Harmony Foundation of Canada http://www.balconeshotel.com Thu, 23 Apr 2020 00:54:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.23 Coming Back to Life After COVID-19 http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2937 Thu, 23 Apr 2020 00:52:08 +0000 http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2937 Author: Michael Bloomfield

 

As Covid-19 recedes will we resume life as before or create a fairer, more compassionate and self-sufficient society.

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That struggle has begun with globalization promoters touting great economic opportunities as 5G arrives and consumerism re-ignites around the world. Globalization?has somewhat reduced poverty and improved education and healthcare in developing countries but at a price, a new colonialism primarily benefiting the rich and powerful.

 

Covid-19 exposed serious flaws in a global system emphasizing economic gain. Over 85% of our antibiotics come from China. Canada imports more food than it exports; 25% of our needs are imported. Surrendering self-sufficiency for food and medical supplies for cheap consumer goods is reckless.

 

Who gained most from globalization? Oxfam reported in 2018 the world’s 26 richest people held more wealth than the poorest 3.8 billion people.

 

Exorbitant CEO pay further exemplifies the growing gap between rich and poor. David McKay of the Royal Bank is paid $14.5M/year, Apple’s Tim Cook received $136M in 2018 and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos takes $9M/hour while the average Amazon worker gets $15/hour.

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Conversely the lifetime income of a Canadian earning $50,000/year for 40 years is $2M. Workers in the 25 poorest countries, people providing us precious metals and luxuries earn less than $1,000/year if they can find work.

 

The gig economy was another injustice exposed. Workers without benefits or job security were on their own while their employers demanded government aid. The gig is up!

 

Adding insult to injury, wealthy Canadians and corporations don’t pay their fair share of taxes. Canadians for Tax Fairness estimate losses of at least $8B/year to personal tax evasion and avoidance.

 

The corporate story is worse. Corporate Knights reported that from 2011-2016 Canada’s 102 largest companies avoided $62.9B in income taxes. The scales are tipped so favourably towards large corporations that Canadians paid $145B in income tax in 2018 while corporations paid $41B. As corporate taxes were slashed individuals and families have had to make up the difference. CRA estimates about 25% of corporate taxes were unpaid, money needed for education, healthcare, social housing and a healthy environment.

 

The cozy relationship between business and government must change. It has compromised democracy and created a dependency on hand-outs. Companies are heavily subsidized by society through generous tax-breaks, credits and loans, infrastructure, healthcare etc. Where’s our return on investment?

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The fossil fuel industry is a good example of malfeasance. In Alberta alone the liability for cleaning up roughly 3,500 abandoned oil and gas wells and the tar sands are estimated at $30B and $200B respectively. The province holds 1% security in a clean-up fund.

 

Bailouts are a similar story. Bombardier has been rescued more often than the neighbour’s cat. During the 2008/09 meltdown Canada provided $13.7B to the auto industry. Some companies never repaid their government loans while forcing creditors and employees to accept concessions. Canada took no equity and taxpayers paid for it. Why does government refuse to identify defaulters?

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Canada also has a poor record for honouring international agreements on corruption, human rights, environment and money-laundering and the appalling honour of being home to the most firms on?a World Bank blacklist of corrupt companies.

 

Corporations have persuaded, cajoled and bribed officials in other countries to accept hazardous mines and e-waste and produce luxuries for us instead of food for their people. Forests and rivers have been trashed and we’ve turned a blind eye to child and slave labour so that we can enjoy cheap carpets, shrimp and cell phones.

 

Canadian mining companies have a terrible track record, exploiting lax standards to ignore human rights and pollute environments local people need for food and water. Growers of strawberries, tea and avocados are typically no better. Our government calls it the Canada Advantage. More like taking advantage.

 

And before we get too smug about corporate behaviour, each of us has a part in this messy business. In the global system we are the rich and powerful. We work for and invest in companies that take advantage of low wages and poor labour, human rights and environmental standards. CPP and private pensions invest in mining, tobacco, weapons and private prisons.

 

Our lavish lifestyles corrupt and kill, exploiting children for chocolate, supporting slavery on shrimp boats and pushing many wild species to the brink of extinction for more burgers and coffee. Are we too content to care?

 

Since the 1950s every natural system has dramatically declined. We’ve polluted and over-fished the oceans, poisoned and depleted rivers and lakes, removed more than 50% of the world’s forests and flooded and paved productive farmland.

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We all saw people fighting over toilet paper and governments stealing vital supplies from each other in a nationalistic frenzy. We can and must do much better.

 

However, if we want a peaceful, healthy and prosperous world we must address the systemic flaws of globalization 1) inequity within and between countries 2) consumerism’s role in injustice and environmental degradation, and 3) our disastrous relationship with nature.

 

Personally, we must personally adopt ethical practices in how we live and work and oppose governments and corporations doing harm in our name. Together we must urgently adopt clean energy as part a world-wide movement to meet our needs without harming other people, future generations and other species. It’s time for real change, lasting change, the kind we can be proud of and for which future generations will say thank you.

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Michael Bloomfield, ecologist, philanthropist and educator

Founder and Executive Director, Harmony Foundation of Canada

www.www.balconeshotel.com

Earth Day April 22, 2020

 

 

Recommended Actions for Your Consideration

 

For Individuals and Families

 

  1. Celebrate real heroes who make our communities healthy, well-educated and prosperous; teachers, healthcare professionals, farmers, artists etc. Celebrity culture is corrosive.
  1. Buy local and support our farmers; they are essential for our food-security.
  1. Demand strong universal healthcare and well-funded schools.
  1. Insist that our elders receive compassionate care from better trained and paid staff.
  1. Stop real estate speculation. We need homes to raise and shelter our families.
  2. Choose a zero emission vehicle. Gasoline cars are like billions of burning cigarettes, bad for health and environment.
  3. Push for greater investment in quality, affordable public transit.
  4. Eat less meat; animal agriculture harms our health and the environment and causes animal suffering.
  1. Stop eating shrimp involved with slave labour and destruction of important wetlands.
  1. Choose chocolate from companies not using child labour or dangerous pesticides.
  1. Reduce, repair, re-use. Avoid disposal products; they waste resources and harm the environment.
  1. Stand up against racism, discrimination and hate. Silence is the enemy of justice.
  2. Oppose arms sales to non-democratic countries; self-defence only.
  3. Demand CPP and your fund manager stop investing in enterprises harmful to people, animals and the environment.
  1. Choose businesses that support local arts, education, healthcare etc. Box stores and online sellers often contribute little or nothing to communities.
  2. Back tougher laws and enforcement on environment, labour and human rights.
  3. Get involved with and support practical reconciliation with First Nations.
  4. Make family, community and healthy, meaningful lives our priority.

 

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For Society

 

  1. Support local farmland and farmers. They are essential for our food-security.
  1. Strong universal healthcare and well-funded schools. They have been under-valued and under-funded for too long.
  1. Compassionate eldercare and better training and salaries for staff.
  1. Stop real estate speculation. Only citizens or permanent resident should be entitled to buy residential. We need homes to raise and shelter our families.
  2. Promote zero emission vehicles and greater investment in quality, affordable public transit.
  1. Ensure that The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), Export Development Canada (EDC) and all government funding for business clearly serve the public interest.
  1. Demand stronger regulations for animal agriculture that protect land and water, eliminate antibiotics and growth hormones and stop animal cruelty.
  1. Stop shipping our electronic and other waste to other countries.
  1. Reduce packaging waste and disposable products and pressure companies to produce more durable, longer lasting products.
  2. Stronger laws to reduce racism, discrimination and hate, including online.
  3. Demand that the behaviour of our companies overseas is at least as good on environment and human rights as it is at home and that must improve too, especially in the territories of indigenous people who are not treated equally either. Child labour must end.
  4. Make it illegal for companies to lobby government secretly; all such activity must be publicly revealed and balanced through fairer access for public interest advocates.
  5. Stop the revolving door between government and business; it’s a dubious form of delayed compensation. There needs to be a waiting period of at least 3 years.
  6. Stop arms sales to non-democratic countries and for political adventurism; self-defence only.
  7. Ensure our universities serve the public not donors or internal ambitions.
  8. Stop CPP from investing in tobacco, arms, prisons and other harmful enterprises in Canada and around the world.
  9. Impose their fair share of taxes on foreign and online companies operating in Canada.
  10. Rebuild domestic industries for food, medical and other essential supplies and stop relying on global supply chains for these goods.
  11. Tougher laws and enforcement on environment, labour and human rights.
  12. Increase practical reconciliation with Canada’s First Peoples.
  13. Increase foreign aid. Canada spends 0.27 percent of?Gross National Income (GNI) on foreign aid. That’s less than the 0.3 average of other?donor countries, far below the UN target of 0.7 percent we agreed to in 2005.
  14. Adopt strict gun control and ban assault weapons in Canada.
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CIRDI: An Investment in Responsible Extractive Industries or Another Business Subsidy? http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2853 Fri, 06 Oct 2017 22:09:45 +0000 http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2853

CIRDI

Executive Summary

 

CIRDI, The Canadian International Resource and Development Institute, was created in 2013 “to strengthen” the capacity of developing countries “to govern and manage their natural resources for the benefit of their people”.1 With close to $40 million dollars in government funding to autumn 2017 the authors believe the Institute has strayed far from its mandate. Rather than assisting and encouraging Canadian extractive industries to improve their social development, environment and human rights practices to benefit the people of developing countries (as intended) the primary beneficiaries have been the companies themselves. While enjoying more or less complete domination of the Institute’s Board of Directors and Advisory Council, industry’s financial contributions to the Institute has been negligible let alone investment in communities affected by their resource development practices. At the same time, government’s decision to redirect humanitarian aid, traditionally delivered through NGOs, to subsidize industry to meet its own corporate social responsibilities is flawed. Less money is reaching those in need, and corporations and universities have proven to be less effective in delivering aid than NGOs because they often use these funds to serve their own purposes.

 

This paper addresses some important questions. Is CIRDI respecting its mission and meeting its goals? Is it providing good value to taxpayers? Is it as transparent, collaborative and useful as it needs to be to justify its future? Is its relationship appropriately independent from undue industry influence? Why have other stakeholders been squeezed out of CIRDI’s leadership? The paper also evaluates CIRDI’s governance and projects against its stated goals and objectives.

Finally, this paper makes recommendations whose implementation would help CIRDI restore its intended mission, establish balanced leadership and better serve taxpayers and affected communities in developing countries. If the purpose truly is inclusiveness, sustainability, human rights, transparency and independence, then the Institute needs to re- set its leadership, governance and programming, otherwise the authors recommend that CIRDI be closed.

Harmony Foundation of Canada, September 25, 2017

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For the full report, please download?HERE

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Strengthening Canadian Charities (Part 2) http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2749 Fri, 02 Dec 2016 22:51:28 +0000 http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2749 — What Can Individuals Do to Better Support Charities?

Lanlin Bu, Michael Bloomfield, and Adrian Southin

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Knowledge is power. Tell your friends and colleagues about the problems highlighted in our recent paper “Unleashing the Power of Canadian Charities”, and encourage government and corporations to remedy those problems. At the same time, we can all take actions to directly help charities.

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What can we do in our own life to help charities?

 

1. Re-examine our giving.

On average, Canadians donate $531 (CAD) [1] to charity, while Americans give $1,201 (USD).[2] Many of us can afford to give more support to the charities that keep our water clean, help those in need, run our hospitals and fight for social justice. Even if you can’t give more, you can help in other ways. Learn more about the charities you’re supporting and get involved. Online resources like the CRA database (http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/chrts-gvng/lstngs/menu-eng.html) provide financial and operational information for many charities.

 

2. Volunteer

Volunteers are essential for many charities to delivering their services. More volunteers mean that charities can offer more benefit to your community and all Canadians. Contact an organization you support directly, or find a listing for volunteer opportunities online.

 

3. Consumer Awareness

It’s important to support companies that invest in society and are good corporate citizens. Just as we expect corporations to respect human rights, maintain safe workplaces and protect the environment, we also should expect them to generously contribute to the arts, education, and social wellbeing. After all, through our tax dollars, businesses are given lots of support including research and development grants, training and access to infrastructure. It’s only fair that Canadians and the communities they live in get a return on their investment. RBC’s Blue Water Project[3] is a good example of an effort to improve the world, where self-promoting schemes like Amazon Smile[4] take away from sincere giving.

 

A strong civil society is vital to a healthy democracy, giving voice to concerned Canadians. These voices help ensure fairness and justice for all. Let’s make sure these organizations are well equipped and not being held back from achieving their potential.

Charities are too important to be put at risk by short-term political or economic trends. Governments, corporations and the public need to be more supportive in meaningful ways if we truly value the many services charities provide to Canadians.

 

Read?the full research paper “UNLEASHING THE POWER OF CANADIAN CHARITIES” from?http://www.balconeshotel.com/?page_id=2756

 

[1] Turcotte, Martin. “Charitable giving by individuals.” Statistics Canada. 2015. 4.

[2] Link to: http://nccs.urban.org/nccs/statistics/Charitable-Giving-in-America-Some-Facts-and-Figures.cfm

[3] Link to: http://www.rbc.com/community-sustainability/environment/rbc-blue-water/index.html

[4] Link to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brady-josephson/why-amazon-is-smiling-and_b_4360405.html

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Strengthening Canadian Charities (Part 1) http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2740 Fri, 02 Dec 2016 22:49:49 +0000 http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2740 — What Can Governments Do to Better Support Charities?

Lanlin Bu, Michael Bloomfield, and Adrian Southin

 

Charities are essential partners in Canadian society, working to relieve poverty, safeguard our environment and health, assist children, seniors and others in need, and provide cultural, educational social and other valuable services. Given that they contribute $35.6 billion[1] to the economy each year, we’d expect that government would actively encourage these organizations, much in the same way they support business to succeed. The truth is that over the past decade, unfriendly politicians, excessive regulations, corporate exploitation and the economic downturn have hurt charities and the Canadians they serve.

 

So how do we turn the situation around and persuade governments, corporations and the public to be more supportive? The need and benefits seem clear, what actions should be taken?

 

1. End charity bashing
A strong civil society is essential to a healthy democracy. Global Affairs Canada says Canada recognizes civil society as an “essential partner in promoting transformative change,”[2] acting as an intermediary between governments and their people. If our elected leaders are serious then they should encourage public participation and discourage politicians who try to muzzle charities for political gain.

 

For example in 2012, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver declared: “environmental and other radical groups [were backed by]… foreign special interest groups… [to] hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical agenda.”[3] Shortly thereafter, then-Minister of Environment, Peter Kent accused charities of being used to launder offshore funds.[4] Both assertions were debunked.

 

Meanwhile, corporations use SLAPP suits (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) to foster fear of speaking out and bog down charities in court. Government needs to legislate against this undemocratic behaviour as many USA jurisdictions have done. If business and government promote developments that may have negative consequences public advocacy is vital to a balanced discussion.

 

2. Cut the red tape
Govern charities with trust, not fear of unintentional wrongdoing. The overwhelming majority of charities are efficiently and honestly operated. Nonetheless, regulatory requirements have increasingly tightened in response to corporate wrongdoers such as ENRON, SNC-Lavalin and Bernie Madoff.[5]

Harmonizing oversight between the bodies that govern charities, the CRA and ISEDC, would be a good place to start. Many charities are spending a disproportionate amount of time and money to meet regulatory demands. For example, charities have to send separate annual reports, with different criteria and deadlines, to each body. These reporting requirements are the same for small local groups and major national charities like The Red Cross or Canadian Cancer Society. Why? Creating harmonized, ascending reporting requirements would free up resources spent on administrative tasks for charities to better provide their services.

 

3. Extend the timeframe to spend donations

Right now, charities must spend at least 80% of all donations for which charitable receipts are issued within 12 months of receipt as well as 3.5% of all assets. Extending the timeframe that charities have to spend donations to three years would create more sustainability and stability for charities, giving organizations the security to reach their long-term goals and mandate.

 

4. Promote giving and volunteerism

Improved public awareness of the contribution of charities will help increase donations and volunteering. Increasing the benefits for giving to charities would also help. It’s unfair that donations to political parties receive a 75% tax credit, while donations to charities receive an average of 29%, and not more than 50%, including provincial credits.[6] Let’s be fair.

 

5. Restore charities as a primary deliverer of foreign aid
In 2013, Canadian International Development Agency was terminated as part of a government decision to deliver foreign aid through corporations, rather than charities. This means using public funds to subsidize corporations to meet their social and environmental responsibilities, in addition to losing the expertise of charities in delivering aid more efficiently and effectively. Moreover, it also raises the risk of funds lost to in-country government corruption and corporate self-interest

 

6. Stop soliciting public and corporate donations?

The Canadian government has taken donations from both the public and corporations in order to fulfill its own responsibilities, such as disaster relief after the summer 2016 fires in Fort McMurray. Given that there is a finite amount of available donations, this drains money that otherwise might have gone to charities. And what expectation is created when corporations give to government? For example, what public benefit is gained when Mars Canada sponsors with Parks Canada “unique historic chocolate experiences”[7].

 

7. Review corporate giving?

While corporate giving should be encouraged it’s imperative that it is in society’s best interest, or at least balanced between society and the donors, rather than for tax write-offs and marketing purposes. For example, the Olympic games are a giant marketing event for Petro-Canada, RBC and others, not a charitable activity; and making charities compete for donations like Aviva does through retweets and Facebook likes derives a business benefit that should not be subsidized by t taxpayers. Nor does it seem appropriate that companies like Sobeys who collect public donations for charities and food banks receive the goodwill, and sometimes even tax credits, that belong to the individual donors.

 

8. Provide charities with training and support
Provide training programs or grants for capacity building to upgrade charities’ skills and capacity, as is done for corporations, such as through Canada Jobs Grants.

 

Read?the full research paper “UNLEASHING THE POWER OF CANADIAN CHARITIES” from?http://www.balconeshotel.com/?page_id=2756

 

[1] Haggar-Guenette et al. Satellite Account of Non-profit Institutions and Volunteering. Statistics Canada, 2007. 9.

[2] Link to: http://www.international.gc.ca/development-developpement/priorities-priorites/civil_society-societe-civile.aspx?lang=eng

[3] Link to: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/media-room/news-release/2012/1/1909

[4] Link to: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/environmental-charities-laundering-foreign-funds-kent-says-1.1165691

[5] Link to: http://www.accounting-degree.org/scandals/

[6] Link to: http://www.taxplanningguide.ca/tax-planning-guide/section-2-individuals/tax-credits-charitable-donations/

[7] Link to: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/agen/partenaires-partners/national.aspx

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CSR: Society’s Return on Investment? http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2724 Mon, 24 Oct 2016 21:48:19 +0000 http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2724 Lanlin Bu and Michael Bloomfield

with research and writing assistance from Adrian Southin

 

 

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Corporate social responsibility (CSR) runs the gamut from self-aggrandizement to crisis management to with the occasional act of generosity. Society deserves better! Tax payers invest heavily in business, providing research and development grants, tax breaks, transportation facilities and many other subsidies including cleaning up the environmental messes too often left behind. According to a 2014 Fraser Institute report, over a period of nearly 30 years, federal, provincial and local authorities spent nearly $684-billion on business subsidies. The fossil-fuel industry alone receives over $3.3 billion (CAD) annually (See Chart1 below)[1].

 

Chart1: Major Subsidies to Fossil Fuel Industry in Canada (2013-2015, average)

 

chart1

(From http://www.iisd.org/faq/ffs/canada/ )

 

 

Simply put, business owes society a fair return on its investment. More than that, companies gain and retain social license through product safety, compliance with legal standards, honest reporting, “truth in advertising”, protection of the environment and public health, as well as fair treatment of employees, customers and local communities. Volkswagen, a company that once topped the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, plummeted after the shocking emission scandal of 2015[2]. A long and tough road to recovery will cost VW billions.

 

So what’s a better way forward? First, let’s restore balance, recognizing business is part of society not its master. Business needs to work more collaboratively with civil society to advance the social development, human rights and environmental stewardship. Furthermore, it’s in business’ best interest because responsible companies get rewarded. Studies show that healthy, happy employees are more productive and absenteeism decreases.[3] Customer loyalty tilts toward companies they trust and respect, those who demonstrate high social and environmental performance. In addition, business does best in well-educated, prosperous and healthy societies. Moreover, if the advocates for a global economy are to be believed the movement should be about creating more opportunities in disadvantaged places not exploiting lower standards for worker health and safety, accountability and environmental protection.

 

CSR is much more than just marketing tool or stay-out-of-jail card. For companies to truly be responsible, they need to commit throughout their operations. Take Loblaws as an example. It’s great they have programs such as the President’s Choice Children Charity. Yet, through the Joe Fresh brand, Loblaws was one of the companies involved in the 2013 Rana Plaza sweatshop collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1100 people.[4] Justice still has not come to the victims. Similar examples include Streit Group’s sales of armoured vehicles to South Sudan[5] and Saudi Arabia, Tahoe Resources and Goldcorp’s mistreatment of local residents in Guatemala, and Canada’s tobacco and toxic waste shipped to Asia. This kind of behaviour overseas is damaging Canada’s reputation and relationships. No wonder Canada is increasingly seen as just another country willing to compromise public health, human rights and the environment to increase profit. Why do we allow these companies to hide behind lax local regulations to justify their actions while representing Canada abroad?

 

Sadly it’s not just overseas where Canadian companies are failing to meet public expectations. The Mount Polley BC tailing ponds breach by Imperial Metals, CN Rail’s denial of any responsibility in the Lac-Mégantic disaster and the Canadian clients of KMPG involved in an offshore tax scheme on the Isle of Man[6], each demonstrating how business puts profit over its legal and moral responsibilities, even here in Canada. Don’t we Canadians deserve better?

 

It’s time to a shift CSR away from brand promotion and crisis management. Transformational CSR must become corporate culture, practiced up and down the chain of command. Corporations must work in good faith with all stakeholders, including civil society to achieve economic development without harming the environment and public health.

 

The voluntary approach relies too much on the goodwill of individuals rather than a committed corporate culture. Furthermore, voluntary efforts do not provide a level playing field for business, favouring the laggards over the leaders who already are investing in positive action on conservation, climate, human rights, worker health and safety and so on.

 

Therefore Harmony Foundation proposes that senior levels of Canadian government work with business and civil society to develop and implement a protocol that guarantees the same standards of human rights, health and safety, and environmental protection, whether operating in Canada or aboard. Not only it is the right thing to do, but also this is our best chance to improve Canada’s reputation and long-term opportunities internationally. That would truly be the Canadian advantage! In fact, that’s the clearest path to prosperity with integrity.

 

 

Please see our ?paper “CSR: Society’s Return on Investment?for more on this topic. You can download the paper from?http://www.balconeshotel.com/?page_id=2775. The paper lays out in more detail the elements of the protocol which was first presented in Canadian Mining Operations Around the World: Respecting People and the Environment (2013)

 

[1] http://www.iisd.org/faq/ffs/canada/

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/dec/30/vw-exxon-lobbying-brazil-mining-tragedy-toshiba-corporate-scandals-greenwashing-climate-change

[3] http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/new_study_shows/

[4] http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/bangladesh-garment-workers-lives-still-at-risk-the-fifth-estate-finds-1.1959518

[5] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/canadian-company-sold-armoured-vehicles-to-south-sudan-report/article31191713/

[6] http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/canada-revenue-kpmg-secret-amnesty-1.3479594

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Harmony Sends Kenyan Advocate for Youth with Disabilities to UNEA http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2699 Tue, 28 Jun 2016 22:33:53 +0000 http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2699  

My name is John Michael Orimbo. Thanks to the Harmony Foundation of Canada I had the opportunity to attend the 2nd UN Environment Assembly (UNEA2) in Nairobi from May 19-27 2016, where I made some remarkable achievements advocating for children and youth with disabilities.

 

IMG_20160524_060424

 

 

During UNEA2 I addressed?my concerns with Representatives from Member-States, Major Groups and Stakeholders as well as other Partners. My interventions received strong endorsement. I successfully persuaded UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, to remove barriers to inclusivity, accessibility and participation of persons with disabilities on the UNEP Campus in Nairobi. At the High-Level Forums the Major Groups and Stakeholders (MGS) adopted my interventions into their Final Statement.

 

IMG_20160531_145453

 

 

For too long, persons with disabilities have been excluded from such High-Level Forums on Sustainable Development; I am proud to have brought these concerns to the attention of participants at UNEA2. Currently, I am following-up with the UNEP Regional Office and others to ensure practical progress on inclusivity, accessibility and participation for persons with disabilities at UNEP and in its forums. Building a sustainable, inclusive world for all requires the full engagement of people of all abilities.?UN’s 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development commits to “Leaving No One Behind.”

 

I will be attending the High-Level Political Forum in New York on July 17th, 2016, as an Ambassador for Change. With humility and determination I will continue to make strong interventions to ensure that children and youth with disabilities enjoy full access and participation in the Global Sustainable Development Goals Initiatives.

 

 

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Food Sovereignty Advocate Vandana Shiva Informs and Inspires Victoria, February 29, 2016 http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2673 Thu, 03 Mar 2016 16:00:32 +0000 http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2673 Back Drop Slides Feb29-1

Vandana Shiva, celebrated food sovereignty activist made February 29th a day of inspiration, dialogue and calls for action on food security and resilient communities.

Dr. Shiva spent the day with local leaders working to improve food security in British Columbia’s Capital Region District. The events were sponsored by Harmony Foundation and co-hosted with LifeCycles Project Society and the University of Victoria’s Institute for Studies Innovation in Community University Engagement (ISICUE).

 

P1010748

P1010752

 

Her evening presentation inspired listeners with global examples of the community-led initiatives that can inform local efforts here in Victoria. Dr. Shiva highlighted the connections between climate change, inequality, loss of bio-diversity and food insecurity, as well as shared stories of communities responding creatively to these challenges.

Dr. Shiva’s depth of knowledge and insight around the industrial food system was incredibly informative, and her stories about the resilience of organic agro-ecosystems and the power of local initiatives brought people to their feet.

Moreover, her visit gave momentum to a host of local initiatives including:

  1. an education campaign led by local growers at community markets
  2. local municipalities and the CRD working with community members and the province to secure land for eco-agriculture
  3. developing a coast-to-mountaintop sustainable local food strategy
  4. a summit on eco-agriculture in 2017 coinciding with Canada’s 150th anniversary

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Harmony sponsored this exciting visit,” said Michael Bloomfield, Founder and Executive Director, “because, along with our partners at LifeCycles and ISICUE, we recognize the critical importance of public participation in ensuring community stewardship over our food supply, and the imperative to respect the land, water and people that produce it.

 

P1010802

 

Participants responded enthusiastically to Dr. Shiva’s visit and invited her to return. She replied, “I look forward to returning to see your progress and to participating in Victoria’s efforts to become a leader in creating resilient communities.”

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Food Security Advocate Vandana Shiva Visits Victoria, Feb.29, 2016 http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2662 Wed, 13 Jan 2016 23:06:27 +0000 http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2662 Vandanna-email-web-poster

Vandana Shiva, globally renowned food sovereignty activist will be speaking to Victorians on February 29th, 2016 highlighting local food systems, ecosystems and community resilience. Co-hosts Harmony Foundation of Canada, LifeCycles Project Society and the University of Victoria’s Institute for Studies and Innovation in Community University Engagement (ISICUE), invite you to join this vital discussion at UVic’s Farquhar Auditorium.

 

Harmony is sponsoring this exciting evening” said Michael Bloomfield, Founder and Executive Director, “because, along with our partners at LifeCycles and ISICUE, we recognize the critical importance of public participation in ensuring community stewardship over our food supply, and supporting the land and water and people that produce it.

 

Shiva, a celebrated international speaker, will inspire listeners with global examples of the community-led initiatives that can inform local efforts here in Victoria. Shiva’s broad experience in food systems highlights the connections between climate change, poverty, gender inequality, loss of bio-diversity and food insecurity, as well as weaves stories of how communities respond creatively to these challenges.

 

We’re thrilled to be co-hosting such an accomplished activist who brings a depth of knowledge and insight around the power of localized responses to the global industrialized food system and the resilience of organic agro-ecosystems,” says Maurita Prato, Director of LifeCycles. “We’re particularly excited for this event to catalyze communities here to keep asking questions around what actions we can be taking towards more sustainable local food systems.”

 

There will be time for questions from the audience and to hear about how you can connect with local, on-the-ground food initiatives in the Capital Region. A book signing will follow the public presentation– bring a Dr. Shiva’s publication to be signed!

 

Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Purchase yours at www.tickets.uvic.ca, or 250-721-8480.

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To learn more about this event, please visit lifecyclesproject.ca or?https://www.facebook.com/events/958064100939189/

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Victoria’s Urban Forest: Asset or Liability? http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2619 Thu, 04 Jun 2015 17:26:44 +0000 http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2619  

In Victoria Foundation’s 2014 Vital Signs report, Victorians ranked the natural environment as the best part of living in the city and with good reason. However, while Victoria’s urban forest is a substantial natural asset, it’s largely taken for granted.

 

Beyond their aesthetic value, Victoria’s street trees lower stress, increase community pride and social well-being, sequester 110,000 tons of air pollutants each year, preserve road surface and provide $2 million of storm water service per year.

 

Conservative estimates show that for every $1 invested in Victoria’s urban forest, about $4 is returned in economic benefits. Yet years of neglect have left us with a diminishing asset and growing risk to public safety from unhealthy trees and a forest past its prime.

 

Since 1995, inventories and reports produced by and for the City consistently urged Victoria to adopt an action plan to address an increasingly vulnerable, hazardous and aging urban tree population. Recently, the City commissioned another inventory of all City owned trees that was accompanied by a “tactical plan” for managing all public trees. While considerable public resources have been spent on these documentations, many recommendations have not been acted upon, most notably the implementation of an action plan.

 

As a result, resources invested in these inventories and reports have not been well used. Over 800 hazardous street trees were identified and remain threats to public safety, with a similar number needing urgent action in our parks and green spaces. Nearly 1500 sites where trees were removed have not been re-planted, nor has a comprehensive action plan been adopted for urban forest revitalization since it was first recommended nearly 20 years ago.

 

After years of trying to get this issue on the City’s agenda, during the summer of 2014 I reviewed all of the above-mentioned reports. A pattern of unfulfilled promises and minimal action is clear. Drawing on more than 30 years experience working on sustainable communities and consultations with experts on the social and economic benefits of investing in urban forests, I developed six comprehensive recommendations.

 

The City of Victoria must undertake the immediate removal and replacement of hazardous trees. Existing vacant spaces need to be replanted, and a long-term tree planting campaign must be adopted. The City should establish two committees to ensure the health of the urban forest: one to recommend updates to our weak Tree Preservation Bylaw, and task another to recommend on increasing benefits provided by our urban forest, such as food production. Finally, Victoria must commit to a comprehensive action plan that sustains the social, environmental and economic benefits provided by our urban forest. These recommendations were offered to help ensure the long-lasting health of Victoria’s urban forest and maximize its benefits for us and for future generations. But like the reports before them, my recommendations went largely unanswered.

 

Why the foot-dragging? Trees are the only public investment that increases in value over time. A 2005 report commissioned by the City assessed the monetary value of Victoria’s urban forest at $39,139,000 for street trees alone, a sum that only increases once social, health and environmental benefits from all of Victoria’s trees are taken into account.

 

There are many compelling reasons for the City to act now. Again, Victoria is losing valuable assets and facing increasing risks to public safety from unsound and hazardous trees. The social, economic and environmental benefits of a healthy urban forest, as well as strong public support for it further stress the need for prompt action. The City needs to move quickly to address hazardous trees, (re)plants vacant sites, adopt a long-term tree planting program and to engage a supportive public in preserving, maintaining and increasing the long-term benefits of a healthy urban forest.

 

If you too care about healthy trees, please make your feelings known to Mayor Helps and city councilors. Their leadership is required to reverse the decline of Victoria’s urban forest.

 

The full report of?Victoria’s Urban Forest: Asset or Liability?can be found?here.

 

 

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Electric Vehicles in Victoria: Environmental Brief http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2585 http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2585#respond Tue, 19 Aug 2014 16:32:11 +0000 http://www.balconeshotel.com/?p=2585  

Streams of information steer consumers on their vehicle choices, ranging from helpful facts?to the self-serving (and often fictitious) statistics presented by automakers.?Drivers who prioritize low environmental impact in their vehicle choice,?face some confusing options, fuel being an important one?

 

?In locations with electricity produced by low carbon or zero carbon methods, the facts suggest that a fully electric vehicle is the most environmentally friendly type of vehicle on the market. This blog briefly highlights some of the environmental considerations of purchasing a fully electric vehicle (EV) as applied to an average driver in Victoria.


The Source: Powering Electric Vehicles

 

A major environmental concern around electric vehicles has been the source of the electricity that charges their batteries. In regions where electricity is generated by coal or other fossil fuels, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from EV production can outweigh the lack of tail-pipe emissions. One study notes: “If the energy used to recharge the electric car comes mostly from coal-fired power plants, it will be responsible for the emission of almost 15 ounces of carbon-dioxide for every one of the 50,000 miles it is driven—three ounces more than a similar gas-powered car.”?In BC, however, electricity comes primarily from hydroelectric ?projects, which, while not completely eco-friendly, are generally far better than the fossil fuel produced electricity that powers EVs in places such as Ontario or Australia. Over the coming years, BC is expected to see an increase of electricity sourced from smaller solar and wind projects, further decreasing the lifecycle emissions of EVs.??

 

Another low impact component of the EV is that plug-in electricity demand is reduced through the breaking system. Unlike gas/diesel engines, EV’s have regenerative breaking systems that recharge the battery when going downhill or breaking, utilizing energy wasted in conventional vehicles.

 

The Battery: Production, Life, & Recycling

 

EV batteries today are increasingly made of lithium-ion, making them more efficient and longer lasting than earlier forms of battery. These batteries, however, pose certain challenges.

 

Estimates suggest that the typical battery life for an EV is 12-15 years, with Nissan saying that after five years, reduced effectiveness for the batteries in a typical Leaf brings the range down from 80 miles/128 kms to 55 miles/88 kms. That range, however, is quite adequate for the driving needs of the majority of urban dwellers in Canada who drive an average of 50 kms a day. Thankfully, when the battery does fall below an acceptable range, EV owners aren’t stuck with a non-resell-able auto heading to scrap. Nissan now offers replacement batteries for about the same cost of putting a new engine and transmission into a gas car, around $5,500, making replacement or resale of EV’s a feasible option albeit a relatively expensive one.

 

But what happens to the old batteries? Only a few companies in North America currently recycle EV batteries. This is done by freezing the batteries to -160 degrees Celsius to defuse the lithium and then shearing, shredding and separating batteries into their different components, which can be resold. But the most sustainable scenario is one where batteries aren’t immediately sent from a 14 yr old EV to the recycling plant, or worse yet the trash, but instead are given a “second life” in some other function. Currently, groups within tech industry, academia, government, and the environmental sector are working toward developing second life options for EV batteries. These ideas include using the older batteries as back up generators for houses and neighbourhoods (a used Chevy Volt battery could provide about 3 hours of electricity for 3-5 typical American homes) or for municipalities, where batteries could store excess energy to be provided back to the grid at high demand periods.

 

EV Infrastructure

 

On ?South Vancouver Island, we currently have several electric charging stations, with more promised to come on line over the next five years.

 

Comparative Cost:

 

The average cost?to drive 100 miles on electricity is only $3.45 compared to $13.52 for driving 100 miles on gasoline. With fewer parts than other types of vehicles, an EV requires less maintenance. However, battery replacement should not be overlooked.

 

Disclaimer: Hold Your Horses

 

While EVs are likely the most eco-friendly choice of automotive for the average Victoria driver, consumers must remember that building and operating of cars?uses water, energy and other valuable resources and their disposal also heavily impacts the environment and public health.

 

As well, the bigger the vehicle the bigger the impact. Our best environmental option remains to choose vehicles that use less material and fuel. Better yet, we need healthier people who are less reliant on their cars and more likely to walk, bike and use public transit.

 

It’s important to consider the life-cycle impacts of what we purchase. A study by Climate Central stated “emissions from producing the battery and other electrical components create a 10,000 to 40,000-pound carbon debt for electric cars that can only be overcome after tens, or even hundreds of thousands of miles of driving and recharging from clean energy sources.” This large carbon debt is due to activities such as the lithium mining necessary for EV battery production. By contrast the amount for making a conventional gas powered car is 14,000 pounds, with their carbon debt increasing primarily through tail-pipe emissions.

 

A life cycle analysis by the Journal of Industrial Ecology suggests that if an electric car is driven for 144,000 kms and the owner stays away from coal-powered electricity, the car will produce about 24% less carbon-dioxide emission than its gas-powered cousin. That’s a worthwhile improvement but not the cure-all being promoted.?

 

We need to choose cars that are much more fuel efficient, far-less polluting and are more proficient in their use and disposal of metals, plastics, and other valuable materials. The trend towards buying SUVs, even those with some sort of flex fuel exhibits a lack of responsibility by government, car manufacturers and purchasers. ??

 

The most important steps we can and must take now are those that get us out of our cars out into our neighbourhoods building healthier, more sustainable communities with public transportation that reduces the pollution and urban sprawl caused by cars.


 

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