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Canada remains dedicated to Paris Agreement despite U.S. decision

The Paris Agreement has been making headlines worldwide after the Trump administration removed themselves from the Paris Climate Agreement and ignited world-wide criticism. Though the United States seems to be doomed to a coal-filled future, where does Canada stand when it comes to Paris Agreement goals?

As it turns out, Canada has a lot of work to do in order to achieve the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement, but remains dedicated to the accord. When the U.S. dropped out of the Paris Agreement, not one other country followed suit and Prime Minister Trudeau went as far to release a statement criticizing President Trump’s decision: “We are deeply disappointed that the United States federal government has decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement,” Trudeau said. “Canada is unwavering in our commitment to fight climate change and support clean economic growth. Canadians know we need to take decisive and collective action to tackle the many harsh realities of our changing climate.”

It appears the Canadian government understands climate change is an important issue, but is this country doing enough to combat the devastating effects of carbon emissions? The Columbia Institute, a non-profit dedicated to research and building sustainable communities, released a report card assessing the federal government’s climate change achievements and outlining which areas need improvement. According to the report, entitled Top Asks for Climate Action report,  as of 2015, Canada ranked 58 out of 61 countries for climate protection performance. The government has met certain climate change goals by implementing a national price on carbon, establishing a national transportation strategy, and offering dedicated funding to public transit in its municipalities. Alternatively, things Canada needs to work include setting greenhouse gas targets that would meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement, eliminating subsidies to fossil fuel industries, and moving towards renewable energy instead of locking the economy into a high carbon path.

The next step would be for Canada to adopt science-led and legally binding greenhouse reduction targets and follow best practices of countries like Finland, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Mexico. As a part of the Paris Agreement, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) mandates nationally determined commitments by 2020. Canada’s current targets do not meet the Paris Agreement standards, and these new objectives would need to be set at 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 from the current standing goal of 30 per cent.

South of the border, the Trump government announced on June 1 the United States wouldn’t remain in the Paris Climate Agreement, citing the accord as ‘unfair’. Ignoring the pleas of many U.S. stakeholders, Trump instead offered to renegotiate the terms. The European Union outright refused to engage in negotiations. Instead, the EU plans to bypass the federal government and work directly with U.S. businesses, governors, and mayors to keep up with the climate change commitments.

Though this decision is devastating from an environmental perspective, it opens up key opportunities for Canada. If the U.S. is solely dedicated to promoting fossil fuels, the clean technology sector is ripe for the taking and Canada has the option to become a leader in renewable energy. Since there are only three countries in the world that haven’t signed the Paris Agreement (Syria, Saudi Arabia, U.S.), there are a lot of stakeholders looking for ways to implement clean technology and the green economy will only grow from here.

Though the U.S. has made a critically bad decision to leave the Paris Agreement, Canada and the rest of the world remains dedicated to slowing climate change and saving planet earth. Trudeau is leading the country towards becoming one of the more sustainable places to live in the world, but a lot of work remains. If Canada does set concrete greenhouse reduction goals that match targets set in the Paris Agreement and then actually implements them, the country will be well on its way to trying to combat the inevitable pollution caused by our climate-change-denying-neighbour down south.

Alberta gender identity and expression guidelines debated

Transgender rights has been a popular topic in the media, as federal and provincial governments move to include gender identity and transgendered rights in legislation. Newly-NDP Alberta, led by Rachel Notley, joined the progressive movement by providing guidelines for schools about respecting and protecting transgendered students.

But, it’s been a challenge to get everyone on board. Protests erupted mid-May in Edmonton between transgender supporters and groups such as Parents for Choice in Education, trying to contravene transgendered rights in schools and the subsequent bill —Bill 10 —that allowed students to form gay-straight alliances in schools. This bill led the way for guidelines that were provided by the NDP government in January, which will be used as a benchmark for school boards to adopt and enforce in their respective schools.

Guidelines for Best Practices: Creating Equality for Gender Identities includes criteria to help schools navigate respectful treatment of transgendered students. Guidelines include respecting an individual’s right to self-identification, minimizing gender-segregated activities, providing safe access to washroom and change-room facilities, and responding appropriately to bullying behaviour.

Backlash of the new guidelines has mostly been centered on the issue of non-gendered washrooms in schools. Parents are concerned they are not being given the democratic choice to do what is best for their kids and there is anxiety around children with different sexual anatomy being in the same washroom. There has been backlash from the Catholic School Board, with Roman Catholic Bishop, Fred Henry denouncing the guidelines as anti-Catholic and the government as “totalitarian” for trying to impose them.

Trans Equality Society of Alberta (TESA), a non-profit advocacy group on behalf of transgender rights, is spearheaded by long-time activist, Jan Buterman. Buterman said he was not surprised by the backlash, but the protests and the intense comments are a new development. “We have been doing this type of advocacy for a long time and this type of pushback is new,” said Buterman. “This is parallel to the type of protests you see in Ontario with the changes in curriculum.”

This is not the first time that Buterman has seen transphobia in the school system. In 2008, he was fired by the Catholic school board for transitioning, and is still in a legal battle fighting the decision. Buterman’s mistreatment in the system led to forming the advocacy group Trans Equality Society of Alberta. Because of his drawn-out court battle and refusal to back down, Buterman has become one of the public figures of trans-advocacy and was even asked to look over the Albertan guidelines prior to their public release to schools.

Buterman said the guidelines were a move in the right direction, but there were key issues surrounding name documentation that were not dealt with. “The guidelines indicate [the students] would still use the name given on the birth certificate.” he said. “It is actually inappropriate that kids are being held to a standard that adults are not. The guidelines were a good idea in principal, but there were gaps and that gap specifically was staggering.” Children can choose to be called a different name under the new guidelines, but the name given on their birth certificate will remain as their official documentation in the school system.

Both supporters and dissidents have expressed issues with the guidelines, highlighting how difficult change can be to implement when it comes to gender identity. Recently, the federal government has joined the movement to include trans rights in legislation, which protect the legal and human rights of transgendered people in Canada.

It is clear that Canada is moving in the direction of protecting trans people and their rights, but some provinces are having more difficulties than others. It is about time that appropriate protection for this prevalent and vibrant community in the country is recognized and respected — and it’s unfortunate that so many people have a problem with it. Overall, trans-inclusivity in schools is a step in the right direction because it teaches a new generation that transitioning is normal and acceptable. Gender identity and expression are choices and provinces like Ontario and Alberta have led the way to promoting a more inclusive and accepting Canadian society.

Will Harper put old grievances back on the table?

By Russell Wangersky

 

Perched high on Alberta’s Tunnel Mountain, I could look down and see the cloudy green melt-water of the Bow River in summer, see why it was called the Bow, and, climbing down the fossil-filled and up-thrust slabs of what had once been ocean floor, walk up to my ankles in June water so cold that it made the bones of my feet hurt.

 

It’s a feeling my bones are more than familiar with. Most of the time, I live in Newfoundland, where walking in the ocean at almost any time — along the sandy beach below Cape Pine, or almost anywhere else — makes you feel as if your marrow is fleeing the cold, and pulling painful away from the insides of your bones in the process.

 

It is a pain so intense that I can almost gather it up in memory, anticipate it, dread it.

 

Much like the feeling I get whenever anyone starts talking constitution, because, as soon as the words start, I can feel the dark pit opening up.

 

In late November, 2006, the House of Commons passed a motion proposed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to recognize the Quebecois as a nation within a united Canada. It was one of those uniquely parliamentary parlour tricks. Harper was answering a motion by the Bloc Quebecois to recognize the Quebecois as a nation, the Bloc’s move itself a sort of follow-on to proposals within the federal Liberal leadership race.

 

Since that vote, Harper has gone out of his way to explain that the motion doesn’t confer any sort of additional powers to Quebecers. Fine — but it’s now just the kind of half-measure that has served to rile up everyone in both of Canada’s solitudes.

 

Those in Quebec felt pandered to, while those outside Quebec felt hard-done-by. And everyone will find a way to be engaged in picking away at old wounds.

 

I’ve been in the news business for 20 years, and I’ve watched what happens when someone decides we have to have to put old constitutional grievances back on the table. It quickly becomes an exercise in frustration, and the national equivalent of taking a shortcut across the train tracks without ever looking for the train.

 

I’ve lived for periods of time in five of Canada’s provinces – I know Nova Scotia and New Brunswick more than well, from the high grey maple stands behind Sussex, N.B. to the deep red flats of the Bay of Fundy. I’ve lived in the very heart of the manmade mountain terrain of downtown Toronto — the hard, three-dimensional concrete environment of King and Adelaide — and spent months in the snowy heights of the Rockies on Alberta’s side.

 

I’ve passed through or stayed briefly in every other province — from urbane downtown Montreal to wintery Winnipeg to the almost-empty flat prairie town of Chaplin, Sask., in the high simmering heat of summer — and there is no part of this country that I would view as anything but part of Canada.

 

I know we don’t understand each other and often have simplistic views about how others live — I also know that we can turn those views into hardened positions where no one thinks they can afford to back down safely, regardless of the damage we’re doing to our nation and our economy.

 

One day, I hope to get to Canada’s Territories. One day, as long as there are territories and a country left.

 

Standing on the barrens looking towards Newfoundland’s Hawke Hills, smelling the complicated mix of ground juniper and peat and Labrador tea, I don’t think of Canada as a bunch of separate nations. I don’t even see the need for declarations about nationhood from the House of Commons.  This is a bad place to be. I feel it in my bones.

 

*** First published in Nov. 2006