UBC student housing costs set to increase as much as 8 per cent

The pandemic student housing rent freeze at the University of British Columbia is over, as officials have announced the price to live on campus will be increasing in May.

The price hike will vary from different housing facilities within a range of 3.5 to 8 per cent rise, according to the university.

That could add up to several hundred dollars added to student housing bills.

“That is a significant increase for the students. We are very empathetic to the affordability of education for students and the challenges students face with the cost of education, shelter and food,” said Andrew Parr, UBC Association’s vice president of student housing. “We want to keep a wide gap in our pricing. We want to keep our older inventory as low as possible.”

This is something students say will only make a student housing affordability issue even worse.

“I think it’s a little ridiculous, especially considering Vancouver has a housing crisis right now,” said Munira Abdulwahid, a UBC student. “I think that UBC has enough funding to allocate money to (student) housing, so students don’t have to pay more to live on campus.”

The UBC student said she has heard chatter from other students. Many will be looking elsewhere for accommodation in the coming months.

UBC is planning on building an additional 3,300 units in 2023 and the current rent students will be paying to help fund them.

As for Munira Abdulwahid, she’s preparing to battle the Vancouver housing market before she comes back for her second year.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Artist dazzles: draws maps of Canadian cities with one continuous line

For Montreal artist, Abou Dembele, art has rules.

Dembele is prolific in the world of one-line art.

At first glance his map of Regina looks nothing out of the ordinary but upon closer inspection, starting in the top left corner you see the whole map is drawn with one continuous line.

Abou Dembele's recent map of Regina using only one continuous line.

Abou Dembele's recent map of Regina using only one continuous line.

Abou Dembele / Reddit
A closer look shows the singular line starting in the top left corner.

A closer look shows the singular line starting in the top left corner.

Abou Dembele / Reddit

After he was inspired by an artist he saw online, Dembele decided to dip his pen in the one-line world.

“I checked online to see if anybody was drawing cities and I was, like, I think I found a niche and I’m going to give it a try,” said the French artist who has lived in Canada for the last 15 years.

That was just nine months ago. Since then Dembele has mapped ten Canadian cities including Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon and most recently Regina.

Map of Winnipeg drawn using only one continuous line.

Map of Winnipeg drawn using only one continuous line.

Abou Dembele / Reddit

“I first started drawing Montreal as a test and I posted it on Reddit in the afternoon. I came back in the evening and it was like wow, a big hit. It went viral,” says Dembele.

The comment section on his maps is strewn with praise. Many folks relay their astonishment at the detail and precision of the lone line.

Abou Dembele maps his hometown of Montreal using one singular line.

Abou Dembele maps his hometown of Montreal using one singular line.

About Dembele / Reddit

Using three different sized gel pens, Dembele draws the cities with a reference map illuminated underneath his blank sheet of 12 x 16 paper.

He says he plans out the route of his line and puts a lot of emphasis on keeping uniform gaps.

“If I see a highway I’m going to change the direction to make sure the line doesn’t cross any major roads. It’s a lot of tricks and detours. It’s very time consuming,” says Dembele.

That’s 20 to 30 hours a map.

Dembele says his hand would cramp and get sore when he started, but now he’s much more comfortable.

One line details are on display on Regina's Albert Street and Wascana Lake.

One line details are on display on Regina's Albert Street and Wascana Lake.

Abou Dembele / Reddit

Currently a student, Dembele says he gets his mapping done on the weekends.

He finds the practice very meditative. He forgets his problems and just focuses on the task at hand.

“Some people go to the gym, some people read magazines but for me this is my trick, my fun. I know it’s unique, but I like it,” says Dembele

Prints of his maps are sold on his website and Dembele plans on mapping all of Canada’s major cities, one long continuous line at a time.


© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Police investigate reported knifepoint robbery at Toronto subway station

Police are investigating after reports that a man was robbed at a Toronto subway station.

In a tweet, Toronto police said they were called to a robbery at Yorkdale Subway Station.

Police said that a male victim was robbed at knifepoint by two suspects. The pair allegedly fled the area.

No injuries were reported as result of the incident.

Toronto police said the investigation is ongoing.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

London, Ont. fire crews knock out east end blaze, reports no injuries

London, Ont., fire officials say no injuries were reported after a blaze broke out in the east end.

The London Fire Department announced the fire shortly after 8:30 a.m. Sunday.

Officials say black smoke was coming from the roof of a building located at 552 Clarke Road.

Fire crews extinguished the blaze and reported no injuries.

Damage is pegged at less than $5,000.

The cause of the fire is believed to be a rooftop generator.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

The West Block – Episode 19, Season 12

Watch the full episode of The West Block with host Mercedes Stephenson – January 29, 2023.


Episode 19, Season 12

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Host: Mercedes Stephenson


Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of Defence Staff

Robert Fife, The Globe and Mail

Stephanie Levitz, The Toronto Star 


Ottawa, ON


Mercedes Stephenson: Crumbling capabilities and an increasingly dangerous world are raising questions about whether the Canadian Armed Forces is on the brink. Could we still fight?

And the politics of branding: Party leaders are sharpening their attacks ahead of their return to Parliament Hill.

I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Welcome to The West Block.

Canada is sending four tanks to Ukraine at a time when the military is stretched to the limit: a candid conversation about the state of the Canadian Armed Forces with the chief of the defence staff.

And Prime Minister Trudeau and Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre unveil their tactics as the House of Commons returns tomorrow. Will the politics of polarization turn off Canadians?

Canada is the latest country to announce tanks for Ukraine, following Poland, the U.S., Germany and other allies. Defence Minister Anita Anand says this support is critical for Ukraine to defeat Russia and restore peace.

Anita Anand, Defence Minister: “Ukraine’s fight to defend itself is also a fight to uphold the international rules based order that has kept us all safe since the end of the Second World War.”

Mercedes Stephenson: But as Canada’s international commitments ramp up, a dire lack of personnel and equipment are pushing defence capabilities to their limits here at home.

Joining me now to discuss the state of the Canadian Armed Forces is Gen. Wayne Eyre. He is, of course, the chief of the defence staff. Welcome back, General Eyre. Always a pleasure to have you on the show.

Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff: Well Mercedes, thanks for having me here today. It’s always great to talk to you and to talk to Canadians about what is happening.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well let’s talk tanks. This announcement yesterday that Canada was sending tanks, which is a big deal for Canada considering we have a pretty limited tank fleet. We announced four. I think some people at home heard four and thought that’s it?

Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff: Well…

Mercedes Stephenson: Why only four?

Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff: We’ve got to look at all of the factors that go into this. You know, so our total fleet size, which isn’t big, the level of serviceability. So we’ve had some challenges keeping the entire fleet serviceable. The distance that we have to send them to be operationally effective in a short period of time, understanding the timeframe that Ukraine needs them and that’s the reason why we need to work with our allies in Europe. I counted this morning, there are probably about 1,300 of the same A-4 variant that we have in Europe and overall with the various variants there’s several thousand Leopard tanks in Europe. And so if we can be part of a larger collective and pool things like technical support, ammunition, spare parts, training expertise, to provide to Ukraine, the better it’s going to be. 

Mercedes Stephenson: I think when people hear that four tanks was sort of the limit of what we could send, they go, ooh, what’s the situation with Canada’s tanks because yesterday, both you and the minister of national defence were talking about there’s a certain number we have to keep in order to maintain our commitments to NATO to be able to defend ourselves. With these four gone, are we at the limit of what we can give to Ukraine without risking falling below those levels?  

Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff: So this is a constant analysis that we go through. What do we need for our own training requirements? More importantly, what do we need for our own operational requirements? What can we deliver? What is serviceable? What can we get from industry? And weighing those factors as they change almost on a weekly basis is what we do. So at this point, four tanks, is what we can—four operational, ready-to-fight tanks are what we are delivering right now. We take a look at the timelines to get them over there. So we’re going to fly them over there, probably on our C-17s and to get them in time to start training Ukrainians in as rapid amount of time as possible and then get them into the fight. And so we’ll take a look at what we can do with the rest of the fleet based on spare parts, based on ammunition availability, based on our own requirements but this is where we stand, today.

Mercedes Stephenson: You were facing some extraordinary constraints, both with personnel, and it’s been no secret, you’ve spoken publicly about how constrained you are because you are struggling with recruiting people and you are struggling with retention. We know you’re struggling with equipment, too. Whether it’s that we only have four tanks we can really send and feel secure about our own supply, to things like a ship, the HMCS Summerside which took on water last week after a sea valve failed. A very old ship, concerns about navy equipment. Concerns about whether or not the army is going to get the equipment it needs replaced. Concerns about airplanes and whether or not the CF-18s can keep flying. What are the limitations that you’re facing right now with equipment and personnel, meaning for what you’re capable of actually doing?   

Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff: So it comes down to readiness. And what I mean by that is our ability to respond at speed and at scale with the right capabilities. You know, we can still respond pretty fast but are we big enough for what the requirement is. And so we need to work on all of those factors. Now I am concerned because we see that increased demand signal around the world and here at home, because our security situation, globally, is deteriorating. And what that means is the country is going to require more and more out of the Canadian Armed Forces in the years to come and so our job is to be ready.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that you are ready right now? 

Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff: Right now, for the challenges that lie ahead, no. And that’s why it’s so important that we reconstitute our force, get our numbers back up. That we get the capabilities in place that are relevant for the future security environment, while at the same time as we focus on that future piece, being able to respond today. You know whether it’s disasters here at home or the incessant demand for Canadian involvement overseas. Everybody wants more Canada. We travel around the world, we talk to allies and they say, hey Canada, you’re great. We love having your troops here. We love your expertise, your professionalism that you bring to the table, but we want more of you.

Mercedes Stephenson: If Russia decided to expand the war, which is always a discussion and I know you’re having this with your colleagues all the time that they decide to go into somewhere like Latvia or Lithuania. What I’m hearing you say is that Canada might not be able to respond at the level that we should be, if that happened. Is that accurate?

Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff: So we spent a lot of time focused on what our commitments are to NATO, what capabilities that we’ve pledged to NATO if that happens. And so if we did have to respond, we would meet those pledges but it would be a challenge. It would be an all-hands on deck event. And that’s why it’s…

Mercedes Stephenson: So we’re sort of right on the cusp of not being able to fulfill our NATO requirements. 

Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff: And so it’s a chicken and the egg case here, because we’ve declared to NATO what we are capable of doing. Can we do more? Well, we’d be very, very hard pressed and so that’s where that balance comes in. You know, what can we have that’s ready versus what do we have to build?  

Mercedes Stephenson: How close are you to slipping below that, if you don’t get people and equipment urgently? 

Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff: Well it’s not just us, and I’ve had long talks with my allied counterparts. We’re not the only ones facing the people crunch. I’ve had good chats with Australia, New Zealand, NATO counterparts. This is a phenomenon across the West: tight labour force, not as much interest in military service and that worries me. That worries me from a collective ability to defend democracy writ large. And so we’ve got to do our part. We’ve got to do our part with getting our numbers back up. Yeah, I am concerned, but I’m concerned for the wider West as well.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you have any commitments from the Government of Canada from the political level of how quickly they are going to replace things like the tanks and the M777s. They say as soon as possible. In Canadian defence procurement, that could be eight or ten years. Do you have timelines for that? 

Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff: So one of the challenges is, is in those capabilities, what’s being produced on the market right now. And so doing an exact capability buy is a challenge and then M777s aren’t being produced at this point. And so we are actively looking what else can be out there for capability substitution.  

Mercedes Stephenson: So we might not to be able to replace the M777s then with other M777s.

Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff: Well, or do we get something different? Think M777 on a truck. Tube artillery is not going away and the war in Ukraine has shown that. So we have to replace the capability. Is it going to be an M777 or is it going to be something else that launches a round over significant distance?

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think it’s fair to say that we’re in a decade of darkness? It was used about the 90s, but I keep hearing it from troops and from retired generals. Is this a new decade of darkness?

Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff: History will tell. I think it’s too early to say if it’s a decade of darkness. You know, I’ve certainly faced some challenges in this position the armed forces writ large are facing some challenges, but our job is to do everything we can within our power to make it better, to be ready.

Mercedes Stephenson: The defence policy review is supposed to look at military capabilities, our foreign policy, our national security policy and figure out where we’re going. I keep hearing from sources it’s been pushed to after the budget. Are you concerned about the kind of funding the military might receive in the upcoming federal budget?

Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff: So the funding decision, you know that’s very much a government decision and that’s beyond my—it’s out of my decision—it’s out of my hands. But what I hope this policy does is help us with the readiness that is so important. You know, fixing the foundation of the Canadian Armed Forces, the training, the people, the equipment, the serviceability, the ammunition, all of those aspects that go into readiness. And then look at the capabilities that we need. Capabilities that we’ve seen from Russia’s brutal war of aggression in Ukraine that are increasingly relevant, that we need. 

Mercedes Stephenson: Housing is an issue that I hear about all the time from the troops. My inbox is full of emails about it. They are complaining about the conditions. There’s not enough. Of course, living on the economy is incredibly expensive right now. Where are you at in terms of putting money into that kind of infrastructure and how soon could the troops expect something?

Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff: Yeah, that’s a great question, Mercedes, because my inbox gets filled as well. And every town hall that I go to, that is the number one issue. So we urgently need a pay raise for the Canadian Armed Forces. We urgently need to bring in the replacement for our post living differential. Right now we’re getting close in terms of the negotiations on it, to be able to target the most vulnerable in our ranks. But yes, this concern, I’m ceased with it. We have to fix that because we need our members. We need our members not to have to worry about their own financial security. Not to be constantly looking over their shoulders to see if their families are having to go to food banks. So yeah, it’s got to be addressed urgently.  

Mercedes Stephenson: Gen. Wayne Eyre, thank you so much for joining us today, sir. 

Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff: Thank you. 

Up next, get ready for more of this as Parliament returns.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Mr. Poilievre was out talking about how we should all invest in bitcoin to opt out of inflation.”Pierre Poilievre, Opposition Leader: “Everything feels broken. Oh—I just offended Justin Trudeau.” 

Mercedes Stephenson: We talk politics with two Hill veterans when we come back. 


Mercedes Stephenson: As MPs head back to Parliament tomorrow, we’re looking at some of the hot button political issues ahead.

First up, the prime minister and the premiers will try to hammer out a new health care deal. And when it comes to the economy, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is signalling tough times ahead.

Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister: “There is still a lot of uncertainty in the world economy and that means that we do need to continue to take a fiscally prudent approach. We still do not know for sure how the plane is going to land.”

Mercedes Stephenson: And of course, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre will be back with his firebrand style.

Pierre Poilievre, Opposition Leader: “Everything feels broken. Oh—I just offended Justin Trudeau. He gets very angry when I talk about these problems. He thinks that if we don’t speak about them out loud, that Canadians will forget that they exist.”

Mercedes Stephenson: To talk about all this, I’m now joined by The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau chief Bob Fife; and Stephanie Levitz from The Toronto Star. Thank you both so much for joining us on this Sunday morning.

Stephanie Levitz, The Toronto Star: Thanks for having me.

Robert Fife, The Globe and Mail: Thanks for inviting us.

Mercedes Stephenson: We just heard Mr. Poilievre there. Of course, this face-off between Justin Trudeau and Pierre Poilievre has captured a lot of people. I’ve talked to a lot of folks who don’t normally watch Question Period on Parliament Hill and they watch it now because there is an exchange. Where do you see this going, Stephanie, as these two leaders come in and, you know, sometimes almost seem like variations of the same person just with very different politics.

Stephanie Levitz, The Toronto Star: Yeah, it was interesting to listen to Pierre Poilievre sort of, I guess, I don’t want to say inaugural but his first speech to caucus of 2023, and he used a technique that he started using a bit over the holidays, period, which is he kept saying Justin. He kept putting everything on Justin Trudeau. It is all vested in Justin Trudeau. It is all Justin Trudeau’s fault. Justin Trudeau is responsible and he kept calling him Justin. Juxtapose that, if you will, with the prime minister’s 2023 speech to caucus, his first one to his MPs. He kept referring to Mr. Poilievre. Mr. Poilievre, like in this sort of a superior tone versus an attacking tone and you can see how the two men are poised to really vest the problems of both their parties in the individual. That is what it’s going to be. It’s the politics of branding. It’s the politics of individualism. And, you know, for the Conservatives, the message that they’re going top line. Everything is broken, that’s their line and it is all Justin Trudeau’s fault. Not the Liberals. Not the government. It’s Justin Trudeau. He doesn’t deserve to be there. The Liberals, by their token will say it’s Pierre Poilievre. He’s going—taking the world to a dark place. He’s terrible. Pierre. Pierre. Pierre. Mr. Poilievre. Mr. Poilievre. It’s very interesting to watch them sort of attack each other personally for their politics.

Mercedes Stephenson: I think that’s really hitting the nail on the head with the strategy. Bob, do you think that those politics are effective? Does that get people to vote?

Robert Fife, The Globe and Mail: I mean, I thought Poilievre was very effective when Trudeau came after him, suggesting in a Toronto Star interview that he was only pandering to white racists. And Poilievre put out a video online, it was very quickly saying, hey, look who’s talking, Mr. Blackface. So, you know, there is clearly a lot of dislike amongst them. The Liberals are hoping to frame him as an extremist and he’s going to try to frame the Liberals as people who don’t care about working people, who are struggling to get by because the economy is in tough shape and inflation is high. And you know what? Poilievre’s message may work with more people than name calling about saying somebody is an extremist.

Mercedes Stephenson: A lot of people are wondering whether we could see an election, if this feels like a campaign tone. Do you think this is just sort of the perpetual tone that these two use in terms of strategy, or are things heating up to where they’re starting to weigh: do we want to go a little bit early? And of course, that decision would only ever be likely up to Justin Trudeau. The NDP has said they’ll keep him in power up to 2025. But whether or not Mr. Trudeau wants that is another story.

Stephanie Levitz, The Toronto Star: I think, what I hear from folks when I talk to them on Hill is it feels right now that we’re in some kind of political holding pattern that relates entirely to the economy and what’s about to happen to it, because that’s the calculus a sitting government has to make. Would you go—if we are hit, a recession and it’s a bad one, which most economists aren’t saying it will be, but if we do, does the government want to go to an election when the economy is bad? I don’t think so. That doesn’t really reflect well on them. Does Mr. Poilievre want to go to an election when the economy is bad? You bet he does, because the strongest line for the Conservatives is on the economy. It’s the line where every poll suggests more people think they would be solid stewards of the economy. The question becomes, you know, what are the conditions for the election? And I think someone wrote it—I think it was even in your paper, Bob—which was 2023 is about Justin Trudeau making up his mind. It’s about him deciding what do I want to do? Where do I want to go next? What is my legacy? And I thought it was a really smart line, it was in your paper. 

Robert Fife, The Globe and Mail: Yeah, no. I think that’s right. I mean, it’s up to Justin Trudeau to decide. I mean, all the people around him say, of course he wants to run. But the track record of anybody after nine years since Louis St. Laurent is very, very bad. And this is a guy, Trudeau, who has only been able to get two minority governments after his first majority. And the polls show that there’s a lot of dislike for Trudeau. So, at some point in the next year, he’s got to make a decision. Do I try to beat Poilievre or do I just get out when the going’s good and not have my reputation in ruins by losing the party? And my sense is I don’t think this guy is going to the end. At the end, he’s going to run again. I’m probably wrong, but you know, there are a lot of people that make the mistake of, Stephen Harper being one of them, and it doesn’t turn out very well for them.  

Mercedes Stephenson: Think they can make it past two governments is tough in Canada. One of the big things that they have to try to figure out is health care, because it’s one of those rare issues that really touches everyone’s life in politics. You’ve had the feds and the provinces pointing the finger at each other, saying it’s your fault it’s like this. All Canadians know is it’s hard to get in to see your primary care doctor, if you’re lucky enough to have one—good luck if you’re in emerge. They’re going to be sitting down, the prime minister and the premiers to try to hammer out an agreement. Stephanie, what do you think the strategy is here for the premiers going in and for the prime minister? 

Stephanie Levitz, The Toronto Star: Part of it is to return to those days when the federal government, the prime minister and the premiers were getting along, right? I think during the pandemic, when you saw, certainly cohesion in unanimity, among all the top leaders in this country, people responded to that because at the end of the day, they don’t care what jurisdiction it is as you said. They just want a solution. They want to see people sitting down and working on things. The challenge, of course becomes, and I think Stephen Harper, you know, he was of the opinion, for example, why go into a room with a bunch of premiers? All they’re going to do is beat up on you. There is no political win for you coming out of that room. But Trudeau needs a win. He needs to be seen as delivering something and also, you know, putting some pressure on the premiers to account for the money that’s going out the door. And I think that’s the tricky thing, is it’s not really federal jurisdiction. But how do you shovel $25, 28, 29 billion out the door that you do with it what you like, you know, no big deal. I think deliverables are realistic but, you know, Trudeau has already downplayed expectations.  

Mercedes Stephenson: Bob, do you think that that needs…?

Robert Fife, The Globe and Mail: I think there’s going to be a big pot of money—federal money going to the provinces—otherwise they wouldn’t be wanting to have a First Ministers meeting, where they know that there is no win here for them and there’s no win for the federal government. People are fed up with the way the health care system is and they want action. And kudos to the federal government for saying okay, we will give you a significant amount of money but there’ll be even more money, but it’s going to be tied to bilateral agreements where that money is slotted to go for long-term care facilities, for example, in Ontario or Home Care in British Columbia. Each province has specific needs and these bilateral agreements, which will not be announced because they have to go through negotiations, but at the First Ministers meeting, but that is going to, in a long-term, I think, help our health system not in short-term because we still have major problems. But in the long-term they will and it’s about time that they come together because it certainly wasn’t looking very good for a long period of time.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well and it’s something that so many people talk about. We get so many viewer emails about we all experience it and there’s a frustration with both the provinces, but the feds sometimes wear it more. And one thing that the federal government has also been wearing lately in terms of the Liberals is these questions about external contracts. Whether it’s the McKinsey Consulting contracts or the outsourcing of ArriveCAN to supposedly this two-person company that then was subcontracting, or the contracts that Mr. Hussain’s office had for the sister of one of his senior staffers, Conservatives always have to deal with the stereotype they’re scary and Liberals have to deal with the stereotype of corruption. Do you think that these stories are going to stick to the Liberals, Steph?

Stephanie Levitz, The Toronto Star: They always build a narrative, right? It’s always little bread crumbs along the lane and then you have to wonder, okay, do they gather all of that up, the opposition parties, and can they throw it all at voters and be like, see, look at this. It is a narrative. They are this. They are that. Do people retain that information? I’m not sure. You know, when you’re looking at things like health care, for example, or some of the day-to-day challenges that are facing individual Canadians, but what it allows the Opposition party to do, and we’ve seen Pierre Poilievre already begin to do this, is again, that juxtaposition that Bob was talking about. They’re not in it for you. You know, they’re not here for you. What about the little guy? They’re having these big fancy dinners. They’re spending billions giving contracts to their friends. And what about you? What about you? That is an effective political argument.

Robert Fife, The Globe and Mail: I think Mr. Poilievre’s strategy is to go after the government every day on the economy and on inflation, but his backbench and the front of bench MPs are going to go hard after the government on these scandals. Why is—why are we giving contracts to McKinsey and Company, which has such a terrible track record of working for the Chinese, working for the Saudi Arabia. All of these very questionable contracts and then you’ve got, you know, the whole issue of that smelly deal with the Minister Hussain and the company is supposed to do restaurants and food…

Mercedes Stephenson: Food influencing.

Robert Fife, The Globe and Mail: And all of a sudden they pop up as experts on public policy and media advice? I mean it just stinks. And those kinds of things, people understand that. People get that kind of stuff.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well we’re absolutely going to be keeping a close eye on all of those political battles and I’m sure all the ones that we can never predict that pop up in front of us every year. Thank you both very much for joining us and we’ll speak to you again soon.

Robert Fife, The Globe and Mail: Thank you.

Stephanie Levitz, The Toronto Star: Thanks, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, what I’m watching for when the House returns, tomorrow. 

Mercedes Stephenson: We thought we’d do something a little bit different this week and share some of what I’m going to be keeping an eye on as the week unfolds and indeed, this new session of Parliament.

I’m going to be looking at the wheeling and dealing behind the scenes that’s going to be unfolding as the premiers meet with the prime minister to try to finagle a health care deal.

I’m also curious to see what the Liberal government is going to signal about the economy and the all-important looming federal budget.

Plus, U.S. President Joe Biden drops by in March for a visit. I am curious to see if he’ll ask Canada to step it up on military spending.

And finally, my favourite thing to watch, the political repartee between party leaders that will happen when Justin Trudeau and Pierre Poilievre are back in the House and facing off again. We’ll be front and centre for all of it and you’ll be right here with us.

Thanks so much for hanging out with us today and I’ll see you next Sunday. Have a great week.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Alberta landowners fear repeat of orphan well crisis as renewable energy booms

Once bitten, twice shy.

It’s an old adage that explains why Jason Schneider, the elected reeve of Vulcan County, Alta., is jittery about the renewable energy boom under way in his province.

Like many in rural Alberta, Schneider is still smarting over the way municipalities were left holding the bag when an oil price crash nearly a decade ago resulted in billions of dollars of unfunded liabilities left behind by bankrupt fossil fuel companies.

In Vulcan County alone, the landscape is littered with hundreds of wells with no owners that need to be cleaned up, and the municipality itself is owed more than $9 million in back taxes left unpaid by insolvent oil and gas firms.

So Schneider has a hard time looking at acre upon acre of massive wind turbines or solar panels without fearing a repeat of Alberta’s orphan well crisis, or wondering who’s going to fix everything if something goes wrong.

“These are large industrial developments, and the reclamation costs are going to be substantial,” he said.

“We can see the warning signs, and we are being ignored.”

Across rural Alberta, concerns are growing about the long-term implications of the province’s renewable energy boom — the speed and scale of which has been nothing short of stunning.

A province that not that long ago was largely reliant on coal for electricity, Alberta is now home to more than 3,800 MW of wind and solar capacity, 1,350 of which came online in just the last 12 months. An additional 1,800 MW of capacity is currently under construction, putting the province on track to meet or exceed the target it set in 2016 to generate 30 per cent of its total electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

In Schneider’s Vulcan County, which is home to both the country’s largest solar farm and one of Western Canada’s largest wind farms, renewable energy developments now account for more than 40 per cent of the local tax base, displacing oil and gas as the number one source of revenue for the local municipal government.

But while many in rural Alberta welcome the economic activity, and farmers and ranchers enjoy the extra income that playing host to solar panels or wind turbines can bring, others are sounding the alarm.

For example, the Rural Municipalities of Alberta recently passed a resolution calling on the provincial government to protect taxpayers from incurring costs associated with the potential decommissioning of renewable energy infrastructure.

Specifically, the association wants to see the government mandate the collection of securities for reclamation from developers before a project goes ahead. That way, municipalities won’t be footing the bill if a developer becomes insolvent and walks away.

“What we’ve learned, and what Albertans have learned, is that the cheapest way to get out of reclamation is going bankrupt,” said Paul McLauchlin, president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta.

“Some of these solar installations are being installed by one company, sold to another company … I talked to a gentleman who’s on his fifth owner, and his solar installation has been there maybe two years. So we’re seeing small companies owning these, and whether they have the wherewithal for reclamation, that’s really what’s driving this conversation.”

In Alberta, the Orphan Well Association is an industry-funded organization tasked with decommissioning old oil and gas infrastructure and returning the land to its prior state. (It’s currently backlogged, in spite of a $1 billion funding injection from the federal government in 2020, as well as $335 million in loans from the province.)

But there’s no equivalent for the renewable energy industry, though renewable energy companies are required to provide an overview of how they plan to cover decommissioning and reclamation costs before they can receive the go-ahead for their project.

However, for a landowner, entering into a wind or solar lease is entirely voluntary. That’s very different from oil and gas, where under Alberta law, property owners are not allowed to refuse companies seeking to develop the fossil fuels that lie under the surface of their land.

Evan Wilson, director of policy and government affairs for the Canadian Renewable Energy Association, said that because solar and wind leases remain private civil contracts between the developer and the landowner, the onus is on the landowner to ensure the inclusion of some kind of provision to mitigate risks associated with the project’s end-of-life.

But he added many companies do offer landowners some form of reclamation commitment, either in the form of a letter of credit or bond.

“Landowners do have the ability to veto these projects being built on their land,” Wilson said.

“So that puts a lot of pressure on our members to ensure that landowners do feel comfortable with the terms.”

Sara Hastings-Simon, an expert in energy, innovation and climate policy at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, said it’s understandable that municipalities have concerns.

However, she said it’s odd that there’s a push to enforce new regulations for the renewable sector, when the scope of the orphan well problem shows the oil and gas regulatory system could also use an overhaul.

According to the Alberta Energy Regulator, there are more than 83,000 inactive oil and gas wells in the province currently, and close to 90,000 more that have been sealed and taken out of service, but not yet fully remediated.

A report released last year by the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that the cost of orphan well clean-up in Canada will reach $1.1 billion by 2025.

“Obviously we need to make sure that all of our industrial development is done in a way that doesn’t offload costs to the public,” Hastings-Simon said.

“But it would make a lot of sense for the province to look at energy development holistically, rather than just picking the one that right now perhaps has more growth.”

© 2023 The Canadian Press

Turkey issues travel warning for Europe citing Islamophobia, anti-Turkish protests

In Turkey, there is uproar and political tension over a far-right demonstration in Sweden. Thousands are now showing their anger after an anti-Islam politician was allowed to protest outside a Turkish embassy in Stockholm and then burned the Quran – the holy text of the Islamic faith. And as Mackenzie Gray reports, backlash to this hateful act is now jeopardizing Sweden’s hopes of joining NATO at the eleventh hour.

Turkey issued a travel warning late Saturday for its citizens living in or planning on going to European countries, citing Islamophobia and anti-Turkish demonstrations.

The warning comes after last weekend’s protests in Sweden where an anti-Islam activist burned the Quran and pro-Kurdish groups protested against Turkey.

The Turkish foreign ministry urged its citizens to take precautions and stay away from demonstration areas. It also said they should go to local authorities if they face xenophobic or racist attacks.

Turkey strongly condemned far-right activist Rasmus Paludan’s burning of the Quran in Stockholm, which he repeated in Copenhagen Friday. Ankara also summoned the Dutch ambassador after another far-right activist tore pages of the Quran in the Hague.

The Turkish government also said there was an increase in anti-Turkish protests by “groups with links to terror groups” — a reference to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey. Pro-Kurdish groups have been demonstrating in Sweden, waving the flags of the PKK and its affiliates. The protests are a response to Sweden and Finland’s promise to prevent the PKK’s activities in their countries in order to gain Turkey’s approval for their NATO bids.

Following the protests, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Sweden not to expect support for its membership bid for the military alliance. Turkey also indefinitely postponed a key meeting in Brussels that would have discussed Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership.

Earlier Saturday, before Turkey had issued its travel warning, the Nordic countries separately issued updated travel guidelines for Turkey. Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden urged their citizens visiting Turkey to avoid large gatherings and to exercise caution.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry said in a message on its website that Sweden’s embassy in Ankara remains closed to the public and visitors to the country’s consulate general in Istanbul are “requested to exercise vigilance.”

“We want to make Swedes in Turkey aware that further manifestations may occur,” the Swedish ministry said, referring to counter-protests that erupted in Turkey after last weekend’s events in Stockholm.

© 2023 The Canadian Press

Pair wanted after alleged home invasion armed with knives in Toronto

Police are searching for a man and women who allegedly robbed a Toronto home at knifepoint.

Toronto police said a home invasion was reported in the area of Woodbine and Norway avenues just after 2 a.m. on Saturday.

Police said that a man and woman broke into a home and were confronted by the tenant.

The pair were armed with knives and attacked the tenant, seriously injuring them, police said.

Police have named the man as 38-year-old Christopher Chisholm and the woman as Amy Halliday, 30, both from Toronto.

They are wanted on a variety of charges, including break and enter and assault with a weapon.

“Both are believed to be violent and dangerous,” officers warned.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Military recruiting issues in West raise challenges for defending democracy: defence chief

WATCH: ‘The West Block’ host Mercedes Stephenson sits down with Gen. Wayne Eyre, chief of the defence staff, to discuss the state of the Canadian military.

Canada is not the only Western country facing serious challenges when it comes to military recruitment — but the chief of the defence staff says the issues raise concerns about potential threats to democracy.

In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Gen. Wayne Eyre said Canada’s ongoing recruitment and modernization challenges mean the military would be “hard pressed” to do anything more than simply meet its NATO pledges — and it’s not alone.

“We’re not the only ones facing the people crunch. I’ve had good chats with Australia, New Zealand, NATO counterparts — this is a phenomenon across the West – tight labour force, not as much interest in military service,” Eyre said.

“That worries me from a collective ability to defend democracy at large,” Eyre said. “So we’ve got to do our part. We’ve got to do our part with getting our numbers back up … I am concerned, but I’m concerned for the wider West as well.”

The Canadian Armed Forces have been facing a significant personnel crisis in recent years.

While it is supposed to be adding about 5,000 troops to regular and reserve forces to meet a growing list of demands, the military is instead short more than 10,000 trained members – meaning about one in 10 positions are currently vacant.

In addition to a lack of recruits, the Canadian military continues to face longstanding challenges in procuring new equipment, maintaining aging gear, and tracking down replacement parts.

There are also ongoing questions about whether the federal government will move to contract replacements for the weapons, gear and other equipment such as ammunition that the Canadian military has been donating in the billions to Ukraine.

While military officials aren’t placing blame on any single issue with respect to the recruitment and retention problems, the Canadian Forces have been shaken in recent years by a sexual misconduct crisis that touched even the highest ranks, along with wider attention on systemic racism.

The reputational problem has been compounded by concerns about the presence of right-wing extremists and racism in the ranks, which a review said last year were factors “repulsing” new recruits.

Defence Minister Anita Anand announced last year that fixing the military’s culture was her top priority.

She also finalized a deal to procure new F-35 fighter jets, but the first aircraft aren’t set to be delivered until 2026. The full fleet won’t reach operational capability until around 2033.

In last year’s budget, Canada also announced plans to review its defence policy. Speaking during his interview with Stephenson, Eyre said he’s hopeful that review will prompt changes aimed at “fixing the foundation of the Canadian Armed Forces.”

“The training, the people, the equipment, the serviceability, the ammunition … all of those aspects that go into readiness, and then look at the capabilities that we need, capabilities that we’ve seen from Russia’s brutal war of aggression in Ukraine that are increasingly relevant,” Eyre said.

On top of that, the Forces need a pay boost — badly, the defence chief said.

“We urgently need a pay raise for the Canadian Armed Forces. We urgently need to bring in the replacement for our post-living differential,” he said.

“We need our members not to have to worry about their own financial security, not to be constantly looking over their shoulders, to see if their families are having to go to a food bank. So, yeah, it’s got to be addressed urgently.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s war in Ukraine is continuing to rage on.

Ukraine is located near many NATO allies. Should Russia opt to expand its aggression to neighboring countries and Canada finds itself called on to fulfill its pledges to the treaty, the readiness issues could complicate things, Eyre said.

“We spent a lot of time focused on what our commitments are to NATO, what capabilities that we’ve pledged to NATO if that happens. And so if we did have to respond, we would meet those pledges, but it would be a challenge,” he said.

“It would be an all hands on deck event.”

Eyre said in the interview he worries that as it stands now, Canada’s military is not ready for the challenges the future holds as the global security situation continues “deteriorating.”

“Do you think that you are ready right now?” Stephenson asked.

“Right now, for the challenges that lie ahead? No,” Eyre said.

“That’s why it’s so important that we reconstitute our force, get our numbers back up, that we get the capabilities in place that are relevant for the future security environment, while at the same time, as we focus on that future piece, being able to respond today.”

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Snowfall warnings issued for parts of southern Ontario as more wintery weather moves in

RELATED: Commuters in Toronto are struggling to move around as the city is blanketed with up to 20 centimetres of snow. Kayla McLean reports.

With large swathes of southern Ontario under winter weather advisories, snowfall warnings have been issued for some areas.

Environment Canada sent snow warnings for Dufferin—Innisfil, Grey—Bruce and Halton—Peel early on Sunday morning.

It warned snow would be “at times heavy” and continue throughout Sunday. The weather agency predicted an additional snowfall during the day of between five and 10 centimetres.

“A low pressure system tracking northeast across southern Ontario will continue to bring snow to the area today,” the warning read.

Global News meteorologist Danielle Savoni said some of the snow, which is predicted across much of the southern portions of Ontario, could continue past the weekend.

“Lingering flurries on Monday morning could affect the commute to work,” she said.

Winter travel advisories issued for areas including Toronto on Saturday urged drivers to be careful and stay at home if conditions deteriorated.

The advisories called for a total accumulation of around 10 centimetres, warning that will create slippery surfaces.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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