Timeline: London bus rapid transit

Londoners’ comments and concerns about the future of the city’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plans will be the focus of a public participation meeting at Budweiser Gardens on Wednesday.

Two proposed routes are at the core of the meeting.

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The north corridor which starts on Clarence Street and includes a 900-metre tunnel that runs below Richmond Row and resurfaces on Richmond Street near St. Joseph’s hospital; and King Street, which runs one-way going east but could be reduced to one lane of vehicle traffic with dedicated bus lanes running east and west.

Councillors will vote on the proposed routes for the largest project in the city’s history on May 15 and 16. The routes aren’t expected to be finalized until June.

Funding for the $560-million project will see city hall contribute $130 million, with upper levels of government filling the gap.

Below is a rough timeline of London’s ongoing Bus Rapid Transit debate:

July 2013

As a campaign to overhaul London’s transit system picks up speed, London Transit members get a first look at what it would take to switch to a Bus Rapid Transit system. An initial report says the costs of widening roads, buying buses, and other expenses could climb to $300 million, and operating costs over the next 30 years could be $114 million.

October 2013

The London Transit BRT report is presented to the city’s Civic Works Committee on Oct. 7, in the hopes an Environmental Assessment is launched. The project, the report says, comes with a $441 million price tag and will likely take about 15 years to complete.

May 2014

The London Plan, dubbed the largest public planning process in Canada, is unveiled May 22. The 20-year plan is the culmination of two years of work by city staff and the participation of nearly 10,000 Londoners through ReThink London. One of the plan’s proposed directions calls to shape the city around rapid transit.

September 2014

With the municipal election less than two months away, Mayor Matt Brown unveils his mayoral campaign platform, with rapid transit front and centre. The document, made public on Sept. 10, calls for ground to be broken on rapid transit within four years, as opposed to the previous 15-year projection.

October 2014

Londoners hand Matt Brown and his campaign platform a landslide election victory on Oct. 27. “I think what we see here is a community that’s ready to turn the page, a community that’s ready for positive change,” said Brown the day after. Brown and the new council would be officially sworn in Dec. 1.

January 2015

At his first ever State of the City address on Jan. 27, Mayor Matt Brown launches “Shift” – the comprehensive city-wide public engagement effort meant to launch a rapid transit overhaul in the city. Brown had pledged to break ground on rapid transit before the end of his first four-year term.

August 2015

During 2016 budget talks, London Transit Commission (LTC) requests a 4.6 per cent increased investment from the city over the previous year in order to make improvements to service. The boost in funding is also to move forward with and prepare for rapid transit, says councillor and LTC board member Phil Squire.

October 2015

Justin Trudeau is elected Prime Minister on Oct. 19. Responding to Trudeau’s win, Mayor Matt Brown expresses optimism about the shared priorities of the incoming prime minister and the city. Trudeau had pledged support to Londoners for rapid transit, Brown says.

November 2015

The city unveils a proposed transit overhaul on Nov. 9. A report before the city’s Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee outlines four alternatives for rapid transit in London, but suggests a hybrid Bus Rapid Transit/Light Rail Transit (LRT) network as the preferred option.City councillors unanimously endorse a staff recommendation to pursue a hybrid transit system with an estimated price tag of $880 million.

March 2016

Downtown business owners operating on Richmond and King Streets express concerns about the proposed rapid transit plans at a drop-in meeting on March 23. Construction for up to three years on the hybrid project could cause major disruptions, three merchants at the meeting say.

April 2016

The city says a new business case shows the best model to pursue is full Bus Rapid Transit, instead of the hybrid model previously endorsed by council. The full Bus Rapid Transit proposal comes with a rough price tag of $500 million and would see high-frequency buses run on L and 7 shaped corridors, both intersecting in the downtown. Mayor Matt Brown backs the BRT recommendation.

May 2016

The Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee defers a decision on rapid transit on May 5, voting 15-0 in favour of allowing council more time to consider the staff-endorsed rapid transit plan, and to give politicians time to reconsider a decision made May 3 to avoid a public participation meeting on the issue. (Councillors would vote unanimously the following week in approval of a public participation meeting.)After more than two years of consultation and review, the final draft of the London Plan is made public. Rapid transit remains one of the key priorities.Ahead of a council vote on whether to choose Bus Rapid Transit or a hybrid model, a final public input session on rapid transit is held at City Hall on May 28. Light rail advocates pack the gallery, but fail to sway enough city politicians.City council officially signs off on plans for the development of full Bus Rapid Transit at a meeting on May 31. Committee had approved the plan the week before. The final vote saw 11-2 support, with councillors Jesse Helmer and Mo Salih opposed. The two were the most vocal advocates of the hybrid model.

June 2016

London Plan receives unanimous approval from council on June 23.

August 2016

City staff report heads to council, recommending firm doing environmental assessment on BRT plan be paid additional $1.6 million to finish work.After debating whether to make the BRT plan public and then approving the request to make BRT plan public, the BRT plan is made public. The full BRT model, it says, offers the greatest value for Londoners, and has the highest benefit to cost ratio. Implementation in the preferred corridors would come at a capital cost of $500 million, the plan says.

October 2016

Mayor Matt Brown announces plan to seek second term.Brown attends Big City Mayors’ Caucus where topics including infrastructure spending on rapid transit, climate change, and poverty take centre stage. Afterwards, Brown says the city has a strong business case for BRT plans and expresses optimism about London’s chances of receiving federal funding.

January 2017

The city’s rapid transit implementation working group is told Jan. 12 the city may need to alter one of the four arteries proposed for the BRT system, in particular, the plan to have the buses run down Dundas Street through the Old East Village. Two potential alternatives are devised: to have buses run both ways down King Street, leaving one lane for traffic, or to have buses run one way down Dundas and snake the opposite direction down King.The cost of the BRT plan rises by about 10 per cent. Queen’s Park had requested the project’s contingency fund be increased from 40 to 50 per cent in case of unforeseen costs, and the cost of electric buses adds over $6 million to the plan.Western University’s Board of Governors softens language of requirements from the city regarding BRT on campus on Jan. 26. A list of 15 “conditions” the city would be required to abide by for the project is renamed 15 “issues.”

February 2017

City councillors get an in-depth look at plans for Bus Rapid Transit on Feb. 9. Some of the major developments include a potential restructuring of King Street to have it prioritize rapid transit with dedicated east and westbound BRT lanes. Plans for a 900-metre long tunnel on Richmond Street stretching from Central Avenue to St. James Street are also unveiled.Local merchants opposed to the Bus Rapid Transit plan form Down Shift, a grassroots organization representing taxpayers, concerned citizens, neighbourhood associations, and local business owners. In response, BRT proponents create a similar grassroots organization in early March called Shift Happens. Down Shift would later add lawn and window signs to the mix on Mar. 30, followed by Shift Happens.

March 2017

A $53-million lawsuit is filed against the city by Danforth London over their development project at King and Clarence Streets, a project they say would be hampered by the city’s BRT plan. The intersection is set to become a downtown hub for the Bus Rapid Transit system.A petition calling on the London Downtown Business Association (LDBA) to withdraw support for the BRT plan begins to circulate among downtown merchants. The petition cites a lack of consultation between the board and business owners. The petition would receive more than 130 signatures by mid-March. In the wake of the petition, the LDBA commits to consult and survey members on Bus Rapid Transit.The rapid transit implementation working group on March 9 recommends an additional public input meeting, the discussion of impacts and mitigation strategies with businesses, and for two alternative routes to be developed by city staff. The recommendations are voted through by committee on March 27.The federal government announces the investment of $37 million into 54 infrastructure projects across London; $8 million will go toward the design and study of London’s BRT plan.

April 2017

City council votes on April 4 to have city staff look into alternative route options.Council approves a motion on April 18 to have city staff come forward with additional information before the May public participation meeting. In particular, staff are directed to look into allowing rapid transit buses to run in mixed traffic along part of King Street, to identify ways to access businesses affected by the transit construction and to consider a temporary community improvement plan. The plan is received positively by opponents. City councillors and local MPPs meet the following day to discuss several issues, including BRT, at City Hall.The idea of a King Street route alternative called a “couplet” gains traction at a public input session for King Street and Queens Avenue business owners on April 25 at Centennial Hall. Instead of having two lanes of rapid transit on King Street in the downtown, an eastbound BRT lane could run on King while a westbound lane could run on Queens. Fewer than two dozen attend the session.Alternatives for the north Bus Rapid Transit corridor are unveiled by Shift London, and include either a railway underpass on Richmond Street for both BRT and vehicles, building no tunnel or underpass at all, or moving the route to Wharncliffe and Western Roads. While the underpass would cost less than the proposed tunnel, it would require the razing of several blocks of either the east or west sides of Richmond Street. Meantime, Wharncliffe Road property owners attend a meeting at Centennial Hall on April 26 to voice concerns about the potential loss of land to road widening.

May 2017

City hall hosts its first-ever public participation meeting at Budweiser Gardens on May 3. The meeting lasts more than six hours and sees a turnout of around 900 people, most in opposition to BRT.A survey commissioned by Down Shift London and conducted by Forum Research is released on May 9, showing a majority of respondents (67 per cent) say they oppose the current BRT plan. The survey was conducted on May 2 by telephone and had a sample size of 712 people. BRT proponents criticize the survey, saying it contained misleading information.A report from city staff on May 12 recommends the King/Queens couplet plan, and recommends that Richmond Street be the preferred northern corridor. Staff also recommend the axing of the proposed Richmond tunnel as the estimated capital cost rose from $90 million to $170 million, said the city’s engineer. Instead, a Richmond corridor with an at-grade intersection at Oxford Street is recommended, meaning BRT buses will have to cross the CP Rail tracks. With buses coming every few minutes, a train passing could jam the system.

Staff also recommend the long-term evaluation of alternate methods to separate vehicles and BRT buses from the railway. Physically moving the tracks themselves, city manager Martin Hayward notes, would cost billions of dollars. (CP Rail has also expressed no desire to relocate the tracks.)Following city staff’s recommendations, the project’s price tag is now estimated at $440 million compared to $560 million.In the May 12 report, staff also recommend (pending the approval of the Richmond at-grade recommendation) that the implementation of a railway grade separation on Adelaide Street at the CP Rail tracks be considered a “necessary element of the rapid transit system.” Staff say a funding request under the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund Phase II program should be advanced.On May 12, Councillor Bill Armstrong says he will put forward a motion suggesting council lobby Ottawa on the idea of track sharing —; requesting CP Rail move their trains onto CN Rail lines within the city.City council is scheduled to vote on transit routes and city staff’s recommendations May 15 and 16.

June 2017

Updated business case will be presented to city council (if proposed routes are approved and unchanged).

July 2017

Updated business case will be present to city council (if proposed routes are changed).

Ontario government seeking reports on preventing youth radicalization

TORONTO – Ontario is looking for advice on how to prevent youth from becoming radicalized and drawn into extremist groups.

The Liberal government has issued a request for proposals, seeking one or two experts to do research and report back on youth radicalization.

Michael Coteau, the province’s minister of children and youth services, said Tuesday that the government is concerned about all kinds of radicalization.

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“We’ve seen young people being brought into terrorist groups, we’ve seen young people join white supremacist groups,” he said. “We’ve seen extremism in so many different forms.”

READ MORE:
Ottawa’s anti-radicalization centre to look at all forms of hate including alt-right: Goodale

Some Canadians who have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have gained widespread publicity, including Ontario-born John Maguire, who joined ISIL and released a video calling on Muslims to launch attacks against Canadians. He and two other Ottawa men were charged with terrorism offences, but he is believed to have been killed.

Coteau said he believes young people can become radicalized when they don’t see a future.

“We need to make sure young people know that there are many options and we’re here to support them, and we have their back as a government, as a community and as a province,” he said.

It’s too early to tell what kind of government program the research on youth radicalization could lead to, Coteau said.

READ MORE:
Liberals work to reassure Canadians following terror threat

The request for proposals posted online asks for research that “will contribute to ministry’s understanding of youth radicalization process and identify practical ways of preventing” it.

“The proposed solutions and approaches should be aligned with the ministry’s vision of an Ontario where children and youth have the best opportunity to succeed and reach their full potential and focus on strategies and resilience factors that contribute to prevention of youth radicalization,” it says.

The research must be specific to youth, and separate from security approaches and information concerning the radicalization of adults.

Coteau cited a deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque earlier this year and what he sees as increasing race-based hate in the United States as reasons for his growing concern about youth radicalization.

READ MORE:
Justin Trudeau: ‘Make no mistake – this was a terrorist attack’

Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder with a restricted weapon following the January shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City.

The Ministry of Children and Youth Services says the request for proposals stems from a commitment the province made at a Federal-Provincial-Territorial Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Justice and Public Safety in January of 2016 to work together on countering radicalization. Coteau said Tuesday he’s looking forward to working with his counterparts on the issue.

The federal government has also promised action to combat radicalization, including the establishment of an Office of the Community Outreach and Counter-radicalization Co-ordinator. In a speech last week, federal Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland her government is expanding its efforts in Canada and abroad.

“As an open, pluralistic, democratic society, Canada is committed to becoming a world leader in countering radicalization. We really believe we have to do this right at home, and we are committed to doing it,” Freeland said. “Preventing radicalization often starts most effectively at the community level, when we work with local leaders to develop early intervention tailored to local conditions.”

Vancouver home sales slide nearly 26% last month

VANCOUVER – The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver says the number of home sales slid last month by nearly 26 per cent year-over-year while prices continued to climb.

Residential property sales in Metro Vancouver totalled 3,553 last month, a 25.7 per cent decline compared to a year ago.

READ MORE: Vancouver real estate could experience ‘market whiplash’ as home sales jump: report 

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Sales of detached homes fell 38.8 per cent from April 2016, while the composite benchmark price for those properties rose 8.1 per cent in that time, reaching $1,516,500.

The composite benchmark price for all homes was $941,100, 11.4 per cent higher than April 2016.

Vancouver’s real estate market remains the most expensive in Canada, though Toronto is catching up, with prices rising at rates that have alarmed governments at various levels.

Last August, the B.C. government implemented a 15 per cent tax on foreigners purchasing properties in Metro Vancouver in a bid to cool down the city’s housing market.

For the first four months of the year, Multiple Listing Service data in Metro Vancouver show that condominium and townhome sales now make up a larger percentage of all residential transactions, accounting for 68.5 per cent, on average. That’s up 10 per cent from 58.2 per cent over the same period last year.

The total number of properties listed for sale on the MLS in Metro Vancouver increased 3.5 per cent in April compared to a year ago, the board said.

“Our overall market is operating below the record-setting pace from a year ago and is in line with historical spring levels. It’s a different story in our condominium and townhome markets,” Jill Oudil, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, said Tuesday in a statement.

“Demand has been increasing for months and supply is not keeping pace. This dynamic is causing prices to increase and making multiple offer scenarios the norm.”

Calgary not considering help from Edmonton in potential Olympic bid

It looks like any participation of Edmonton playing a secondary role in a Calgary 2026 Winter Olympics bid is off the table.

In an update Monday, Calgary’s bid exploration committee confirmed it’s only looking at the feasibility of that city along with Canmore and Banff.

READ MORE: Committee needs to do more number crunching before it decides on Calgary Olympic bid 

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Watching security costs was one reason given for keeping the potential of a bid in that cluster in the Rocky Mountains.

Former Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson, who’s chairing the 17-member committee, said the city committed $5 million to look at the infrastructure within Calgary to see how it fits with the idea of a bid.

“Our mandate, our mission, was not to go across the province or go elsewhere and assess what they have and look at these things; it’s very specific to come out with a report to assess what does Calgary need to maintain its reputation as a world-class winter sport city?”

“Whatever decision is made we’re going forward with the full knowledge of what is required to do this or not and if it isn’t, it’s because of really good solid reasons that people can look at and say, ‘that makes sense.’”

READ MORE: Could Edmonton and Calgary co-host 2026 Olympics or Commonwealth Games? 

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson confirmed there have not been any official talks between Calgary and Edmonton.

“Formally, we haven’t heard from Calgary but informally, we hear lots of different things about different possibilities… I think one has got to grapple with the political realities of what Alberta can afford in this situation and I think even the federal government has certainly got lots of options on its plate between FIFA and some of the other events that are out there.”

Iveson wants to keep the lines of communication open.

READ MORE: City of Edmonton withdraws bid for 2022 Commonwealth Games 

“There’s the school of thought that wants to go it alone and then there’s the school of thought that recognizes that may be a pretty difficult political sell with the provincial government, so I doubt the question is settled yet. We remain very open to the conversations about working together around either Olympics or Commonwealth Games.”

The report to Calgary city council on whether to give the idea of a bid a green or red ligh, will come in July.

Is mental health stigma lessening? Canadians opening up more than ever, survey suggests

Alicia Raimundo knew she was different from her peers when she was only six years old.

“The things that would make my friends excited or happy would make me sad or anxious. I hated going to birthday parties because I was always worried I’d say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing,” Raimundo told Global News.

She admits she’s facing a lifelong battle with mental health. She was hospitalized three times – twice in university.

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    “In a lot of ways, I felt like a superhero, if that makes sense, because I had two different identities: I had the person who was at night trying to get by and battle my own personal bad guys, anxiety and depression, and I had that person that people saw their daughter, their friend, their student. And the more I would lose my battles against anxiety and depression, the less of that other person was there,” she said.

    READ MORE: These 3 groups are at ‘high risk’ of mental health issues in Canada. Here’s why

    Raimundo, now a mental health advocate, is opening up about her story in hopes that more Canadians, young and old, know that what they may be going through is more common than they think.

    “For me, I wish we had mental health awareness weeks all year long,” she said.

    Turns out, like Raimundo, more Canadians may be aware and willing to talk about mental health than ever before.

    Is mental health awareness improving?

    After years of campaigns and advocacy, mental health stigma may be lessening while awareness may be increasing, according to promising new Ipsos findings released exclusively to Global News.

    Eighty-five per cent of Canadians surveyed say they consider mental health to be as important as physical health – another 12 per cent say it’s even more important, the pollsters revealed.

    Half of Canadians (49 per cent) say they’re personally more comfortable talking about their mental health compared to two years ago.

    READ MORE: Why more Canadian millennials than ever are at ‘high risk’ of mental health issues

    Fifty-one per cent even say they feel like Canadians, on a whole, are generally more comfortable with discussing mental health, too.

    “There is a silver lining here. I find it encouraging that stigma seems to be lessening. It is shrinking and people are more comfortable talking about [mental health] and getting help in any way they can,” Jennifer McLeod Macey, vice-president of the polling firm’s Health Research Institute, told Global News.

    “We’re slowly seeing mental health as part of our overall health and as an important component. We have a long way to go but it’ll continue to nudge up. But it may take years before it’s fully normalized,” she said.

    It’s the third year the polling firm zeroed in on their Mental Health Risk Index and the report’s release marks Mental Health Week.

    READ MORE: How mental health should be taught in Canadian schools

    Based on Canadians’ levels of stress and feelings of hopelessness and depression, the report classifies a whopping 41 per cent of Canadians as being at “high risk” for mental illness. That’s a significant increase from 2016’s 35 per cent.

    The findings point to some grim patterns: 36 per cent of Canadians admitted that several times throughout the year, they felt stressed to the point where it impacted their daily lives.

    Another 24 per cent said there were several instances in which they felt stressed to the point where they couldn’t even cope. Nineteen per cent said they felt hopeless almost every day for a couple of weeks or more.

    A glimmer of hope in the fight against mental health stigma

    But the results offer some hope, too: more Canadians than ever before are talking about mental health concerns, getting help, and taking time off to manage their mental well-being.

    Forty-two per cent of Canadians said they talked to someone about their mental health in the past year, up seven percentage points from last year, and 11 points from two years ago.

    READ MORE: What happens when mental health education isn’t taught to kids?

    Twenty-three per cent said they talked to a primary health-care provider, such as their family doctor, while another 16 per cent reached out to a counsellor, psychiatrist, or psychologist.

    Another 10 per cent even wrote about or posted about their mental health woes online – millennials led the way with this openness with 24 per cent sharing their mental health difficulties online in the past year.

    Ed Mantler, vice-president of programs and priorities at the Mental Health Commission of Canada, isn’t surprised by the results.

    The years of promoting mental health awareness and shedding stigma are paying off, especially on millennials, he said.

    READ MORE: Major depression is on the rise in youth, especially teenage girls

    “We’ve been tackling stigma and forcing awareness on youth, so now we have a population of millennials who are more comfortable than previous generations for speaking up early about mental health issues they’re facing,” he said.

    “It’s a good news story in a way because we know early intervention is an important factor in recovery, so people seeking help and getting that early intervention is far more impactful than waiting until they’re in their 30s and 40s,” he said.

    Creating an open space to discuss mental health is huge, according to Mark Henick, national director of strategic initiatives at the Canadian Mental Health Association.

    READ MORE: The No. 1 mental health issue Canadian employees take time off work for

    “Sometimes one of the most therapeutic acts you can do when you’re struggling is open up to others,” Henick said.

    It’s what pushes Raimundo to keep sharing her story and encourage others to do the same.

    When Raimundo was in the hospital for her mental health, another patient reached out to her and handed her a necklace that said “hope.”

    That word meant a lot to her.

    “If I was going to beat this, if I was going to make it to the other side, I needed to have something to hope for, to get me through,” she told Global News.

    READ MORE: One-third of Canadians at ‘high risk’ for mental health concerns

    “I hoped to watch my sister grow up, I hoped to watch her graduate from high school. I wanted to see her come into somebody who was awesome and independent,” she said.

    The experts are glad mental health is coming to the forefront of Canadians’ minds.

    “A lot of people who may have been hidden in their house or suffering and we wouldn’t know are showing up to be diagnosed or are showing up for treatment,” Raimundo said.

    READ MORE: Why the WHO chose depression as its focus this year

    Still, there is some way to go. Twenty-six per cent of Canadians admitted they may not know enough about mental health.

    “It’s just right now that it’s starting to change. We’re a part of something huge and it’s only going to get better from here,” Henick said.

    The Ipsos poll was conducted in mid-April 2017. A random sample of Canadian adults were interviewed online for the survey, which was weighted to bring it in line with Canadian demographics and which has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

    Where to get help

    If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

    The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868  all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

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Trans Mountain opponents can’t hold Alberta economy hostage: Rachel Notley

The Federal Court of Appeal has granted the Alberta NDP government intervener status in lawsuits filed against Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which Alberta Premier Rachel Notley defended Tuesday.

Several First Nation bands and B.C. municipalities filed the lawsuits in an attempt to stop the project, which already has federal and B.C. approvals.

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Speaking to reporters on Tuesday in Edmonton, Notley said the project means tens of thousands of new jobs for people across the country, not just in Alberta. She said opponents in B.C. can dislike the project — but they can’t stop it.

“Of course, we understand that some oppose the twinning of the pipeline and I respect their opinions,” she said during the news conference at the legislature.

“But I fundamentally disagree that one province, or even one region, can hold hostage the economy of another province, or in this case, the economy our the entire country.”

The fate of the project had been cast into some doubt by the results of last week’s B.C. election, with the Green party – which opposes the development – holding the balance of power in a minority
government.

Notley has maintained that the election results don’t jeopardize the project because it already has the regulatory approvals in place.

READ MORE: Notley’s outlook for Kinder Morgan pipeline unswayed by B.C. vote

“It’s our view that there are no tools available for a province to overturn or otherwise block a federal government decision to approve a project that is in the larger national interest,” she said.

“If there were such tools, Canada would be less a country and more a combination of individual fiefdoms fighting with each other for advantage. And let me be very clear — that does not help any of us, any of the provinces to advance our economic interests on the world stage. Thankfully, Canada is more than 10 provinces and three territories.”

Having said that, Notley said provinces still have the right to pursue things that are in their own citizens’ best interests.

Notley supports the $7.4-billion project proposed by Texas-based Kinder Morgan to triple the amount of crude that flows from the Edmonton area to the B.C. Lower Mainland.

The proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion route.

Courtesy: Trans Mountain

The federal government approved the project late last year, so Notley doesn’t believe a political shift in B.C. is much of a factor.

READ MORE: Trans Mountain pipeline agreement includes investment deadline, BC hiring priorities

The B.C. election last week left Christy Clark’s Liberals just shy of a majority with 43 seats, but recounts and absentee ballots could change the final tally. The NDP won 41 seats and the Green Party holds the balance of power with three seats.

Pipes are seen at the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain facility in Edmonton, Alta., Thursday, April 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

The Alberta and B.C. New Democrats may share the same party name, but the similarities end there when it comes to Trans Mountain.

The B.C. NDP’s campaign platform promised to use “every tool in the toolbox” to stop the Trans Mountain project from going ahead but did not outline how.

It’s fairly common for members from different provincial wings of the same party to help in each other’s campaigns, but this year Notley dissuaded her workers from doing so.

READ MORE: Alberta premier warns her government workers away from campaigning for B.C. NDP.

In announcing his blessing for the Trans Mountain expansion, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised the Notley government’s efforts to combat climate change through a carbon tax and other measures.

In filing for intervener status, the Alberta government said it would defend the province and its key industries in court.

— With files from Karen Bartko, Global News

Gas leak in downtown Ottawa forces evacuations

A major gas leak in downtown Ottawa forced the evacuation of four city blocks on Tuesday afternoon.

The leak began shortly after 1 p.m. and there were reports of a large “bang” followed by the distinct smell of gas in the air on Sparks Street. The leak occurred in the heart of the downtown core, right across from Parliament Hill and only a block or two away from the prime minister’s Langevin offices.

There is a large condo construction site nearby but as of 2 p.m. it was unclear if work on the site is what caused the leak. Construction on the city’s new light-rail transit line is also ongoing in the area.

Ottawa emergency services were on scene as of 1:30 p.m. attempting to get the leak under control. Police initially taped off a two-block radius surrounding the site of the apparent accident before expanding the perimeter to four blocks.

Metcalfe Street was closed to all traffic from Albert Street to Queen Street, and O’Connor Street was closed from Wellington Street to Albert Street. Buses had to be redirected ahead of the rush hour.

People were being advised to avoid the area. There have been no reports of any injuries.

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Canadian found dead: Here’s what you need to know about travel to Belize

The deaths of Canadian Francesca Matus and her American boyfriend, Drew DeVoursney, in Belize are currently being investigated as homicides, and a security expert says travellers should exercise caution when visiting the tropical hot spot.

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The bodies of Matus, 52, of Markham, Ont., and DeVoursney, 36, from Georgia, were discovered Monday in a sugar cane field in the Corozal district and police say the cause of death appears to be strangulation.

DeVoursney’s mother says the American embassy told her that the pair was found with duct tape wrapped around their wrists.

WATCH: What we know about the Canadian found dead in Belize

Global Affairs Canada does not have a nationwide travel advisory in place for Belize, but advises on its website that Canadians “exercise a high degree of caution due to a high rate of violent crime throughout the country.”

“Criminal activity, including armed robbery, mugging and sexual assault, is a significant problem throughout Belize,” Global Affairs writes on its website. “Robberies and assaults have been reported in resort areas. There has been a noted increase in violent crime targeting tourists since the end of 2013.”

The agency advises visitors to stay in groups and ensure that personal belongings and travel documents are secure at all times. Tourists are also advised not to show “signs of affluence” and use taxis after dark instead of walking.

READ MORE: Most dangerous countries for Canadians to travel to include popular hot spots

Walter McKay, a former Vancouver police detective and security expert, says the country is relatively “quiet” and safe compared to its neighbours, like Mexico and Honduras.

“It is on the ocean so you’ll have connecting points for drugs and what not but it’s not a main transit point,” McKay said. “There is an uptick [in violent crimes] but in general there is an uptick all over Latin America.”

Belize (approximately 335,000 people) has the world’s third-highest homicide rate, with 44.7 homicides per 100,000 population, according to 2013 data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

READ MORE: Two teens charged in killing of Canadian found stabbed in Belize

By comparison, U.S. cities like Detroit had a rate of 43.5 in 2015 or Baltimore with a rate of 55.3 homicides per 100,000 people, according to 2015 FBI statistics.

McKay said following travel tips like avoiding bars after dark, limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding unlicensed taxis can help you stay safe in Belize.

“Make sure you have enough money and don’t use an ATM,” he said. “If somebody is going to target you they know they will get money.”

McKay said while there are still few details in this case, drinking to excess can lead to personal injury or death in tourist destinations throughout Central America.

“It’s amazing that people go into a foreign country that they may or may not speak and drink as much as they can,” he said. “Go ahead and have fun, drink in moderation, and be aware of your surroundings.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada has also issued a health notice over concerns of the Zika virus in Belize, recommending that pregnant women and those considering becoming pregnant should avoid travel to the country.

Meanwhile, family and friends of Matus and DeVoursney are still coming to grips with the deaths of the couple who were last seen April 25 leaving a bar at night.

“I’m not able to really do anything, kind of just sit and think and cry and that’s all I’m capable of at the moment,” DeVoursney’s mother, Char, told the Canadian Press. She said her son was a former U.S. marine who had overcome post-traumatic stress disorder.

Canadian and American expats had been scouring the area in the past week in a desperate search to find the couple.

“Our thoughts are with the loved ones of the Canadian citizen who passed away in Belize. Consular services are being provided to the family during this difficult time,” Austin Jean, a spokesman for Global Affairs Canada, told Global News Tuesday.

“Canadian consular officials continue to liaise with local authorities to gather additional information.”

— With files from the Canadian Press

Weapon charges from 2 Saskatoon disturbances laid against man

Saskatoon police say a man discharged a pellet gun on Monday and he is also facing firearm-related charges for a disturbance this past weekend.

At around 7:50 p.m. CT on Monday, officers were called to an unknown problem at a residence in the 300-block of Avenue K South. Upon arrival, police discovered an altercation had taken place inside.

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    As a result, a 19-year-old man was charged with such offences as carrying a weapon dangerous to the public and reckless discharge of a firearm.

    READ MORE: Saskatoon police recover stolen car from Prince Albert with swords, drugs inside

    Police also identified him as being one of the individuals involved in an incident that occurred on April 30 in the 2200-block of 22nd Street West.

    Shortly before 3:30 p.m. CT on Sunday, witnesses reported seeing a man with a gun and being chased by two other men, one of whom was also armed with a firearm. Witnesses also indicated they heard a shot.

    Officers attended the scene but found no physical evidence of a gunshot or any of the involved parties.

    READ MORE: Over 150 charges laid in Saskatoon laundry room break-ins

    For this event, the 19-year-old man is also facing charges that include careless use of a firearm, possession a firearm obtained by crime and possession of a firearm contrary to a prohibition order.

    No injuries were reported by police.

    Anyone with information is asked to contact Saskatoon police at 306-975-8300 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Elementary school breakfast program brings students together 1 year after Fort McMurray wildfire

What was meant to provide kids with a full belly to start off their school day on the right foot has turned into so much more for students at a Fort McMurray elementary school one year after a devastating wildfire ripped through the community.

Dr. K A Clark Public School in Fort McMurray suffered extensive smoke damage in last May’s wildfire. Seven staff members and several students lost their homes.

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    READ MORE: ‘The Beast’ is still burning east of Fort McMurray 1 year later

    Staff and students were displaced for four months before returning to class in September 2016.

    “We serve two of the most affected neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray and we knew that a lot of our students lost their homes or were displaced from their homes long-term, so we really didn’t know how many we would expect on that first day of school,” said principal Merrie-Rae Mitropoulos.

    READ MORE: ‘We didn’t spend 12 years not to have one’: Fort McMurray high school grads go back to say goodbye

    The majority of the 400 students from the school returned in the fall, even those who moved away from the surrounding community.

    “We really saw the resiliency in our students,” Mitropoulos said. “This is the place where they have their friends, they know their teachers and we have a real sense of community here.”

    READ MORE: Fort McMurray children processing wildfire trauma: ‘I’m still not sleeping right’

    One year later, that sense of community is thriving, even before class starts. The school offers a breakfast program, providing a meal to about 80 students each morning. But the principal says it does much more than that.

    “Not only does it meet the needs of students that may not have breakfast at home or don’t have time for breakfast at home, it also meets that need of coming together, sitting with friends, having some time with the teacher and staff members who come in to visit and really spending that time together as a school community.”

    READ MORE: Feelings of hope, uncertainty one year after Fort McMurray wildfire

    The school started offering the breakfast program in 2015. Breakfast Club of Canada started providing funding for the program in January 2017, which included money for new dishes and supplies in order to offer a wider range of food options.

    Dr. K A Clark Public School’s breakfast program is bringing students together one year after the Fort McMurray wildfire.

    Credit, Breakfast Club of Canada

    Dr. K A Clark Public School’s breakfast program is bringing students together one year after the Fort McMurray wildfire.

    Credit, Breakfast Club of Canada

    Dr. K A Clark Public School’s breakfast program is bringing students together one year after the Fort McMurray wildfire.

    Credit, Breakfast Club of Canada

    Dr. K A Clark Public School’s breakfast program is bringing students together one year after the Fort McMurray wildfire.

    Credit, Breakfast Club of Canada

    Dr. K A Clark Public School’s breakfast program is bringing students together one year after the Fort McMurray wildfire.

    Credit, Breakfast Club of Canada

    Dr. K A Clark Public School’s breakfast program is bringing students together one year after the Fort McMurray wildfire.

    Credit, Breakfast Club of Canada

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