Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Davos edges Canada at Spengler Cup

Canada has a quarter-final date with Sparta Prague at the Spengler Cup after missing out on a chance to earn a bye to the semifinals Tuesday.

Host Davos edged Canada 3-2 Wednesday at a sold out Vaillant Arena to wrap up preliminary-round action and clinch top spot in Group Cattini.

Sandro Rizzi got HC Davos on the board less than two minutes into the game. Yanick Lehoux replied for Canada early in the second period.

Petr Taticek gave Davos a lead it would not relinquish later in the second and Gregory Sciaroni sealed the advantage midway through the middle period.

With Davos called for three consecutive delay of game penalties in less than a minute for shooting the puck over the glass, Travis Roche scored to bring the Canadians within one, but that was as close as they would get.

The third period was scoreless.

The Spengler Cup pits a Canadian national team composed primarily of professionals playing in Europe and coached by Mark Messier against European club teams on their Christmas break.

Davos (2-0) and SKA St. Petersburg (2-0), the winner of Group Torriani, each earn byes to Thursday’s semis.

Canada (1-1) plays Prague (0-2) in one quarter-final Wednesday, while Geneve-Servette (1-1) meets Spartak Moscow (0-2) in the other quarter.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Speedy, experienced USA gets set to defend world juniors gold

The members of the U.S. world junior championships team that was finalized Wednesday have known plenty of success.

Eight of the players were on the team that beat Canada in the gold-medal game on Canadian soil last January. Two of those players and four others won the under-18 championships. And coach Keith Allain is behind the bench at the No. 1-ranked college hockey program at Yale.

But Allain, while excited that people think the USA has a chance to repeat in Buffalo, isn’t paying much attention to the “favorite” label.

“Our focus is to come together as a team and to get better each game,” he said in a conference call. “‘Favorites’ is just outside noise as far as I’m concerned.”

After a training camp and two exhibitions, the USA whittled its roster from 29 to 22. In addition to having plenty of international success, the team features a big, mobile defense, solid goaltending, versatility and quickness.

“You’re going to see speed be a trademark in this tournament and one of the components for us was a get a very good skating team,” said team general manager Jim Johannson.

Four of the players — Jerry D’Amigo, Kyle Palmieri, Jeremy Morin and Nick Leddy — have spent time in the NHL or American Hockey League this season.

Key among the returnees is goalie Jack Campbell, who won both the world junior and under-18 tournaments. He replaced a struggling Mike Lee in the gold-medal game at the world juniors and stopped 32 of 34 shots in the 6-5 overtime win against Canada. He ended up being the top American taken— 11th overall by the Dallas Stars— in the June draft.

“The best word I can use to describe him is he’s a winner,” said Allain. “He’s found a way to come up big in big games his whole career. We realize he had a tough start (to his junior hockey season) in Windsor, but he has a great deal of experience and confidence.”

The USA will have plenty of competition at the tournament for the world’s top teen-age players, which runs through Jan. 5.

Finland, the opening opponent on Dec. 26, plays a North American, in-your-face style. Canada has 15 first-round draft picks on its roster and Sweden split games with the USA at a tournament during the summer.

Allain plans to counteract that with the style that has led Yale to the top of the college poll.

“We play an up-tempo game at Yale,” he said. “We like to get all five guys involved in the offense. We’re a quick transition team. We back-pressure the puck hard. You want to suit your team’s style to the strengths of the players and I think there’s a good match there.”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Environment Canada fails to monitor Athabasca River

One prominent ecologist isn't surprised to learn Environment Canada hasn't been testing the Athabasca River for chemicals from the oilsands.

That fact was revealed Tuesday when Scott Vaughan, the federal the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, tabled his fall 2010 audit of Environment Canada.

Studies have suggested that oilsands mining has environmental impacts as a result of freshwater use and pollutant releases, said the report's case study on the oilsands. Though the first commercial oilsands production began in 1967, Environment Canada only recently identified the oilsands region as a priority ecosystem and hotspot for further assessment and intervention.

In 2009, the department issued a report on water quality status and trends in Wood Buffalo National Park recommended expanding the monitoring parameters to include pollutants related to oilsands development. At the time of this audit, the department was still considering the recommendation.

"Consequently, the department's Fresh Water Quality Monitoring program has no baseline measures or long-term data to track changes in water quality and aquatic ecosystem health in the river associated with oilsands development," said the report. In addition, when it comes to water quantity, the department has not determined whether it currently has an adequate number of stations to monitor water flow related to oilsands development.

"If you'd have asked me this five years ago, I could have told you that," said Kevin Timoney, who has released a number of studies of the years linking environmental contamination to oilsands development.

"Sadly, what's happened over the years is that Environment Canada has depended upon the province to sample the water in the region."

The report's chapters highlight several areas where the federal government is not doing what it said it would do to protect the environment and move toward sustainable development, said the audit.

"There is little in our findings to offset a discouraging picture, as most suggest underlying problems in how these federal programs are being managed.

"In short, the two fundamental problems we identified are a lack of effective and sustained leadership, especially when responsibilities are shared, and inadequate information."

Environment Canada does have a sampling station down at the Old Fort on the Lower Athabasca River at the border of Wood Buffalo National Park, about 150-kilometres downstream from the oilsands.

The audit notes that the provincial government and private sector monitor water quality in this region, but their data is not available in the Department's regional long-term water quality database.

The sampling point was initially installed just to look at potential changes in the river from the pulp and paper processing industry, recalled Timoney.

"The sorts of parameters they look at are not suited to looking at the effects of the present industry that's near Fort McMurray."

He believes that Environment Canada would defend its lack of action saying with the reasoning it doesn't need to do it because the Alberta government is doing it?

"That's the answer they've given me when I've asked them other questions, for example, 'Why aren't you enforcing the Migratory Birds Convention Act? Why aren't you enforcing the Fisheries Act?'" said Timoney referring the the federal government's own statutes.

With the federal government responding that the provincial government has the authority to enforce the acts, he says Environment Canada has abdicated its responsibility.

"It's one of those shell games where they're saying 'Well look elsewhere because we don't have them but we feel as if it's being studied,' and it's not because Alberta has abdicated its own responsibility to RAMP which is useless to 99.9% of us because were not members of RAMP."

RAMP — the Regional Aquatics Management Program — was initiated in 1997 as a science-based environmental monitoring program designed to fulfill the aquatic monitoring needs of all its stakeholders. Its website says the program strives to achieve a holistic understanding of potential effects of oilsands development on aquatic systems, as well as address specific issues important to communities of the region.

Timoney isn't overly optimistic Environment Canada will change its monitoring or responsibility focus when it comes to enforcing its own statues and monitoring the chemical levels in the river as it pertains to the oilsands.

"I used to be more of an optimist, but now I'm a wait-and-see kind of person because I've heard so many promises over the years that as soon as the furor dies down, nothing happens," said Timoney who believes the status quo will end up being the most likely scenario.

"I hope I'm wrong."

Another point Vaughan made in his audit was that Environment Canada has been running the federal water quantity and water quality monitoring programs for about 40 years without knowing who — if anyone — is monitoring the quality of fresh water on federal lands. As a consequence, there are unacceptable gaps in the federal monitoring of fresh water, notably, that Environment Canada has water quality monitoring stations on only 12 of some 3,000 First Nation reserves.

"Federal leadership for water monitoring needs to be revisited, and Environment Canada needs to set out clearly how it will meet its responsibilities. In my view, this is long overdue," said Vaughan.

He noted that neither the Fresh Water Quality Monitoring program nor the National Hydrometric Program was well managed to adequately monitor and report on the quality and quantity of Canada's surface fresh water resources as many essential management practices have not been put in place by either program. The department has not defined the extent of its water monitoring responsibilities. Neither program has applied a systematic, risk-based approach to plan, implement, check, and improve its water monitoring activities, and neither program has determined whether it is satisfying client needs or has developed and implemented action plans for program improvement.

As a result, said the audit, Environment Canada does not know whether the greatest risks to water quality and quantity are being monitored.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bring Canada's most popular general ever back to Newfoundland

The late Walter Carter first came to Ottawa in 1968 as a Progressive Conservative MP from St. John’s. He served for a spell, quit, then tried to come back as a Trudeau Liberal — losing twice before deciding to stick with Newfoundland politics where he served as a cabinet minister in two Progressive Conservative governments before finishing in the cabinet of Liberal Clyde Wells.

Astute readers will have counted Carter switching parties not once, not twice, but three times before retiring in 1996. Carter’s constituents apparently liked him — most of the time — no matter the team he was playing for.

Carter is but one example of the great personalities that makes Newfoundland and Labrador irresistible to political junkies in the rest of Canada.

One of those outsize personalities is about to retire.

On Friday, Danny Williams’ will spend his last day as premier. He says he has no plans for now other than to take a rest from public life, but some enterprising federal Conservative ought to figure out how to get Williams into Stephen Harper’s cabinet.

Newfoundland is the only province without a Conservative MP. Williams made sure of that in the 2008 election with his “Anything But Conservative” campaign, launched after the premier’s spat with Harper over equalization.

If relations were patched up, Williams’ personal popularity would be enough for the Tories to sweep all seven of his province’s federal seats, which would go a long way to giving the PM his coveted majority government.

But, like Carter, Newfoundlanders would likely love Williams no matter what team he was on. If Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals could set the right bait, Williams could not only defend the six seats the Libs have now on the Rock and perhaps help the red team elsewhere in Atlantic Canada.

Here’s hoping Danny chooses one or the other after his break.

Meanwhile, Newfoundlanders wonder who will replace him.

For now, Williams’ natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale will take the job and become her province’s first female premier. When that happens, incidentally, Newfoundland will be the first province where the leaders of all provincial parties are women.

But beyond Dunderdale, could Rick Hillier, the pride of Campbellton, N.L., be premier? Canada’s most popular general ever was in Ottawa this week at a fundraising dinner for Memorial University of Newfoundland, the institution where Hillier now serves as chancellor. The premiership would be his for the taking and Hillier is said to be seriously considering it.

He still has a keen desire for public service but is also wise enough to know he risks significant harm to his current excellent public image by mixing it up in the rough-and-tumble world of politics.

Hillier is great on leadership but the knock on him is he was never much of a policy guy. Where is he on health care? On equalization?

And while everyone knows Hillier loves the Toronto Maple Leafs, no one’s quite sure if he wears a blue or red jersey when it comes to politics.

Sources who worked with him during his military career tell me Hillier once described his political views in private conversation as “to the right of Attila the Hun” but in public he has tried to maintain his political neutrality and independence.

Still, he, too, is one of those outsized Newfoundland personalities that would enliven our national political life. And our national political class could certainly use his candour, wit, and good judgment.