Climate change has devastating effect on fruit and wine industries in B.C.

Grape harvest lost

I’ve written several times recently about the costs of climate change.

Some of those costs are obvious, including the loss of homes, property, and infrastructure due to the increased severity of climate-related events such as wildfires, floods, hurricanes and tornados. Home insurance costs are going up for everybody because of those events.

One sector that is at a very high risk of impact from climate change often goes under the radar, and that is agriculture—the sector that feeds all of us.

The Canadian Prairies have been dealing with drought conditions for the past few years, and last summer saw southern Alberta, Saskatchewan and parts of Manitoba report significantly reduced harvests of wheat and other crops. In addition, a lack of feed for cattle impacted the beef sector.

One of the biggest impacts of extreme weather hit the fruit and wine industries in the Okanagan and other nearby valleys in mid-January. A long, mild fall and early winter had orchard trees and vines with rising sap, ready for spring, and then suddenly the temperature fell more than 20 C overnight. In one orchard, the temperature went from 2 C to -23 C in 12 hours.

The rapid change, from warm, almost spring-like temperatures to record low temperatures overnight, resulted directly from a warming climate. The polar vortex and mid-latitude jet stream are driven by the difference in temperature between the Arctic and temperate air masses. When the Arctic warms more rapidly than temperate zones, as is happening with climate change, the linear jet stream weakens and begins to wander in big loops like a stream traversing a prairie. One loop will bring unusually warm air north, while the neighbouring loop brings frigid polar air southward.

So, while climate change is often described as global warming, it can produce extreme temperatures at both ends of the spectrum.

Soft fruits and grape vines can’t easily tolerate temperatures below -20 C, especially when they occur so rapidly the plants cannot adequately adapt to the freeze. A recent sampling study throughout the Okanagan found essentially no live buds on grape vines, indicating a complete loss of the 2024 harvest. The direct financial impact of this loss is estimated at $440 million. Fruit growers face similar losses, especially cherry and peach growers.

This loss comes on the heels of a similar event in December 2022 that cut the 2023 grape harvest in half. Many wineries were reeling from that event when this freeze came along, and many have no insurance for this type of event.

The wine and orchard sector is a huge part of the economy of the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. These crop losses will have knock-on effects throughout the region.

There are federal-provincial government assistance programs that can partially compensate for loss of income in farming operations and extraordinary costs that are necessary after a natural disaster.

I asked the federal agriculture minister in Question Period last week to take action to help save this industry. I’ve also talked to the provincial agriculture minister to make sure she knows the seriousness of the situation.

Over the next two days, I’ll meet with both fruit growers and wine makers to discuss ways to get through the immediate financial crisis of a total crop loss, and what can be done in the long-term to make the sector more resilient to these catastrophic events.

One thing is becoming clearer with every passing season, we are living the effects of climate change and must quickly adapt to them or face serious and often unexpected consequences.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan–West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

MP extols virtue of building North America's largest electric vehicle recycling facility in Trail

Recycling EV batteries

Electric vehicle battery recycling at Teck Resources smelter in Trail

I wrote in a previous column about exciting developments in battery recycling in Trail. There, KC Recycling is one of western North America’s largest lead-acid battery recyclers and Cirba Solutions (formerly Retriev) is a major recycler of literally every other kind of battery. Both these businesses are important components of the circular economy we need to build for our critical mineral resources. And now they will hopefully be joined by a major initiative at the Trail smelter of Teck Resources—building western North America’s biggest electric vehicle battery recycling refinery.

Electric vehicle batteries require several critical minerals in their manufacture—including cobalt, lithium and nickel—and the production of most of those materials is controlled elsewhere in the world.

Much of that control lies with Chinese enterprises that dominate lithium-ion battery manufacturing around the globe. There has been much talk about how Canada could produce all these minerals to feed a rapidly growing value chain of battery production in North America.

The other challenge with producing large quantities of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles is what to do with those batteries when they reach the end of their useful life after 10 years or so of use. They are large, heavy, and constitute one of the most expensive parts of the vehicle.

Developing a workable ecosystem of recycling those batteries could be a game-changer—it would solve the problem of where those aged batteries go and it could provide an economic source of critical minerals, thus bringing down the cost of producing new batteries.

The Canadian government recently announced plans for several major electric vehicle battery plants in B.C., Ontario and Quebec, backed by federal investments in tax incentives amounting to billions of dollars.

The B.C. plant, in Maple Ridge, alone is estimated to produce 135 million batteries a year. Those plants will obviously require a reliable source of critical minerals.

Enter Teck Resources and its large lead-zinc smelter in Trail. Their site would be an ideal place to develop the large facility needed to process the significant—and steadily growing—quantity of batteries predicted to be available starting in the next few years.

It has the industrial site, refining expertise and a ready supply of hydroelectric power, combined with its existing supply chains for lead-acid battery recycling. It could create hundreds of good, family-supporting jobs and help sustain a community with an already talented workforce.

These batteries would be processed in dismantling facilities across the country, producing a material known in the industry as “black mass”, a valuable mix of cobalt, nickel and lithium. The black mass would then be shipped to Trail and refined to produce battery-grade minerals that would be sold back to the battery manufacturing plants we are beginning to build.

A large project such as this will require significant up-front expenditures by Teck and will need government investments to succeed. Investments like this will determine if Canada’s economy will not only thrive but also provide longstanding benefit to our workers and communities in the future.

I will discuss this project over the coming weeks and months with my colleagues in Ottawa to ensure this project is seriously considered for a share of the federal funding that has already been promised for the battery plants in Ontario and Quebec.

Once the facility is built and the supply chains are functioning well, it will certainly pay for itself—and be a critical part of the electrification of western North America.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan–West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Canada needs to do more to help end Israel-Hamas war says MP

Israel-Hamas conflict

For the past 3 1/2 months, the world has witnessed the devastating situation in Palestine and Israel.

Since the horrifying Hamas terrorist attack on Oct. 7 and the beginning of this latest assault on Gaza by Israeli forces, tens of thousands of innocent people have been killed, two-thirds of whom are women and children.More than 85% of the Gazan population has been forced from their homes. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been injured and can’t get proper health care.

New Democrats have heard from more than 250,000 Canadians who have written us in shock and despair, demanding a ceasefire and real action from the Canadian government. We first called for a ceasefire and the release of all hostages on Oct. 11. In addition, we are pushing for an end to the blockade of Gaza, unimpeded humanitarian aid, assurance Canadians and their loved ones in Gaza can reach safety in Canada, while respecting the legal right of Gazans to return, an end to arms sales to Israel and increased efforts to ensure illegal arms do not reach terrorist groups like Hamas, advocacy for an end to the occupation, investments in building a just and sustainable peace for Palestinians and Israelis and a ban on extremist settlers involved in West Bank violence from entering Canada.

While the government finally agreed to support a ceasefire resolution at the U.N. General Assembly on Dec. 12, it has not followed its vote with any meaningful action to ensure Israel and Hamas agree to a ceasefire in Gaza.

Strong reactions to the devastation in Gaza have also bred an alarming rise in antisemitism, anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia across Canada, and many in our communities are feeling scared, unheard and unsafe. I condemn these hateful acts.

In December, as Canadians appealed to the government to help their loved ones reach safety, New Democrats asked the Liberals to introduce special immigration measures for Gaza. While Canada announced some measures a few weeks later, we have serious questions about the rollout of these measures, including the arbitrary cap of 1,000 applications that has caused families further grief. The NDP has repeatedly called on the government to lift this discriminatory quota.

In the West Bank, extremist right-wing settlers are harassing, threatening and killing innocent Palestinians as Israeli security forces watch. The United Kingdom, United States and European Union have all banned these extremists from their territories. We have asked the Canadian government to do the same.

In January, South Africa initiated proceedings in respect of events in Gaza before the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. The federal NDP wrote to Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs to remind her of Canada’s obligations under the Genocide Convention and urged her not to intervene in opposition to this case.

Canada must uphold the principles of international justice and ensure independent international courts can do their work without political interference.

This offensive is not eliminating Hamas, nor is it rescuing hostages. It is destroying an entire population and its means of survival. This dispute has gone on for many decades. I travelled through Israel, the West Bank and occupied Sinai in the late 1970s when peace talks were underway to solve this longstanding dispute.

Israeli and Palestinian citizens desperately want to live in peace and security, but it’s clear escalating terrorist activity and military responses over the past half century have not brought that for either side.

In 1957, (then-Canadian Prime Minister) Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing peace to the Middle East during the Suez Crisis. When I was in the Sinai in 1978, I met Canadian forces keeping the peace between Israel and Egypt. Unfortunately, Canada’s power and reputation as a neutral force in world peacekeeping has eroded greatly since then.

We need to turn that trend around and work with other countries to bring a long-term diplomatic solution to this dispute before it spreads to other flashpoints in the region.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan – West Kootenay

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

MP argues banning replacement workers will end strikes quicker

NDP prompts labour rules

One of the major wins for Canadians that the federal NDP produced in 2023 was Bill C-58, legislation that will prohibit the use of replacement workers during a lock-out or strike in federally regulated industries such as transportation, banking and telecommunications.

Workers around the world have only one power to balance the relationship with their employers and that is their work, the labour they provide to make the products or provide the services that give their employers their profits.

The withdrawal of that labour, or even the threat of that withdrawal, is the only thing that levels the playing field in labour negotiations.

So, when negotiations break down and workers feel that a strike is the only option left for them to obtain a fair collective agreement, and then the employer brings in replacement workers to break that strike, the playing field is tilted steeply in favour of the employer. The employer has no real reason to bargain in good faith with the workers, or bargain at all.

The NDP put forward this legislation eight times over the last 15 years, and it was defeated by Liberals and Conservatives alike. So, we are very happy and proud that we have forced the current government to table this legislation.

Not only does the use of replacement workers take away any power that workers have to undertake fair negotiations, it often tears communities apart. Especially small communities that have few opportunities for good work. If workers go on strike in that situation and the company hires “scabs,” those replacement workers are taking away jobs from their neighbours, their relatives. This increases tensions within the community, and those tensions sometimes escalate into violence.

One of the worst such events was the strike at the Giant Mine in Yellowknife in 1992. That gold mine had been the mainstay of the Yellowknife economy for many years, but a new owner demanded cuts from the union, then locked the workers out. The company hired replacement workers to keep the mine going, to keep the profits rolling in. Hostilities quickly rose and culminated in a bombing within the mine that killed nine miners—one of the worst mass murders in Canadian history.

That was why we need anti-replacement worker legislation. And that was why British Columbia and Quebec brought it in for provincially regulated labour sectors decades ago.

Critics say the legislation may allow strikes and lockouts to drag on, but in fact it usually has the opposite effect. What impetus does the employer have to end a strike if they can use workers to keep things going, keep the profits coming? Many of the longest labour disputes in Canadian history are those involving replacement workers—because the employer has no reason to bargain with the striking workers.

Fair collective bargaining has not only brought Canadian workers good wages that they can raise their families on, it has also benefited society in general in many ways that we often take for granted.

A lot of those benefits began when the workers in the Rossland mines formed the first Canadian local of the Western Federation of Miners in 1895. That local went on to advance many of the first labour laws in British Columbia and Canada, laws that brought in the five-day work week, the eight-hour work day and laws enforcing safe workplaces—the first workers compensation act.

So when you go home for the weekend, when everyone in the country goes home at five o’clock after an eight-hour work day, and when every worker in Canada knows they have the right to a safe work place, they can thank the members of the Rossland local of the Western Federation of Miners.

That’s the benefit of having a healthy and fair system of labour relations. At the centre of that system is the right of workers to withdraw their work—and (not have) replacement workers destroy that system.

Remember there are two sides to every labour dispute. Intransigent employers are just as often the cause of those disputes as intransigent workers.

The best negotiations, the fairest negotiations, and often the shortest negotiations, are those where both sides have an equal balance of power—nd that’s what Bill C-58 brings to the federal labour scene.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan–West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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