effects of his actions on her. Her letter has since been read by millions of people and has drawn attention to the judge’s six-month sentence for Brock Turner — the champion swimmer who was convicted of three counts of sexual assault — even though he faced up to 14 years in prison.
I share the Vice-President’s letter for one reason. I agree with Joe Biden that it should be required reading for men and women of all ages.
An Open Letter to a Courageous Young Woman
I do not know your name — but your words are forever seared on my soul. Words that should be required reading for men and women of all ages. Words that I wish with all of my heart you never had to write. I am in awe of your courage for speaking out — for so clearly naming the wrongs that were done to you and so passionately asserting your equal claim to human dignity.
And I am filled with furious anger — both that this happened to you and that our culture is still so broken that you were ever put in the position of defending your own worth. It must have been wrenching — to relive what he did to you all over again. But you did it anyway, in the hope that your strength might prevent this crime from happening to someone else. Your bravery is breathtaking.
You are a warrior — with a solid steel spine.
I do not know your name — but I know that a lot of people failed you that terrible January night and in the months that followed. Anyone at that party who saw that you were incapacitated yet looked the other way and did not offer assistance. Anyone who dismissed what happened to you as “just another crazy night.” Anyone who asked “what did you expect would happen when you drank that much?” or thought you must have brought it on yourself.
You were failed by a culture on our college campuses where one in five women is sexually assaulted — year after year after year. A culture that promotes passivity. That encourages young men and women on campuses to simply turn a blind eye. The statistics on college sexual assault haven’t gone down in the past two decades. It’s obscene, and it’s a failure that lies at all our feet.
And you were failed by anyone who dared to question this one clear and simple truth: Sex without consent is rape. Period. It is a crime.
I do not know your name — but thanks to you, I know that heroes ride bicycles. Those two men who saw what was happening to you — who took it upon themselves to step in — they did what they instinctually knew to be right. They did not say “It’s none of my business.” They did not worry about the social or safety implications of intervening, or about what their peers might think. Those two men epitomize what it means to be a responsible bystander.
To do otherwise — to see an assault about to take place and do nothing to intervene — makes you part of the problem. Like I tell college students all over this country — it’s on us. All of us. We all have a responsibility to stop the scourge of violence against women once and for all.
I do not know your name — but I see your unconquerable spirit. I see the limitless potential of an incredibly talented young woman — full of possibility. I see the shoulders on which our dreams for the future rest. I see you. You will never be defined by what the defendant’s father callously termed “20 minutes of action.” His son will be.
I join your global chorus of supporters, because we can never say enough to survivors: I believe you. It is not your fault. What you endured is never, never, never, NEVER a woman’s fault. And while the justice system has spoken in your particular case, the nation is not satisfied. And that is why we will continue to speak out.
We will speak to change the culture on our college campuses — a culture that continues to ask the wrong questions: What were you wearing? Why were you there? What did you say? How much did you drink? Instead of asking: Why did he think he had license to rape?
We will speak out against those who seek to engage in plausible deniability. Those who know that this is happening, but don’t want to get involved. Who believe that this ugly crime is “complicated.” We will speak of you — you who remain anonymous not only to protect your identity, but because you so eloquently represent “every woman.”
We will make lighthouses of ourselves, as you did — and shine. Your story has already changed lives. You have helped change the culture. You have shaken untold thousands out of the torpor and indifference towards sexual violence that allows this problem to continue. Your words will help people you have never met and never will. You have given them the strength they need to fight. And so, I believe, you will save lives.
I do not know your name — but I will never forget you. The millions who have been touched by your story will never forget you. And if everyone who shared your letter on social media, or who had a private conversation in their own homes with their daughters and sons, draws upon the passion, the outrage, and the commitment they feel right now the next time there is a choice between intervening and walking away — then I believe you will have helped to change the world for the better.

A Thoughtful Perspective On Bill C-14

For days, yes even weeks, the mainstream media in this country has been focused on Bill C-14 dealing with assisted dying. It has tracked its progress, or lack thereof, through the House of Commons, and more recently, the chamber of sober second thought, better known as the Senate. It has analyzed for its listeners, readers and viewers, the events associated with that progress, as well as the assorted adventures of participants during the debate.
It has provided chapter and verse on the positions of those who oppose the legislation and those who support it, and discussed and debated the positions taken by the political parties, and the wide range of medical, legal and academic opinion on the topic, thoughtful and otherwise.
It has identified both the strengths and weaknesses in the legislation and reflected on many of the suggestions intended to improve it.
All of that said, it was a man from Muskoka by name of John Ibbitson who put it all into perspective for me. Writing in The Globe and Mail’s daily politics newsletter earlier this week under the heading Trudeau Has Gone As Far As The Canadian Public Would Let Him, the Gravenhurst native son put it this way:
“Some observers angrily wonder how the Trudeau government could have botched this bill so badly. In fact, the government didn’t botch anything at all.” Ibbitson went on to argue that “the real issue with Bill C-14 is that it’s people-compliant, not court-compliant.”
He pointed out that in the Carter decision, the Supreme Court said a person might qualify for an assisted death who had a “grievous and irremediable medical condition.” That definition is broad enough to qualify a minor, a person with a mental illness, or a person with a chronic but not terminal condition, for an assisted suicide.
His crucial point was that while the Canadian public welcomed the idea of a medically assisted death for someone in the final stages of a terminal disease, polls indicated that there was little support for the idea that the legislation should also apply to the mentally ill, minors, or someone with a non-life-threatening disease.
He noted that an Angus Reid Institute poll reported that 78 per cent of Canadians agreed with the statement: “Psychological suffering on its own should NOT be considered a reason for obtaining a doctor assisted suicide.”
As well, a poll by Nik Nanos showed 59 per cent of Canadians disagreeing with the statement: “Minors who are 16 and 17 years of age should be able to access assisted dying.”
Ibbitson acknowledged that when Bill C-14 becomes law, and its constitutionality is challenged as it is likely to be, the Supreme Court might strike it down for being too restrictive. But he concluded, “It is difficult to fault a government that is simply trying to pass legislation more or less in accord with the public will.”
I suggest that perspective from one of this country’s leading political observers is well-deserving of serious reflection as the final curtain comes down on the drama surrounding Bill C-14 in the next few weeks or months.

The Case For A Muskoka Carbon Footprint

The recent Muskoka Summit on the Environment brought together over 250 scientists, environmentalists, local politicians, business people, students, and permanent and seasonal residents to share ideas and insights on solutions for a warming world.
The two-day event, featuring presenters from the academic, not-for-profit and political sectors, had no shortage of stimulating insights, challenging questions, and thoughtful ideas. One of the best of those was a suggestion that Muskoka develop its own carbon footprint.
It was discussed in one of the formal sessions, as well as among participants in the informal coffee and lunch breaks that have been a feature of each of the four environmental summits organized by the Muskoka Watershed Council over the past eight years.
And what was pleasantly surprising to this observer was the enthusiastic interest in the concept and the benefits it might offer. In particular, people were interested in more information and some straightforward answers to their questions.
A subsequent internet search brought me to the Energy Saving Trust website in England which offered answers to some key questions related to carbon footprint in language that was easily understood. They also served to clarify my understandings of the concept of a community carbon footprint and how measuring it could benefit Muskoka.
What is a carbon footprint? In its simplest terms, a carbon footprint is the measurement of carbon dioxide attributed to the actions of an individual or family. Included in the total would be the energy required to heat or cool a home; to travel for work, business or pleasure; and to generally pursue one’s chosen lifestyle.
What is a community carbon footprint? It assesses the community’s total CO2 emissions as residents in that particular community carry on their daily lives. But it could also include estimates of emissions from businesses and industry, as well as public buildings such as schools, churches, libraries, community centres, street lighting and other public services.
The end product would be a reasonably accurate estimate of the community’s carbon emissions, a community carbon footprint that could point the way toward ways to reduce the total carbon emissions of the community.
Why measure your community’s carbon footprint?
As the Energy Saving Trust website puts it, “If you decided to lose weight, you’d get on the scales first. In the same way, if you want to reduce the CO2 emissions caused by your community, you need first to measure the amount you are generating and where those emissions are coming from. Then you’ll know where to focus your efforts to reduce your carbon emissions. It will be difficult to understand the impact of any reductions you make if you don’t measure your starting point.”
What was also surprising to me was the number of communities in countries around the world that have either completed an initial community carbon footprint or are actively engaged in doing so. As well, there are numerous not-for-profit organizations and foundations engaged in developing and distributing what appear to be quality materials and instruments to assist communities in the process.
Is developing a community carbon footprint for Muskoka a worthwhile thing to do? I believe it is. Not just because it would provide a useful tool for local decision makers as they strive to respond effectively to the challenges of a warming climate; but also because it has the potential to increase knowledge and understanding of the issues, as well as encouraging communities, neighbourhoods, businesses, organizations and individuals within Muskoka to develop their own carbon footprint.
For what is becoming clearer with each passing day is that just as all of us on this planet have been contributors to the problem of our warming climate, so must all of us be part of the solution.
The bottom line is that the warming climate is no longer tomorrow’s problem. It is not just the problem of governments. It is not just an issue for discussion and debate until the cows come home. It is rather an issue that requires action now. The development of a carbon footprint for Muskoka might be a smart way to begin doing that.

The New Nastiness In Canadian Politics

There is a nasty problem lurking on the fringes of Canadian politics. Before readers jump to the conclusion that what follows is about misdirected elbows, or a Prime Minister guiding opposition members to their seats without asking whether they either want or need his assistance, let me assure you it is not.
Rather what I am referring to is both more serious, and poses a far greater threat to the practice of democracy in our country. Put simply, it is the increasing number of Canadian female politicians being targeted by hateful, sexist online attacks by Canadian men.
Three factors have contributed to this nastiness.
One is the increasing number of bright and competent women who are seeking and winning political office in this country. Many of them are proving their competence and, as a result, are being promoted to leadership positions.
The second is what seems to be an ever-increasing number of Canadians who use the anonymity afforded by the internet and too many of the comment sections of online newspapers and magazines to spew out their hateful and often profane invective. With their identities hidden by pseudonyms, they troll the internet in search of opportunities to attack.
The third is what appears to be an increasing number of males with the need to put down members of the opposite sex who demonstrate a willingness to stand up for what they believe, put their views on the public record, and serve the public good.
What has emerged as a result of that deadly combination is a wave of misogynistic filth that needs to be stopped in its tracks.
Think I am more than a bit over the top on this one? Consider if you will the following examples gleaned from the pages of major Canadian news outlets in recent days. Ask yourself if you would want your mother, wife, daughter or granddaughter exposed to this kind of attack?
CBC reported recently the following comments directed toward Alberta Premier Rachel Notley:
One Facebook post suggested that taking over the government would require “a lone gunman,” adding it was not something the poster condoned but that “bad things happen to bad leaders.”
Another said, “That dumb bitch is going to get herself shot.”
A third suggested someone kill the premier, calling her a “c—.”
In the same article, gender consultant Cristina Stasia described the comments as shocking and sexually violent, taking specific aim at the premier’s gender. “They’re not calling her an idiot, they’re calling her the c-word,” she said. “They’re not saying she’s too progressive, they’re calling her a bitch. And there’s a fury that lurks underneath this about the fact that we have a woman running our province.”
But this is not a partisan issue nor is it only NDP or Alberta politicians who have been impacted. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, BC Premier Christy Clark, federal Conservative leader Rona Ambrose and her caucus colleague Michelle Rempel have all spoken publicly about the issue in general and their personal experiences in particular in recent weeks and months.
As well, CBC has reported that in the past week both federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Minister for the Status of Women Patricia Hadju have posted about the harassing, sexist tweets they receive.
McKenna wrote, “No matter your political leanings, the vitriol unleashed against female politicians on @twitter is unacceptable, Honestly, it sucks.”
Hadju posted, “So disheartening to have to delete misogynist, hate filled tweets. Not acceptable, no matter the circumstances.”
I say Canadians who are committed to fairness and equal opportunity need to speak out loudly and clearly on an issue that is too important to ignore.

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau Deserves Additional Support For Her Volunteer Efforts

In a recent opinion piece, veteran CBC journalist Neil MacDonald labelled Sophie Grégoire Trudeau as “a tall poppy”. He immediately followed up with a definition of that term. In his words, “Tall poppies stick out because they’re really smart, or really rich, or talented and famous, or, as Derek Zoolander would put it, “really really really good looking.”
MacDonald then went on to argue, presumably with his tongue at least partly in this cheek, that in Canada, “We look at tall poppies and cluck and disapprove and fervently hope somebody takes them down a peg or two. Who do they think they are, anyway?”
His comments were in response to the recent folderol (otherwise known as trivial or nonsensical fuss) related to Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and her comments in a recent newspaper article.
For readers who might have missed it, in an interview with a Quebec City newspaper Le Soleil, Grégoire Trudeau said she found herself very busy with requests for public appearances and involvement with charitable fund-raising events, and “needed more than one staffer to manage the deluge of requests for her participation at events.”
To put that comment in the proper context, although the wife of the Prime Minister of Canada has no official duties or responsibilities, the fact is that there have been many demands on whoever happens to fill that position at any particular time.
All spouses of the Prime Minister have a busy schedule of a wide range of official travel and public appearances in the company of their partner. Some have chosen to be more actively involved in support of particular causes and charitable fundraising.
Laureen Harper volunteered or spoke on behalf of the Humane Society, organ donations, and cyberbullying. She was honorary chair of the David Foster Gala 2013, volunteered for the Red Cross, and was an advocate for the Trans Canada Trail. She also frequently acted as honorary chair of the National Arts Centre Gala.
Years earlier Mila Mulroney contributed to many worthwhile causes including her primary one, cystic fibrosis. In a CBC internet article Bonnie Brownlee, her close advisor and supporter at the time and now works for the national broadcaster, recently reflected, “It was almost like being in a cabinet minister’s office, in terms of workload and requests from the public.”
What is particularly interesting is that both Mila Mulroney and Laureen Harper had the support of three staff members and the use of a government office on Parliament Hill.
At present Sophie Grégoire Trudeau’s cause is women’s empowerment, particularly in relation to bulimia and eating disorders, something she herself once overcame. She is official spokesperson for Fillactive which promotes healthy and active lifestyles among 12-17 year old girls, and is also actively involved with events in the Ottawa region such as the CHEO Healthy Kids Awards and the Wabano Aboriginal Health Fundraising-Gala event.
At present the PMO is dealing with 50-60 calls a day requesting her support, involvement, speechmaking or event attendance. Clearly, both her popularity and the requests for her involvement are on the rise.
For a non-partisan and more serious perspective on the issue, it is worth considering the view of Chatelaine editor Christina Vardanis:
“By speaking openly about the challenges she faces as a working mother of three, she spurs a necessary conversation about the enormous strain on working families, lets other women know it’s okay to speak up when they need help and could even inspire demand for better resources and infrastructure. Just because she has financial resources doesn’t mean she’s immune to the intense stress a job or family circumstances can bring.”
The comment I found most appealing came from John Fraser, Master Emeritus at Massey College, who is president and CEO of the National NewsMedia Council of Canada.
In his words, “It really is time for this country to grow up. We need to accept that a family with three very young and rambunctious kids, where one spouse is trying to run the country and the other spouse is trying to be a good partner and nurturing parent as well as someone required to serve the same country, needs to be properly and fully supported. Or do we like the idea of a dysfunctional family adorning our nation, with estranged spouses, marginalized kids and kitchen-sink dramas fit for the national news?
I agree.

Canada Needs A Fully Funded and Well Implemented Wildfire Strategy

Here is a question that most Canadians would have trouble answering: Does this country, one of the most forested in the entire world, have a made-in-Canada wildfire strategy? If you answered “Yes”, move to the head of the class. If you answered “No”, that is not too surprising, given that our strategy developed in 2005 has never been adequately funded, and as a result, has never been fully implemented.
In a recent opinion piece in the Globe and Mail, Toddi Steelman, executive director and professor at the School of Environment and Sustainability, University of Saskatchewan provides some background to this surprising story. This country’s fire-management community developed the Canadian Wildland Fire Strategy in 2005. Unfortunately, this strategy has languished, mostly unfunded, and has been implemented in piecemeal fashion since that time.
The strategy provides direction on how Canada can better co-exist with wildfire. Its key principles are as relevant now as they were a decade ago. These include placing greater responsibility on communities to become more active in their preparedness for wildfire and in planning for how to respond to wildfire disasters.
Steelman argues, “It is time for the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers, in collaboration with the federal government, to resurrect this strategy and breathe new life into it.”
In support of her position, she points out that the recent tragedy in Fort McMurray, Alta., with the loss of an estimated 2,400 structures and the evacuation of close to ninety thousands of people, will be the largest and costliest wildfire disaster in Canadian history.
That far surpasses the 2003 fires in Kelowna, B.C. that left more than 200 homes destroyed and about 30,000 people evacuated, as well as the 2011 fires that devastated Slave Lake, Alta., with the loss of 510 homes and a cost of $700-million.
The United States has been dealing with large wildland interface fires for decades, so there may be a temptation to move more in the direction of that country in fighting wildfires. In many respects, this would be a mistake.
She contrasts Canada’s lack of preparedness with the situation in the United States where a wildfire industrial complex wakens each year and is fed by up to $4-billion (U.S.) in federal funds annually. That country has 13 incident-management teams at the ready to fight the largest and most complex fires, with fleets of aircraft, troops and heavy equipment.
But Steelman points out that is a costly model that is mainly effective at protecting people and property, and probably perpetuates the wildfire problem by putting out too many fires that could have a positive ecological effect on the landscape.
Instead she argues that Canada should draw from the U.S. experience only those aspects that would work in a Canadian context. For example, there may be value in establishing an elite team that is available across Canada that can build experience in managing complex fires.
This would mean more active emergency management in anticipation of a wildfire event by forming strong relationships in advance among key responding organizations such as local fire agencies, law enforcement, animal shelters, utilities, healthcare professionals, emergency managers and local governments.
Practising evacuation and road closings, familiarizing civilian personnel with incident command systems and working on public information plans in advance can result in clearer, collective expectations for disaster if and when it does happen.
Two realities make this issue a key one across Canada, including right here in Muskoka. Forests want to burn. That is part of their ecology. Forest fires whether the result of lightening, careless human behaviour, or vandalism will continue. Fact is they will likely increase in frequency and severity as a result of our warming climate.
Secondly, as Toddi Steelman makes clear, the goal should be to create fire-resilient communities, using a uniquely Canadian model which offers the best fire-management option for us to co-exist with wildfires.
Just as the Fort McMurray fires were picking up momentum, news reports indicated that volunteer fire fighters had extinguished several small wildfires in four Muskoka communities. We can ill-afford to be complacent and assume that out-of-control wildfires can only happen somewhere else.
When the Prime Minister and the provincial premiers next meet, reaching agreement on providing full funding for upgrading and implementing a made-in-Canada wildfire strategy should be a top priority.