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Decision on Trans Mountain pipeline’s fate might not come until summer

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Canada’s energy regulator will tell the federal government this week whether it still thinks the Trans Mountain pipeline should be expanded but cabinet’s final say on the project’s future is still several months away.

The National Energy Board is reconsidering the project’s impact on marine life, including highly endangered southern resident killer whales, after the Federal Court of Appeal ruled last year that the NEB’s 2016 approval failed to properly take into account how the whales would be affected by having additional oil tankers in their waters.

The report’s delivery will start the clock on a 90-day deadline for cabinet to decide whether the controversial project will proceed, a deadline officials are already signalling could be pushed back.

In addition to the NEB review, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi has ordered a new round of consultations with Indigenous communities to satisfy the court.

A team of 60 people has been assigned to consultation teams that have met with 70 communities since October, but that leaves more than 60 affected communities still waiting for a meeting.

There is no deadline for those consultations to wrap up but officials in Sohi’s office have told The Canadian Press a final decision on whether the pipeline proceeds won’t be made until they are complete.

Meantime, cabinet is under immense pressure to decide the fate of the pipeline before the federal election in the fall.

There is also pressure to get the expansion built because Ottawa bought the existing pipeline from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion last August, after political opposition to the expansion left the company’s shareholders reluctant to proceed.

Impact on killer whales key to discussion

The impact of the expansion on the southern resident killer whales — of which only 74 survive — is key to the discussion. Conservationists say the pipeline will make their recovery nearly impossible.

“The decision really comes down to: Will the federal government say that the economic interests associated with the pipeline outweigh the presence of having southern resident killer whales on the landscape,” said Misty MacDuffee, a biologist with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

The whales started the year on a high note with the birth of a new calf, and two more females in the population are pregnant. But the happy news comes with a major caveat: no southern resident baby has survived more than a year since 2015.

The whales are being harmed by everything from boat noise and the decline in chinook salmon to contaminants in the water from sewage. The National Energy Board in 2016 did conclude the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would “further impede” the recovery of the whales, but still gave the project the go-ahead because it said its mandate was to consider the impacts of the pipeline itself, not from project-related marine shipping.

Southern resident killer whales are pictured off the coast of B.C. (C. Emmons/NOAA Fisheries)

Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said he won’t prejudge what the National Energy Board will say, but he is confident the government has put in place enough new protections for whales and other marine life to mitigate the impact of the pipeline.

“No government has ever taken these kind of steps to try to address a critical species like the southern resident killer whale,” he said.

The Oceans Protection Plan, a $1.5 billion federal policy unveiled in 2016, includes new protected areas for the whales; attempts to recover their main food source, Chinook salmon; new research on water contaminants; and plans to reduce noise from the thousands of boats that travel near the whales each year.

The plan was not in place when the National Energy Board first reviewed the project, and Wilkinson notes the court didn’t take it into account either.

MacDuffee said there is nothing that can currently be done to reduce the effects of boat noise on the whales. She adds that while the government says only six more tankers a week will be added, those six tankers will mean the whales will go from being in the presence of boats about 85 per cent of the time, to more than 95 per cent of the time.

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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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