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NEB to release new Trans Mountain report on possible marine impacts

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The latest chapter in the Trans Mountain pipeline saga will be written Friday as the National Energy Board releases the conditions for proceeding with the contentious project should the federal government choose to do so.

It comes nearly six months after a Federal Court of Appeal effectively halted construction of the $7.4-billion pipeline expansion, sending the NEB back to drawing board to assess the impact increased tanker traffic would have on marine life, including the endangered southern resident killer whales.

The taxpayer-owned pipeline project aims to ship more diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to tanker terminals in Burnaby, B.C., but it has been met with both political and environmental resistance.

The list of conditions and recommendations from the NEB would shape how the project is developed, but the decision on whether to proceed with it still rests with the federal government, which purchased the project last year for $4.5 billion.

Most experts anticipate the NEB will again recommend the federal government continue to pursue the project.

“The review will actually address the concerns that were addressed by the Federal Court of Appeal,” said Lori Williams, a political science professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary. “Albertans will take some encouragement from it.”

Examining project impacts

Among a list of draft conditions the regulator released in January is a plan for marine spill prevention, while also recommending potential limits on the number of whale watching boats in the area. 

Warren Mabee, director of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen’s University, said the NEB’s final conclusions will be important for many people concerned about West Coast marine life.

“It’s a major point of concern for lots of people on the West Coast; we’re talking about people of all different stripes — Indigenous people, people in Vancouver,” Mabee said.

“So looking at what those impacts might look like … is really important. That’s critical to moving that project forward.”

A pipeline marker for the Trans Mountain pipeline as it passes by a playground near the Coldwater River and Coldwater Reserve in B.C. (CBC)

The ruling at the Federal Court of Appeal last August determined the NEB’s project assessment was flawed and couldn’t be relied upon by the federal cabinet when it gave final approval to proceed in November 2016.

The NEB’s recommendations Friday stem from the court’s concerns with how the regulator initially dealt with potential environmental impacts from marine shipping, leading to a re-do of that work.

The board researched the topic extensively prior to its initial assessment and openly acknowledged increased marine traffic would have a “significant” impact on B.C.’s killer whale population.

But this was not considered when the NEB first approved the project. The NEB said this issue was outside of its scope and other government agencies already regulate marine traffic.

An aerial view of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain marine terminal filling a oil tanker in Burnaby, B.C. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The court found the NEB should have included those environmental impacts in its decision. That way, the federal government would have had a clearer picture of all the pipeline’s implications.

The government instructed the board in September to complete another assessment, which also included three weeks set aside to receive oral traditional evidence from members of Indigenous communities in Alberta and B.C. 

More consultations

Among the draft recommendations issued in January are potential noise reduction targets for regularly operating ferries.  Draft conditions included a requirement for Trans Mountain to file a marine mammal protection program with the NEB at least three months prior to commencing operations. 

In addition to the NEB review, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi ordered a new round of consultations with Indigenous communities to address the court’s concerns that wasn’t done adequately the first time.  

There is no deadline for those consultations to wrap up.

However, the federal government says its consultation teams have met already with more than three-quarters of all Indigenous communities affected by the planned Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

A female resident orca whale breaches while swimming in Puget Sound near Washington State. (The Associated Press)

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Record one million job losses in March: StatCan

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OTTAWA — More than one million Canadians lost their jobs in the month of March, Statistics Canada is reporting. The unemployment rate has also climbed to 7.8 per cent, up from 2.2 percentage points since February.

Canada’s national statistics agency released its monthly Labour Force Survey on Thursday, using March 15 to 21 as the sample week – a time when the government began enforcing strict guidelines around social gatherings and called on non-essential businesses to close up shop.

The first snapshot of job loss since COVID-19 began taking a toll on the Canadian economy shows 1.1 million out of work since the prior sample period and a consequent decrease in the employment rate – the lowest since April 1997. The most job losses occurred in the private sector and among people aged 15-24.

The number of people who were unemployed increased by 413,000, resulting in the largest one-month increase in Canada’s unemployment rate on record and takes the economy back to a state last seen in October, 2010.

“Almost all of the increase in unemployment was due to temporary layoffs, meaning that workers expected to return to their job within six months,” reads the findings.

The agency included three new indicators, on top of the usual criteria, to better reflect the impact of COVID-19 on employment across the country.

The survey, for example, excludes the more commonly observed reasons for absent workers — such as vacation, weather, parental leave or a strike or lockout — to better isolate the pandemic’s effect.

They looked at: people who are employed but were out of a job during the reference week, people who are employed but worked less than half their usual hours, and people who are unemployed but would like a job.

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Employee at Ottawa’s Amazon Fulfillment Centre tests positive for COVID-19

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OTTAWA — An employee who works at Amazon’s fulfillment centre on Boundary Road in Ottawa’s east-end has tested positive for COVID-19.

Amazon says it learned on April 3 that an associate tested positive for novel coronavirus and is currently in isolation. The employee last worked at the fulfillment centre on March 19.

Two employees told CTV News Ottawa that management informed all employees about the positive test in a text message over the weekend.

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Amazon spokesperson Jen Crowcroft wrote “we are supporting the individual who is recovering. We are following guidelines from health officials and medical experts, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site.”

The statement also says that Amazon has taken steps to further protect their employees.

“We have also implemented proactive measures at our facilities to protect employees including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance in the FC.”

CTV News Ottawa asked Amazon about the timeline between when the company found out about the positive COVID-19 case and when employees were notified.

In a separate email to CTV News Ottawa, Crowcroft said “all associates of our Boundary Road fulfillment centre in Ottawa were notified within 24 hours of learning of the positive COVID-19 case.”

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Ottawa facing silent spring as festivals, events cancelled

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This is shaping up to be Ottawa’s silent spring — and summer’s sounding pretty bleak, too — as more and more concerts, festivals and other annual events are cancelled in the wake of measures meant to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The province has already banned gatherings of more than five people, and on Monday officials announced city parks, facilities and services will remain shut down until the end of June, nor will any event permits be issued until at least that time.

“This leaves us with no choice but to cancel the festival this year,” Ottawa Jazz Festival artistic director Petr Cancura confirmed Monday.

This was to be the festival’s 40th anniversary, and organizers announced the lineup for the June 19-July 1 event the day after Ottawa’s first confirmed case of COVID-19. 

The Toronto and Montreal jazz festivals had already pulled the plug because of similar restrictions in their cities, so Cancura said the writing was on the wall.

“We have a few contingency plans to keep connecting with our audience and working with our artists,” Cancura said.

People holding tickets to the 2020 festival can ask for a refund or exchange for a 2021 pass.

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