Emma Gilchrist

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Emma Gilchrist is Executive Director of DeSmog Canada. She is a writer, editor and citizen engagement specialist based in Victoria, B.C.

Emma grew up in a small town in northwestern Alberta where she saw firsthand how oil and gas development plays an important role in Canadian communities. She went on to earn a journalism degree from Mount Royal University in Calgary. In 2015, Emma was the recipient of the Horizon Award from Mount Royal for outstanding achievements in the first 10 years after graduation.

Emma has worked as a reporter and editor in Canada and the U.K., including stints at the Calgary Sun, Calgary Herald, Cambridge Evening News and BBC Essex. While at the Calgary Herald, Emma created a weekly environmental column and website called The Green Guide, which won an Alberta Emerald Award, a Canadian Newspaper Association Great Ideas Award and was featured by the Online Journalism Review.

Most recently, Emma served as the Communications Director for the Dogwood Initiative, a citizen’s advocacy group that helps British Columbians have more say in decisions about their air, land and water. In 2012, Dogwood was nominated for a Katerva Award, described by Reuters as the “Nobel of sustainability.”

Emma’s writing on travel, health, fitness and the environment has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Financial Post, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, Edmonton Journal, Vancouver Province, The Tyee, Up! Magazine and the Huffington Post.

You can contact Emma via e-mail at emma [at] desmog [dot] ca

‘It’s a New Day’: Why Environmentalists Need to Change Their Strategy Under Trudeau Government

Ottawa climate protest

Nine and a half years. That’s how long Stephen Harper was prime minister of Canada — a long haul for environmentalists, who were all but shut out of Ottawa and often antagonized by the federal government.

Now that Justin Trudeau and the Liberals have taken the helm, advocates have high hopes for a course correction on the environment and energy files. But after nearly a decade of working under hostile conditions, environmentalists need to make a course correction of their own if they want to effectively influence public policy, experts say.   

If I was running a large ENGO and my file was climate, it’s a new day,” said Allan Northcott, vice-president of Max Bell Foundation, which runs the Public Policy Training Institute to train non-profit leaders in how to effectively advocate for policy changes.

The opportunity is different, so it’s going to require a different plan, a different strategy.”

Canada Now Has a Minister of Environment AND Climate Change

Miniser of Environment Catherine McKenna

Leaders in Canada’s environmental community are expressing optimism about the appointment of lawyer Catherine McKenna as Minister of Environment and Climate Change at a swearing in ceremony in Ottawa Wednesday morning.

Including climate change in the environment minister’s title signals how high a priority this issue is to our new federal government,” said Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada.

As a lawyer, McKenna focused on international trade and competition and co-founded a charity focused on advancing human rights in the developing world.  She was also a legal adviser and negotiator for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in East Timor. A video on her website shows her biking around Ottawa with her three children.

Is the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Finally Dead?

Jody Wilson-Raybould, Justin Trudeau and Art Sterritt walk on the boardwalk in Hartley Bay, B.C.

In August 2014, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau made the trek to the tiny Gitga’at community of Hartley Bay, located along Enbridge’s proposed oil tanker route in northwestern B.C.

There, in the village of 200 people accessible only by air and water, he met with community elders and Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations.

He came to Gitga’at because he wanted to make sure he was making the right decision in terms of Northern Gateway and being there certainly confirmed that,” Sterritt told DeSmog Canada on Tuesday.

My confidence level went up immensely when Justin … visited Gitga’at.”

Two months before that visit, in May 2014, Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa that if he became prime minister “the Northern Gateway Pipeline will not happen.”

With Monday’s majority win by Trudeau, Sterritt — who retired three weeks ago from his role with Coastal First Nations — says he is “elated” and “Northern Gateway is now dead.”

Prime Minister Harper’s Inaction on Climate Killed the Keystone XL Oilsands Pipeline

Stephen Harper climate change

With U.S. President Barack Obama expected to deny a permit to the Keystone XL pipeline this fall, Canada’s oil industry is looking for someone to blame.

The National Post’s Claudia Cattaneo wrote last week that “many Canadians … would see Obama’s fatal stab as a betrayal by a close friend and ally” and that others “would see it as the product of failure by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to come up with a climate change plan.”

The latter is the more logical conclusion. Obama has made his decision-making criteria clear: he won’t approve the pipeline if it exacerbates the problem of carbon pollution.

Even the U.S. State Department’s very conservative analysis states the Keystone XL pipeline would “substantially increase oilsands expansion and related emissions.” The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed.

While Canada’s energy reviews take into account “upstream benefits” — such as jobs created in the oilsands sector as a result of pipelines — they don’t even consider the upstream environmental impacts created by the expansion of the oilsands.

For all the bluster and finger-pointing, there’s no covering up the fact that Canada’s record on climate change is one of broken promises.

Canada’s Charitable Law Urgently Needs Reforming: New UVic Report

Calvin Sandborn

A report released today by the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre calls for sweeping reform of Canadian charitable law in line with other jurisdictions such as the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and England.

Current rules around “political activity” — defined by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) as any activity that seeks to change, oppose or retain laws or policies — are confusing and create an “intolerable state of uncertainty,” the report says.

This has created a confused and anxious charitable sector and detracts from them carrying out their important work,” Calvin Sandborn, legal director of the Environmental Law Centre, said.

The report — prepared for DeSmog Canada — comes as 52 charities are being targeted in a $13.4 million audit program launched by the federal government in 2012 to determine whether any are violating a rule that limits spending on political activities to 10 per cent of resources. Those charities include Environmental Defence, the David Suzuki Foundation, Canada Without Poverty, Ecology Action Centre and Equiterre.

Energy Executive Quits Trans Mountain Pipeline Review, Calls NEB Process A ‘Public Deception'

Marc Eliesen

An energy executive is weighing in on the federal review of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion with a scathing letter that calls the National Energy Board’s review process “fraudulent” and a “public deception” — and calls for the province of British Columbia to undertake its own environmental assessment.

Marc Eliesen — who has 40 years of executive experience in the energy sector, including as a board member at Suncor — writes in his letter to the National Energy Board that the process is jury-rigged with a “pre-determined outcome.”

Eliesen is the former CEO of BC Hydro, former chair of Manitoba Hydro and has served as a deputy minister in seven different federal and provincial governments.

In his letter, Eliesen tells the National Energy Board (NEB) that he offered his expertise as an intervenor in good faith that his time would be well spent in evaluation Trans Mountain’s proposal.

Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that the board, through its decisions, is engaged in a public deception,” Eliesen writes. “Continued involvement with this process is a waste of time and effort, and represents a disservice to the public interest because it endorses a fraudulent process.”

B.C. LNG Strategy Won’t Help Solve Global Climate Change: New Pembina Institute Report

Christy Clark at LNG Canada announcement

The B.C. government’s claim that LNG exports offer the “greatest single step British Columbia can take to fight climate change” is inaccurate in the absence of stronger global climate policies according to a new report released today by the Pembina Institute and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.

Natural gas does have a role to play in a world that avoids two degrees Celsius in global warming, but only if strong emissions reduction policies are put in place in the jurisdictions that produce and consume the gas, says the report, LNG and Climate Change: The Global Context authored by Matt Horne and Josha MacNab.

Natural gas is often described as a bridge fuel. The question is, how long should that bridge be?” says MacNab, B.C. regional director for the Pembina Institute, a national non-profit focused on transitioning Canada to a clean energy future.

Our research suggests it must be very short if we’re going to be able to get off the bridge in time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

Right-Wing Charities Escaping CRA Audits: New Report from Broadbent Institute

Canada Revenue Agency

A new report from the Broadbent Institute raises fresh questions about whether Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) audits are being used as a politicized tool to pressure critics of the federal government. 

The report, Stephen Harper’s CRA: Selective audits, “political” activity, and right-leaning charities, says several right-leaning charities are reporting zero “political” activity while engaging in work that appears to meet the CRA’s definition.

We know charities that have been critical of policies of the Harper government are being audited by the Canada Revenue Agency. With mounting evidence suggesting bias in auditing decisions, we need to find out what’s going on here,” said Rick Smith, executive director of Broadbent Institute, a non-partisan organization founded by former NDP Leader Ed Broadbent.

Fiery Saskatchewan Train Derailment Raises Fresh Questions About Oil-By-Rail Safety

oil by rail, tanker trains, bomb trains, derailment

A fiery CN train derailment in rural Saskatchewan has many people asking what could have happened if the accident occurred in a more populated area.

The 100-car freight train derailed Tuesday about 190 kilometres east of Saskatoon. Twenty-six cars left the track, including six carrying dangerous goods. Two cars containing petroleum distillate caught fire, sending 30-metre flames into the air. Several explosions were also confirmed.

The area around Clair, Sask., was evacuated overnight. Families were allowed to return to their homes Wednesday morning according to Harold Narfason, chief of the Wadena & District Fire Department.

The volunteer fire department was the first on the scene.

Narfason told DeSmog Canada his department has long been aware that dangerous commodities are being shipped by rail through the area.

I’ve attended numerous meetings with CN to get informed and there are more cars moving through,” Narfason said.

Postmedia Could Soon Own Almost Every English Newspaper in Canada: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Newspaper boxes in Calgary

Postmedia has struck a $316 million deal to buy 175 of Quebecor’s English-language newspapers, specialty publications and digital properties, including the Sun chain of papers, according to a report in the Globe and Mail this morning.

If it passes regulatory hurdles, the deal will mark a step further down the path of media concentration in Canada.

What does this mean for Canadians in practical terms?

In Calgary, for instance, the Calgary Sun would be owned by the same company as the Calgary Herald. In Toronto, the Toronto Sun and 24 Hours would be owned by the same company as the National Post. In Ottawa, the Ottawa Sun would be owned by the same company as the Ottawa Citizen. And in Edmonton, the Edmonton Sun would be owned by the same company as the Edmonton Journal.

It’s Vancouver that takes the cake for media concentration though — Postmedia already owned the Vancouver Sun and The Province, but if the deal goes through it will take over the free daily 24 Hours as well.