Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Greater Sudbury's Personal Vehicles Disproportionately Fuel Climate Change

A recently released report from Statistics Canada, "Greenhouse gas emissions from private vehicles, 1990 to 2007" shows that, on average, Greater Sudbury is now the second dirtiest city in Canada. The study, available through the Statistics Canada website, provides some startling revelations for anyone who lives in a community where residents rely primarily on cars to get around town (click here for the study's highlights).

The study reports that the Transportation Sector produces approximately 27% of all greenhouse gases generated in Canada. Of that, road transportation accounts for 69%. On average, 2,149 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions are produced for every Canadian from personal vehicle use alone!

Of course, not everyone contributes equally to the production of greenhouse gases from personal vehicles. People who don’t own vehicles, for example, contribute nothing to these totals, yet they are impacted just as much by rising emission levels. According to Statistics Canada, the wealthiest amongst us (those making more than $100,000 a year) produce, on average, a staggering 5,737 kg of greenhouse gas emissions from personal vehicle use.

In Greater Sudbury, 2,844 kg of greenhouse gases are produced from personal vehicles for every resident, which makes us the second dirtiest city in Canada, behind only Kingston (at 3,035 kg per person). In contrast, Montreal, Canada’s lowest level per capita emitter, produces only 1,219 kg of greenhouse gases per person from personal vehicles.

There is no question that Greater Sudbury profited from the economic boom of the last decade. While there were economic benefits, we must acknowledge that we’ve made choices which have led to our disproportionate contribution to Canada’s greenhouse gas emission totals. These greenhouse gas emissions are fuelling the climate crisis.

To compensate, we need to start making investments in alternative means of transportation, in order to better facilitate walking, cycling and public transit use. A significant number of Sudburians do not own personal vehicles, and many more are choosing to leave their cars at home in an effort to make a real contribution in the fight against climate change. However, as many Sudburians can attest, it’s not exactly easy getting around this city on foot or by bicycle. This has got to change.

While there remains the need to improve infrastructure for cars, we can’t neglect necessary improvements for those making green transportation choices, whether by design or because of personal economic circumstances. We need safe, well-designed sidewalks and pedestrian crossings, especially for seniors and for those living in outlying areas. Designated lanes on major roads for bicycles, and more public bike storage will encourage more cyclists to take to the road without fearing for their personal security.

Together, we can do a lot to improve our community without significant cost. Mainly, what’s required is a change in the way we think about transportation. In our community, Rainbow Routes has recently been leading an exercise to produce a Sustainable Mobility Plan for active transportation. A presentation before Council is currently scheduled for the evening of June 16th, 2010, at Tom Davies Square. Efforts like these are a good start in moving forward with changing perceptions about transportation.

Let’s all try to lower Greater Sudbury’s overall greenhouse gas emissions by making the healthy choice to leave our personal vehicles at home a little more often. It’s time to start thinking more about walking, cycling or taking the bus.

(originally submitted as a letter to the Editor of the Sudbury Star, May 20 2010; as of this date, the above letter has not been published)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I’ve been away from the blogging for the past little while. Real life seems to have a way of intervening, and taking up many of my hours. So, today, in an effort to try to catch up on a few things, I’m going to deliver a bit of a smorgasboard of issues. In no particular order. And I use the word "smorgasboard" deliberately here, although I might have chosen "salad bar" instead. "Smorgasboard" is a tip-of-the-hat to my highschool music teacher, Mr. Darraugh, who used words in a way which were highly appropriate, if somewhat unexpected. Earn the Burn, baby!

Policy Resolutions for the Party Convention

So, the Green Party Convention is coming up (August 20-22, in Toronto). Early Bird registrations must be in by June 5th. I have to say, I like what the Party is doing, charging registration fees by Zone. I’m in the Zone closest to Toronto, so I get dinged with the biggest fee, but realistically, that’s ok, because I have a much shorter distance to travel, and far smaller travel costs than many others who will be heading to T.O. for the convention. I was a little surprised at the cost, not having attended past conventions, but I like the tax receipt. I’m looking forward to attending this year, and meeting many Greens face to face, most for the first time.

What I’m most looking forward to in the near future, though, is seeing all of the proposed Policy Resolutions up on the website. From what I’m hearing, there may be some very interesting resolutions proposed indeed. We Party Members need to use the time pre-convention to hash things out: identify our support for desirable resolutions, and try to have the problematic ones amended or outright kiboshed. I’ll certainly be hanging out on the Party’s website, adding my two-cents.

Some of the interesting ones I’ve been hearing about:

1) A Resolution from Federal Council proposing to change our by-laws to remove the requirement for a Leadership Contest, and replacing it with a leadership review 6-months after a federal election (I’ll be supporting that resolution, or a variation of it, because if we don’t change our by-laws, we’ll be obligated to have a leadership contest in the fall. I believe having a contest now, in advance of an anticipated federal election, is the very worse thing that we as a Party can do.

2) A Resolution from a nominated candidate on allowing elected MP’s to vote their conscience on certain issues, such as abortion and marijuana legislation (and presumably other issues, if added to a list). Right now, I don’t think I’ll be supporting that resolution, as I strongly believe that Greens, when elected, should vote in accordance with member-approved policy, unless there is some very good reason why they shouldn’t.

Coalition Talk

Seems like the pundits are speculating that talks are under-way between prominent Liberals and NDP-types (Chretien’s and Broadbent’s names are mentioned) in an effort to see whether or not some sort of deal might be reached to bring the two parties a little closer together in terms of how they approach the next election or the period shortly afterwards.

Although the folks over at are always up to the challenge, there’s no sense on speculating whether these talks might lead anywhere. I just can’t see the Liberals and NDP agreeing not to run candidates against each other anywhere, unlike the sort of talk Gillian Steward reports that Alberta Provincial Liberal Leader David Swann has been on about.

However, these talks might actually go somewhere, especially if Ignatieff’s poll numbers keep plummeting (I don’t think that they will...I mean, how low can they really go? Not much lower than they are currently. I have to figure that the numbers are scrapping the top of the Liberal core vote right about now, at around the 25% mark).

Many in the Green Party will be tempted to try to force our way into those talks (we certainly won’t be invited, as we have so very little offer either the Liberals or the NDP, and in fact, we pose more of a threat to either of them if it starts looking like we’re a "legitimate" party).

Mark Taylor has already given his
opinion on whether the Green Party would benefit from joining an NDP-Liberal Coalition. Here’s mine:

The Green Party has nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by agreeing to some sort of formal coalition with these two parties, especially if that agreement means that we don’t run candidates in certain ridings. I’ve always been a firm believer in the need to offer voters a true choice, and not just the "best of a bad lot" in an effort to get rid of a government. If we are serious about democracy, we need to be able to offer voters a Green choice, even if it’s just a paper candidate.

The policies of the NDP and the Liberals are not our policies; they are the tired policies of the brown economy, and although they’ve started to green themselves a little bit, both parties are still a long way from where they need to be. Simply put, Orange and Red don’t make Green.

And, from a practical side of things, if we were to bully our way into some sort of coalition, likely our condition for inclusion would be to have the NDP and Liberals back down their candidates in Saanich-Gulf Islands, so that our Leader would run virtually unopposed against the Conservatives. That...would be a minimum. And likely that would be the only riding offered to the Greens. Again, we bring so little to the table.

Where would that leave us, though? A whole federal election would slip by, and we’d be involved primarily in one riding. And what about our own issues? Would this bring us any closer to a carbon tax? Or proportional representation? I doubt it.

No, an NDP-Liberal coalition likely won’t materialize pre-election anyway. All bets are off, though, after an election is held, and if the balance of power could be shifted away from a hypothetical Conservative minority situation, I think that the NDP and Liberals would be foolish to continue to let Harper govern in that circumstance. And if we have a few Greens elected in the mix, well, that would certainly change things up a little bit. The problem would be, who would lead? Ignatieff and Layton would have just been "rejected" at the ballot box, having not formed a government (the same problem which the "Coalition" faced back in 2008 with lame-duck Dion at the helm). The Liberals aren’t even in a position to offer up a good second-choice (unlike Gordon Brown’s gambit in the U.K., resigning as Leader of the Labour Party in an attempt to entice Nick Clegg to join a coalition; Labour had a number of quality candidates waiting in the wings. The Liberals have...Bob Rae, who I like, but whom many Liberals really don’t like...and even fewer NDP like). Maybe Layton should lead, if the NDP does better than they did in 2008.

Ah, but there’s no use speculating, I think I said earlier. But it’s oh-so fun!

Deep Water Oil Drilling

With the ongoing environmental disaster occurring south of the border, I know that many Canadians are thinking about deep water drilling. I’m glad to see that the press in Canada has started to talk about what could happen here, and is concluding that, yes, such a disaster really could happen in Canadian waters and we need to be vigilant. They’re not swallowing the government line that our Regulations are so much better than the American’s (because the fact is, they aren’t, and if anything, they’re worse!).

Yes, it’s true that in the States, a lot of the media coverage seems to be focussed around BP’s techno-fixes or the finger-pointing game (which is much more interesting that watching oil float on the surface of the ocean). But the slick has started to make landfall now, and dead seabirds coated in tar do make for good TV, so we can expect a bit of a shift in U.S. coverage for a few days. I’m almost tempted to say that the fact that BP’s techno-fixes seem to keep failing looks good on them...but the environmental damage from the uncapped well is just too great for me not to want it to stop.

reported in Sun Media, a recent Leger poll about deepwater drilling suggests that a majority of Canadians are really very uncomfortable with drilling; 54% want drilling suspended until safety concerns can be addressed; another 24% want drilling stopped altogether. To me, that means that Canadians really are cognizant of the disaster going on in the Gulf, and are aware that the same can happen here. That level of awareness is encouraging. And some in the media have started drawing the connection between the environmental devastation taking place in the Gulf with that taking place in the tar sands. Good.

Neighbourhood Gardens

One of the things which has been occupying my time lately has been my involvement with a new community garden, which is going to be built this weekend in a municipal park close to my home. A lot of work has gone into this initiative, and I have to say that I’ve been overwhelmed with all of the positivity coming out of this. Donations are being made by community businesses, the City has been incredibly supportive, the local Councilor has been on-board since day one, and the media has started to cover the garden. All in all, it’s been just great so far.

I recall attending one of the first meetings where the Community Garden was discussed, and went home and talked to my wife about it. She told me that she would do something similar in our backyard, which has essentially been "wasted space" from her perspective (my dog, who spends most of his time out in the yard, was not consulted). Since we live in a mixed neighbourhood where there are good number of apartments, we figured that it would be easy enough to generate interest to have between 6 and 8 garden planters, which people in our neighbourhood could use to grow their own vegetables in. Our yard is entirely fenced in, thanks to the dog, and we’d be comfortable with people coming and going (and we suspect that the dog would too, if properly introduced up-front).

Little neighbourhood gardens on un-used private yards! What a great concept, we thought.

Boy, were we ever mistaken. Our plans haven’t progressed very far, as we seem to have run into two issues, one of which seems insurmountable, the other just expensive to deal with.

Turns out that we’re not zoned for this sort of use. I spoke with a guy from the City about this, and he explained it to me: if you’ve got a garden in your yard for your personal use, well that’s considered accessory to the primary use (which is a residence, ie. living in your house), so that’s all kosher. However, inviting people to come and use your yard for the purpose of gardening is not accessory to the primary use (because the people you’re inviting to your yard are not primary users of the property). He said that 6 to 8 planters might not seem like many, but potentially how many people would that be bringing into your yard at any given time? What might your neighbours think of that (we fully anticipated discussing the garden concept in advance with our neighbours anyway...but if we were someone else and just went ahead without saying anything to anyone, well, ya, I can kind of see that a neighbour might not take too kindly to the idea). And, what if our property were bigger, as many other properties with the same zoning in the City are? What about 20 planter boxes? What about 50?

Anyway, I can see that zoning is an issue. A minor variance would be the answer, although the guy at the City cautioned that their Committee of Adjustment isn’t big on granting variances for use (they’re better with setbacks). However, the option remains available, although potentially it would be expensive, being $600 just to make an application, and who knows how much more for other documents, and maybe an appeal to the OMB. Still, though, it might be doable, right?

Wrong. I also spoke with my insurance company. They advised me that if I were inviting people onto my property to engage in a hazardous activity (gardening), and I were sued, they would drop me like a hot potato, and I would never get home coverage again. If you think about it, they’re actually onto something too, because they are looking out for my interests. As much as it might be funny to think that gardening isn’t all that dangerous of an activity (when compared to trying to get around this City on a bike...but I anticipate myself), the fact is people do find new and inventive ways to hurt themselves all the time. For example, I’m not a gardener; I tried my hand at some weeding the other day at another Community Garden in the City, just to see what it’s all about. I almost took my toe off with the whatever it was I was using (some kind of shovel-like implement). So, if that were to happen on my property, someone might be thinking "lawsuit" and my insurance company would be asking me why I was foolish enough to invite someone to do that in my yard in the first place. And while I told my insurance company that really this isn’t all that different than having a friend come over to help me change a light bulb and fall off of a ladder and sue me, they remarked that I really shouldn’t be engaging in that sort of activity either, and that I should change my own lightbulbs.

Anyway, I see where they’re coming from, and I see why the City is concerned as well. But it’s still disappointing. We’ve created so many rules in our society, that sometimes doing a good thing can be a dumb idea. I remember when I was reading a few years back about two separate fires. In the first fire, a building just outside of a municipal boundary (literally on the other side of the road) was burning, and the volunteer fire department rushed to the scent and put out the fire, saving the pets stuck inside the building. One of the firefighters was slightly injured, and had to miss work. Because he was injured outside of the municipality, there was no insurance coverage for him. Had he died, it would have been too bad so sad. The moral of the story: don’t fight a fire when there’s no insurance. Having learned from this situation, another fire happened just outside of a municipal boundary; realizing this to be the case, although the volunteer fire fighters rushed to the scene, they elected to watch the house burn to the ground, and all of the homeowner’s contents were destroyed in the process (no lives were lost). They caught royal hell from area residents. Talk about "no win".

And that’s where I think my wife and I are at with the backyard garden: "no win". Well, maybe my dog will be the ultimate winner, because it looks like he’ll be able to lord over the backyard for another year yet.

Sudbury Cyclists Union

One of the other initiatives that I’ve been involved with lately has been helping with getting a new advocacy organization off of the ground here in Sudbury. A few of us have decided that it’s time that Sudbury had a Cyclists Union, to advocate for the needs of the cycling community. We’ve seen so many streets being resurfaced and expanded lately, many with the benefit of federal stimulus money, but the City hasn’t considered the needs of cyclists. In fact, I’ve heard that the City couldn’t add bike lanes to the federally-funded projects because they would have had to expand the roads outside of the original envelopes to do so, and thus would not have been eligible for funding (yet another "oversight" for stimulus spending). In some cases, the City has been calling for wider curb lanes to accommodate the possibility of cycling, but aside from a few kilometres of bike lanes painted on two roads about 5 years ago, there’s been nothing new for cyclists in this City.

I often ride my bike to work. When I do, I’m taking my life into my hands. Sudbury doesn’t have the greatest reputation when it comes to roads anyway (or drivers, for that matter). Try riding a bike on the roads here. Many don’t: they ride illegally on the sidewalk. And I can’t blame them. It’s damn scary to be a cyclist on the road.

Recently, Statistics Canada released a
report about greenhouse gases generated from personal vehicles. Per capita, the City of Greater Sudbury ranked as the second dirtiest city in all of Canada, behind only Kingston. Barrie clocked in at #3, although quite a ways back from Sudbury. Montreal was the best. Why was Sudbury so bad? Could be because of all of the SUV’s and pick-ups on the road here. But it also probably has something to do with the fact that if you want to get around town, likely you’re doing so in a personal vehicle of some sort, because forget about it if you’re a pedestrian or cyclist. Transit, also, leaves a lot to be desired, although apparently 1/3 of Sudburians who are within the age-range to own and operate a personal vehicle do not do so.

So, we’ll be moving ahead with the Sudbury Cyclists Union here locally. Not sure what it’s going to look like. We’re hoping to get a Steering Committee nominated at a meeting on June 24th. If you’re in Sudbury, look for us on Facebook ("Sudbury Cyclists Union), or come out to the presentation of the Sustainable Mobility Plan, developed by Rainbow Routes, on Wednesday June 16th (wear your helmet!). I...hope to be there too, but the last personal initiative that I’ve been involved with might impact my attendance.


Yes, my wife is due to give birth on June 16th. Just about everything that we’ve both been involved with these past couple of months have been in anticipation of this wonderful event. This is going to be our first child. So, needless to say, we’re both really excited about this. I’m hoping to take some time off of work when the baby is born. I suspect that some of the other things I’ve been involved with might have to be put on hold from my perspective as well, at least for a little while. Of course, if my constant availability on the home-front begins to grate on my wife’s nerves (a distinct possibility, or so I’m told), I may be looking to become more involved with some projects. I certainly continue to plan to attend the Convention in August.

And I think that brings things just about full circle for today. Hope you enjoyed the smorgasblog!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Some Observations on the UK Election, from a Canadian Green

I’m an election junkie, there’s no doubt about it. I’ve watched a lot of election coverage in my time, mainly Canadian, but also a fair bit of U.S. coverage as well. I recall staying up until 3 AM to see which way the votes in Florida would finally go back in November, 2000, only to go to bed disappointed, not knowing. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. It reminded me of a playoff game between the Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders back in the 80s, which I watched at my grandparent’s place in Newfoundland (already an hour and a half ahead of the Eastern Time Zone) which went into, well, I don’t know, quadruple overtime or something silly. I had no vested interest in the outcome (being a Leaf fan, I’m sure that I wanted both teams to lose, an impossibility to be sure, but nevertheless), but I watched it all unfold...or not, until a winner was declared.

Watching last night’s UK election was similar, only it became apparent quite early on that there would be no final resolution. And, as the polls predicted, there wasn’t. So it wasn’t like I was hanging on to the edge of my seat, waiting for Al Gore to score that game winning goal in the Florida Islander’s net.

Which, in a way, was kind of a relief, because it meant that I could sit back and enjoy the election coverage for what it was. Now, this was the first time that I’ve ever tuned into the BBC to watch their election coverage. You’ve got to understand that everything I knew about elections in the UK up until last night, I had learned from Monty Python’s "Election Night Special" sketch, where the Sensible Party goes head to head with the Silly Party. Me and a friend of mine in highschool actually parodied that sketch during a school field trip, but it was really only last night that I finally "got" the jokes about the swing and the swong - the swong being kept alive in cardboard box with airholes. But I digress.

So, let me offer to you, dear reader, a few of my observations on the UK election. At least those parts that I saw covered on BBC.

The Results are In, Part 1

First of all, I raced home from work last night to watch the results pour in. The polls closed at 10pm local time – 5pm here in the Eastern Time Zone. I arrived home at 5:30, ran straight to the TV, passing my wife in the hall with barely an acknowledgment and without our usual welcome home kiss, turned the TV on to the BBC and....watched them discuss their Exit Poll and interview B-list British celebs I’d never heard of for the next hour.

Apparently, they do things a little differently on the other side of the pond. In Canada and in the U.S., the media appears to be plugged into receiving the results from each individual polling location, and then eventually declares a winner in a riding where the received results can be extrapolated as representative of all of the results (essentially, declaring a winner before all votes are counted). Only in close races do they wait, and even then, winners are often declared by the media before all polling locations report. "Official" results, of course, will be reported on the next day, like last night’s lottery numbers. We’re very big into receiving instantaneous information in our election coverage over here. Of course, sometimes media outlets look a little foolish, having declared someone a winner based on an extrapolated result, only to have to retract the declaration, as most US media did in 2000, giving Florida to Gore, and then to Bush, and then to neither. But even that makes for good TV!

Well, as I found out, it doesn’t work that way in Britain. Instead, it seems that all of the ballots might be brought to a central location (I saw one shot of people sitting at rows of tables, counting ballots...looked to be hundreds of people, so there’s no way that could have been a single polling station), counted, and the results are reported to the Chief Returning Officer. Finally, the CRO goes onto a stage, where all of the candidates are lined up in alphabetical order (or a close approximation of) behind the CRO, wearing their huge, gaudy, party-coloured badges. And then the results are read out, and the winner is declared. And that’s what the media reports: actual results.

What it means, though, is that the view has to wait a little while for all of the votes to be counted before knowing the actual outcome. That seems so strange...and then it seems so not strange at all! I mean, think about it...we here in North America don’t really seem to care so much about counting all of the votes. Examples: moments after polls close, the media "awards" certain ridings to a Party which has polled consistently well there. Take Alberta. Polls close at X o’clock. Well, within the next minute, the CTV (who always likes to be first) awards the whole province to the Conservatives, this before any votes are counted. And usually they get it right.

Stage Managed

Anyway, back to the UK. I really like that all of the candidates are brought out together, and they each receive a moment’s worth of recognition, in the public’s eye. While there are over 600 ridings to report, the speed at which results trickle in, given this system, means that most of the time, BBC was able to go live when a result was being reported. And the BBC announcers did not often talk over the CRO, even when the results were being reported for a guy dressed up like Jesus on the Cross representing the Monster Raving Loony Party (I'm not making that up), who most would have to figure really wouldn’t have much of a hope of winning. It was respectful. And much better than reporting from a candidate's "victory celebration" in some rented party room like we do here.

Bantering Brits

I also noted that BBC commentators don’t seem to shy away from calling some of the politicians out when foolish remarks are made. Once, they were interviewing a Conservative Party MP live, when the camera cut away to other coverage of a car driving down a dark street. The voice-over interview continued, but the announcer tried to get the MP to stop talking. "We now have pictures of Gordon Brown on his way to" wherever he was being driven in that car. The Conservative MP, not missing a beat, "Oh by all means cut away from me to follow a car driving down the road." or something like that, which was kind of funny and kind of true at the same time. Whatever it was, though, in Canada, no media would have touched that remark; it would have been left hanging. This announcer, though, went on to scold the MP to the effect of saying that his remark was completely uncalled for! The thing about it was, though, that this kind of fearless, unscripted banter, made for really good TV!

The Results are In, Part 2

Well, it looks like sometime in the middle of my night, the results came in for Brighton Pavilion, the one and only riding I was actually watching for all night long, but eventually gave up on before going to bed. In Brighton Pavilion, located somewhere in Sussex, apparently, Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas was running against a new Labour candidate in a Labour-held riding where the incumbent had stepped down (and what was with about 150 MP’s stepping down for this election? Many because of scandal, apparently, involving their expenses being made public! Something that the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP are all in agreement on that MP’s in Ottawa should not be obligated to do!). The media and the bookies were both predicting the Green Party’s first seat in a UK election (yes, apparently you can bet on election outcomes in Britain, although I don’t think they have a state-sponsored lottery that lets you do so).

Anyway, congratulations are in order to Caroline Lucas, who took Brighton Pavilion for the Greens with 31.3% of the vote, to Labour’s 28.9% and the Conservatives’ 23.7%. This apparently represented a constituency swing of 8.3% from Labour to the Greens, whatever that means. Well, whatever it means, it means that Lucas will now sit as a Green MP in Westminster.

Green With Envy

The Green Party, overall, gathered only about 1% of the popular vote, yet still managed to elect an MP. Contrast that with Canada’s Green Party, which received 6.7% of the national vote in the 2008 election, and elected nobody. Apparently, in the UK election, the Green Party was following a strategy of putting most of their resources into 3 "winnable" ridings (including Brighton Pavilion), and running candidates on shoestring budgets in only half of the other UK ridings. What I found interesting about this strategy (aside from the fact that it worked) is that it worked with Green candidates in only a fraction of UK ridings.

Now, it’s true that there were other Green Parties involved in this election which might have taken some of the popular vote. There was a Scottish Green Party and a Green Party (Northern Ireland) which ran candidates in their local regions or "nations" as they refer to Scotland and Wales (do they call Northern Ireland a nation? I didn’t catch that reference if they do). So, perforce the Greens under Lucas were not going to run candidates everywhere.

Interestingly (to me, at least) is the fact that none of the Parties actually run candidates in all of the ridings. In Northern Ireland in particular, there were no Conservative or Labour candidates, and maybe not even Liberal-Democrats. Seems like "national" ("regional") parties, some small "c" conservative, some small "l" liberal/labour, are the norm in that part of UK, likely based on many of the complicating factors Irish political history has been famous for. Point is, though, none of the parties run everywhere, and maybe that’s why the Greens thought that they could still be serious if they ran candidates only in some places, and not others.

Personally, I’m not a fan of this approach. If I were a Green voter in a riding where no Green was running, I would be forced to cast my ballot for a second choice. That’s hardly representing my interests. Yes, I understand, there might just not be the money available for the Party to run people everywhere (and I understand that there are many in the UK who are calling for party financing reforms right now), but I think that I would still feel cheated a little bit. So don’t anyone take this observation of mine as my thinking that we Canadian Greens would be better off to not run candidates in all ridings, because I do not feel that way (and not just because of the per-vote subsidy).

The Minor Parties

What struck me about the minor parties in the election, beyond the Northern Ireland / Scotland / Wales - specific "national" parties like the Ulster Conservative and Unionists - New Force, Plaid Cymru, and the Scottish National Party, was that there are a couple of other minor parties which seem to have some big ambitions, running candidates in many ridings in England (more than the Greens). Here I’m talking about the U.K. Independence Party (which I had never heard of prior to last night) and the British National Party (of which I was more familiar). UKIP garnered 3.1% of the national vote (more than 3x that of the Green Party) and elected nobody. The racist BNP received a (shocking) 1.9% of the vote, also electing nobody.

Since I don’t know much about UKIP, beyond their desire to take the UK out of the European Union, let me say a few things about the BNP. Apparently, this party had a "whites only" policy for Members until 2001, when they opened their membership rolls up to anyone non-whites foolish enough to join them. Their policies used to include the forced "repatriation" of non-whites to their countries of origin (or, if they were born in the UK, presumably ancestral country of origin), but that also fell victim to their "softening" in 2001. Now they just want to end all immigration, and promote the voluntary relocation of immigrants out of Britain. No doubt through creating a culture of hatred from which immigrants and upright British citizens alike might feel compelled to escape from.

And 1.9% of the electorate voted for these guys (and I do mean guys...all of the candidates seemed to be guys, at least the ones that I saw). That's. Just. Great.

The Lib-Dem Dilemma

Let me tell you about the Liberal-Democrats, Britain’s ne’er do-well third party. They’re kind of like Canada’s NDP (they even go in for the orange colour) in that they don’t form government, but they can play spoiler once every few decades (as they are doing right now). Unlike the NDP, this party sits between the right-wing Conservatives and the left-wing Labour Party, firmly occupying the middle of the political spectrum, if you believe the pundits. Having found out more about this Party, I’m not sure that I would agree outright with that statement, especially since Labour’s move to the right over the past decade, but for now, take it for granted that the Lib-Dems are centrists who not many really like.

For me, this situation is kind of like the situation federally in British Columbia, where voters seem to alternate between the Conservatives and the NDP, and the rest of the country can’t really understand why someone who voted blue in the last election would now want to vote for Jack’s boys and girls. Well, likely it’s because the Liberals in B.C., federally, have the same level of cred as the Lib-Dems do historically. And federal Liberal results seem to suggest just that. But I digress (again).

So, the Lib-Dems received 24% of the national vote last night, but only took 57 seats out of a parliament containing 650 seats (although, as an aside, apparently only 649 seats were up for grabs last night, as the election in Thirsk & Malton has been postponed, due to the death of a candidate. What a humane decision by someone. Not sure that a death of a candidate would put a stop to an election here). With 24% of the vote, one should have thought that Lib-Dems might have taken about a quarter of the seats available, which would have been 156, but instead they received almost 100 fewer seats than their proportion of the popular vote would have ascribed.

Needless to say, one of the big planks on which the Lib-Dems campaigned is changing the British electoral system from the increasingly archaic first-past-the-post system, to a more balanced form of proportional representation (which is apparently how legislators in Scotland and Wales are elected to National assemblies right now). After results like the Lib-Dems received last night, you can understand why they might be a little miffed with the system.

There Can Be Only One

Of course, now that all of the votes have been counted, there can be only one Prime Minister to emerge from the election. The way that the British system works (despite what Conservative Leader David Cameron, a Stephen Harper-wannabe, would have the British public think), Labour Leader Gordon Brown remains the Prime Minister until he: a) resigns, or b) loses a confidence motion in the House, when parliament resumes sitting on May 25. So, right now, Brown remains the PM. And it seems he’s not ready to resign.

Nick Clegg, Leader of the Lib-Dems, has a chance of playing King-maker. If he forms a partnership/coalition with the Conservatives, David Cameron will be able to govern as if he enjoyed a majority, and there’s nothing Labour can do to stop him. Most pundits, though, believe that Labour and the Lib-Dems are actually closer to one another politically, though, so it’s anything but a foregone conclusion that Cameron and Clegg will be able to work things out to the Conservative’s advantage.

And that’s probably why David Cameron and his Party have been going out of their way to convince the British people that Labour has no mandate now to govern, after having "lost" the election. We here in Canada have seen this all before, during the Coalition Crisis of 2008, when Harper and his cronies trotted out the same sorts of arguments, which many Canadians fell for, not understanding the way in which the system works. I was cringing last night when I heard Cameron say that Brown had been defeated. He hasn’t been; in fact, he was re-elected by his constituency. Yes, his Party lost seats in the House, but he’s still the Prime Minister. Brown might now have an opportunity to work with the Liberal-Democrats to build a partnership or coalition, and most importantly, to govern.

Clegg’s price for partnership, though, many have reported, is proportional representation, which is a no-go for the Conservatives. Labour hasn’t exactly been thrilled with it, but Brown apparently has been saying today that it’s time, especially given the lop-sided results experienced by the Lib-Dems last night. Even the Prime Minister can’t claim that first-past-the-post is at all fair, when it so obviously is not.

My prediction: we’ll see a coalition between Labour and the Lib-Dems, with Lib-Dems in cabinet. And maybe with another Party represented in cabinet as well.

Because, the fact is, a coalition between Labour and Lib-Dems still won’t be enough in terms of numbers for the coalition to govern as if it were a majority. Together, Labour and the Lib-Dems would have 315 seats to the Conservatives’ 308. But there are 28 other MP’s from "other" parties out there (and 1 seat which has yet to elect anyone) which, if they worked with the Conservatives, could topple the coalition.

So nothing is a foregone conclusion, unless some of the other minor parties are brought into a coalition. Likely one of the Labour-friendly parties from Northern Ireland could do it (the Democratic Unionist Party, with 8 seats, I think is a good candidate and has supported Labour traditionally). Plaid Cymru with 3 seats might another. Not sure about the Scottish National Party with 6 seats. Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland is a Conservative surrogate? I don’t have a clue.

Anyway, there is much which remains to be decided, but I’m sticking with my prediction. And I don’t think that there’s going to be anything like a "coalition crisis" in the UK as a result. I base that on, what to me seems to be, a knowledgeable media which isn’t afraid of stating facts clearly (something which I found to be lacking back in December 2008). Cameron can make a case, but ultimately the rules favour Brown (if he partners with Clegg). And "moral argument" or not, the British are probably more plugged in to how their system works than we in Canada are for the most part.

One Last Observation: Where Were The Women?

Yes, this is my last observation. With all of these parties running around trying to get elected, where the heck were all of the women leaders? Cameron, Clegg and Brown, all men. The only woman Leader I knew about last night was Caroline Lucas of the Green Party. I had to go online when I woke up this morning to discover that there were, in fact, very few women leaders for any of the other parties. Apparently, the Social Democratic & Labour Party, which took 3 seats in Northern Ireland (with only 0.4% of the national vote, mind you), is led by a woman. The only other woman leader I could find heads the anti-war Respect - Unity Coalition, which didn’t fare all that well, with less than 0.1% of the vote. What’s up with that? Frankly, I’m very surprised that there aren’t more women leading political parties in the UK.