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  • AMHERST, N.S. — First of a two-part series on the stunning potential impact that climate change could have on the low-lying, narrow band of land connecting Nova Scotia to the rest of Canada.

    John Atkinson stands atop an aging dike, with the rising tides of the Bay of Fundy before him and family farmland behind, imagining the storm that could turn Nova Scotia into a virtual island.

    “The water can go over this whole flat marsh,” said the 67-year-old landowner, gesturing to the grassy lands near Amherst.

    “If there were to be one perfect storm … it would be very bad.”

    This is a potential ground zero of a Canadian climate change disaster, where sea-level communities face rising oceans and await word on a detailed plan and the funding to keep the narrow land link between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick open.

    The risk isn’t decades away.

    Rather, the event could occur at any time through a combination of stormy weather conditions, according to emergency officials and coastal geographers watching the area.

    “The fact is that the right storm occurring at any spring tide at any time of year would be sufficient to put water over our dikes,” explains Jeff Ollerhead, who teaches coastal geography at Mount Allison University in nearby Sackville, N.B.

    Over the past 69 years, the sea level at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy has risen about 38 centimetres, even as the dikes and coastal land continue to subside.

    The trend will accelerate under most international climate change scenarios, adding a third of a metre to water heights by 2050, according to studies.

    Meanwhile, the frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms have tripled here over the past 25 years compared to the past century, according to a 2011 study.

    Real Daigle, a meteorologist who provides estimates of sea level rise, said all it would take is a once-in-50-year storm at highest tides, with sustained winds gusting up to 80 kilometres per hour and low atmospheric pressure that adds 40 to 50 centimetres to the height of the water.

    The one comfort is that the rapid pace of the Bay of Fundy tidal rise and retreat  — versus areas like the Northumberland Strait, where tide rises are more gradual and sustained — would make the storm’s arrival at the high tide in the basin an unlikely event, he adds.

    Saint Mary’s University geographer Danika van Proosdij’s research unit prepared maps for The Canadian Press showing risk zones that extend into Amherst itself, floods of businesses and wind turbines on the marshes, and potential damage to 20 kilometres of rail, road and electrical infrastructure.

    The waters could sweep over the Trans-Canada Highway in lower lying New Brunswick, reaching a waist-deep height for motorists, said Mike Johnson, emergency measures co-ordinator for Cumberland County, Nova Scotia’s westernmost region.

    He says he’s planning to knock on doors and collect cell phone numbers of about 80 buildings where rapid evacuation may need to occur.

    “We’ve had two tidal surge events in the past decade that would have been sufficient to overtop the dikes. They simply occurred on a neap (lower) tide and because of that factor the water didn’t come high enough to overtop the dikes,” he said in an interview at his office.

    A photo he took in the fall of 2015 shows a CN rail train travelling on a dike that is about 8.5 metres above sea level during a tidal surge. The water was just 12 centimetres from the train’s wheels.

    Amherst Mayor David Kogon and John Higham, the mayor of Sackville, N.B., are pressing federal and provincial governments to quickly find solutions.

    “Our job is to keep their foot to the pedal,” says Kogon, sitting before a large poster depicting a partially submerged Sackville.

    “If I were in charge of it, it would be underway now. But we’re not, it’s not our money,” says Higham, who joined his New Brunswick counterpart for an interview at his city hall.

    Higham’s town is also protected by a network of about 26 kilometres of dikes created to protect farmlands, but which now shelter commercial areas and homes. His flood map depicts a provincial ambulance depot as stranded on an island after the inundation comes.

    If the dikes are brought to new heights and repositioned to resist the rising seas, it wouldn’t be the first time the marshlands were rescued by a combined political effort.

    In the 1940s, Ottawa created a federal agency that helped fund the rehabilitation of the marshlands.

    However, the responsibility shifted to provinces in the 1970s, and there have been times over the past 50 years when money has been scarce for needed upgrades, say local farmers.

    Doug Bacon, a cattle farmer in Upper Nappan, says he spent years fighting for improved aboiteaux — openings in the dikes with sluice gates that allow fresh waters to drain out back to the sea.

    His home is full of photos of freshwater floods that came over nearby coastal roads and the grazing marshlands over the past two decades, as aging infrastructure was unable to cope with the flow of water.

    He said Canadian governments should have led a plan for the dike rehabilitation at least a decade ago.

    “The provincial and federal governments seem very slow to recognize the concerns that we as residents are trying to portray to them,” he said during an interview.

    The potential costs and next steps remain as murky to Bacon as the often muddy waters of the Bay of Fundy itself.

    Hopes are now pinned on an engineering assessment that New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ottawa say will “explore viable options to climate change impacts on the Chignecto Isthmus trade corridor” between the two provinces.

    Kevin Bekkers, land protection manager at the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture, says a request for proposals to complete the $700,000 study will go out after April 1, with the goal of completion in 12 to 18 months.

    “Fast is not the pace I want to go as an engineer. There’s things we need to confirm and this engineering assessment is one of those steps along the journey that has to take place,” he said in an interview.

    The issues include comparisons of various climate change forecasts and what new technologies are available to increase the height of existing dikes, he said. Even the timeline for how long the solution should last remains uncertain, he said.

    After options are presented, the governments must agree on the way forward and how much they will spend.

    A 2016 federal study said possibilities ranged from $90 million to build up the existing dikes to $345 million to completely re-route the highways and railways. All of the options required at least five years.

    Mike Pauley, the New Brunswick civil servant leading the engineering assessment, said he can’t flatly state the study of the trade corridor will result in upgrades to the dikes.

    “To say the dikes will never be improved — I think over time, they will. But it may not be part of the outcome we get out of this study,” he said.

    Meanwhile, Bekkers notes that maintenance is ongoing and solutions for existing dikes continue.

    For example, a damaged portion of the dike near where Atkinson stood was being re-routed to tie in with higher ground and create more shallow lands in front — known as foreshore — that will absorb the pounding tides.

    However, Bekkers acknowledges the risk of a tidal surge remains.

    “We are working with Emergency Measures Organizations and depending on the storm that comes in, there may have to be warnings that go out,” he said.

    Quite often, Atkinson walks to the shore and notices how the sea tosses up more driftwood than in the past, even as it undermines the giant slabs of rock put in place to protect the dikes.

    To him, these are nature’s signals that the day of reckoning is drawing a little closer.

    “We’re keeping our fingers crossed no storm comes. What else can you do?”

    NEXT: When the dike breaks.

    — Follow (at)mtuttoncporg on Twitter.

    Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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    Canada needs stronger policies to protect against imported-dog diseases: vets

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    VANCOUVER — When a British Columbia woman experiencing fever, headaches and weight loss for two months finally went to her doctor, a blood test revealed she’d contracted a contagious disease from a dog she’d rescued in Mexico.
    Dr. Elani Galan…

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  • VANCOUVER — When a British Columbia woman experiencing fever, headaches and weight loss for two months finally went to her doctor, a blood test revealed she’d contracted a contagious disease from a dog she’d rescued in Mexico.

    Dr. Elani Galanis, an epidemiologist and public health physician at the BC Centre for Disease Control, said the case was surprising because the previously healthy middle-aged patient didn’t seem to be a candidate for the transmission of brucellosis, which medical literature suggests can afflict people with weakened immune systems, or the very young and elderly.

    “Up until this adult woman became infected and tested positive we felt like the risk to humans, although possible, was very, very low,” said Galanis, who wrote about the anonymous woman in a recent issue of the BC Medical Journal.

    The woman worked for an animal-rescue organization that transported dogs to Canada from Mexico and the United States, often driving there to pick up the animals, Galanis said.

    On one occasion, she was bringing back a pregnant dog from Mexico and likely came into contact with the animal’s pregnancy fluids as it spontaneously aborted two stillborn puppies, Galanis said, adding the dog later tested positive for the bacterium brucella canis and the woman was diagnosed after seeking medical treatment last December.

    “Given the story in other places, like the rest of North America, this hasn’t been seen much before,” Galanis said of transmission of the disease to humans. “We’re just starting to see it so I do believe it’s a true emergence of a new problem.”

    “For us, the priority will be to ensure that physicians are aware that this is possible, that they ask the question about contact with animals, particularly imported dogs.”

    Rob Ashburner, a veterinarian and spokesman for the B.C. branch of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, said efforts to have stricter regulations on the importation of dogs involving multiple federal agencies have so far been fruitless.

    “The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association has spent a lot of time trying to get the federal government to put some rules in place where animals imported from other countries should be tested for a bunch of communicable diseases, brucellosis being one of them,” he said. “Dogs from the warmer climates have all sorts of parasites that we don’t have here and they bring them in and affect our population as well.”

    Plenty of dogs are available for adoption in Canada, Ashburner said, adding rescued animals can be traumatized after long trips and bring with them behavioural problems people may not expect.

    The Canadian Food Inspection Agency establishes requirements for animals such as dogs coming into the country.

    It said dogs that are less than eight months old are inspected by its veterinarians at borders and older dogs are inspected by Canada Border Service Agency officers, who also review the animals’ certificates, such as those listing any vaccinations.

    “If the CBSA officer has any concerns, such as the animal showing signs of illness or incomplete/incorrect paperwork, they call a CFIA veterinarian for examination,” the agency said in an email.

    Ashburner said examinations at the border are not comprehensive and current regulations, requiring just a rabies vaccination, have been in place for decades, long before an increase in the number of pets and rescue-dogs being brought to Canada, sometimes with certificates that are bogus.

    “In reality, just from personal experience, there are times when what the paperwork says is not true,” he said, adding while more dogs are being brought to Canada, there are no national statistics on how many are coming in.

    The Public Health Agency of Canada said it acknowledges the global movement of animals, including dogs, can facilitate the spread of diseases that can be passed on to people.

    “Educating breeders, importers, rescue organizations and Canadians on both the risks and mitigation measures is important to manage this issue,” it said in an email.

    However, the agency did not respond to questions about whether it plans to consider any policy changes involving potential transmission of diseases to humans.

    Emilia Gordon, a veterinarian and senior manger of animal health with the British Columbia branch of the SPCA, said various groups in the province are trying to create standards of practice for rescued animals.

    “This is really an important issue for Canada,” she said. “I’ve personally seen a number of significant diseases in animals that were rescued from shelters in other countries.”

    “We are increasingly seeing surrender requests for animals who were rescued from other countries and we’ve actually had to set an entire set of protocols and procedures in place to do risk assessments on these animals as they come in,” she said, adding up to five imported animals a week are being brought in to shelters around the province.

    The United States, Mexico and south and central America were the major source countries about five years ago but that changed in the last year, with more dogs coming in from elsewhere in the world, including Asia and Morocco, Gordon said.

    — Follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter.



    Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

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    Bibeau presses Chinese counterpart on canola ban at G20 ministers’ meeting

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    OTTAWA — Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says she used a G20 ministers’ meeting in Japan to press her Chinese counterpart for the evidence behind Beijing’s bans on Canadian canola.
    The overture follows last week’s intervent…

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  • OTTAWA — Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says she used a G20 ministers’ meeting in Japan to press her Chinese counterpart for the evidence behind Beijing’s bans on Canadian canola.

    The overture follows last week’s intervention by Canada at a major World Trade Organization meeting to demand China deliver proof that Canadian canola is contaminated.

    China has stonewalled requests for Canadian experts to examine Chinese evidence that two canola shipments had pests, and there was no sign Wednesday the Canadian food inspectors would receive travel visas from Beijing any time soon.

    Bibeau made clear Canada’s persistent prodding of China and her Chinese counterpart would continue as the uncertainty and strain of declining Sino-Canadian relations was on full display.

    “All of the G20 was about having a rule-based trade order and I’m confident that he will relay our conversation to his colleague responsible for customs China,” Bibeau said. 

    China’s rejection of Canadian food products is part of the escalating tension following the RCMP’s December arrest in Vancouver of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou. The Chinese telecom giant is at the centre of a mounting political battle, which was on display Wednesday, over whether it will equip Canada’s fifth-generation wireless networks.

    Nine days after Meng’s arrest, China imprisoned two Canadians — ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor — and accused them of violating China’s national security. Spavor received his seventh consular visit Wednesday, a day after Kovrig’s seventh, as both men remain locked in a Chinese prison without formal charges and no access to lawyers.

    Meng’s arrest has outraged China’s communist leaders. Meanwhile, Huawei denies the U.S. allegations that its new, next generation digital communications equipment is an organ of Chinese-state espionage.

    President Donald Trump effectively banned Huawei from the U.S. on Wednesday when he signed an executive order declaring a national emergency over what the Commerce Department deemed as “threats to the information and communications technology and services supply chain by foreign adversaries.”

    Conservatives mounted more pressure on the Trudeau government Wednesday to follow Trump’s lead and ban Huawei from supplying equipment for the Canada’s fifth-generation wireless networks.

    Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the government should have already selected one of Huawei’s rivals to be Canada’s next 5G provider. 

    “They should have made a decision much earlier. Had they done that, they could have taken this off the table,” Scheer said after meeting with his caucus. 

    “We have two Canadians being held illegally in China. We’ve seen actions against Canadian canola exports now moving into pork exports,” he added.

    “All along the way, the government of China is escalating the situation and Justin Trudeau has done absolutely nothing about it.”

    Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the government will take the time it needs to make an informed decision about which company it will select to serve its 5G needs.

    “It is a huge enabling new technology that has enormous potential, but it also carries with it, depending on the supply chain, some significant risks,” he said, “and we want to make sure that all of that is factored very carefully into a Canadian decision so we get the advantages of the technology, but we do not in any way comprise national security.”

    Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the government will take “a measured approach to how we deal with companies in Canada and with our international relations.”

    Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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