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Real-life tsunami threat in Port Alberni, B.C., prompts evacuation updates

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VICTORIA — When tsunami-alert sirens rang out in the dead of night in Port Alberni 14 months ago, most people fled for higher ground but some didn’t recognize the emergency signal, says a new study.

A magnitude 7.9 earthquake off the coast of Alaska Jan. 23, 2018, at 1:31 a.m. prompted a tsunami alert along much of Canada’s West Coast, including Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. Port Alberni, population of about 17,500, was hit by Canada’s largest tsunami in March 1964 after a 9.2 earthquake off the Alaska coast.

The January 2018 tsunami alert was lifted at 4:30 a.m. but not before thousands of people left their homes in various states of  fear and confusion, say researchers from the University of British Columbia’s school of community and regional planning in a report released Thursday.

Ryan Reynolds, one of the report’s authors and a risk modelling expert, said the report serves as a preparation blueprint for coastal communities that face the ever-present threat of tidal waves.

“This was really an opportunity for us to re-evaluate our own preparedness in terms of coastal hazards,” he said in an interview. “This is really the only test we’ve had recently of a tsunami evacuation to see what impact that has on a community.”

Port Alberni saw more than 90 per cent of households in warning zones evacuate to the safety of higher ground, but there were glitches before the alert was lifted at 4:30 a.m., said Reynolds

Some people didn’t understand why community sirens were blaring and others were looking for confirmation of the alert on social media, but the community’s emergency response system did not immediately inform residents of the potential danger, he said.

“The first thing people do is they try to verify the information,” Reynolds said. “They’re not sure if the siren is a warning or if perhaps the siren’s broke and it’s just going off.”

Elderly people try to verify the alert on television or radio while younger people look to social media, he said. Confusion arose in Port Alberni because as emergency response teams were being activated, the city’s social media sites stayed blank for much of the alert period, said Reynolds.

The research involved interviews with about 450 local residents and numerous city officials, he said.

Reynolds recalled meeting a family that had moved to the community three days before the alert and were roused by neighbours who urged them to flee.

“They didn’t know what the siren meant and they had young kids,” he said. “Suddenly, they’re faced with a sound they don’t know. They look out their door and all they see is neighbours getting in their vehicles. For them this was kind of like the Apocalypse.”

But Reynolds said the research found more than 60 per cent of residents have updated their tsunami evacuation plans since the alert, and community and regional officials have better co-ordinated social media services and response tactics.

“Our community is very tsunami aware,” said Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions. “The tsunami definitely caught people’s attention to make sure they definitely have a plan.”

She said the threat of a tsunami in Port Alberni is something that’s never far from the minds of those in the community.

Reynolds said Port Alberni is better prepared today for a tsunami than it was last year.

“If this were to happen tonight at 2 a.m. the events would be much smoother, much quicker and we would have much better communication with people,” he said. “They’re kind of battle-tested.”

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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Protests, legal challenges planned to block Trans Mountain pipeline expansion

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VANCOUVER — Opponents of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion are preparing for a long summer of legal challenges and protests aimed at blocking the project from being built.

Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation says it will file a legal challenge in the Federal Court of Appeal and he is confident the First Nation will be successful after Ottawa approved the project on Tuesday.

Squamish Nation Coun. Khelsilem says his band is also prepared for legal action and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart says the city will join any lawsuits that are filed.

Lawyer Eugene Kung says there are a number of legal arguments opponents could advance, including that it was impossible for the federal government to make an unbiased decision as the owner of the pipeline.

But Eric Adams, a law professor at the University of Alberta, says the court may be uncomfortable setting a precedent that governments cannot approve projects they support.

A 20-kilometre march is planned for Sunday from Victoria to the Saanich peninsula in solidarity with First Nations that are opposed to the project.

The Canadian Press

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Tax credits, penalizing big polluters, key to Conservative climate plan

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OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says his climate plan will be “Canada’s best chance” to hit its targets under the Paris climate-change agreement and that it can happen without a carbon tax.

Scheer outlined his climate policy in the backyard of a private home in rural Chelsea, Que., Wednesday evening, not far from where flooding linked to climate change hit for the second time in three years this spring. Flies and mosquitoes swarmed and a handful of protesters gathered on the gravel road in front of the property.

“Conservatives fundamentally believe that you cannot tax your way to a cleaner environment,” Scheer said. “Instead, the answer lies in technology.”

The environment, and climate change in particular, are garnering the most attention ever heading into a federal campaign as Canadians in all parts of the country are dealing with more frequent forest fires, droughts, floods and storms.

The plan does not specify how much any of its 55 elements would cut emissions and suggests Canada’s path to meeting the targets would include using Canadian products to reduce emissions in other countries.

“Greenhouse-gas emissions do not recognize borders,” Scheer said. “Nor are the impacts of climate change proportional to any one country’s emissions. Whether emissions are reduced in Canada or in China, the scientific impact on global climate change is the exact same.”

His platform, dubbed A Real Plan to Protect Our Environment, looks at introducing a capital cost allowance for industries that show they are reducing emissions in other countries. He specifically mentions using Canadian liquefied natural gas to replace coal as a source of electricity and exporting more Canadian aluminum, which he says is made with fewer emissions than aluminum in other countries.

Canada’s commitment under the Paris climate-change agreement is to cut emissions to 70 per cent of what they were in 2005 before 2030. Canada needs to get to 513 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year to hit that target. In 2017, the most recent year for which statistics have been compiled, Canada’s emissions were 716 million tonnes.

There is an allowance in the Paris accord for “co-operative mechanisms,” which allow for reductions in one country to be counted towards the targets of another country as long as both countries agree. The rules for that allowance have not yet been set and the intention was for it to be used for countries to strengthen their targets beyond the original Paris commitments.

The targets in the Paris accord are not legally binding, however, so there is no monetary penalty if Canada misses them. In a question-and-answer session after the speech, Scheer refused to be drawn on how much his plan could be expected to reduce Canada’s emissions.

Canada’s existing climate plan under the Liberal government leaves the country about 80 million tonnes shy of its Paris targets in 2030. The national price on carbon, set at $20 a tonne this year, rising to $50 a tonne by 2022, will reduce emissions between 50 million and 60 million tonnes a year, an Environment Canada analysis says.

Scheer’s plan is to make scrapping that carbon tax one of his first actions as prime minister.

He also intends to replace the Liberals’ system for applying the carbon tax to major industrial emitters with one that requires them to invest in clean technology for their own companies.

Scheer promises to give companies a tax break on income earned from developing and patenting green technology in Canada. Homeowners will get a tax credit worth as much as $2,850 for making energy-efficiency upgrades to their homes, such as installing solar panels or putting in better-insulated windows.

He also intends to create a green-technology fund with $250 million in federal money to draw private investments in green technology that could repay the federal contributions when the technology is sold.

Liberal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna took to a microphone on Parliament Hill to scorn the Tory plan shortly after Scheer finished talking.

“I guess we now know why Andrew Scheer waited until the dying hours of this Parliament to shovel out his ideas to tackle climate change,” she said. “It’s because he has a fake plan. No numbers, no serious measures and no commitment to move the needle on climate action. He says we can save the planet but we don’t have to make any changes. Pollution can be free, we can burn coal, develop oil forever, build as many pipelines as oil lobbyists want. Just invent some technologies and sell them to other countries — that’ll do it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. The Paris agreement requires every country to do their part … You can’t export your way out of this problem.”

The New Democrats’ Peter Julian called the Tory plan “a collection of boutique tax credits and a rebranding exercise … But I would say to the Conservatives, ‘Nice pictures, though.’ Because that’s the only benefit I see from the plan they presented today.”

Environment groups likewise panned the Scheer plan, saying it is similar to requests from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which released a climate plan a few weeks ago.

“This is a plan only an oil lobbyist could love,” said Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada.

Catherine Abreu, executive director of the Climate Action Network Canada, said the Scheer strategy is a research-and-development plan, not a climate-action policy.

“This might be a plan to cut other things but it is not a plan to cut emissions,” said Abreu. “Is Canada somehow going to save the world by increasing our own emissions?”

—With files from Joan Bryden and Teresa Wright

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version gave an incorrect name for Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada.



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