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





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. (

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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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future





Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M






Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.


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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study






The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”


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