Environmental groups raise concerns about proposed Calgary-to-Banff passenger train
By Colette Derworiz in Calgary
Conservation advocates and experts are concerned a proposal for a Calgary-to-Banff passenger train is chugging along without addressing some key environmental issues in and around the national park.
Liricon Capital Inc., the lead private-sector proponent, is touting it as a hydrogen-powered transportation solution with lower greenhouse gas emissions than driving.
The company says it has received support from municipalities and the tourism industry, but the Alberta government has told the Globe and Mail it won’t invest in the $1.5-billion train as it stands because the financial risks are too high.
Environmental organizations — including Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Yellowstone to Yukon and Bow Valley Naturalists — and some scientists say the proposal also has environmental risks.
“This is one of the most important conservation landscapes in North America,” Tony Clevenger, a senior wildlife research scientist with the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University, said from Banff, Alta. “It also happens to be one of the busiest in terms of transportation infrastructure.
“The thought of this new rail line, which would be really close to the existing rail line, is really troublesome — not just in the park, but outside the park on provincial lands and Stoney Nakoda (First Nations) as well.”
Concerns include wildlife deaths along the rail line — particularly grizzly bears, which have been hit and killed on the existing track — and the fragmentation of wildlife habitat in Alberta’s already busy Bow Valley.
Josh Welsh, Alberta program manager for Yellowstone to Yukon, said passenger rail to Banff isn’t a bad idea.
“We see it as a means to potentially provide a sustainable transportation vision that could work for wildlife, people and the planet,” he said.
But, he added, there’s not enough information or collaboration to know whether it works for wildlife.
“The Bow Valley is already being squeezed by development.”
A recent report by the Canmore, Alta.-based organization found the mountain town’s footprint has grown five times in 50 years. It focused on grizzly bears because “if you take care of grizzlies, you take care of a lot of other things.”
The report found bears have lost about 85 per cent of their original habitat in the Bow Valley.
“So, when you talk about another piece of linear infrastructure, which a train line is … we are talking about cutting up the habitat, disconnecting wildlife,” he said.
Devon Earl, conservation specialist with Alberta Wilderness Association, said the Calgary-based organization has similar concerns.
“We don’t think there has been adequate assessment of how wildlife will be impacted,” she said.
She also questions whether a train would actually reduce cars on the highway, saying bus service may be more cost-effective.
Liricon has said Parks Canada needs to consider raising the entry fee to Banff National Park for private passenger vehicles and expanding bus and shuttle service between park attractions.
Parks Canada said in a statement that its first priority is to protect the ecological integrity in national parks, but it’s “not currently reviewing a proposal for passenger rail in Banff National Park.” Any review, it added, would look at policy and legislation, including the Impact Assessment Act and park priorities.
Jan Watrous, managing partner with Liricon, said a study shows the train could carry about 11 million passengers annually and reduce highway traffic.
“The fact that the passenger train will be a zero-emission hydrogen train and significantly reduce vehicle traffic … means human and wildlife mortality on the highways will be dramatically reduced,” she said. “The specifics of the hydrogen solution and wildlife mitigations will be determined through consultation.”
The company has said it’s considering using technology such as lighting or sound to warn animals about approaching trains and reduce wildlife deaths on the tracks.
Colleen Cassady St. Clair, a biologist with the University of Alberta, said she spoke to Liricon about that idea, which came out of some research she led.
Although early tests show it can be effective for some wildlife, she said “there’s a lot of untested terrain in a warning-based system.”
St. Clair said there could also be challenges with wildlife crossing structures that go over or under the tracks.
Clevenger, who specializes in wildlife crossings, said he’s heard the company was looking at underpasses to align with those under the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park.
“That’s very simplistic and completely unfeasible,” he said. “You can’t put in an underpass on the new rail line without putting an underpass on the (Canadian Pacific Railway) main line. You’d have to do both.”
Clevenger said the measure would reduce already-compromised wildlife habitat.
A passenger train, he added, could end up increasing overall traffic to the national park.
“It’s a landscape that is just overflowing with people,” he said. “I don’t think they can manage it.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 15, 2022
Firm handshakes, hard lines: Trudeau, Biden to talk protectionism, Haiti, migration
WASHINGTON — He’s hell-bent on restoring blue-collar American manufacturing to its former glory, considers free trade a dirty word and wants Canada to wade voluntarily into a failed, gang-ravaged state that’s a quagmire waiting to happen.
To be sure, Joe Biden is no Donald Trump. But he doesn’t always make it obvious.
The U.S. president arrives in Ottawa tonight on a whirlwind 24-hour visit — a significantly less elaborate itinerary than first envisioned in the Prime Minister’s Office — two full years since becoming commander-in-chief.
“This will be the first true, in-person bilateral meeting between the two leaders in Canada since 2009,” said White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.
The first year of Biden’s term focused on rebuilding Canada-U.S. relations following Trump’s divisive term in office. The second focused on meeting obligations, “including prioritizing orderly and safe migration through regular pathways,” Kirby said.
“Now, heading into the third, this visit is about taking stock of what we’ve done, where we are and what we need to prioritize for the future.”
While he’s far less undiplomatic and publicly combative than his both-barrels predecessor, Biden’s first two years in the Oval Office produced more than enough political headaches for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Friday’s meetings may not offer much remedy.
High on Canada’s wish list will be frank talk on Buy American, the age-old protectionist doctrine resurrected by every 21st-century president short of George W. Bush and one of Biden’s favourite domestic political messages.
“The president is very committed to policies that create jobs in the United States, and we don’t take issue with that policy,” said Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S.
“What we say is … when you apply it to Canada and deeply integrated Canada supply chains, it does not serve your policy purpose. It does the exact opposite.”
Fully 60 per cent of the physical goods that Canada sells stateside “go into the manufacturing of other products,” and much the same is true of what Canada buys from the U.S., she added.
“So if we start carving each other out of our supply chains, the economic impact on jobs in our own country is going to be enormous. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot, essentially — both countries.”
Canada is also likely to be playing defence on Haiti, the impoverished, quake-ravaged Caribbean nation on the island of Hispaniola that has devolved into a failed state since the 2021 assassination of president Jovenel Moïse.
Roving gangs of marauders now control more than half of Port-au-Prince, the capital city of a country in the grips of a cholera outbreak with little access to medical help, a near-total lack of public security and a powerless interim government.
The Biden administration, its hands full with Russia’s war in Ukraine, the rise of China and other great-power concerns, wants Canada — home to a large diaspora of French-speaking Haitians, mostly in Quebec — to take a lead role.
“It’s a fair amount of pressure,” said Carleton University professor Stephen Saideman. “The reality is that Trudeau doesn’t want to do this, and so he comes up with whatever arguments he can to deflect this.”
“I am hopeful … that Canada will be able to step in and take some leadership in Haiti, because that will matter in Washington,” said Gordon Giffin, who served as Bill Clinton’s envoy to Ottawa from 1997 to 2001.
“Taking that one off of our menu would be a big help to the U.S. administration.”
Though it might seem simplistic at the highest levels of intergovernmental relations, the quid pro quo approach is foundational to how countries get along and manage various irritants in the relationship, he suggested.
“I do think it’s a prototypical example of the United States saying, ‘We need you to help us out on this one,'” Giffin told a panel hosted by the Americas Council and the Council of the Americas.
He recalled the frequent interactions between his old boss and Jean Chrétien, who was prime minister while Clinton was in the White House and a man Giffin described as “the consummate dealmaker.”
Chrétien “looked for places where Bill Clinton needed a little bit of help,” Giffin said.
“I would very quickly hear, ‘OK, we’re going to do this, Gordon, but for that, I need this,'” he said in his best Chrétien drawl. “I’m sorry, that’s just human nature, and it’s part of the deal.”
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby would not say Wednesday whether Biden intends to make a direct demand of Trudeau on Haiti.
“They share a concern about the dire situation down there from a security and humanitarian perspective — this is not something that is unfamiliar to either the prime minister or the president,” Kirby said.
“As for a multinational force or anything like that, I don’t want to get ahead of the conversation here. But as we’ve said before, if there’s a need for that, if there’s a place for that, that’s all going to have to be worked out directly with the Haitian government and with the UN.”
Kirby also played down expectations on another big Canadian ask: renegotiating the Safe Third Country Agreement, a 2004 treaty between the two countries that many blame for a recent spike in irregular migration.
On issues of migration, “we’re well aware of Canadian concerns. We have concerns of our own,” Kirby said. “It’s a hemispheric, shared regional challenge. So I have no doubt that they’ll discuss it.”
Senior government officials in Ottawa say the discussion on Haiti will involve the two leaders, but not Haitians themselves. Trudeau has so far focused on sanctions, helping Haitian authorities with surveillance support to track gang activity, and building a political consensus on how the West can best help.
Saideman, who has previously worked with the U.S. Department of Defense, said Ottawa is trying to avoid that at all costs. “This government does not want to suffer tremendous costs or cement tremendous risks.”
He noted that Canada’s largest deployment is currently in Latvia and Ottawa has agreed to expand its presence to shore up that country’s border with Russia.
Saideman said it would be impossible to expand that force while leading an intervention in Haiti, particularly because each deployed unit generally requires a second unit undergoing training and a third recovering from the previous rotation.
In addition, gang violence would be significantly more risky than past missions aimed at preventing clashes between warring armies, such as in Bosnia or Cyprus.
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it, but I can see why the government is cautious about it,” said Saideman, who is director of the Canadian Defence and Security Network.
“In Haiti, this has not been the first rodeo,” he said. “The previous missions didn’t fix things, didn’t lead to a lasting solution.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2023.
— With files from Dylan Robertson in Ottawa
James McCarten, The Canadian Press
Anholt tabbed to lead Canada’s world junior squad after success with U18 team
Canada celebrates the win over Finland IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship gold medal game action in Edmonton on Saturday August 20, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Calgary – Peter Anholt has been tasked with helping Canada win a third straight world junior hockey championship after two successful seasons leading the country’s under-18 program.
Anholt, who heads the front office of the Western Hockey League’s Lethbridge Hurricanes, is one of three Canadian Hockey League general managers tabbed by Hockey Canada to oversee its men’s under-17, under-18 and under-20 programs in 2023-24.
He takes over the world junior program from Ottawa 67’s GM James Boyd, who helped Canada win two titles over the span of six months.
Canada beat Finland 3-2 in overtime to win the 2022 championship in Edmonton, which was held in August after being postponed from its traditional December/January slot due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Canadians repeated with a 3-2 overtime win over Czechia on Jan. 5 in Halifax.
The 2024 world junior championship begins Dec. 26 in Goteborg, Sweden.
Hockey Canada also announced Wednesday that Dave Brown of the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters will guide the men’s under-17s this season, while Cam Russell of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Halifax Mooseheads will take over Anholt’s former position with the U18 team.
The three will work alongside Hockey Canada’s hockey operations staff as part of the organization’s “Program of Excellence” management group.
Duties include assisting with player and coach selection, and providing input during camps and tournaments.
Brown will lead the U17 team through the 2023 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Canada lost 2-1 to the United States in the final of last year’s event in Langley and Delta, B.C.
Russell, meanwhile, will look to help Canada to a second consecutive Hlinka Gretzky Cup title. Canada won its 23rd gold medal at the best-on-best U18 tournament last year in Red Deer, Alta., with Anholt at the helm.
Canada did not participate in the 2021 event due to the pandemic, but won that year’s U18 worlds.
“All three individuals bring a wealth of CHL experience to our program,” Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada senior vice-president of hockey operations, said in a statement. “We look forward to having them work alongside our athletes and staff while leading our men’s national teams next season.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2023.
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