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Environment

Quebec officials urge caution after flood-caused sinkhole claims woman’s life

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MONTREAL — Quebec’s deputy premier and public safety minister is urging those affected by flooding to exercise extreme caution and vigilance as rising water levels continue to wreak havoc on the province.

“Do not take unnecessary risks, please,” Genevieve Guilbault said at the Ti-Oui Snack Bar in Saint-Raymond on Saturday.

Regional liaison officers for the Canadian Armed Forces are deployed in five districts and prepared to assist residents, she said: Outaouais; Montreal, Laurentians and Lanaudiere; Monteregie and Estrie; Quebec City; and Chaudiere-Appallaches.

Tragedy struck early Saturday morning when a woman in her 70s died after driving her car into a massive sinkhole caused by flooding in western Quebec, police said.

The accident left the woman’s sedan upside down in a swollen stream after rising river levels swept away part of the road in the Outaouais region overnight.

Sgt. Martin Fournel of the MRC des Collines police said witnesses parked near the washout tried unsuccessfully to warn the driver as she approached.

“That lady, who was driving by herself on that road, fell into a sinkhole basically because of the flooding. There was a culvert that was not there anymore, so the road was cut in half and she was not able to brake and avoid the accident,” Fournel told The Canadian Press.

The woman was taken to hospital but pronounced dead soon after, he said.

The accident occurred at about 3:30 a.m. in the Municipality of Pontiac, about 30 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.

Pontiac, which sits along the Ottawa River, is one of at least three municipalities in the Outaouais region to declare states of emergency, along with Saint-Andre-Avellin and Val-des-Monts. The city of Trois-Rivieres is also under a state of emergency.

In Beauceville, about 90 kilometres south of Quebec City, officials have asked the Canadian Armed Forces for assistance, with military vehicles en route to help with evacuations ordered by the municipality.

Earlier this week, the Chaudiere River burst its banks and flooded a large part of downtown. Officials called it the worst flooding since 1971, with 230 homes and businesses flooded.

In Saint-Raymond, about 60 kilometres northwest of the provincial capital, 24 seniors in three residences have been moved to higher ground as the Ste-Anne River continues to rise.

A local dam gave way Saturday, said Mayor Daniel Dion, prompting concerns about flooding.

“The problem today is that there is a lot of ice. If they clog our channels the water will have no space to circulate and that’s where it overflows,” he said.

Dion said he expects the high-water mark to come Sunday evening.

Four major floods have already been identified by Urgence Quebec: the Chaudiere River in Saint-Georges; Saint-Joseph and Vallee-Jonction in Beauce; and Deux-Montagnes Lake in Rigaud.

As of noon Saturday, there were 72 flooded residences, 53 isolated residences and 197 evacuees across the province, according to the most recent Urgence Quebec bulletin.

The most affected areas are Beauce — south of Quebec City — and Rigaud, west of the Island of Montreal.

Provincial police are checking up on residents door to door in Beauceville and Rigaud, where the Surete du Quebec (SQ) have set up command posts, said Sgt. Marie-Michele Moore.

About 40 millimetres of rain have fallen on the Montreal area since Thursday, with five to 10 millimetres more expected Saturday, according to Environment Canada. Rainfall warnings have been lifted, but water levels were already high and were expected to rise sharply with warm temperatures and snowmelt runoff.

Guilbault has said the province will also allow stores — usually closed on Easter Sunday — to remain open this weekend so residents can stock up on supplies.

Thomas Blanchet, a spokesman for the province’s public safety department, said residents should be ready for a sharp spike in water levels that could come quickly, and he implored them to follow the instructions of local officials.

In Laval, just north of Montreal, officials said some 1,500 homes and businesses were under flood watch. In Montreal, Mayor Valerie Plante toured various parts of the city under flood watch.

Plante said the boroughs were well prepared, having learned lessons from record floods two years ago.

“We’re putting in all our energy, but in the end Mother Nature decides,” Plante said.

In a statement, the City of Laval said it had distributed sandbags to 900 homes and knocked on 550 doors to make sure people were safe, as concern rises along with water levels in the Thousand Islands and Prairies rivers.

Quebec City and the Gaspe Peninsula can expect up to 30 millimetres of rainfall this weekend, said Environment Canada meteorologist Andre Cantin.

“That will help the snow to melt again, and we do not expect the river will be able to go down for at least 48 hours,” he said Saturday morning.

The Canadian Press



Environment

Trudeau vents frustration that climate change could be a partisan issue

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the fact an organization could be labelled partisan by Elections Canada just for saying that climate change is real underscores the frustration that there are still some politicians who don’t believe climate change is a problem.

Trudeau is reacting after some environment groups were warned to watch what they say about climate change during the upcoming federal campaign because People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier believes climate change is neither an emergency nor caused by people.

The Canada Elections Act, which outlines rules around advertising and activities by third parties, says certain statements that don’t name a specific party or candidate could still be considered partisan if they address an issue a party or candidate has taken a position on.

Speaking at an event in Quebec City, Trudeau says he respects the independence of Elections Canada to decide whether something is partisan under the Act.

But he says climate change is only a subject for debate because some “conservative” politicians will not agree that climate change is real and in need of a government response.

Several environment groups say they are already curtailing some of their normal activities around climate change because of fears they will be subject to a complaint to Elections Canada about partisan behaviour.

 

The Canadian Press

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Environment

Environment groups warned saying climate change is real could be partisan

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OTTAWA — A pre-election chill has descended over some environment charities after Elections Canada warned them that discussing the dangers of climate change during the upcoming federal campaign could be deemed partisan activity.

An Elections Canada official warned groups in a training session earlier this summer that because Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People’s Party of Canada, has expressed doubts about the legitimacy of climate change, any group that promotes it as real or an emergency could be considered partisan, said Tim Gray, executive director of the advocacy group Environmental Defence.

The Canada Elections Act dictates that advertising by third parties, like environment groups, can be considered partisan if it promotes or disputes an issue raised by any party or candidate during the campaign period, even without mentioning that party or candidate by name. If the ad campaign on that issue costs at least $500, the third party has to register as such with Elections Canada.

Gray says registering as a third party is not only onerous, it could also draw unwanted attention from the Canada Revenue Agency, which prevents charities who want charitable tax status from engaging in partisan activity of any kind.

It is “discouraging” that Environmental Defence and other charities may have to zip their lips about climate change being real during the campaign period “because one party has chosen to deny the existence of this basic fact,” he added.

“Obviously climate change is real,” said Gray. “Almost every credible institution on the planet is telling us to get our act together and do something about it.”

Last fall, the United Nations climate change panel, made up of hundreds of scientists from around the world, said if the world doesn’t act faster to cut global emissions the planet will face irreversible and catastrophic consequences.

Five of the six political parties expected to have any chance of winning a seat in the upcoming campaign agree that climate change is real and caused by humans. Bernier, however, is the one outlier: he believes that if climate change is real, it is a natural cycle of the earth and not an emergency.

“There is no climate change urgency in this country,” Bernier said in a speech in June speech. He also disagrees that carbon dioxide, which experts say is responsible for three-quarters of greenhouse emissions globally, is bad.

“CO2 is not ‘pollution,'” he tweeted. “It’s what comes out of your mouth when you breathe and what nourishes plants.”

Because of that, Elections Canada is warning that any third party that advertises information about carbon dioxide as a pollutant or climate change as an emergency could be considered to be indirectly advocating against Bernier and his party. Advertising can be considered partisan by Elections Canada even if it doesn’t mention a candidate or party by name, the agency’s rules say.

An Elections Canada spokesman confirmed “such a recommendation would be something we would give.”

Gray says the impact is stifling the conversation about climate change at a critical time.

“At this point, unless I can get greater clarification, after the writ is dropped we would stop doing anything online that talks about climate change, which is our entire mandate,” he said. “You feel you’re being drawn into this space where you’re being characterized as being a partisan entity for putting up Facebook ads that say climate change is real, which seems ridiculous to me.”

Environment groups in Canada are still on edge after spending much of the last five years fighting against the Canada Revenue Agency accusations and worry that if Elections Canada accuses them of being partisan, it will attract another round of audits for partisan activity. Gray said the two may have different definitions of partisan, but the fear is still having a chilling effect.

“We need to ensure that we’re not saying things that are going to be considered to be illegal by Elections Canada.”

It doesn’t mean Gray is forbidden from giving interviews about climate change during the campaign, he said. Rather, it would affect any kind of activity the group undertakes that costs more than $500, such as a Facebook ad campaign. 

In 2012, the former Conservative government unveiled a $13-million audit program to seek out charities the Conservatives alleged were abusing their tax status with partisan activities. The probes went after two dozen environment, human rights, anti-poverty and religious groups — none of them considered partisan — for going beyond a rule that limited their spending to no more than 10 per cent of their funding on political advocacy work.

The program was launched as the Conservatives called many environment groups “radical” and a “threat” to Canada.

The Liberals promised to end what they called a “witch hunt” against any civil society groups that opposed the government’s policies. It took more than three years, but eventually legislation was changed last year to lift the 10 per cent limitation. The non-partisan rule, however, remains.

Catherine Abreu, executive director of the Climate Action Network Canada, called the Elections Canada warning “shocking.”

“Climate change is a scientific fact,” she said. “It’s not an opinion.”

The situation is “contributing to ongoing confusion” about what environment charities can and cannot do, and will give fuel to pro-oil groups that want to silence their opponents, Abreu added.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version included surveys as an example of possibly partisan activities.



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