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Backers of Banff passenger rail project say they need provincial yes or no


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CALGARY — The backers of a proposed $1.5-billion passenger train that would connect Calgary to Banff say they are waiting for a yes or no from the Alberta government before proceeding with the project’s next steps.

Liricon Capital Inc., the company behind the proposed rail link between the Rocky Mountain tourist mecca and the Calgary International Airport, said Monday it has not yet received a response to its proposal that the province commit $30 million annually to the project.

Liricon managing partner Jan Waterous said under her company’s unsolicited proposal, the $30 million provincial contribution would not go toward capital costs — which would be covered half by the Canada Infrastructure Bank with the other half covered by Liricon itself, its project partner Plenary Associates, and debt financing. Instead, the $30 million annually for an approximately 50-year span would help to cover the project’s mortgage, making the province the ultimate owner of the train.

But Waterous — who along with husband Adam owns the Mount Norquay ski resort, as well as the long-term lease for the Banff train station — said Liricon is still in the dark about the province’s intentions. She said the project cannot move ahead to its next phase — detailed design work and intensive consultations with communities along the route — without more clarity.

“What we need at this point is we need a nod from the provincial government,” Waterous told reporters following an address to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

“We were hoping to hear we were good to go from the province a few weeks ago … we’re ready to roll as soon as we get that go-ahead from them.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has previously spoken positively about the merits of the proposed project but resigned as United Conservative Party leader last month, though he remains premier until a new leader is chosen. A date for a leadership vote has not yet been named

Rob Williams, press secretary to Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney, said in an email Monday that the proposal is still being examined.

“Alberta’s government continues to assess all aspects of the proposed project, but has not made a decision on whether to provide any financial support,” Williams said.

Liricon’s proposed vision involves a European-style tourist train that would also serve local commuters, with service through seven communities as well as a stop in downtown Calgary. Ticket revenue is expected to generate about $30 million per year, with net ticket costs for Albertans priced at about $20, and out-of-province users paying more.

The project would be built within the existing Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. freight corridor, which means it would require the twinning of the existing track. Waterous said it would take about three years after receiving the green light to complete the project.

Municipal leaders in the area, including the mayors of both Calgary and Banff, have praised the passenger rail proposal for its potential to improve connectivity in the region while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Liricon’s own estimates suggest a passenger rail line could capture 25 per cent of daily visitors to Banff, reducing the impact of personal vehicles on the national park.

Other local organizations, including Tourism Calgary and the major airlines that serve the Calgary International Airport, have also endorsed the project.

But environmentalists have previously raised questions about the impact increased rail travel could have on wildlife in the area, as well as the potential environmental harm that could come if the rail line proves popular and increases overall visitation to the park.

After years of deficits, Alberta is widely expected to post a multibillion-dollar surplus this year (possibly as high as $10 billion) thanks to sky-high oil prices in 2022. That could make provincial funding of the Banff passenger rail project more likely.

“It definitely makes us optimistic,” Waterous said of the booming commodity price environment and the recent reversal in the province’s fiscal health.

“But I think the most important thing for the Alberta government to hear is not $30 million in and of itself — they have to look at the train in terms of what it’s going to do to build the economy for the province.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2022.

Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press

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Canada under pressure to produce more food, protect agricultural land: report

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Canada’s agricultural land is under increasing pressure to produce more food as demand grows domestically and internationally, while the industry grapples with limited resources and environmental constraints, a new report found. 

“We need to grow more food on less land and in a volatile climate,” said Tyler McCann, managing director of the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute.

The report by the institute released Thursday looks at the pressures on Canada’s agricultural land to produce more food while also mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change, said McCann. 

Despite Canada being a big country, it doesn’t have as much agricultural land as people might think, said McCann, with the report noting that agricultural land makes up only around seven per cent of the country. 

Because of that, we can’t take what we do have for granted, he said. “We need to be really thoughtful about how we are using our agricultural land.” 

In 2020, Canada was the eighth largest country in terms of cropland area, the report said, with that cropland decreasing by seven per cent over the previous two decades. 

Canada is a major producer and net exporter of agriculture and agri-food products, the report said, exporting $91 billion in products in 2022, and one of the top 10 exporters of wheat, canola, pulses, pork and beef. 

In the coming years, Canada will face increased demand from countries whose populations are growing, the report said. 

“With population growth on one side and climate change on the other, Canada will be amongst an increasingly smaller number of countries that is a net exporter,” said McCann, noting that Canada’s own population is growing, and farmland also needs to be protected against urban sprawl. 

The wildfires clouding Canadian skies this week are a “vivid reminder” of the pressure that extreme weather and the changing climate are putting on the agricultural sector, said McCann. 

“We need to clearly mitigate … agriculture’s impact on climate change. But we also need to make sure agriculture is adapting to climate change’s impacts,” he said. 

One of the ways the world has responded to demand for increased agricultural production over time is to create more agricultural land, in some cases by cutting down forests, said McCann. But that’s not a viable option for Canada, which doesn’t have a lot of land that can be sustainably converted into farmland — and even if it could, doing so could have a variety of adverse environmental effects, he said. 

Some of the practices used to reduce emissions and sequester carbon in agriculture can also improve production output on existing farmland, the report found, such as precision agriculture and no-till practices.

However, intensifying the production of current agricultural land also comes with potential environmental downsides, the report said.

For example, McCann said fertilizer is an important part of sustainable agriculture, but there’s a balance to be struck because excessive use of fertilizer can quickly turn food production unsustainable. 

“We need to be a lot more thoughtful about the inputs that we’re using,” he said, adding the same can be said about the use of technology in agriculture and the policies and programs put in place to encourage sustainable intensification of Canadian agriculture. 

The report recommends that Canada adopt policies that provide financial incentives and technical assistance to farmers and develop regulatory frameworks promoting sustainable land use, as well as promoting education and awareness campaigns, so that the country can “ensure the long-term sustainability of its agricultural sector while protecting the environment.”  

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.

Rosa Saba, The Canadian Press

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Lawyer tells Alberta’s highest court review board biased in de Grood’s case

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