Canada in Brief, Aug. 20-26

August 26, 2015 Updated: October 1, 2015

Alberta issues air quality advisory due to Washington wildfire smoke

CALGARY—Alberta Health Services has issued air quality advisories for areas from the U.S. border north to the Edmonton region because of smoke from wildfires in Washington state, which has been drifting over parts of Alberta since early in the week.

The agency warns even healthy people may experience irritated eyes and throat and possibly shortness of breath. AHS says people with respiratory conditions may notice a worsening of symptoms and that children and the elderly are at higher risk of smoke-related illness.

An air quality official says the smoke in the Calgary area is worse than cities with serious pollution problems such as Beijing and New Delhi.

On Wednesday morning, Aug. 26, levels in Calgary had shot past the upper end of the zero-to-10 scale used to measure air quality.

The City of Calgary has imposed a fire ban to help reduce the volume of smoke in the air.

“This is the first time in my career that we’ve actually issued a ban due to poor air quality, even though it’s in the bylaw that we have the power to do that,” said Calgary fire marshal Ed Kujat.

Budgets and balance current themes on campaign trail

OTTAWA—Questions about the economy and the federal budget—and whether or not it will be balanced—dominated the early going Wednesday, Aug. 26, in the federal election campaign.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper was in rural eastern Ontario, where’s he promised to spend $200 million over seven years on expanded broadband Internet access for remote areas. He also stepped up his attacks on his main rivals as reckless spendthrifts who will pile up deficits and wreck the economy.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was in London, Ont., saying that he has no intention of running a deficit budget—but he has yet to explain how he will finance his campaign promises and stay in the black. He’s also proposing a tax credit for businesses that invest in innovation.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, a former teacher, is offering a tax break for teachers who buy school supplies with their own money. Trudeau was in the Toronto area, a region which is looming as a major battleground that could make or break political fortunes in the Oct. 19 vote.

Chairman of UBC board to leave post temporarily during investigation

VANCOUVER—John Montalbano is temporarily stepping down as chairman of the board of governors at the University of British Columbia amid a dispute at the school over academic freedom.

Faculty members had been calling for his resignation since UBC president Arvind Gupta quit earlier this month.

Prof. Jennifer Berdahl had accused Montalbano of trying to muzzle her over a blog she wrote about Gupta’s resignation, and the faculty association previously asked the chairman to step aside so an investigation could take place.

According to a statement issued Tuesday, the board accepted Montalbano’s request that he step down for the duration of a fact-finding process agreed to by the university and the faculty association.

Vice-chair Alice Laberge will assume Montalban’s duties during an investigation to be conducted by retired B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith. She will begin her probe on Sept. 1 and will submit a report no later than Oct. 7.

The faculty association has demanded answers about Gupta’s resignation but the board of governors has stayed mum, citing confidentiality.

Critics question glyphosate use in Newfoundland pending Health Canada review

ST. JOHN’S, N.L.—Two members of the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature are asking why the provincial government continues to aerial spray an herbicide flagged as a potential health risk to humans.

Health Canada is reviewing glyphosate, a product the World Health Organization has described as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Government officials say the herbicide was sprayed this week over about 350 hectares of forest in northern Newfoundland near Springdale and Plum Point. Spokesman Roger Scaplen says Health Canada has not indicated any public risk if the product is used as directed.

But two opposition environment critics in the legislature, Liberal Christopher Mitchelmore and New Democrat George Murphy, say the government should stop using it while Health Canada completes a re-evaluation expected next year.

Monsanto and other manufacturers of glyphosate-based products strongly rejected the WHO’s position. They cited a 2012 ruling by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the herbicide was safe.

Monsanto has also demanded a retraction from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a

French research arm of the WHO that released its opinion on the herbicide in March.

Police search for four kids allegedly abducted by dad and taken to Middle East

COMOX VALLEY, B.C.—International police are searching for four Vancouver Island children allegedly abducted by their father and taken overseas.

Alison Azer says in an online fundraising campaign that her ex-husband, Dr. Saren Azer, is a Kurdish Canadian who took their kids to the Middle East.

The children were legally allowed to leave Canada with their father but police were contacted on Aug. 15 when they weren’t returned to their mother as scheduled, RCMP spokesman Cpl. Darren Lagan said.

International policing agency INTERPOL lists the children, between the ages of three and 11, as missing on its website.

Azer is a well-known internist from the Comox Valley and has spoken publicly about volunteering medical care to refugees in the Middle East.

Alison Azer’s fundraising page says she needs money to bring her children home.