Tagged: Canada

Quiet heroes of the US-Cuba deal: Pope Francis and Canada

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The historic deal to begin normalizing relations between the US and Cuba, after 50-plus years of hostility, is being credited primarily to President Obama and Raul Castro, Cuba’s current de facto leader and the brother of Fidel. That is with good reason: Obama has been working on this issue throughout much of his presidency and Castro is taking a significant risk by allowing wider Internet access into Cuba as part of the deal.

But there are two actors that quietly played a major role in this: Canada and Pope Francis.

The negotiations that led to today’s announcement, in which the US and Cuba will take major steps toward normalization, took 18 long months, according to a report in the New York Times. And many of those negotiations were held in Canada, formally but secretly hosted by the Canadian government.

Canada was helping to solve two crucial problems. First, the talks needed to remain secret to have any hope of succeeding — had they leaked, the political backlash in the US would have almost certainly killed the deal.

Second, for diplomatic reasons, the talks could not be held on US or Cuban soil, but the negotiators needed a physical meeting place. The Canadian government, which unlike the US does have ties with Cuba but is also extremely close to the US government, was an obviously attractive broker for the US. While Canadian officials did not officially participate in the talks, their role in providing a secret and official channel was crucial, according to US officials.

If Canada was essential for providing the Americans with a safe and secure forum for talks, then Pope Francis played a similar role in helping to bring the Cuban leaders to the negotiating table. And, unlike Canadian officials, who did not sit at from the formal talks, Vatican officials participated actively in discussions.

Pope Francis’ role included sending a personal letter to both Obama and Raul Castro over the summer urging them to reach a deal (talks were already ongoing at that point). Francis also reportedly raised the issue repeatedly in his meeting with Obama in March. And Francis hosted the final negotiation session at the Vatican, where Vatican officials participated in the talks…

Nice to see a couple of competent, worldly participants take the lead in bringing the United States into reforming a diplomatic and political stance originated by thugs like the United Fruit Company in the era of Banana Imperialism. A half-century of embargo and blockade hadn’t dragged Cuba into subservience. Continuing the policy only reinforced the world’s perception of the United States as a bully.

Pope Francis continues to impress. I hope he has as much success bringing the Roman Catholic church into the modern era as he has – individually – as a representative of Christianity beginning to discover a bit of enlightenment.

Nice at least to see that Harper’s mean-spirited conservatism hasn’t yet affected Canada’s traditional leadership role in diplomacy among the Americas and beyond.

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Green jobs employ more Canadians than oil sands jobs

Canada’s green energy sector has grown so quickly and has become such an important part of the economy that it now employs more people than the oil sands.

About $25-billion has been invested in Canada’s clean-energy sector in the past five years, and employment is up 37 per cent, according to a new report from climate think tank Clean Energy Canada to be released Tuesday. That means the 23,700 people who work in green energy organizations outnumber the 22,340 whose work relates to the oil sands, the report says.

“Clean energy has moved from being a small niche or boutique industry to really big business in Canada,” said Merran Smith, director of Clean Energy Canada. The investment it has gleaned since 2009 is roughly the same as has been pumped into agriculture, fishing and forestry combined, she said. The industry will continue to show huge growth potential, beyond most other business sectors, she added.

While investment has boomed, the energy-generating capacity of wind, solar, run-of-river hydro and biomass plants has expanded by 93 per cent since 2009, the report says…

Not a priority, however, for the Conservatives running the Federal government. Big Oil still rules.

Not only does the oil industry still get more substantial subsidies, she said, it also eats up a good deal of the country’s diplomatic relations efforts – through the lobbying for the Keystone XL pipeline, for example…

As for the provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan in particular should follow Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia in getting into the renewable-energy game, Ms. Smith said. Still, the necessity for this shift is beginning to gain some traction, she said, noting that Alberta Finance Minister Robin Campbell said last week that the province has to “get off the oil train…”

The Clean Energy Canada report notes that much of the investment for Canada’s clean-tech expansion currently comes outside the country. Of the five largest investors since 2009, just one, Manulife Financial Corp., is Canadian. Two Japanese companies are in that top-five list, along with two German banking groups.

“The fact that foreign investors are coming to Canada to invest in our clean energy, tells us that we have a fantastic resource,” Ms. Smith said. “We need Bay Street to wake up and recognize this is where the puck is going.”

Gotta love Canadian sports metaphors. In a nation where hockey rules, the puck stops here is a legit phrase.

DOT sued over oil train copout rules

Advocacy groups said they filed a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation for not responding to calls to pull crude oil rail cars out of service.

The Department of Transportation in July published a 200-page proposal calling for the eventual elimination of older rail cars designated DOT 111 used to ship flammable liquids, “including most Bakken crude oil…”

DOT-111 rail cars carrying crude oil have been involved in a series of disastrous derailments, including the deadly incident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in 2013.

Earthjustice, ForestEthics and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation for not responding to a petition filed in July calling for a ban on shipping Bakken crude using DOT-111 cars.

Matt Krogh, campaign director with ForestEthics, said DOT-111 cars are “tin cans on wheels.”

“We can’t run the risk of another disaster like Lac-Megantic,” Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman said in a statement Thursday.

U.S. regulators in January issued an advisory warning Bakken crude oil may be more prone to catch fire than other grades.

“Eventual” somehow doesn’t sound like “timely” or any other term that puts human life at a higher priority than profits from shipping oil.

Canada – with a committed Conservative government – has already banned these archaic tin cans for the carriage of Bakken crude. Obama, his DOT and obedient head, Anthony Foxx, seem to have a problem coming to the same conclusion.

Primrose oil sands spill generates renewed scrutiny of oil sand production


Click to enlargeEd Kaiser/Edmonton Journal

In the annals of oil well blowouts and pipeline disasters, the 7,400 barrels of oily slush that oozed out of the mossy bogs of the boreal forest in northeast Alberta last summer may seem like a trivial matter.

No one was hurt in the accident, which spread across at least 17 acres in the Primrose oil sands field, and the most damage to wildlife came from the killing of about 70 frogs in a lake contaminated by the leak. It has since been drained.

But while the accident has so far been overshadowed by the controversy over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline south of the border, it has nevertheless stirred nervous misgivings throughout the oil sands industry and drawn an unusually intense response from Alberta regulators, who have traditionally had a cozy relationship with the oil companies.

In a move that has raised eyebrows in the industry, officials of the Alberta Energy Regulator have refused to accept the explanations for the cause of the accident by Canadian Natural Resources, the field’s operator and one of the country’s largest oil companies. In March, the agency also rejected the company’s bid to restart its operation until a complete investigation had been completed.

“The circumstances surrounding Primrose are a test case for both the industry and the regulator,” said Andrew Leach, a business professor at the University of Alberta. “The public needs to have confidence in the regulator that it can prevent these kinds of incidents.”

The full implications of the Primrose accident are still unclear, as are the causes of the accident. But the regulators’ new interest in what caused it has raised questions, more broadly, about the way oil companies are planning to tap Alberta’s richest deposits.

The Primrose well uses high-pressure steam to free the oil from the sands deep underground, allowing it to rise to the top. The technique — known as “huff and puff” — is vaguely similar to fracking, which instead of steam uses a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals to unlock the trapped oil and has led to a surge in oil production in the United States.

At issue is whether the thick rock that traps the raw oil sands, keeping them from escaping to the surface, was fractured by high steam pressure applied during the production process — as environmentalists say was probable — or whether Canadian Natural Resources is correct in saying that the leak was simply a malfunction…

RTFA for the contradictory explanations of what caused the spill – and raises the potential for more of the same – or resolves questions in favor of the oil companies and their technology.

Most of the growth in Canadian oil output…is driven by projects that rely on steam pressure. Are spills the result of equipment failure – and therefore preventable with higher standards? Or are the spills a natural and inevitable result of huff-and-puffing steam pressure?

US elections are rigged — Canada knows how to fix that

When Americans voted for the House of Representatives in 2012, Democratic candidates won 1.4 million more votes than Republicans. Yet after the dust settled, the GOP ended up with a 234-201 majority in the chamber. And several recently-gerrymandered states had particularly odd results — for instance, in Pennsylvania, Republicans won 49 percent of the votes, but 69 percent of the seats.

Gerrymandering isn’t the only reason that election results only occasionally match vote totals…Several analyses find that simple geography matters more — many Democratic voters are packed closer together in urban areas…But gerrymandering infuriates voters because it feels so unfair. Letting partisan politicians — or their appointees — draw congressional districts reverses the normal order of politics. Voters are supposed to choose their politicians. Gerrymandering lets politicians choose their voters.

So is it possible to end gerrymandering? Well, the country just north of us managed to pull it off. “Canadian reapportionment was highly partisan from the beginning until the 1960s,” writes Charles Paul Hoffman in the Manitoba Law Journal. This “led to frequent denunciations by the media and opposition parties. Every ten years, editorial writers would condemn the crass gerrymanders that had resulted.” Sound familiar?

Eventually, in 1955, one province — Manitoba — decided to experiment, and handed over the redistricting process to an independent commission. Its members were the province’s chief justice, its chief electoral officer, and the University of Manitoba president. The new policy became popular, and within a decade, it was backed by both major national parties, and signed into law.

Independent commissions now handle the redistricting in every province. “Today, most Canadian ridings [districts] are simple and uncontroversial, chunky and geometric, and usually conform to the vague borders of some existing geographic / civic region knowable to the average citizen who lives there,” writes JJ McCullough. “Of the many matters Canadians have cause to grieve their government for, corrupt redistricting is not one of them.” Hoffman concurs, writing, “The commissions have been largely successful since their implementation.”

Canada changed this 50 years ago. Actually the majority of countries that accept democratic representation as their standard use independent commissions – taking control of districting for elections out of the hands of those running for office.

Might be worthwhile to pass this suggestion along to your Congress-critter. I’ll hold back my cynicism – for a moment.

Fundamentalist measles threat from Canada

TrueBeliever

Health officials in Canada’s westernmost province are battling a large measles outbreak that is now threatening to spill over the border into Washington state.

As many as 330 cases of the highly contagious disease have been reported since early March in British Columbia’s lower Fraser Valley, near Vancouver, according to Paul Van Buynder, MD, chief medical officer of Fraser Health.

All but two of those cases have occurred among members of an orthodox Protestant sect that doesn’t believe in vaccination…

Four ill members of the congregation live across the U.S. border in Washington and have been isolated, but Van Buynder said Whatcom County officials now think a fifth person — not part of the church — has been infected…

The report comes as New York City health officials are reporting additional cases in an outbreak there, bringing the total to 25, including 12 children and 13 adults. Most of the children were too young to have had their measles shots and only four of the adults had a verified vaccination.

All told, the CDC said, there have been 104 cases of measles reported so far this year in the U.S., although that total did not include the Washington cases and only 23 cases in New York City. Most states had no cases but California is reporting 50.

Measles is officially eliminated in both the U.S. and Canada, but imported cases [and stupid cases] continue to cause disease.

Van Buynder said the Fraser Valley outbreak is epidemiologically linked to a large continuing epidemic among orthodox Protestants in the Netherlands that has been raging since May 2013 and had caused more than 2,600 cases by the end of February 2014.

An earlier outbreak in Canada — 42 cases in Alberta in the fall of 2013 and winter of 2014 — was also linked to the Netherlands epidemic.

The religion defense against vaccination is such crap when you consider the numbers of unvaccinated children – still too young to vaccinate – put at risk by True Believers.

25 year-review finds no lives saved by annual mammography

Annual mammography failed to reduce breast cancer mortality in women, ages 40 to 59, compared with physical examination or routine care, according to 25-year follow-up data from a Canadian screening program.

Women screened annually by mammography for 5 years had had a breast cancer mortality hazard of 1.05 compared with the control group during the screening period. During follow-up for a mean of 22 years, the mammography group had a breast cancer mortality hazard of 0.99 versus the control group. Neither value was statistically significant…

The findings suggest a need to reassess the value of screening mammography…

The publication drew a quick and forceful response from the American College of Radiology (ACR) and the Society of Breast Imaging (SBI). In a joint statement, officials of the two organizations characterized the results as “an incredibly misleading analysis based on the deeply flawed and widely discredited Canadian National Breast Screening Study (CNBSS).”

Noting the 32% rate of cancer detection by mammography, the ACR and SBI said “this extremely low number is consistent with poor-quality mammography.” Mammography alone should detect twice that many cancers, they added. The organizations noted that a prior outside review of the CNBSS confirmed the poor quality of mammography in the study…

Dr. Anthony Miller and colleagues reported 25-year follow-up data from the CNBSS, which began in 1980. All women, ages 50 to 59, had annual clinical breast examinations, as did women 40 to 49 in the mammography arm. Younger women in the control arm had a clinical breast exam at enrollment, followed by usual care.

The study included 89,835 women enrolled at 15 centers in six Canadian provinces. During the 5-year mammographic-screening period, 666 invasive cancers were diagnosed in the mammography arm and 524 in the control group. During the 25-year follow-up period, 180 women randomized to mammography died of breast cancer, as did 171 in the control group.

The hazard ratio (HR) for breast cancer-specific mortality during the screening period was 1.05 for mammography versus control…

The authors of an accompanying editorial noted that some evidence suggests that improved treatment, rather than breast cancer screening, has fueled the decline in breast cancer mortality in recent years. Regardless of the rates found in different studies, overdiagnosis represents a larger problem…

Referring directly to the ACR and SBI, Miller said the study’s outcome “has to be unwelcome to this highly financially conflicted group, but which will be of substantial interest to policy makers in considering the future of screening for breast cancer.”

Been a spell since I’ve been involved with folks working in oncology. Just as long since I’ve dedicated sufficient reading and online investigation to have an opinion I’d risk someone’s life on.

Please, read the whole article. There are answers – and answers to questions raised by the answers.