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The Trans Mountain expansion will struggle for years—even if it gets the green light in 2019





If Trans Mountain had agreed to a two-kilometre detour for its planned 980-km pipeline expansion project, the Coldwater Indian Band might have been fine with it. It would have moved the risk of a bitumen spill away from the First Nation’s aquifer. But that would have taken nine months and $53 million to construct, regulatory documents show. The pipeline developers preferred a route that skirted east rather than west of the reserve in B.C.’s south-central interior—for $44.2 million and three months of construction, as well as two fewer river crossings.

In the face of Coldwater’s concerns, the National Energy Board (NEB) recommended a hydrogeological study. The band was unmoved, but when it reiterated its fears for the safety of its drinking water, the federal government’s representatives took notes and recommended nothing further. Later, in a decision that resonated across the country, the Federal Court of Appeal itself took note of that inaction and quashed Ottawa’s approval of the pipeline.

“Right from the beginning, we said water is life. Water is sacred,” Coldwater Chief Lee Spahan said, clutching an eagle feather on that August morning as he and fellow Indigenous pipeline opponents celebrated their court victory. He’ll bring that message back to the table when Ottawa convenes do-over pipeline consultations in the coming months. The outcome of those talks—and dozens more like it along the Trans Mountain path—will determine whether 980 or 982 or any kilometres of new pipeline get built. And on that ride a vast array of competing interests—the fates of governments; the fortunes of First Nations; the health of the environment and the future of Western Canada’s once-thriving oil industry.

READ: How the Trans Mountain pipeline became a political dumpster fire

When three appellate court judges blocked the Trans Mountain expansion, just as Ottawa was completing its $4.5-billion purchase of Kinder Morgan’s existing pipeline and plans to twin it from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C., they suggested those blueprints need not gather dust for long. Coldwater and five other First Nations litigants had concerns that were “specific and focused,” and the remedial dialogues could be the same, the judges wrote. Fresh consultations, they added, could be “brief and efficient” yet “meaningful.” The decision also said the NEB, the country’s arms-length energy regulator, must reconsider the project’s environmental assessment and factor in how increased oil tanker traffic will affect marine life. But the court concluded that government may specify a time limit for that second review.

Ottawa gave the NEB until Feb. 22, 2019*, to file an amended report with any potential extra protections for the endangered group of West Coast killer whales; hearings began in November. But on the Indigenous consultations the government itself must redo, it has set no timeline—and no interpretation of what “brief and efficient” entails. The original round of consultations took seven months, and most observers suggest the renewed phase shouldn’t take longer, meaning the Liberal cabinet might be ready to give Trans Mountain fresh approval before the fall election. Project CEO Ian Anderson suggested that mid-2019 approval puts construction on track for 2022 completion. But Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi won’t hint at a date or even a year in his timetable.

Rushing the process, Sohi told reporters in Calgary in November, might undermine the government’s intent to show good faith, and its desire to “avoid future challenges” to the pipeline: “We cannot and we will not cut corners on this project.”

The Trudeau government didn’t think it was cutting corners when it last consulted First Nations on Trans Mountain in 2016. After judges overturned the Harper government’s approval for the now-cancelled Northern Gateway pipeline because of a rushed and inadequate process, the Liberals insisted their Trans Mountain dialogues would allow for more time and thoroughness. But quantity is no replacement for quality, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled in its latest rebuke—not when Ottawa showed no willingness to accommodate Indigenous misgivings. This time, the government aims for bigger and better consultations. It will double the capacity of its consultation teams, Sohi says. “Be assured that our teams will have the mandate to offer accommodations where accommodations are possible.”

MORE: The Liberals own the Trans Mountain court loss as surely as they own the pipeline

That’s where Coldwater’s aquifer comes in, along with other grievances the court said require attention. They range from comparatively simple (the Stó:lō people wanted more details about impact monitoring near a burial site) to far-reaching (Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation wanted to levy a resource development tax in its territory). But the standard that Ottawa must meet is not full adherence to Indigenous demands or bust. It must demonstrate openness and seriously consider adding mitigation, legal experts say.

To oversee consultations in Round 2, Ottawa has appointed Frank Iacobucci, the former Supreme Court justice who was the Ontario government’s lead negotiator with First Nations communities on the Ring of Fire mining megaproject. But Ottawa isn’t seeking—nor did the court demand—consent from all affected First Nations, though that’s the standard that some Indigenous leaders are sticking by, and it’s contained in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that the Trudeau Liberals have embraced. Dave Wright, a specialist in natural resources and Indigenous law at the University of Calgary, notes Sohi’s meticulously calibrated references to fulfilling constitutional obligations: “They’re very careful to not say we’re going to do all this stuff and we’re all going to agree at the end of the day.”

Agreement, at least with some First Nations, seems an impossible goal. Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, whose traditional territory sits at the pipeline expansion’s terminus, has vowed to oppose it until the government gives up. “If we have to, we’ll go to the Supreme Court and we’ll win,” says Reuben George of Tsleil-Waututh’s Sacred Trust initiative, set up to oppose Trans Mountain. And that’s just for starters: Ottawa is renewing talks with all 117 affected Indigenous groups along the pipeline corridor and, even if its accommodation proposals satisfy some of the original litigants, it’s possible other First Nations will find flaws and sue to overturn the next federal approval, says Eugene Kung, a staff lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law.

By mid-November, all First Nations were notified by letter that there would be talks, but they hadn’t started; Ottawa was still assembling consultation teams, says Sohi. But as the parallel NEB hearings over marine life impacts got under way, Indigenous groups were making familiar complaints about restrictive timelines and hearing access, and accusations of the same short-circuiting the judges found problematic. “What baffles me is why they don’t start aiming for higher than the floor,” Kung says.

RELATED: The Trans Mountain expansion isn’t dead. But delays will be costly.

Perhaps, but even as those talks begin, Ottawa and an increasingly anxious Alberta government are all too aware of the plunge in the price of Alberta heavy oil resulting from swelling supplies and too few pipelines to ship through—a decline hammering both the economy and government revenues. Companies are curtailing production and expanding oil-by-rail shipments as short-term fixes, hoping either Trans Mountain or Keystone XL—itself thrown into limbo by a U.S. judge’s ruling—will eventually come to pass. In the meantime, the delays have sapped investor confidence: capital raised by Western Canada’s oil sector in 2018 was below $1 billion by November, compared to $13.5 billion in 2016, according to Jackie Forrest, senior director of ARC Energy Research Institute. And warnings are being sent to the highest levels of government: “Market access is critical to an investment in a Canadian energy company, and if that continues to be under threat, global investors will seek opportunities elsewhere and Canadian companies will be further impaired,” wrote Darren Peers, analyst with the $1.7-trillion global investment fund Capital Group, in an October letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

For the PM and his government, it is the essence of a dilemma. On one hand, they face impatience from investors and oil patch workers, keen for assurance that pipelines are on their way and likely to lose faith in a key Canadian industry if disappointed. On the other side are Indigenous communities and environmental groups who want their concerns heard and addressed, many of whom are likely to sue and resist if left unsatisfied. Even if Liberals can restart the Trans Mountain expansion’s construction in 2019, the legal challenges, protests and potential pitfalls will continue for years to come.

CORRECTION, Dec. 17, 2018An earlier version of this story misstated the deadline the NEB gave Ottawa to file a report regarding protections for West Coast killer whales.



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Canadian Tech Calling: Moon and Mars and Mobile Phones





Canadian technological know-how is helping develop reliable mobile communications for next-generation space missions, including manned missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

With many eyes here on Earth now focused on Mars, following the successful journey of ‘Percy’, the roving space exploration vehicle more formally known as Perseverance that is now cruising the Martian landscape, the continued role of Canadian researchers and technologists in space exploration has also drawn more attention.

A team of researchers at Simon Fraser University is working to make LTE/4G and Wi-Fi communications systems on the Moon a reality, along with others in the U.S. and Canada, under the umbrella of the Artemis Program at NASA.

That project will see the return of human beings to the Moon by 2024, and then to the surface of Mars after that.

As part of those efforts, NASA selected Nokia Bell Labs to build a test network and communications infrastructure to build interoperability standards among future cellular and Wi-Fi networks, so that all types of devices can be connected and support Artemis.

The network must provide critical communication capabilities for many different data transmission applications, including command and control functions; real-time navigation and remote control of surface rovers; as well as the streaming of high definition video, applications that are all vital to long-term human presence on a lunar or planetary surface.

“It sounds like far-out stuff, building networks on the Moon, Mars and even further out in our solar system,” says Stephen Braham, the director of the PolyLAB for Advanced Collaborative Networking at SFU. “But we’re actually testing Nokia’s technology right now.”

SFU’s PolyLAB for Advanced Collaborative Networking is doing some of that work at its Exploration Wireless Communications testbed at Vancouver’s Harbour Centre, in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

“(This is) what will allow us to build the ladder of technology standards needed to get cellular networks off Earth and into the solar system,” Braham said in a statement.

NASA and the CSA handed that critical testing to Braham and the scientists at PolyLAB, the Canadian component of what’s called the Exploration Wireless Communications (ExWC).

“Before space agencies can adopt these technologies, we need to prove we can operate between multiple vendors and different agencies, which is why NASA and CSA supports the ExWC testbed,” he continued.

The ExWC testbed launched back in 2018, testing high-speed wireless communications systems for space use, including 5G-forward LTE solutions and advanced Wi-Fi.

The SFU radio transmission systems, in the lab and on masts in the mountains in B.C. and the Yukon, are tested with various vendors and leading telecom providers, such including Vancouver-based Star Solutions and Sierra Wireless, another local company, as well as international telecommunications firms like Nokia.

Braham and associate professor Peter Anderson, who directs the SFU Telematics Research Laboratory that includes PolyLAB, both have extensive track records working on communication systems for NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

It includes extensive research on very early cellular and Wi-Fi networks in the Canadian High Arctic, where advanced field communications systems were set up to support the SETI Institute and Mars Institute-lead NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) up on Devon Island. 

That’s where Braham and his team tested the technology (developed in Canada) that became a big part of modern Wi-Fi, LTE, and now 5G technology, in order to meet up-front needs on human lunar missions if not all manned space flights.

From those early beginnings, the SFU team has now worked with other collaborators for the ongoing design and development of Canada’s prototype lunar/Mars surface communication networking systems, specifically the ExoMars rover, including Canadian space technology company MDA and the Canadian Communications Research Centre.

Braham is also an Associate Member on the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS), supporting CSA during discussions and development of international standards for computing, networking, and communications in space. He also worked for many years as a member of the CSA’s nine-member Space Exploration Advisory Committee (SEAC), providing community leadership and representation in aspects of human space exploration in Canada.

But, when space agency officials announced recently that a Canadian will be aboard when NASA returns to the Moon in 2023, well, Braham was not named as that astronaut.

Nevertheless, with his and his team’s help, that astronaut will make Canada the second country in history to have someone travel into deep space and fly around the Moon.

And maybe use a mobile phone to call us and tell us all about it.

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Canadian Consumer Coalition Calls for Affordable Internet on National Day of Action





Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 16, a national day of action will be staged by Canadian consumer advocates, social justice groups, telecom policy experts, digital activists, and independent ISPs, or Internet Service Providers.

In a series of scheduled virtual events, there will be calls for the federal government and telecom regulators to take action and ensure affordable Internet and wireless services are available to all Canadians.

The free online event is open to the public, and planners and scheduled participants in the Day of Action for Affordable Internet hope consumers themselves will them in urging a range of actions be taken by the federal government, the CRTC and the country’s Competition Bureau.

Advocating for a more affordable Internet will be: ACORN Canada; Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship; activist and author Cory Doctorow; Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law Michael Geist; The Internet Society Canada Chapter; OpenMedia; Public Interest Advocacy Centre; Ryerson Leadership Lab; Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic; and TekSavvy Solutions.

And while a lack of competition has long been cited as a reason for high prices in Canada, the fact that a majority of subscribers stick with the ‘Big Three’ is also a stumbling block to leveling the playing field, at  least price-wise.

Canada’s Competitive Network Operators, a trade organization made up of Internet and telecommunications service providers that own/operate telecommunications networks across the country, is also fighting for a fair Internet pricing and accessibility structure.

Pandemic Pressures

Affordable Internet activists point out that, throughout the current COVID-19 crisis, reliable and affordable connectivity became even more essential. So did many things, in fact: many we had never deemed as so important, relevant or even as noteworthy as high speed Internet.

“The affordability and accessibility of the [I]nternet has never been more critical,” says Franca Palazzo, one of the event participants and the executive director of the Internet Society, Canada Chapter. “More than ever, we are being asked to work, learn and connect online.”

While it is true that many of our fellow Canadians are struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic, and they struggle, the coalition says, to pay some of the highest telecom bills in the world (while others can’t even get high-quality reliable connections), it is also true that many of us are using our high-speed connections more than ever with no increase in cost or decrease in service as a result of our pandemic-related stay-at-home, work-at-home or school-at-home activities.

The big three providers in Canada – Bell, Rogers and Telus – are among those companies that lifted data caps on cable and fibre-based residential Internet services; it’s a corporate goodwill gesture made as a result of pandemic and public pressures. The caps have been lifted until the end of June, where and when possible. (The Liberal government has directed the country’s largest telecom providers to cut specific cellphone prices in general.)

Not everyone is eligible for the pandemic discounts, however: some folks still using cellular (where, for example, high speed networking is not available) for their Internet connections are unable to get discounts because, the telecoms say, bandwidth and capacity would be threatened if caps were removed from cellular service.

“The digital divide in Canada is sometimes portrayed as exclusively a rural-urban divide,” says Sam Andrey, the director of policy and research at Ryerson Leadership Lab, where research and analysis into Internet usage is conducted. “But even in Canada’s largest cities, there are persistent gaps in access to digital services, devices and affordable [I]nternet at sufficient speeds that map onto other socioeconomic inequities, including income, age, race and ability,” he adds.

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Brim Financial Raises $25M Series B to transform the way people bank and shop





TORONTO, March 16, 2021 /PRNewswire/ – Brim Financial (Brim), a Canadian next-generation Fintech company and certified credit card issuer, today announced the close of a $25M Series B, co-led by Desjardins Group and US-based EPIC Ventures with strong participation from Canadian and US based investors including goeasy Ltd., White Owl and Impression Ventures.

Brim’s state-of-the-art technology stack and credit cards infrastructure leverages the company’s ability to directly access the payment rails as an issuer, enabling Brim to deliver a fundamentally transformative ecosystem of financial products for consumers and businesses.

The Series B financing will bolster Brim’s Platform as a Service (PaaS). Brim’s B2B2C strategy enables any bank, credit union, fintech or large commercial partner to seamlessly roll out Brim’s financial products platform, credit cards and integrated buy-now pay-later solutions, mobile and digital banking, and behavior-driven customer engagement, all embedded with a best-in-class globally open loyalty and rewards ecosystem available in real-time at all merchants worldwide. With Brim’s Platform as a Service, partners have the ability to customize every element of the platform and leverage Brim’s end-to-end services, on a modular and turnkey basis.

Our technology stack powers banking, loyalty and integrated e-commerce on a single platform, with the customer experience at the center of it all” said Rasha Katabi, CEO and Founder of Brim Financial. “Today’s digital environment has brought a new sense of urgency for institutions to assess how they will interact with their customers. We are well positioned to be at the forefront of this transformation that’s shaping the way we live, connect and engage for decades to come, and we’re excited to be working with investors who share the same vision.”

Brim has expanded beyond the direct-to-consumer space enabling large partners to leverage their digital first platform, suite of credit cards and financial products, and a globally open rewards and e-commerce ecosystem. Brim seamlessly integrates buy-now pay-later capabilities in all of its revolving consumer and business credit card products, providing ultimate flexibility for customers with a uniquely and strongly differentiated ecosystem.

“We’re thrilled to be part of Brim’s next chapter. There is tremendous potential in the industry, both in Canada and in the US, and Brim is uniquely positioned to deliver a significant and much needed transformation.” said Ryan Hemingway, Managing Director at EPIC Ventures. “Brim is combining banking and commerce like we haven’t seen in North America.”

Merged with its scalable technology platform, Brim has the largest open loyalty and rewards ecosystem as Brim’s technology stack directly leverages the global payment network. Brim’s Loyalty and Rewards are live at all points of sale globally, both in physical stores and online.  Any merchant can be live and part of the ecosystem in less than 3 minutes.

“Brim’s platform delivers industry-leading payments technology to their customers at an astonishing pace,” Martin Brunelle, Vice-President, Growth, Acquisitions and Development at Desjardins Group.  “Desjardins has earmarked $100 M to invest in technology companies and investment funds who can support our different business units in their digital transformation needs.  We’re very excited to be partnering with Brim.”

With its platform built entirely from the ground up and directly on the global payment network, Brim is positioned to transform the future of the credit card industry and digital banking products with the world’s largest open loyalty and rewards ecosystem. Brim has notably on-boarded hundreds of merchants to its rewards ecosystem since its launch, and rapid expansion will continue to be a key focus for the company going forward.

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