When policy gaps make your jaw drop

In this week’s newsletter, we talk to reporter Emma McIntosh about her investigation into Ontario’s tailings dams regulations, and reporter Julia-Simone Rutgers explains how extreme heat is affecting Winnipeggers and their homes

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Huh? Wait. How is this possible? I don’t get it …

Earlier this month, I got to witness reporter Emma McIntosh in full-out nerd mode, firsthand. It was like watching that classic movie scene: the eager journalist gleaning over government documents, scratching their head.

Every so often she’d interrupt the quiet office to blurt out a newfound factoid buried in the trove of internal documents she’d recently received: “Did you know beavers are known culprits behind tailings dams failures!?”

But the documents revealed there are much bigger concerns for Ontario’s tailings dams — which hold mining wastewater and other byproducts that are often toxic — than beavers. Ontario’s Minister of Mines George Pirie was told last year that the province’s regulations weren’t doing enough to keep tailings dams safe

“People often don’t think of Ontario as a mining province, but the government oversees 400 privately owned tailings dams,” Emma said.

If those dams fail, it could be disastrous for communities nearby.

“My jaw literally dropped when I read the province has ‘little to no legislative authority’ to prevent a tailings dam failure,” Emma told me. 

Turns out, Ontario has been aware of this gap in policy since 2017, but hasn’t taken active steps to address it. When a hopeful Emma reached out to Pirie’s office, she was ghosted — after being told she would get some answers over email. Past mining ministers also didn’t write back to her. 

She’s buried her head in the scant data Ontario puts out on its tailings management regime and how it oversees mines and is determined to find more answers (or yell them out loud to whoever’s in the office).
An illustration of a downtown Winnipeg building on a street corner painted over with red, orange and yellow hues
To the west in Winnipeg, where the sun is shining almost too bright, reporter Julia-Simone Rutgers found a different policy gap: there are no laws to regulate residential heat

“How is it that you can take your landlord to court if your apartment is too cold in the winter, but in the summers, you just have to suffer through the heat? That’s dangerous,” Julia-Simone told me.

She spent weeks looking at how extreme summer heat is becoming more common and more intense, and Manitobans — especially vulnerable groups — are suffering from health impacts. It’s one of the many reasons why advocates are calling for governments to protect residents as the number of very hot days increases.

The incentives Manitoba offers residents who take initiative to make their living spaces energy efficient is a really good start, Julia-Simone told me.

“Adaptation to a changing climate is necessary right now,” she said, “and I’ll be looking to see if the province will step up to close legislative gaps and protect residents.” 

Take care and mind the gaps,

Karan Saxena
Audience engagement editor

An Image of Jane Goodall, with text that says: An evening with Jane Goodall. Oct. 12, 2023, Meridian Hall, Toronto. Logo of the Jane Goodall Institute Canada and media partner The Narwhal.

Finding hope in the darkness

“I think I have a mission. And the mission is to keep hope alive.”

Jane Goodall, one of the world’s best-known conservationists, has seldom given up on hope: hope for distressed biodiversity, hope for our environment — and hope for the future of our planet.

This fall, she’s bringing that very hope to the centre stage in Toronto. Join us for an evening with Jane Goodall, hosted by the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, on Oct. 12, 2023, at Meridian Hall. She’ll talk about her experiences working in the rainforest as a young woman, and how we can all connect with our natural world.

Go get your tickets here. Won’t be in Toronto? No worries: we’ll be sure to share a recording of the event with you all!


This week in The Narwhal

Carson Long, a firefighter with the Alaska Smoke Jumpers, uses a drip torch to light a low-level planned ignition, the photo has an orange cast from the flames
On the frontlines of B.C.’s wildfire fight
By Jesse Winter
As B.C. faces its worst wildfire season ever — and the worst in Canada — wildfire crews are being tested like almost never before.

Ontario Greenbelt: an aerial view of farmland and forest
Duffins Rouge was the Greenbelt’s ‘crown jewel.’ Over 5 days in June, developers bought 524 acres of it
By Emma McIntosh, Noor Javed & Sheila Wang
B.C. is weighing the merits of appointing a ‘chief ecologist,’ internal docs show
By Ainslie Cruickshank
A spotted owl close up image
B.C. to feds: don’t issue emergency order to save the endangered spotted owl
By Sarah Cox


What we’re reading

Have you ever wondered why you feel grouchy on super hot days? Or what higher temperatures do to your body and mind? Vox has a guide to extreme heat for you.

Reuters scales the land Canadian wildfires are burning at record pace.
A dog on a computer being held by a human (presumably), pretending to type really fast.
Emma trying to read government documents normally, resisting the urge to shout out a nerdy fact she finds interesting. Want your friends to know when she gets the next scoop? Tell them sign up for our weekly newsletter.
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‘Treated like machines’: wildfire fighters describe a mental health crisis on the frontlines

Note: This story discusses mental health and suicide. If you or someone you know needs help, there’s 24/7 phone support available with Talk Suicide Canada: 1-833-456-4566, or text...

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