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National

Doug Ford holds rally to mark first 100 days as Ontario premier

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TORONTO — Doug Ford is marking his first 100 days as Ontario’s premier with a rally at the heart of the so-called Ford Nation, the west Toronto area where he and his family cut their political teeth.

Ford, who officially took the reins on June 30 after promising to reduce government waste without cutting jobs or services, hosted the Tuesday evening event at the Woodbine Banquet Hall in his riding of Etobicoke-North.

“Over a hundred days ago, we promised we would restore accountability and trust to government,” the premier told an enthusiastic crowd gathered for the event. “And I am proud to say we have delivered.”

Summarizing his government’s accomplishments, Ford touted the cancellation of the Drive Clean program and a number of solar and wind power projects, as well as the introduction of buck-a-beer.

None of that, he said, would have been possible without the voters.

“We have a great team, an all-star team, in Queen’s Park,” he said. “But we have an even better team outside of Queen’s Park, and that’s folks like you — thousands of people across the province that support us.”

A polarizing figure since his time as a Toronto city councillor, Ford has been hailed by supporters as a champion of fiscal restraint focused on fulfilling his promises, and condemned by opponents as a regressive autocrat willing to ignore democratic processes to push through his agenda.

“We’ve seen this government make some pretty serious, I think, decisions that have moved our province backwards,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said last week in assessing the premier’s first few months in office.

In that time, Ford has fulfilled or taken steps towards several of his key campaign pledges, convening the legislature for a rare summer sitting — and in one instance, an overnight debate — in order to advance his plans.

His first moves included dismantling major policies brought in by the previous Liberal government, such as a modernized sex-education curriculum and the province’s cap-and-trade system.

Both decisions have faced backlash and spawned ongoing legal challenges, with critics alleging the government is trampling on the rights of Ontarians.

The Ontario government, meanwhile, has launched its own a legal battle against the federal government over Ottawa’s plan to impose carbon pricing on provinces that don’t have their own system in place by next year. Ford has been rallying support for his cause among other provinces, at times allying himself with the opposition rather than the sitting premier.

The premier recently announced he would go through with his vow to halt a planned increase to the minimum wage, then said he would scrap the entire legislation that combined the wage increase with a number of other labour reforms such as paid sick days.

Ford has also made good on his election promise to re-examine government spending, calling a commission of inquiry that found the province was facing a $15-billion deficit. Critics, including opposition parties and labour groups, have suggested the move will pave the way for cuts.

Some of Ford’s early actions, however, weren’t part of his election promises.

His controversial plan to cut Toronto’s city council to 25 from 47 in the middle of a municipal campaign stunned politicians and voters alike, and prompted a legal challenge that initially saw the legislation overturned as unconstitutional.

Ford then announced he would use a rare constitutional provision to override the ruling, setting off multiple protests, including one that saw crowds rally outside the legislature overnight. An appeal court eventually agreed to put the decision on hold until after the Oct. 22 municipal vote. An appeal of the lower court ruling has yet to be heard.

His plan for legalized cannabis also wasn’t fleshed out during the campaign. The province recently laid out its plan to have cannabis sold online only when it becomes legal Oct. 17, with retail stores to follow next year. A proposed legislation further allows cannabis to be smoked by those over 19 wherever the smoking of tobacco is permitted.

While the premier has delivered on some key promises, the first part of his term is defined by unpredictability, making it difficult to project what his government will do in the future, said Jonathan Malloy, a political science professor at Carleton University in Ottawa.

“It’s a reactive vision, it’s rolling back some of things the Liberal government did … I don’t see a lot of big new ideas or policies coming out and there’s not really clear cohesion,” Malloy said.

“What are this government’s priorities, both now and over the next four, five years? I can’t really look back at the last 100 days and project where this government is going ahead from there, which you could with the (Mike) Harris government or the (Dalton) McGuinty government.” 

Tuesday’s rally comes weeks after the annual gathering known as Ford Fest, a public event with free food and entertainment that used to be held at the Ford family home in the Etobicoke area of Toronto.

During the September edition of Ford Fest, the premier posed for a photograph with Faith Goldy, a controversial Toronto mayoral candidate known for her extreme views. Ford was questioned for days over the photo until he publicly distanced himself from Goldy.

 

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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Energy

Green Canadian hydrogen not an immediate solution to Germany’s energy worries

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OTTAWA — Some energy experts warn a deal to sell Canadian hydrogen to Germany will serve as only a small, far-off and expensive part of the solution to Europe’s energy crisis.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are set to sign a hydrogen agreement in Stephenville, N.L. next week, during Scholz’s official visit to Canada.

A government official speaking on the condition they not be identified confirmed there will be a hydrogen accord signed that is the culmination of months of talks between the two countries.

Stephenville, a port town an hour south of Corner Brook on Newfoundland’s west shore, is the planned home for a zero-emission energy plant where wind power will be used to produce hydrogen and ammonia for export.

The deal between Canada and Germany is expected to make fuel-hungry Germany the first big customer for a first-of-its-kind project in Canada.

Germany was already looking to hydrogen as an energy solution in its climate plan before Russia invaded Ukraine last February. But since that invasion, as Russia attempts to push back against punishing economic sanctions, it has repeatedly threatened Germany’s energy supply.

Germany typically gets about half of its natural gas from Russia and is looking for both short and long-term solutions to wean itself from Russian exports.

Proponents say the hydrogen deal comes at a pivotal time for Canada’s green hydrogen industry, which is still in its infancy.

But some experts also say the fledgling product carries a big price tag and won’t be able to help Germany in the near term. Canada doesn’t yet have the infrastructure to produce large quantities of green hydrogen, or export it great distances.

“The key is you need a lot of associated infrastructure to be built before we can do a large scale export of hydrogen into other countries,” said Amit Kumar, the industrial research chair of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

In order to be shipped, the hydrogen would likely need to be cooled into a liquid, loaded into a specially adapted pipeline or tanker, and warmed again when it reached its destination.

The process and infrastructure is expensive, and so is production.

Most hydrogen production globally comes from converting natural gas to hydrogen and carbon dioxide. If the latter is emitted into the atmosphere, the hydrogen is referred to as “grey.” In Canada, the goal is to capture those emissions with carbon capture and storage, which would make the hydrogen “blue.”

Canada has to date been talking up plans to help Germany with new natural gas projects in Atlantic Canada that could one day be converted to blue hydrogen facilities.

But Germany is looking mainly for “green hydrogen,” which is made through splitting water molecules using renewable energy like wind or solar power. That comes at a much higher price.

“You’re looking at anywhere between three to four fold increase in costs,” said Kumar, a faculty of engineering professor at University of Alberta, who was consulted on the drafting of Alberta’s hydrogen strategy.

He said the technology needs to improve and more investment needs to be made before the cost is even relatively comparable with it’s natural-gas derived alternative.

The company behind the Newfoundland project, World Energy GH2, said the first phase of its Newfoundland project should see up to 164 onshore wind turbines built to power a hydrogen production facility. Long-term plans call for tripling the size of the project.

In its proposal, World Energy GH2 said it is on the cutting edge of a new, green industry.

Construction on the first wind farm is supposed to begin next year. That means hydrogen production is still far off, said Paul Martin, chemical engineer and co-founder of the Hydrogen Science Coalition.

“It’ll take years and years and years,” he said. “And then you’ve got the infrastructure problem.”

Martin says the infrastructure costs of producing and transporting green hydrogen don’t add up.

“Honestly looking at it the green hydrogen pitch in Canada for export, it’s disingenuous,” he said.

That’s partially why Canada’s hydrogen strategy involves moving toward “blue hydrogen” before eventually converting to green, Kumar said.

Germany’s strategy, however, clearly favours green hydrogen while the role of blue hydrogen is uncertain, an analysis by Centre for Strategic and International Studies fellow Isabelle Huber shows.

Trudeau and Scholz, who became Germany’s chancellor in December, first discussed hydrogen and Canadian energy exports when Trudeau visited Berlin in March.

At the G7 leaders’ summit in the Bavarian Alps in June, Trudeau spoke at length with other world leaders about how Canada could offer alternatives to nations dependent on Russian oil and gas.

At a press conference at the conclusion of the summit, Trudeau suggested infrastructure used to carry liquefied natural gas could be adapted to carry hydrogen, as one example of how Canada could help.

“We’re also looking medium term at expanding some infrastructure,” Trudeau said, “but in a way that hits that medium-term and long-term goal of accelerating transition — not just off Russian oil and gas — but off of our own dependence on fossil fuels.”

Canadian hydrogen might be just one piece of Germany’s plan to transition off of German gas in a very difficult situation, said Sara Hastings-Simon, who directs the masters of science in sustainable energy development at the University of Calgary.

“It’s not the be all end all, it’s neither going to fix it completely or be the single answer,” she said in an interview.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 16, 2022.

— With files from Mia Rabson

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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Justice

MPs to hear more testimony about alleged political meddling in N.S. shooting probe

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By Sarah Ritchie in Ottawa

Two of the people behind an accusation of political interference in the investigation of the April 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia will be before a House of Commons committee Tuesday.

RCMP Chief Supt. Darren Campbell and Lia Scanlan, a strategic communications director, each accused Commissioner Brenda Lucki of saying she faced pressure from the federal government to ensure information about the gunman’s weapons was released at a news conference.

Campbell’s handwritten notes about a phone call with Lucki, Scanlan and others hours after the news conference on April 28, 2020, say Lucki mentioned she’d made a promise to the minister, and that the weapons information was connected to upcoming gun legislation.

Then-public safety minister Bill Blair was accused of applying that pressure, but he and Lucki have repeatedly denied that he interfered in the investigation.

The 13-hour rampage by a gunman took 22 lives and is now the subject of a public inquiry.

Scanlan wrote a letter to the commissioner more than a year after the shootings, echoing Campbell’s concerns and telling Lucki the meeting was “appalling, inappropriate, unprofessional and extremely belittling.”

The public safety committee looking into the allegations has heard conflicting reports — from Lucki and other RCMP officials — about what happened during that meeting.

Lucki said she did not interfere in the investigation, but she was frustrated with the Nova Scotia division over its communication with the public because media were reporting facts before the RCMP released them.

Nova Scotia officials said Lucki was angry and upset for a different reason: she was feeling political pressure to connect the killings to the Liberals’ promise to ban assault-style weapons, which they announced on May 1, 2020.

Chief Supt. Chris Leather and retired assistant commissioner Lee Bergerman told the committee last month that they recall Lucki saying she made a promise to the minister, as Campbell’s notes reflect.

Those notes were published as supporting evidence for a scathing document released by the ongoing public inquiry. That document  outlines dozens of instances in which the RCMP concealed or obfuscated basic information about the case in the three months following the horrific events.

That includes the number of victims, their relationship to the gunman, the fact that one victim was a child, the number of crime scenes, the reason for the first 911 call the night the killings began, and when police learned the gunman was disguised as an RCMP officer, among other things.

The public inquiry has also released documents showing that Lucki sent an inventory of the weapons to federal officials on April 23, saying it shouldn’t be circulated any further than the prime minister and the public safety minister.

But after she “confirmed” to Blair that the information was to be released on April 28, and it was not released, Lucki told the committee she was frustrated that there had been yet another miscommunication.

Leather said the release of the information was not allowed because Nova Scotia’s police watchdog was in charge of the investigation into the gunman’s death and said the inventory could only be shared internally. The former director of the Serious Incident Response Team, Pat Curran, told The Canadian Press that giving the RCMP direction about its investigation would not have been part of his job, and that the weapons were not part of his investigation.

The public safety committee will also hear from senior officials in the federal Justice Department as it probes why four pages of Campbell’s notes — the pages containing details about the meeting with Lucki — were held back from the public inquiry investigators for months.

Initially, the Mass Casualty Commission was handed a package of notes that did not contain those four pages. They were eventually handed over, with Justice saying the pages were reviewed for privilege.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 16, 2022.

— With files from Michael Tutton and Lyndsay Armstrong

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