Four strange details about Keystone XL pipeline debate

A scarecrow stands guard to prevent birds from landing on an oilsands tailings pond.

A scarecrow stands guard to prevent birds from landing on an oilsands tailings pond near Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Here are four unusual details about the debate surrounding TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline proposal:

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Canadian government declines interviews on oilsands health impacts

Participants in a June 2014 "healing walk" around oilsands facilities stop near a pond filled with toxic tailings waste.

Participants in a June 2014 “healing walk” around oilsands facilities, close to Fort McMurray, Alberta, stop near a pond filled with toxic tailings waste.

Who are Health Canada’s experts assessing human health impacts of oilsands development? And why has the federal government never done a comprehensive study of health impacts in the region after more than half a century of industrial development?

These are among the questions I asked Health Canada in early July as part of my research for this oilsands story published this week.

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KXL PR, spin doctors & ALEC

TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline proposal linking the oilsands and Texas remained in the news in July and August 2014

TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline proposal linking the oilsands and Texas remained in the news in July and August 2014

I’ve just concluded a six-week stint at the Ottawa bureau of the Toronto Star.

Here are some of the stories we published over the course of this contract:

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Chief Allan Adam: Oilsands health study to “knock socks” off industry, government (with video)

Dr. John O'Connor (centre) speaks about health impacts of oilsands development on a panel with Mikisew Cree member George Poitras (left) and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam (right)

Dr. John O’Connor (centre) speaks about health impacts of oilsands development on a panel with Mikisew Cree member George Poitras (left) and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam (right)

FORT McMURRAY, AB – A new study from the University of Manitoba will soon challenge industry and government claims downplaying environmental health impacts of oilsands development, said the chief of a First Nations community Friday.

“When that report comes out, it’s going to blow the socks off industry and government,” Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation told native and non-native supporters gathered at a campsite for an outdoor weekend retreat near major oilsands projects. “We went ahead and did our own independent studies and we found some very stunning results.”

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Stephen Harper’s government: Oilsands toxins like BBQ steak

Calgary author Chris Turner has written a book based on evidence that the federal government is allegedly muzzling its scientists.

Calgary author Chris Turner has written a book based on evidence that the federal government is allegedly muzzling its scientists.

Ten days ago, I asked Environment Canada whether any of its scientists would be available for interviews about their research.

The department hasn’t yet answered this question along with others.

The questions arose following the publication of a new study concluding that deposits of toxic mercury were forming a bull’s eye around oilsands operations in Alberta.

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National Energy Board spends $21 million on Calgary move

The NEB is spending about $21 million over two years on its office move.

The NEB is spending about $21 million over two years on its office move.

Canada’s national energy regulator estimates it will spend about $21 million over two years – more than new funding announced to improve its existing oversight of pipeline companies – to move into its new Calgary offices.

The total moving costs add up to $20.7 million, say National Energy Board records tabled in Parliament. Those include about $12.4 million in 2013-2014 and about $8.3 million in 2014-2015 to relocate within Calgary into a building on a site that was previously affected by a large sinkhole.

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Stephen Harper says Canada and Australia not avoiding climate change action

Twitter photo of PM Stephen Harper and PM Tony Abbott in Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Twitter photo of PM Stephen Harper and PM Tony Abbott in Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

OTTAWA-Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott took turns Monday criticizing efforts by governments to make polluters pay for greenhouse gas emissions.

Abbott, who is visiting North America, and Harper, both said their respective governments weren’t trying to avoid dealing with the problem, but suggested they were trying to avoid damaging the economy.

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Canadian watchdog “bewildered” after Tony Abbott budget targets counterpart

The federal information commissioner has warned of significant deterioration in access to information in Canada.

The federal information commissioner has warned of significant deterioration in access to information in Canada.

GATINEAU-The looming elimination of Australia’s watchdog for government information and transparency has sparked some surprise and possibly anxiety within the office of its Canadian counterpart.

Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault told her office’s employees at a special strategy meeting Wednesday that news of the demise of the Australian information commissioner’s office was a shock since it had been praised around the world for promoting openness and transparency.

“I’m bewildered by what happened in Australia,” said Legault, the federal watchdog in Canada who monitors whether the government is respecting its legal obligations to grant the public access to its records and information. “Obviously, I don’t know the circumstances of what happened there. I’m very surprised.”

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300 scientists slam “flawed” review of Enbridge pipeline

A review panel recommended approval of the pipeline proposed by Enbridge with 209 conditions.

A review panel recommended approval of the pipeline proposed by Enbridge with 209 conditions.

Some 300 scientists are urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reject a report that recommended approval of a major oil pipeline to the west coast of British Columbia, describing it as a “flawed analysis” that downplayed key environmental impacts.

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Stephen Harper’s evidence: Top 10 quotes from federal scientists in Canada

Some Canadian government scientists allege that they are being muzzled

Some Canadian government scientists allege that they are being muzzled

Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a strong case for parents to accept scientific evidence about the effectiveness of vaccines.

“We do have scientists and medical professionals who do great work and verify this and I just think its a tragedy when people start to go off on their own theories and not listen to the scientific evidence,” he told the CBC in an exclusive interview.

“Don’t indulge your theories, think of your children and listen to the experts.”

Within his own government, scientists and professionals who do research and gather evidence, are urging the prime minister to take a second look at his own theories.

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