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Ontario storms cause widespread power outages – Canada – CBC News

Ontario storms cause widespread power outages – Canada – CBC News.

Hydro One crews are on scene after severe storms uprooted a tree in Toronto. The tree fell on two vehicles.Hydro One crews are on scene after severe storms uprooted a tree in Toronto. The tree fell on two vehicles. (Tony Smyth/CBC)

A line of severe storms swept across southern and eastern Ontario Sunday night, bringing heavy rain and winds gusting to 90 km/h.

Hydro One says at the height of the storm the power was knocked out to well over 100,000 homes and businesses between Windsor and the Kingston area.

The power was back on for some by 6 a.m., but through the early morning some 86,000 Hydro One customers were still without power.

High winds responsible for outages across the province. Crews working to restore power to those affected.

— Hydro One (@HydroOne) November 18, 2013

In the Greater Toronto Area some 70,000 customers were left in the dark, and another 24,000 in London. Crews worked through the night to get the lights back on, though by early morning “small pockets” of Toronto were still without power according to Toronto Hydro.

We’re experiencing outages in a few small pockets as a result of winds. Approx. 150 customers affected. Hope to have all restored by 6 a.m.

— Toronto Hydro (@TorontoHydro) November 18, 2013

The weather system roared into Ontario after punishing the American Midwest with tornadoes and thunderstorms that left at least six dead in Illinois.

In the central Illinois town of Washington, a twister obliterated entire neighbourhoods, flipping vehicles, uprooting trees, and ripping down power lines.

The storms also caused damage in Kentucky, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.

Philippines Tragedy Shows Canada Needs a Climate Change Wake-Up Call | David Suzuki

Philippines Tragedy Shows Canada Needs a Climate Change Wake-Up Call | David Suzuki.

As people in the Philippines struggle with the devastation and death from the worst storm to hit land in recorded history, world leaders are meeting in Warsaw, Poland, to discuss the climate crisis. “What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness,” Yeb Sano, lead negotiator for the Philippines, told the opening session of the UN climate summit, which runs until November 22. “We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw.”

Given the slow progress at the 18 meetings held since 1992 — when countries from around the world joined the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — it’s hard not to be pessimistic. Canada, in particular, has been repeatedly singled out among the close to 200 member countries for obstructing progress and not doing enough to address climate change at home.

But as scientific evidence continues to build, and impacts, from extreme weather to melting Arctic ice, continue to worsen, with costs mounting daily, the impetus to resolve the problem is growing.

We’re exhausting Earth’s finite resources and pushing global ecosystems to tipping points, beyond which addressing pollution and climate issues will become increasingly difficult and costly. The only hindrance to developing a fair, ambitious and legally binding climate plan for the world is lack of political will.

Part of the problem is that much of the world is tied to the fossil fuel economy, and the rush is on to get as much oil, coal and gas out of the ground and to market while people are still willing to pay for it and burn it up. We’re wasting precious resources in the name of quick profits, instead of putting them to better use than propelling often solo occupants in large metal vehicles, and instead of making them last while we shift to cleaner energy sources.

But there’s cause for hope. Solutions are available. Governments just have to demonstrate courage and leadership to put us on a path to a healthier future.

For example, a recent report by energy consulting firm ECOFYS, “Feasibility of GHG emissions phase-out by mid-century”, shows it’s technically and economically feasible to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to zero from 90 per cent of current sources with readily available technology. It shows we could phase out almost all net emissions by 2050 by innovating further. In doing so, we could likely meet the agreed-upon goal of limiting global average temperature increases to below 2 C, and we’d stand a 50 per cent chance of staying below 1.5 C by the end of the century. All of this would have the added benefit of reducing “water, air and soil pollution associated with traditional energy generation.”

The report echoes the David Suzuki Foundation’s findings regarding Canada’s potential to meet its current and forecasted demand for fuel and electricity with existing supplies of solar, wind, hydroelectric and biomass energy.

Whether or not any of this is politically feasible is another question. But the longer we delay the more difficult and expensive it will get.

Polling research also shows Canadians expect our government to be a constructive global citizen on climate action. A recent Leger Marketing survey sponsored by Canada 2020 and the University of Montreal found the majority of Canadians understand that human activity is contributing to climate change and believe the federal government should make addressing the issue a high priority. Of those polled, 76 per cent said Canada should sign an international treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions, with most supporting this even if China does not sign.

The poll also found majority support for a carbon tax as one way to combat climate change, especially if the money generated is used to support renewable energy development. Although B.C. has recently stepped back from previous leadership on climate change, itscarbon tax is one example among many of local governments doing more than the federal government to address climate change.

We and our leaders at all political levels — local, national and international — must do everything we can to confront the crisis. As Mr. Sano told delegates in Warsaw, “We cannot sit and stay helpless staring at this international climate stalemate. It is now time to take action. We need an emergency climate pathway.”

With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

 

Soaring farmland prices a crisis in the making: Don Pittis – Canada – CBC News

Soaring farmland prices a crisis in the making: Don Pittis – Canada – CBC News.

If you knew there was a very safe Canadian investment that skyrocketed by 20 per cent last year, you’d probably say that was a good thing.

But when the thing that’s going up in value is farmland, Christie Young says it’s a crisis in the making.

The latest survey by Farm Credit Canada shows the price of farmland in Quebec rose by a staggering 19.4 per cent last year. Nationally, Canadian farmland from coast to coast has risen by an average of 12 per cent a year since 2008. That’s more than five times the rate of inflation.

For people who already own farmland, soaring prices are a windfall.

But Young, executive director of FarmStart, a group trying to help young farmers get into the business of farming, says Canada is facing a sea change that bodes ill for agriculture.

“The average age of farmers is 60 years old across Canada,” says Young.

“According to StatsCan data, about 50 per cent of our land assets will be transferred in the next five years. And of the retiring farmers, 75 per cent of them don’t have successors. It’s a transition we’ve never seen before in agriculture. And it’s one we are wholly and completely unprepared for.”

FarmStart has two incubator farms in southern Ontario to bring new farmers into the business, but at current prices, Young says there is no way those starting out could earn enough from their farms to make a living and pay their mortgage.

Overpriced land

It is a problem that Rejean Girard, who farms southwest of Montreal, understands.

He bought his small plot of land near Saint-Cesaire 20 years ago. But Girard says the return he gets from the sheep he raises would never pay for that land today. By that measure, he says, the land is overpriced by about three-quarters.

StatsCan Crops 20111004Prices of farmland have risen across Canada by an average of 12 per cent a year since 2008. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The steadily rising price of land has caught the attention of savvy Canadian investors. Global investors have an interest, too, but in most provinces only Canadians are allowed to own farmland.

That has created an opportunity for Canadian farmland investment funds like Bonnefield, Agcapita and Assiniobia, which have been assembling blocks of farmland and selling shares to high net worth Canadians.

The president of Toronto-based Bonnefield, Tom Eisenhaur, says farmland has been one of the most lucrative and secure investments especially when markets are volatile, and “a better hedge against inflation than gold.”

Eisenhaur says he expects the price of land to continue to rise, if not at the same rate as over the past decade.

He quotes a United Nations survey that shows world food production will have to double over the next 20 years.

“While it’s trite to say, no matter how bad or how good things get in the markets, people still have to eat.”

Profits from rising prices

While Eisenhaur is profiting from rising prices, he scoffs at the idea that funds like his are responsible for the land boom.

He says that while farmers buy and sell some $15 billion worth of land each year in Canada, third-party investors like his company trade a mere $100 million worth.

So it seems clear that farmers’ pursuit of more acreage is helping to push up the price of the land.

That seems to be in direct conflict with what Girard, Young and many others say about the difficulty of paying for farmland with a farm income.

That is, until I speak with Gary Brien who farms near Chatham, Ont..

P.E.I. FARM FEATUREThe steadily rising price of farmland has caught the attention of savvy Canadian investors (Canadian Press)

“The way we’ve looked at it is more of a way of life. It just so happens the land has gone up as we accumulated it over our lifetime,” says Brien. “I really don’t think we own it. We’re just using it while we’re here. The value to us may not be in a dollar value.”

Brien says that the last few years, bumper crops have pushed up farm incomes to record levels, so farmers have had cash to spare. And when farmers have money on hand, their non-monetary way of thinking of land, combined with the tax rules, encourages them to put that spare cash into farmland, whatever the price.

“Farmers don’t like paying income tax,” says Brien. “And if they get a bunch of money and have a choice to pay income tax, or buy more land, they buy more land.”

Bigger and bigger

That tends to mean existing farms are getting bigger and bigger, able to take advantage of the efficiencies of expensive modern farm machinery and make the money to buy more land.

But that doesn’t help the farmers who are just starting out small, without inherited family land and little prospect of paying off a mortgage, even if they could get one.

“We have farmers in rural areas paying far over the productive value of the land that they are buying because they have the income or there are such scarce land resources that they’ll pay anything,” says Young.

“For a new entrant looking at that landscape, it is almost impossible to conceive of buying a farm.”

 

Ontario Liberals undermined own plan to control sprawl: Walkom | Toronto Star

Ontario Liberals undermined own plan to control sprawl: Walkom | Toronto Star.

Seven years ago, the Ontario Liberal government trumpeted its new law to curb urban sprawl as bold and visionary.

“People want to see action,” David Caplan, the province’s then infrastructure minister, said after announcing the province’s fully fleshed-out Places to Grow Act in 2006.

Acting in tandem with the Liberal plan to create a green belt, Places to Grow was designed to protect farmland in southern Ontario’s so-called Golden Horseshoe.

Unless something drastic was done, an earlier government study had warned, rampant urban development would result in an additional 1,000 square kilometres of mainly agricultural land — an area twice as big as the entire City of Toronto — being paved over by the year 2031.

Caplan called the new law Ontario’s “last chance to build the future we want.”

The Liberals were lionized for the new scheme by both press and public. The government even won a prestigious U.S. planning award.

But seven years later, it is as if nothing had ever happened.

A new study by the Neptis Foundation, an urban think tank, calculates that the amount of prime farmland slated for urban development by 2031 has in fact increased since the government uttered its first, dire warning.

That new total now stands at 1,071 square kilometres.

What happened? As the Star’s Susan Pigg reported this week, Neptis found that the Liberal government simply never bothered to implement its bold new law.

That law, Neptis writes in its just-released report, “has been undermined before it even had a chance to make an impact.”

At the heart of the Places to Grow Act was a requirement that municipalities in a belt running from Peterborough to Niagara Falls authorize fewer sprawling subdivisions.

Instead, most municipalities were expected to locate at least 40 per cent of any new residential development in areas that were already built up.

In practical terms, it was a requirement to concentrate on higher-density accommodation — from highrise apartment buildings to row housing.

New subdivisions wouldn’t be banned. But under the law, they had to be dense enough to support public transit.

Because the area covered by the law was so diverse (it includes both cities and cottage country), municipalities were allowed to seek exemptions.

The theory, apparently, was that while the government would grant exemptions that made sense, it wouldn’t allow the act to be subverted.

However, the reality, as Neptis researchers found, was quite different.

In effect, the Liberal government allowed every municipality that wanted to be exempted from the new standards to be exempted.

“There was very little justification given as to why exemptions were permitted,” report co-author Rian Allen told me.

“Those who asked for exemptions appeared to get them.”

This was particularly true of municipalities in the so-called outer ring of the Golden Horseshoe, in places like Simcoe County (near Barrie) and Wellington County (near Guelph).

All in all, more than half the municipalities in the outer ring have received exemptions from the density minimums.

And because those minimums are so low, even municipalities that meet provincial targets will remain subject to sprawl.

Allen points out that York Region, for instance, is expected to have only half of Toronto’s population by 2031 even though it occupies more than twice the space.

The province had predicted it would save 800 square kilometres of farmland from development. That goal won’t be met says Neptis.

That the Liberals undermined their own plan should, perhaps, come as no surprise. Land development is big business in Ontario.

Municipal governments pay a great deal of attention to developers. So do provincial political parties seeking financial contributions.

More to the point, many voters want to live in the sprawling subdivisions that these developers build.

Still, even for a government that has specialized in big talk and minimal action (nursing homes; poverty reduction), this is an astonishing failure.

Thomas Walkom’s column appears Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

 

 

Canada’s electronic watchers enjoy secrecy second to none | Toronto Star

Canada’s electronic watchers enjoy secrecy second to none | Toronto Star.

John Adams, chief of the Communications Security Establishment, doesn’t think “oversight” is realistic, but supports a robust “review” of CSEC’s activities and sees the value in having a committee of security-cleared parliamentarians “fully briefed on what CSEC is doing."

JONATHAN HAYWARD FOR THE TORONTO STAR

John Adams, chief of the Communications Security Establishment, doesn’t think “oversight” is realistic, but supports a robust “review” of CSEC’s activities and sees the value in having a committee of security-cleared parliamentarians “fully briefed on what CSEC is doing.”

By:  Washington Bureau,  National Security Reporter, Published on Sat Nov 09 2013

Creepy truth: American spies with access to everyone’s data do occasionally succumb to the urge to snoop illegally through their love lives, peering into the private communications of former paramours.

Creepier truth: if you’re Canadian, you have no way of knowing whether one of your own spies does it to you.

Hypothetically, they don’t. Legally, they can’t. But that’s the problem, say critics of the fast-growing Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), the Ottawa agency that scours global telephone logs, email and Internet trails for worrisome patterns — with CSEC it’s all hypothetical because Canada’s electronic watchers enjoy a secrecy second to none.

Nearly six months after former computer specialist Edward Snowden began tearing back the curtain on America’s National Security Agency with a series of stunning disclosures about the true extent of U.S. mass surveillance, Canada’s CSEC remains a silent bystander.

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Apart from a single report by journalist Glenn Greenwald accusing CSEC of eavesdropping on Brazil’s mining and energy ministry, Canada’s electronic spies have thus far escaped the brunt of Snowden’s cascading disclosures.

That’s good, right? Sure it is. But it also leaves Canadians, including Parliament, almost completely in the dark on what the underscrutinized CSEC actually does, even as outraged Americans and Britons shine a bright light on — and mobilize to change — the ways their own governments consume private data.

“Canadians who think they are in the clear on these ongoing scandals need to grasp that we are the ones who need the debate the most,” said Ron Deibert, director of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab.

“The Canadian checks and balances just aren’t there. We have no parliamentary oversight of CSEC, no adequate independent entity to watch the watchers and act as a constraint on misbehaviour. It just doesn’t exist now.

“It’s not a question of people shrugging and saying, ‘Well, I’ve got nothing to hide.’ The real problem is oversight — and the potential for abuse if left unchecked.”

It’s an idea that even CSEC’s former chief, John Adams, concedes would be helpful.

Adams doesn’t think “oversight” is realistic, but supports the robust “review” of CSEC’s activities and sees the value in having a committee of security-cleared parliamentarians “fully briefed on what CSEC is doing.

“It would be an opportunity for them to provide feedback and observations and raise concerns perhaps about what CSEC is doing and CSEC could also use that forum as an opportunity to talk about what they might be doing or consider doing or to bounce off of them some thoughts,” said Adams.

“It would be an opportunity for (Parliament) to have some public debate but it would be a limited public debate because they’d have to be sworn to secrecy.”

This review does exist in the United States, though many argue the checks and balances have been abused and subverted in light of Snowden’s NSA disclosures.

Yet in the U.S., as the scandal grew, so too did Congressional scrutiny, with American politicians like Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon leading the pushback against secrecy.

A case in point came in August, when the leak of a top-secret document revealed the NSA broke privacy rules and overstepped its legal authority thousands of times a year after 2008, when the agency was granted broad new powers by Congress.

Most of the violations were “unintentional,” but that sparked congressional queries for details on cases involving wilful misconduct by NSA spies. As pressure mounted, the NSA took the extraordinary measure of a public statement, acknowledging that a handful of its officers had used the agency’s enormous eavesdropping power to spy on romantic interests.

Those instances, though rare, were common enough to warrant their own spycraft label — LOVEINT, or “love intelligence.” Most of the officials involved resigned, were dismissed or were demoted to a lower pay grade with limited security clearance, the agency said.

But that’s only one piece of a much broader debate taking place in Washington, as two competing pieces of legislation emerge with the intent to rein back NSA powers and place congressional checks and balances on a stronger footing. An important element of that debate is whether America’s massive metadata effort — the gathering up of the entire haystack of phone and Internet communications — is worth the cost.

These questions are hardly ever asked north of the border, even though Canada is a partner in the so-called Five Eyes, sharing intelligence-gathering chores alongside the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Little is known of what that entails, precisely, although the Globe and Mail penetrated one layer of the CSEC bubble in June. The newspaper disclosed that a secret Canadian metadata surveillance program first launched in 2005 under then-prime minister Paul Martin was frozen amid privacy concerns, only to be reinstated in 2011 under new rules.

Hundreds of pages of records on the program, obtained through Access to Information requests, came back with large passages blacked out on grounds of national security, the Globe reported.

The lone watchdog agency overseeing CSEC, the Office of the CSE Commissioner, has given its blessing to the metadata program. But critics say the office and its staff of eight, which until recently received its funding directly from the Department of National Defence, as does CSEC, remains too close to Canada’s security establishment to effectively safeguard privacy concerns.

Once a year CSEC’s watchdog reports to Canadians. But far more often, it reports secretly to the defence minister with recommendations for adjustments in how CSEC conducts its business. In his most recent public report, released in August, outgoing commissioner Robert Decary ended his three-year term proclaiming that all activities complied with Canadian law with the exception of “a small number of records (which) suggested the possibility that some activities may have been directed at Canadians, contrary to the law . . . I was unable to reach a definitive conclusion.”

Decary, in a final assessment of his time as CSEC watchdog, wrote that he saw little value in a confrontational relationship. “With my years of experience, I see the office more CSEC’s conscience than as a sword of Damocles,” he wrote.

But even Decary nudged Canada’s spymasters toward greater openness, writing that “I believe that the ice has been broken and that the security and intelligence agencies understand they can speak more openly about their work without betraying state secrets or compromising national security.

“The greater the transparency, the less skeptical and cynical the public will be.”

University of Ottawa scholar Wesley Wark, who specializes in national security and the history of intelligence agencies, says the CSEC watchdog is simply not enough.

Unlike Britain and the United States, Canadian oversight leaves a “gaping hole . . . a big gap” because Parliament is not involved in holding intelligence agencies to account as Adams suggested, Wark told The Star.

The issue has simmered for years, said Wark, with failed attempts, most recently in 2005, to create a British-style Committee of Parliamentarians on National Security.

But oversight actually grew worse in 2011, said Wark, when CSEC was deemed an independent agency within the Department of National Defence, effectively eliminating a requirement to report to the national security adviser and Privy Council office. “It took that away entirely,” said Wark, “and put it all within (DND), where it’s very easy for CSEC to disappear down its secret hole.

“There’s a question about who is really in charge and who’s deciding to apportion CSEC resources in terms of current operations,” he said.

Among the key questions Wark says remain unanswered is how much bang CSEC gets for its buck. And whether, in Canada’s haste to satisfy the obligations of its Five Eyes commitments, we sell Canadian interests short.

Deibert, who this year published Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace, argues that while parliamentary oversight remains an admirable goal, the evolving issue of privacy-versus-surveillance warrants something more ambitious.

“I would go further: There needs to be somebody who is not part of Ottawa culture, who is adversarial, something with the authority and credibility of the Privacy Commission’s office,” said Deibert.

“Parliamentary oversight is necessary. But you also need oversight that doesn’t depend on favours or look through the lens of partisan politics.

“I just don’t think, as a society, Canada has caught up with the epochal scope of what has changed in the last 10 years. We’ve gone through the most profound transformation in how we communicate. Mobile and broadband technologies have turned us inside out — and at the same time these Cold War agencies are now turning their gaze inwards on us.

“It’s no longer spy-versus-spy and concern over foreign states with nuclear weapons. Now it’s about somebody blowing themselves up in a shopping mall. And so the threat model has turned toward all of society.”

Canada’s security agencies cannot do their jobs in total transparency, of course. Some degree of secrecy is crucial. But that is no hindrance, if a committee of Parliament were to be vetted and cleared — a commonplace practice in other jurisdictions — and thus able to absorb firsthand the full heft of CSEC activities.

But if CSEC’s critics and former bosses agree on at least some increased scrutiny, Adams doesn’t buy into all the Snowden hype. He shrugs, for example, at the furor that followed October’s disclosure of U.S. eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.

“Every leader in the world knows that people would love to know what they’re thinking, where they’re heading . . . anyone who doesn’t think that is happening is in never-never land,” Adams said.

“It’s not illegal but it’s embarrassing. There are 12 rules and 11 of them are, ‘Don’t get caught.’ ”

 

We’re Paying for Bad Energy Policies | Candice Malcolm

We’re Paying for Bad Energy Policies | Candice Malcolm. (source)

It’s tough competition for headline space in the media lately. Tax policy and energy price adjustments just don’t have the same appeal as a mayor smoking crack or secret cheques to cover fraudulent housing expenses.

However, the boring stuff has far more impact on our lives than the circus that follows the eccentric and scandal-plagued leaders in our country.

Not all scandals are equal.

The Ontario Liberal’s political decision to cancel gas plants in vote-heavy ridings, on the other hand, actually affects our bottom line. The consequences of the gas plant boondoggle are now coming to fruition, as evident in the drastic rate increase in our power bills starting on November 1st.

The price for off-peak power has increased by 7.5 per cent per kilowatt-hour, and 4 per cent during peak hours. Compare that to the rate of inflation, which is currently about 1.2 per cent. Our off-peak power rates — the time of day we were previously told to use energy to save money — has been hiked by more than six times the rate of inflation!

Political interference from the premier’s office is responsible for the exasperated price tag of the cancelled gas plant, which could actually exceed the estimated cost of $1.09 billion. The recent auditor general’s report states that $625 million of that tab will be passed on to electricity ratepayers in Ontario, who will foot the bill over the next 20 years.

And, as of November, we will fork over more of our after-tax income to the Ontario Power Generation.

Politics often boils down to concentrated benefits and diffused costs. The Liberals — who benefited significantly from cancelling these plants by saving at least four seats during an election where four seats really mattered — are hoping that no one will notice this rate increase.

When thirteen and a half million Ontario residents split the tab and pay it off over 20 years from both their tax bill and energy bill, it’s less noticeable. That is diffused costs. And that is how our politicians get away with such blatantly partisan, self-interested decision-making.

Unfortunately for this government, that isn’t the only factor contributing to rising energy prices in Ontario. The cancelled gas plants are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the mismanagement of the energy file.

The costly and ill-conceived Green Energy Act, which saw billions of taxpayer dollars go to corporate welfare and subsidies to foreign firms, also drives up costs for electricity ratepayers.

Meanwhile, taxpayers pay for a billion-dollar-a-year subsidy known as the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit, a 10 per cent discount to household energy bills to cover the skyrocketing price tag for green energy.

Yes, taxpayers subsidize both the production and the consumption of green energy.

It gets better. Our government also pays some green energy producers not to do anything at all. We learned earlier this fall that Ontario pays some of its wind turbine farmers not to produce energy.

Ronald Reagan must have been talking about Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli’s policies when he explained how government works: “If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”

Ontario taxpayers and ratepayers will be stuck for the tab for the incompetence and mismanagement of our energy ministry for years to come. We may not always see it in the news, but we certainly see it in our electricity bills and on our pay stubs.

 

Food and Water First: The fight to protect prime farmland continues | Notes from the Panther Lounge | David Suzuki Foundation

Food and Water First: The fight to protect prime farmland continues | Notes from the Panther Lounge | David Suzuki Foundation. (source)

Photo: Food and Water First: The fight to protect prime farmland continues

A new grassroots movement is spreading across southern Ontario: Food and Water First (Credit:Jason van Bruggen)

By Ontario and Northern Canada Director-General Faisal Moola

Last fall the David Suzuki Foundation and our allies in the farming and local food movements defeated a mega-quarry proposed by the Highland Companies, that, if built, would have destroyed hundreds of acres of class 1 soil near Melancthon township, Ontario. Much of Canada’s most productive farmland has already been drained, dug up or paved over with urban sprawl and unsustainable aggregate pits, quarries and other development. The project would have been yet another outrage against this country’s rich agricultural heritage.

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The successful fight to stop the mega-quarry was inspired by tactics of the civil-rights movement and other grassroots campaigns — and people power eventually won the day. Local residents and allies held protests and rallies, wrote letters to politicians, gathered thousands of signatures, created land-inspired art, and participated in hundreds of other activities to raise awareness and put pressure on Highland Companies. The campaign benefited from support from some of Canada’s top musicians, artists, writers and actors, including Barenaked Ladies, Sarah Harmer and Rachel McAdams, and culminated in Soupstock, a giant community picnic/culinary protest that brought 40,000 people together in Toronto’s Woodbine Park.

Though the mega-quarry proposal was withdrawn, our precious farmland is still at risk of being destroyed. Currently, nothing prevents another similar project from going forward. So a new grassroots movement is spreading across southern Ontario: Food and Water First. Its goal is to ensure stronger government policies and laws to protect prime agricultural land and source drinking water areas from development.

The Food and Water First coalition, which includes the David Suzuki Foundation as well as farming organizations, local businesses and other NGOs, has already managed to get nearly a dozen communities — from small townships such as Melancthon to giant cities like Toronto — to pass council resolutions recognizing the importance of farmland and committing to protect it.

Recently, Food and Water First again joined with the Canadian actor Rachel McAdams, indie band Whitehorse and film maker Jason van Bruggen to produce an inspiring short video about the need to place our most precious assets — food and water — ahead of short-term economic gains brought about with their destruction.

Join the fight to save Ontario’s prime farmland by signing the Food and Water First pledge.

 

Garth Turner: Canadian Housing Data Unreliable, Needs Regulation

Garth Turner: Canadian Housing Data Unreliable, Needs Regulation. (source)

canadian housing market
A former member of Parliament has suggested data on Canadian housing markets should be regulated the way data on financial markets is regulated.

Garth Turner, who served as both a Progressive Conservative and Liberal member of Parliament for the Halton region near Toronto, has called the monthly numbers released by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) a “fraud,” because of the apparent practice of houses being counted multiple times when they are sold.

CREA’s monthly sales and price releases are among the most closely-watched measures of the housing market. Several industry insiders confirmed to HuffPost Canada last month that duplication of house listings across multiple real estate boards could be distorting sales data.

Turner, who runs a blog focused partly on real estate and is a financial advisor at Turner Tomenson Wealth Management Group, also suggested that something fishy could be going on at the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB).

Speaking on BNN Monday, Turner said TREB’s house sales numbers “are almost always revised down” after their initial public release. That would mean that, when new numbers are released, they appear to show a larger increase from the previous reporting period than otherwise would have been the case.

Other housing market observers, such as analyst and blogger Ben Rabidoux, have also suggested that TREB may be revising its older numbers too far down, and creating the impression of a stronger real estate market than may really be the case.

This sort of thing matters, Turner told BNN, because people’s perceptions of the housing market affect house prices.

“Real estate is a very emotional commodity,” Turner said. “If you think the housing market’s hot, you’re going to come in at a higher price point, there [will be] bidding wars.”

Turner didn’t speculate on how much house prices may be getting pushed up by potentially misleading data.

CREA economist Gregory Klump told HuffPost Canada last month that double-counted listings amount to a scant 0.8 per cent of housing supply on the market.

In an interview on CBC’s Lang & O’Leary Exchange on Monday, Klump said the double- or triple-listing of homes is largely concentrated in the Toronto area and Nova Scotia. But he described the effects of those listings as “statistically insignificant.”

“We remain completely confident in the reliability and accuracy of those statistics,” he said.

But real estate consultant Ross Kay, who is the original source for Turner’s arguments, suggested in an audit of housing data that sales numbers may have been over-reported this year by some 22,000 house sales so far.

He told HuffPost last month that the phenomenon of double-counted houses is having substantial effects on housing data.

“Statistically valid month-over-month comparisons on sales volumes are inflated as much as 15 per cent in some cities in 2013,” Kay wrote. “Average prices are skewed upward as much as 10 per cent some months.”

Noting that most Canadians’ net worth is in their homes, Turner suggested housing market data should be made reliable through regulation the way financial markets are regulated.

“We have complete regulation in the financial markets, and almost complete benign denial of the accuracy of numbers in the real estate market, which is so critically important to people,” he said.

“I hope it changes.”

 

Line 9 protests see hundreds converge in downtown Toronto – Toronto – CBC News

Line 9 protests see hundreds converge in downtown Toronto – Toronto – CBC News. (source)

What was to be the final day of hearings in Toronto on the controversial Line 9 pipeline was cancelled Saturday, as hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets to oppose energy company Enbridge’s plan to reverse the oil pipe and increase its capacity to carry crude.

 

Enbridge Pipeline Hearings 20131019Protesters demonstrating against Enbridge’s application to reverse it’s Line 9 pipeline rally outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Saturday, where the National Energy Board was originally scheduled to hold hearings. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

“They try to make it seem like we’re not going to have a spill. And it’s very likely that a spill will happen somewhere along this line,” said protester Nigel Barriffe, who lives near Line 9 in northwest Toronto.

Enbridge was to make its closing submissions to the National Energy Board on its plan to reverse the line, so it would flow from Southern Ontario to Montreal, and increase its capacity to move crude oil.

But the National Energy Boardannounced late Friday that Saturday’s hearings were off, saying the way the previous day’s hearings ended raised concerns about the security of participants. Protesters were out in force for Friday’s panel hearing, but there was no violence during that demonstration or Saturday’s rally.

On Friday, protesters, many gathered under the banner of the Idle No More movement, first milled outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to rally against the Line 9 pipeline and to show solidarity with demonstrations at New Brunswick’s Elsipogtog First Nation against a shale-gas project. They were eventually allowed in slowly, after the NEB determined that there were enough seats.

Line 9 protesters in TorontoSaturday’s demonstration saw a crowd of hundreds of people winding through downtown Toronto. (CBC)

After an anti-Line 9 deputant completed her official submissions to the NEB panelists, the demonstrators began chanting and moving up to the front of the room toward the panel.

 

There was a brief scuffle with security. Then the NEB panel members were escorted by security and police out of the room, as was an Enbridge representative.

The NEB didn’t provide a date for when Enbridge will present the closing arguments that had been slated for Saturday.

Protest organizer Amanda Lickers said the NEB should have found a way to let Enbridge make its case in support of the reversal.

“I think that if they were really concerned about security, they could have still done it over the web…. There could have been ways to make the presentation happen.”

Critics cite environmental risks

The panel heard this week from interveners stating the reversal would put First Nations communities at risk, threaten water supplies and could endanger vulnerable species in ecologically sensitive areas.

Jan Morrissey of a Toronto residents’ group showed up early Saturday morning for the hearing, only to learn it was cancelled.

Morrissey said she’s disappointed she won’t get to hear Enbridge’s final reply to arguments made to the board by critics of the reversal.

Enbridge Pipeline Hearings 20131018The day before, protesters overtook the public hearings on Line 9, as NEB panel members were escorted out by security and police. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press)

“It’s sort of like reading a book and not getting to see the last chapter,” she said.

The pipeline reversal would increase the line’s capacity to 300,000 barrels of crude oil per day, up from the current 240,000 barrels.

Enbridge has also asked for permission to move different types of oil, including a heavier form of crude from the Alberta oilsands.

Opponents say the crude Enbridge wants to transport is more corrosive and will stress the aging infrastructure and increase the chance of a leak.

But Enbridge has said what will flow through the line will not be a raw oilsands product — although there will be a mix of light crude and processed bitumen.

Line 9 originally shuttled oil from Sarnia, Ont., to Montreal but was reversed in the late 1990s in response to market conditions to pump imported crude westward.

Enbridge is now proposing to flow oil back eastward to service refineries in Ontario and Quebec.

The company has experienced several devastating spills on its pipelines, including one in Michigan that leaked 3.3 million litres of oil into the Kalamazoo River and has already cost the company more than $1 billion. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency believes there is at least 684,000 litres of bitumen still in the river.

 

Housing Market Had Major Correction, Nobody Noticed: Royal LePage

Housing Market Had Major Correction, Nobody Noticed: Royal LePage. (FULL ARTICLE)

What if Canada had a housing market correction and no one noticed?

That’s what real estate expert Phil Soper says has played out over the past year: the sharpest decline in home sales since the Great Recession.

“Canada experienced a significant housing market correction over the last four quarters that most in the nation missed entirely,” Soper, president and CEO of Royal LePage, said in the company’s third-quarter report.

“Many regions experienced dramatic slowdowns in the number of homes trading hands, but news of double-digit unit sales declines went largely unnoticed, over-shadowed by a macabre fascination with the prospect of a U.S.-style home price collapse, which of course never transpired.”

Until recently, Toronto and a number of other major markets experienced a sales slump, but little to no decline in prices. The number of homes for sale also dropped during that time as sellers also stepped aside, keeping pricing stable….

 

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