Eon Communications and Research
Here's what I had to say after visiting Pimachiowin Aki, the Land That Gives Life, in Northern Manitoba at the end of May.
Transmission corridor or World Heritage site?
Published On Mon Jun 06 2011
BLOODVEIN RIVER, MANITOBA—Rob Whaley and his friends just discovered something about one of Canada’s most pristine wilderness areas: just when you get away from it all, you can’t, because a provincial premier and 38 other people might drop in.
That’s what Whaley, a Huntsville, Ont., family doctor, found out as he and his four-canoe expedition enjoyed the austere, rugged beauty of this roiling river near the Manitoba-Ontario border.
Things couldn’t have been more peaceful and isolated, when suddenly seven motorboats pulled up, bearing Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger along with two of his top cabinet ministers, aboriginal leaders, environmental scientists, international philanthropists and media.
“We hadn’t seen anybody for eight days, and now this,” joked Whaley, who organized the journey with friends from Huntsville, Flesherton and Markdale.
While the canoeists’ objective was relaxation, there was urgency to the premier’s two-day visit.
This river is part of a vast area called Pimachiowin Aki, or The Land that Gives Life. The Manitoba government, together with Ontario, five First Nations and with support from Ottawa, is ramping up efforts to have the area, the size of Denmark, designated by the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage site.
Gaining UNESCO designation is not a slam dunk, and it involves hurdles and challenges here in Canada as well as at the UN agency’s headquarters in Paris. Manitoba’s opposition Progressive Conservatives have vowed to locate a huge transmission line right through the nominated area — a move that supporters of the UNESCO bid say would undermine the case completely.
“We’re talking about the life-support systems of a planet — how can that possibly be a political issue?” said David Suzuki, Canada’s best-known environmentalist, who flew into Winnipeg to meet about Pimachiowin Aki. “If you put electrical wires through, you don’t have an intact forest.”
The UNESCO bid process began nearly a decade ago, yet today it’s drawing controversy in Manitoba and minimal public attention in Ontario. With provincial elections in both provinces this fall (Manitobans go to the polls two days before Ontario’s Oct. 6 vote), there’s a scramble to galvanize support, raise funds and educate the public about the bid.
The Manitoba and Ontario governments point out that the potential UNESCO site would be one of the biggest among nearly 900 around the world, only the second heritage site in Ontario (the other is the Rideau Canal) and one of the largest intact areas of boreal forest in the world. Combined with a buffer zone, it’s more than 43,000 square kilometres.
The people of Pimachiowin Aki, who come from five First Nations in both provinces, are as much a part of the UNESCO bid as the land, water and trees. They trace their ancestral presence in the territory back some 6,000 years. There are significant rock paintings in the area, many of the boundaries derive from traditional traplines, and the people in the area have one of the highest rates of indigenous language retention in the world.
UNESCO designation would be a signal to the world that this vast forest and its people enjoy a measure of protection against outside development and resource exploitation. The five First Nations supporting the bid (one in Ontario) came up with their own land-use plans as the basis for the proposal, and they see designation as a way to share the boreal and their traditions with the world without compromising them.
“I wasn’t always proud of my traditions, but today I am,” says Martina Young Fisher, also known as Blue Sky Eagle Moon, a traditional teacher who operates a lodge on the Bloodvein with her husband.
It will take up to 2014 for UNESCO to evaluate the Ontario-Manitoba bid, which will hinge on whether the UN body believes there is “Outstanding Universal Value” to this boreal forest.
Right now, “it’s the largest intact boreal forest on the planet,” says Faisal Moola, science director for the David Suzuki Foundation. The boreal is considered “the lungs of the Earth,” absorbing carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change.
The question is, will it still be outstanding to UNESCO if there’s a giant power line running through this canoe tripper’s paradise?
Former Star reporter David Israelson is a Toronto writer and consultant.
I'm trying to figure out what is right and wrong with our upcoming federal election. The clichés about voter apathy and the "small-ball" micro-analysis that passes for commentary leave me a bit cold, to tell the truth.
I'm going to support my MP, Liberal Carolyn Bennett, who works hard and does a good job. If anyone deserves reelection, she does. We would be well-governed if we elected a slate of people like Carolyn Bennett.
At the same time, on the larger, national I think the voters are telling all the parties that they are both dissatisfied and satisfied at the same time.
What do I mean? I think the voters are dissatisfied with the quality of decision-making and process that we are seeing in Ottawa. If we come back after a few years and look at the issues that made the headlines right now I think we'll find them mostly small and irrelevant. Some of the voter apathy reflects the public saying: go away until you get it right.
What's the satisfaction part of this equation? In some ways, voters are signalling that they understand the politicians' dilemma. The world is complicated and we shouldn't expect that we can elect people who are capable of solving every problem every time. So that's why many people shrug their shoulders and pay less attention to the election than the opniocracy thinks they ought to. Perhaps it's a collective message from the voters: come back when you have something new and interesting to tell us.
I came back from San Francisco and among many excellent things I noticed there, I was impressed with the city's vintage street car line. It's a working line, open 20 hours a day, with 27 old-style streetcars. Each one is painted with the colours of the original city from which San Francisco acquired it. Apparently the fleet includes an old Toronto Transit Commission streetcar, painted in the old brown and cream colours of the TTC.
What a great idea. It gets people around town, and it just makes you smile when you see these streetcars. It's not like I'm a trainspotter or anything. It's just one of those "sense of city" things that makes the difference between being in a boring place and an interesting one. Good work San Francisco! I know the TTC still retains two of these old cars for special events and a summer run through Harbourfront, but I still wonder: why can't Toronto be more imaginative? We have the tracks, we have the lines. We used to have more than 700 of those old streetcars, which we sold or scrapped. What would be wrong with coming up with something interesting like San Francisco's line?
First byline ever in the National Post. See special section Feb. 8, 2011 -- http://www.nationalpost.com/todays-paper/Finding+good/4240663/story.html.
Two additional articles in the section, about choosing the right investment advisor.
As a writer and a once-and-future journalist, I find the whole WikiLeaks phenomenon fascinating. Not so much because of the content--it's all stuff we more or less knew already, with the leaks confirming the obvious.
No, there are two fascinating aspects for me. First, the process: what used to require, months, even years of cultivating sources by a journalist now comes spewing out in a nanosecond, and we can't even keep up with the information.
Secondly, I think the sheer volume of information makes journalistic judgment more difficult than ever. This judgment was always about choices--what is most significant, what is most interesting, what is a good combination of the two. Now there is just too much information all at once to deal with, and it makes judgment a problem.
I may write more about this...
There is an interesting blog in the New York Times today about a pilot project by Starbucks to recycle its paper coffee cups, sending cups from Toronto to a plant in Mississippi.
vGood stuff, but one question--does the project factor in the fuel use to send the cups down the river?
I enjoyed the talk on CBC Radio's The Current this morning about the resignation of Canada's Environment Minister Jim Prentice. The panelists, Alanna Mitchell, Toby Heaps and Jennifer Ditchburn all had slightly different takes on his resignation and I do too.
Alanna said that Prentice was a terrible environment minister, based on his record. Toby said he will apply his knowledge of the clean energy industry to his new role as a banker. Jennifer said Prentice may be biding his time before returning to politics, maybe to take a run as the Conservative leader eventually.
What do I think? All and none of the above. My summary:
1. Yes, Prentice's record is pretty dismal, but being a bad environment minister in Canada has long been a race to the bottom--it's hard to think of much that any of them in nearly 40 years has accomplished without having been forced by public and activist opinion to do the right thing. I think Prentice is a skilled, temperate person who did have a few accomplishments but was basically playing out a bad hand.
2. Wouldn't it be nice if a former environment minister applied his great knowledge and connections in the energy industry to build clean energy business in Canada? I'm with Toby on this--and I'm sure Prentice does have a lot of depth here--but do I think it will happen? No.
3. Will he come back? Won't he? Does he want to? Why don't we leave the guy alone for a while? He said he wanted to give public life about 10 years, he has given it nine. Whether you agree with his policies or politics or not, my observation is that almost all of these people work extremely hard and all we do is crab at them. We should be more generous about recognizing the service these people devote when they choose to have us criticize them incessantly--and we will. Jim Prentice's politics aren't the same as mine, but I think people like him add a lot to public life and we should appreciate that.
By the way, it's interesting that nobody thinks Canada's environment will be better off now.
Okay, so the candidate I worked for in the Mayor's race lost. Naturally a lot of us are disappointed. But now it's time to be realistic.
A lot of people are commenting on how gracious and eloquent George Smitherman was after conceding defeat. It looked good on him and made me glad I supported him whatever the result.
By being realistic, I mean that those Toronto residents who have a different vision than Mayor-elect Ford's need to re-ask themselves the ballot question: what kind of Toronto do you want? That means divorcing this question from the election/horserace context now, and instead considering what would make the city better, more effectively run. Now that the vote is over, let's stop thinking about who won and who lost for a while and concentrate on what should happen that's best for the city. I know--easier said than done--but sometimes you have to do the hard things too.
I just voted in the Toronto municipal election for George Smitherman for Mayor. Vote for George!
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