Cartoons are posted below but the most recent one is at least one week late.
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday November 29, 2019
‘We can’t take that back’: Eisenberger on keeping Hamilton sewage spill details secret
Mayor Fred Eisenberger is standing by Hamilton city council’s decision not to disclose publicly the full magnitude of a massive sewage spill for nearly a year.
“The incident happened already,” Eisenberger said Tuesday. “The material, whatever was there, had already gone into the system. We couldn’t get it back.”
The mayor spoke to The Spectator for the first time about the estimated 24-billion-litre sewage leak into Chedoke Creek, which flows into Cootes Paradise, after returning home from an economic development trip in India.
Last week, The Spectator reported that city officials had kept secret not only the volume of the raw sewage spill, but also its four-and-a-half-year duration.
Leaked confidential reports from January and September show the spill was attributed to a holding tank gate left partly open from January 2014 to July 2018. The reports also pointed to a second gate failure on the same tank.
Outside legal advice recommended city officials keep the information secret due to potential regulatory fines amid a provincial investigation.
On Tuesday, Eisenberger, who noted his plane landed at 5:30 a.m., defended the approach, saying public health informed residents of a sewage spill at Chedoke Creek in July 2018.
Floatable material was sucked up, warning signs were posted, and E. coli levels eventually returned to what they were before the sewage leak, he said.
But the volume of the contamination and duration of the leak weren’t shared with the public, Eisenberger acknowledged.
“Because it was still under investigation. The legal advice that we received at the time was, ‘Do not disclose the full amount; there are potential legal issues that come out of that; there are potential other claims that could be made.’”
Public works spokesperson Jasmine Graham said Tuesday the city has paid environmental lawyer Rosalind Cooper $67,393.55 for her services as of October.
Eisenberger said the advice of the Toronto-based lawyer, who has many years of experience in the field, is still worth following.
“I’m not prepared to second guess it,” he said. “I understand the furor that’s out there. I get it. There’s always that tug between full disclosure and legal ramifications, and we have that happen in many instances that we deal with.”
Though the city conducted an initial surface water cleanup in July 2018 — at a cost of about $56,000 — material would have sunk to the bottom. The confidential reports noted dredging could cost $2 million. (Hamilton Spectator)
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday November 26, 2019
Hamilton city council, staff have kept a 24-billion litre sewage spill secret
A confidential city report shows councillors have known since January that 24 billion litres of untreated sewage escaped undetected over a four-year period from a massive sewer overflow tank into Chedoke Creek, which runs along Highway 403 into Cootes Paradise.
The watery sewage — enough to fill 10,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, or an area of 12 square kilometres to a depth of two metres — seeped out of the tank because a gate had been left partially open for more than four years.
The confidential report to council on Jan. 16, along with a second one on Sept. 4, show city staff have been recommending that details of the spill be kept secret from the public as long as possible because of potential legal action the city could face.
The two reports, obtained by The Hamilton Spectator, state Ontario’s environment ministry is investigating the massive spill, which could lead to charges.
Neither the remediation work or any fine levied would be covered by the city’s insurance, according to the reports.
The Spectator informed the city it had obtained two confidential reports and submitted a number of questions Wednesday morning to councillor Lloyd Ferguson, chair of the public works committee. Late Wednesday morning, council went in camera to discuss The Spectator’s questions.
Several councillors, including Ferguson, declined to comment when they emerged from the in-camera session.
About an hour later, in response to The Spectator’s questions, the city put out a press release acknowledging publicly for the first time that approximately 24 billion litres of watery sewage had been discharged because a gate at the King Street West tank had been left partially open for 4.5 years.
“Hamilton city council takes this matter very seriously and today is sharing additional information that has become available based on the city’s investigations,” the press release stated.
Lynda Lukasik, executive director of Environment Hamilton, said the long-standing discharge from the overflow tank “is shocking.”
“That’s a brutal impact on Cootes Paradise and Hamilton Harbour,” said Lukasik. “Those (overflow) tanks are just a Band-Aid solution.”
“The City of Hamilton better have a good plan going forward to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she added.
The two confidential reports were prepared jointly by the city’s public works department and the legal and risk management services division of the corporate services department.
The reports state the city was unaware that a bypass gate at the King Street West overflow tank across from the Cathedral of Christ the King had been left partially open from Jan. 28, 2014, until July 18, 2018, allowing untreated sewage to flow into the creek for 1,633 days.
During heavy rainfall, a combined sewer overflow tank captures a mix of rainwater and sewage that would previously have flowed untreated into Cootes Paradise, the harbour or the lake. Once the wet weather subsides, the overflow can be pumped from the tank to the main sewage treatment plant at Woodward Avenue. (Hamilton Spectator)
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday November 23, 2019
Hamilton sewage scandal: What happened, and why was it kept secret?
Last week, The Spectator revealed Hamilton city council knew in January about a massive sewage spill into Chedoke Creek but kept the details secret.
Here’s a surface-scraping primer on the scandal so far.
An overflow tank gate was left partly open for four-and-a-half years, releasing an estimated 24 billion litres of raw sewage into Chedoke Creek, which flows into Cootes Paradise, between January 2014 and July 2018.
Confidential city reports leaked to The Spectator note staff don’t know why the gate was left open or who did it. A separate gate mishap between January and July 2018 caused 30 per cent of the mess.
The full magnitude of the big leak was discovered after citizen complaints of stench in the area in July 2018.
What’s a combined sewer overflow tank?
Hamilton has nine large tanks that hold wastewater until it can be deposited into the Woodward Avenue treatment plant.
The tank in question, called the Main/King tank, was built in the 1990s and holds 75,000 cubic metres. It’s located at Cathedral Park at 707 King St. W.
“The automated monitoring systems at the CSO tank did not detect the discharge, nor was the discharge visible to staff during monthly facility inspections,” the city’s confidential documents note.
What about the watershed?
The July 2018 spill was a “huge setback,” said Tys Theijsmeijer, the Royal Botanical Gardens’ head of natural areas.
“Basically, all the oxygen was sucked out of the water, the algae growth was rampant … and so many plants, like water lilies, were just wiped out.”
The city didn’t tell the RBG, which is the steward of Cootes Paradise, the full volume and duration of the problem, however.
More than 240,000 litres of “floatable material” was removed from the surface of Chedoke Creek and taken to the Woodward Avenue plant.
The city faces a Feb. 14, 2020 deadline to submit an ecological risk assessment and, possibly, a remediation plan for Chedoke Creek. The confidential city reports suggest dredging the creek could cost $2 million.
What did the city tell (and not tell) the public?
The city told the public about the spill in July 2018 and posted warning signs around the popular paddling spot, but the full magnitude of the disaster was kept under wraps.
Staff and outside legal counsel advised council against publicizing the estimated 24-billion-litre volume and more-than-four-year span, as well as releasing consulting reports.
The rationale was that doing so could expose the city to financial risk amid a Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks investigation with potential fines of as high as $6 million.
What’s the political fallout?
Councillors say they opted for secrecy to protect taxpayers from financial liability, citing the legal advice they received.
All members of council voted in favour of confidentiality, but three councillors — Nrinder Nann, Maureen Wilson and John-Paul Danko — also cast dissenting votes at various times.
Nann and Wilson have since called for a public apology and the release of all documentation.
But councillors have also directed staff to investigate who gave The Spectator the confidential reports, sources say.
The sewage scandal has also made waves at Queen’s Park with NDP MPP Sandy Shaw (Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas) scolding the ministry for not telling residents about the full extent of the leak. (Hamilton Spectator)
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday November 22, 2019
Doug Ford government spent $231M to scrap green energy projects
Provincial documents show the Ford government spent more than $230 million to cancel renewable energy projects that included a partially-built wind farm in a cabinet minister’s riding.
The spending was revealed Tuesday in question period by the opposition NDP, who accused the Ford government of throwing away money on scrapping energy projects as the Liberal government did earlier in the decade.
The province’s public accounts for 2018-19 show spending of $231 million by the Ministry of Energy on unexplained “other transactions.”
Inquiries by an NDP researcher uncovered that these “other transactions” were “to fulfil a government commitment to wind down renewable energy contracts” including the White Pines wind farm in Prince Edward County.
Premier Doug Ford promised that electricity ratepayers would not be on the hook for scrapping the wind farm, which was one of the first acts of his government after taking power in June 2018.
“Wasting $231 million to cancel hydro contracts is the sort of thing the previous Liberal government did during the gas plant scandal,” NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns said on Tuesday.
The associate minister of energy, Bill Walker, said the province didn’t need the power from the White Pines project but didn’t deny the cost of the cancellation.
“This municipality was an unwilling host from day one. They did not want the turbines. We did the right thing,” said Walker in question period.
Walker pointed to actions of the previous Liberal governments, whose moves to cancel gas plants in Mississauga and Oakville ended up costing upwards of $1 billion, according to the province’s auditor general.
“I’ll take fair criticism for decisions that were made when we were in government,” John Fraser, the Liberal interim leader, said Tuesday at Queen’s Park. “But I also believe that this government’s going down the wrong path with energy and electricity, and tearing up these contracts was the absolute wrong thing to do.”
The White Pines wind farm is in the riding of Todd Smith, the PC MPP for Bay of Quinte and the government’s minister of children, community and social services.
“This is a project that residents of Prince Edward County had been fighting against since it was proposed,” Smith told reporters Tuesday.
Four out of the nine turbines approved for the project were built in 2018. After the election, the new government put a stop-work order on construction. Crews are currently working to dismantle those four turbines.
“For this government to rip up contracts and literally rip wind turbines out of the ground is a huge waste of money and makes absolutely no sense,” said Green party Leader Mike Schreiner. (CBC)
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday November 21, 2019
Why Chrystia Freeland is the indispensable Trudeau cabinet minister
Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland have been very good for each other. Not for the first time, the future of the Liberal government — and a lot else — seem to be riding on the two of them finding success together.
“She is someone with whom I worked very, very closely, and with great success, on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, with the challenges of the American administration,” Trudeau said Wednesday afternoon, using the most delicate language possible to describe the experience of dealing with Donald Trump’s White House.
“We know that as we move forward on issues that matter across the country, like energy and the environment and other large issues, we will have to engage in a strong and positive way with different orders of government.”
During a phone call with Trudeau in the summer of 2018, at perhaps the most contentious moment of the prolonged struggle over NAFTA, Trump described Freeland as a “nasty woman.” In some circles, that’s a badge of honour in its own right.
But Freeland came away from that prolonged drama with a claim to having played a pivotal role in preserving this country’s most important trading relationship at a moment of unprecedented instability.
Her reward is the title of “deputy prime minister” and responsibility for helping to hold together the world’s largest democratic federation at a time of profound change and uncertainty.
It’s the culmination of a political career that began six years ago when Trudeau and his top advisers recruited Freeland to run in a by-election in Toronto Centre. Trudeau had become Liberal leader just six months earlier and Freeland became his first star candidate — the first evidence that Trudeau could attract smart and accomplished people to serve alongside him.
Freeland was something like the platonic ideal of a Liberal candidate: a Harvard-educated Rhodes scholar who had become an internationally recognized journalist and author in New York. And while the Conservatives were scoffing that Trudeau wasn’t ready to lead, Freeland was ready to line up behind him.
From Trudeau’s perspective, not all of his star recruits worked out for the best (Jody Wilson-Raybould, most notably) but Freeland became central and integral to his government.
A year before she joined the Liberals, Freeland published her second book, Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else. Once in the fold, she was an important voice in shaping a political agenda focused on increasing taxes on the wealthiest and building supports for the middle class.
In Trudeau’s first cabinet, she was made international trade minister. There, she dragged a free trade deal with Europe to completion — famously displaying “visible emotion” during the final push. She was not a natural politician but she slowly got better at it. (CBC)