VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – Why Canadian aid won’t really help Palestinian entrepreneurs

Reem Bahdi, University of Windsor; Jeremy Wildeman, University of Bath; Nadia Abu-Zahra, University of Ottawa, and Ruby Dagher, Carleton University

Majd Mashharawi describes herself and other Palestinian entrepreneurs as “full of dreams, life, energy and hope.” She is determined to improve peoples’ lives.

Canada recently announced that $37 million of a $50 million development aid package will go to supporting Palestinian entrepreneurship. Rather than assist people like Majd, however, Canadian aid won’t do much good. The problem is not aid itself. The problem is the way Canada administers aid.

Majd is special. She dreams big. Only 25, Majd is a Gaza-educated civil engineer, the CEO of her own firm and has been named one of Fast Company’s most creative people in business in 2018. Two of her inventions have received international acclaim.

SunBox is a household solar kit to address the 20 hours a day when power is cut off to all Gazans. GreenCake is an economical, environmentally friendly construction brick made from the rubble and ash left in the wake of Israeli military attacks.

There is no doubt that talent like Majd’s must be nurtured. There is also no doubt that Palestinians face dire economic circumstances. Food insecurity runs deep.

Causes of Palestinian hardship are ignored

But Canadian aid won’t help much because it ignores the causes of the economic and social suffering that development is supposed to fix. Canadian aid focuses on improving the internal affairs of Palestinians. But it ignores Israel’s control of Palestinian daily life.

Canada’s recent aid announcement shows how much Canada overlooks Israel’s responsibility for Palestinian problems. Canadian aid will give a select group of entrepreneurs technical training to bolster innovation. But the main reasons for the Palestinian inability to innovate and grow their economy — repressive regulations, travel restrictions, land theft, lack of freedom — remain intact.

Israel controls about 60 per cent of the land in the West Bank where it severely restricts Palestinian travel. Israel has demolished Palestinian infrastructure, including homes. The Israeli government has confiscated Palestinian land largely for Israeli settlements and has assumed control of natural resources, including water.

For more than a decade, Israel, with cooperation from Egypt, has blockaded 1.7 million people in Gaza, a space barely six by 60 kilometres. Most Gazans have no running water. Available water is polluted with salt and sewage.
The United Nations has declared Gaza uninhabitable.

Mail returned as a ‘gesture’

Israel impedes almost every aspect of daily Palestinian life. Recently, Israel released more than 10 tons of mail addressed to Palestinians that it had held arbitrarily for eight years. This release was described as a “gesture.”

For 17 years, Palestinian entrepreneurs were forced to work on snail-paced internet speeds. Only this summer was the West Bank, but not Gaza, allowed 3G.

For her part, Majd Mashharawi has been prevented by Israeli restrictions from travelling to show her products to potential investors. Israeli officials have also held up delivery of the materials that she and her partners need to begin installing Sunbox. As a result, they have watched their debts pile up.

Entrepreneurship cannot be sustained under such repression and uncertainty. Economic development is impossible.

But Canadian aid programming has shifted the task of fixing poverty onto the shoulders of Palestinian entrepreneurs, while ignoring that Palestinian poverty is structurally created by human rights violations, siege, military occupation and the theft of Indigenous resources on a massive scale.

Palestinian aid benefits Israel

Israel will be the main financial beneficiary of Canadian aid to Palestinians. Under international law, Israel, as an occupying state, remains responsible for the well-being of Palestinian civilians. But foreign aid to Palestinians has relieved Israel of the financial pressure of providing well-being to Palestinians.

More than 70 per cent of Palestinian aid funding is diverted into the Israeli economy. Some donor-funded projects even further Israeli expansionism. Roads, for example, have helped consolidate Israeli control over the West Bank by restricting Palestinian travel.

When Israel engages in practices that sabotage Canadian aid efforts, like restricting travel or holding back mail, Canada rarely, if ever, objects.

A child waves a Palestinian flag in a pro-Gaza rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in August 2014.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

Unsurprisingly, given the benefits that it receives from it, Israel welcomes foreign aid to Palestinians. Israel’s ambassador has called Canadian aid “indispensable.”

Canadian policy vs. practice

Official Canadian policy states that Israeli settlements, land confiscation and treatment of Palestinians are wrong. But Canada continues to offer Israel firm political support anyway. Over the past decade, Canada has rewarded Israel with enhanced trade relations. Canada has also regularly voted against United Nations resolutions to censure Israeli violence.

As Canada has increased its aid to Palestinians, their living conditions have deteriorated and the prospect of peace has declined.

Meanwhile, Canadian aid will continue to do little good if the government continues to ignore Israel’s role in destroying the Palestinian economy and violating basic human rights.The Conversation

Reem Bahdi, Associate Professor, Faculy of Law, University of Windsor; Jeremy Wildeman, Research Associate in International Development, University of Bath; Nadia Abu-Zahra, Associate Professor of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa, and Ruby Dagher, Part-time Professor at the School of International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa and the School of Public Policy and Administration at Carleton University, Researcher, and Consultant, Carleton University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.

VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – The real promise of LSD, MDMA and mushrooms for medical science

Erika Dyck, University of Saskatchewan

Psychedelic science is making a comeback.

Scientific publications, therapeutic breakthroughs and cultural endorsements suggest that the historical reputation of psychedelics — such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), mescaline (from the peyote cactus) and psilocybin (mushrooms) — as dangerous or inherently risky have unfairly overshadowed a more optimistic interpretation.

Recent publications, like Michael Pollan’s How to Change your Mind, showcase the creative and potentially therapeutic benefits that psychedelics have to offer — for mental health challenges like depression and addiction, in palliative care settings and for personal development.

Major scientific journals have published articles showing evidence-based reasons for supporting research in psychedelic studies. These include evidence that pscilocybin significantly reduces anxiety in patients with life-threatening illnesses like cancer, that MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetaminecan; also known as ecstasy) improves outcomes for people suffering from PTSD and that psychedelics can produce sustained feelings of openness that are both therapeutic and personally enriching.

Other researchers are investigating the traditional uses of plant medicines, such as ayahuasca, and exploring the neurological and psychotherapeutic benefits of combining Indigenous knowledge with modern medicine.

I am a medical historian, exploring why we now think that psychedelics may have a valuable role to play in human psychology, and why over 50 years ago, during the heyday of psychedelic research, we rejected that hypothesis. What has changed? What did we miss before? Is this merely a flashback?

Healing trauma, anxiety, depression

In 1957, the word psychedelic officially entered the English lexicon, introduced by British-trained and Canadian-based psychiatrist Humphry Osmond.

Osmond studied mescaline from the peyote cactus, synthesized by German scientists in the 1930s, and LSD, a laboratory-produced substance created by Albert Hofmann at Sandoz in Switzerland. During the 1950s and into the 1960s, more than 1,000 scientific articles appeared as researchers around the world interrogated the potential of these psychedelics for healing addictions and trauma.

In this January 1967 file photo, Timothy Leary addresses a crowd of hippies at the ‘Human Be-In’ that he helped organize in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, Calif.
(AP Photo/Bob Klein)

But, by the end of the 1960s, most legitimate psychedelic research ground to a halt. Some of the research had been deemed unethical, namely mind-control experiments conducted under the auspices of the CIA. Other researchers had been discredited for either unethical or self-aggrandizing use of psychedelics, or both.

Timothy Leary was perhaps the most notorious character in that regard. Having been dismissed from Harvard University, he launched a recreational career as a self-appointed apostle of psychedelic living.

Drug regulators struggled to balance a desire for scientific research with a growing appetite for recreational use, and some argued abuse, of psychedelics.

In the popular media, these drugs came to symbolize hedonism and violence. In the United States, the government sponsored films aimed at scaring viewers about the long-term and even deadly consequences of taking LSD. Scientists were hard-pressed to maintain their credibility as popular attitudes began to shift.

Now that interpretation is beginning to change.

A psychedelics revival

In 2009, Britain’s chief drug adviser, David Nutt, reported that psychedelic drugs had been unfairly prohibited. He argued that substances such as alcohol and tobacco were in fact much more dangerous to consumers than drugs like LSD, ecstasy (MDMA) and mushrooms (psilocybin).

He was fired from his advisory position as a result, but his published claims helped to reopen debates on the use and abuse of psychedelics, both in scientific and policy circles.

And Nutt was not alone. Several well-established researchers began joining the chorus of support for new regulations allowing researchers to explore and reinterpret the neuroscience behind psychedelics. Studies ranged from those looking at the mechanisms of drug reactions to those revisiting the role of psychedelics in psychotherapy.

In this April 2010 photo, one gram of psilocybin is seen on a scale at New York University, where a study investigated the effects of hallucinogenic drugs on the emotional and psychological state of advanced cancer patients.
(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

In 2017, Oakland, Calif., hosted the largest gathering to date of psychedelic scientists and researchers. Boasting attendance of more than 3,000 participants, Psychedelic Science 2017 brought together researchers and practitioners with a diverse set of interests in reviving psychedelics — from filmmakers to neuroscientists, journalists, psychiatrists, artists, policy advisers, comedians, historians, anthropologists, Indigenous healers and patients.

The conference was co-hosted by the leading organizations dedicated to psychedelics — including the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and The Beckley Foundation — and participants were exposed to cutting-edge research.

Measuring reaction, not experience

As a historian, however, I am trained to be cynical about trends that claim to be new or innovative. We learn that often we culturally tend to forget the past, or ignore the parts of the past that seem beyond our borders.

For that reason, I am particularly interested in understanding the so-called psychedelic renaissance and what makes it different from the psychedelic heyday of the 1950s and 1960s.

The historic trials were conducted at the very early stages of the pharmacological revolution, which ushered in new methods for evaluating efficacy and safety, culminating in the randomized controlled trial (RCT). Prior to standardizing that approach, however, most pharmacological experiments relied on case reports and data accumulation that did not necessarily involve blinded or comparative techniques.

Shaman Pablo Flores pours ayahuasca into a plastic cup during a sacred ceremony in the Peruvian Jungle in May 2018.
(AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

Historically, scientists were keen to separate pharmacological substances from their organic cultural, spiritual and healing contexts — the RCT is a classic representation of our attempts to measure reaction rather than to interpret experience. Isolating the drug from an associated ritual might have more readily conveyed an image of progress, or a more genuine scientific approach.

Today, however, psychedelic investigators are beginning to question the decision to excise the drug from its Indigenous or ritualized practices.

Over the past 60 years, we have invested more in psychopharmacological research than ever before. American economists estimate the amount of money spent on psychopharmacology research to be in the billions annually.

Rethinking the scientific method

Modern science has focused attention on data accrual — measuring reactions, identifying neural networks and discovering neuro-chemical pathways. It has moved decidedly away from larger philosophical questions of how we think, or what is human consciousness or how human thoughts are evolving.

Some of those questions inspired the earlier generation of researchers to embark on psychedelic studies in the first place.

We may now have more sophisticated tools for advancing the science of psychedelics. But psychedelics have always inspired harmony between brain and behaviour, individuals and their environments, and an appreciation for western and non-western traditions mutually informing the human experience.

In other words, scientific pursuits need to be coupled with a humanist tradition — to highlight not just how psychedelics work, but why that matters.

Erika Dyck, Professor and Canada Research Chair in the History of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.

VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – Silence can be healing for Rwandan youth born of genocide rape

Laura Eramian, Dalhousie University and Myriam Denov, McGill University

Elie* is in his early 20s and lives with his mother in a rural area of central Rwanda. His mother is one of the estimated 350,000 women who were raped during the 1994 Rwandan genocide and Elie is the child she bore from that assault.

The aftermaths of the Rwandan genocide are alive in people like Elie, whose (mostly Hutu) fathers raped their (mostly Tutsi) mothers as part of the systematic, government-led campaign of violence. More than 20 years have now passed since the genocide. but its legacies — including this sexual violence — are still unfolding in Rwandans’ everyday lives.

How do families like Elie’s that are formed from violence decide what to say and leave unsaid? Is it always good to talk about violent pasts?

In 2016, Elie and 60 other Rwandan youths participated in a research project that aimed to understand the lives and perspectives of people born of rapes committed during the genocide, how they navigate the challenges of belonging in their social worlds and how they make sense of their origins.

The stigma of rape

When he talked about his life, Elie expressed a deep ambivalence about whether it is better to talk about or conceal his past. On the one hand, he was adamant that he wanted to know who his father was and whether he was still alive. On the other hand, Elie emphasized that he preferred to conceal the circumstances of his birth from those in his community. He explained, “I don’t want people to know my story.”

Elie was by no means the only person who wanted both to talk and to keep quiet about his origins. This tension between speech and silence was a central theme across our interviews.

A view of present day Kigali, Rwanda. The country struggles to deal with the reverberations of the 1994 100-day genocide when 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed.
Shutterstock

Emmanuel, who was also born of rape committed during the genocide, explained that he wanted to talk to his family members to find out who his father was, but that in order to “get freedom in society,” he also tried not to talk about it. For him, “freedom” meant having the opportunity to be treated like other youth his age.

Claudette, a young woman born of rape, explained that she preferred that her peers and her neighbours did not know her story, because she has suffered from rumours that she has HIV, the same disease from which her mother died when she was younger. At the same time, Claudette appreciates that she has been able to glean some information about her origins from her stepfather who is raising her and from other family members who knew what happened to her mother in 1994.

These young people’s alternately positive and negative views of speech and silence are powerfully shaped by the stigma they risk if neighbours, peers or teachers find out that they were born of rape.

The very reason many of the interviewees are called “youth” when they are actually legal adults is related to stigma and to local expectations of adulthood. In Rwanda and in other African contexts, people aren’t socially recognized as adults unless they are married with children and living in houses of their own.

Since poverty and the stigma of their origins were typically barriers to marrying, our participants self-identified and were identified by their communities as “youth” in a social sense as, like Elie, they resided with their mothers or other family members.

African contexts

The perspectives of these young Rwandans remind us that it’s important to understand how diverse cultural expectations can shape people’s experiences of, and responses to, violence. For example, many Euro-Americans assume that talking about traumatic experiences of war and genocide — while difficult — is a self-evidently good thing that promotes healing and improved social relationships over time.

Psychological models of trauma and recovery, especially post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are very much grounded in these ideas. And while many people undoubtedly credit PTSD treatment with helping them recover from painful experiences, for several decades social scientists have been asking: do all people, across cultural and historical contexts, assume that it is always good to talk?

Family photographs of some of those who died hang in a display in the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali, Rwanda.
(AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

While Euro-American cultural outlooks tend to value individual expression, self-revelation and open dialogue, the Rwandan context points to different perspectives on the relative worth of speech versus silence. Researchers — both foreign and Rwandan — have noted a general social expectation that people can (and often should) conceal as much as they reveal about their thoughts and feelings in everyday life. There is a strong cultural value placed on “sharing in the unsaid.”

Indeed, silence and concealment are accepted and expected modes of dealing with hardship in Rwandan social worlds. Many Rwandans emphasize that the moral thing to do when one has problems is to avoid making too much of them so as not to burden others who have problems of their own.

Social expectations like these shouldn’t be interpreted as a sign that Rwandans need more encouragement to open up about their distress or that their communication practices are inadequate. Rather, the value that young Rwandans born of rape placed on silence alongside speech should give us pause and raise questions about the singularly positive status of open talk in the aftermath of genocide and other violent conflict.

Indeed, the perspectives of Rwandans born of sexual violence show us that in some social worlds, talking openly about a violent past might give rise to old and new problems, social conflicts and forms of marginalization.

As one youth put it, it is silence about her origins that helps her and that gives her peace.

The Conversation* All names are pseudonyms to protect participants’ identities.

Laura Eramian, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Dalhousie University and Myriam Denov, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Youth, Gender and Armed Conflict, McGill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.

VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – Social media can be information poison when we need facts most

Fuyuki Kurasawa, York University, Canada

In the minutes and hours that followed of the recent mass shooting in Toronto, an all-too-familiar pattern kicked into high gear on social media platforms.

As the events were still unfolding on the streets of the city’s Danforth neighbourhood, the initial sparse facts about the attack were immediately drowned out by a torrent of unverified rumours, unsubstantiated claims and wild speculation about both the identity and the motive of the attacker.

The response on social media abruptly confirmed two tendencies of the digital age: Speed eclipses accuracy and social media abhors an informational vacuum. These tendencies have become unfortunate truisms, played out in the aftermath of similar acts of mass violence.

The instantaneous nature of social media platforms — combined with the attention economy fuelling Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat — incentivizes attention-grabbing misinformation and inaccurate “scoops.” The inaccuracies virally spread by expanding their reach and influence at a dizzying rate. One can easily witness this attention-driven virality by watching a social media post’s “like” and “retweet” counts exponentially increase in real-time.

A police officer escorts a woman away from the scene of Toronto’s mass shooting on Danforth Avenue.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Public officials and law enforcement displayed a justified restraint in making definitive pronouncements about the shooting. But this “gap” in information left the proverbial door open for self-styled pseudo-experts, social media influencers and random agitators to fill the vacuum with conjecture, opinions and false claims masquerading as facts.

Information pollution

It may be easy to dismiss this social media “noise” as the province of fools and naifs and as a small gullible minority taken in by the usual rogue gallery of conspiracy peddlers and Islamophobic hate merchants. But the noise they make is significant as they spread bad information, making it difficult to determine fact from falsehood causing public confusion.

Even more disconcerting is that professional journalists and columnists, employed by reputable media organizations, participated in this avalanche of misinformation on the shooting. For example, one journalist made a quick assumption public when he posted a speculative tweet about the shooter and one columnist claimed that the Canadian media was covering up the fact that the attack was a “Muslim hate crime.”

Social media corporations continue to wash their hands of the problem, prioritizing user engagement and market share over the accuracy of information on their platforms.

Facebook’s recent half-hearted and belated acknowledgement of the scourge of fake news has more to do with assuaging government regulators and public relations spin than with genuinely tackling the problem.

What is clear is that we live in a social environment characterized by severe information pollution, in which the well is poisoned for everyone.

In a setting in which — to paraphrase Gresham’s monetary law — bad information drives out good, what are we to do?

Caution is golden

Our initial and overriding response must be to exercise a healthy dose of skepticism even while witnessing an incident of mass violence unfolding live on our social media feeds.

Caution is golden. More often than not, the first unconfirmed bits of information circulating about an incident like the tragic shooting on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue are usually found to have been erroneous or only partially accurate.

We should not treat on-the-spot, gratuitously formulated conjecture unburdened by the need to respect facts as serious analysis. Rather we should look at these missives as irresponsible fan fiction at best, or bigoted and ideologically driven agitprop at worst.

People attend a vigil to honour the victims of the mass shooting in Toronto that killed two and injured 13 others.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Without a shred of evidence and fuelled by pre-existing agendas and biased assumptions, many social media insta-pundits and click-starved members of the media are more than willing to jump to conclusions.

They do so by establishing tenuous or non-existent causal links between an attack such as that in Toronto and specific ethno-racial or religious communities, or yet, again, an alarmist narrative about the supposed crisis or decline of Western civilization.

We can achieve factual advocacy in three ways.

The stakes are high. This sort of social media content is not only promoting misinformation, but is often designed to foster and incite fear and mistrust of others, further stigmatizing already marginalized and racialized groups. These groups often bear the brunt of the comment and real-world backlash following a violent tragedy.

The kind of caution and skepticism I call for goes beyond digital literacy. I believe we need to go further.

Citizens are not mere passive readers or consumers of social media. We must see ourselves as factual advocates. We can achieve factual advocacy in three ways.

A young girl writes a message on the sidewalk at a site remembering the victims of a the shooting on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Most easily, we can starve those who seek to exploit or game the attention economy by refusing to spread their posts and thereby throttling the number of clicks, hits and views their content registers on metricized platforms.

Secondly, we can hold social media personalities and ordinary users accountable to norms of truthfulness and credible evidence. We must treat their unverified tweets and posts as what they are: information pollution.

Finally, factual advocacy demands that those in positions of authority — whether as professional journalists, academic experts or public officials — intervene in the public sphere to denounce rumours and speculation to discredit groups and rebuff individuals fomenting them.

As citizens, we are called upon to become participants in, and contributors to, public debate on social media platforms. We need to ensure that accuracy tempers speed and that the momentary void created in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Toronto and other incidents of mass violence not be polluted by those playing fast and loose with the facts.

The ConversationWhile immersed in social media platforms, we cannot stand on the sidelines of informational struggles. Equipped with our apps and a commitment to truth, we must plunge into the social media trenches.

Fuyuki Kurasawa, York Research Chair in Global Digital Citizenship, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, York University, Canada

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.

VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – It’s not business as usual for vegan businesses

Kendra Coulter, Brock University

In contrast to growing apprehension about trade wars, a rapidly expanding sector of the economy is offering a more hopeful picture: vegan businesses. Scarcely a week goes by without news of a new vegan business.

Diverse plant-based restaurants are popping up in communities of all sizes. Innovative vegan foods are becoming more accessible and changing at-home meals.

Dairy producers are transitioning to plant-based milks. Vegan hotels are beginning to provide appealing getaway options. Admittedly, I find vegan handbag lines particularly stunning and enticing.

This trend is not surprising. More and more people are looking to purchase products that don’t cause animal suffering and death. Consumers are also becoming more aware of the myriad health benefits of plant-based eating. Plus, research is making it crystal-clear that industrial animal agriculture is a major driver of climate change, and that removing animal products from our diets is one of the most significant things we can do on a daily basis to protect the environment.

 

Despite not accessing the same level of public subsidies as animal agriculture, or having established and well-funded lobbyists and marketing boards, Canada’s humane economy is thriving, and we are home to many creative plant-based leaders.

Some companies are being bought by international conglomerates keen to capitalize on this growing market or to keep their competitors in check.

More than a few are receiving global attention because of the quality of their products, and are poised for even greater success, such as London, Ont.-based Nuts for Cheese. All indicators point to continuing expansion of vegan businesses and increasing investment in research and development.

Plant-based diets are becoming more popular, and international conglomerates are taking notice.

While the commitment of vegan businesses to animal well-being is laudable, is this where ethical commitments stop?

Do vegan businesses aim higher?

In addition to interest in a more sustainable economy that doesn’t harm other species, as a labour scholar, workforce and social concerns are also significant for me. Are vegan businesses reproducing bare-minimum labour standards and conditions, or aiming higher?

As part of mapping the trends and striving to answer these and other questions, my research assistants and I have been interviewing small and medium-sized plant-based business owners and employers across Canada. The findings are noteworthy.

Virtually all have a twinned interest in animal and environmental well-being. Through insistence on organic and/or local sourcing, sustainable energy sources and even careful selection of cleaning products, ecological priorities are being integrated into the foundation of business operations. Any increased prices are accepted by most as a necessary cost of this non-negotiable priority.

Many of the entrepreneurs are also committed to simultaneously being allies to local groups working on equity and social justice issues, facilitators of community and educators who invite people to think differently about food and sustainability.

When it comes to labour issues and the prospects for more humane jobs, the picture is mixed although, on the whole, more progressive than many non-vegan sectoral peers.

Some pay higher than minimum wage

Many of the entrepreneurs importing ingredients from the Global South regularly seek fair trade and other social responsibility certifications.

In a few cases, pay for direct staff was higher than the minimum wage and industry standards, a step seen by some of the employers as integral for promoting productivity, loyalty and respect. Beechwood Doughnuts in St. Catharines, Ont. stands out for providing full benefits to most of its workforce.

Working conditions in vegan businesses clearly vary, and a number of employers explicitly identified labour as an area they seek to improve in order to become more thoroughly ethical businesses.

This is commendable and crucially important. Vegan businesses ought to be just workplaces and support fair treatment for workers across the production chain, including the migrant workers whose labour makes so much plant-based food possible.

The speed of growth in the plant-based sector reinforces the need to stay on top of emerging developments, as well as to learn from workers and other jurisdictions.

Will vegan businesses create their own associations or marketing boards for shared marketing, lobbying and research? Will the public sector invest in this promising economic arena to encourage innovation and expansion? What role will labour organizations play in the humane economy? What compelling products have yet to be developed?

The ConversationWithout question, there are encouraging developments and signs, as well as important open questions. The most significant of which is: Can the future be humane? For the good of humans, other species and our planet, let’s hope the answer is yes.

Kendra Coulter, Chancellor’s Chair for Research Excellence; Chair of the Labour Studies Department; Member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, Brock University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.

VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – Oh, Canada! The Canada jay gets its name back in time for the holiday

David Bird, McGill University and Ryan Norris, University of Guelph

It is the Year of the Bird and Canada is celebrating its 151st birthday, yet again, without a national bird.

Canada has many great candidates for its national bird, but the Canada jay (Perisoreus canadensis) seems like the logical choice. Will the restoration of its old name — used for almost two hundred years before it was dropped in the 1950s — be enough to stimulate the federal government to adopt the species as a new national symbol?

Even when it was called the gray jay, Perisoreus canadensis not only garnered enough votes to place a solid third in a national poll ran by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS) two years ago, but was also declared the best candidate overall to become our national bird.

One cannot help wonder how many more Canadians would have voted for the bird, had it been called by its rightful name, the Canada jay.

Which begs the question: How did the bird earn the name, gray jay, and more important, how did it get its old name back?

From Canada jay to gray jay and back again

The name, gray jay, was imposed in 1957 when the Nomenclature and Classification Committee of the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) published an updated list of English bird names in its fifth official checklist of North American birds. For many years prior to 1957, common names were only ascribed to subspecies, when they existed.

Despite the American spelling (gray, not grey), the new name was generally accepted by a generation of Canadian ornithologist and birders. But it became an issue when the RCGS chose Perisoreus canadensis to be our national bird.

Obviously, the original name, Canada jay, dating back to 1772, would have been much more appropriate for a Canadian national bird. It raised the question of why the AOU changed its name in the first place.

Dan Strickland, former chief park naturalist of Algonquin Park, who has been studying the bird since the 1960s, decided to find out why.

How the Canada jay got its name back

Strickland spent many hours at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, examining the AOU’s old files.

After a thorough search of past letters and minutes of meetings, he concluded that “in 1957, the American Ornithologists’ Union Checklist Committee had no valid reason for taking ‘gray jay,’ then the name of an obscure west coast subspecies, and imposing it as a new overall species name for this iconic Canadian bird, rather than continuing with ‘Canada jay’ the traditional name that was then at least 185 years old.”

He then wrote an excellent and detailed article on how the Canada jay lost its name for Ontario Birds, the journal of the Ontario Field Ornithologists. He became the lead author of a proposal to argue the case that the Canada jay’s name should be restored, which was submitted to the North American Classification Committee (NACC) of the American Ornithologists’ Society (AOS) in December 2017.

The committee’s deliberation did not take long. On June 21, 2018, the AOS issued its 59th Supplement to the Checklist of North American Birds where it announced that the Canada jay was getting its old name back!

This was, of course, fantastic news for “Team Canada Jay,” a group of ornithologists, naturalists, politicians, musicians and general bird-lovers from across Canada, working hard to petition the federal government to make this bird a national symbol.

Why the Canada jay and why a national bird?

The vast majority of the Canada jay’s range falls within Canada’s borders. Canada jays are found in every province and territory.

They are friendly and inquisitive, readily coming to the hand. They are also highly intelligent by bird standards, and adaptable and tough enough to forgo migration and breed even during our chilly winter weather.

One could not design a better national bird for our country!

And why do we need a national bird, you may well ask?

Well, birds are important to society in myriad ways. Birding (a.k.a. bird watching) continues to be one of the fastest growing hobbies in North America, representing a several billion-dollar growth industry.

One in five Canadians spends an average of at least 133 days a year watching, monitoring, feeding, filming or photographing the 450 or so different kinds of birds that live in our country.

We install feeders and bird houses in our backyards, we buy bird identification books and binoculars, and we take trips specifically to see birds and attend hundreds of bird festivals all over North America.

With their friendly and inquisitive manner, Canada jays never fail to captivate visitors to Canada’s boreal forest.
(Amy Newman)

Birds also eat pests, pollinate our plants and crops, disperse seeds; their eggs and meat feed us, and their feathers keep us warm.

Birds have saved human lives not just by serving as literal “canaries in coal mines” but also by warning us of global environmental health hazards such as carcinogenic pesticides and industrial byproducts.

And what about their intrinsic value? How many great writers, artists, filmmakers — even aviators and astronauts — have been inspired by the beauty, the song and the flight of these amazing unique creatures?

Birds can also take credit for uniting nations. In 1789, when George Washington became the first president of the United States, the founding fathers chose the bald eagle for the country’s official bird because of its fierce beauty and proud independence. Americans today revere their national bird.

Oh, Canada!

A list of national birds indicates that 106 of the world’s 195 countries have official birds.

But Canada is not listed — we do not have one!

Our country does have other national symbols. We’ve got official national animals (both mammals, beaver and horse), a tree (maple), and two sports (lacrosse and ice hockey). Why not a bird?

2018 is the “Year of the Bird” and thousands of ornithologists and bird-lovers from all over the world will gather in Vancouver in August. What perfect timing for our federal government to officially adopt a national bird!

And what better bird could one find than the aptly named Canada jay?

The ConversationThe authors would like to thank Dan Strickland for his input on this article.

David Bird, Emeritus Professor of Wildlife Biology, and Director of the Avian Science and Conservation Centre, McGill University and Ryan Norris, Associate Professor, Member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, University of Guelph

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.

VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – Children’s health must come first

By Catherine Gidney and Gabriela Tymowski-Gionet

Education Minister Brian Kenny’s decision to stop the sale of chocolate milk in New Brunswick schools has raised the ire of a provincial milk consumption lobby group, Milk2020, whose chairperson has characterized the move as “a stupid idea.”

Milk2020 unites producers and processors of milk and is supported through funding and administrative assistance by the New Brunswick Agriculture Department in its effort to promote the province’s dairy industry. It speaks for numerous businesses

that ensure a safe and sufficient supply of milk, support local farms and ensure local jobs.

Those interests often align with nutritional recommendations from the provincial and federal government. But let’s be clear: their aim in this instance is to promote the interests of the dairy industry, not the health of our children.

How did chocolate milk enter school cafeterias? When did this occur and how? Why is it offered? Who profits by it? Our historical understanding of New Brunswick educational policy, much of which underpins our contemporary situation, is sadly lacking, as is our knowledge regarding the origins of school lunch policies more broadly.

In other provinces, chocolate milk entered school districts in the late 1940s and early 1950s through an explicit campaign by the dairy industry to increase milk consumption. Industry representatives approached educational authorities district by district, offering chocolate milk as an option. The entry of chocolate milk into schools didn’t go unnoticed. Trustees in parts of Ontario and Quebec instituted bans on the grounds that it was less nutritious than white milk, given the sugar content.

In Toronto, debate raged for several years. Recognizing that chocolate milk was less nutritious than white milk, by 1949 that board had put in place a policy of selling chocolate milk for a higher price in order to discourage its consumption. In 1953, the

finance committee of that board passed an outright ban on the beverage, a motion delayed by the board as a whole after a presentation by the Canadian Dairy Industry Suppliers’ Association that emphasized the “hardship the move would have on the industry.” The board persevered, and, prioritizing children’s welfare, put the ban into effect later that year.

Recent research by health economist Phil Leonard makes clear that such bans may be successful in improving the health of our children, a serious concern given that New Brunswick continues to have one of the highest rates of overweight and obesity in the country among both children and adults.

In the decades that followed, chocolate milk’s reputation underwent a revival, though this was primarily because it could be championed as a healthier alternative to soft drinks, which made their entry into schools in the 1970s and 1980s. The soft-drink invasion was representative of a widespread pattern in which various industries have gained entry into schools through persuasion, tempting financial offers to cash-strapped institutions, and the growing acceptance of fast-food culture.

In Alberta, both Calgary and Edmonton schools relented and allowed chocolate milk back in schools, albeit a lower sugar and fat version in Edmonton. The dairy industry worked hard with intense public-relations campaigns aimed at children – a morally problematic approach – and the school boards capitulated.

For New Brunswick, the ban on the sale of chocolate milk in schools is a good start but it doesn’t go far enough. Allowing fast-food franchises to provide hot-lunch programs undercuts classroom teachings about nutrition and healthy food practices.

Unwholesome cafeteria fare and fundraising activities equally reinforce a fast-food culture that’s deleterious to children’s health now and in their futures. Moreover, it teaches life-long lessons in poor food preparation and consumption practices that will be challenging to eradicate, and will almost certainly increase health-care costs.

The New Brunswick minister of education is encouraging school districts to continue revising and adjusting their food policies. The evidence from soft-drink exclusivity campaigns of the 1990s and first decade of this century – where individual schools and school districts signed contracts with vendors in return for monetary compensation – suggests that such methods leave too much power in the hands of industry, and too little in those of the schools themselves. Those opposed to such policies were often left ill-informed and powerless, as were the teachers, parents and children directly affected.

Only strong provincial evidence-based nutrition policies can ensure long-term protection against commercial influence in our schools.

The debate between the ministries of education and agriculture is a reminder that industry lobby groups mustn’t be allowed to set the agenda within departments of health or education. The health of our children must come first.

Catherine Gidney is an adjunct research professor of history at St. Thomas University.

Gabriela Tymowski-Gionet is an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

This article was originally published in the Telegraph-Journal.


“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.

VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – Canada’s Paris-pipeline paradox

Markus Hecker, University of Saskatchewan and Jackie Dawson, University of Ottawa

The Canadian government’s decision to purchase Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline project shortly after ratifying the Paris Agreement on climate change creates an interesting paradox and a national challenge.

The environmental implications of pipeline development have already caused British Columbia and Alberta to feud, culminating in an outright trade war between the two provinces. Canadians are clearly divided on energy and climate politics.

The pipeline would increase current capacity by 590,000 barrels per day to deliver oil and gas to national and international markets. The government, as well as many Canadian businesses and citizens, have argued that this is critical for economic growth and the nation’s near-term prosperity.

On the flip side, these decisions have a significant impact on the ability of Canada to meet its greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets and to move towards a “greener” economy.

The fundamental question that needs to be solved is: Can Canada move towards a green economy and meet the GHG reduction targets of the Paris agreement while simultaneously expanding the fossil fuel economy via public ownership of what was the Kinder Morgan pipeline?

What are the risks?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used concerns about safety and the climate to justify the approval of the Kinder Morgan expansion project. When he signed off on the project in 2016, he said “if these projects aren’t built, diluted bitumen would be forced into more rail tanker cars for transport.”

Pipelines are considered to be one of the greenest forms of cargo transport. GHG emission rates are lower by pipeline than by train, for example, and there’s a smaller risk of oil spills because there are fewer transfers.

Yet the environmental costs of a pipeline accident are considerably greater than they are for spills after a train derailment. Pipelines leak larger volumes of oil and it’s more difficult to respond to the spills in a timely manner, particularly for underground pipelines and remote areas.

Critical flaws, global implications

Final approval of the Kinder Morgan project was based on Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) conclusion that it “is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.”

The NEB analysis focused on the potential regional and local-scale environmental impacts from the construction and operation of the pipeline. It did not include any systemic emission-based impacts resulting from oil production, oil consumption or shipping and transportation activities.

The NEB’s focus on immediate and local implications at the exclusion of national and global-scale emissions is reflective of a common but critical flaw of our seemingly universal outlook on environmental issues around the world. That is, there’s a tendency to fail to consider a full evaluation of potential impacts.

An assessment conducted by Environment and Climate Change Canada estimated that the added 590,000 barrels per day in pipeline capacity would result in an annual increase in GHGs equivalent to 13 to 15 megatons of CO₂.

In order to meet the goal of limiting global warming to 2℃ — as per the Paris Agreement — an estimated 74 per cent of Canadian crude oil reserves must remain unexploited and advanced carbon capture and storage measures would still be required.

The path forward

So how could Canada resolve the paradox between its Paris commitments and pipeline ownership?

As a start, all revenue that emerges from the pipeline should be put directly into an environmental fund. The fund would be used to support research and technology development as well as programs and infrastructure aimed at reducing the sources of GHGs and enhancing carbon sinks that store carbon dioxide.

In other words, the pipeline could fund emissions reduction strategies and initiatives that just might keep Canada on track with its Paris commitment.

Even if implemented effectively, using pipeline revenues to support GHG reduction strategies will not solve the country’s persistent ethical dilemmas or the mixed messages sent by the federal government on climate politics.

The challenges are complex. They range from human health impacts to socio-economic benefits. They include concerns over access to markets and job creation. But also the cultural and trust issues associated with the pipeline’s impacts on Indigenous lands and local communities, and promises made by the Government of Canada in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

There are no definite answers, but one thing is clear — the Paris-pipeline paradox is unlikely to be reconciled anytime soon.

The ConversationMembers of the College of the Royal Society of Canada’s Working Group on Healthy Environment & Society assisted in the writing of this piece.

Markus Hecker, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Predictive Aquatic Toxicology, University of Saskatchewan and Jackie Dawson, , University of Ottawa

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.

VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – Killing sharks, wolves and other top predators won’t solve conflicts

Robert Lennox, Carleton University; Austin Gallagher, University of Miami; Euan Ritchie, Deakin University, and Steven J Cooke, Carleton University

In French Polynesia, fishing is an integral part of everyday life. The people living here fish on the flats and along the reef using nets, hooks and line, harpoons, spearguns and traditional artisanal traps.

They fish for food. They are also seeing the benefits of using their traditional knowledge to guide recreational fishing tourists — a business with potential to improve long term employment security.

Abundant sharks in the lagoon led to questions about their contribution to the fishery and whether it would help the fishery if they were targeted. This is a question that is often on the minds of humans when they encounter predators.

As an ecologist working with the fish populations in French Polynesia, I went looking for research about what happens to an ecosystem when a predator is removed. Are the responses predictable? Does it work? Can we make generalizations?

Our new study, published in Biological Conservation, surveyed the research on predator removal and identified several interesting — and perhaps unexpected — trends.

Humans and other predators

Predators are among the most charismatic animals on Earth — lions, eagles and sharks adorn many human symbols. On land, in the air and in water, predators fascinate and inspire, they are quintessential representations of nature’s majesty and might.

In spite of their ecological, economic and cultural significance, predators are among the most heavily persecuted animals, due to conflict with humans and their assets.

Predators attack and kill livestock, hunt economically important prey and can kill or injure people or be perceived as a threat to human safety. These conflicts may motivate humans to try to manage predators to lessen the damages.

One of the oldest and most rudimentary methods is to cull or remove them, even though predators are already rare and some are threatened with extinction.

The motivation to remove predators is easy to understand, but what if predator removal does not even achieve the desired outcomes?

In balance

Predators are essential to ecosystems because they regulate prey populations. Without predators, prey can become over-abundant. This can result in damage to local plants, as well as disease outbreaks that can spread to domesticated animals.

Top predators like wolves dominate small predators like coyotes, keeping those populations in check too. Without predators, ecosystems become unbalanced in many ways because plants, herbivores and small predators change in response to their loss.

In a perfect scenario, successful predator removal would strike a balance. It would reduce conflict and be sustainable, but not cause the predator population to disappear entirely. However, our review of 141 studies of predator removal revealed that success is rarely achieved.

Livestock attacks weren’t always reduced when predators were removed, and the human-wildlife conflict remained. On top of that, new predators often moved into vacated territory and recolonized areas where others had been removed. For example, when caracal (a type of wild cat) and leopard were culled in South Africa, predator conflicts on farms increased.

Caracals and other predators have been blamed for killing sheep and goats in South Africa.
(gundy/flickr), CC BY-NC-SA

A small number of studies have shown successful removal of predators without harming the predator population, and led to increases in the prey population. However, these examples of success were generally from the Arctic where wolves were removed to increase caribou or moose numbers. In that scenario, there are fewer links in the food web, possibly making responses more predictable.

Generally, however, the responses were unpredictable and removing predators often failed for one reason or another.

Coexistence, not conflict

Ecosystems are complex networks of species. They include plants, decomposers, naturally subordinate predators (such as feral cats, foxes and coyotes), pathogens, predators and their prey. Together, they all play vital roles in regulating each other.

When humans remove predators, the effects are consistently negative. The action can, for example, fracture wolf packs into smaller units, or increase the reproductive rates of coyotes to produce even more offspring. This can have knock on effects, including an increase in disease, plant damage if herbivore populations explode and even an increase in the number of collisions between large herbivores, such as moose, and vehicles.

Instead of killing predators, there are other measures we can take to reduce conflict and learn to live with wildlife. In parts of Alberta, biologists are encouraging landowners to use electric fencing around bee hives and chicken coops to fend off bears. These types of non-lethal solutions can be tested and may often be more effective than removing the predator.

Other studies have suggested that “rewilding” an ecosystem — that is, reintroducing species into the ecosystem — can reduce conflicts. When their prey are abundant, the predators have less interest in nearby livestock. One study showed that lynx conflict with farmers increased when their natural prey, roe deer, were scarcer.

Essential elements

Instead of removing predators to manage human-wildlife conflict, we should be looking towards non-lethal alternatives. Using deterrent devices (lights, sounds or flapping material) can keep predators away from homes, fields and livestock.

A predator-proof corral in the South Gobi desert in Mongolia keeps livestock safe from snow leopards and wolves.
(Ksuryawanshi/Wikimedia), CC BY-SA

The services that predators and functioning ecosystems provide to humans are of enormous value, and we would be wise to work hard to conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all.

Predators aren’t only symbols, they are essential parts of healthy terrestrial and aquatic landscapes. And beyond what we value, we should feel an imperative to preserve the diversity of life we share Earth with, most of which precedes our own evolution.

Of course, there will be times when predator removal may be necessary to protect people and their interests. Interventions that champion the principles of coexistence between humans and predators may be more successful and justifiable approaches to managing wildlife.

The ConversationEfforts to protect predators or proactively promote their return, rather than continue contributing to their decline and extinction, are among the greatest conservation challenges we face.

Robert Lennox, PhD Candidate, Carleton University; Austin Gallagher, Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Miami; Euan Ritchie, Associate Professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, and Steven J Cooke, Professor, Carleton University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.

VOICES OF THE COLLEGE – Canadians deserve a real pipeline compromise

Peter Dietsch, Université de Montréal

The Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion is turning into one of the most controversial and divisive issues in Canadian politics in years.

On the one hand, proponents point to the economic benefits for Canada, and for Alberta in particular. On the other hand, critics emphasize the environmental footprint of the oilsands as well as the risks of transporting oil over land and by sea.

Faced with such profound disagreement, the point is not who has the jurisdiction to decide. Knowing that the federal government has the legal power to settle the issue does not get us any closer to figuring out an acceptable way forward. Instead, what’s called for is a real compromise.

The debate to this day has focused on a number of controversies that, while highly relevant, tend to distract us from the larger question of what would be an acceptable compromise.

Here are some examples of these controversies: How should we measure the costs and the benefits of the pipeline? Is it even possible to put a pricetag on the value of an ecosystem as rich as the B.C. coast? Was the review process of the project conducted transparently? Are Indigenous peoples being given an effective voice in the decision-making process?

Suppose satisfactory answers could be provided to these questions — which, it has to be said, seems highly questionable at this stage. Even then, neither a simple yes nor a simple no to the pipeline would represent an acceptable compromise. What would?

Pipeline plus carbon tax

Here is the answer that, explicitly or implicitly, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have given to this question: The project gets the green light, but at the same time, Canada will introduce a carbon tax with a price per tonne of CO₂ emissions that will rise from $10 a tonne in 2018 to $50 a tonne in 2022.

The goal of the carbon tax is to help meet Canada’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels), as agreed upon in the Paris Agreement.

A carbon tax can indeed be an efficient way to reduce emissions, but can it be combined with the pipeline to fashion an acceptable compromise? No, it cannot.

We know that the oil from the Alberta oilsands is particularly dirty. It produces three to four times the pre-combustion emissions per barrel compared to regular crude oil. We also know that in order to have a chance to keep global warming under two degrees Celsius, the share of renewable energy needs to increase from 30 per cent to 80 per cent by 2050.

An oilsands facility seen from a helicopter near Fort McMurray, Alta., in 2012.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

The rest is basic economics: When you introduce a carbon tax, it will — or at least it should — have an effect where emission reduction is most efficient. In Canada, this is clearly the oilsands.

Taxpayers footing the bill for a losing enterprise?

This leaves us with two options to interpret what is going on at the moment. First, the proposed carbon tax does not have any real bite. To do so, the carbon tax would have to impose a higher price on emissions right away. Second, the pipeline has somehow been exempted from the economic logic of the carbon tax altogether and would be built for political rather than economic reasons.

The former would mean that the federal government is hypocritical about the Paris Agreement. The latter would mean that, sooner or later, the taxpayer will have to pay for a project that is bound to lose money under a meaningful carbon tax. Neither throws a positive light on Ottawa’s current position on Trans Mountain.

In any case, these reflections undermine the idea that the pipeline plus a carbon tax in its current form represents a meaningful compromise. However, a pipeline advocate might say, adopting a carbon tax that scuttles the pipeline is not an alternative either. After all, a defining feature of a compromise is that both sides have to make concessions.

A different option? Transform the Alberta economy.

Time for Alberta to diversify

The Trans Mountain pipeline or not, the oilsands are not a long-term strategy for Alberta. The province is already scraping the bottom of the barrel of its oil reserves and will export bitumen of increasingly deteriorating quality in the years to come.

At the same time, renewable energy is set to be consistently cheaper than fossil fuels in a matter of years. Short-term thinking due to election cycles is at least partly to blame for the blind commitment of Alberta governments to the oil sector.

One way to balance economic interests against today’s environmental imperatives consists in subsidizing the transition of the Alberta economy towards a more diversified and greener future.

Let’s do a back-of-the-envelope calculation.

According to the Alberta government, around 140,000 people were employed in mining, quarrying and oil-and-gas extraction in 2017. Suppose one wanted to retrain 25 per cent, or around 35,000 workers, over the next five years at a cost of $50,000 per worker. This seems generous, since part of the retraining costs could plausibly be shouldered by the private sector.




Read more:
Facing uncertain future, fossil fuel workers want retraining in renewables


The pricetag of such a program would be $1.75 billion per year, and $8.75 billion in total. This is less than the sum Ottawa will have to spend to buy and expand the pipeline — $4.5 billion and an estimated at $7.4 billion respectively.

Concessions necessary

Ottawa should invite British Columbia and other provinces to contribute a share to this project.

More talk needed? Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, sits with B.C. Premier John Horgan, left, and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, right, in his office on Parliament Hill for a meeting on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in April 2018.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Such a formula — the details of which would have to be hammered out — would require concessions from both sides. Alberta would have to abandon the project, but recall that several existing pipelines are in place and that the province’s economy is doing just fine with those at present. British Columbia and others motivated by environmental concerns would also make a concession in the form of their financial contribution.

For a government that keeps emphasizing its environmental commitments, let alone its commitment to reconciliation with First Nations, it seems baffling that the Liberals are not seizing this opportunity.

The ConversationJustin Trudeau’s government should open their minds to real compromise.

Peter Dietsch, Full professor, Département de Philosophie, Université de Montréal, Université de Montréal

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.