Cafes evolve in Ontario, Japan

“Shareable plates are a constant across the game cafes, but beverages of choice vary. Each serves up its own drink, whether tea, beer, wine or espresso. But walk into any and you’ll hear the same conviviality: fast talk, laughter and rolling dice. And the one thing you’ll rarely see is the glow of a smartphone screen.”

This is how The New York Times international weekly edition (February 21, 2016) described “board-game cafes” that have rapidly increased in number in Toronto especially over the past two years.

The news story headlined “In Toronto, the Hot Spots Put Board Games on the Table” went on to say: “There are so many of these game rooms in Toronto that the popular metro culture site Blog TO named its top 20 local board-game cafes two years ago, and commenters have been noting new ones ever since.”

A quick guide to some of the well-known new type of cafes: Snakes & Lattes Annex sells board games, which include European strategy games like Settlers of Catan and Cards Against Humanity. Snakes & Lattes College with 700-square-meter space in the nearby Little Italy features 16 wines and craft beers on tap. At Bampot Bohemian House of Tea and Board Games, however, no alcohol is available.

However, isn’t all this a fad that is limited to Toronto?

Meanwhile, Japan’s Ministry of the Environment will likely relax its regulations on cat cafes, where customers can play with cats aged at least one year, before the summer. These cafes will be allowed to be open until 10 p.m., instead of 8 p.m. Why the old rule calling for closing at 8 p.m.? It’s simple: Pet shops must close by that time.

The unchanged rule is that the cat cafes must have enough space for the pets in the shop to move around.

The ministry’s approach to the issue was scientific. Tests found that cats in cafes had the same levels of stress whether they played with customers until 8 p.m. or 10 p.m.

There are about 300 cat cafes in Japan, according to the ministry.

There is no evidence that cafes in countries other than Japan not only allow pets into them but also use them to entertain customers.

You may assume cats in Japan are indigenous. Wrong. The domestic cat was introduced to Japan from Korea and China in ancient times, like so many things.

Cats were probably rare and highly prized until the 10th century, according to historians. They explain that it took two centuries for them to become common in Japan.

When it comes to Canadian cafes in Japan, Blenz Coffee based in Vancouver offers its 100% arabica-bean coffee in 60 locations, including in British Columbia, the Philippines and three in Tokyo. Blenz started up in 1992.

Back to Toronto: NYT reports: “Entrepreneurs in Thailand, South Africa, England, India and Mexico have called or visited Toronto to learn how these nondigital, fully analog, pay-to-play cafes operate.”

 

By Shota Ushio, freelance writer based in Tokyo

Large carbon dioxide capture and storage project going on in Canada

When it comes to minimizing global warming, the big, good news was the Paris accord in December 2015 that aims to limit the world’s temperature increase to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius. All 196 countries and territories pledged effort toward that goal.

You can imagine easily that no single measure can achieve that ambitious goal. Reducing the consumption of fossil fuels, especially coal, in power plants and other places may be the first thing you can think of. Consumers are being requested to save energy, too.

Few people seem to favor nuclear power generation, despite the fact that its advantages include no emission of carbon dioxide.

A Japanese government agency thinks that light emitting diodes, better known for its acronym, LED, are likely to contribute to reaching Japan’s target to reduce carbon dioxide emission by 26% compared with 2013 by 2030.

You may recall that carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) projects were headline events years ago. Are these projects dead? Not, at all. Only people involved, such as long-term planners at power companies and oil industry, pay attention to the steady development that has been realized.

Shell said in late 2015 that the Quest CCS project in Alberta Province has been upgraded into commercial operation. This project is designed to capture more than one million tons of carbon dioxide annually. Carbon dioxide is carried 65 kilometers from a Shell refinery to storage in rocks more than 2,000 meters below the ground.

Shell, Chevron and Canada’s Marathon have formed a consortium to implement this project. The provincial government of Alberta has agreed to put up Canadian $745 million and the federal government shoulders C$120 million.

The Japanese government is committed to CCS, though at a modest scale.

A panel organized by the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy approved in February 2016 the results of feasibility studies conducted by Japan CCS Co. That will clear the path toward the start after April 2016 of a project to eventually store 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually at the coast area of Tomakomai City in Hokkaido.

CCS alone cannot resolve the carbon dioxide issue, says Yoichi Kaya, president at the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth. Should the worldwide consumption of fossil fuel be reduced drastically to a point where it accounts for 10% of total CO2 emission, 3,000 storage facilities similar to the Alberta project will be needed.

The Ministry of the Environment has calculated that the replacement of all lighting with LED lamps in Japan would help reduce Japan’s greenhouse gas emission by more than 11 million tons annually by 2030.

 

By Shota Ushio, freelance writer based in Tokyo

Justin Trudeau visits Washington as first Canadian prime minister in 19 years; Obama extends heartily welcome as climate change, liberal allies

Justin Trudeau visited Washington on March 9-11 to a warm and cordial welcome by President Barack Obama. It was the first official visit, highlighted by lavish and gorgeous state dinner at the White House, by a Canadian prime minister in 19 years. The dinner with exuberant good will and friendship by the host and the guest promised a stronger bond between the two leaders and their two neighbor countries’ closer ties ahead.

Even before Trudeau’s visit began, White House officials said “there is a special relationship developing between this president and prime minister.” “Both young leaders with similar visions, both have a progressive vision of governing, both are very much committed to the appropriate use of multilateral tools, both are committed to diversity,” Mark Feierstein, senior director for Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council, said.(CBC News, March 8)

In their private talks at the White House Oval Office, Trudeau and Obama agreed to drastically cut by almost half methane emissions from the oil and gas sector – methane gas causes far serious global warming effects than carbon dioxide – and cooperate to preserve the Arctic, as well as to expand people’s cross-border travels and trade of goods. The two leaders agreed to let their officials work on agreement on the sensitive softwood lumber trade within 100 days, without going into sticky details, and would not touch on the controversial oil pipeline issue that had strained relations between Obama and Trudeau’s conservative predecessor, John Harper, who pushed Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline for the sake of Canada’s national interest.

Obama extolled Prime Minister Trudeau’s progressive agenda, casting him as an heir to his own liberal legacy on climate change and social justice. (Globe and Mail, March 10)

“He campaigned on a message of hope and change. His positive and optimistic vision is inspiring young people at home,” Obama said to reporters in the Rose Garden as the two leaders emerged from wide-ranging talks in the Oval Office. That’s exactly what he embodied – hope and change and youthfulness – in his own presidential election campaign eight years earlier. Likewise, many Americans who eagerly greeted the arrival in Washington of Prime Minister Trudeau, with his wife Sophie Gregoire, and their three young children were seeing the same quality with which Obama entrenched them eight years ago. Big media, including the New York Times and the Vogue magazine did special features on Trudeau on sympathetic tone, and CBS’s popular and influential “60 Minutes” ran Trudeau’s profile and interview to millions of American views on the Sunday just days before his visit. U.S. media covered the Canadian leader’s visit extensively.

During the ceremony welcoming the Canadian guests on the White House South Lawn, Obama also said, “Mr. Prime Minister, your election and the first few months in office have brought a new energy and dynamism not only to Canada but to the relationship between our nations.” He loudly praised Trudeau’s promise – and putting it into action – to restore close relations with the U.S. during the election campaign and helped jointly lead the Paris climate change conference to a major agreement on greenhouse gas emission control plan, closely working with the United States as soon as he assumed the post.

Trudeau responded as effusively in praising the host. “I have learned a lot from him. For me to be able to count on a friend who has lived through many of the things I’m about to encounter on the political stage, the international state, it’s a great comfort to me,” he said.

“We’re actually closer than friends,” Trudeau said in his official toast. “We’re more like siblings, really. We have shared parentage, but we took different paths in our later years. We became the stay-at-home type, you grew up to be a little more rebellious.” To return Obama’s favor, Trudeau invited the president to address Parliament in Ottawa when he will attend the North American Leaders’ Summit, popularly known as the Three Amigos’ Summit, this year in Canada, which he will host in June and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto will also attend. That will make him the first U.S. president to do so in 21 years.

Trudeau, only 10 years younger than the 54-year-old Obama, apparently accepted the role of eager student, or a protégé as a rookie prime minister, trying to learn from the wisdom of the political mentor, Obama, lame duck retiring from his two-term eight years of presidency in only 10 months, as some Canadian newspapers described, such as the Toronto Star.

Not only Canadian newspapers, but major U.S. newspapers like the Washington Post, New York Times and USA Today used “bromance” to describe the public display of admiration between Trudeau and Obama – who showered each other with personal praise, as we have seen in the above. (Toronto Star, March 10)

Obama is seriously trying to leave his climate change legacy, by partnering with Trudeau as his heir. His choice of Trudeau as his heir and partner on the progressive theme, as well as environment theme comes against the domestic political backdrop. In the process of selecting of his successor, Republican front-runner Donald Trump is causing phenomena, despite, or rather because of, his controversial remarks attacking immigrations and refugees, and women and playing on racial resentment and fears of Muslims – in stark contrast with Trudeau’s liberal policies.

“With his picture on the front page of the New York Times, Mr. Trudeau was already being declared Barack Obama’s new progressive partner after an official visit and a celebrity-leader reception at a state dinner,” a Globe and Mail columnist Campbell Clark declared. (Globe and Mail, March 11)

On March 10, Justin Trudeau stood on the same balcony of the White House, along with his wife, together with President Obama and first lady Michelle, as his father, Pierre Trudeau and his mother Margaret, almost four decades ago, in 1977, and was treated to the same state dinner in the same East Room as his father was. Pierre Trudeau was twice honored at a state dinner at the White House (the other one in 1969 with Nixon). There must have been many thoughts coming to the young Trudeau’s mind. His mother, Margaret, who was the 1977 state dinner guest with her husband, was present to witness the dinner Obama gave, and was introduced to other guests there.

 

By Yoshikazu Ishizuka, TOCS senior consultant

Canada’s cyclotron accelerator king of radioisotopes producers

The March 11, 2011 accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co., Inc.’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power generating plant released a huge amount of radiation into the atmosphere, which is measured in terms of becquerels.

But nuclear power is used not merely to generate electricity.

Scientists and engineers have made it possible to utilize radioisotopes in diversified areas, including radiotherapy for cancer treatment, medical research and materials development.

Canada has long been a leading isotope producer. The symbol of its leading position in the field is the 520-mega-electron volt (MeV) Main Cyclotron at the Triumf national laboratory located in the University of British Columbia’s campus near Vancouver.

Federal science minister Kirsty Duncan joined the celebrations of the machine’s 40th anniversary of operations, which was commissioned by them-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on February 9, 1976, the World Nuclear News online newsletter reported February 11.

Duncan called Triump a “mecca” for researchers specializing in particle and nuclear physics, molecular and materials science and nuclear materials.

Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s (JAEA’s) predecessor started up its 50-megawatt (thermal) Japan Materials Testing Reactor (JMTR) at Oarai in Ibaraki Prefecture in 1968. One of its missions was replacing molybdenum-90 imports for medical diagnosis with local production. Canadians running Triump recently began bombarding molybdenum-100 to produce technetium-99m, which is used in around 80% of all medical radioisotope procedures, WNN said.

Japan’s ion irradiation facilities include JAEA’s Takasaki Ion Accelerators for Advanced Radiation Applications (TIARA) at Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture. TIARA is composed of four machines, including a 70-MeV cyclotron, two types of accelerators and an ion injection machine.

The Japanese Diet has approved plans to merge those and other research facilities of JAEA with medical functions of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences to form a new quantum science research center April 1, 2016. Its development targets include cancer treatment using heavy corpuscular beams and nuclear fusion.

The phrase “quantum beams” is a catch-all term, including beams of muon, neutron, proton, electron, ion, meson, synchrotron radiation and light quantum. These beams can be supplied by accelerators, powerful laser and research reactors.

Cobalt-60 has the lion’s share in use by Japanese researchers, while small amounts of molybdenum-99 and technetium-99m are being used, the Japanese government said recently. The amounts of these radioisotopes are also measured by becquerels.

 

By Shota Ushio, freelance writer based in Tokyo

Canada may draw increasing number of foreign students

When the Japanese government liberalized foreign currency exchange rules in 1964 that allowed students planning study abroad to obtain any amount of US dollars, for example, it appeared most students took it for granted that they would return home after graduation.

Fast forward to 2016. Many international students, especially those from China and India, study and are increasingly granted permanent residence in Canada, according to The Economist (January 30, 2016). Since many foreign students in four Anglophone countries intend to get a job in a host country after completing higher education there, Canada and Australia are likely to attract more international students while the US and Britain “could lose out”, the “newspaper” said.

According to The Economist, of the four countries, Canada had the smallest number of foreign students as of 2013, about 195,000 or 10% of total enrolments, while the US led with 975,000, accounting for 5% of total enrolments as of 2014.

Britain, the favorite country among members of Japanese imperial family, had 312,000 foreign students, or nearly 15% of the total. Australia sees education as the country’s “second biggest export industry,” in the words of The Economist, behind only mining. The country’s foreign students in 2014 totaled 348,000, or 25% of total enrolments.

The Canadian government decided about a decade ago that universities could bolster their finances by admitting an increasing number of international students paying higher tuition fees, according to The Economist.

Unlike the US that has tighter visa rules after September 2001, Canada regards foreign graduates as a “valuable source of well-qualified young workers,” The Economist said, adding that “if new graduates can find a job they can automatically stay in Canada for up to three years.”

Separately, the Japanese government has a target to increase foreign students in the country to 300,000 by 2020, similar to Britain in 2014. The number for Japan was 184,155 as of May 1, 2014, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology said in February 2015. Those students included 94,399 from China, 26,439 from Vietnam and 15,777 from South Korea.

As for Japanese students studying abroad as of 2012, the education ministry said they totaled 60,138, including 21,126 in China, 19,568 in the US and 3,633 in Britain. The Economist said, “English is quite a useful language to acquire,” while a sizable number of Japanese students appear to be eager to study Chinese.

Among scores of Japanese students enrolled at the University of Oregon in mid-1960s, all but two or three returned home with or without a diploma. One of them stayed after graduation to live with an American wife, and was later divorced by her.

 

By Shota Ushio, freelance writer based in Tokyo

Climate change could cut First Nations fisheries’ catch in half by 2050

Climate change is threatening to reduce First Nations fisheries’ catch by nearly 50% by 2050, according to a new study on the impact of climate change to the food and economic security of indigenous communities along coastal British Columbia, Canada.

The study, conducted by a research team of the University of British Columbia (UBC) and released last month, predicts that the wild salmon and herring the First Nations tribes use for food, ceremonies and trade will swim north with dozens of other species as the climate changes, the waters off the coast of British Columbia warm and the fish pursue colder areas. According to the report, half of these communities’ fisheries will be lost by 2050 unless global carbon emissions are mitigated and the pace of warming slowed. (Washington Post, Jan. 13)

“Climate change is likely to lead to declines in herring and salmon, which are among the most important species commercially, culturally, and nutritionally for First Nations. This could have large implications for communities who have been harvesting these fish and shellfish for millennia,” said Lauren Weatherdon, who conducted the study as a graduate student at the university. (Science Daily, Washington Post, Jan. 13) The study finds that coastal First Nations communities could suffer economic losses between 6.7 and 12 million Canadian dollars annually by 2050, the Science Daily reported.

Although many studies examine the impact of climate change on large commercial fisheries, few focus on indigenous communities, according to the Science Daily. The study was supported by the Nippon Foundation in Japan.

If First Nations fisheries’ catch as sharply as the study warns, it will become difficult for these native people to maintain ceremonies and traditional lifestyle as well as their life and economy. They usually do not move north out from their traditional territories when fishing for food, social and ceremonial purposes, to chase salmon, herring and other fish because they are moving north as water temperature rises. This poses serious problems, they study team has said.

The latest study focused on 16 of the 78 First Nations along the north Pacific coast, out of Canada’s 617 indigenous tribes. First Nations tribes are descendants of native people who lived in Canada thousands of years before Europeans arrived. Like Native Americans in the United States, they were mislabeled as Indians by explorers who mistook the New World for India. Those along the coast live off the ocean, and fish they harvest animate their religious customs and traditions. (Washington Post, Jan. 13)

Some 540,000 are registered as Canadian Indians, accounting nearly 1.8% of the Canadian population. Of them, 55% live in reserves, specially designated for the indigenous people, according to the Canadian government information Website.

The researchers modelled how climate change is likely to affect 98 culturally and commercially important fish and shellfish species between 2000 and 2050, and examined the impact of changes in ocean conditions such as temperature and oxygen levels on habitat suitability for these species. The researchers found that most of the 98 species would be affected by climate change, and projected that fish would move away from their current habitats and toward cooler waters nearer the pole at an average rate of 10.3 to 18 kilometers per decade when water temperature rises between 0.5 and 1 degree C. (Science Daily, Jan. 13)

The study also found that while southern communities are likely to be most severely affected, all communities are likely to suffer declines in traditional resources including decreases in catch by up to 29% for species of salmon and up to 49% for herring by 2050. It projects that the C$28 million to C$36 million in revenue the tribes derived from fishing between 2001 and 2010 would fall by up to 90% depending on whether future greenhouse gas emissions are low or high. (Science Daily, Washington Post, Jan. 13)

The same Washington Post article reported: “Last year, an estimated quarter-million salmon – more than half of the spring spawning run up the Columbia River – perished as a result of diseases in water that warmed during their migration to and from the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound. Cool streams in the river basin were 13 degrees warmer than the 60 degrees preferred by salmon when N. Kathryn Brigham, chair of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Portland, Ore., and state officials expressed alarm in July.”

Climate change is affecting people’s lives in many various ways in Canada, as well as globally. It seems that in Canada, indigenous peoples are always among those who are affected most seriously by climate change as various other cases of effects of global warming are reported such as the one in which native people are forced to relocate because of rising water levels from melting glaciers.

 

By Yoshikazu Ishizuka, Senior Consultant, TOCS

Is it only the Japanese who are interested in eels?

Eel appears to have been considered a nourishing or medicinal food since ancient times, and the centuries-old custom of eating it at the height of summer survives in modern Japan. The Japanese may also assume that they are the only people who are interested in eating and studying the animal that is thought to have come into being about 100 million years ago probably in the waters near Borneo Island.
Wrong.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) mused that eels were “sexless creatures spontaneously emerging from the earth’s guts,” according to The New York Times (NYT) international weekly edition (December 27, 2015).

We know better than the Greek philosopher/scientist that eels spend time in all but two seas (East Pacific and South Atlantic Ocean). Japanese eels, which scientists call anguilla japonica, were once thought to be born in the waters off Okinawa or Taiwan. They now suggest that the spawning ground for those eels is likely to be in western Mariana Trench, not far from Guam Island.

Eels still remain enigmatic. Scientists do not fully agree on whether or not the fish spawn just once in its lifetime.

“Now, at least one eel enigma is finally a step closer to being solved,” thanks to research conducted by David Cairns, a research scientist at Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, NYT reported. “American eels spend their adult times, which range from three to 20 years, in rivers and estuaries from Greenland to Venezuela, but those far-flung populations share a single reproductive site in the Sargasso Sea.” This sea is off (east of) Florida.

Cairns and his team developed a tracking device, or aquatic satellite tags, which are small and lightweight enough to be attached to eels, NYT explained.

“From 2012 to 2014,” NYT said, “researchers released 38 satellite-tagged eels along the coast of Nova Scotia. They gathered data from 28, but one in particular stood out…the eel was tracked for 2,400 kilometers as it journeyed east from Nova Scotia toward the continental shelf off Newfoundland. There, it took a sharp right, crossed the Gulf Stream and headed straight for the Sargasso Sea.”

This particular eel required “just 45 days to complete its marathon run,” according to NYT.

The newspaper quoted Julian Dodson, a biologist at Laval University in Quebec as saying: “I’ve been studying fish migration for over 40 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a track like that.”

Come August, you may eat a whole or part of an expensive Japanese eel, thinking about its long journey in the sea.

 

By Shota Ushio, freelance writer based in Tokyo

Canada is having legal “physician-assisted dying” soon

Just one year ago, on February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada gave a landmark ruling allowing physician-assisted suicide and at the same time gave the federal government one year to produce legislation before the decision takes effect. During the past 12 months, the doctor-assisted dying had been banned.

The Supreme Court overturned a ban on physician-assisted suicide last February, recognizing “the right of consenting adults enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to end their lives with a doctor’s help.”

The Canadian top court again drew national spotlight last month, with the deadline for assisted death legislation approaching. On January 15, it gave the government more time – four months, instead of six months as the Ottawa government had asked – to pass a law governing the practice, but at the same time it decided to allow doctor-assisted suicide across the country under certain circumstances.

The court had apparently taken into consideration the fact that the work to produce legislation was interrupted due to the lengthy federal election campaign last year – then Prime Minister Harper dissolved the Lower House in August – 11 weeks earlier than usual, which suspended the Parliament until the new Liberal government and new members of Parliament were sworn in on November 4, following the October 19 polls.

The joint parliamentary committee that is examining the divisive issue of doctor-assisted death held its first meeting last month – soon after the Supreme Court’s new decision. The 11 MPs chosen to the panel include six Liberals, three Conservatives and two New Democrats – all of whom will join five senators who were named earlier. (Canadian Press, Jan. 12) They are expected to consider how to bring in a new law on assisted dying that addresses the constitutional issues raised in the landmark Supreme Court ruling a year ago, as well as vast complicated problems such as matters of religion and personal conscience involved in letting human life terminated. Six months requested by Ottawa, let alone four months granted by the court, would not be long enough to produce legislation in response to the heavy decision by the court.

However, Canadian people seem to be supportive of legalizing doctor-assisted death and the Supreme Court decision to endorse it. According to a national survey by Insights West, a market research polling firm based in Vancouver, has found that a 79% of respondents said they “strongly” or “moderately” support the ruling. Only 15% opposed and 6% said they were unsure. “Insights West asked 1,035 Canadians if they supported or opposed physician-assisted suicide, if (1)the request is made by a competent adult person who clearly consents to the termination of life, and (2) the person has a grievous and irremediable medical condition … that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual …” (Huffigton Post Canada, Dec. 4, 2015)

The polls found that support of doctor-assisted dying is high and static across the whole country, with British Columbia leading the pack at 90% approval, followed by Quebec (83%), Alberta (82%), Atlantic Canada (74%), Ontario (72%) and Manitoba and Saskatchewan (68%), according to the HuffPost Canada report.

In the January 15 ruling, the Supreme Court also ruled that Quebec’s assisted dying law, which came into effect in December, can remain in effect. It endorsed Quebec’s Court of Appeal decision to support the province’s right to allow terminally ill patients the choice to die with medical help, the first of its kind in Canada. The law was passed by a large margin in Quebec’s National Assembly in June 2014 but the province’s Superior Court suspended its implementation on December 1. The Quebec assisted dying law has been in effect since December 10. (CBC News, Dec. 22, 2015)

Like it or not, a big trend seems to be growing on the issue of the right to choose death. Immediately after the December ruling, Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould issued a statement, in which she said: “We recognize the leadership that Quebec has demonstrated in developing its own legislation on physician-assisted dying. We will continue to work with Quebec, as well as the other provinces and territories, to develop a coordinated approach to physician-assisted dying across the country.” (CBC News, Dec. 22) Politically, changes from the Conservative Harper government, which was lukewarm to the issue, to the Liberal government may work in favor of the trend.

CBC News Jan. 15 article also reported, without details, that earlier in the day a Quebec City patient had died with the assistance of a doctor, the first such case done legally in Canada.

Furthermore, Canada’s national daily Globe and Mail, in its Jan. 18 editorial, urged the Ottawa government to move quickly on legislation to approve the doctor-assisted dying following the Supreme Court ruling – with a headline, “Allowing assisted suicide isn’t complicated. Just do it, Ottawa.” It suggested that legalizing assisted dying in Canada would help avoid “the kind of end-of-life-care shopping that occasionally draws the ill and dying to certain U.S. states or to Switzerland” – that allow “dying with dignity.”

In its historic 9-0 decision a year ago, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the ban on physician-assisted dying on the grounds that it violated the right to life, liberty and security of the person as guaranteed under the Charter. The case has been known as Carter vs Canada, stemming from the appeal of a 2012 lower court ruling launched on behalf of two British Columbia women with debilitating and terminal illness, Gloria Taylor and Kay Carter, both now dead. Taylor, who had a neurodegenerative disease (ALS) eventually died of an infection, while Carter, then 89, travelled to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is allowed. (CBC News, Jan. 15, 2016, National Post, Feb. 6, 2015)

With these developments, Canada will eventually be joining a small group of countries and several U.S. states – such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg, as well as U.S. states of Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, New Mexico and California – after, hopefully, several months of intense and difficult debate as it deals with core human values, from the sanctity of life and protecting society’s most vulnerable to individual dignity and free will.

 

By Yoshikazu Ishizuka, TOCS senior consultant

Once dubbed ‘black diamond,’ coal loses ground in major energy markets

Ontario Province intends to gradually phases out coal-fired power generation, the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC) said on December 22, 2015.

According to FEPC, as part of that policy, a bill was introduced to the provincial parliament on November 25, 2015, which calls for banning the restart of coal-consuming power plants that had been shut by the end of 2014.

Coal used to be called “black diamond” decades ago in Miike on Kyushu Island, where Japanese are believed to have discovered it in 1469. Coal had turned some colliery owners into billionaires, while it also had been a prime mover that helped the nation to realize its post-war economic miracle.

The annual domestic production, however, declined to 1.3 million metric tons in 2014, a far cry from a record 56.3 million metric tons set in 1940, according to the Japan Coal Energy Center.

The Japanese government’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE) regards coal as a major resource for electricity generation, along with liquefied natural gas (LNG) and nuclear power as well as renewable energy, chiefly wind and solar power.

ANRE announced in March 2015 that Japan’s coal-fired power plants have achieved 42% heat or thermal efficiency on average, up from 40% in 1995, adding that Germany and other major economically advanced countries had efficiency of below 40%.

The higher thermal efficiency, the more a power company saves fuel consumption. For Japan’s nuclear reactors, the number is around 30%.

FEPC said in December 2015 that its member companies started up one hydropower plant and one LNG-fired power plant that year. Tohoku Electric Power Co., Inc. began commercial operation of a 490-megawatt LNG-fired unit at Sendai City on December 1. This unit is designed to convert more than 60% of heat into electric energy by a combined cycle that consists of a gas turbine and three additional steam turbines run by exhaust gas supplied from the main turbine, the company announced.

For Ontario, which is the king of nuclear power generation in Canada and which has sizable hydropower capacity as well, the anti-coal measure seems to make sense. The provincial government says that its coal policy is equivalent to getting rid of seven million autos on the road, according to FEPC. The policy is also said to constitute the largest single project in North America to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, says the Japanese federation.

 

By Shota Ushio, freelance writer based in Tokyo

Justin Trudeau under mounting pressure to act as loonie falls

Since the turn of the year, Canadian news media have been playing scary headlines crying about the free fall of the loonie.

These headlines read like these: “As loonie sags, pressure mounts on Ottawa to act” – Toronto Star, Jan. 13, and “Stock markets tumble as loonie falls to new 13-year low.” – CBC News, Jan. 13.

The loonie, as the Canadian dollar is known for the image of the aquatic bird – loon – on the $1 coin, kept falling since the first trading day of the New Year for four straight days, touching the 12-year-low range of $1.41. The following week, Canadian dollar further fell to 69.71 cents on Jan. 13 – the first below-70-cent level in almost 13 years since April 30, 2003. This means one loonie buys 69.71 U.S. cents. (Toronto Star, Jan. 13)

Incidentally, loon, or more precisely Common Loon, has been popularly regarded as Canada’s national bird since its image is one the Canadian $1 coin, but it is not official. And National Bird Project is now underway to elect its official national bird prior to Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017. Common loon is easily leading other birds in the Web contest.

The continuing tumble in oil prices is the main culprit behind the steady fall in the loonie. Prices for crude oil, Canada’s largest exports that have supported the country’s economy, have been falling amid the worldwide energy price falls since last year, and on Jan. 13, fell to US$30.48 per barrel, the 12-year low. (CBC News, Jan. 13) Oil prices plunged below $30 level to $29 and no end is seen as of this blog’s writing.

Natural resources account for 20% of Canada’s GDP, with crude making half of them, while natural resources account for half of Canada’s total exports revenues. Therefore, needless to say, sharp declines of export prices for natural resources, including oil prices, will have a great negative impact on the Canadian economy. The global stock price collapses, triggered by the Chinese market crash and financial crisis, have also sent Canadian stock markets tumbling, making the matter even worse.

Alarmed by the prospects of further deteriorating economy, Canadian economists are now urging the Liberal government to consider deficits even deeper than those it has promised to further stimulate the slowing economy.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already indicated that his government’s first budget beginning in April could feature a deficit that exceeds the C$10-billion-a-year cap the Liberals promised during the fall election campaign, but has declined to speculate how much larger the fiscal deficit might be. (Globe and Mail, Jan. 14)

The chief economist of CIBC World Markets, Canada’s major bank, said the government should be considering a deficit as large as $30 billion, not a meager $10 billion the Liberals have promised. Avery Shenfeld estimates that a $30-billion deficit would add about half a point to economic growth. (Globe and Mail, Jan. 14) If not $30 billion, many other private-sector economists call for deficit spending exceeding well the $10-illion ceiling.

The government is reportedly looking at speeding up or fast-tracking infrastructure projects and enacting measures to spur energy-efficiency retrofits of buildings and homes to kick-start the Canadian economy, beset by collapsing oil prices and the tumbling Canadian dollar. During the campaign, the Liberals promised to spend $60 billion over the next decade on infrastructure, allowing mild deficit, to bolster the slumping economy, but only $17.4 billion was earmarked for the next four years – the first term.

Leaders in the government believe that front-loading the planned short-term infrastructure spending – public work projects that can pump cash into the economy over short terms and create jobs across the country – is the needed quick method, rather than the longer-term approaches to enhance productivity and promote innovation. Particularly, speeding up infrastructure spending on transit and social housing, as well as energy-saving retrofitting of large commercial buildings are among the priority ideas being considered by the government, according to Globe and Mail (Jan. 14).

On Jan. 18, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities came to the aid, a sort of, for the Liberal government with a timely survey report that found a third of Canada’s municipal infrastructure is at risk of “rapid deterioration,” including some 40% of transit infrastructure that needs repair. The report said that much of Canada’s municipal infrastructure – municipal roads and bridges, public transit, buildings, among others – “is at a critical juncture.” (Toronto Star, Jan. 18)

The budget prepared by the Conservative government for the current fiscal year last April assumed the economy would grow 2% in 2015 and 2.2% in 2016. The Liberal government revised the forecast downward, after hearings on private-sector economics conducted in October, to 1.2% for 2015 and 2% for 2016. Those economists are now expecting economic growth to further decline.

Canada’s media and industries seem to be playing up more about negative impacts of the looney’s declines, less talking about positive sides for the country’s manufacturing and export sectors, centering in Ontario. A further depreciation of the loonie would make Canada more competitive against lower-cost producers such as Mexico in competition for winning larger export shares and attracting more foreign investment. Toronto Star (Jan. 13) pointed out, however, “It’s unclear whether the loonier will be able to stimulate the export sector as it has in the past. There has been a fundamental shift in the dynamics of that crucial industry due to the closure of 10,000 export-oriented businesses in the past decade alone.”

The Japanese yen has fallen 20% against the U.S. dollar during the three years under “Abenomics,” bringing huge positive effects to the slumping Japanese manufacturing and export sectors. It may be easy to imagine how big benefits the cheap loonie would bring to Canada’s manufacturing and export sectors. But it is yet to be seen if the cheap dollar will work as it should.

Prime Minister Trudeau left for Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 19 to meet world political, business and opinion leaders at the annual high-profile World Economic Forum meeting – amid expectations and pressure to act on the troubled Canadian economy.

 

By Yoshikazu Ishizuka, TOCS Senior Consultant

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