Floating solar panels powering N.J. utility

This article was written by Wayne Parry of the Associated Press and was published in the Toronto Star on June 7, 2023.

NJR Clean Energy Ventures and Canoe Brook Water Treatment say the project in Millburn, N.J., which consists of 16,510 solar panels, is the largest floating solar array in North America.

New Jersey’s Canoe Brook Water Treatment plant produces 14 millions gallons of drinking water a day.

Each one of those gallons weighs seven pounds, so it is quickly apparent that a large amount of energy is needed to move water from a reservoir to the treatment plant and into the 84,000 homes and businesses that the New Jersey American Water Co. serves in the area.

So the water utility partnered with NJR Clean Energy Ventures, the renewable energy subsidiary of the natural gas firm New Jersey Resources, for a solution.

NJR Clean Energy Ventures built a vast array of solar panels, linked them together, and placed them on the surface of the water at Canoe Brook Reservoir.

The companies say the 17-acre solar array, consisting of 16,510 solar panels, is the largest floating solar array in North America — about twice the size of the next-largest facility, an array of floating panels on a body of water in Sayreville, N.J., owned by that municipality.

The Millburn facility, which began operating in January, produces 8.9 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 1,400 homes.

But the power doesn’t go to residential customers. Instead, it provides 95 per cent of the water treatment plan’s substantial energy requirements.

“It takes a lot of energy to pump that water,” said Mark McDonough, president of New Jersey American Water.

A study published in the journal Nature Sustainability in March found that thousands of cities — more than 6,000 in 124 countries — could generate an amount equal to all their electricity demand using floating solar, making it a climate solution to be taken seriously.

Enhanced deal sent to Stellantis

Automaker, LG Energy Solution poring over government offer potentially worth more than $13B

This article was written by Robert Benzie, Tonda MacCharles, and Rob Ferguson, and was published in the Toronto Star on June 7, 2023.

Sources say Ontario taxpayers could be on the hook for more than $4 billion in payments to Stellantis — far more than the $500 million the province promised in March 2022 for the new battery plant.

The fate of a Windsor electric vehicle battery plant rests on the fine print now.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday the federal government has put forward an enhanced subsidy deal which he called “an offer that is both respectful of the taxpayer dollars that are going into it, but mostly, it’s one that is reasonable to create great jobs for the future for generations to come.”

When pressed to say whether the offer was as high as his government would go to stop the proposed 2,500-worker factory from being moved to the U.S. Trudeau and other officials declined to answer.

Executives are poring over the latest proposal that is potentially worth more than $13 billion over eight years to automaker Stellantis and its Korea-based joint venture partner, LG Energy Solution.

“Stellantis and LGES are in receipt of a written offer that is currently under financial and legal review,” Stellantis Canada communications head LouAnn Gosselin told the Star. “We have nothing further to add at this time.”

Stellantis is the parent company of Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Fiat, among other automotive brands.

After the Star last week reported a tentative resolution to spare the $5-billion factory, Premier Doug Ford confirmed that Queen’s Park would cover one-third of billions of dollars in Stellantis subsidies.

Asked if this was Canada’s final offer, Industry Minister François Philippe Champagne said, “That is something between me and the company. There’s discussions on both ways on that, but I think they understand that now we need to bring that to an end, to bring more certainty to the workers to the industry.”

Champagne told the Star he has exchanged letters and texts with Stellantis but would not say if he expected a final answer Tuesday.

“I hope it happens very quickly,” Ontario Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli told reporters at Queen’s Park.

He declined to say whether Ontario is willing to pony up more cash if necessary, but pledged to make the province’s financial contribution public once a new deal is closed.

“It’s really about securing those jobs for the people of Ontario,” Fedeli added, noting the plant will lead to thousands more spinoff jobs at factories feeding it. “The people of Windsor are looking for answers and we want to have those answers as soon as possible.”

Champagne justified spending billions in U.S.-style production subsidies for Stellantis, saying “those are generational opportunities,” and there is only a narrow window for Canada to attract large EV manufacturing plants.

“Most of them will be decided within the next six to 12 months in North America at least. So therefore, either you win now, or you’ll be out of that industry for 50 years or until there’s a new technology,” he said.

Sources, speaking confidentially in order to discuss internal deliberations, said Champagne delivered the enriched offer to Stellantis last Friday, after months of intense behind-the-scenes talks.

In April, the company demanded clarity from the federal government, which it said had promised in writing to match the U.S. offer of rich production subsidies contained in its massive clean-economy incentive package.

As talks dragged on, Stellantis dramatically halted construction of the


It’s really about securing those jobs for the people of Ontario.

Windsor plant on May 15, triggering another tense round of negotiations.

Champagne and Trudeau’s team tried to allay concerns of LG Energy Solution at a state dinner in Seoul last month.

A Stellantis board meeting in Paris last week heard a presentation about what Canada was willing to put on the table.

With Ottawa’s promise to match the U.S. subsidies, Stellantis might receive even more than the up to $13.2 billion in subsidies that Volkswagen will get to build a similar but bigger EV “gigafactory” in St. Thomas, near London. That’s because it would begin operations three years earlier.

Sources say Ontario taxpayers could be on the hook for more than $4 billion in payments to Stellantis — far more than the $500 million the province promised in March 2022 for the factory slated to open next year.

Despite payouts that could affect whether provincial Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy balances the budget in time for the 2026 election, Ford said the outlay of public cash is worth it.

“I look at it as an investment … The spinoff jobs are staggering, absolutely staggering … this is for decades, moving forward and giving people certainty and stability,” he said last week.

The intervention by Ottawa and Queen’s Park should also secure the future of Stellantis’s Brampton auto assembly plant.

As first revealed by the Star on May 12, the Stellantis-LGES plant was at risk of heading stateside because of U.S. President Joe Biden’s lucrative subsidies in the Inflation Reduction Act.


Extended exposure to wildfire smoke carries risk

This article was written by Steve McKinley and was published in the Toronto Star on June 7, 2023.

As the skies fill with haze and wildfire smoke turns the moon red, prompting poor air quality warnings over large chunks of Ontario and Quebec, experts are warning that, barring any major climatechange mitigating factors, we may have to get used to this.

And that means getting used to the increased risk of lung disease, heart disease, cancer and the resultant strain on already taxed health-care resources that comes along with it.

As of Tuesday, most of southern and eastern Ontario and a large swath of Quebec were under Special Air Quality Statements largely thanks to Quebec wildfires burning out of control.

Those statements get issued when the Air Quality Health Index — an amalgamation of measurements of the concentrations of pollutants and forecast weather conditions — reaches seven on a scale that goes to 10+.

Residents of portions of the Rockies west of Jasper, northern Alberta and B.C. as well as southern N.W.T. found themselves in similar situations due to fires in those areas.

“This region is being impacted or is likely to be impacted by wildfire smoke over the next 24 to 48 hours,” said those advisories.

“Wildfire smoke can be harmful to everyone’s health even at low concentrations. Continue to take actions to protect your health and reduce exposure to smoke.”

An extraordinary start to the spring fire season has seen wildfires burning — unusually — from coast to coast, goosed by dry, hot and windy conditions.

And as climate changes progress unabated, we can expect to see more of those conditions and consequently more frequent and severe wildfires.

With those fires come smoke — lots of it — and with that come health hazards for millions of Canadians.

And as wildfires become more common and more severe, continued exposure to that smoke will begin to affect the full breadth of the population: not just the elderly and children and those with pre-existing health conditions, but the young and the healthy as well.

The culprit is known — in the lexicon of the country’s Air Quality Health Index — as PM2.5. It’s one of three pollutants measured by the AQHI, the others being ozone and nitrogen dioxide.

PM2.5 is the by-product of the smoke emitted by wildfires — fine particles of matter with a size of 2.5 microns or less. You could fit about 30 of them across the width of a hair.

At this size, PM2.5 can easily sift down through air passages to the depths of the lungs. At that size, it can also pass into the blood, causing a system-wide inflammation that can exacerbate heart conditions and potentially cause cancers.

Those particles are capable of infiltrating almost every organ in the body, said Matt Adams, director of the Centre for Urban Environments at the University of Toronto.

“As the science evolves and our ability to detect them increases, we keep finding them more and more places,” he said. “We found them on the other side of the placental barrier in babies. We found these particles in the brain, for example.

“It doesn’t seem like any part of the body is safe.”

Once they’re in the body, one of the problems of assessing the damage potentially caused by PM2.5s is that we don’t really know enough about them or how badly they might hurt us.

“Because it’s so complex, we don’t know what is in them,” said Arthur Chan, associate professor of chemical engineering and applied chemistry at U of T.

It’s known that that one of its components are PAHs — short for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — primarily caused by incomplete combustion of organic materials, like wood, said Chan. And PAHs are known to be carcinogenic — they’ve been linked to lung cancer and other forms of cancer — and mutagenic, meaning they can make changes in the DNA, which can also lead to cancers.

That’s why advisories are issued based on the Air Quality Health Index — to some extent, a measure of who needed treatment the last time similar conditions existed.

“These air quality advisories are based largely off of hospitalization increases following the days of an air pollution event,” said Adams. “Over a few years they take the data — number of people who are ending up in the hospital — and they link that to the air quality in the days preceding.”

In short-term, isolated incidents, that poor air quality generally affects a portion of the population.

Asthma sufferers might need to treat themselves with their puffers; the elderly, or children, whose lungs are still developing might need a visit to the doctor or the hospital. People with heart issues might find those conditions aggravated by even a short exposure.

Generally speaking, for most people, in an isolated incident, where the source of the smoke stops, the symptoms from that smoke irritation clear up after a few days.

But when the exposure to wildfire smoke goes on for extended periods — as seems likely in the near future — those whose systems are compromised suffer even more, and even the young and healthy will begin to develop chronic long-term lung and heart conditions and possibly cancers as well.


Northern wildfires are blanketing the GTA in haze — and it’s unclear when exactly it’ll clear up

This article was written by Ben Mussett and was published in the Toronto Star on June 7, 2023.

Known as the Big Smoke, Toronto’s nickname was especially fitting on Tuesday.

As forest fires raged in Quebec and northeastern Ontario, a yellowtinted smoke settled upon Toronto. By evening, the city’s air quality ranked among the world’s worst, at times ahead of even Lahore, Pakistan, which was labelled the planet’s most polluted city in 2022, according to IQ Air, a global air quality tracker.

Across the GTA, the haze resulted in cancelled recreational sports, postponed school field trips and notices sent to parents that schoolchildren would begin spending recess indoors on Wednesday, including across the York Region District School Board. The Toronto District School Board advised parents late Tuesday that “all strenuous outdoor activities, including athletic events” on Wednesday and Thursday would be rescheduled or moved indoors.

By Tuesday evening, Toronto’s air quality health index (AQHI) had climbed from a level 3 recorded that morning — which is considered “low risk” — to a level 7 out of 10, “high risk” territory. It’s expected to hover at levels 6 and 7 at least through to Thursday.

But it’s unclear when the smoke will dissipate.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips said. He expects conditions to worsen Wednesday as smoke from Quebec and Ontario merge.

It will be hard to immediately recognize when the smoke’s fully gone as its intensity may vary by the hour and location across the city, Phillips said, adding to expect more of the same this summer as the forecast is calling for drier and warmer weather than usual.

At times, the thick haze hanging over Ottawa nearly obscured the sun. The air quality index reading for the capital city was above a level 10 on Tuesday morning, indicating a “very high risk” to health.

Meanwhile, forest fires are burning in most provinces and territories. The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre says there are 415 fires currently burning and more than 2,280 fires have burned 37,000 square kilometres so far this year. Wildfires in Quebec and southeastern Ontario over the weekend caused thousands to be evacuated from their homes.

And with summer still two weeks away, Canada is already on pace for its most devastating wildfire season on record, driven in part by climate change delivering conditions conducive to more frequent and severe wildfires.

In a statement to the Star Tuesday, Toronto Public Health (TPH) said it had not yet advised the city to cancel events due to the smoke. However, it encouraged recreational organizers to consider the city’s current air quality when deciding whether to proceed with events.

According to TPH, exposure to air pollutants like wildfire smoke can cause irritated eyes, increased mucus production, coughing and difficulty breathing.

Jeff Brook, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, recommended wearing an N95 mask to minimize the smoke’s impacts. But even a standard surgical mask would help, he added.

‘Significant progress’ made on Stellantis deal, Ottawa says

This article was written by Laura Stone and was published in the Globe & Mail on June 7, 2023.

Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne says Ottawa is making significant progress on a potential deal with automaking giant Stellantis, as the company announced that it is reviewing a written offer from the federal government after weeks of negotiations to keep its electric-vehicle battery plant in Ontario.

Federal and provincial politicians expressed optimism on Tuesday that a deal with Stellantis could be struck in the coming days, which would prevent the company from moving construction of its $5-billion electric-vehicle battery plant in Windsor, Ont., to the United States. The company halted construction of its plant more than three weeks ago, saying the federal government has not delivered on its commitments.

At issue is the government’s willingness to match billions of dollars in subsidies being offered in the United States as part of U.S. President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. Ottawa, in turn, has put pressure on the province to contribute more to potential subsidies.

Mr. Champagne said Tuesday he believes the deal is close, but wouldn’t say if Ottawa is prepared to propose more funds if the offer is refused, saying he won’t negotiate in public.

“I think we have made significant progress. We’re getting to the end of that,” Mr. Champagne told reporters in Ottawa. “My job has always been … to get the best possible deal for the workers, for the industry and for Canada.”

A spokesperson for Stellantis NV said Tuesday that the company, along with partner LG Energy Solution Ltd., has received Ottawa’s offer and is now looking it over.

“Stellantis and LGES are in receipt of a written offer that is currently under financial and legal review,” said Stellantis spokesperson LouAnn Gosselin. “We have nothing further to add at this time.”

The details of the offer have not been made public, but it is expected to include billions in additional subsidies for the company.

Last week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the province has pledged to cover one-third of the total cost of additional subsidies.

At Queen’s Park, Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli said Tuesday he hopes a deal comes together quickly. He said Ontario’s contribution will eventually be made public.

“We’re optimistic that we’ll hear from Stellantis with good news,” Mr. Fedeli said. “The Premier has made our commitment. We’ve done what we’ve said we’ll do … we are going to commit up to one-third of the federal deal with Stellantis. Again, it’s really about securing those jobs for the people of Ontario.”

The Stellantis-LG deal to build the battery plant in Windsor was first announced in March, 2022, with the federal and provincial governments combining to offer about $1-billion in subsidies.

But that was before the much more generous U.S. subsidies were put on the table through the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act, and before Ottawa and Ontario committed as much as $13-billion in production subsidies for a second battery plant to be built by Volkswagen in St. Thomas, Ont.

Mr. Champagne said Tuesday that Ottawa has committed to “levelling the playing field with the United States,” and has become a key player in the electricvehicle industry.

“We’re talking about massive things,” that Canada has almost never seen, Mr. Champagne said.

“We’re winning. We’re in the big leagues, we land these mandates, Stellantis will get done, Volkswagen … has been done, and others are looking. So it’s creating also momentum for all sorts of investments to come to Canada.”


This article was written by the Canadian Press and was published in the Globe & Mail on June 7, 2023.

New research has moved up the time by which the Arctic Ocean is predicted to be free of summer ice.

A paper published Tuesday in the journal Nature has concluded that those northern waters could be open for months at a time as early as 2030, even if humanity manages to drastically scale back its greenhouse gas emissions.

“It brings it about a decade sooner,” said Nathan Gillett, an Environment and Climate Change Canada scientist and one of the co-authors of the study.

Mr. Gillett and his colleagues had noticed the growing differences between what climate models say should be happening to sea ice and what’s actually going on.

“The models, on average, underestimate sea ice decline compared with observations,” Mr. Gillett said.

They wanted to know how much they’d have to tweak the model to make it fit the data – and what those tweaks might reveal if they were projected into the future.

With greenhouse gases isolated as the main culprit, they then looked at how those emissions were used in their climate model. By “scaling up” the effect of greenhouse gases, the researchers achieved a much better fit with satellite images of ice cover.

The model had been brought in line with what was happening on the water, predictions of summer ice disappearance got a lot closer.

“The range is then 2030 to 2050,” Mr. Gillett said. “And even under the lowest emission scenario, with the scaling the Arctic is ice-free.”

We can learn food resilience from Indigenous farmers: UN farming agency head

This article was written by Marie Woolf and was published in the Globe & Mail on June 7, 2023.

Indigenous people have a lot to teach farmers about sustainable agriculture and building food resilience, as the world seeks to deal with the global disruption to the grain supply because of the war in Ukraine, says the head of the UN’s farming agency.

Alvaro Lario, president of the United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development, said with disruptions to agriculture from conflict and climate change, Indigenous communities have valuable skills to share on how to build a food supply resilient to shocks.

“Nowadays we talk about sustainable, resilient food systems. That is what they have been doing for millennia,” he said.

With conflict such as the war in Ukraine disrupting the world’s grain supply, there should be a renewed focus on self-sufficiency and sustainable agriculture, he said in an interview.

Indigenous and small farmers have valuable skills in preserving biodiversity, including seeds, bees and other insects, as well as nourishing the soil and preserving water resources.

“Many of the small farmers are very much aware of what is called nature-based solutions,” he said.

“But for them it is just working with nature, which in the case of the communities with whom we work, like Indigenous peoples … they have been doing for millennia, centuries.”

The president of the UN agency, which invests in rural communities, said the world is seeing “alarming biodiversity loss.”

“There has been a degradation in many cases of the land. There has been less diversification of crops, all of that has affected the ecosystems,” he said.

He says a forum with leaders of Indigenous communities worldwide has been established to discuss sustainable practices and “what we can learn.”

“There needs to be an equilibrium. We need to be mindful of resources. Be mindful of water usage. Be mindful of soil management. Be mindful of how we treat livestock,” he said.

IFAD was created 45 years ago in response to drought and famine, and to address the root causes of food insecurity. It invests in small farmers and rural communities. Canada, which was a founding member of the UN agency, is a major donor.

Mr. Lario, speaking during his first official visit to Canada, said smaller farms using traditional methods tend to be very productive. “They produce one-third of the world’s food and they only occupy 11 per cent of the farmland,” he said.

Climate crises such as floods and fires are also making the need for resilience more pressing. Farmers have been turning to food that can be produced more quickly, he said, and crops with shorter growing cycles.

Canada has been sending faster-growing buckwheat seeds to Ukraine, Canada’s Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said last year.

Some farmers in the developing world are also turning away from cash crops such as wheat and rice to traditional crops with high nutritional value, such as quinoa, millet and cassava so they can feed themselves, Mr. Alvaro said.

“They are normally more nutritious and in many cases have just been dumped because some countries have concentrated on one crop,” he said.

“Now they have realized that actually they need to also diversify.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, one of the world’s biggest exporters of grain, has disrupted the supply of wheat to countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The UN official said becoming less reliant on food imports is now a global priority.

“Some of the countries are even talking about food sovereignty and food security being national security,” he said.

The president of the UN farming agency said the world is seeing ‘alarming biodiversity loss.’

Air quality advisories in effect for Quebec, Ontario, northeastern U.S.

This article was written by Alanna Smith and Lindsay Jones, and was published in the Globe & Mail on June 7, 2023.

Carolyn Binder holds her new baby, Leo, with her husband Markus and their children, Lorelei and Felix, after visiting the Estabrooks Community Hall in Lewis Lake, N.S., on Tuesday. The family is among 4,100 people still evacuated from their homes because of wildfires in the province.

Thick, acrid smoke from blazes raging in Quebec is choking the entire region from the nation’s capital to Southern Ontario and into the heavily populated northeastern United States, as Canada deals with one of its worst wildfire seasons on record.

Special air quality advisories warning about the dangers of smoke inhalation were in effect on Tuesday in large parts of Quebec, including Montreal and Quebec City, and into Ontario, stretching from Ottawa to London and further south. New York is also facing code red “unhealthy” air quality, as smoke drifts as far south as Tennessee. Numerous sports and other outdoor events have been cancelled in areas blanketed by the greyish orange haze.

And the situation is only expected to worsen, according to Natural Resources Canada: The agency’s fire map is bright red, indicating “well above average” activity is predicted in all but a handful of regions this month. A total of 2,214 blazes raging across Canada have already burned more than 3.3 million hectares of land – surpassing the 10-year average over the same time frame of 1,624 fires and 254,429 hectares torched.

The department said it is unusual for fires to cover this much of the country so early in the season. Warm and dry conditions are expected to increase the wildfire risk this month, with blazes expanding into Yukon and receding from Western Quebec into Central Ontario.

Victoria Nurse, a meteorologist from the Ontario Storm Prediction Centre, said wildfires every year drive smoke into various parts of the country, but that it is rare to see it spread to this extent, particularly to the U.S. She said the unpleasant haze will continue to linger in Southern Ontario until at least the end of the week.

“We’re not expecting any big rain soaking systems to come through unfortunately, so, looking at the forecast, fires could continue to grow,” Ms. Nurse said. “Depending on the wind direction changing, if we get that flow from the east that will take some of the smoke out of Southern Ontario and push it into Northern and Western Ontario.”

More than 150 wildfires were burning in Quebec on Tuesday, with a significant number of them deemed “out of control,” according to the province’s forest fire prevention agency. A number of blazes are also burning in Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Thousands of people, from coast to coast, have been displaced from their homes this spring. Some have been given the green-light to return, as some fires are extinguished or brought under control, but others are living in hotels, evacuation centres or finding shelter with loved ones.

Carolyn Binder of Upper Tantallon, N.S., was more than 40 weeks pregnant when she and her husband, Markus, saw flames in the trees and smoke billowing into their yard last Sunday. They grabbed clothes, laptops and a portable safe as their panicked seven-year-old daughter, Lorelei, and five-year-old son, Felix, scrambled into the car.

The Binders are among 4,100 people still evacuated from their homes because of the wildfires that tore through wooded suburbs northwest of Halifax last weekend. Now contained, the blaze is one of five still burning in the province. In Southwestern Nova Scotia, the largest fire in the province’s history was still out of control but no longer growing after rainfall.

The couple remembers telling the kids to close their eyes as they drove through a thick wall of black smoke out of their subdivision. Ms. Binder, three days overdue, had been walking and bouncing on an exercise ball the day before, willing the baby to come. Now, she hoped the baby would stay inside for just a little bit longer.

They arrived at a friend’s place in Dartmouth, and three days later, Ms. Binder felt the familiar tightening waves of pain. Leo Arthur Binder, with plump cheeks and brown hair, was born at suppertime last Wednesday.

“He held on just long enough,” said Ms. Binder, holding Leo as he dozed in a donated striped navy sleeper in the downtown Halifax hotel suite where they are all living for now.

The Binders’ home, which the couple said the city has informed them is intact, is located in one of the neighbourhoods where wildfires gutted more than 150 residences. It could be another two weeks before they will be allowed back home to assess the smoke damage.

Meanwhile, feeding, clothing and entertaining two young kids in a hotel suite with a newborn has been, at times, overwhelming. But Leo, who spends his days stretching, grunting, nursing and sleeping, has been a welcome distraction – somebody to gaze at and snuggle when it all seems like too much. After the family returns home, Ms. Binder said she will record Leo’s unique birth story in his baby book, a gift from her sister.

“I was initially upset that you were past due, but I am super thankful that you were,” she plans to write. “Thank you for coming at just the right time. And for being such a bright spot. It’s been a dark few days.”

The wildfires have strained firefighting resources across the country, and provinces such as Alberta have leaned on other provinces and countries to secure additional help.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked those fighting the blazes for “working incredibly hard in difficult situations” and noted that some have been at it for weeks: “They have our full support,” he told media on Tuesday. Mr. Trudeau urged residents to listen to local authorities to stay safe from the wildfires and smoke, while encouraging people to donate to the wildfire appeals. Ottawa is matching donations in Alberta, Nova Scotia and the Northwest Territories.

Opposition leaders continue to be briefed on the evolving wildfire situation, Mr. Trudeau added: “Everyone is completely aligned and working together and trying to keep Canadians safe across the country.”

Debate takes target off Chow

MAYORAL RACE 2023 Moderators keep questions focused, candidates spread criticism around

This article was written by Ben Spurr and was published in the Toronto Star on June 7, 2023.

Advance voting for the June 26 mayoral election is set to begin on Thursday.

Five leading candidates traded barbs in the latest debate of the Toronto mayoral campaign on Tuesday. The event, hosted by CBC, took place at a critical point of the election, with advance voting for the June 26 contest set to begin on Thursday. Josh Matlow, Mitzie Hunter, Mark Saunders, Olivia Chow and Ana Bailão took part, while a sixth leading candidate, Brad Bradford, wasn’t able to attend after he and his wife announced the birth of their second daughter on Monday.

This time it’s personal

Moderator Marivel Taruc shook up the proceedings by asking candidates rapid-fire questions about their favourite spots in Toronto. It was a change from the policy discussions that generally dominate debates, and allowed mayoral hopefuls to give voters a glimpse of how they experience the city they want to lead.

Matlow said his favourite patio is the Black Bull on Queen Street West, while Hunter named the AGO as her top tourist attraction, and Chow picked the 510 Spadina line as her most beloved TTC route. Saunders picked Sugar Beach as his favourite beach, and Bailão, a former councillor, got a plug in for Do West Fest in her old Davenport ward, naming it Toronto’s best street festival.

Chow even dared to weigh in on one of Toronto’s most divisive questions: which is better, the west end or east end? After giving it some consideration, she took the risk of alienating half the city and actually answered. West end, she declared.

Budget back-and-forth

Chow has taken a lot of heat from other candidates for her refusal to say how much she would raise property taxes, with rivals warning that residents will be in for sky high increases if she’s elected. She again declined to put a number on her tax plan Tuesday, except to say any rate hike would be “modest.”

Chow defended not providing a hard figure by saying that since Rob Ford’s mayoralty, council has been “doing budgeting backwards” by first setting the property tax rate, and then determining service levels. She said if elected, she’ll determine what services are needed and then set tax rates to pay for them.

Saunders, who was police chief from 2015 to 2020, has led the attacks on her financial plans, and touted his experience managing a $1-billion budget as evidence he’d be a good steward of city finances. But he took sustained fire Tuesday over his own financial plans.

When moderator Shawn Jeffords asked why he hadn’t put forward a more detailed financial platform, Saunders suggested publicly available city budget documents don’t have enough information to allow him to craft a costed plan.

Chow asked why 911 call wait times went up while he was chief, despite the force’s operating budget increasing by 12 per cent. Saunders blamed council, which he said had not met his requests for more money for police communications, and asserted he did his best with the resources the city allocated.

“These people here are responsible for not giving the proper money,” he said, referring to Matlow, who currently represents Toronto—St. Paul’s, and Bailão, who was councillor for Davenport for 12 years and left city hall in 2022.

Hunter, who until last month was Liberal MPP for ScarboroughGuildwood, wasn’t buying Saunders’s explanation. “You can’t have it both ways. You said you were managing a billion-dollar budget but now you’re saying it was badly managed,” she said.


Previously, candidates had focused attacks on Chow, who polls suggest is the clear front-runner. But on Tuesday, there was significant infighting among the four candidates chasing her. That may indicate a change in strategy of the trailing pack, or merely be the result of the debate format, in which moderators dictated who candidates could direct their questions to.

In one heated exchange, Hunter accused Matlow of delaying the Scarborough subway extension, a project that he long opposed while arguing in favour of building a cheaper LRT in Toronto’s eastern suburb.

“What are you talking about?” Matlow shot back, calling the accusation “dishonest and wrong.” He argued that council’s decision to abandon the original LRT plan was why Scarborough transit was delayed, and said Hunter supported the LRT before she ran successfully for the Ontario Liberals.

Perhaps with an eye to gaining the support of the more than 450,000 voters who live in Scarborough, Bailão joined in attacking Matlow, saying he “tried to stop the Scarborough subway every step of the way.”

‘‘ You can’t have it both ways. You said you were managing a billion-dollar budget but now you’re saying it was badly managed.

Smoking out climate plans

There has been little discussion of the climate crisis this mayoral campaign, but a rare discussion of the topic came when Taruc asked the candidates whether they would commit to fully funding the city’s TransformTO plan, to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

Matlow claimed he was the only candidate that has dedicated TransformTO funding in his platform, through a commercial parking levy that would raise $200 million annually for the plan.

Hunter said climate resiliency was woven into her platform, including her plans to plant more trees, invest in public transit and add solar panels to new housing.

Chow, who said she was hoarse from the smoke above Toronto Tuesday from wildfires made worse by climate change, also said she would invest in public transit, implement eco-energy retrofits for public housing and introduce waste reduction programs.

Bailão said the city should make new municipal buildings carbon neutral and continue plans to buy electric transit vehicles.

Saunders was the only one who didn’t unequivocally commit to funding TransformTO, saying his proposals to tackle gridlock would reduce emissions, as would his plans to expand the subway grid, but the city’s plan has “flaws.”

Rapid fire

The moderator asked a series of yes or no questions on pressing city issues that provided refreshing clarity about where mayoral hopefuls stand. Citing resident complaints over issues like potholes, rundown garbage bins and dead raccoons being left to fester in the streets, Taruc asked whether candidates believed that Toronto has fallen into physical disrepair. Saunders and Bailão said no, Matlow and Hunter said yes, while Chow said “not completely.”

In welcome news for thirsty parklovers, all five agreed that residents should be allowed to legally drink in city parks, although Saunders said the idea should be piloted first.


Wildfires in Quebec have forced mining companies to suspend operations and evacuate employees.

This article was written by the Canadian Press and was published in the Toronto Star on June 6, 2023.

Mining companies in Quebec pulled employees out and suspended exploration work as forest fires forced thousands of people from their homes.

Wallbridge Mining Co. Ltd. said Monday it has temporarily evacuated the camp at its Fenelon Gold project and suspended all exploration activities on its Detour-Fenelon Gold Trend property in Quebec’s northern Abitibi region.

The company made the decision after an emergency order from the Quebec government prohibiting access due to the forest fires.

Wallbridge CEO Marz Kord said all of the company’s employees and contractors have been safely withdrawn and that it has worked to secure and mitigate risk to the Fenelon camp site.

“Exploration activities at Fenelon and our other projects will resume as soon as practicable,” Kord said in a statement.

There were 164 forest fires burning in Quebec on Monday, up from 155 the day before. At least 114 of those fires were out of control, according to the province’s forest fire prevention service, SOPFEU.

Osisko Mining Inc. said it has suspended work and pulled workers out at its Windfall gold project due to the forest fire situation affecting the communities in Abitibi and Eeyou Istchee James Bay.

“Our team is in constant communication with local and provincial authorities to co-ordinate all efforts in this difficult time,” Osisko Mining chief executive John Burzynski said in a statement. “All personnel are safe, and the Windfall facilities are secure. While all activities at site are currently suspended, we do not anticipate any material impact on our business.”

Meanwhile, Patriot Battery Metals Inc. said it temporarily ceased drilling and surface exploration field activities until the forest fire situation near its operations in Quebec improves.

The company started work in late May at its Corvette property in the Eeyou Istchee James Bay region.

There were 164 forest fires burning in Quebec on Monday, the majority of which were out of control, according to provincial officials