What Just Happened

News and horror from the last two weeks

A longer than usual update on many things that have come to pass, with ominous portents for the future? Sure, lets! /SW

JUSTIN AND BRAD AGREE: THE REFUGEES MUST WAIT

When people flee a civil war to escape bombs, bullets and beheading-happy madmen, they don’t always have time to make sure their papers are in order.

Unfortunately, to some that means these refugees are too high-risk to take a chance on. According to Saskatchewan’s premier, maybe it would be for the best if  thousands of people who’ve fled danger and unspeakable horror should just, ya know, put their future and safety on hold.

On Nov. 16 Premier Brad Wall sent out a Tweet which included a letter sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The letter asked Trudeau to suspend the plan to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to the country by the end of the year and referenced fear after the recent attack.

“If even a small number of individuals who wish to do harm to our country are able to enter Canada as a result of a rushed refugee resettlement process, the results could be devastating,” Wall wrote.

It’s a fear reflected around the world but it isn’t supported by facts. Beyond a dubious passport found on an attacker, all the identified assailants in the Paris attacks are, so far, citizens of European Union countries.

That means it was homegrown European radicalism that created the Paris bloodbath. It wasn’t the work of a bunch of fake refugees.

Unfortunately, the sentiment — shared by large numbers of Canadians — has carried the day. Syrian refugees will NOT arrive, en masse, before the end of the year, according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “We looked at the logistics, we looked at what it would take to bring them in by Jan. 1, and we had options around that,” he told CBC’s Matt Galloway on Nov. 24.

The prime minister insisted he was still committed to bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees. It just won’t happen in 2015.

As for local reticence: last year, Saskatchewan took in around 500 refugees and the increase would see around 75 more.

That’s a drop in the bucket of the 19 million people who are currently refugees around the world.

In Syria, the civil war has killed at least 250,000 people, displaced half of the population, and caused one in five Syrians (that’s over four million people) to flee what was once a largely middle-class country. Of those, the United Nations says women outnumber men, and 38.5 per cent are children 11 years old and younger.

Opposition leader Cam Broten objected to the Premier’s public letter, suggesting it was fear-mongering that could harm “families that are desperate to flee the tyranny of ISIS.”

In any case, Wall’s response was a stark contrast from two months ago when he posted on Facebook that “…we’ve told the federal government that Saskatchewan can and will support more refugees.”

That was only two days after the death of the little Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a beach. Wall was celebrated for increasing the number of refugees by 15 per cent.

Where did that empathy go?

Apparently, it disappeared as quickly as the tide that washed little Kurdi to shore. /Geraldine Malone

CITY HALL: REGINA WILL WELCOME SYRIANS

As Prairie Dog was going to press, we learned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan to land 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada before 2016 has been scuttled. Nevertheless, some refugees could arrive in Regina in December.

In response to the national initiative, Mayor Michael Fougere put forward a motion at council’s Nov. 23 meeting requesting an administration report on how the City of Regina will help support the arrival, settlement and integration of those refugees.

“It’s important that we state as a community how we’re prepared to assist local organizations to receive refugees from around the world, from the Middle East. It’s important we let people know we’re prepared to do what we can to support them,” said Fougere after the meeting.

Fougere noted that the morning before council’s meeting, he participated in a conference call between new federal immigration minister, John McCallum, and mayors from all of Canada’s major cities.

“[McCallum] wanted to reflect with mayors on what are they hearing on the street — are they prepared for what’s going to happen, do they have any questions? So we had a fairly long conversation but not a lot of details. There was a fair amount of discussion on the security screening going forward, that there’s five steps of security that they’re going to be doing. But also about what would we need as municipalities: extra housing, issues related to the health of the refugees, what are they like? How are they feeling? What should we be doing?”

When asked to comment on some of the Islamaphobic sentiments that are being expressed online (I’m looking at you, Facebook), Fougere refused to dwell on the negative. “This city welcomes people, the province as well, from all over the world,” he said. “And those who are in desperate straits, in horrendous circumstances, need our support.”

Fougere’s motion was passed unanimously and a report from the administration will go before the Dec. 2 meeting of the Community and Protective Services Committee. /Paul Dechene

SASKPOWER SHENANIGANS: CARBON CAPTURE TECHNOLOGY IS PROVING PROBLEMATIC

The central plank in Saskatchewan’s environmental “strategy” to reduce greenhouse gases is a $1.5 billion carbon capture and storage facility that’s been built at SaskPower’s coal-fired Boundary Dam 3 near Estevan. Working at peak efficiency, though, it would only decrease our annual 75 million tonnes of GHG emissions by one million tonnes. And environmentalists have long argued the government could have achieved far greater results had it invested in green power and conservation initiatives.

Making matters worse is that SaskPower’s been experiencing major problems in getting the CCS technology to work. “The government’s characterized these as minor glitches, but we know they’re having serious issues that have really destroyed the project’s credibility,” says NDP SaskPower critic Cathy Sproule. “At some point, with a lot more money, it may actually operate properly. But right now it’s been a disappointment.”

Leaked government documents show that SaskPower, rather than earning revenue from selling stored carbon to Cenovus to use in enhanced oil recovery, actually made $12 million in penalty payments to the Calgary company in 2014 because the CCS facility has been off-line so much. Sproule calls the situation shameful, and says, “it’s a sad day when we have to find out what’s really going on through the bravery of individuals who leak documents.”

It’s also been revealed that the government has spent $1.3 million with Washington lobbyists in an unsuccessful effort to promote the technology in U.S. coal-fired power plants. In addition, it’s currently engaged in a dispute resolution process with SNC Lavelin over alleged design flaws in the CCS plant. And SaskPower president Mike Monea has racked up nearly $500,000 in travel bills since 2009 touting the technology — again, without any return to Saskatchewan taxpayers.

Meanwhile, notes Sproule, Saskatchewan continues to lag other jurisdictions in reducing GHG emissions to deal with climate change. “The government’s been in power for eight years now, and they’ve done nothing beyond this one project. They’re put all their eggs in the carbon capture basket, which has set us back eight years in developing sources of power beyond non-renewables, and basically shredded our reputation internationally.”

Premier Brad Wall is scheduled to travel to Paris as part of the Canadian delegation for COP21 in early December, and Sproule expects he’ll continue to defend CCS despite all the problems that remain to be overcome. “I think he’s still hugely committed to this technology, and we’ll see how that’s received in Paris.”/Gregory Beatty

CITY HALL PART TWO: TAX-HIKE BOOGALOO

The city released its proposed budget for 2016 on Nov. 16 to give everybody a change to review it before its debated at a special council meeting on Dec. 7. Of interest to most is the proposed 3.9 per cent property tax hike, one per cent of which will be dedicated to residential road repair and 0.45 per cent will be dedicated to the stadium project. Highlighted projects in the 2016 budget include $2 million for the Mâmawêyatitân Centre (formerly the North Central Shared Facility), a record $9.1 million for winter road maintenance, hiring eight new constables for the Police Service and the purchase of five new buses to support the U-Pass program at the University of Regina.

People wanting to speak at the Dec. 7 budget meeting must submit a written brief with the city clerk by Dec. 3. /Paul Dechene

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