Monday, September 21, 2009

Sudbury Greens Attend "Global Solidarity Rally"

(originally posted at

I, along with nominated candidate Fred Twilley, and a number of others from the Sudbury Federal Green Party Association, attended the "Global Solidarity Rally" in support of striking Vale Inco workers and to support bringing an end to the strike. The rally, organized by the United Steelworkers and Local 6500, brought together union leaders from around the world for what was billed as an international day of solidarity.

First, some quick background (which will not do justice to the situation on the ground here in Sudbury). The strike by Local 6500 against Brazilian-based employer Vale Inco, is now into its tenth week, and there is no end in sight. Bargaining is not taking place. The company has been murmuring about outsourcing mining work while the strike goes on, including to Vale Inco workers in another USW "inside" union. At present, mostly things have been quiet on the picket lines.

Now, you may think it strange that the Green Party was in attendance at rally in support of striking mining workers. First of all, supporting the labour movement, while it often meshes quite well with the green values we share, hasn’t really been at the top of our list of organizations to actively engage in. That’s largely because the labour movement in Canada is so indelibly tied to the NDP. There is often an assumption that there is little ground to be gained by Greens in reaching out to labour.

Second, the strike here in Sudbury is being carried out by striking miners. Why would the Green Party be looking to support anyone or anything connected with mining, whether its company or union? Doesn’t mining tend to destroy our environment, in the name of capitalist greed?
Well, it’s true that the mining industry in Canada has a lot of sorry examples to have to answer for when it comes to questions about its environmental track record. But the modern mining industry here in Canada is not the same as its ancestors, as workers, communities, governments and the industry have been moving forward to address many of the past’s inequities. Here in Sudbury, the mining industry has does much to revitalize our local ecology, through tree-planting efforts which have revitalized this City’s natural environment considerably. Yes, there is more work to be done, but things are at least heading in the right direction. The days of the Sudbury moonscape are long forgotten here in town. Improvements to the water quality of lakes and the health of local soils will be the next areas where focus will be needed.

This has come about because the industry has committed to doing what is right for the health of the community in which it operates, and where its workers largely live. Yes, it helps that the industry has been incredibly profitable during these times too. The good news is that there remain expectations that the mining industry will continue to do well here in Sudbury.
Greens in Sudbury are fully aware that the mining industry has a strong role to play in the health of the Canadian economy. This is why we support the continued growth of a sustainable mining much as an industry based on non-renewables can be sustainable over the long term. And since the mining and processing of minerals is going to be something which our society will continue to need over the long term, it only makes sense to continue to look at ways which are improvements over past processes.

Recently, we Greens in Sudbury have become increasingly concerned with what we’ve been hearing from the Harper Conservative government and Environment Minister Jim Prentice regarding the proposed cap-and-trade system. In a nutshell, we are very concerned that Alberta tar-sands industries are going to be given a pass on participation in cap-and-trade, either completely or through the use of sham "intensity-based targets", while other industrial sectors, including the mining sector, will be on the hook for decreasing their own emissions AND those which tar-sands industries would have otherwise have had to reduce. More about this issue later in another blog. Suffice it to say for now that we Greens in Sudbury recognize the social, economic and environmental benefits to our community members from our mining companies, worker’s unions, governments and other community builders.

What’s happening in Sudbury with this particular strike, though, is unlike any other mining strike this City has ever seen. How so? Well, you may recall that a few years ago, both Sudbury mining giants INCO and Falconbridge were snapped-up by bigger international giants; Falconbridge is now a part of Swiss-based Xstrata, while INCO was purchased by the Brazilian-based company now known as Vale Inco (pronounced "Vol-ley", not "vale"). The company recently announced profits from its Sudbury operation as being in the range of about $4 billion this past year.

Despite Industry Minister Tony Clement’s earlier comments that Sudbury was facing a "Valley of Death" had Vale not stepped up and purchased Inco, mining in Sudbury has been and continues to be a very profitable venture. Given this situation, clearly it makes sense for greedy unionists with seniority to continue to want more from their employer, and hit the picket lines to achieve higher wages at a time of higher profits.

Only that’s not what is happening. Despite record profits, Vale Inco wants to roll-back the clock on their workers, using the "recession" as political cover. Reduced pensions, wages, bonuses, medical coverage. It’s all about re-aligning its Sudbury operations so that they are better able to address the emerging economy.

And by "re-alignment", largely what the company appears to mean is that in comparison to its mining operations elsewhere on the planet, Sudbury miners have it pretty good, and before other miners elsewhere begin to organize and demand a little respect from their employer, it’s best to tear down the previous hard-won gains made here in Sudbury.

Look, going underground to make a living is dangerous job. I’m relieved to hear that safety has become an increasing priority of mining companies, because it wasn’t always that way. But even the "safest" underground mining environment poses credible threats to the health and well-being of anyone working underground. In part this is why Sudbury’s life-expectancy rate is one of the lowest in Ontario.

The "Nickel Bonus", which many Sudbury miners had enjoyed up until recently, was a concession agreed to by the old INCO and the Union, which saw the union share in the profits in good times, and take a hit when times weren’t so good. This was helpful to the company at the time, as the Bonus has been used in place of the wage increases which other industries, such as the auto sector, have traditionally relied upon. Therefore, real wages have not increased to the same degree for INCO workers, but with sky-high nickel prices a few years back leading to a hefty Nickel Bonus, workers did quite well. The mechanism has worked here in Sudbury in the past. So needless to say it’s item number one on the Company’s list of things which have to go the way of the dinosaur.

Although I currently belong to a union and have walked a picket line in the past, I’ve never considered myself a strong advocate for organized labour, even when I could see the clear value of collective bargaining. But even if I was a staunch anti-unionist, I think that if I critically looked at what is going on here in Sudbury, I would be appalled. Keep in mind that these resources, located in the ground in Ontario, are now controlled by a Brazilian-based company which has a pretty poor track record when it comes to looking after its employees, and the communities where they live. Their environmental track-record certainly hasn’t been up to snuff either. I’m very concerned about whether Vale Inco will continue to invest in improving our local environment in the same way that the former INCO did.

Sudbury is currently one hurting community. Recently, double-digit unemployment numbers were announced for the first time since the early 1980s, and we’re quite a bit above the provincial average. Given that striking miners are technically still on the job, the 3500 or so members of Local 6500 aren’t included in these unemployment numbers. Local mining supply services have already experienced the "wrath" of Brazilian-based Vale Inco, as contracts are awarded to international firms instead of the locals here in Sudbury, all in the name of cost-savings (and even when it’s not clear that any costs have actually been saved. Vale, like many companies, though, have pre-existing relationships with other businesses, and of course they’re going to prefer to take their business to those they know).

The fight here in Sudbury is one which we all need to be concerned about. The internationalization of our resource sector is not something which is on the minds of most Canadians, but the fact is our resource sector, along with the business community in general, has seen Canadian companies snapped up by international firms at an alarming rate under the Harper government. And while guarantees of net benefits for Canadians have always been promised, I’m not sure that we’re seeing much in the way of results in general. And I know we’re not seeing them here in Sudbury.

Greens, there are many reasons to be concerned about what is happening with the mining sector in Canada. While the NDP have historically been leaders in working hand in hand with the labour movement, on specific issues where Canadian workers are taking a hit as a result of global consolidation within certain sectors, we need to start paying attention. While the Canadian mining industry historically had a spotty record on dealing with the environment, things had started to turn around. And frankly, in comparison to most of the rest of the world, we had been doing much better. Companies concerned only about their economic bottom-line are frankly not in keeping with Canadian and Green values. Yet they are having increasing influence in the lives of Canadians to the detriment of our communities and natural environment.

And that’s why what’s happening here in Sudbury deserves your attention.

One last thing: all of the striking Local 6500 workers we spoke with expressed that they were very happy to see the Green Party at the Rally. Only Jack Layton, whose hand we shook on the way in, seemed less than enthusiastic with our presence there.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Are Jack Layton and the NDP Getting Ready to Sell Out Their Values in a Cynical Political Game?

(originally posted at

There are early rumblings from all corners that the NDP may be getting read to support Stephen Harper’s Conservative government from being defeated later this month, either through a vote on a ways and means bill currently scheduled for later this week, or later this month when the Liberals are likely to call for a vote on a confidence motion. It would come as a personal shock to me if Jack Layton and the NDP do not use one or both of these opportunities (particularly the confidence motion) to defeat the Harper government, given the NDP’s track record of opposing Stephen Harper at every opportunity. And quite rightly, I might add, particularly given the NDP’s ideology, which is completely out of synch with the Conservatives.

But there are signs that Jack may be willing to support Stephen Harper for a very, very low price indeed: EI Reform.

Now look, I’m not suggesting that EI reform isn’t an important issue, because it is, and certainly reform is needed. What I am suggesting is that the Conservative government of Canada remains a menace to the future of this nation, and that’s something that Jack Layton and I have agreed upon wholeheartedly...up until now. How on earth, I have to wonder, will Jack justify propping up the Conservatives at the price of EI reform, while ignoring the lack of action which Harper will be taking on so many issues which are of importance to Canadians?

Even just this past weekend, Layton laid down a number of items which would need to be addressed by Harper should the Conservatives look to the NDP for support on. The media and pundits alike universally panned this list, insisting that Conservatives would have no stomach for it. I wasn’t all that impressed with it either, as the calls for credit card reform and green job creation really seemed pretty wishy-washy to me. And that’s when I began to get nervous that the NDP was once again selling itself out for short term gains, just as they did when they helped defeat Paul Martin’s government.

Yes, for Jack Layton, it’s to be "politics as usual". He’ll prop up whichever party is in power to buy himself some time, because his own Party apparently isn’t ready to face the Canadian electorate, as they really have nothing new on offer. Sure, it’s true that Canadians don’t want another election, and I have to respect acceptable efforts where parties figure out ways to work with one another for the good of Canada. But the price the NDP may be settling on here is not in Canada’s interests, and really tells us all a lot about the NDP.

My main issue with the New Democratic Party is that the Party really stands for very little. They will bend in the slightest political wind, looking for political opportunity at every opportunity. They present their uncosted platforms with slick marketing, rather than with careful consideration. They look to fooling to electorate, rather than working for Canadians. They are not a party of action, but they are a party of results: results defined in the electoral success of their party.

(I’ll avoid a significant rant here on the NDP’s continuing desire to prop up the brown economy and refusing to walk the talk on the environment; please just take that as a given for now)

In short, this kind of thinking by the NDP, this political game-playing, led me to joining the Green Party, which, as far as I can gather, actually has some integrity and will stand up for what it believes in. Since we also don’t seem to possess the political acumen to play the sorts of political games the other party’s play at, I have high hopes that we Greens will never find ourselves in these same silly situations.

Look, I don’t want an election either. I sincerely hope that the other Parties figure a way to get their act together and actually get down to doing the job that we elected them to do, that being governing our nation. What I can not accept, however, are these cynical ploys by the NDP to pretend to be doing Canadians some good by propping up a government which they have claimed on so many past occasions to have irreconcilable differences with. And as I said, up until now, I’ve found myself in agreement with the NDP on this.

Jack Layton will pay a price within his own Party if he decides to lend his support to the Conservatives for such a low price. Sure, some Canadians will be relieved that we’ll have avoided another election (or at least put it off until February or so), but true NDP ideologues will realize that Jack’s support is simply a power play. Some might applaud because it will buy the NDP time to organize. But many, already disenchanted with the "politics as usual" tenor within the NDP will recognize this as a cynical political ploy.

The NDP can do better than this. If they can’t, or don’t, it will certainly be time for many of the NDP’s supporters to turn to a party which is focussed on taking action, rather than playing politics. It is time for them to vote Green.

Stephen Harper to Use "Sleight of Hand" to Sell Climate Plan

(originally posted at

I just wanted to take a moment to bring to your attention an excellent post from the Globe & Mail’s Andrew Steele, regarding how Stephen Harper will be positioning the Conservatives on the issue of combatting climate change in the near future. For Harper, clearly it’s going to be about obfuscation: tell the public one thing about the Cons' climate change plan, and hoping that by repeating the message, the Canadian public will ignore the reality.

The reality being, of course, that the Plan is (c)crap. And not even on the same level as the inadequate plan being put together south of the border.

Let’s not be suckered into thinking that the Cons will do much in the way of what’s needed to address the climate change crisis.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hedging My Bets: Why There May Not Be a Fall Election

(originally posted at

I’ve written extensively these past few weeks about why there is going to be a fall election this year. Because I like hedging my, here is a scenario for consideration, as to why there will NOT be an election this coming fall:

Polls show the Liberals are moving in the wrong direction; support appears to be starting to slip away as a result of all of the premature election talk we’ve been hearing. All of that support is migrating to the Conservatives. If next week’s polls show the Cons at 37-38%, and the Liberals down to 27-28%, will Ignatieff start to back-track? If so, just how will he do this?

Well...look at Iggy’s rhetoric. He largely has indicated that the Liberals will not support the Harper government. Sure, he says that it’s time for Harper to go. We’ve all sort of been looking at this as Iggy’s desire to defeat the government in a confidence vote and contest the prime ministership in a general election.

But what if the Liberals simply displayed a lack of support for the Harper government by sitting on their hands during confidence matters, such as the home repair tax credit vote coming up next week? What if the Liberals somehow figure out a way not to bring their own confidence motion in front of the house during the week of September 28th? All they might have to do is sit on their hands for the fall session of parliament, not supporting the Conservatives, but not bringing them down either. Might this mean that they’ll start seeing their polling number rise again, as it becomes evident that they’ve backed off with their calls for an election?

Iggy could politely suggest to the media that they've made too much of what he's had to say regarding his desire to see Harper defeated, and blame the media for the election hype. "Yes", he may say, "the Liberals are ready to fight an election, we don't want Harper in power, and we're not going to suppor thim. But that doesn't mean that we're going to actively work to defeat him."

I’m not sure that Ignatieff’s credibility could take that kind of hit. But, with his Party’s numbers sagging in the polls as a result of what the public is perceiving to be a meaningless call for an election, can his Party afford to take another hit a la Stephane Dion? Iggy will have to find some way to spin recent events. But better to spin the recent events than to suffer the wrath of an electorate that hands Harper a majority. That's the only losing circumstance for Iggy; in just about all other scenarios, including emerging from the election with the status quo anti bellum, Iggy emerges sitting pretty.

I believe that Ignatieff will still pull the trigger in late September, although he’s going to give us a scare next week when the home repair tax credit in the ways and means bill comes up for a vote and the whole Liberal caucus is caught sitting on their hands (and maybe the Bloc will support the Conservatives too, just to irk the Cons by having the separatists keep the government alive! All in favour get to vote first, so the Liberals could still vote against the ways and means bill if the Bloc decides to support it...if not, I bet that the Liberals will stay seated). Then, a motion of confidence will be tabled during the last week of September, the government defeated, and the Writ will drop on Sunday, October 4th, with November 9th being the election date. I’m sticking with this prediction for now.

But if the polls continue to show the Liberals merrily falling down, all bets are off, even my hedged ones.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Why There Will Be An Election This Fall: My Analysis (for what it's worth!)

(originally posted at

An election is imminent. It’s now in the interests of all four of the major parties, so it will happen. Whether Canadians want it to happen is immaterial. Here’s my analysis:

Conservatives: They see that the Liberals are stalled in the polls, and are looking for Ignatieff to suffer the people’s wrath, as he wears the responsibility for plunging the country into an election with all of his fiery rhetoric. Also, Ignatieff is imperiling the delivery of stimulus spending, especially if the Liberals vote against the home repair tax benefit schedule. Harper will be telling Canadians to give him a majority to thwart these arrogant Liberals.

Liberals: They have nothing to lose and everything to gain with an election call, and everything to lose and nothing to gain if they back down, yet again, from their rhetoric. The Liberals are counting on another minority government situation, hopefully (from their point of view), one which they will lead. Either a Conservative Minority or a Liberal Minority are completely within the realm of probability, given recent polling. In any event, the Liberals will gain seats, at the expense of the NDP in part. With a minority situation, it will be clear to Canadians, and more importantly to members of his own Party, that Harper can’t win a majority, so he will have to step aside either way; Harper won’t be able to fight another election as Conservative Leader, not unless he wins a majority. Another defeat of the NDP, with a retreating NDP seat count, will also spell the end of Layton. The only thing which might save Layton is if he enters into some sort of coalition with the Liberals. With Harper and Layton out of the way, Iggy will have positioned himself as the Senior Leader with a good seat count, and maybe even as the Prime Minister of a minority government. And he will fight the NEXT election for a majority.

NDP: Layton smells an opportunity to increase his numbers, as Canadians are clearly growing tired of the nonsense from the Liberals and Conservatives. This talk about Iggy and Harper being the flip sides of the same coin is starting to resonate with people, and he’ll be hoping to improve the NDP’s vote count on that basis alone: he’s neither Harper or Ignatieff. All he has to do is offer up some vague policy, likely small-ticket items like credit card and EI reform, and point to himself as an alternative. I really do predict that the NDP will gain in their percentage of the popular vote in a fall election; I’m just not sure that it will translate into more seats for the NDP. In fact, I don’t believe it will. Also, this would be a bizarre time for Jack to finally support the Conservatives, after all of those votes against the government. To stay true to his ideological roots (which, admittedly, have never been Jack’s big concern), he’s going to have to vote against the government again.

Bloc: Both the Liberals and Conservatives have stalled in Quebec. Duceppe would likely come out of what he sees as an inevitable election with an increased seat count. John Northey believes the Bloc might initially support the Conservatives in early September, and I think there’s merit to that, as Duceppe is wily enough to do just that. I mean, can you imagine the headlines in English Canada? "Bloc Saves Conservative Government!". But Duceppe knows that there’s no good reason to continue supporting Harper; he can smell the blood. And with Ignatieff stalled in Quebec too, well, why not bring it on now?

And the Green Party?

We could use another year to organize. An election right now is not in our interests, and we should be doing everything that we can to encourage the other Parties to "play nicely" and to move on with the work of actually governing. Instead, we’ve done nothing of the sort, having quietly disappeared from the mainstream media, but hopefully not from the public’s thinking.
Indeed, if we play our cards right, we could tap into some of that growing public disenchantment with the Conservative/Liberal dichotomy that Jack Layton is hoping will benefit his party. A strategic push to capitalize now on disenfranchised small "c" conservative and centrist voters is what we should be focussing on in the next campaign. In other words, we need to present ourselves as an environmentally conscious, progressive conservative party. I mean, heck, our Leader played a significant role in the last progressive conservative party with an environmental conscience of some sort in Canada.

If we’re going to increase our vote count, that’s what we have to do. But to do so, we’re going to have to figure out some way of convincing voters that we really don’t occupy the loopy left of the political spectrum, out there somewhere even beyond the NDP. That’s going to be a challenge. Can we pull it off? Depends on what our key messages are going to be, and how we execute the delivery of those messages.

Local campaigns are already going to be hampered by the fact that our Leader is going to have much less of a national profile during this election, and not just because it’s quite likely she will not be invited to participate in the Leadership debates. Mainstream media has largely written us all already, and with the focus of this election on Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal vs. Conservative story, it’s going to be very difficult for her to generate anything much in the way of national airtime. Also, given that our Leader will likely be "staying at home" much of this election, there will be few opportunities for Greens to build momentum outside of B.C. by having her come to town for rallies, etc., which we have in the past used to get our pictures in the papers. And finally, British Columbia is three hours behind Ontario, so campaigns here will be impacted by the timing of the newscycle. Unless she makes significant announcements before 11AM B.C. time, the Ontario Campaigns will not be able to take advantage, as any "significant" announcement is generally only good for the day it was announced during an election campaign. Extremely careful co-ordination between the national and local campaigns is going to be necessary.

So maybe start sending those letters to the editors, telling voters that the Green Party does not want an election at this time, as polls show Canadians have no desire for more of this nonsense. An election right now will occur only as a result of political game playing, not because it’s needed. Of course, we’ll be ready to fight when the time comes, sure, but right now the government has more important business to attend to, such as fixing the economy and getting ready for a Canadian position for Copenhagen. Why can’t those other parties just get along, for the good of the nation?

And that's my analysis, for what it's worth. Remember: I also predicted that the Vancouver Canucks were going to win the Stanley Cup last season (and loaded up on Canucks in my own hockey pool in anticipation). But I did predict that the sun would come up this past Tuesday morning, so I guess I'm batting .500

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

If Iggy and the Libs are Hot to Trot, Harper's Gov't Could Fall Week of September 14

(originally posted at

Why should Ignatieff wait for a scheduled vote of non-confidence the week of September 28th, when there is another confidence matter before the House during the first week of its return? If Ignatieff and the Liberals are so hot to trot to defeat the government, why not use the following opportunity, reported by CTV News, "Liberals will move to topple Harper government", which says:

"However, a vote on the ways and means portion of the budget is scheduled for one fo the first days after Parliament resumes on September 14, ... , which means the opposition could bring down the government at that time."

Greens, we are going to find ourselves in a fall election, possibly before the end of summer. We need to start forging ahead. EDA’s, get those candidates nominated. Central Party: get those candidates recruited in areas where there are no EDA’s.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Suicide Would Be Painless for Stephen Harper's Conservative Government - Get Ready For It

(originally posted at

Haven’t we seen this film before? A fall session of parliament is scheduled, and the opposition parties have signalled, in advance, that they’ll bring down the government at the first opportunity. In a pre-emptive strike, saying that parliament is not working so what’s the point of reconvening the house, the Prime Minister makes the trek to the GG and requests dissolution and a new election. The Liberals, NDP, Bloc and Greens are all caught with their pants down, and the only story worth reporting on for the first week and a half of the election is whether or not the Liberals are able to find an airplane to fly around in. Thus about 10-15 days of the 35 day campaign was lost to the opposition, leaving the Conservatives to control the flow of the campaign.

That was September, 2008.

Fast forward to September 1st, Sudbury: Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff makes his clearest signal yet that the Conservative government will be toast at the first opportunity (Time’s Up, Ignatieff Tells Harper, September 1, 2009, Sun Media).

Sure, Stephen Harper has been telling Canadians that the Conservatives don’t want to go to the polls, that the economy will suffer further if there’s an election. Sure, that’s what he’s been saying. But now that he knows that this next session of Parliament is doomed, wouldn’t it be irresponsible of him NOT to call an election? I mean, why bother with a month and a half more of having Canada poised on the brink of governmental collapse? Why not just get it over with now, and call an election?

It’s not like the Conservatives aren’t ready. The Pundit’s Guide reports that they have over half of their candidates already nominated, versus the Liberals with only 19%. If an election was called next week, most Liberal EDA’s would lose a week of campaigning just trying to find a warm body to move forward.

Of course, we Greens are at a dismal 10% when it comes to nominated candidates. But at least we’re ahead of the NDP, which has only 2%, according to the Pundit’s Guide.

In all seriousness, what does Harper have to lose? There may be a little backlash from the public about his calling an election, although it didn’t hurt him the last time he did it. Given that Ignatieff has stopped playing coy, really, what does Harper have to lose by facing the inevitable on his own terms?

Get ready for it.

Suicide, for the Conservative government right now, is painless. Let’s hope, though, that it might actually bring on many changes.