Rendering of the ScanEagle drone in flight | Image: Insitu ScanEagle product card

Protonex, a branch of Ballard Power Systems, has successfully tested flights of a drone powered by a hydrogen fuel cell system.

The test flights were done on Boeing Insitu’s ScanEagle drone, which has been used in both military and civilian applications in the U.S., including ocean surveillance. The ScanEagle currently runs with a traditional combustion engine, but this may soon change.

When the drone uses the fuel cell instead of its current energy source, Ballard said, it has the ability to run silently and has a failure rate that is one-fifth its current level. As well, it is able to start or stop mid-air.

“These test flights have successfully demonstrated the integration and operation of our fuel cell propulsion system as well as the high-pressure hydrogen fuel tank,” said Paul Osenar, president of Protonex.

“When combined with improved reliability and other advantages over internal combustion systems, fuel cells are proving to be a tremendous fit for UAVs [drones].”

Peter Kunz, Boeing Insitu’s chief technology officer, said Protonex’s hydrogen fuel cell is still in developmental testing, and additional tests are planned throughout the rest of this year.

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Mayors’ Council gives NDP top marks on transit scorecard

Mayors give NDP top marks on #CureCongestion questionnaire, but scrapping bridge tolls questioned
Fixing gridlock is one of the top concerns among voters in the Greater Vancouver region in the provincial election.

If fixing Greater Vancouver’s gridlock problems is your top concern in the provincial election, the region’s mayors have come up with a platform guide to help voters decide which parties have the best pledges for dealing with congestion.

The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation recently launched a campaign called #CureCongestion, in which it asked all three main parties for their stances and commitments on the mayors’ 10-year vision plan.

Priorities in that 10-year plan include building the Surrey Light Rail Transit system and Broadway Subway, and replacing the Pattullo Bridge.

It does not include making the replacement of the George Massey Tunnel with a bridge a priority – the key Liberal Party transportation plank.

After reviewing the three parties’ platforms and responses to a #CureCongestion questionnaire, the Mayors' Council have published a scorecard on how the three parties line up on transit issues.

Only the NDP scores five out of five.

On the other hand, the Mayors’ Council is concerned with the NDP’s plan to eliminate tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, as well as the Liberal Party’s pledge to cap tolls at $500 per year.

“The Mayors’ Council has expressed concern that neither policy would help affordability of transportation over the long term, nor improve our region’s quality of life,” the council states in a press release. “In fact, the proposals are an acknowledgment that the current tolling system is broken and in need of a rethink.”

On the central question of capital funding, all three parties have committed to matching the federal government’s $2.2 billion in funding for transit infrastructure projects.

All three parties have also committed to funding an expansion of the HandyDART services.

On three other key policies, only the NDP get full marks on the #CureCongestion scorecard.

On the $360 million needed for general upgrades to the SkyTrain system, neither the Green Party nor Liberals make specific commitments. Only the NDP commit to providing 40% funding for all of the 10-year vision’s priorities.

On replacing the Pattullo Bridge, the Liberals commit to one-third funding to replace the bridge, “subject to a strong business case.”

The NDP unreservedly commits to funding its replacement. The Green Party makes no specific commitment to the Pattullo Bridge’s replacement, but generally commits to the mayors overall 10-year plan.

To help cover TransLink’s share of the capital costs of the mayors’ 10-year plan, the Mayors’ Council wants to implement a new development cost charge on new development to pay for public transit investments.

The Liberal Party has stated that it would support no new local taxes, levies or road pricing without putting the question to a referendum.

The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation is part of TransLink, and includes locally elected representatives of 21 municipalities within the TransLink region, as well as the Tsawwassen First Nation.

Only the Tsawwassen First Nation and the mayor of Delta have come out in support of the Liberals’ $3.5 billion George Massey Tunnel replacement pledge. The other mayors within the Mayors Council generally do not support that project.

nbennett@biv.com

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Some districts in the region are more overheated than others, according to the CMHC | Shutterstock

There is little evidence of overheating in the Vancouver census metropolitan area (CMA) as a whole, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, but some districts in the region are more overheated than others.

Overheating occurs when the demand for existing homes is significantly higher than the supply. Across the CMA, the sales-to-new listings ratio was 73%, which is slightly below the 75% threshold that would indicate overheating.

Some municipalities in the CMA are bucking the trend. Port Moody is the most overheated city in the region with a sales-to-new listings ratio of 87%. This is mostly being driven by apartment sales, with a ratio of 105%. Other overheated areas include Port Coquitlam (83%), Langley (86%) and Coquitlam and New Westminster (both 81%).

While the area as a whole is not overheated, homes in the CMA are definitely overvalued, the CMHC said.

“In other words, growth in fundamentals cannot fully explain the growth in home prices,” the association said in its report.

“Housing fundamentals have been strong for the Vancouver CMA; however, the overall numbers mask important details.”

The report comes just two days after RBC released the results of a study that found a housing crash in the area is unlikely in the near term because of strong employment growth. The CMHC agreed there has been higher-than-average employment growth, but tempered this by pointing out there has also been an increase in the share of part-time workers and a drop in average earnings.

As well, migration into the city has increased, which would seem like a driver of increased demand, but the CMHC argues this increase was driven by a jump in those aged 16-20 – not a group that is generally looking to buy homes.

ecrawford@biv.com

@EmmaHampelBIV

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Get ready for 'mother of all negotiations,' says Brian Mulroney

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney on free trade, softwood lumber and U.S-Canada relations
'There are days when the Americans make it difficult to have good relations with them' – Brian Mulroney | Photo: Steve Micolino

If the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been as disastrous for the American economy as U.S. President Donald Trump says it was, it should be cancelled, former prime minister Brian Mulroney said Tuesday at a speech at the Canadian Club of Vancouver.

But the trade and employment figures over the last 30 years show it hasn’t been, said Mulroney, who negotiated both the initial Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. and NAFTA with the U.S. and Mexico.

“NAFTA was good for us, it was good for Mexico and it was good for the United States,” he said April 25 in a speech on free trade, softwood lumber and Canada-U.S. relations.

“And if that were not the case, I would recommend (to) the United States or Mexico that they cancel it. Because unless a trilateral treaty is good for everybody, and they all feel it’s a value to them…then we shouldn’t force this on anybody.”

Mulroney’s speech came the day after the U.S. Department of Commerce levied countervailing duties on Canadian lumber products. Those duties, which range as high as 24%, will increase the price Americans pay for Canadian lumber. The U.S. Commerce Department is also considering levying anti-dumping duties on Canadian lumber producers.

Quoting Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz, Mulroney said, “Canada’s future prosperity faces no greater challenge than the winds of protectionism now swirling around the new U.S. administration,” and later said that “there are days when the Americans make it difficult to have good relations with them."

But the most immediate threat to the Canadian economy is not NAFTA, but softwood lumber duties, he said.

B.C. is most vulnerable to the duties, since B.C. accounts for more than half of all lumber exports from Canada to the U.S.

The U.S. Lumber Coalition argues – as it has in four prior softwood lumber disputes – that Canada subsidizes its softwood lumber industry through its Crown tenure system– a charge Mulroney pointed out has failed every time the dispute has been heard by international tribunals.

“It is not, as alleged, about subsidies in Canada,” he said. “It is really about restricting supply and increasing prices and profits for a few in the United States at the expense of home builders and potential homeowners.”

Unlike past disputes, negotiations around softwood lumber could get caught up in wider trade disputes, when Canadian and American negotiators sit down to renegotiate NAFTA this fall.

Trump has specifically targeted Canada’s lumber, dairy and, more recently, energy sectors as being unfairly subsidized.

Getting free trade deals with the U.S. is arguably Mulroney’s greatest legacy. NAFTA created a massive free trade region that includes 500 million people and a combined GDP of $20.7 trillion in 2015, he said.

“With less than 7% of the world’s population, NAFTA partners in 2015 represented 28% of the entire economic output of the world."

The benefits to Canada from free trade have been so obvious that successive governments have pursued other free trade agreements, the most notable one being the recently ratified Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

“That European deal is going to bring untold billions to Canada and create…tens of thousands of new jobs,” Mulroney said.

In Canada, free trade created 5.2 million net new jobs over the last three decades, Mulroney said, pushing national unemployment rates down from 11.4% in 1993 to 6.9% today.

The U.S. has likewise benefited from job growth, Mulroney insisted, contrary to Trump’s assertion it has cost American jobs.

“NAFTA is the best thing that ever happened to the United States of America,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that. There’s a guy there who disagrees with me.

“You can ask Mr. Trump sometime, when he’s talking about NAFTA: How in the name of the Lord did America’s unemployment rate go from 9% to 4% if NAFTA was crippling the economy?”

Mulroney said he expects negotiations with the U.S. when NAFTA is reopened to be tough.

“We're getting ready for the mother of all negotiations,” he said.

“They will have their list of demands and will not be shy about fighting for them. Canada will have its own list of demands. And with preparation, patience and traditional Canadian competence, I am persuaded that the team put together by Prime Minister Trudeau will do a top flight job for our country.”

nbennett@biv.com

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