Tagged: Canada

Canadian airport provides really low cost aid to returning travelers

A Nova Scotia airport is offering travelers parked in the long-term lot shovels to dig their cars out of the 35 inches of snow that fell on the area this week.

Halifax Stanfield International Airport spokeswoman Ashley Gallant said the airport is providing shovels for travelers returning from vacation to find their vehicles have been buried in snow.

Gallant said the snow has led to a lack of parking spaces, as many of the vacant spots have yet to be plowed.

Not how I would handle it; but, better than nothing. And it ain’t my airport, anyway.

Dangerous trains, aging rails, what could possibly go wrong?

A CSX freight train ran off the rails last month in rural Mount Carbon, W.Va. One after another, exploding rail cars sent hellish fireballs hundreds of feet into the clear winter sky. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency, and the fires burned for several days…

These explosions have generally been attributed to the design of the rail cars — they’re notoriously puncture-prone — and the volatility of the oil; it tends to blow up. Less attention has been paid to questions surrounding the safety and regulation of the nation’s aging network of 140,000 miles of freight rails, which carry their explosive cargo through urban corridors, sensitive ecological zones and populous suburbs.

Case in point: The wooden trestles that flank the Mobile and Ohio railroad bridge, built in 1898, as it traverses Alabama’s Black Warrior River between the cities of Northport and Tuscaloosa. Oil trains rumble roughly 40 feet aloft, while joggers and baby strollers pass underneath. One of the trestles runs past the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater. Yet when I visited last May, many of the trestles’ supports were rotted and some of its cross braces were dangling or missing.

The public has only one hope of finding out if such centenarian bridges are still sturdy enough to carry these oil trains. Ask the railroads. That’s because the federal government doesn’t routinely inspect rail bridges. In fact, the government lacks any engineering standards whatsoever for rail bridges. Nor does it have an inventory of them.

The only significant government intrusion into the railroads’ self-regulation of the nation’s 70,000 to 100,000 railroad bridges is a requirement that the companies inspect them each year. But the Federal Railroad Administration, which employed only 76 track inspectors as of last year, does not routinely review the inspection reports and allows each railroad to decide for itself whether or not to make repairs…

Five oil trains have exploded in the United States in the last 16 months. Miraculously, there have been no deaths. Canada, however, hasn’t been so lucky. In July 2013, an oil train carrying North Dakota oil burst into flames in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic, about 10 miles from the Maine border, killing 47 people…

But more than a year and a half after Lac-Mégantic, new regulations have yet to be finalized as the railroad and oil industries argue about various proposed provisions…And without regulations, reporting or penalties, the public has only the railroads’ word they are complying with the 50 m.p.h. speed limit…

Before leaving office last year, Deborah A. P. Hersman, the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, questioned whether industry representatives and regulators had a tombstone mentality when it came to oil trains. If nobody dies, she suggested, there’s no pressure to act. So far, the tombstones have all been in Canada.

Does any of this sound like a successful industry in a modern, progressive nation?

Like all of the 19th Century economy remaining in North America, we witness only the greed of those who inherited, stole or otherwise acquired control of the assets of out-of-date industries – and the technology that came with it. If unionized, they bring in every flavor of corrupt politician to take away rights and safe practices. Any portion of their fiefdom out of sight of urban watchdogs is fair game for ignoring safety. And state governments – who could count on corporations and Congress to actually work together at building out and growing, say, in 1955 – haven’t admitted to themselves that maintaining this old infrastructure is necessary; so, let’s just ignore it. Maybe it will go away?

That will happen the same way highway bridges and overpasses will heal themselves with magic concrete and gasoline will stay under $3 a gallon right on into the 22nd Century.

Star Trek Fans are Spocking $5 bills in Canada

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Bank of Canada executives have urged Star Trek fans to stop a campaign to deface currency as a tribute to late actor Leonard Nimoy.

A drive was launched in the aftermath of Nimoy’s death on Friday to ink the features of his most famous character, Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, on five dollar bills showing a portrait of Canada’s seventh prime minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

Har!

Thanks, The Big Picture

Canada Supreme Court strikes down ban on doctor-assisted suicide

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Kay Carter

The Supreme Court of Canada shifted the goalposts Friday on one of the most fundamental of human laws.

In a charter precedent that will go down in the history books as Carter vs. Canada, the court unanimously struck down the ban on providing a doctor-assisted death to mentally competent but suffering and “irremediable” patients.

The emphatic, unanimous ruling prompted tears of joy and frustration on both sides of the debate, reverberated through provincial health ministries and doctor’s offices across Canada, and left skittish federal parliamentarians groping for time to digest the implications.

“The prohibition on physician-assisted dying infringes on the right to life, liberty and security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice,” the nine justices flatly asserted.

Cripes. Difficult to imagine what opportunities for progressive law and justice we might have in the United States if we didn’t have a Supreme Court half-populated with reactionary lawyers who lied to Congress to cop the gig. And conservatives and lame liberals in Congress knew damned well they were lying.

The judgment — left unsigned to reflect the unanimous institutional weight of the court — gives Parliament a year to draft new legislation that recognizes the right of clearly consenting adults who are enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to seek medical help in ending their lives.

It does not limit physician-assisted death to those suffering a terminal illness.

And to put an exclamation mark on the ruling, the court awarded special costs against the government of Canada for the entire five-year course of the litigation, less 10 per cent to be paid by the government of British Columbia.

The court suspended its judgment for 12 months, during which the current law continues to apply, placing enormous pressure on Parliament to act in what is an election year…

The political toxicity of the issue was immediately apparent Friday: Not a single MP asked the government a question about the decision during question period, despite the presence of Justice Minister Peter MacKay in the House…

Cowards.

For the families of Gloria Taylor and Kay Carter, two now-deceased women who originally sought a B.C. court’s help to end their suffering, it was an unqualified victory.

Lee Carter, who accompanied her 89-year-old mother to Switzerland to legally end a life ravaged by debilitating disease, raised a bouquet of flowers to the heavens in the Supreme Court lobby as she tearfully recalled her mother’s legacy.

“Justice, dignity and compassion were the defining qualities of my mother,” Carter, flanked by her family, told a crush of reporters.

“We just felt that it was a fundamental right for Canadians that they should have this choice…”

The decision reverses the top court’s 1993 ruling in the case of Sue Rodriguez, a fact the decision attributes to changing jurisprudence and an altered social landscape.

Drop something like this in our Congress’ lap and they would try to defend a ruling from 1793.

Meanwhile, I wonder if you would be required to be a citizen, merely resident to utilize the ruling or if visiting – as in Switzerland – would be sufficient. I have no plans or need for this, right now; but, I might have to ring up my kin and put things in motion for dual citizenship.

Let’s go to the beach and play in the radioactive water from Japan!

12/30/14 — Radioactivity from Japan’s crippled nuclear reactors has turned up off the British Columbia coast and the level will likely peak in waters off North America in the next year or two, according to a Canadian-led team that’s intercepted the nuclear plume…

The radioactivity “does not represent a threat to human health or the environment,” but is detectable off Canada’s west coast and the level is climbing…The team’s seawater measurements reveal Fukushima radioactivity first showed up 1,500 kilometres west of British Columbia in June 2012, more than a year after the Japanese nuclear accident.

By June 2013, the “Fukushima signal” had spread onto the Canadian continental shelf off the B.C. coast, and by February 2014, it was detectable “throughout the upper 150 metres of the water column,” says the report, showing how the Pacific currents are carrying the radioactive plume slowly across the ocean. It says the Fukushima’s radioactive signal off the B.C. coast is now double the “background” radiation in the ocean from atmospheric nuclear bomb testing…

The scientists predict the Fukushima radioactivity off North America will continue to increase before peaking in 2015-16 at levels comparable to those seen in the 1980s as a result of nuclear testing. Then levels are expected to decline and, by 2021, should return to levels seen before that Fukushima accident — considered one of the most serious nuclear reactor accidents…

A huge earthquake off the coast of Japan in March 2011 triggered a tsunami that flooded the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plants. Loss of backup power led to overheating, nuclear meltdowns and evacuation of the Fukushima site. Land and farms around the nuclear plants were severely contaminated and a large radioactive discharge washed into the Pacific…

While the Cesium-134 from the accident will disappear within a few years, Cesium-137 can linger for years.

Thus, the scientists predict the Cesium-137 levels off the North American coast will not return to the levels seen before the Fukushima accident until 2021.

The level of Cesium-137 in the water is far below levels seen in the 1960s and 1970s from nuclear weapons testing and “well below Canadian guidelines for drinking water quality,” they say.

I recall the response from many scientists in the 1960s and 1970s. They campaigned to stop the nuclear weapons testing exactly because it was contaminating Earth’s air and water. Now, we’re supposed to believe everyone passed through that era without harm so radioactive contamination at those levels are safe.

I worked with materials used in nuclear reactors in the 1950s and 1960s and recall many occasions when we were notified that the level of radiation previously declared safe – was no longer considered safe. Sorry, folks.

I have to ask the arch-typical question of the scientists and politicians who say we needn’t worry. Any of you live on the seashore – and let your kids play in that water?

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.

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.