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How the SNC-Lavalin affair tested Trudeau's ideals

How the SNC-Lavalin affair tested Trudeau’s ideals

The thing about standing for an ideal is that people expect you to live up to it — or at least to their idea of it.

Justin Trudeau built his leadership upon a set of ideals: “sunny ways,” cabinet government, transparency, openness, inclusion, reconciliation, gender equality and doing things “differently.” Trudeau’s commitment to nearly every one of those principles has been challenged by critics and rivals over the last two months — his commitment to feminism in particular, now that Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott have been expelled from the Liberal parliamentary caucus.

Outside the House of Commons on Tuesday, reporters pressed Trudeau and his ministers to comment on the government’s feminist credentials and the message sent to young women by the expulsions of two women who had become the prime minister’s prominent critics.

“We have a strong prime minister that is a feminist. We have a feminist agenda. Our record speaks for itself,” said Mélanie Joly, the tourism minister. “As to my two colleagues, I would argue that loyalty and feminism are two different things. And actually, there is no female or male definition of loyalty. It’s either you have team spirit, you want to work in a team, or you don’t.”

So perhaps two male ministers, behaving exactly the same way, would have met the same fate.

At the Daughters of the Vote event in the House on Tuesday — a biannual gathering that puts young women in the seats of MPs for a morning of speeches and discussion — some 50 delegates stood and silently turned their backs as the prime minister delivered his remarks.

An awkward diversion

Trudeau acknowledged the obvious tension of the day, but then awkwardly tried to contrast the departure of two strong women with … the continued presence of two strong women.

“I know nobody in here wants to have to pick who to believe between Jody Wilson Raybould and Chrystia Freeland,” he said. “Nobody wants to know that one person has to be right and another person has to be wrong between Jane Philpott or Maryam Monsef.”

That women stood behind Trudeau’s decision to expel Wilson-Raybould and Philpott likely is not irrelevant. But maybe it’s not the prime minister’s task to pit them against each other.

It’s likely not up to any one person (certainly not me) to say whether Trudeau is a good feminist. But if there was any solace for Trudeau in the Commons yesterday, it was in the fact that all 338 of those young women — even the ones unhappy with him — stayed in the chamber as he spoke. Moments prior, several dozen delegates simply walked out on Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s speech.

(On the other hand, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s speech was received enthusiastically by the group — which might make Trudeau anxious.)

“By kicking the first Indigenous former attorney general of Canada out of caucus for upholding the law, the prime minister has made it clear that principled women who dare to stand up to him are not welcome in the Liberal Party,” the NDP’s Jenny Kwan charged in question period. “Is this what a self-proclaimed feminist looks like in 2019?”

Trudeau tried to make the case for his own feminism, or at least for his government’s commitment to the ideal: a development assistance policy aimed at women and girls, gender-based analysis of budgets, legislated pay equity, funding for women’s organizations and a gender-balanced cabinet.

Then the prime minister offered a bit of meta commentary.

“I recognize there is much more to do and I am proud that there is now a contest among party leaders to see who can be the better feminist. I think that is a great thing for this country. I think that is a great thing for Parliament.”

Perhaps there’s some solace there too.

Thus far, but not far enough

The struggle between Trudeau and his ideals has been real. He waived solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality to allow Wilson-Raybould to speak about her time as attorney general, but she objected that the waiver did not go far enough. Liberal members of the justice committee were apparently free to look into the SNC affair, but then the hearings were abandoned.

In both cases, Trudeau probably went further than Stephen Harper would have gone. But in neither case did he go as far as he could have.

In vowing to do things differently, he raised the expectation that — when confronted with a profound challenge — he would be perfectly forthcoming, without regard for the normal political impulse to control the narrative and limit the damage.

Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould leaves West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, April 2, 2019. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

In appointing the first Indigenous minister of justice and attorney general, he put an incredible burden on himself and his office to ensure both her success and a good working relationship between them. That made the possibility of moving her, or demoting her, a daunting prospect.

For all that, Trudeau might now fall back on what he’s been insisting all along — that neither he nor his office did anything wrong (the claim that they did is at least in dispute) and that their cause (saving jobs) was just.

Wilson-Raybould says she told Gerry Butts, Trudeau’s former adviser, that the Prime Minister’s Office was inappropriately pressuring her. Butts disputes that claim. Wilson-Raybould did raise a concern in a phone call with the clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick. But Wernick seems not to have told Trudeau about what she said.

The power of symbolism

Liberals will also argue that they had perfectly valid reasons for wanting Wilson-Raybould and Philpott gone from caucus — starting with the fact that, at the very least, they had reasons to believe they no longer all shared the same goal.

But Trudeau and his fellow Liberals must understand the symbolic value of everything that’s happened with the SNC-Lavalin file. Two impressive women now sit outside the Liberal caucus. We’re still waiting on an ethics commissioner probe; the facts have not been fully and completely aired.

Maybe his political opponents weren’t complaining in good faith. Maybe nothing would have satisfied them.

But the last two months will still weigh down any attempt by Trudeau to lay claim to those ideals. Trudeau must hope that giving voice to those ideals, and his pursuit of them, still count for something, even if he has not always fully embodied the ideal.

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Marine scientists warn of risky rescue of orcas and belugas from Russian 'whale jail'

Marine scientists warn of risky rescue of orcas and belugas from Russian ‘whale jail’

Some of the world’s top marine biologists are meeting in Moscow this week to try to save nearly 100 whales — including 11 orcas and 87 belugas — held captive since autumn in what critics have dubbed Russia’s “whale jail.”

Since November, the cetaceans have been kept in small pens, which are often on the verge of freezing over, in a bay not far from Vladivostok on Russia’s Pacific Coast.

The whales were captured by several Russian companies intent on selling them to Chinese aquariums, a practice that until now has been perfectly legal in Russia.

“These are conditions that the animals shouldn’t be in. Their health is slowly deteriorating,” said Grigory Tsidulko, a marine mammal expert who’s been consulting with Greenpeace over the fate of the creatures.

The team arriving in Moscow on Thursday is headed up by Jean-Michel Cousteau, the 81-year-old son of the famous French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. The group, which includes international experts as well as some of Russia’s top whale researchers, is expected to travel to Vladivostok over the weekend to survey the health of the whales and present options to Russian authorities for releasing them.

A public outcry led by animal welfare activists in Russia and supported by Hollywood celebrities such as Canadian-born animal welfare campaigner Pamela Anderson, pushed the government of President Vladimir Putin to pronounce that the whales should be freed.

If that happens, biologists say it could be the largest mass release of captive cetaceans ever. But many who’ve been following the saga of the “jailed” whales have their doubts it will.

An overhead view of the pens holding belugas and orcas at the facility in Srednyaya Bay, in southeastern Russia. (Reuters)

There’s also a growing debate about whether the animals could survive. “It would be absolutely irresponsible if you just open the pens and let those whales swim away,” said Tsidulko, noting that orcas are highly social creatures and maintain close family units in the wild.

“They have never been in the places where they’re being kept in captivity. Right now, there’s not enough food for them where they’re being held.”

Brisk trade

Russian environmental groups have been pushing the Putin government for years to stop the trade in ocean mammals. The four companies that captured these animals were issued legal permits to keep the whales for “educational” reasons. They then quickly turned around and cut deals with Chinese marine parks, where an orca can sell for up to $5 million US each, according to several animal welfare groups that have investigated the practice.

Greenpeace estimates a beluga can sell for up to $150,000 US.

Marine parks have been rapidly expanding in China, with more than 60 already operating and dozens more in the planning stages. The environmental group the China Cetacean Alliance claims 491 marine mammals have already been put into captivity in the country.

Statistics from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) suggest as many as 13 orcas caught in Russian waters were sold to China between 2013 and 2016.

Marine mammal expert Grigory Tsidulko has been consulting with Greenpeace over how the captive whales should be freed. (Pascal Dumont/CBC)

In April 2018, Russia passed a new law to close a loophole allowing the “educational” capture of belugas and orcas. Tsidulko said it’s unclear how the new rules are being enforced, and whether companies will use other parts of Russia’s fishery act to continue catching whales.

Russia’s fisheries department does not consider orcas or killer whales to be endangered species.

Distant homes

Russian police intervened to stop the sale of the whales in the Vladivostok pens last month, claiming the companies didn’t have the proper permits, leaving the animals in limbo.

Many of the whales were captured near Sakhalin Island in the Sea of Okhotsk, which is more than 1,500 kilometres away from where the sea mammals are being kept now.

Russian authorities have suggested the companies responsible may need to lift the whales onto barges and transport them back to the places where they were captured. However, the region won’t be ice-free — and thus easily accessible — until the summer.

There are also concerns that the youngest belugas, some of which were babies when they were caught, have become too accustomed to being fed by humans in the months they’ve been in captivity.

Tsidulko said his fear is that some, perhaps even most, of the whales may be deemed “non-releasable,” and end up being sold to clients in China.

The video below shows some of the whales being held in captivity:

Since November, beluga and orca whales have been kept in small pens not far from Vladivostok on Russia’s Pacific Coast. 4:06

All of this has led activists to wonder how many of the whales will ever live in the wild again.

“At the moment, nobody has said these animals will be released, and nobody has said they no longer belong to the companies,” said Tsidulko.

Catching continues    

Later this month, the fisheries department will hold public hearings on setting a total allowable catch (TAC) of 10 orcas and 82 belugas for 2020. 

While some of the animals may be slaughtered and used for food by Indigenous communities, Tsidulko laments the fact that Russia “remains one of the few countries that sells live cetaceans for public displays and shows.”

“On the one side, we are saying that they are so intelligent and so much like humans. On the other hand, we’re saying if someone wants to have a 20-minute show with a bucket of popcorn, then we can catch them and bring them for public pleasure. There’s something really wrong with this.”

In Canada, a bill that would ban aquariums from having dolphins and whales in captivity has already passed through the Senate, and is now in the House of Commons. Critics, including the owners of Marineland in southern Ontario, have said the bill will hurt science and legitimate research programs.

Vancouver’s Aquarium, which used to keep orcas and belugas for public performances, also initially strongly opposed the legislation. It no longer puts the whales on public display.

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Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn arrested again in Tokyo

Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn arrested again in Tokyo

Tokyo prosecutors say the latest arrest of former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn was based on suspicion he diverted $5 million US from funds that were being relayed from a Nissan subsidiary to an overseas dealership.

TV footage Thursday morning showed officials entering Ghosn’s apartment, and a car later going to the prosecutors’ office, barely a month after Ghosn was released on bail from the earlier arrests related to alleged financial misconduct while he led the Japanese automaker.

In a statement Ghosn strongly declared his innocence.

“My arrest this morning is outrageous and arbitrary. It is part of another attempt by some individuals at Nissan to silence me by misleading the prosecutors. Why arrest me except to try to break me? I will not be broken. I am innocent of the groundless charges and accusations against me.”

He was first arrested in November on charges of under-reporting his compensation.

The prosecutors said the diverted money is suspected of going to a company Ghosn virtually ran. The statement issued Thursday did not mention Oman. But an investigation by Nissan Motor Co.’s French alliance partner Renault has centered on payments to a dealership in Oman in which some of the money is suspected of having been channeled for Ghosn’s personal use.

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Whistleblower Edward Snowden calls on Canada to help the refugee families who helped him

Whistleblower Edward Snowden calls on Canada to help the refugee families who helped him

U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden is urging the Canadian government to accept all seven of the people who sheltered him in Hong Kong while he was fleeing prosecution as refugees.

In a rare interview, he tells The National’s Adrienne Arsenault that every day the individuals remain in Hong Kong, “they are in immediate danger.” 

Two members of the group, Vanessa Rodel and her daughter seven-year-old Keana, arrived in Canada last week. The whole story reads a bit like a movie script. And why not? 

The reason Canadians know their story at all is because filmmaker Oliver Stone made a movie about Snowden, and along the way — at some point during the scripting process it’s believed — information got out  that revealed how Rodel and Keana’s lives — along with the rest of the group’s — were intertwined with Snowden’s.

Edward Snowden leaked classified NSA documents in 2013. The United States declared him a traitor and Snowden fled prosecution. (The Guardian/Associated Press)

Back in 2013, Snowden leaked classified documents from the U.S. National Security Agency, where he had been working as a contractor. The documents revealed a massive government surveillance operation, and the United States declared him a traitor. Snowden fled to avoid prosecution, at one point winding up in Hong Kong. 

That’s where he met Rodel. 

She and two other families — refugees themselves having fled the Philippines and Sri Lanka — sheltered Snowden in their tiny homes in Hong Kong while he was on the run.

The seven people who sheltered Snowden in Hong Kong. Sri Lankan refugee Supun Thilina Kellapatha, 3rd from the left, his partner Nadeeka, left, with their baby boy Dinath and daughter Sethumdi, Sri Lankan refugee Ajith Puspa, 3rd from the right, Rodel, right, and her daughter Keana. (Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images)

Now, from his apartment in Russia, where Edward Snowden lives in exile, he is pleading with Canada to let in the other families — the three adults and two children who were left behind.  

“These people helped me in 2013,” Snowden told Arsenault by video chat. “And yet here we are 2019.”

Snowden says Canada is best positioned to welcome all seven refugees. (Jean-François Bisson/CBC News)

Snowden found himself living with the families in Hong Kong six years ago because of a Canadian lawyer, Robert Tibbo. He was Snowden’s lawyer and he was also working for the families, trying to keep them from being deported and trying to get them safely out of Hong Kong.

“I would say this one guy… is perhaps the reason [the families] haven’t been sent back yet,” Snowden said.

He believes it took the leak during the moviemaking to get the world to pay attention to the families’ plight. He says Rodel and her daughter would not be in Canada were it not “for the profile they got from this film” and “the insanity of the response of the Hong Kong government to having their mistreatment of these refugee families … suddenly thrust into the global spotlight.”

Snowden describes what the refugee families face daily living in Hong Kong.

Edward Snowden tells Adrienne Arsenault about the danger the people who helped hide him in Hong Kong face now that what they did is public. 1:29

Rodel and Keana, another refugee couple and their two children, and a third man were all living as refugees in Hong Kong in 2013. They were poor, prohibited from working by the Hong Kong government, living in cramped spaces.

“The bathroom sink was the kitchen sink,” said Snowden. Over a period of about three weeks, he crowded into each of the families’ three homes with them. It wasn’t long before he moved on to Russia  —  but it was long enough to have a negative impact on Rodel and the others. 

Their lives were already difficult, Snowden said. And once the Hong Kong government got wind through the movie leak that the families had sheltered Snowden, their situation got worse. Snowden says the government basically retaliated, removing their refugee stipends and access to food and housing.

Arsenault asks Snowden what it was like to realize that the very people who had helped him were being made to pay for it.

Edward Snowden tells Adrienne Arsenault that the people who helped him are being made to suffer again and again. 1:41

That’s when Snowden says the effort to get the families refugee status in another country began. He believes Canada is best positioned to help them.

“These children are stateless and they will never live a free life unless they are welcomed into and protected by a state. And the only one who is in a position to do so right now, who has the legal framework to do so right now is Canada.”

The only thing they did is they helped someone who was facing retaliation for telling the truth.– Edward Snowden

The paperwork requesting asylum from Canada was filed in early 2017 and Snowden says their situation is dire. He says the families will be deported to Sri Lanka where they where they claim to face torture and death threats. He is enormously grateful that Rodel and Keana are here, but says there is clearly something preventing the other five from being immediately brought to Canada, too.

“If this process is independent, If it’s truly independent, they already would have been admitted. I believe and everyone else believes the only reason this process for admission has taken so long is simply because the Canadian government is bending over backwards not to create an appearance that might irritate the United States government.”

That’s because the United States still considers Snowden a traitor and he still faces charges in the U.S. related to his exposure of what was considered state secrets.

Snowden says that shouldn’t matter.

“The only thing they did is they helped someone who was facing retaliation for telling the truth. And if that’s something that Canada can’t stand behind, that’s something we need to know publicly rather than them sort of doing it privately.”

He added, “Admitting these families is something Canada can be proud of. And seeing these families have a happy ending, I think in the fullness of history is something that the United States will be very much glad happened.”

Watch Adrienne’s full interview from The National: 

Former CIA employee and NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden has a message for Canada. He sat down for an exclusive interview with The National’s Adrienne Arsenault. 7:45

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Manitoba will challenge federal carbon tax in court, has 'credible greenhouse gas-reduction plan': premier

Manitoba will challenge federal carbon tax in court, has ‘credible greenhouse gas-reduction plan’: premier

The Manitoba government will go to court over Ottawa’s imposition of a carbon tax.

Premier Brian Pallister revealed Wednesday his government will launch a legal challenge against the federal government, which imposed its new levy as promised on Manitoba, along with three other provinces, Monday.

“We’re going to court, sadly, to challenge the Ottawa carbon tax because Ottawa cannot impose a carbon tax on a province that has a credible greenhouse gas-reduction plan of its own, and we do,” he told reporters.

Manitoba’s climate change plan originally included a carbon tax, which Pallister withdrew in a surprise move last October.

The federal government’s carbon tax came into effect April 1 for four provinces — Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick — that didn’t meet Ottawa’s standard for a sufficient carbon pricing system.

The carbon tax is now charged on 21 different fuel inputs in those provinces, including gasoline, at a rate of $20 per tonne of carbon emissions. That will gradually rise to $50 per tonne by 2022.

Pallister said Wednesday his government has a strong legal case against the federal tax, separate from a court challenge already launched by Saskatchewan, and backed by Ontario and New Brunswick, because it originally proposed its own tax.

Manitoba backed away from that plan, which proposed a flat carbon price of $25 per tonne, when the federal Liberal government declared it didn’t go far enough.

The premier also said it wasn’t fair that the federal government had offered exceptions to other provinces, but not Manitoba.

He’s previously said Quebec’s cap-and-trade program is much less stringent than the flat $25-per-tonne price he proposed before he withdrew the Manitoba carbon tax, and has argued Manitoba isn’t given credit for the clean energy it produces.

“I’m the only Conservative premier in the country that took steps to develop a green plan, which actually involves our people here contributing somewhat to a levy.”

The federal Liberal government will begin levying its carbon tax on greenhouse gas-emitting fuels today in the four provinces that have refused to take part in the pan-Canadian climate framework. 4:35

Pallister said his decision was influenced by discussions with government lawyers, and that Manitoba’s legal argument is more convincing now that the federal backstop is in place.

“There’s no point launching the case unless they were going to intrude on Manitoba’s jurisdiction,” he said of the federal government. “They didn’t do that until this past Monday.”

Manitoba will withdraw the court challenge, which may take two to three years to wind through the legal channels, Pallister said, if the Saskatchewan court challenge succeeds, or if the Trudeau government is defeated in the next federal election. 

“My hope would be it’s resolved by previous court decisions and we don’t need to carry it further,” Pallister said. “I guess I could be accused of trying to save money, yet again.”

If Ottawa’s plan is rejected, Pallister wouldn’t say whether he would implement the carbon tax plan his government originally proposed.

Manitoba has ‘flip-flopped’: environment minister

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is dismayed by Pallister’s thinking.

“I think it’s really ironic,” she said from Ottawa.

“The day after we release a climate report for Canada by our scientists that said that Canada’s warming is double the world average that we have the premier of Manitoba deciding to take us to court, to spend taxpayer money fighting climate action as opposed to fighting climate change,” McKenna said.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna condemned the Manitoba government for choosing to fight Ottawa in court over the carbon tax, just one day after a report found that Ottawa was warming at twice the world’s average. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

“Manitoba had an opportunity to have a plan and, unfortunately, they flip-flopped so many times.”

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew pointed out the province received a legal opinion two years ago that said the federal government has the right to impose a carbon tax.

He said this lawsuit, which he described as “frivolous,” won’t change that. 

“We can debate the merits of the carbon pricing measure, but I can tell you one thing for sure: taking the federal government to court on this is just going to waste taxpayer money and it’s going to do absolutely nothing to fight climate change here.” 

The legal opinion said the province could legally snub the federal carbon tax scheme if it demonstrated that its plan was equally effective at cutting emissions. 

The government would be better off returning to the negotiating table with the federal government, argued Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont.

“To go against the advice of a very well-respected law prof who you’ve paid tens of thousands of dollars to give you advice on this matter doesn’t make any sense to me.”

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Epilepsy patient refuses to leave Vancouver hospital until her health needs are met

Epilepsy patient refuses to leave Vancouver hospital until her health needs are met

A 22-year-old epilepsy patient is risking arrest — refusing to leave her hospital room at Vancouver General Hospital — claiming the medical system has failed to provide her with a plan of care and that her life is at risk.

Tavia Marlatt has severe epilepsy and can sometimes experience up to 50 seizures a day. Her condition means she can’t live on her own in case she has a seizure and needs someone to administer emergency medication.

Marlatt has been at VGH for the past eight days, undergoing tests to determine whether targeted brain surgery could ease her epilepsy.

Instead, results showed that her epilepsy is critically severe — while doctors thought the seizures were stemming from her left frontal lobe, they’re actually coming from three different spots in her brain.

Because she’s occupying one of just two beds dedicated to seizure assessment in B.C., she’s being discharged on Thursday — a decision she says will put her life in jeopardy.

“I’ve been told that I have to leave the hospital, that [staying] is not an option. So if they need the police to come in here and take me out then that’s fine. If I have to get something put on my criminal record for standing up for what I believe in that’s fine,” she said.

Marlatt and her mother, Renee, who works as a trained special needs caregiver, have been fighting for her right to live at home, rather than have her moved into an institution. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Even spending short amounts of time alone can be dangerous for Marlatt, who recently broke her jaw in four places after experiencing a seizure while walking on the side of the road. She also has borderline personality disorder and cognitive deficits.

Her mother Renee, who works as a trained special needs caregiver, has been fighting for her daughter to live at home and receive support there rather than be moved into an institution.

But the Fraser Health Authority has denied funding that would allow the family to organize in-home care, saying the authority would instead pay for Tavia Marlatt’s care in a group home or at a government-run facility.

“The goal is to get funding so we can hire somebody … while my mom is not home, so that my mom doesn’t come home one day and I’m dead on the floor because there was no one there to put me on my side in the recovery position,” said Marlatt.

“The thought that they think it’s OK for me to go to a group home … that’s also a spit in my face.”

Results from recent tests showed that Marlatt’s epilepsy is more severe than originally thought — while doctors thought the seizures originated from her left frontal lobe, they’re actually coming from three different spots in her brain. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Kim Davidson, executive director of the BC Epilepsy Society, said the family’s position is not meant to be adversarial.

“We’re asking for the basic needs that this young woman requires in order to be safe in our community, that’s it,” she said.

“I think the health-care system needs to [think about] — what does this look like if this turns into a coroner’s inquest?”

Awaiting response from authorities

Davidson said she’s contacted Fraser Health and the minister of health multiple times about the case, with no response. She said that while the doctors working on Marlatt’s case are “extraordinary,” the bureaucracy of the health-care system “is going to cost someone their life.”

Fraser Health previously sent CBC News a statement explaining that in cases like Marlatt’s, community support homes are offered as an option because many caregivers are highly trained to deal with complex care needs.

On Wednesday afternoon B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix declined to comment on the specifics of the case due to privacy.

“It’s going to be the clinicians and the people working on the issue that are going to work out the care plan, they have to work it out with the family with the tools that we have,” he said.

“A disease such as epilepsy puts an enormous burden on everyone involved and I understand that.”

Even spending short amounts of time alone can be dangerous for Marlatt, who recently broke her jaw in four places after experiencing a seizure while walking on the side of the road. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

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Developer tables plan for Parkdale apartments once managed by notorious landlord

Developer tables plan for Parkdale apartments once managed by notorious landlord

A local developer is hoping to transform a series of properties across from Stadium LRT, once owned by an infamous Edmonton landlord, into a six-storey apartment building.

The proposed site is largely a mix of boarded-up homes and vacant lands. The properties have been the subject of public health complaints and safety concerns from neighbours in the past.

Parkdale residents had their first look at the proposed apartment building on Thursday at a public consultation organized by the city. The developer, Gina Xiu Ling Cai, is asking the city to rezone eight lots on 86th Street from low-rise to medium-rise to accommodate plans for a 50-unit building, with commercial space fronting onto the busy arterial roadway.

The boarded-up property on 86th Street, which was previously connected to an infamous Edmonton landlord, is now part of a proposed site for a mid-rise apartment building. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

“She’s trying to bring vibrancy back to the community. She’s trying to rebuild something that has a very negative outlook,” said Kaylyn Stark, a planner with Invistec Consulting, which is working with Cai on the rezoning application.

In an interview with CBC News, Stark helped translate for Cai, who speaks limited English.

Properties once connected to infamous Edmonton landlord

Cai said about she purchased some of the lots on the proposed site from Abdullah Shah, also known as Carmen Prevez, about a year ago. 

Shah, an infamous Edmonton landlord, has a lengthy criminal record from cocaine trafficking to organizing a $30 million fraud scheme. He is currently in custody on charges of conspiracy and aggravated assault for allegedly paying people to attack a man.

Local residents have also accused Shah of being an absentee landlord and ignoring complaints against tenants in his buildings.

AHS ordered Shah to vacate one of the buildings in 2015 after an inspection found sewer backup in the basement, water damage and a shower nozzle held together with tape.

Mustafa Aral said his house backs onto the site of a proposed 50-unit apartment building. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

Cai said she was aware of the previous concerns with the properties. She said she did not know Shah or have any connections to him.

Mustafa Aral, whose house backs onto the proposed site, said he’s shared security footage taken from around his home to police in relation to armed robbery and drug trafficking incidents.

“I’m actually very excited that something new is happening in my neighbourhood, and finally we’re done with those problem houses,” he said.

The property owner displayed renderings of the proposed apartment building at a public consultation meeting on Thursday at the Parkdale-Cromdale Community League. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

AHS ordered Cai, the new owner, to make repairs on the only property on the site with a tenant last month after an AHS inspection found the stove was broken, heater vents were missing from the attic and the kitchen cupboards had fallen into disrepair.

Aral said Cai had managed the property “terribly” and was concerned similar issues might carry over into a prospective apartment building.

Cai said she was working with the tenant to find new housing as the rezoning application moves ahead. She said tenants in the three other properties on the proposed site had been evicted.

‘Parkdale is in transition’

Jim Gendron, the chair of the neighbourhood development committee with the Cromdale-Parkdale community league, said the housing stock in the area is nearing the end of its life. He said the idea of an apartment building within walking distance of an LRT station was an excellent idea for the community.

“Parkdale is in transition, Cromdale is in transition. And so far, what we’re starting to see with this kind development is positive opportunities that transition,” he said.

Jim Gendron, chair of the community league’s neighbourhood development committee, said the proposed apartment buildings were an excellent idea. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

The developer said the price and target demographic of the proposed apartment building hasn’t been decided, but it would be market housing.

“There’s no way to bring people into the community with vacant lots and boarded up houses. We’re creating the opportunity for new people to come to the community and build on a mature neighbourhood,” said Stark, the planner with the consulting company.

The rezoning application still needs to go before council. Cai said she is hoping the application will get approved by June and construction can start in the fall, or next spring by the latest.

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17 Charts That Show Where Social Media is Heading

17 Charts That Show Where Social Media is Heading

social shares

You already know it’s harder to get traffic from the social web unless you spend money on ads.

There’s nothing new with that fact… just look at the graph above: It breaks down how the average number of social shares per blog post has been dying year over year.

But the reality is you can’t ignore platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube or any other new contender that comes out and gains traction.

These social sites command so much traffic, that we have no choice but to be on them.

Just look at the Similar Web numbers for Facebookthey get an estimated 19.2 billion visits a month.

That’s ridiculous! And it’s not just Facebook either… according to Similar Web, all of the big platforms get tons of traffic:

  • LinkedIn – 917 million visitors a month
  • Twitter – 3.62 billion visitors a month
  • YouTube – 22.77 billion visitors a month
  • Pinterest – 722 million visitors a month
  • Instagram – 2.86 billion visitors a month

In other words, whether you like their algorithm tweaks or not, you have no choice but to be on these platforms as they attract so many eyeballs.

So, what should you do with your organic social reach? How should you combat their algorithms so you can generate a positive ROI as their ad prices keep going up?

Well, I surveyed 183 companies that generate at least 5 million dollars in revenue a year all the way up to $1.7 billion to show you where social media is headed and what you should do to succeed in the landscape.

Let’s dive into the data…

Expect less traffic from the social web, even if you pay for it

Look at the graph below. What do you see?

social shares per post

Since 2015, the amount of shares a blog post receives from the social web has been declining. One of the large reasons for social sites to clamp down on organic reach is that that makes it so you need to spend money to get the reach that you were once used to and relied upon to generate traffic.

Now let’s look at the percentage of digital ad spend going towards social media sites.

ad spend

Over time it has increased, and you’ll notice that things really started to ramp up in 2016.

An interesting fact is that in the United States during mid-2017, Facebook had more advertisers than inventory. In other words, the demand was higher than the supply which caused CPM and CPC rates to increase.

But similar to the game of cat and mouse SEOs play with Google, marketers also play that game with social networks. In recent years, marketers have figured out how to reverse the trend of their dying organic reach.

organic social traffic

2017 was a low point, but since then marketers have figured out a way to boost organic social traffic.

It won’t last forever… but can you guess how?

Don’t expect your employees to help

Well, it’s not by asking your employees to share your content.

employees content share

Roughly 74% of the companies we surveyed asked their employees to share their content. Might as well get those extra likes and comments, right?

I know I used to do it.

employees don't share

But then I stopped because the majority of my employees didn’t want to share the content. And it’s not just my companies, other companies experienced the same thing.

In other words, the first few times you ask your team members to share, they’ll do it. After a while, they’ll ignore you.

So how are marketers boosting their organic reach?

You have to use chatbots

Here’s how much time companies are spending on each form of social media content.

time spent on content

As you can see, everyone loves posting images and text-based updates because they are easy to post.

But they don’t produce the best engagement. It’s actually live video and other forms of video.


Social platforms are trying to compete with television networks and they are even competing with platforms like Netflix.

So, if you want the most engagement you have to feed into their goals. If you start producing live video or even recorded video, you’ll find that you can boost your engagement. What this will do is get more of your followers engaged so when you post other forms of content they’ll be a higher probability that the content will be seen.

The other reason videos work so well is because they keep people on these social platforms versus driving people back to your site.

But of course, you want your followers to go back to your site… and you can do that through chatbots.

biggest social gains

As you can see, 41% of the companies reported that chatbots (also knowns as messenger bots for social sites) provided their biggest traffic gains.

In other words, if you want to drive people from social sites like Facebook, you’ll have to start using messenger bots like Mobile Monkey.

The chances are you aren’t using messenger bots yet, but they are super effective. Just follow this guide and it will walk you through setting them up.

Now, not every social network has messenger bots, but over time you’ll see this change.

You’ll have to start expanding globally

I’ve been blogging a lot about global expansion from an SEO perspective, but the same goes from a social media perspective as well.

social traffic english

The chart above clearly shows how people are now getting traffic from regions where English wasn’t the native language.

And as companies noticed that trend, they also started posting their social content in multiple languages.

language post in

You’ll see a trend of this continuing over the next few years in which companies will be leveraging globalization as social marketing campaigns in non-English speaking countries in most cases is more profitable.

If you want the most out of your organic social traffic and paid ads you should consider posting content in multiple languages.

Some social networks like Facebook give great targeting options where you can pick which regions you want to show your content in.


For other platforms like Twitter and Instagram, this doesn’t exist yet.

When you also look at it from an advertising perspective, ads are expensive in regions like the United States, Japan, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany… but they aren’t as costly in most parts of Latin America and Asia.

Now let’s look at social media from a sales perspective.

Here’s how to maximize your social media revenue

Similar to content marketing, don’t expect social media visitors to convert right when they land on your site.

On average, a social media visitor will convert after 3 visits.

visit before customer

That means you are going to have to focus on getting people to continue to come back to your site if you want more sales.

In other words, you’ll have to play the long game.

The simplest way to do this is to remarket your social visitors. But there are other solutions as well that you aren’t currently using.

convert social customers

You can use a combination of the methods above. You’ll find that one won’t be enough and you’ll have to combine a handful of methods, including SMS.

You’re probably not using SMS marketing yet, but did you know that when I send SMS messages my response rates are 68%?!

That’s crazy high!

I’m not talking about opens, I am talking about responses!

For email, you can use tools like Hello Bar and for push notifications, you can use tools like Subscribers.

But there are multiple ways to boost your sales from social media, including focusing on specific content types.

Did you know that if you leverage chatbots (messenger bots) and post video-based content you’ll generate more sales on average than if you just posted status updates?

organic sales

I know that sounds counterintuitive as it is easier to drive people to your site using status updates than to create a video, but you have to consider that social algorithms favor video.

You can also optimize your sales by picking specific social networks

Sales is a complicated formula. There’s more to growing your revenue than just focusing on specific types of content social media sites love and optimizing your landing pages.

To get a full picture, you also have to look at the first touch and last touch sales.

First touch sales are the traffic source that people first found you from. They don’t necessarily convert right then and there, but it’s the way they first found you.

first touch sales

It’s no shocker, but Facebook is the leader when it comes to first touch sales.

Now let’s look at last touch sales, which is where a visitor comes from right before they convert. Remember, someone may have found your site from Facebook, but they may not convert right away.

last touch

Sure, Facebook is still the winner, but YouTube is a close second and, shockingly, WhatsApp is in 3rd place.

It makes sense as texting has an extremely high open and click rate. I know you aren’t using WhatsApp for your business yet because that’s what the data shows, but you should check out their business API.

social platform


Over the upcoming years, you can assume social algorithms are going to get tougher from both an organic and paid perspective.

Social media companies are facing heavy governmental pressure due to fake news, privacy concerns, and issues related to political campaigns.

But that doesn’t mean you can ignore the social web or stop using it. It’s not dying and it is here to stay.

customers find you

The data shows social media is on the rise. Sure, these sites aren’t growing at a rapid pace anymore but that’s due to the majority of the world already being on one of these platforms if not a few of them.

They are effective because people trust what they see on these sites and that should continually increase as they fix issues like fake news.

As long as you follow the tips above, you’ll be able to maximize your social media traffic and revenue even when the algorithms change in ways that don’t favor you.

So how are you maximizing your social media traffic?

PS: If you want to know where content marketing is heading, check this out.

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LNG Canada could approve expansion before natural gas export facility is complete

LNG Canada could approve expansion before natural gas export facility is complete

One of the most expensive energy projects in Canada could soon get larger.

Construction ramped up this month on LNG Canada’s massive natural gas export facility in northern B.C., but the consortium is now talking about possible expansion.

LNG Canada is a consortium of companies led by Shell Canada and includes Petronas, PetroChina, KOGAS and Mitsubishi Corporation. The project includes a pipeline across B.C., a port and terminal that liquifies the gas so it can be transported on tankers. The potential price tag of the entire project has been estimated to be upwards of $40 billion.

Chief executive Andy Calitz spoke confidently of how it’s likely just a matter of time before the ownership group commits to an expansion of the Kitimat site. A decision on making the investment could happen before the initial five-year construction project is finished.

A 34,000-tonne heavy lift vessel carrying barges for LNG Canada is completing pre-construction work in Kitimat harbour, to prepare the existing port for larger vessels once the new $40-billion natural gas export facility is constructed. (Youtube/LNG Canada)

“The five joint venturers now have probably two main considerations in their head as to when they go ahead with [the final investment decision] on the expansion trains,” said Calitz, referring to the system of compressors that turn the natural gas into a liquid. “The first one is, what is the market doing? What is the market doing globally in terms of Korea, Japan and China, South Asia and India?”

The other consideration is whether construction of the initial facility and pipeline are on schedule and on budget. 

Positive for beleaguered sector

The pipeline, which had faced a blockade from a group of Indigenous hereditary chiefs, is being built by a subsidiary of TransCanada. Calitz said construction is underway on the pipeline in the area where the blockade occurred.

Calitz said he has no doubts the pipeline and export facility will be completed. 

“Right now, the focus of the team is to make sure that we give them that confidence [to move ahead],” said Calitz, commenting on efforts to keep the construction on schedule.

LNG Canada is a joint venture of Shell, Petronas, PetroChina, KOGAS and Mitsubishi Corporation. (Submitted by LNG Canada)

Any talk of an expansion is positive for the beleaguered natural gas sector. It has suffered from poor commodity prices for much of the last decade. The additional spending by LNG Canada would also be noteworthy, considering the decline of investment in Western Canada’s energy sector since the oil price crash in 2014.

“I’m surprised they’re talking about [the expansion], but I’m not surprised that they see the potential for it,” said Kevin Birn, an analyst with IHS Markit.

‘They win in terms of scale’

Birn pointed to the growing demand in Asia, the plethora of natural gas in Western Canada, and the relatively close geography of Canada and Asia as reasons the project likely makes financial sense.

“They win in terms of scale,” he said about the possible expansion. “And you have that resource potential that is so large there. It’s not a question about whether they can supply that expansion.”

The joint venture partners will look at construction progress of the initial facility and pipeline. 1:02

Calitz didn’t want to speculate about the cost of the expansion. But he said there would be many cost savings compared to the initial facility, including the fact there would be no need to repeat the costly expense of site preparation.

“The joint venturers see a very competitive export project for the second phase,” said Calitz, who made the remarks to journalists in Houston at CERAWeek, an annual global energy forum.

Outstanding dispute over import tariffs

One outstanding issue for LNG Canada is the continued dispute over import tariffs for fabricated industrial steel within the Chinese modules used for the project.

LNG Canada has argued it cannot afford to wait years to see whether Canadian manufacturers can construct the large LNG modules it needs. However, industry stakeholders such as the Canadian Institute of Steel Construction want Ottawa to maintain the border duties.

LNG Canada has launched a judicial review of the import tariffs. The partner companies decided to go ahead with the project despite the outstanding issue and the potential costs associated with it. 

When asked if the dispute with Canada Border Services Agency has been resolved, Calitz took a long pause before answering, “Not fully.”

From 2 trains to 4

LNG facilities are comprised of a system of compressors known as trains. The LNG Canada facility under construction will have two trains, and Calitz said the expansion would be for an additional two trains.

LNG Canada already has all the environmental permits for four trains, in addition to an export licence to operate all four trains for the next 40 years.

 “So, many things [are] very positively in place,” he said.

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Navy deep-sixed Conservative plan to name naval vessels after War of 1812 battles

Navy deep-sixed Conservative plan to name naval vessels after War of 1812 battles

What’s in a name? When Shakespeare asked, he was talking about romance and roses. Apparently, the question applies to naval ships as well.

A series of internal briefing notes show the Canadian navy pushed back hard against the former Conservative government’s plan to name the long-delayed, yet-to-be-delivered supply ships after War of 1812 battles.

In the fall of 2017, the Liberal government quietly announced that the new joint support ships would be named HMCS Protecteur and HMCS Preserver — a nod, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said at the time, to the recently-retired naval replenishment vessels that had refuelled and resupplied Canadian warships at sea for four decades.

Back in 2013, the government of then-prime minister Stephen Harper announced that the new ships would be named after key battles of the 1812 to 1814 conflict between the United States and Great Britain — specifically, the Battle of Queenston Heights and the Battle of the Chateauguay, both British victories.

Internal documents show those names were dropped not because of political pressure, but due to objections from naval brass.

The navy was very upset that they would start naming warships after army victories– Naval historian Marc Milner

“Although themes drawn from the War of 1812 were deemed viable, the naming of warships after historically significant land battles has not proven to resonate well with Canadians and is not consistent with Royal Canadian Navy practice,” the country’s top military commander, Gen. Jonathan Vance, told Sajjan on Aug. 26, 2016.

Vance may have been putting it diplomatically. Naval historian Marc Milner said he heard the criticism from within the military almost immediately after the new ship names were announced.

“The navy was very upset that they would start naming warships after army victories,” said the University of New Brunswick academic, wondering aloud whether the army would start naming its bases after famous admirals.

The problem was simple. The Conservatives wanted to honour the legacy of the War of 1812, a key moment in Canada’s evolution from a collection of colonies to a modern nation. But very few of the naval battles between 1812 and 1814 directly involved combatants from the colonies that would someday become Canada.

Harper’s government poured a lot of time and money into celebrating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, spending roughly $28 million on public celebrations, statues and commemorations.

“At the time, it was felt that a ‘battles’ theme would facilitate this broader linkage” to the country’s military history, said one internal memo.

‘An affront’

But the names chosen for the ships — HMCS Queenston and HMCS Chateauguay — were not popular with the navy, according to multiple defence insiders who noted few combat sailors wanted replenishment ships with names that sound like “wineries.”

“There’s all kinds of good reasons for naming them after naval battles that we were involved in,” said Milner. “But to name them after early 19th century land victories in Upper and Lower Canada was just, I think, an affront to the Navy’s sense of who they were and who they wanted to be.”

Capt. James Salt, the director of major naval Crown projects at the Department of National Defence, said a lot of lessons were learned during the naming exercise — something that doesn’t happen all that often.

In the past, Canada has named warships — such as the new Halifax-class frigates — after rivers and major cities.

It rarely names ships after battles or individuals. The exceptions, Salt said, are the upcoming Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, which will be known collectively as the Harry DeWolf-class after a famous Second World War commander, who was later promoted to admiral.

The navy has been very careful to choose names that resonate with the public, he added.

In the 1990s, as the frigates were launched out of the country’s shipyard, the idea of naming them after major cities was seen as a way to connect ordinary Canadians with the work of the navy.

And in case anyone thinks this is a debate solely for sailors, academic and history geeks, Salt said Sajjan’s office is already being hit with notes from the general public suggesting names for replacement frigates — which have yet to be designed and are not due to hit the water until the mid-2020s at the earliest.

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