Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Green Party's Fred Twilley at COP-16 in Cancun, Mexico

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 16th Conference of the Parties (COP-16) is now underway in Cancun, Mexico! Sudbury’s own Fred Twilley, nominated candidate for the Green Party, will be attending this conference. He’ll be bringing an important message to other international attendees: despite the dismal actions of the Canadian government to do anything meaningful to combat climate change, average Canadians still care about finding a way forward.

Fred had the opportunity to speak with concerned Sudburians earlier this month at a non-partisan Climate Change Forum. At that forum, Fred committed to taking the important messages of Sudburians to other international delegates, to let them know that we in the community of Greater Sudbury care about climate change, and we too, are looking for workable solutions. Fred will be speaking with other delegates about local success stories which his counterparts might have experienced. Fred has committed to bringing their ideas back home to Sudbury, and sharing those experiences with Sudburians in January, 2011, at a follow-up forum.

There’s a lot happening here in Greater Sudbury with regards to tackling climate change. Earlier, in October, the first international association of the Citizens Climate Lobby was formed right here in Sudbury, thanks to the awesome efforts of Cathy Orlando of Laurentian University. Since then, at least two other Canadian associations have taken root. The Sudbury association has been participating in the Million Letter March – Canada initiative, which urges Canadians to write to our Members of Parliament with the message that we need to do more to combat climate change.

The Nickel District Conversation Authority-led Greater Sudbury Climate Change Consortium has also been actively meeting throughout the past year. Look to this organization to be involved in a few exciting ventures over the next year.

There has also been exciting news from our business community, with renewable energy initiatives being discussed, and with new renewable energy businesses locating in Greater Sudbury bringing green-collar jobs to our community.

Clearly, people in Greater Sudbury are becoming more aware of the impacts that a changing climate will have on our community. There’s a growing understanding that we need to take a very close look at many things in our personal lives, and try to figure out how we can do our part to minimize our impacts on climate. We understand that actions and efforts must be co-ordinated between all levels of government, and with all sectors of our business. Together, we can make real progress to reduce emissions, if there’s a will to do so.

And there is a will to do so, on a personal level. Last week, an Environics Research poll was released which shows that our Conservative government is considerably out of step with the will of a vast majority of Canadians on the need for urgent action on climate change. The poll reports that over 80% of Canadians believe that an emphasis on consumerism and economic growth is contributing to a changing climate. As a result, Canadians acknowledge that we must shift our economic, social and environmental priorities to deal with the climate crisis. 70% of Canadians even volunteered that Canada should reduce its military spending in an effort to tackle climate change.

Our Conservative government, however, continues to thwart the expressed will of a majority of Canadians at every opportunity. While Fred Twilley was hearing from concerned Sudburians at the December 16th Climate Change Forum, the unelected Conservative-dominated Senate was in the process of killing Bill C-311, the NDP sponsored, Liberal and Bloc supported Climate Change Accountability Act. Conservative Senators took this action to kill the bill without any debate, despite the fact that a majority of elected MP’s in the House of Commons passed the bill.

Further, in the past week, an increasing number of reports have come out in the mainstream media that our tax dollars are being used by the government to lobby against climate change policies and programs in United States and elsewhere! These shocking revelations, and the actions of Harper-appointed Conservative Senators, along with Canada’s sending a part-time Minister to COP-16 in Cancun, clearly represent a desire on the part of our government to do nothing at all to address climate change.

Personal and local actions are very important if we’re going to have any hope at all to reduce our carbon emissions. However, our upper levels of government must also be very committed to emissions reduction. So far, Harper and the Conservatives have chosen to champion inaction, claiming that Canada will be economically disadvantaged if it acted to reduce emissions on its own. This argument, however, doesn’t hold water. The proof that it’s a cop-out argument can be seen in the vibrant and growing economies of European nations like Sweden, Germany and Denmark, who have been “greening” their economies and growing highly-skilled jobs for workers. Indeed, these countries, along with South Korea and China, have begun exporting their green technologies abroad to places like Canada, who are now forced to play catch-up.

As our federal government continues to shore up the fossil fuel industry through billions of dollars in investments and deferred taxation every year, renewable energy initiatives have largely remained uncompetitive in Canada. It’s absurd that our Conservative government continues to subsidize rich oil companies, which are mostly foreign-owned, at the expense of green energy start-ups, which are in many cases home-grown initiatives, which seek to use technology developed right here in Canada. It’s no wonder that an increasing number of Canadians are beginning to question in just whose interests our government is making decisions.

I’ve received word that Fred Twilley has arrived safely in Cancun. As many of you know, travelling to by air is a very carbon-intensive form of transportation. That’s why the Sudbury Federal Green Party Association will be off-setting Fred’s air travel through a donation to the Kapuskasing Forest Project, a Carbon Zero project. While it may seem ironic to some that international leaders are travelling to Mexico by air, generating significant carbon emissions in the process, the fact is that gatherings like COP-16 are the best way for international agreements to move forward. They are a necessary step in achieving international consensus in dealing with climate change.

Like it or not, we are all in this together on Planet Earth; what one nation does with its carbon emissions is going to impact everyone else. Historically, we here in Canada have certainly contributed more than our fair share of emissions into our atmosphere, and we’ve received the economic benefits and an unparalleled quality of life for having done so. Today, per capita, Canada remains one of the dirtiest nations in the world when it comes to emissions. We must make a sincere contribution to do more in the fight against climate change. We owe it to our families, our descendants, and the world.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Climate Change: It's Happening. Let's Look for Solutions.

On June 4th, 2007, in Berlin, Germany, Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, called for an international consensus on climate change. Harper referred to the fight against climate change as “perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today.” Three and a half years later, the optimism that urgent action would be taken by the international community to combat climate change appears to have dissipated. In part this has happened as a result of the global economic downturn, and shifting of governmental focus on shoring up our moribund economies. However, certain pundits, politicians and special interests have used the economic downturn as an excuse to sabotage action on climate change in order to further their own agendas.

Since the release of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2001 Assessment Report, there has no longer been any doubt that global warming is happening, and that it’s happening as a result of human industrial activities. Today, there remain those who want you to believe that the jury is still out on the climate change verdict, or who insist that the science is faulty. Or worse, they want you to believe that the scientists involved in the United Nations international effort to collect data and gather facts to inform world leaders are somehow complicit in an effort to mislead humanity, presumably for their own, shadowy ends.

The facts, however, are as undeniable as they are conclusive: humanity, through our industrial-scale use of fossil fuels, is having an impact on global climate. We are heating our planet. And as a result, there will be impacts associated with a changing climate which we need to begin to address at all levels of society.

There remains an urgent need to take action to combat climate change. Those who refuse to believe in scientific fact have shown again and again that they have nothing to bring to the table in terms of finding solutions. Systematically, they are being shut out of serious debates and discussions regarding what the international community should do to address climate change. The leaders of all nations are currently in agreement that climate change is happening, and that something has to be done. Disagreement between nations, often considerable, tends to occur when the discussion turns to finding ways forward.

Being shut out of conversations can be extremely frustrating, and can provoke negative, sometimes hysterical, reactions. Right now, that’s what’s happening to climate change deniers. Those involved in the denial industry (who often receive financial backing from companies who profit from oil and coal exploration and development) have been actively campaigning in the media against action on climate change. Their tactics include either denying that climate change is happening, or confusing the issue so that there is some question regarding how it is happening.

Many have fallen victim to believing the junk-science offered by climate change deniers. Indeed, the mainstream media, in their efforts to bring “balance” to news stories, often provide the denial industry with a platform from which they can expound their junk scientific theories.

The truth, however, is that there is no balance needed to be brought to a story where the facts are not actually in dispute. While there are many aspects regarding climate change which rightly should generate significant discussion and debate (such as “how is the international community going to address this dire problem?”), none of us benefit from stepping back and re-arguing the scientific merits of a changing climate. In fact, such discussions merely detract from the serious and necessary discussions which must take place in the next few years at all levels.

This week, the international community is gathering in Cancun, Mexico, for the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP-16) signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Many in the media have already written off this latest round of international discussion, pointing to last year’s failure in Copenhagen, along with a growing lack of interest in many western nations to take actions which may be perceived as jeopardizing economic recovery.

Western nations, however, do not make up the bulk of participants at this international conference. Although western nations are overwhelmingly responsible for creating the problems facing the Earth’s climate in the first place (because of historic emission levels), it’s the developing nations which are feeling the most of the negative impacts of climate change today. For many years now, developing nations have been clamouring for meaningful action to address climate change. We can expect them to continue to do so in Cancun. The question is, will the West agree to necessary action?

Stephen Harper was right: climate change is perhaps the biggest threat to humanity’s future. Yet, there remain special interests out there, often in the employ of the fossil fuel industry, who are seeking to prevent action at every step, often by questioning whether climate change is happening. Well, It is happening. And a majority of Canadians are demanding that their government take this threat seriously. We understand that the cost of inaction will be vastly more expensive than the cost of reducing our emissions.

This week, Greater Sudbury’s own Fred Twilley, the Green Party’s nominated candidate for Sudbury, will be in Cancun attending COP-16. Fred will be providing a first-hand look at the international process underway in Mexico to find solutions to address climate change. Fred will be sharing his experiences and observations with Sudburians, and indeed, with all Canadians, through this blogsite. I hope that you are able to follow Fred over the next week and a half. Fred will be hosting a forum to share his thoughts with all those who are interested later in January, 2011.

In the meantime, I urge you to tune out the nonsense being offered by those who deny the existence of climate change, and focus instead on sensible solutions which can be implemented by our governments, businesses and individuals, in a collective effort to take necessary action to head off the anticipated serious effects of a changing climate. We must now be focussed on solutions to the very real problem of climate change. We can no longer allow our own limited resources of time and energy to be high-jacked by those who, for whatever reason, fail to believe that humanity is warming our global climate.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Facebook Wall Posts, Part V

Another edition of my latest Facebook Wall Posts. Enjoy!


Who Stands on Guard for Democracy in Canada?

Op-Ed published in the Victoria Times-Colonist, from Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May regarding the use of parliamentary powers by the Conservative government which thwart democratic conventions and principles. This is a great summation of how things are continuing to trend in a lousy direction for those concerned with the health of democracy in Canada. I'm actually worried what might happen if the Conservatives don't form the next government. Will they use their Senate majority to continue to block bills, including those championed by the government (but opposed by Conservatives)? Honestly, I think it's quite likely. Harper has seized on parliamentary tools to advance his ideologically-motivated causes. Prorogation of parliament in the face of a confidence vote; stacking budget bills with environmental legislation which has no place in a budge bill, knowing that the opposition wouldn't have the courage to oppose him on a confidence matter; and now using the unelected Senate to do something he was powerless to do in the Commons (because his Party does not command a majority -- either of seats or of votes from Canadians). These tools exist, sure; but there's a reason that others haven't used them to achieve their own ends. The reason: it all bodes ill for democracy, and the health of our democratic processes used to be something all political parties took seriously. Clearly, that's no longer the case.


Your Tax Dollars At Work in Other Countries: Lobbying Against Protecting the Environment

We know that the Conservative Government has been doing duck all to deal with the tar sands envrionmental track record (save and except for burying $300 million in the ground in the most expensive carbon reduction strategy ever proposed anywhere on earth, a.k.a. "carbon capture and storage"). What you might not know is that our government has been actively campaigning in other nations for policies which discourage environmental protection measures. What on Earth? Well, seems that the Conservatives are starting to get a little concerned that some nations might be ready to slap a premium or tariff on dirty oil from the tar sands. Environmental tariffs could be a tool used by other nations, perhaps under international agreements, to help reduce overall global emissions. Canada, of course, is trying to undermine any sort of global agreement to combat climate change. So, our tax dollars are being spent in other countries to lobby their governments to be as dirty as we are. What a wonderful thing for Canada to be doing in this time of "bare cupboards" (Finance Minister's Jim Flaherty's term for interest groups and opposition parties which might be thinking that there is money around somewhere for pet projects to be funded with. Hmmm…I guess it's ok to fund those pet projects when they agree with the ruling Party's ideology. I guess the major international tar sands producers somehow aren't a special interest too, again based on ideology, and not on fact).


Conservatives "Out of Touch" with Canadians on the Need for Climate Change Action: The Surprise Is Just How Out of Touch They Are

Wow. This article reports on some fascinating polling figures from Environics Research, regarding just how far the Canadian public wants to go in the battle against climate change. Some highlights: 85% indicate that climate change should be tackled by industrialized countries. 70% would agree with redirecting military spending in Canada towards emissions reductions. The poll concludes that our Conservative government is vastly out of step with average Canadians when it comes to climate change. No big surprise to hear that, but these numbers were a surprise. I've not investigated the methodology behind this poll, but I'm taking the numbers with a grain of salt right now (was the poll conducted entirely online? Those kind of polls tend to favour results which are championed by younger Canadians, and action on climate change would certainly fall into that category). If anyone knows more about this poll, feel free to enlighten me through the Comments.


Good News from the Cons? Don't Count On It.

Some good news from the Conservatives for a change? I'm not holding my breath, but here's an interesting article which suggests that the Conservative government, through Natural Resources Canada, might be working towards a national renewable energy plan. Of course, it's all very hush-hush. I wouldn't expect such a plan to just address renewables, though. Likely it will feature Carbon Capture and Storage, the most expensive of all proposed schemes to reduce carbon from the atmosphere, as a centre piece of any plan. This article refers to the need to begin pricing carbon, and identifies the most efficient way of doing so through the use of a carbon tax. As long as such a tax, if passed on to the consumer (which would be the likely outcome) is offset by reducing our other taxes (such as income taxes), that would make sense to me. But I don't think Harper is going to flirt with the notion of reducing my personal income taxes. He'd rather reduce corporate taxes for his big-business buddies, all in the name of investing in innovation. That seemed like a good idea in Ireland, too, up until recently (Ireland has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the industrial world, which may have contributed to their Celtic Tiger success story -- and certainly has contributed to the bare coffers which have now necessitated Ireland to go cap in hand to the EU and the IMF for a $100 million bank bail-out). While any sort of national energy plan would be better than what we have right now, one that doesn't put a price on carbon won't be much of an improvement over nothing. Given the massive government subsidies provided to the oil industry by Canada, it's time to put the focus where it belongs: on renewables, and the need to disinvest from dirty energy production.


Resource Scarcity and Our Economic System: Time to Head for the Hills?

An axcellent article from Jeff Berg, founder and Vice Chair of Post Carbon Toronto. Berg discusses resource scarcity and how the next centure is going to define itself in the post-fossil fuel age. Although he reiterates ideas we all are all likely aware of, he does so with an economic bent which makes for good, if ch...allenging reading. His analysis as to why it's going to be very difficult, if not well nigh impossible, to steer the global sheep in the direction it needs to go, is very well done. Those darn "sunk investments" are going to be a problem which likely won't be overcome, that's for sure. Although Berg doesn't quite say where all of this will leave us, the answer appears to be pretty obvious. He laments that we've known about this predicament for years, and explains why we've continued to do business as usual despite this knowledge. His certainty that business will continue to be carried on as usual, even in the face of the kicking and screaming masses, is food for some very problematic thought.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Bad Day for Democracy in Canada: Senate Kills Bill C-311

Apparently, as Fred Twilley, nominated candidate for the Green Party here in Sudbury, was hosting a forum on the United Nations and Climate Change last night, our unelected Senate, stacked with Conservative Party partisans, voted to kill Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act. Fred and I were at ReThink Green last night, discussing climate change issues with Sudburians in advance of Fred's attendance at the United Nation's COP-16 conference being held in Cancun later this month. We heard some very passionate words from members of our community regarding the urgent need for governments at all levels to take action to fight climate change. Upon waking up this morning, and checking my Facebook news feed, what I read about the Senate's actions last night hit me like a slap in the face.

Here's a pretty article from today's Globe & Mail which explains the nonsense which went on in the Senate last night, as well as the reaction of NDP Leader Jack Layton, whose party has been trying to turn this bill into law since 2006.

It's kind of hard to argue that the Senate remains the "chamber of sober second thought" when they kill a bill passed by parliament without any debate. And this wasn't just any bill. This was the very first bill passed by a democratic nation which established greenhouse gas emissions targets for a period beyond that mandated by the Kyoto Protocol. Indeed, Bill C-311, passed by our elected officials in parliament, established that Canada would commit to reducing emissions by 25% from a 1990 baseline by the year 2020 (in contrast to the Conservative Party's stated goal of "reducing" emissions by +3% above 1990 levels by 2020, which they use weasle words to describe as a 17% reduction from a 2005 baseline, a baseline which on the United States uses, and not the rest of the international community. 1990 was the one which was established by Kyoto, and which is used everywhere else in the world). Bill C-311, introduced by the NDP, and supported by the Liberals and the Bloc, was truly a first in the world, and would have gone some to show that Canada is serious about fighting climate change.

I've been a bit of a critic of the Bill as I continue to believe that establishing targets without any sense of a plan to actually achieve those targets is largely just a political exercise. I've yet to see the NDP, Liberals or Bloc come up with the genesis of a plan to get us to the 25% reduction target by 2020, and frankly, short of economic collapse, I can't see how we would ever get there. Nonetheless, Bill C-311 was a start, and I acknowledge that its demise last night is a blow in the fight against climate change.

And now our unelected Senators have killed our Parliament's bill without any discussion. This situation is just absurd. We elect parliamentarians to represent our interests, and that's presumably what happened when parliament passed Bill C-311. What good is a Senate which can betray our elected representatives in such a way, and betray Canadians in the process? There was considerable debate in parliament before Bill C-311 was adopted; in the Senate, none at all.

For quite some time now, I've advocated for the abolition of the Senate at the federal level of government. Our provincial governments do not have equivalent upper houses. It's always been unclear to me what value the Senate adds to the legislative process, except to perhaps stand in the way of legislation adopted by political parties which don't also have majorities in the Senate. However, it was interesting to read in the G&M article that the use of a majority last night to actually kill a bill approved by the House might be a first for Canada.

What happened with Bill C-311 isn't right, despite the Bill's obvious flaws, and despite the government's expressed intention that it wouldn't implement the Bill anyway (keep in mind that the current government might not be the government for that much longer, yet a Bill, once it becomes law, stays on the books until it is amended or remvoed; usually that's a longer shelf life than a government has). It's a setback in the fight against climate change, and it's a significant setback for democracy here in Canada. Keep in mind that these Senators are appointed for life. That means even if the other parties figure out some way to form government after the next election, their bills might still end up lining bird cages as a result of political and ideological differences with unelected Conservative Senators. And isn't that a great message to tell voters before they cast their ballots: your vote doesn't matter in Canada any more, because unelected Senators will likely kill any initiative they don't agree with.

Here's a copy of a letter to the editor of the Sudbury Star that I just sent off. Please feel free to steal liberally from it and write your own letters to the media. Even if you don't believe that anthropogenic climate change is a threat to the world, and to Canada in particular, you probably believe that having unelected individuals over-ride the decisions of democratically elected Members of Parliament is just plain wrong.


Unelected Senate thwarts will of elected MP's

On the eve of international climate change talks scheduled to take place in Cancun later this month, our unelected Senate has just voted to kill Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act. Bill C-311, approved by our elected Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, would have established meaningful greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for Canadians, and would have gone a long way to show that Canada is a serious contender in the fight against climate change.

After packing the Senate with hand-picked Conservatives, Stephen Harper, who has opposed any meaningful action on climate change, can chalk up yet another victory for his efforts to do nothing. The so-called “chamber of sober, second thought” called for a snap vote on Bill C-311, and without any debate, voted to kill the Bill outright, thwarting the expressed will of our elected representatives in the process.

This recent vote by the unelected Senate to overturn the expressed will of our elected Members of Parliament bodes ill for any and all future efforts to tackle some of the significant issues facing Canadians today, including climate change. If the unelected Senate is going to play partisan politics with bills passed by the elected House of Commons, we can expect to see more important bills bite the dust for ideological reasons. This is a bad situation for the majority of Canadians who desire our government to take meaningful action on climate change; it’s even worse for those who are concerned about democracy in this country.

Steve May
CEO, Sudbury Federal Green Party Association


Addendum: It looks like the Conservatives are now claiming that they weren't responsible for killing the Bill, and that it was instead the Liberals who called the vote. Read this interesting piece from Gloria Galloway at the Globe & Mail for more information. This is truly bizarre, if it's to be believed. Hansard's official transcript is actually vague on who called the vote. The Liberals, however, maintain that on the audio copy of the proceedings, it's clear that the Conservatives called the vote, and apparently they'll be going to Hansard to have the record corrected.

Does mean that unelected Conservative Senators not only killed a bill passed by the House of Commons, and are now lying about having been responsible for doing so? Fact is, it doesn't matter who called for the vote (although that's interesting): the Conservative Senators all voted to defeat the Bill, despite it having been approved by the lower House!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Afghanistan, Nick Clegg, the Red/Blue Coalition & Norman Spector

Norman Spector makes some interesting observations about Conservative-Liberal collusion regarding the war in Afghanistan. He reviews some of the political history behind Canada's war effort and concludes that our Conservative and Liberal leaders have tried and succeeded to keep the decisions they've made regarding the war out of the light of public scrutiny. Not only has secrecy prevailed, but public statements made by our Leaders has amounted to little more than lieing. Now Stephen Harper wants to backtrack on his commitment to bring our troops home in 2011. Spector, and indeed the Globe & Mail, are calling Harper out on this notion that Canadian troops are going to play a "training" role only, safe and secure behind barbed wire fences, leading to a significant reduction in casualties. This despite the fact that Afghan forces have been at war almost constantly since 1979 and likely need little in the way of training from Canadian soldiers.

What's interesting about Spector's blogpost is that he doesn't stay in Afghanistan. He contrasts the current Conservative/Liberal collusion of secrecy with what's recently happened in the U.K. with regards to Nick Clegg's complete 180 degree change of heart on student tuition fees. Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats campaigned on eliminating tuition, and who signed a pledge to do so while trying to get students to vote for his Party, is now saying that tuition fees in the U.K. need to rise by a staggering 9,000 pounds (approx. $14,000) per year! Decisions like Cleggs, to completely reverse ones self, might spell his Party's political demise come the next election. Unlike the ruling Conservative/Liberal coalition in Canada, however, the situation in the U.K. for Liberal Democrats is a precarious one. While Canadians continue to let our politicians off the hook with their secrecy, subterfuge and lying, because this is happening mainly in the two ruling parties, the Lib-Dems in the U.K. can hardly an entrenched party. I suspect that Clegg and the Lib-Dems will be villified at the polls in the next election for their role in austerity measures which they opposed while campaigning. Essentially, by promising one thing and doing another, the Lib-Dems will be toast. Perhaps something could still be salvaged if they eventually step out of their formal coalition with the Cons, or perhaps with a change in leadership.

In Canada, we can only hope that the electorate wants to punish the ruling coaltion. Opinion polls here, however, show it's not likely to happen. That's because in Canada, the media continues to portray third parties as not ready for prime time (much as it did in Britain by ignoring the Lib-Dems, who are now a part of government…having said that, their recent actions, as noted above, may be an argument for not taking that Party seriously any longer).

What the media fails to acknowledge, however, is how the Liberals have continued to prop up the Conservative government in what can only be described as a coaltion situation. While not a formal partnership as exists in Britain, there's no question that without the support of the Liberals in parliament, the Conservatives would not have been able to succeed with their new initiatives. By putting important legislation in budget bills (even when that legislation has no business being in a budget bill) and daring the Liberals to vote them down, the Liberals have responded with their support, and claim that they were forced to do so because Canadians haven't been ready for an election. This charade continues.

It's good to see Spector and the Globe & Mail starting to call out the Red/Blue coalition on Afghanistan. Maybe this will prove to be the start of a bigger trend. Recent polling from earlier in the week show the NDP's numbers starting to rise (this week's EKOS poll has them at over 19%). The NDP have always taken a dramatically different approach to Afghanistan than the Liberals and Conservatives have. I believe that they may be able to use Liberal/Conservative backtracking as a wedge issue to increase their support, as a majority of Canadians now are in opposition to the war, and have been looking forward to bringing our troops home in 2011.

Despite polling which shows voter complacency here in Canada, I really think that Canadians are going to have an adverse reaction to the Red/Blue coalitions collusion on Afghanistan. There is already a pervasive sense out there that politicians who say one thing and do another (like Clegg; and now, like Harper, McKay, Ignatieff and Rae) should be ousted. Can the NDP, Bloc and Green Party capitalize on this growing dissent? That's the question. I believe that the answer is likely to be "yes", and expect to see some changes in the polls over the next few weeks, especially if the mainstream media remains engaged on this issue.

The NDP, however, if they are to enter into any formal coalition agreement with the Liberals, would best keep in mind Nick Clegg and the Lib-Dems. The Green Party, if we are to win any seats in the House in the next election, should carefully consider all options before making any pronouncements, even if it finds itself in a balance of power situation as the Greens recently did in Australia.

Greater Sudbury's Electronic Voting Machines: Not Nearly as Good as a Lottery Kiosk

I was initially very surprised to hear that Ward 10 candidate for Council, Fern Cormier, pulled the plug on his own request to Council for a recount of the October 25th municipal vote. I was surprised becausse, with a margin of only 5 votes separating him from Councillor Frances Caldarelli, a recount seemed to me to be a good idea. I was surprised because even Frances Caldarelli went on record acknowledging that a recount made sense. Check out this excellent editorial in the Sudbury Star for more information on what went wrong)

Turns out Cormier doesn't think a recount is a sensible thing to do after all, based on some information which he likely didn't have when he initially requested the recount. Cormier, in withdrawing his recount request, is showing his true class, as well as his concern for the community. It really appears that a recount would not have changed the outcome at all, given that the recount of ballots would be conducted in the same way as the ballots were originally cast. In our municipal election, ballots are fed into a computer and counted…or not counted, depending on whether or not the line drawn by voters connected two other line segments appropriately. Unlike with provincial and federal election ballots, where voters place an "x" or checkmark next to someone's name, and votes are counted by hand, Greater Sudbury's election was decided by a computer.

Does it seem perverse to anyone else that a computer is really the one deciding whether a ballot should count or not, which leads to Cormier's loss by 5 votes? No one is suggesting that the computer was anything but impartial; that's not the point. The point is that no human was or would be available to take a closer look at ballots in an effort to determine whether a voter's intent was clearly indicated on the ballot (perhaps through a line of less-than-ideal thickness). Apparently, the computer rejected over 160 ballots; while some were undoubtedly spoiled purposefully, we'll never know the reasons other ballots did not register. No human will ever assess these ballots. And that's apparently all perfectly legal and frankly the way it's supposed to be.

So, here we are: we have a new (returning) Councilor in Ward 10, whose entire term on Council now is going to be spent under a cloud, because the truth is, we'll never really ever get to know if the majority of ballots cast added up in her favour. We only know that the ballots a computer was able to count gave her 5 more than it gave her nearest competitor.

When we tell voters to get out to vote, because every ballot counts, and then we have a computer rejecting dozens of ballots (with no opportunity for a voter to go back and re-mark their ballots correctly, which any lottery terminal kiosk would have us do if we didn't press heavily enough with our pencils), what does this say about our democracy?

I think this latest episode in Ward 10 makes a mockery of our electoral process. Frankly, it's time to get rid of the voting machines, and return to hand-counted ballots, which can be questioned by scrutineers. What are the reasons for using voting machines in the first place? So that results can be had that much more quickly on election night? To avoid contested ballots through the scrutineering process? If the former, well, I don't think an extra hour's worth of our time is going to negatively impact our democratic processes; if the latter, I wonder how many votes actually get changed in recounts where hand-counted ballots are challenged? Would it be the same percentage, higher or lower than those 160 or so ballots rejected by voting machines?

Greater Sudbury residents deserve better. Our votes are matter more than playing the 6/49. If marks are made on a ballot which the machine can't read, a voter should be informed. Better yet: it's time to ditch these machines.

Fern Cormier didn't have much of a choice but to opt out the recount process. The long and short of it is both he and Councillor Caldarelli both got screwed here, although Cormier perhaps a little more so. At least both Cormier and Caldarelli have come out of this electoral fiasco looking good, holding their heads high. Way to go, Fern & Fran!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Facebook Wall Posts, Part IV

Here are the latest posts that I've made to my Facebook Wall. Some excellent links for the studious in this series.


The Transformation of the Right-Wing From Small-Government Hawks to Big Government Spenders

Wow. This one blew me away. Yes, it's rather long, but for anyone interested in our left-right political paradigm, I encourage you to read it. It's jam-packed with the kind of history from which sense of our own world can more easily be made. Author Murray Rothbard wrote this in 1968. In this article, he discusses the rise of a new brand of right-winger, which he labels "conservative". He explains that the term "conservative" had previously been used as a perjorative, and that small-government right-wingers like himself would have never associated with this idea. To Rothbard, "conservatives" are all for big governments and big monetary interventions. He describes this shift away from small-government, limited intervention libertarianism (which went hand in hand with isolationism) towards interventionism for right-wing causes as a result of American imperial ambitions and specifically fighting communism during the Cold War. Some questions that occurred to me, if the Cold War is over, why does the right-wing continue to demand intervention (and I suspect that the answer has to do with having found new enemies in the War on Terror - but that's only part of the answer - a better answer would be because the U.S. has become dependent on imperialism for economic growth). In today's political environment, I often have a hard time remembering that there was a time in the United States when right-wingers believed in smaller government and smaller government spending. Today, although "conservatives" like to preach about the need for smaller government, they've done everything that they can to increase the size of government and massively raise government spending, often by using deficit financing. As a result, we have ballooning national debts. Our spending has been financed on the backs of the next generation, and that's just not right, particularly since the benefit which the next generation will derive from our spending decisions has become questionable. Rothbard reminds us that things didn't have to be this way for right-wingers. He also offers an interesting take on "socialism" as being much more centric than many of us think of it as being. If you have the time, give this link a go.


Intervening in Systems - Finding the Right Places for Change

This is quite a lengthy article, but I thought that it was worth sharing. The author outlines 9 different areas in systems where intervention can achieve change. She refers to these areas as "leverage points". What I like about this article is that she explains some really technical ideas about how systems operate in a way that made sense to me. Her use of examples was particularly helpful. Also, she prioritizes the "leverage points" and comes to some interesting conclusions about where real efforts should be focused for more significant change. In her analysis, intervening on the "numbers" is probably the least significant point to foment change. "Numbers" includes monetary inputs. The biggest bang for your buck is achieved by shifting the paradigm in which a system operates. While certainly not easy to do, that's where the most benefit is going to be had; and sometimes, paradigmn shifts can occur a lot more quickly than we think possible. Check this post out if you have some time, and maybe you'll have your own paradigm shifted, and it won't cost you much.


War Veterans as Anti-Tax Political Props

A great post from Ottawa-Vanier nominated candidate for the Green Party of Ontario (and Facebook friend-of-mine), Dave Bagler. Dave is absolutely right that the Ontario NDP continues to engage in the politics of cynicism by using war veterans as a prop for their anti-HST stance. In this specific case, the provincial NDP appears to be calling for a narrow policy proposal to remove HST on poppies. Our war veterans aren't political props, to be trotted out at November 11th. Their sacrifice to this nation of ours is significant to the point that it can't be understated. By thrusting forward those who fought for our nation as a prop in the NDP's ongoing battle against the HST, Andrea Horwath and the provincial NDP cynically want us to equate the sacrifices our veterans made for Canada with a tax grab. The NDP seem to be willing to stoop to the lowest of levels in their quest for votes. Do check out Dave Bagler's blog, as he says all of this so much more eloquently than I do.


The Triangle Girl Retold

Congratulations to local film maker Taryn Green for claiming first prize in the Filmpossible contest, where entrants brought "disability to visibility" through film. A vigorous social media effort was used to promote Green's wonderful and personal production, "The Triangle Girl Retold". Way to go, Taryn, for your bra...ve and bold film-making. You continue to do the Sudbury community proud.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Excitement and Opportunity in Sudbury: the Downtown Master Plan Process Begins!

I had the pleasure last night to attend a consultation session for the City of Greater Sudbury’s Downtown Master Plan. This session, titled “Speak Up, Sudbury!” was hosted by the City’s Planning Department, and facilitated by Senior Planner Jason Ferrigan. Joe Berridge, principle of Urban Strategies, a Toronto-based urban planning consulting firm, was on hand to discuss the development of the Plan, speak to his perceptions of the opportunities and challenges which downtown development is facing, and to hear feedback from members of the public. If you’re interested in community planning at all, there’s a good chance that you will have attended a public meeting similar to the one I attended last night.

Only…this wasn’t your typical public meeting. First off, there was an incredible sense of excitement in the air. Maybe that had to do with some of the really interesting and intriguing visuals Urban Strategies brought out to the session. Or maybe it was the slideshow of pictures of the good and bad of downtown Sudbury. I believe, though, it had a lot to do with some of the interesting ways in which the City is going to be reaching out for the public’s input.

In fact, conversations about Sudbury’s downtown started before this event. Sure, the Urban Strategies team had already apparently talked with some of the downtown merchants, and received their feedback. Beyond those conversations, though, things have been happening through social media. The City has developed a Facebook page, on which discussions, suggestions, opinions are all being expressed about our downtown. This lively conversation already taking place really fuelled last night’s consultation session.

And then there were the numbers. The Sudbury Star, which covered the meeting last night along with other local media, estimated the turn out at being approximately 200 people. This for a meeting about urban planning. Impressive. (Aside: here’s a link to the Sudbury Star’s article on last night’s session. As expected, those who disparage the downtown are out in full force on the Star’s website. That discourages me, but I’m not surprised. I believe, though, that these negative-thinkers are in the minority here in my community).

The consultation session kicked off with guitar music in French and English, provided by my Facebook friend (and colleague at work), Edouard Landry. This was followed by a few presentations from local Sudburians regarding what the downtown meant to them. By the time Joe Berridge stepped up to the microphone to explain the specifics of the Plan, to share his opinion with the crowd, the evening was well underway.

I have to emphasize what an absolute success this approach to community consultation has been so far, and to express my optimism regarding future opportunities for public engagement. The use of social media, in particular, is something which I hope the City of Greater Sudbury continues to pursue for other forms of consultation. Many people in my community wouldn’t dream of coming out to a 3 hour meeting (even one as dynamic as last night’s). These people, however, have the opportunity to engage the process through social media, including Facebook and a blogsite. There is an incredible opportunity for the City here, in terms of carrying on a conversation about Sudbury’s downtown.

Joe Berridge spoke about the need for the Master Plan to set realistic goals for the 10 year life of the plan. He explained that there are some opportunities which we already know about, including the lifespan of the downtown library coming to an end, the possible need for a new arena, and the eventual opening of the Northern Ontario School of Architecture. While dreaming big should never be discouraged, ultimately the Plan being prepared will be a plan based on our current reality, with concrete goals and targets which can be implemented. As an example, Berridge was clear that the relocation of the rail lands will not be considered by the Plan.

Berridge then took the audience on a walking tour of the downtown, showing us the good, followed by the not-so-good and sometimes quite bad. What was clear in the minds of all in attendance, though, was the considerable opportunity which our downtown has to continue to build on its successes. While there are people in my City who are not at all interested in the downtown, and who avoid it as much as they can, there are many others who believe that the downtown is worth our attention. I’m one of those, and I’m pretty sure that everyone else out to last night’s meeting can be numbered amongst the downtown’s supporters.

Over 9,000 people work in Sudbury’s downtown, yet only about 500 people live here. Berridge was clear: that has to change. The good news is, according to Berridge, that opportunities exist for people to live downtown which won’t lead to gentrification. Part of last night’s discussion focussed on poverty and homelessness, and some concerns were raised when Berridge described a type of downtown living which Sudbury may wish to consider aiming for, that being residential condominium development for middle-income earners. Currently, there are few units available downtown for young professionals. Berridge was able to clarify, though, that this doesn’t mean that low-income earners will no longer have a place downtown; instead, he was very clear that Sudbury’s downtown has to be a place for everyone.

There are going to be a number of challenges for the development of the Downtown Master Plan, some of which have to do with competing visions of what the downtown should be. Other challenges will deal more with specific downtown locations. I’d like to just take a moment to look at the competing visions first.

The biggest competition in our community is clearly going to have to do with parking. Currently, within the City, there are competing perceptions that there is either too much or too little parking for the downtown. A lack of parking is often sited by opponents of the downtown as a reason why they won’t travel to or stop and shop in the downtown. Some business owners as well believe that a lack of parking is interfering with the operation of their business, as what parking does exist can be expensive (particularly surface lots and garages), and cheaper metered parking is often difficult to find during the day.

Others look at the downtown core and see buildings interspersed with surface parking on an almost 1:1 ratio. They despair that yet more buildings may be knocked down to put up parking lots. All of this surface parking creates physical holes throughout the downtown, leading to less friendly circumstances for pedestrians. The profligacy of parking downtown is seen as yet another example of catering to the rampant “car culture” which exists in this City to the exclusion of all other forms of transportation.

Clearly, parking is going to be an issue for the development of the Master Plan, and figuring out a balanced approach to this issue is going to inform the direction of the Plan in many ways.

I believe that our community must begin adjusting its attitude towards accommodating cars at the expense of other forms of transportation. While I don’t see cars disappearing from our roads in considerable numbers over the next 10 years, I firmly believe that fewer people living in my community will be vehicle owners than we have today. I believe this because I know that peak oil is coming, and my community will be impacted by rising energy prices as a result. This doesn’t mean that I just think that people will be opting to take the bus to work rather than the car, due to increased price. While that’s a part of my expectation for the future, I also believe that with rising energy prices, there will be fewer of us per capita who have work to go to at all. I am very concerned about unemployment and the City’s economic outlook in the face of the end of cheap oil. And I sincerely hope that these viewpoints inform the Master Plan process.

To me, that means there needs to be a specific transportation focus for the Plan, one which puts vehicular transportation on the same level as transit, pedestrian walkways and, wait for it: cycling. Currently, we have a woeful amount of on-street cycling infrastructure in our City. This despite the incredible spending which has taken place through economic stimulus programs over the past two years. Major roads have been upgraded and resurfaced, yet there has been little benefit for cyclists. Indeed, in some case, there have been steps backward for the creation of safe cycling opportunities on our roadways.

One thing which surprised me about Berridge’s virtual walking tour had to do with that part of the tour where Berridge travelled across Paris Street, to explore those sections of Cedar and Larch to the east of Paris. I often forget that those areas too are part of our downtown. I, like many Sudburians I’m sure, have a bit of a mental block about this part of the downtown, due to the very physical barrier which is created by a 7-lane Paris Street. Unlike the rail lands, which are a true, hard edge which defines the extent of the downtown, Paris is merely a physical barrier, one which can be bridged, but reluctantly so. Whereas the Downtown Master Plan will not be looking beyond the hard edge of the rail lands, Paris Street should be considered fair game. We must do something about Paris, even though we’ve just spent all of this money to get where we are today. Synchronization of traffic signals, morning-evening designation of centre lanes for traffic flow (complimented by median removal) could lead to an opportunity to reduce the number of lanes by one or even two, thus allowing the creation of on-street cycling infrastructure through the downtown Paris-Notre Dame corridor. That’s what we need to start thinking about in terms of methods to accommodate all forms of transportation.

Some of the specific locations in the downtown which the Plan is going to have to address include Market Square, the outdoor portion of Tom Davies Square (the most under-used, valuable piece of real estate in the City), the Arena, and the surface parking lots east of Lisgar. There are great opportunities for residential development in these areas, which would compliment development proposals currently in the works for lands located to the southeast of the Paris/Brady intersection. Indeed, this part of the downtown has the potential for becoming a major residential hub. And it’s well-served by access to major streets for cars too!

Of course, that area of downtown is one which currently is identified as being problematic, for a number of reasons related to poverty. Indeed, the issue of poverty is going to be one which can’t be ignored through the planning process, because the very real reduction of personal wealth is going to continue to be an issue for Sudburians. The loss of economic opportunities due to higher energy prices and a stagnating global economy, and negative gains in real wealth are likely to remain our reality over the next decade (and more). Increasing economic disparity between rich and poor is already our reality nationally. Here in Sudbury, despite opportunities for public sector growth (such as that offered by the Northern Ontario School of Architecture), we can expect to be impacted by this trend, particularly as the mining sector continues to shed well-paying jobs over time.

There were a few other things, however, which weren’t discussed to a significant degree last night. These included any discussion about severe weather impacts and addressing the need to reduce carbon emissions in the fight against climate change. In this respect, encouraging green buildings and green roofs for new development, and retrofitting existing buildings will go along way. How will such activities be accomplished, especially given that developers are discouraged from building residential units in the downtown due to a lack of sensible price-points (as Berridge pointed out a few times last night).

Well, it’s not going to be easy, that’s for sure. Greater Sudbury Mayor John Rodriguez commented last night that the City, in an effort to spur downtown development, has a policy to waive development charges for new development. That’s a good and sensible start, but there are a number of other things which the City must do if it is to truly embrace downtown development as a priority. I sincerely hope that, as an outcome of this Master Plan, that the City then begins work on a Downtown Community Improvement Plan, which will establish tax increment financing schemes to aid in the development of small, affordable, green residential units. We must give developers a property tax-break over a certain defined term, so that they will be able to build the development which we want to see. Further, bonusing tools in the Planning Act can be used to for developments which propose densities and heights greater than permissible through zoning, as long as a proposed development is going to address identified downtown needs.

And finally, this can’t be understated. If we are going to truly embrace downtown development, we have to get serious about prohibiting unsustainable and ultimately expensive forms of development in greenfield locations elsewhere in the City. Spending will need to be prioritized in a way which favours the use of existing infrastructure over the creation of new infrastructure. This is true for everything from pipes to roads. Our decision makers must note that this will perforce lead to a reassessment of the need for both the Maley Drive and Barrydowne Extensions, as building these two new roads will absolutely open up additional opportunities for greenfrield development. Rather than building expensive new roads on which fewer people will be driving (due to decreased car ownership), it will be better to address the very real transportation issues facing residents of Valley East, Hanmer, Garson and Capreol by promoting alternative means of transportation. Further, firm commitment to growing the Valley and Hanmer upwards, rather than outwards, must inform decision makers if we are going to find those price points where downtown development makes sense for builders and investors. We already know that residential development makes sense for consumers; our trick is going to be to find a way to build it.

Our past Council was previously discussing the need to create additional opportunities for residential severances in rural areas. This kind of out-dated thinking will not take us in the direction which we need to go if we are going to create a City which is going to function in a world where energy, including oil, is increasingly costly due to climate change and peak oil. In short, we must plan for the reality which truly faces us, and not the reality that we might hope and dream to live in.

I am truly excited about the Downtown Master Plan, for both what it is going to be, and for the process underway to obtain a wide range of input. This is the right way to engage Sudburians. Residents throughout Greater Sudbury now need to respond to shape this Plan for the good of the entire City. As Joe Berridge said last night, though, we need to keep in mind that the Plan itself must be realistic; I believe that the idea of “realism” in the Plan must embrace our current and expected future, which will be impacted by higher energy prices. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here again: Tomorrow is not going to be like today. We need to plan for this reality.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Alberta Tar Sands and Global Security

Here's a great example of how our newsmedia is failing us all. This Globe & Mail article discusses the release of the latest report from the IEA (International Energy Agency). In this report, the IEA references that China will be driving an ever-increaseing demand for oil, despite the rise of alternative energy. As part of the continuing thirst for more oil, the IEA concludes that Canada is sitting pretty, as the tar sands will have an increasingly prominent role in oil production.

Some numbers here: current production in the tar sands is estimated at 1.3 million barrels a day; by 2035, the IEA estimates production will have increased to 4.5 million barrels a day, thus "making an important contribution to the world's energy security".

Nowhere does the Globe & Mail indicate how the world will be a more secure place when carbon emissions from this amount of dirty oil are pumped into our atmosphere. Nowhere in the article is there a reference regarding the anticipated rise in global temperatures as a result of increased emissions from global industrial processes. Nowhere is there a discussion about why it is important to keep warming below 2 degrees C, and how pumping more carbon into our atmosphere will ensure that we blow through this temperature threshold beyond which uncontrollable feedback loops are likely to kick in, increasing the warming no matter what we do. Nowhere does this article discuss what a massive threat to global security the Alberta Tar Sands actually poses to the world. Instead, the Globe & Mail, like most major media, continues to look at economic and industrial growth through a lens which leads them to conclude that there will be increased prosperity.

Well folks, that's not the way it's going to play out. We know that future scenario isn't going to occur because of chemistry and physics. Our understand of science informs us that if we keep pumping CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we can expect an increasingly warm planet. As the global climate changes, it will become more difficult for people to access food and water. As we also understand human nature, we can certainly expect thirsty and starving people to look elsewhere for their basic needs, rather than to settle in to die quietly of hunger and dehydration. Therefore, we can expect that there will be more climate refugees, and more conflict over ever-diminishing resources. While science drives this scenario, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand how all of this will come together to create some significant, potentially overwhelming challenges, to global and national security.

Yet the media, and our world leaders (such as the IEA) refuse to see that the writing is on the wall. They refuse to believe in science, or if they do, they refuse to acknowledge their belief. If the IEA thinks that the Tar Sands are going to contribute to world energy security, they are living in their own fantasy land. Just because they're keeping good company there doesn't make it any less of a fantasy world.

The media must wake up and begin reporting the complete story. When confronted with statements from biased sources, statements which really don't make any sense, principled media must confront those statements and those sources. Otherwise, they're not doing their job. The Globe & Mail should have challenged this statement about energy security. No discussion about increasing fossil fuel production can responsibly take place in isolation of a discussion on how production will lead to increasingly severe climate change. And no responsible discussion can avoid dealing with the threats to our national security which climate change poses. The media has to start making these connections. As long as they fail to do so, our decision-makers will continue to get away with their fantasy-world remarks, dragging the rest of us along with them into a future which will be totally unprepared for.

I felt I had to write a Letter to the Editor of the Globe & Mail, to point some of this out to Globe readers. I've saved my direct chastisement of the media for another time, and I've co-opted my values to a degree by referring to the "tar sands" as the "oil sands" (a term invented relatively recently by the oil industry and used by friendly media proxies, such as the Globe, at every opportunity, even though "tar" is scientifically closer to what is produced through the bitumen mining process that takes place in Alberta. However, I'm also a firm believer that we need to confront and convert potential allies on their own terms. When in Rome...).

Here's my letter:


Re: China ’s thirst to keep oil prices booming (November 9, 2010)

The International Energy Agency (IEA), in their latest World Energy Outlook report, says that Canada ’s oil sands will make an important contribution to global energy security. Apparently, this important security contribution will be achieved by increasing production from current levels of 1.3 million barrels a day to an estimated 4.2 million barrels a day by the year 2035. What is unclear from the article, however, is how increasing production in the oil sands is going to lead to a more positive security outcome.

The National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, recently published “Degrees of Change”, an interactive chart which looks at what Canadians can expect in an increasingly warmer world. The chart indicates that, at 2 degrees Celsius of additional warming, we can expect “increasing demands on peacekeeping, and diplomatic resources from conflicts over water and food scarcity in parts of the world”. Canada will not be immune from the impacts of climate change.

The emerging consensus from the scientific community highlights the need to keep warming below 2 degrees C, or else we risk triggering positive feedback loops such as the release of methane through melting permafrost. The importance of keeping warming in check at the 2 degrees C has also been highlighted by Gwynne Dyer in his 2008 best-seller, “Climate Wars”, which discusses in part how our militaries are preparing for a warmer world. Climate change will increasingly pose a risk to global security.

Yet, if extraction of fossil fuels from the oil sands is to continue as predicted by the IEA, we can pretty much forget about holding the line on warming at 2 degrees C. As the world’s climate continues to change, increased extraction in the oil sands needs to be considered a risk to global security, and not a contribution.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Facebook Wall Posts, Part III

From my Facebook Wall. Part III. Enjoy.


Angry About Subsidizing Energy Producers With Our Tax Money? I Say Level The Playing Field

Which sector of the energy industry is the most heavily subsidized in Canada, receiving over $2.85 billion in government subsidies (read: our tax dollars) in 2008 alone? If you think all of that money went into wind energy or maybe solar, think again. It went into the pockets of major, mostly international, oil, coal and gas industries. I guess they need the extra money, given their historically low profit margins. Oh? You think they can likely do ok on their own, without our tax dollars to help them? Maybe you're right. I wonder what we could do with an almost extra $3 Billion dollars we'd save if we stop subsidizing rich corporations. Maybe we could invest that in the health care system, or perhaps in environmental initiaives. Or maybe just give it back to us in the form of tax cuts, so that we can use it to promote economic activity.

The Conservative government will not stop giving our money away to rich, multi-national corporations which contribute massively to greenhouse gas emissions. They argue that to do so would mean the price of energy will have to rise. I say so be it. Give me back my money so that I can choose how to spend it. If I want to spend it on more expensive gasoline for my car (because the corporate subsidy has disappeared), then that's my choice. If instead I choose to buy a bus pass, or maybe just walk more, than that's my choice. Right now, my hard earned tax dollars are going to major international polluters, and I don't like that. You may not like it either. But your government does not care. They don't want you to choose what to do with your money, because you might choose to take the bus or walk, like I would do. Without choice, their buddies in the fossil fuel industry are guaranteed to receive all of that money, so it just makes more sense to continue the "subsidy".


Hound the Deniers! Throw Them to the Dogs!

An excellent letter to the editor appearing in today's Sudbury Star from Len Wiseman, who frequently takes the time to correct some of the more wild asssertions regarding climate change put forth by Sun Media authors such as Peter Worthington and Lorrie Goldstein. Wiseman says that we have an obligation to "hound" climate change deniers, and that it's "morally, logically and scientifically correct" to do so. I agree. We can't continue to let the know-nothings dominate the debate. In fact, there shouldn't even be a debate at all at this time. The science is in. We must confront those who willingly attempt to deny reality for their own small-minded, profit-driven, politically and ideologically motivated reasons. We continue to refer to these people as "climate change deniers", which still gives them a level of acceptance which, frankly, isn't warranted. Perhaps a better term would be "liars".


Follow the Bouncing Crystal Ball - How to Read the Polls

The Toronto Star's Royson James discusses some of the finer nuances of political polling during elections. The Star apparently suffered a lot of criticism for their reporting regarding just how close the Mayoral race between Ford and Smitherman was, versus the actual outcome. Some have suggested that the Star had an interest in continuing to promote their man, Smitherman, telling the story that the election was too close to call. The results were otherwise: Ford won by a decent margin. James suggests that the way newspapers report polls needs to be considered in any analysis, and needs to be better understood by the newspapers themselves. Here in Sudbury, where significantly less polling was conducted, we experienced a similar result: polls all along showed Rodriguez out in front, with Matichuk behind, and undecided voters starting to make their minds up. The gap was closing between Rodriguez and Matichuk, but not all that quickly, as undecideds ended up going to both camps (although with a slight preference for Matichuk). When all of the votes were cast, Matichuk won the day by a decent margin. What happened? Well, as in Toronto, the polls showed a trend, but it wasn't the trend picked up on by the media: as the race quickly became a two-horse race, third place Callaghan's support collapsed; on the day of the election, his support was down considerably. It went to Matichuk, who had never led in any of the polls. The moral of the story: don't look at any one poll in isolation. Look at the numbers behind the poll, as James suggests, and look at the polls' quality (example: internet-based polls tend not to reach older voters, who tend to be more right-wing). And finally, look at the trends, and make your predictions based on those trends. At the end of the day, even the most scientific of polls still involves some crystal ball gazing.


Children's Toys, Marketing, and Healthy Diets

Looks like decision makers in San Francisco are starting to take the plastic out of food. Happy meals, and their equivalents at other fast food chain restaurants, have long attempted to entice children to "influence" their parents to dine at a particular location, in part based on the "free" toy they'd receive with their meal. Usually the toy ties in with the latest mega-movie release. It's all an intricate marketing campaign, aimed at children, to separate money from their parents. It's certainly not about healthy food or healthy families, and frankly I'm surprised that we've continued to prioritize the importance of marketing over health. This article appearing in the Globe & Mail says that San Francisco is the first major city to ban toys in children's meals; it's not going to be the last. But note the wry headline, and the reference to taking "happy" out of a "Happy meal"…is it really just a pun, or do the corporate managers at the G&M want us all to think that a pro-health move like San Fran's is something to be considered a little dangerous? What kind of society might we turn into if we start paying less attention to advertising and marketers, and start making financial decisions based on real, quantitative information?


Public Utilities Donate to Liberal Party - Your Tax Dollars At Work (not)

Christina Blizzard of Sun Media writes about a very interesting story (my opinion) which I have been following, wondering if it would have "legs". I initially thought that Provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horwath's revelation that public energy utility companies, such as Greater Sudbury Utilities, have been contributing t...o the provincial Liberal Party, would resonate around the province. It was the lead story on the 6 o'clock CBC radio news on Monday night. However, it seemed to have largely disappeared yesterday, although there were a few stories in the media. Significantly, those stories played up the Liberal Party's revelations that the NDP had also benefitted from accepting donations from energy utilities, such as Union Gas. Interestingly, the provincial Liberals had only identified private corporations as NDP campaign contributors, while Horwath's original revelation had to do with publicly-funded energy utilities (those who derive revenue directly from tax-payers, and are quasi-municipal). Blizzard, in this article, rightly points out that these really aren't the same animals as private companies. Yesterday, the Liberals attempt to confuse and distort the negative messaging wasn't widely reported by the media as an attempt to confuse matters. Good for Blizzard to point this out.

Horwath's revelation struck a chord with me, and I think that Ontarians should be very concerned that our publicly-funded, quasi-municipal energy utilties are contributing to the campaigns of a single political party. This isn't right, despite the fact that it's legal. I think this points to the need for significant reform to our electoral processes. Yesterday, Energy Minister Brad Duguid had indicated that Ontario has some of the strictest and most transparent election finance rules anywhere in Canada. I have to absolutely disagree, and I point to the federal election system, which bans both corporate and union donations as an example. If Ontario was really serious about transparency, as a first step, it must get rid of the ability of corporations (private and public) to make donations to political parties. Corporations are not individuals. They can not vote. They should not be a part of our electoral processes. Horwath should be leading the way on calling for the elimination of corporate contributions of any sort, even though her Party also benefits from corporate and union donations. Can Ontarians count on her to do so? Despite her recent revelation, I don't believe we can. I guess we're just going to have see how serious the NDP is about campaign financing and the democratic process.


Attacking Attack Ads

Susan Delacourt writes on the Toronto Star webpage about attack ads. She questions why it is that political parties seem to be exempt from the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, while those advertising other products and services on public airwaves must comply. It's a damn good question, and a timely one as well.... Even former Reform Party Leader Preston Manning wrote recently about the incredibly shabby and sad state of what passes for public discourse in Canada. With a federal election around the corner, we are all expecting a nastier campaign from the NDP, Conservatives and Liberals. Rather than discuss what they might do if given power by Canadians, it's so much easier to score cheap political points by lambasting the opposition. Former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell once remarked that elections are no time to talk about policy, and she was scoffed at, despite being right. Elections offer an incredible opportunity for political parties to get their message out to voters, yet instead of talking about themselves, it seems that they are growing increasingly content to point fingers, and shout their opponents down. The character John Dough in the movie Se7en remarked that the only way to get anyone's attention nowadays was to use a sledgehammer; our political parties seem to have taken that message to heart. Don't expect attack ads from Greens, however. Frankly, we just don't have it in us. And if we're going to succeed it all, it's going to be beause of our vision and our desire to do politics differently. Most Greens don't even know how to be partisan, much less how to attack the other Parties. We should probably keep it that way.


Expect Failure at Climate Conference

My published letter to the Editor of the Sudbury Star, which I had blogged about last week. Only minor edits, although the headline wasn't my suggestion. Seems to fit the story better, though. That Editor over at the Sudbury Star…he sure knows how to edit!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Facebook Wall Posts, Part II

All right. I've culled through the list of Facebook Posts that I've made to my Wall over the past little while, and I'm providing you with my commentary and the links which inspired the posts! Hope you enjoy Part II of my FB posts!


If You Didn't Vote, Shut Up! Former Canadian Diplomat Takes The Easy Way Out, and Misses the Point Completely

Former Canadian Diplomat Robert Fowler speaks to graduating university students about their age-group's propensity not to vote during elections, and suggests that their lack of voting disqualifies them from having a "right" to complain. Nevermind that the political process is stacked against young Canadians to such a degree that increasing numbers of young Canadians feel that their vote just doesn't matter. It's so much easier to attack our youth for not voting than it is to address the very real problems with our own electoral system which systemically disengages young and marginalized Canadians from the electoral process. When your vote doesn't matter, why waste your time? If that's how you perceive your reality (and many do), where is the real problem? Is it with your perceptions, or with the system which creates them? I'd suggest both. But slagging one while remaining silent on the other isn't the answer. Preaching high-minded views about the power of voting just isn't going to resonate with already disengaged voters. Bad move, Mr. Fowler.


Detainees: Not Just for Guantanamo Any More

Is it just me, or is this whole G20 Protest mass-arrest thing turning into a disaster and embarassment for, well, for whoever was in charge. I guess that's the thing: since no one was in charge, the embarrassment isn't sticking to any one level of government or agency. Unfortunately, in the process, many innocent Canadians were swept up by police, charged, held in custody, and facing significant legal bills. Their rights were violated by the state, and even then, the state can't seem to make their case. This is an interesting article about yet another detainee who has been let go after months of legal hassles. Detainee. I guess we'd better get used to that term to describe Canadians held in violation of rights and freedoms here in Canada. Detainees: Not just for Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib any more.


Liberals Suck and Blow on Corporate Responsibility; NDP Doesn't Fare Much Better

Well, you can count on the Liberals to take no principled position, that's for sure. Several NDP members were also missing from last week's vote, including Sudbury's Glenn Thibeault. At least those NDP members present voted in favour of Liberal MP McKay's private member's bill, but it would have been nice for their whole caucus to rally behind this one. Corporate Responsibility is what this bill was all about, and time and again, Liberals demonstrate that it's just not a serious issue for them to pursue. The NDP, too, clearly needs to walk the talk. The Green Party's Elizabeth May was all over this vote with a press release last week; essentially, had Green MP's been in the House, they would have been voting for this bill. While Liberals agonized over finding a way to weasle out of this vote, and while the NDP couldn't get their full caucus together for support, Greens absolutely would have voted in favour of it. Since our antiquated electoral system, however, continues to keep Greens away from parliament, despite the nearly one million Canadians who voted for the Green Party in the 2008 federal election, there remains little on the practical side that we can accomplish. On the moral side, however, it's a different story, and story that needs to be told. Increasingly, the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP will play politics rather than do what's right. And that's no way to make decisions on behalf of Canadians.


What Might Have Been: President John McCain (oh, the Horror! the Horror!)

A great piece by Cindy Sheehan which looks at "what might have been" had John McCain been elected President of the United States. After two years in office, Sheehan predicts the following terrible scenarios: the largest defence budget expenses since World War II, over $700 billion, would be financing multiple wars; war criminals under the previous administration would be slavishly offered protection; the military's "don't ask / don't tell policy" would be defended by the government, despite human rights issues; Israel would be allowed to continue its policy of settlement expansion in the West Bank with only an occassional "tut tut" issued from the White House. Indeed, she paints a horrible picture of "what might had been" had those horrible, horrible Republicans seized control of the White House in 2008. We Canadians can sit here in Canada with a self-satisfied smirk on our faces and revel in the knowledge that at least Obama won the election, and at least Canada doesn't have a monolithic two party system where we keep electing governments of alternating colours again and again, and nothing ever changes!

Hey! I just checked out where this link is coming from. Al Jazeera dot net. I think that's a first for my reposting. I guess the mainstream media in the U.S. is about as enthusiastic with their reporting of dissenting voices as ours is here. Hmmm. Well, I guess I could say that at least this isn't from "Russia Today"...


Wither Climate Change?

While I'm skeptical that anything is going to get through to the Conservative government regarding the need to take action on climate change, we've got to keep plugging away. Maybe we just need a new government?



"The bravest men can sometimes be as young as 6-years old." A truly inspirational story, well worth the read.