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Environment minister’s staff signed off on tweet praising Syria for joining Paris accord

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Environment Minister Catherine McKenna’s personal staff, and more than a dozen departmental officials, pre-approved a controversial tweet last year praising the regime in Syria — a tweet that sparked outrage and was quickly deleted.

CBC News has obtained documents under the Access to Information Act showing the minister’s office gave a final thumbs-up to the tweet 51 minutes before it popped up on McKenna’s official ministerial Twitter feed last Nov. 7.

“Canada Salutes Nicaragua and Syria for joining on to the Paris Agreement!” said the tweet, issued in English and French and showing the flags of both countries.

This tweet generated a huge backlash on social media within minutes of being posted at 3 p.m. ET on Nov. 7, 2017. (twitter.com)

The blowback was immediate, with numerous critics on social media chastising McKenna for praising the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad and citing his government’s recent gas attacks on civilians.

“Trudeau Govt in one tweet,” prominent Alberta politician Jason Kenney tweeted. “Butcher Assad: never mind that unpleasantness about gassing kids. You’ve joined us in empty virtue signalling!”

McKenna quickly reversed course. “A mistake was made,” she later told the Commons. “I take full responsibility as minister. We deleted the tweet within half an hour.”

Conservative MP Lisa Raitt says she plans to complain to the Speaker about a non-answer to her written question about the controversial tweet. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The minister noted repeatedly that the social-media misstep occurred on the departmental Twitter account, rather than on her personal Twitter account, suggesting public servants were to blame.

An internal email trail does show more than a dozen public servants were involving in writing, editing, vetting and transmitting the tweet as part of a scheduled package of social-media communications sent out on Nov. 8, 2017 in connection with Canada’s participation in the Paris climate change talks.

Cleared by the minister’s office

But a post-mortem on the embarrassing incident shows the approval process also reached into McKenna’s own office, which gave the ultimate OK.

“The tweet in question was approved by the MO [minister’s office] at 2:09 p.m. today and issued at 3:00 PM,” says an assessment.

“Our tweet also generated some highly negative response, much of it inappropriate and personal in nature. … Numerous tweets referring to MIN [the minister] as ‘climate Barbie’.”

Among the more circumspect critics was Conservative MP Lisa Raitt, the party’s deputy leader, who tweeted, “Your public praise is misplaced,” and added a web link to a U.S. government report on Syria’s use of chemical weapons.

Clearly the tweet was a mistake …– Environment Minister Catherine McKenna on her tweet last year praising Syria

On Nov. 8, 2017, the day after the incident, Raitt also delivered a written parliamentary question, known as an ‘Inquiry of Ministry,’ demanding to know the titles of all individuals who approved the tweet.

McKenna responded more than two months later by basically declining to answer the question. “Clearly the tweet was a mistake for which the Minister of Environment and Climate Change took full responsibility both through online communications and in the House of Commons,” said the official response.

On the day Raitt submitted her written question, CBC News asked for all internal communications about the tweet from the department, including communications with the minister’s office.

A long wait for answers

The department only recently responded to CBC News — after violating the timelines set out in the Access to Information Act. Environment sent CBC News a package of emails and other material containing the very information Raitt was denied in January.

The package shows the names of at least 31 public servants involved in the ill-advised tweet. The released documents show the pre-publication vetting was carried out in advance by the department’s “social media” and “home” teams, as well as by McKenna’s office staff, whose names have been removed from the file.

Raitt said in an interview she’s troubled that Parliament was not provided with a full answer to her question, and plans to rise on a point of personal privilege to ask the Speaker to rule on the apparent non-response by McKenna.

“Has my personal privilege been violated? Is there a point of order here?” she said.

“That means then as parliamentarians we can’t rely on the information that’s being provided to us by the department, that we have to go through an access to information [request].”

After the controversy blew up, the department consulted with Global Affairs Canada to draw up media lines that condemned Syria: “… we acknowledge that highlighting the participation of Syria, with the dismal human rights records of its government, was inappropriate.”

A departmental post-mortem on the tweet concluded: “… going forward we will take greater care in the review of social media posts from a global affairs perspective.”

Follow @DeanBeeby on Twitter

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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