Editor’s note: An outdated version of the Western Canada newsletter was delivered to readers on July 10. The following is the correct version.
Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.
Residents of Lytton, B.C., had been warned about the condition of their community after a devastating fire tore through it a week and a half ago: most of the village was gone. Homes and other buildings had been reduced to charred earth.
But those descriptions still did not prepare some for what awaited when they got a chance to see the wreckage for themselves on Friday, as they toured the village on a bus organized by the regional district.
It was an accident that Matilda Brown saw what was left of her home. The bus wasn’t supposed to pass it, but it took a wrong turn, giving her a view of the pile of ashen rubble and twisted metal where she once lived.
She thought she still saw the smoker still standing and Peter Brown, her husband and fellow member of the Lytton First Nation, believed he saw the couple’s large metal gun safe as they passed by their home in five seconds.
“To see the grocery store, our hospital, everything just burnt...” Ms. Brown said, trailing off, shortly after the convoy left Lytton.
The regional district also organized a tour for members of the media, including Globe and Mail reporter Andrea Woo. You can read her account of the trip, as the bus passed by charred vehicles, buildings reduced to piles of bricks, and a playground slide warped from the heat.
Some residents are already thinking about what the future looks like, and how to rebuild. Those who have home insurance are waiting on if, and what, they will be paid, while numerous online campaigns have already raised hundreds of thousands to help.
They are also waiting for answers about what caused the fire. Wildfire investigators have said little about what they’ve found, but they have said it was caused by human activity, as opposed to lightning.
There has been widespread speculation among residents in the community that a passing train sparked the fire, which broke out after an intense heat wave in which temperatures in Lytton hit nearly 50C – the hottest yet recorded in Canada – and prompted warnings about the worsening effects of climate change.
Canadian National Railway Co. and Canadian Pacific Railway Co. both have tracks that run through Lytton, and neither has said much about the fire other than that they would co-operate with any investigation.
The Transportation Safety Board had repeatedly said it wasn’t looking into the fire, because neither CN nor CP had reported an incident that needed investigating. But the TSB said on Friday that it would send staff to Lytton to investigate whether a train played a role in the fire.
TSB chair Kathy Fox said the federal agency launched the probe after it received new information on Thursday, which was drawn from investigations by the RCMP and BC Wildfire Service, though she didn’t elaborate.
The TSB intends to examine one of CP’s trains, which is now in a CN yard in Vancouver, in relation to the Lytton investigation, Ms. Fox said.
CN again said on Friday that it has been co-operating with investigators and will continue to do so, but otherwise declined to comment.
The other side of that equation is climate change, and its role in creating the sort of severe heat that makes forests hotter, drier and more at risk of setting ablaze.
The Globe’s Ivan Semeniuk looks at how scientists are now able to more precisely determine the role of climate change in such extreme weather events and assess humans’ impact on the climate.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
AROUND THE WEST:
Jody Wilson-Raybould, the country’s first Indigenous justice minister – who was expelled from the Liberal caucus after she refused to intervene in a criminal proceeding – will not be running in the next general election.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould said Thursday that she has decided against seeking re-election because she is discouraged by the political system in Parliament, which she said is too focused on partisanship over the public good.
“From my seat in the last six years, I have noticed a change in Parliament, a regression,” she wrote in a statement. “It has become more and more toxic and ineffective while simultaneously marginalizing individuals from certain backgrounds. Federal politics is, in my view, increasingly a disgraceful triumph of harmful partisanship over substantive action.”
In her statement, she said she intends to continue to fight for Indigenous rights, social justice and solutions to climate change.
Alberta is known for its wide expanses, and at the Calgary Stampede this year open spaces are everywhere. On the exhibition grounds, aisles surrounding the rides and food stands have been extended; in the grandstand, seating is at a reduced capacity. And despite the free pass giveaways, no one is sure how big the crowds will be – or whether there will even be big crowds.
Alberta is the first Canadian province to lift nearly all public health restrictions related to the pandemic, and the province’s most famous spectacle is on after being cancelled in 2020. But the Calgary Stampede – by far the largest event in the country since the start of COVID-19 early last year – will be a far more muted affair than in years past.
A Saskatchewan First Nation where hundreds of unmarked graves were recently discovered near the site of a former residential school is the first in Canada to take back control of children in care under federal legislation.
“Every day we will roll up our sleeves to make sure that every child, when we call them home, that they know where home is – that is Cowessess First Nation,” Chief Cadmus Delorme said Tuesday.
The First Nation, east of Regina, is the first to sign an agreement with Ottawa in which jurisdiction over children is returned to the community. Federal legislation enabling an overhaul of Indigenous child welfare was passed in 2019 and came into force last year.
Hot, dry weather has swept through western North America, contributing to hundreds of deaths, igniting wildfires and roiling canola and wheat markets in one of the world’s most fertile regions. Canada’s Prairies produce more canola, used to make vegetable oil and animal feed, than any other global region.
The result of the heat wave is a potential worst-case scenario where Andy Keen’s canola may reach only 20 per cent of last year’s yield.
Alberta taxpayers will soon own half of the Sturgeon Refinery, acquiring an equity stake in a project that had billions of dollars in cost overruns and numerous construction delays before it finally began commercial operations in June, 2020.
The move is the result of 18 months of negotiations between the Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commission or APMC, a Crown corporation, and a group called North West Redwater Partnership, or NWRP, which until Monday owned and operated the refinery. The government says the deal, worth $825-million, will cost taxpayers $2-billion less than the original contract signed in 2011 – a time when oil hit north of US$110 a barrel, filling Alberta’s coffers to the brim.
The Sturgeon Refinery, northeast of Edmonton, is designed to process about 79,000 barrels a day of diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands into low-sulphur diesel and other products.
The federal government has reached a deal with British Columbia, the first in the Trudeau Liberals’ bid to build a national daycare system, and a move long-time advocates marked as “very good news” for families and the economy.
The deal aims to create 30,000 new spaces in B.C. in the next five years, with average fees for regulated spaces cut in half to $21 per day by the end of 2022 and hitting $10 per day in for children under six by 2027.
Funding is also being targeted at low-income, Indigenous, Black and newcomer families.
Alberta’s February budget hadn’t even been tabled before rising crude prices overwhelmed its cautious revenue outlook.
On Feb. 24, West Texas Intermediate closed at US$61.39 a barrel, more than a third higher than the budget’s $46 estimate for fiscal 2021-22. Four months on, oil prices have surged even higher – briefly touching a six-year high this week – driven by rebounding demand and the failure of oil-producing countries to agree on production increases.
That big, and persistent, gap points to a massive revenue upside for Alberta (and to a lesser extent, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador). If current prices were to stick around for the entire fiscal year, Alberta could see a $6-billion increase in its non-renewable resource revenue, cutting its projected $18-billion deficit by a third.
A British Columbia Supreme Court judge will not allow new evidence to be admitted in the United States extradition case of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.
Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes said Friday the application by Meng’s lawyers to use the documents obtained from HSBC through a Hong Kong court is denied.
Kelly Cryderman on the Liberals’ chances in Calgary: “But the fact that there’s any hope at all is saying much in a province where just two years ago, after the 2019 federal election, it seemed as if electing a few Liberal MPs was a mere quirk of the 2015 election – when Justin Trudeau was a shiny, new political force. Six years ago, the province elected four Liberal MPs. In contrast, in 2019, when the votes were counted, 33 of Alberta’s 34 MPs were Conservatives.”
Tanya Talaga on accountability for residential schools: “There are efforts under way among many Indigenous families to hear survivors’ stories once again, and to take down names – of the lost, and of the alleged perpetrators who may have committed crimes. So when does the accountability begin?”