Scientists look to fungi network for answers

Changes in soil may shine a light on global warming

This article was written by Frank Jordans and was published in the Toronto Star on December 5, 2021.

Fallen trees are covered in moss, fungi and plants in the Bialowieza primeval forest in Eastern Poland.

BERLIN Scientists from the United States and Europe announced plans last week to create the biggest map of underground fungal networks, arguing they are an important but overlooked piece in the puzzle of how to tackle climate change.

By working with local communities around the world the researchers said they will collect 10,000 DNA samples to determine how the vast networks that fungi create in the soil are changing as a result of human activity — including global warming.

“Fungi are invisible ecosystem engineers, and their loss has gone largely unnoticed by the public,” said Toby Kiers, a professor of evolutionary biology at Amsterdam’s Free University and co-founder of the non-profit Society for the Protection of Underground Networks that’s spearheading the effort.

“New research and climate models are providing irrefutable evidence

that the Earth’s survival is linked to the underground,” she said.

Experts agree that tracking how fungal networks, also known as mycelia, are affected by climate change is important for protecting them — and ensure they can contribute to nature’s own mechanisms for removing carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, from the air.

Fungi can do this by providing nutrients that allow plants to grow faster, for example, or by storing carbon in the trillions of miles of rootlike mass they themselves weave underground.

But Karina Engelbrecht Clemmensen, a fungal expert at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences not involved in the project, caution that while having better fungi maps would be useful for future conservation efforts, it was unclear how the researchers planned to go about that vast challenge. “This is not trivial on a global scale,” she said.

Clemmensen and others also noted that many fungi don’t provide any benefits to plants or grow as underground networks, yet their role in climate change also merits investigation.

Some fungi actually produce carbon dioxide as they break down organic matter for food — potentially contributing to global warming if they release more CO2 into the atmosphere than they capture.

New research and climate models are providing irrefutable evidence that the Earth’s survival is linked to the underground.


Is it time for a green National Energy Program?

Decades after Pierre Trudeau’s controversial policy, a new plan could transition us off fossil fuels

This article was written by Taylor C. Noakes and was published in the Toronto Star on December 5, 2021.

Forty-odd years ago, Pierre Trudeau thought it would be wise for Canada to achieve “energy independence,” a project he aimed to accomplish within a decade.

The National Energy Program wasn’t created in a vacuum. The twin oil crises of the 1970s had wrought havoc on the global economy as much as Canada’s, but they also revealed a peculiar aspect of the Canadian economy: we were simultaneously oil-rich and suffering from the trickle-down effects of oil scarcity.

Fortunes were being made in Alberta while the bulk of Canada’s population contended with price spikes, inflation and double-digit unemployment. Canada’s oil and gas resources were already managed and controlled through a national oil policy and agreements between the federal government and the energy-producing provinces. This had been the case since the Leduc Discovery of 1947.

But the oil crises made it clear earlier policies — designed chiefly to provide a modest level of assistance to the private sector — were inadequate. A new program was required to make Canada both energy self-sufficient as much as efficient.

Now, as Trudeau the Younger contends with the climate emergency, there is good reason to reexamine the underlying philosophy of the NEP, as much as consider the possibility of a new national

energy program to drive the transition from fossil fuels.

The oil crisis of 1973-1974 brought about sensible solutions to shared, national supply problems: a vertically integrated national oil company — Petro-Canada — tasked with exploration, research and development, refining and retail sales. The government instituted price controls as well, and to shore up domestic production, invested the equivalent of about $10 billion in Syncrude to prevent the project from collapsing, according to a New York Times report from 1975.

Despite these efforts, domestic and global challenges developed at the end of the decade that would lead to the creation of the NEP. In the 18 months preceding the introduction of the NEP in late October of 1980, Canada had two federal elections, survived the first Quebec referendum, and entered the worst recession (at that time) since the Second World War. The recession, global in scale, had been triggered by the oil shock of 1979, itself a consequence of the Iranian Revolution.

Compounding matters, the Soviet Union had invaded and occupied Afghanistan, while Saddam Hussein attempted to do the same to Iran. These events further destabilized the region, limiting the industrialized world’s access to cheap oil and further exacerbating a global economic disruption.

Energy sovereignty shouldn’t be confused with economic protectionism — this wasn’t merely a “buy Canadian” scheme. As then Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed put it during a 1975 premiers conference on energy: “… for Canadians to be assured of an adequate energy supply, and to be free from the fear of energy shortages arbitrarily imposed by foreign governments, higher prices are necessary.”

Remarkably, Lougheed and Trudeau the Elder were actually on the same page on the matter of higher energy prices if it meant Canadians and the national economy could be shielded from major disruptions that were entirely foreign in origin.

The climate emergency presents a new kind of challenge that demands a similar strategy of regulation, price controls, and the development of renewable energy sources and a national distribution network. Though oil and gas resources seem to be abundant, a kind of green energy scarcity is emerging, and citizens are pushing for the abandonment of non-renewable energy sources through divestment efforts, consumer choices and activism, further contributing to a de facto (and growing) energy scarcity.

It’s not that we can’t get it, it’s that we don’t want it, and we further know the continued extraction and consumption of fossil fuels will only exacerbate the climate emergency, and that in turn means continued — and worsening — economic disruptions.

The underlying philosophy of the NEP boiled down to the realization that energy is more of a strategic necessity than a mere provincial commodity, and thus should be organized to benefit all Canadians. The climate emergency only underlines this fact: the urgency to get off non-renewable energy sources is equal to the urgent need to develop their sustainable replacements.

As it happens, the original NEP included a number of provisions aimed at making all of Canada both more energy-efficient as well as self-sufficient. As Finance Minister Allan MacEachen stated in the budget speech that introduced the NEP, “A number of other federal initiatives will help both individual Canadians and industry to meet Canada’s energy objectives. For example, grants will be offered to assist homeowners to move off oil, and onto natural gas, electricity and other fuels which we have in greater supply.”

The NEP included provisions for home insulation retrofitting (to increase heating efficiency); the establishment of new energy efficiency standards for homes, appliances, buildings and automobiles; as well as federal funding for renewable power projects. Some of this was accomplished (albeit never quite to the level that was needed) before the oil glut and deregulation fad of the 1980s torpedoed the NEP and the logic behind it.

What we have today is the polar opposite of the NEP: no-strings-attached corporate welfare for the oil and gas sector, which is completely at the mercy of American energy policy and the volatility of the global market. Rather than have energy autonomy and a funding source for a green transition, Canadian taxpayers are now directly subsidizing the climate catastrophe. Doing the exact opposite of making the industry work for the people resulted in the worst possible outcome. Who’d have thought?

The thinking of Trudeau the Elder contrasts sharply with that of Trudeau the Younger. Four decades after the energy-producing provinces ratified the NEP, Canada now provides tens of billions of taxpayers dollars annually to a predominantly foreign-owned industry that has no responsibility to Canada and is actively pushing us into a position of increasing economic and environmental instability. (A recent report indicates foreign ownership may be as high as 70 per cent.)

In his more candid moments, such as during a recent talk at the Wilson Center in advance of the “Three Amigos” summit, Trudeau demonstrated a nearly characteristic incoherence when he stated “We’re going to continue producing oil and gas for the coming years. I’m not going to weigh in on what the U.S. is or isn’t doing, but people need to walk the walk on climate change.”

Indeed. A recent report issued by Environmental Defence Canada and Oil Change International has revealed not only that Canada provides the greatest amount of public subsidy to the oil and gas sector (among G20 nations), but that the industry has expansion plans that will make it impossible for Canada to meet Paris Agreement targets.

Achieving Paris Agreement goals — which is to say, avoiding total calamity — requires immediately phasing out all fossil fuels and replacing them with a new national energy program built on renewable sources. A green NEP would have to take control of all available sustainable and renewable energy resources, develop a national distribution system, invest profits into expansion, exploration, research and development, and seek to make Canada “energy independent” chiefly as a means to weather anticipated future economic crises related to both the ongoing climate crisis and “terminal oil.”

If you take oil and gas out of the NEP, it’s a blueprint for energy independence and sustainability, something we need today as much as we did 40 years ago. The ultimate lesson of the NEP is to not let special interest groups get in the way of nation-building projects whose purpose ultimately benefits the many over the few. We’ve given our oil and gas sector everything it could possibly want, including public subsidy, public land and publicly owned infrastructure. The sector has gotten us no closer to energy independence, nor a green transition. It’s more than time to turn off the taps.

What would giving land back look like?

Federal minister says compensating Indigenous nations should be at heart of Canada’s reconciliation agenda. Yet among Indigenous leaders and experts, skepticism abounds

This article was written by Alex Ballingall and was published in the Toronto Star on December 5, 2021.

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu, left, and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller meet with a delegation from the Attawapiskat First Nation on Parliament Hill this week.

It was brisk and overcast on Parliament Hill this week when a small group from the distant First Nation of Attawapiskat presented a letter to two Liberal cabinet ministers charged with Indigenous affairs.

Less than a decade ago, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence staged a hunger strike on an island in the Ottawa River, a protest that helped ignite a national Indigenous rights movement called “Idle No More.”

And here they were again, leaders of the same nation clustered on the sidewalk near the Centennial Flame with a flag and staff lined with eagle feathers, pressing a different government over the same concerns that have long animated their people: treaty rights, self-determination, poverty, and housing.

That last one is connected with a long-standing demand of the First Nation to add a tract of land to its reserve where the Attawapiskat River empties into James Bay. It also touches on an issue that Marc Miller, the newly-minted Liberal Crown-Indigenous relations minister, is striving to place at the front of the government’s reconciliation agenda: land.

In his first comments in the new role this fall, Miller turned heads when he stated that “it’s time to give land back” to Indigenous peoples. It was an invocation of an established goal of Indigenous activists pressing to reverse the damaging impacts of colonialism in this country, one of the core aims of Idle No More and other movements since. And it was a statement with potential relevance to Indigenous nations across Canada, from the Wet’suwet’en opposing a pipeline project in northern B.C., to the people of Attawapiskat who are hoping to acquire new land for housing in their community.

Yet skepticism abounds, not least in Attawapiskat, where Gerald Mattinas has been pushing to expand the reserve to make room for the new housing. Speaking with the Star by phone on Friday, the Attawapiskat band councillor said discussions with government over adding the land to the reserve have led to nothing over the past seven years.

“Politicians are politicians. They can say anything … and then they forget all about it,” Mattinas said.

For Hayden King, director of the Yellowhead Institute in downtown Toronto, Miller’s endorsement of giving land back is a surprise, given how “virtually all Canadian governments before have refused to engage” in conversations like this.

But King added that there are many ideas about what “land back” looks like. These include literally giving land owned by settler Canadians to Indigenous peoples, as well as visions of establishing Indigenous jurisdiction over traditional land and the resources it contains. Some, such as the Secwépemc leader Arthur Manuel, have argued the return of land and the wealth it produces should serve as the economic foundation of empowered Indigenous governments.

“It varies from place to place, circumstance to circumstance, but I think it has these three underlying features, which are: Indigenous authority … over their own territory; the restitution of actual lands, resources and wealth; and the revitalization of Indigenous culture,” he said.

As Miller explained in a recent interview with the Star, he sees land at the heart of Canada’s project of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Miller said that, all too often, when politicians discuss the issues of economic development and inequality that plague Indigenous communities, “they will exclude the discussion of land.”

This exclusion, he argued, has perpetuated two things: the dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their land, and the exacerbation of economic inequality. The solution, for Miller: give land back.

“I can’t walk into a community and talk about self-determination or a rights framework without talking about land, or — in the case where land can’t be restituted — proper compensation,” he said.

The issue of land and who it belongs to is central to several disputes that have caught national attention with cascading consequences across the country, said Nicole Robertson, an advocate and entrepreneur and member of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in northern Manitoba.

These disputes have taken place in areas where the traditional territory of an Indigenous nation was never ceded nor shared through a treaty or land claim, such as with the hereditary leaders of the Wet’suwet’en who oppose the construction of the Coastal GasLink. They’ve also occurred where treaties have been signed, including a site dubbed “1492 Land Back Lane” in Caledonia, Ont., where development has occurred despite the existence of a treaty between the Haudenosaunee and British Crown in 1784.

For Robertson, this shows that “land back” means respecting the authority of Indigenous nations over their traditional territories. “We need to come to this place of understanding that First Nations always should have the last say if there’s any type of resource or energy extraction that’s going on in and around their treaty boundaries and traditional territory,” she said.

Another consideration is how resource development and the permits for construction fall under provincial jurisdiction, something that Miller acknowledged complicates any attempt to give land back to dispossessed Indigenous communities.

“As a government, we can’t wash our hands from that reality,” he said, adding that such issues involve “difficult conversations” that could fuel frustrations of slow progress.

Some of that frustration is playing out right now. In northern Ontario, the Neskantaga First Nation is taking the province to court, arguing it was not properly consulted about the planned construction of a road through what it claims as unceded traditional territory. And in Saskatchewan, NDP MLA Betty Nippy-Albright has been voicing concerns about provincial auctions of Crown land, which she argues are resulting in the sale of territory that’s meant to be available for the hunting and fishing rights of treaty nations.

“This is another way for this provincial government to eradicate every treaty right we have,” she told the Star this week. “They do not care about the treaties that were signed by our ancestors.”

For King at the Yellowhead Institute, the government’s adoption of the phrase “land back” is cause for some wariness. Pointing to criticism that the Liberals’ attempted recognition of Indigenous “rights” in government policies didn’t go far enough, he said he is concerned the government could simply use the language of “land back” activism and follow familiar policies that don’t achieve what activists are pushing for.

In Attawapiskat, meanwhile, Mattinas is hoping for more than just the status quo — though he said it’s not easy to expect more after trying so long with no progress.

“It’s how we are as First Nations. That’s the kind of treatment that any First Nation gets across Canada,” he said. “We’re never a priority.”

I can’t walk into a community and talk about selfdetermination or a rights framework without talking about land, or — in the case where land can’t be restituted — proper compensation.


B.C.’s harsh message: The future is here

This editorial was written and published by the Toronto Star on December 4, 2021.

There need be no more reference to “harbingers” of climate change. It is here. Its signature is extremes. And British Columbia is, at the moment, its terrifying stage.

Until recent days, many Canadians might have taken the term “atmospheric river” for a video game, or a slipstream through space for comets and asteroids.

It is, as all now know, and British Columbians know best of all, a meteorological phenomenon that acts like a massive pipe transporting huge amounts of water vapour out of the tropics and dumping it where the ocean meets land.

It’s been a rich season for such terminology.

The three successive “atmospheric rivers” that brought unprecedented precipitation to B.C. followed the “bomb cyclone” that battered Vancouver Island last month, which followed the “heat domes” that sent temperatures soaring above 40 C this summer, which in turn set the stage for another terrible wildfire season.

“I look forward to the time when we no longer have the term ‘atmospheric river’ included in our weather forecast,” Henry Braun, mayor of Abbotsford, B.C., sighed at a news conference this week.

The mayor may be waiting a while.

The current and forthcoming consequences of climate change, as the United Nations warned this past summer in its report Code Red, are already baked into our fate.

There need be no more reference to “harbingers” of climate change. It is here. Its signature is extremes. And British Columbia is, at the moment, its terrifying stage.

Mudslides sweeping people to their deaths, wiping out highways and bridges. Floods ruining homes. Towns evacuated. Farmers fighting waist-deep waters to save horses and cattle. Vancouver cut off from the rest of Canada.

The serial crises in B.C. have been like something from the Book of Job and have surely demonstrated to even the most obscurantist of climate-change deniers that measures both immediate and long-term are needed, pronto.

It should be clear now, if it wasn’t already, that failing to spend money you think you can’t afford on climate change only results in vastly bigger bills down the road.

According to a 2019 report from the Global Commission on Adaptation, every dollar spent on measures to prepare for climate impacts will result in savings of $2 to $10 in future costs.

In B.C., the stakes and the lexicon are different now than in other parts of Canada.

The province offers “Master of Disaster” programs to schools to help young people learn about emergency preparedness for flooding, wildfires, earthquakes and tsunamis.

Three years ago, B.C. became the first province in Canada to adopt the “Sendai Framework,” a set of international best practices for disaster risk reduction.

This year, the province’s CleanBC climate plan kicked in, the first stage of its Climate Preparedness and Adaptation Strategy.

The scenarios that B.C. is bracing for include seasonal wildfires, heat waves, ocean acidification, loss of glacier mass, long-term water shortages, severe flooding and severe coastal storm surges.

“We recognize this challenge can’t be addressed all at once,” George Heyman, the province’s environment minister, said in releasing a draft of the climate-change plan. “It will take many years of work.”

True enough. But long-term plans don’t mean much to people in crisis now, people who have a hard time imagining next week, much less emission reduction targets decades out.

Their concern is emergency relief and preparations for the coming droughts and fires, storms and floods.

As the B.C. report said, the COVID-19 pandemic has been instructive on the merit of “acting early at a scale that matches the potential risk.”

On climate change, that should stand as the operating rule of thumb for governments everywhere.

Strategies must embrace what B.C. called a “whole-of-society” approach. But for now, the watchword is mitigation.

These include improved monitoring and forecasting systems, a modernized flood management system, reinforcing or rerouting vulnerable roads and highways, improved design for buildings, bridges, infrastructure, sea-dike design along with community-specific measures.

In water-logged Abbotsford, Mayor Braun called for collaboration between the provincial and federal governments. And addressing the climate-change challenge there cannot be just a local effort; it should be a national priority.

It’s been distressing to watch B.C.’s trials, to see a jurisdiction that’s either on fire or under water.

For years, the province has stood as a pleasing state of mind for the rest of Canada. Whistler. Tofino. Haida Gwaii. The Gulf Islands. The Sunshine Coast. Places where free spirits go to play, where the fortunate retire.

If the meteorological terminology coming out of B.C.’s trials is perhaps novel, the lessons are as old as Aesop and his fables.

Prepare. Learn from the failures of others to do so. Do not put things off. Persistence is the key. There’s always a way.

In Beautiful British Columbia, as the licence plates boast, those precepts are relevant still.

A deadly toll

This article was written by Patrick Whittle and Robert F. Bukaty, and was published in the Toronto Star on December 4, 2021.

The Atlantic puffin, Maine’s iconic seabird, suffered one of their worst years for reproduction in decades during 2021, due to a lack of the small fish they eat.

‘‘ In the last couple years, (seabirds have) experienced widespread nesting failure. I definitely think there’s large ramifications of what we’re seeing. LINDA WELCH BIOLOGIST

PORTLAND, MAINE The warming of the planet is taking a deadly toll on seabirds that are suffering population declines from starvation, inability to reproduce, heat waves and extreme weather.

Climate-related losses have hit albatrosses off the Hawaiian islands, northern gannets near the British Isles and puffins off the Maine coast. Some birds are less able to build nests and raise young as sea levels rise, while others are unable to find fish to eat as the ocean heats up, researchers have found.

Common murres and Cassin’s auklets that live off the West Coast have also died in large numbers from conditions scientists directly tied to global warming.

With less food, rising seas that encroach on islands where birds roost and increasingly frequent hurricanes that wipe away nests, many seabirds have been producing fewer chicks, researchers say.

And tern species that live off New England have died during increasing rain and hailstorms scientists link to climate change. Some species, including endangered roseate terns, also can’t fledge chicks because more frequent severe weather kills their young, said Linda Welch, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The warming world is increasingly inhospitable to many seabirds, Welch said. “In the last couple years, they’ve experienced widespread nesting failure,” she said. “I definitely think there’s large ramifications of what we’re seeing.”

It’s difficult to precisely determine the population loss to wide-ranging seabirds and how much is attributable to climate change. But one estimate by researchers from University of British Columbia stated that seabird populations have fallen 70 per cent since the mid-20th century.

Reproductive success also decreased over the last half century for fish-eating seabirds, especially those that live north of the equator, according to a study earlier this year in the journal Science.

Researchers from the University of Washington and other institutions who studied dozens of worldwide seabird species found some were having success breeding at only 10 per cent of historical levels. They also found that in the southern hemisphere, difficulty finding fish has prevented species such as the Magellanic penguin from successfully feeding chicks.

Worldwide, seabirds are in jeopardy largely because of warming ocean temperatures, scientists say. Over the past five decades, more than 90 per cent of the extra heat on the planet from global warming has been absorbed by the ocean, according to U.S. government scientists.

Warming seas, coupled with die-off events that kill thousands of birds by starvation, are making it harder for some species to maintain stable populations, said P. Dee Boersma, a University of Washington biology professor and an author of the Science study.

The seabirds, such as penguins that have declined by nearly three-quarters in South Africa since 1991, are a harbinger of what will happen to wildlife with global warming, Boersma said.

One of the most serious threats to seabirds is a reduction of plankton and small fish in cold northern waters. Forage fish and plankton loss has led to mass die-offs of birds such as the Cassin’s auklets that washed up by the tens of thousands on the Pacific Coast in recent years.

One of the most visible examples of global warming’s seabird toll was the die-off of tens of thousands of common murres along the West Coast in the mid-2010s. Nearly 8,000 dead birds washed up on a single beach near Chugach National Forest in Alaska.

Scientists later determined that warming waters deprived the birds of the abundant sardines and anchovies they gorge on, and the birds starved. The deaths came amid a marine heat wave known as “the blob.”

Building Brampton’s walkable communities

SouthSide towns and condos help create ‘20-minute neighbourhoods’ in the city’s 2040 Vision masterplan that aims to shift city from car-dependent to transit-oriented

This article was written by Tracy Hanes and was published in the Toronto Star on December 4, 2021.

Developer Sam DeCaria, centre, condo purchaser Charanjit Brar, left, and realtor Sam Brar discuss the SouthSide towns and condos.

Sam DeCaria has fond memories of growing up in Toronto’s Little Italy neighbourhood. Everything his family needed was within a short walk of their home, including grocery stores, shops, doctors’ offices and transit.

So when DeCaria talks about the SouthSide townhouses and condos his firm i-Squared Developments is creating in Brampton, he’s reminded of his childhood stomping grounds. Because, like where DeCaria grew up, the city’s goal is to build a walkable, vibrant “20-minute” neighbourhood — with everything residents need within 20 minutes.

The master design plan, Brampton 2040 Vision, will see the city shift from being car-dependent to transit-oriented — with the Uptown community a new gateway. Before being endorsed by council, the Vision process involved the largest public engagement the city ever held, and included ideas shared on a website, at community events and in focus groups.

“Brampton is the second-fastest growing large city in Canada,” says Coun. Martin Medeiros. “The last council (2014-18) recognized this was happening at such a fast pace and we didn’t have an integrated plan of the vision we wanted to bring.”

“With Uptown, we are piloting a walkable neighbourhood with eight different developers who are all developing high-density projects,” says Yvonne Yeung, Brampton’s manager of urban design. “The concept is that driving is not part of your lifestyle and you can meet all of your daily needs by walking.”

She says Uptown is envisioned as the “beating heart” of a major custom-designed work/live civic core for business, commerce, leisure and tourism. It will become a landmark for Brampton with a futuristic image, expressive buildings and spaces, modern attractions and a place where builders will put their best foot forward. It will be a carfree precinct with advanced civic infrastructure, smart city technology and sustainability innovation.

“We are creating a community hub that will have public facilities such as schools, library, recreation, arts and culture, health and social services, an outdoor campus to grow food,” Yeung says. “It’s aligned with the new population coming to the neighbourhood.”

“Brampton can be a leader — not just for the 905, but a global model for the world,” DeCaria agrees. “That’s why we are so fully engaged and passionate for this to happen.” His company is among the first to build in Uptown on five of 25 acres designated for high-density. ISquared’s first 109 townhouses are built and occupied; the first Stella condo tower with 21 storeys and 290 units is sold out. Stella 2, awaiting final approval, is selling and will

have 462 units and five commercial units. At 40 storeys, it will be the tallest building in Uptown.

A five-minute walk from Stella 2 is Shopper’s World, a 53-acre shopping centre being transformed into a sustainable, mixed-use and transit-oriented community that will host one end of the Hurontario LRT (slated for completion in 2024). It will have medium- and high-density buildings with bestin-class community amenities, open spaces and be a modern retail destination. The transformation is expected to span more than two decades.

Since he moved there in 2004, Charanjit Brar has been closely following the changes happening in Brampton. He supports the vision for Uptown, so much that he purchased an i-Squared three-bedroom townhouse at SouthSide where he and his wife may move in future and now, a 700-square-foot, two-bedroom condo in the Stella 2 tower as an investment. He says the proximity of a Sheridan College campus, a five-minute walk from Stella 2, makes it attractive for investors or for parents of post-secondary students.

“Uptown’s the fastest-developing area in the city,” notes Brar, a realtor and broadcaster. “Shoppers World is being redeveloped and there will be light rail transit. You’re a 10-minute bus ride from the Bramalea GO train and you have all the amenities here. Costco, Lowes, Home Depot are all within walking distance.”

SouthSide and the Stella condos are expected to appeal to a variety of buyers, including multi-generational families, and Uptown streets will be developed with family safety in mind. The city is developing transportation routes to accommodate programs such as a “walking school bus”: a system for getting children to school on foot under the supervision of trained volunteers.

“We want to encourage families to walk rather than drive and one of the key benefits of Brampton is its progressive leadership and the collaboration with Peel Region Health to make walking part of people’s daily lives,” says Yeung. An Uptown BIA will be set up and Yeung says developers have been asked to think outside the box on how their buildings came be used — for example, a lobby as an art exhibit gallery or cultural activity, or spaces for co-working.

Stella and Stella 2 will utilize geothermal heating and cooling to reduce the carbon footprint. It’s a technology DeCaria’s i-Squared used at its Victoria Common project in Waterloo. Stella 2 amenities include a kids’ playroom, co-working space, outdoor barbecue area, gardens, green roofs, pet spa, party rooms, fitness facility, yoga studio, 24-hour concierge and more.

DeCaria says it’s similar to the way his relatives live in Italy, where residences are small but they socialize, play and exercise outside of their suites. Stella 1 and 2 will provide approximately 750 units on two acres; the same number of single detached homes would require more than 60 acres, he says.

“I have to give a lot of credit to Mayor Patrick Brown and council,” DeCaria says. “They understand urban sprawl isn’t affordable and understand they have to urbanize.”

Toronto-based Peak Power is partnering with Ontario Hydro in an effort to use EV vehicles as micro power plants for the home.

Turning buildings into smart energy storage and cars into mobile batteries could revolutionize the traditional electrical grid as we know it.

This article was written by Kira Vermond and was published in the Toronto Star on December 4, 2021.

This is part of a series highlighting Canadian companies that are working to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions

It’s a truism of the car-buying world: a new vehicle is a terrible investment. The moment you drive it off the lot, it plunges in value. But what if that same vehicle actually generated income and put money back in your pocket?

That’s precisely what Torontobased, clean technology company, Peak Power, is shooting for. Collaborating with Ontario utility Hydro One, Peak Power is launching a vehicle-to-home pilot program that could potentially change the way Canadians think about energy consumption and distribution forever.

The pilot will essentially turn up to 10 Nissan Leaf electric vehicles across Ontario into micro power plants. With Peak Power installing its software into owners’ homes, the company will determine how the cars can provide backup electricity during simulated power outages and even send power into the home when energy demand spikes. Not only can vehicle-to-grid technology cut costs and power a home for approximately three days, but it also helps reduce harmful emissions, too.

Not bad for a family car that typically just sits in the driveway for about 95 per cent of the time anyway.

“What if people who are contributing to climate change can be the solution and get paid to do so? Then you put the environment on the balance sheet and you’ve created perfect alignment,” says Imran Noorani, Peak Power’s chief strategy officer, who explains that investors are starting to think of Peak Power’s vehicle-to-grid technology as the company’s “golden egg,” a potentially lucrative, industry-disrupting solution of the future. “We’re very ahead of the curve. Investors

are paying attention.”

The project is just one of the latest initiatives for Peak Power, whose AI-based technology optimizes buildings through the intelligent management of energy use, energy storage and EV-grid integration.

Peak Power’s battery energy storage systems have already been installed in Toronto, New York state and California.

For instance, Peak Power has introduced a vehicle-to-grid project in commercial office buildings in downtown Toronto. People drive electric vehicles leased from Peak Power and plug them into bi-directional chargers, allowing electricity to flow both ways. The Peak Drive program allows the cars to upload their energy back into the host building’s supply when demand on the Ontario power grid is high. While the vehicles don’t feed the grid itself, they lighten the load for the immediate area.

The timing for innovative solutions couldn’t be better, says Terry Young, StrategyCorp consultant and past president of the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), which manages Ontario’s power system. For years, he has seen the electrical system slowly innovate to include solar, wind and new battery storage solutions. But now it’s time to move forward, and quickly.

“There is a need to accelerate, not just the development, but the implementation of innovative technologies that Peak Power and others are offering,” Young says, explaining that traditional generating technology is aging out. And with electricity demand expected to increase and communities taking a greater interest in generating their own power,

“Ontario will need the clean resources that these innovative technologies represent. Other jurisdictions around us are also pursuing innovation, and Ontario needs to keep pace or risk losing its competitive advantage.”

In fact, turning buildings into smart energy storage could revolutionize the traditional electrical grid as we know it. Compared to having energy flow from a large generator hundreds of kilometres away, it would make the system more efficient and effective to generate and store energy on-site or within communities. The best news? Buildings, chock-full of latent capacity, are everywhere. That means with a smart battery housed in every basement, they can be used to store and disseminate electricity in pretty much any neighbourhood or business district. Cars are ubiquitous, too. So are utilities. Why not tackle all three sectors and hit global warming where it counts?

“The building, energy and transport sectors are collectively emitting two-thirds of GHG (greenhouse gas) in the world, so let’s start chipping away at these sectors in one fell swoop,” says Noorani.

From California’s raging fires to British Columbia floods — not to mention the major power crisis in Texas after severe storms pounded the area last February — simply finding ways to conserve energy is no longer enough, says Noorani. It’s time to rethink the whole system. Unfortunately, despite more government interest in deploying clean energy solutions, large, lumbering electricity markets haven’t yet adapted to the new realities of smaller, customer-owned energy resources. As Peak Power puts it, today’s markets are too opaque and incomprehensible for the average home or business user.

The company is working to educate prospective clients, such as commercial real estate owners and managers, on the savings and potential gains of adopting new innovations. After all, these software solutions don’t require spending billions on updating the grid. And it doesn’t hurt that battery prices, like we’ve seen with solar in the past, have been steadily dropping.

This perfect storm of innovation, need, affordability and good timing has grabbed the industry’s attention. Back in March 2020, mere days before the world shut down due to the pandemic, Noorani attended an auto tech conference in Silicon Valley, hosted by the Canadian Trade Commission.

“I’ve got to tell you, it’s so humbling and it feels so great — when you walk into the room with Ford, Tesla, Volkswagen and everyone in there, and they’re all looking at you, going, ‘We need to talk to you. We want to know more about your project,’ ” he says. “We’re a little Canadian company, but we get to represent ourselves on a North American scale.”

To continue scaling in North America — and to go after the European market too — Peak Power is creating a reputation of another sort: as a top employer. Since its founding in 2015, it has grown from just a handful of forward-thinking innovators to 65 employees in Canada and the U.S. Being employeefriendly is a goal Noorani is passionate about, pointing out the company celebrates justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, or JEDI, as they call it, and pushes its employees to find ways to feel fulfilment at work and after hours.

Noorani just returned from a scuba vacation as a way to recharge his own batteries. And as he watched fish darting through clear water — another resource to fiercely protect — he wondered what it would be like to introduce a vacation budget for employees. The funding would be an extra push that would push everyone to take time off each quarter.

Forget becoming a top 50 employer in Canada and thinking outside the box. Peak Power wants to slice the sides off the box and turn it into a dodecahedron.

“We’re an innovation company so we have to trailblaze,” he says. “We have to convince the sector to follow our lead.”

Peak Power is one of 10 companies in Mission from MaRS, a special initiative that’s working to tackle the global climate crisis by accelerating the adoption of new solutions.

We’re an innovation company so we have to trailblaze. We have to convince the sector to follow our lead.


Hydro rate hikes, free transit part of ‘aggressive’ plan

This article was written by Francine Kopun and was published in the Toronto Star on December 4, 2021.

The costs and compromises of fighting climate change in Toronto are becoming clearer — and they will be enormous.

Toronto Hydro says it will cost up to $10 billion to build the expanded electricity distribution network needed to get to net zero emissions by 2050, according to a report going to the city’s executive committee next week.

Meeting that capital investment could result in annual rate increases of eight to nine per cent for Toronto Hydro’s residential customers, from 2025 to 2029. Between 2030 to 2034, rates could increase by five to six per cent a year, on average. Lesser distribution rate increases could follow, according to a report from the public utility.

Meanwhile, the city’s infrastructure and environment committee voted this week to move the deadline for TransformTO’s net-zero emissions target ahead 10 years — to 2040, with a plan that contemplates tolls for all arterial roads, free transit and allowing half of workers in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area to work from home on any given day.

“This is going to make people uncomfortable,” said Coun. Mike Layton, during the committee’s discussion of the item, which goes to city council Dec. 15. Council is expected to commit itself to the staff plan, but there is nothing saying this council or future councils must implement every step in it.

“We are going to be … doing things as a city that we have never done before,” said Layton. “But that’s precisely what we need because the level of change we need in a short time is so enormous, and a lot of people don’t realize the scope of what needs to change.”

Layton said the new 2040 target is “rather aggressive,” but required, especially in light of the growing number of climate catastrophes, like the flooding that gripped B.C. in November, and the wildfires there earlier this year that led to a provincial state of emergency being declared.

Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong said he has read about skyrocketing costs of energy in Europe resulting from climate change actions taken hastily.

“I’m concerned about what the impacts of this will be on the residents of this city in terms of costs that haven’t been clearly spelled out,” he said.

He said he is concerned the plans allow for sole-sourced contracts for reports and other projects, and said that weakening procurement rules would be dangerous.

Speaking to the Toronto Hydro Plan to spend $10 billion on upgrading the network to achieve net zero emissions, Coun. Gord Perks said the cost of not doing it would be much higher.

“We have been living in a false economy for a generation, and our infrastructure simply doesn’t match the world we need to create,” said Perks.

He said the city went through a similar process with water rates throughout the 2000s, when annual nine per cent increases were implemented for nine years and remained high for a couple of years after that, effectively doubling the water rate.

“Scarborough and North York had not been investing in their water system for decades,” said Perks.

“And now, we face a similar challenge. But you know, we’ve been living in a fool’s paradise for a long time and now we have to catch up.”

The level of change we need in a short time is so enormous, and a lot of people don’t realize the scope of what needs to change.


B.C. minister pledges support for recovery

This article was written by the Canadian Press and was published in the Toronto Star on December 4, 2021.

A man helps clear out a home in downtown Princeton, B.C. The town was one of several B.C. communities hit by heavy floods and mudslides related to a series of “atmospheric rivers.”

PRINCETON, B.C. British Columbia’s public safety minister got a first-hand look Friday of the destruction caused by torrential rainstorms that forced rivers over their banks and ripped away roads and bridges.

Mike Farnworth visited Princeton and said he saw “incredible devastation” to homes and infrastructure in the southern Interior town, about 280 kilometres east of Vancouver.

“It’s heartbreaking. You talk to people and it’s emotional just to look at it,” he said in a telephone interview from a restaurant in the town. “But what you also hear is people are so thankful and grateful for the way the community’s come together.”

Mayor Spencer Coyne showed Farnworth the damage to his community. Farnworth said there is a lot of work to do in the rebuilding effort, including to a dike, a gas line and homes.

Farnworth said the government is doing all it can to help affected communities recover.

The B.C. government is still assessing the damage done to its highways and agriculture industry after a series of “atmospheric rivers” pummelled the southern part of the province.

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said her federal counterpart will visit areas affected by floods next week to speak with farmers.

Popham said 97 per cent of egg-laying chickens and 98 per cent of dairy cows on the Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford survived the flooding, but she expects turkey prices will rise this Christmas because of added transportation costs.

“Unfortunately, it’s taking longer to get things where they’re needed and that’s costing the trucking industry more,” Popham said.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said the government is in the planning stages of determining temporary measures to open major arteries between B.C.’s Lower Mainland and the Interior, including the Coquihalla Highway.


This opinion was written by Ken Coates and was published in the Globe & Mail on December 4, 2021.

Demonstrators protest against old-growth logging on Vancouver Island in September. The Fairy Creek conflict, and the management of the protest by activists, government officials, the police and courts, point to a fundamental tension in Canadian democracy.

Canada’s failure to properly manage protests threatens democracy and the rule of law, Ken Coates writes

Ken Coates is the Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan. A version of this piece was first published by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

These are tumultuous times. The 2020s may not match the “power to the people” protests of the 1960s or even the Occupy movements and anarchist uprisings of the 2010s, but recent Canadian conflicts have a nasty and angry edge. And while the country may have avoided the kinds of very destructive conflicts experienced south of the border, the re-emergence of bitter confrontations challenges democracy and once more tests the ability of our government to sustain the rule of law.

The parameters are clear. Governments make laws and regulations. The police and the courts enforce these rules.

Protesters express their points of view and, to attract attention and reinforce their points, disrupt regular activities.

Provided the protests are timelimited, non-destructive and without immediate consequences for people, resources and facilities, the police and governments tolerate short-term disruptions.

Problems emerge when the protests are prolonged, when there is violence, if commercial interests are disrupted, or if broader society is seriously inconvenienced. When protests become unruly, when the law is ignored, when the duly constituted authority is threatened, lines have clearly been crossed.

Canada enters this current age of unrest weakened in its capacity and willingness to respond and unsure of how to cope with an assertive citizenry.

The public at large is quite cynical about many of the protests, often writing off activists as naive, ignorant, dangerous, uninformed or easily manipulated by environmental organizations, political parties or special interest groups.

Governments have been reluctant to act, partly out of fear of an escalation of conflict, but also because of the lack of a national strategy for the management of protests.

The most memorable uprisings of 2021 are those associated with the anti-vaccine movement and libertarians protesting government intrusions in their lives. Their most high-profile actions – blocking access to hospitals and throwing gravel at the Prime Minister – have been appropriately condemned (with an arrest in the latter case).

But the pandemic-related protests are outliers in a pattern of general government inaction and disturbing passivity in the face of disruptive protests. In these instances, and in earlier conflicts over resource developments, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other police forces have been placed in the uncomfortable position of enforcing Canadian laws and regulations in the face of determined citizen protests and often without solid backing from the government.

Consider the prepandemic pipeline-related protests. Over the past few years, supporters of some of the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation tried to block construction of a portion of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, sparking sympathetic protests across the country. In February, 2020, a small group of activists blocked the mainline of the CN Railway, disrupting Toronto-area commuters and causing millions of dollars in economic harm. The government response to these clearly illegal acts was tepid, at best.

Canadians have been tolerant of a growing number of protests that carry substantial social and economic costs. Where the protests interfere with clear federal objectives – as with the anti-vaccination uprisings – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau quickly introduced new legislation to criminalize actions that interfered with hospitals and medical activities. When the protests are more closely aligned with declining government interest in the fossil fuel sector and its desire to avoid further conflicts with Indigenous peoples, as with the anti-pipeline actions, the government has been loath to move quickly, if at all.

In the Wet’suwet’en case, the B.C. government responded by providing substantial funding to the hereditary chiefs while largely ignoring the elected chiefs and councils, who favoured the pipeline.

The governments of Canada and Ontario, in close co-operation with the appropriate police authorities, should have stopped the CN rail protests on the first day; a temporary protest makes a critical point, but prolonged actions transfer the pain and inconvenience from the political actors to the public at large.

Many innocent people paid an unacceptable price for the actions of self-appointed activists reacting to one side of a complicated internal First Nations dispute about a development project thousands of miles away.

Protests along the Coastal GasLink route in north-central British Columbia re-emerged last month, when people associated with one of the clans ordered the pipeline workers to leave their territories. The activists re-established a blockade and cut off access to a work camp. The police stepped in, removed the barricades and arrested many of the protesters.

The protesters’ actions were not supported by the elected chief and councils of the Wet’suwet’en, and it’s not clear how many of the Wet’suwet’en people support it. As the First Nation recently stated: “Even though we are also members of the Gidimt’en Clan, the protesters at the Coyote Camp and other protest sites have never consulted us about their actions and cannot claim to represent us or any other members of the First Nation.”

The removal of the blockade was not handled well. Images of heavily armed police officers were jarringand, in the context, unwarranted. The protesters had been disruptive, but not violent or armed.

Moreover, the Wet’suwet’en activists had often spoken out about the long experience of First Nations people with violence from Canadian officials. Showing up with automatic weapons both escalated the conflict and added credence to the protesters’ concerns. The assertiveness of the police, particularly the well-documented entrance into the small building housing the protesters, seemed unduly aggressive. That the police arrested several journalists, similarly, made sure the story found a wider and more engaged audience than had they handled the situation less dramatically.

The protesters made their point and got the media coverage they so clearly desired. The police actions ensured the barriers were removed and lawfully authorized work could resume. In this instance, the public learned, again, of the position of the hereditary chiefs and their supporters and, much better than in the past, the contrary views of elected Wet’suwet’en leaders and many community members.

Another high-profile protest, at the logging sites along Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island, speaks to other disquieting realities. To the degree that the number of arrests reflects the intensity of the struggle, this resistance has become the largest in Canadian history, an “achievement” much heralded within the environmental movement.

The B.C. government, local First Nations governments and the company involved, Teal Cedar Products, have had the backing of the courts and are determined to proceed, with discussions about harvesting plans under way with the First Nations. The protesters are not satisfied with the decisions of the politicians or the courts and continue to push for much broader protection of the old-growth forest.

There is no doubting the good intentions and the nobility of the cause of some of the protesters. Friends of my family – recent retirees with distinguished work histories, a long record of support for civil society and generally upstanding Canadians – have two daughters at Fairy Creek. The young women are not long-time activists, but they were drawn to the protests by the irreversible consequence of harvesting oldgrowth forests. They did not move to activism incautiously. They studied the issues extensively and have immersed themselves in Indigenous culture while in the camps. They believe in the cause and remained on the front line when the police moved in; they are not crowd-followers, nor are they easily manipulated by environmental activists.

Modern protests are recorded live, meaning we need not rely on second- and third-hand accounts of protests. In Fairy Creek, there are lengthy, disturbing videos. The scenes of activists being pepper-sprayed are excruciating to watch. The judge overseeing the case was not pleased with some of the police behaviours. And my friends and their daughters are also profoundly disturbed by what transpired: the obvious sing ling out of First Nations people at the protest lines, seemingly deliberate efforts to inflict pain, willful destruction of the protesters’ property and palpable aggression. It has been reported that protesters used a variety of tactics to thwart and frustrate police, but this is not Canada at its best; these police actions are simply not consistent with Canadian values.

In the end, however, Canada flourishes or founders on the rule of law. Whatever we might think of our politicians, political parties, parliaments, policies and legal processes, these institutions collectively represent one of this country’s greatest strengths. We ignore or reject political and legal processes at our collective peril. It is a thin line, but one that must be both defined and protected with ferocity by governments and citizens. Protesters have every right to try to change public opinion and change the government’s mind; they do not have the right to set policy.

Government representatives must always act with integrity and decency. From the police through to the judicial system, these officials must be the very bestofus. Anything less diminishes them and the legal process and, even more, weakens respect for the country.

In the context of Fairy Creek, the actions of the RCMP – and the fact that few of its members have been called to account for their behaviour to this point – is unacceptable. However, moving forward, the government of B.C. must properly enforce the injunction against the protesters at Fairy Creek and must protect the rights of the company and the First Nations involved. The authorities, in handling difficult and intense situations, must treat the protesters with dignity and not give the activists or the public reason to think ill of the state or the country. A vibrant democracy requires opposition and protest. But throughout the political and legal process, which includes the RCMP, it also requires decency and integrity on the part of authorities.

Justice Douglas Thompson of the B.C. Supreme Court reviewed the request for the extension of the Fairy Creek injunction and found himself caught in a dilemma: protect the rule of law (and the company’s legal rights) or defend the protesters’ rights in the face of police behaviour. In a judgment released in late September, he wrote about the “irreparable harm if the injunction is not extended” and said, “standing behind lawful rights in these circumstances promotes the rule of law and is undoubtedly in the public interest.”

However, despite this strong statement, Justice Thompson came down on the side of the protesters, writing: “Most of these [interactions] have been respectful, and nearly all to this point have been non-violent. This is consistent with what I have come to know during many bail applications by even the most militant of the protesters. They are respectful, intelligent, and peaceable by nature. They are good citizens in the important sense that they care intensely about the common good.”

Justice Thompson did point out “the police have generally used reasonable force to effect arrests and control crowds, and reasonable means to remove protesters from trenches and devices.” Yet he also concluded the police at times had stepped beyond reasonable bounds – this behaviour he found disquieting and challenged the reputation of the court in granting the in junction. In general, he“considered the infringement s of civil liberties to be unjustified, substantial, and serious .”

His ruling addressed significant concerns about police officers “rendered anonymous to the protesters, many of those police officers wearing ‘thin blue line’ badges. All of this has been done in the name of enforcing this Court’s order, adding to the already substantial risk to the Court’s reputation whenever an injunction pulls the Court into this type of dispute between citizens and the government.”

The Fairy Creek conflict and the management of the protest by the activists, government officials, the police and the courts point to a fundamental tension in Canadian democracy. First, governments make laws and regulations; they are not and should not be created by a small number of activists or protesters. Second, protesters have the right to protest, within the limits of the law, and must follow the laws, regulations and, where relevant, court decisions. The police, when placed in a difficult situation, are duty-bound to follow appropriate procedures and codes of conduct. In all their actions, they represent the government, the court and the country at large.

Canada has a superb model for sustained and meaningful protest: the Idle No More movement. This loosely co-ordinated community empowerment effort, particularly in 2012-13, involved hundreds of specific events and actions. They were peaceful, minimally disruptive, powerful and surprisingly effective. Idle No More did a great deal to advance many local and national causes for Indigenous peoples in Canada. Relations with the police were respectful; in more than a few occasions, the officers joined in with the marchers and dancers and listened with interest to the speakers. Protest need not go beyond legal boundaries to have a major political impact, to grab the public’s attention and to spark policy changes.

Protests will likely escalate in the coming years. Climate change and related environmental concerns have drawn together wellorganized environmental nongovernmental organizations, local activists and concerned citizens from outside the immediate areas. Clashes between protesters, companies, workers and community representatives are escalating, as seen with the many anti-pipeline protests. Social media adds an explosive element to these already intense situations.

Governments have struggled to find the safe line between a sustainable economy and changing environmental standards. They have also been reluctant to act, particularly when Indigenous people and their allies are involved. But Fairy Creek reveals a complexity that is far more commonplace on resource issues than the public understands. That the government of B.C. is actively considering a moratorium on oldgrowth logging and, provincewide, giving Indigenous communities more of a say in development, shows public pressure is having a political effect and the government is prepared, at a minimum, to enter into co-management arrangements with First Nations.

Justice Thompson has set a fine and appropriate standard for the management of protests in Canada: requiring respect for the law and for the decisions of governments, balanced by the unalterable commitment to treating protesters with dignity and respect. His ruling clearly defines the issues at hand. Justice Thompson obviously wanted to rule in favour of the company. He knew the rule of law provided obvious guidance. But he was upset by the behaviour of the police, whose actions brought the broader legal process into disrepute. The moral high ground had shifted to the protesters, in large part because of police misbehaviour.

The importance of this issue to Canada is also evident. Canadians should expect conflict will become more commonplace in an era of environmental concern and global uncertainty. People will protest public action and they will do so with passion and determination in many instances. Governments will be called to defend their policies and protect the interests of society at large. Police will be placed in awkward and often tense situations. But the rule of law, protected by the police and overseen by the courts, must remain a cornerstone of the democratic processes in Canada.

Government representatives must always act with integrity and decency. From the police through to the judicial system, these officials must be the very best of us.