Railroaded by Metrolinx: Seasick or Seachange: The G8 and G20 Summits

Only when the last tree has been cut down;
Only when the last river has been poisoned;
Only when the last fish has been caught;
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.
– Cree Prophecy, oft-quoted as the rallying cry for the environmental movement

A belated happy World Oceans’ Day. A plume of oil 228 km away from its source in the Gulf of Mexico has been found, and scuba divers are encountering oil masses the size of softballs. This oil spill is seven times the size than that of the Exxon Valdez, and is still growing. So far, 9.5 million litres of oil have been spilled into the Gulf.

ABC News has shown footage of the first days of the oil spill, which BP chose not to make public, which documented far more oil leaking than initially admitted by the oil company. Human error and omission on the part of BP has exacerbated the scope and size of the oil spill because of their slow response time, poor management of containment measures, and inability to coordinate clean up efforts with the thirteen American natural resource agencies, waiting for instruction from this British oil company. The Americans have written a letter to BP saying they have two days to contain the spill.

As oil begins to wash up on shore, white Florida beaches and marshes are blackened. Generations of fish will have birth defects, or not be able to reproduce, and coral will die, as far away as Cuba, suffocated by a coat of oil. A genie in the bottle has been let loose by unregulated offshore drilling, a legacy of the Bush era, and Barack Obama is powerless to defend American natural resources against British corporate interests, and force this renegade oil well to be capped.

When I was a child, I was given a technicolour atlas of Canada, and told that we had the second largest land mass in the world, and more resources than we could possibly ever use – that we were awash in timber, fish, and wheat. In my lifetime, I have seen cod disappear on the east coast, wild salmon become scarce on the west coast, and pine beetles ravage west coast forests. Americans are facing the probable extinction of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, and this oil spill will have repercussions as far away as Vancouver.

Several months ago, while I stood in line at the grocery store, I overheard a child say that we will not have fish in twenty years. He may be right. We can extract oil, but we can never generate life, or recreate ocean species, and our oceans have changed their temperature and acidity by absorbing our greenhouse gases. A revered Canadian journalist Alanna Mitchell writes brilliantly about this in her book ‘Seasick’. She titled her book after witnessing the reaction of an oceanologist, who upon hearing of the radical chemical alteration in the world’s oceans, threw up, and was sickened for weeks by thoughts of the scientific repercussions on the reproductive capacity of ocean life in the increasing number of dead zones.

In Canada, one million wild salmon swam upstream this year in British Columbia’s Fraser River, when ten million were expected, shocking the First Nations communities and fishing industry. The government has launched a formal enquiry into the salmon farms, agricultural run off, and changing temperatures of the oceans, yet refuses to regulate oil sands’ tailing ponds, which leak millions of litres of toxins into the once pristine Athabasca River. Upon hearing of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, an oil industry representative said that it will make Canadians think of the oil sands as a cleaner source of oil, as if leaching toxins into the Athabasca River is better than spewing oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Are not all water systems interconnected?

As PM Harper spends $2.1 million to build a Fake Lake as a backdrop for journalists to sell off the ‘Muskoka Experience’ to international interests for the G20, I have witnessed climate change in this lake district firsthand. There have been two hurricanes within the past five years in Muskoka. A century old tree fell down within two inches of a neighbouring cottage, and entire swathes of old growth forest have been ripped up throughout this region. Historically, there have never been tornadoes of this magnitude in Northern Ontario – this is a direct result of climate change, and our unlimited desire for oil. Meanwhile, PM Harper is touting Huntsville and the rest of the Muskoka Lakes region as a tourist destination, encouraging more traffic, exurban expansion, Big Box Stores, and oil consumption, both on and off the water.

During the past ten years, I have watched Muskoka become a suburb of Toronto, and lose much of its rustic charm. You can buy pillows embroidered with Muskoka chairs made in China in its gift shops, purchase pre-fabricated birch canoes, and watch Sea Doos roar through shallow inland bays, tearing up clam beds in their wake. Tourist traffic can protect a region through revenue, but in many cases throughout Muskoka has not, as some of those who vacation there have no vested interest in preserving its natural beauty, environment or heritage, as they are just passing through, interested in cottage culture as a commodity, far more than the actual experience.

In a few years, I honestly wonder what natural resources Canadians will have left after the Conservative and neoliberal ‘Open for Sale’ agenda has taken full affect. As world leaders ask that the environment be included on the agenda of G20 international trade summit, and PM Harper refuses this request, this media spectacle is a harbinger of what we will leave future generations- a Fake Lake with plastic Muskoka chairs, a small pool with chlorinated water, and a sky with artificial stars as a backdrop for TV journalists as they describe our Canadian natural vistas – when a short walk away is Lake Ontario, one of our great inland seas, which we have done little to protect environmentally, and in which many of its 179 fish species have become extinct (see FishNet for a fascinating art project on this issue). In America, Jean Baudrillard may have it right- all we may have left is the false front of what was once culturally important, and contained our heritage, like the storefronts along main street in the Wild West movies, or the view of a kiddy pool version of Muskoka Lake, from a dock no longer owned by us.

I would hope that the G8 and G20 Summits become a forum to discuss global fiscal initiatives to enter a post carbon future, including curbing transportation emissions, to protect the world’s natural resources for future generations, but this discussion did not happen during Copenhagen, and has been suppressed once again. In effect, $1.1 billion in security measures have been paid by Canadian taxpayers to hold 18 hours of meetings to privatize our assets and sell off our natural resources to resolve our debt, while incurring a debt of over $2.1 billion for the summit. Dissenting voices have been discredited by the media as ‘protesters’ rather than as peaceful citizens with a sincere desire to represent our country’s best environmental and social interests. Business as usual in the suicide economy is the agenda in these summits, despite the possibility of economic growth through the international coordination of sustainable environmental policies, and development of green technologies.

Whether oil is absorbed as carbon from the air into our oceans, or exists as greenhouse gas emissions in our air, we need to discuss going toward a post carbon future to protect our health, and this carbon orgy must come to an end. With a Fake Lake as a backdrop to our media campaign for the G8 and G20 Summits, PM Harper, and our leaders, are about to sell off our country’s natural resources, and right to self-government through the Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, as if our country is a tourist attraction for the fire sale of our citizens’ hard earned assets. Politically, our land, air, and water should be protected by us, because they belong to all Canadians as our birthright, beyond present federal policy and corporate agenda, or we will be left with only memories of what was once our country, like the fading technicolour on the resource rich map of my childhood.

O Canada, I stand on guard for thee.

This article is dedicated to my nieces, Jesse and Sally, to whom I read on the dock each summer.

Live feed footage of Gulf of Mexico oil spill, link to
Alanna Mitchell, ‘Seasick’, link to http://www.mcclelland.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780771061165
Claire Ironside and Angela Iarocci, ‘ FishNet Art Project on Species in the Great Lakes’, link to http://www.harbourfrontcentre.com/whatson/freshground/fishnet.cfm
David Korten on the Suicide Ecoomy, “Economies for Life”, YES!Magazine, Living Economies Issue. Fall 2002, link to http://peoplenotprofit.org/livingeconomies.htm

Jean Baudrillard on the ‘aesthetics of disappearance’ in America, Excerpts 2 Link to http://www.egs.edu/faculty/jean-baudrillard/articles/america-excerpts-2/
Important information on the Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement Link to http://www.canadians.org/trade/issues/EU/index.html
and Maude Barlow explains how the proposed Canada-EU trade agreement would deprive all levels of government of their ability to invest money in local economies, through programs such as Ontario’s Green Energy Act. Link to http://www.canadians.org/tradeblog/?p=850
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Railroaded by Metrolinx: Get Smart and Go Electric

“We’re all in favour of a better public transit system. Everyone is on board. But no one should be asked to trade public health for public transit.” Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown
Electric vs Diesel Forum on March 22nd at City Hall
As I write this, I am sitting on a 4200-horsepower MP40 GO Train, and smelling the diesel emissions in my coach. My eyes are smarting. As a seasoned Lakeshore West commuter, I believe that people actually underestimate the future impact of the Georgetown South Service expansion, and Air Rail Link, will have on our west-end neighbourhoods. A GO engineer has admitted to me that GO ensures that there are buffer zones around train stations for a reason – the pollution and noise from diesel trains stopping and starting is too intense for nearby residential development.

Yet on the even more urban Georgetown Corridor, condos have been built within meters of the proposed expansion, their balconies overhanging the future seven, or eight, tracks. The number of tracks, or amount of exact train frequency, was not answered at the recent Electric vs Diesel Forum at City Hall, but was estimated to be around 200, with 140 of these trips by the Air Rail Link. I am still astounded by the informed standing room only audience, which asked pointed questions of VP Metrolinx, Gary McNeil which he could not answer, surrounded as he is by the Liberal Party ‘cone of silence’, an hysterically funny device perfected in ‘Get Smart’, a TV show which ran throughout the 1960s. NDP MP candidate, Andrew Cash, wrote so eloquently about the forum in NOW, that I can only link to his article. At the end of the forum, Councilor John Filion complimented those participating, and said it was a higher quality discussion than City Hall has seen in a long time. We all laughed.

The truth of this project is so simple- if the corridor is built with electric trains, it will add value to all the communities it runs through by transit-oriented development. If it is built with diesel trains, it will damage our communities, and reverse the current trend of investment and revitalization. A third rate transit system will mean a third rate Toronto.

Why are these basic urban planning principles so difficult for the provincial government, and Metrolinx/GO transit to see? And why is no one else in the world, and I mean no one else, expanding diesel rail corridors directly beside parks, schools and condominiums? And why, oh why, are we considered worthy of a third rate Air Rail Link which will last for generations to come as our tax legacy from the Pan Am Games? Vancouver parlayed their Olympic investment into the SkyTrain, which has added to the welfare of their city, and we will be running Olympic athletes through a rat’s maze of 5.5 concrete meter walls on their way to their Olympic Village, blocking west-end Toronto from their windows. What is there to hide? Bad transit policy and contempt for the rights of citizens?

To add insult to injury, although currently spending $4 million for yet another electrification study (is it twelve? or thirteen?), Metrolinx/GO is in the process of researching and developing platinum catalytic converters and Tier 4 ‘clean diesel’ for the MP40s, as well as custom built diesel multiple units for the Air Rail Link. They will test these new, specialized technologies on the Georgetown South corridor, shortly after the latest electrification study is filed. Does this mean that this electrification study is a sham, and its inevitable support of electrification is a moot point? Is it a ‘done diesel’? And why is Metrolinx/GO engaging community stakeholders, and their valuable time, to discuss the obvious through a highly publicized series of electrification workshops, yet in their independent, separate time line, viewing the choice of diesel locomotives as ‘fait accompli’? Is this operating in good faith to include the input of these participants? And why is this SNC-Lavalin contract protected by a Maxwell Smart cone of silence with the government agencies involved in an elaborate game of broken telephone with the community, and with each other? And why has Metrolinx recently purchased more MP40s, which have a life span of 40 years?

As Mike Sullivan, Clean Train Coalition head, has pointed out, they are building this massive track expansion to enable the privately owned Air Rail Link. We are fighting KAOS, a labyrinthine, unaccountable organization, which has refused to hear our unanimous message asking for electrification. Nothing was more evident at the forum, as there were no clear answers from the Metrolinx VP Gary McNeil about any aspect of this project- not the final number of the tracks, the inefficiency of the privatization of the Air Rail Link, or the rationale for diesel. When I told him that this corridor would reverse revitalization in my community, he said “I do not see it that way”. Well, he is the only transit manager in the world who could say those words with impunity, with the public relations machine of an arm’s length transit agency backing him.

The absurdity of this all never ceases to amaze me, but I have a personal, pressing concern. This fall, I had a viral respiratory disease which took my breath away. For six weeks, I had asthma. It felt as if liquid concrete had been poured into my lungs, and because of the asthma, my body could not use my lungs to fight the virus with oxygen, extending my illness. I know the impact of diesel rail emissions as a commuter firsthand, and that Toronto relies upon the health of its air, its citizens and their lungs. I write with all my remaining lung capacity to raise the cone of silence surrounding Metrolinx, and the provincial government, to unveil their secret contract with SNC-Lavalin so they can communicate with the community, and heed their unanimous, standing room only call for electrification of this west-end rail corridor. Get smart, Metrolinx, and go electric.

Get Smart – Cone of Silence (from episode 1)
Andrew Cash: ‘Dumb like Diesel: Residents’ eco concerns take a back seat to Pan Am Games in great train debate’
Metrolinx Electrification Study
‘Diesel rail a health hazard, forum told’

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Railroaded by Metrolinx: Invitation to Electric vs Diesel Public Forum at City Hall: Monday, March 22nd

This forum is a public discussion of the proposed Metrolinx expansion of the Georgetown South transit line and the rail link from Union to Pearson.

The Board of Health supports expanded public transit as a way to reduce vehicle traffic, but remains concerned about health risks and air quality impacts predicted with the proposed diesel rail expansion.

Date: Monday, March 22, 2010
Time: 6:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Place: Council Chambers, Toronto City Hall, 100 Queen Street W.

Moderator: Eva Ligeti, Executive Director, Clean Air Partnership

Gary McNeil, Executive VP, Metrolinx
Prof. Christopher Kennedy, Transportation Infrastructure Expert
Dr. David McKeown, Toronto Medical Officer of Health

Please feel free to distribute this invitation widely.

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