Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why Elizabeth May's Exclusion from the Televised Debates Affects All Canadians

It’s happened again: the Broadcast Consortium has determined that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May should not be invited to the televised Leader’s debates. This was the same decision that the Consortium initially came to back in the early days of the 2008 election. Back in 2008, a public outcry swept the nation, with Canadians demanding that, for the sake of democracy, May should be able to participate in the debates. The Consortium changed its mind, and May was given the opportunity to participate.

So, what’s changed since 2008? Well, almost one million voters (totally 6.7% of voting Canadians) cast their ballots for the Green Party in the 2008 election. This was up from the 4.2% the Green Party earned in the 2006 election. In 2008, the Green Party was the only party to actually increase the total number of votes it received since the 2006 election. So, what’s changed is that more Canadians have actually cast ballots for the Green Party, both percentage-wise and in total. Yet the Broadcast Consortium chose to ignore this.

What’s changed since 2008 is that the Green Party has been polling at around 10% in many of the major polls which prompt for Party preference (which is an important reminder for voters – and likely more representative of the will of voters, too, given that ballots always list the Party’s name beside candidates). Admittedly, 10% is a rough estimate based on a number of different polls which use different polling methodology, but it’s the best that we’ve got right now. Only on election day will we know for sure what a true measure of Green support will be. 10%, though, represents 1 in 10 Canadians, yet the Broadcast Consortium chose to ignore this.

More importantly, what hasn’t changed since 2008 is that poll after poll continues to show that around 70% of Canadians believe that Elizabeth May should be participating in the televised leader’s debates. It’s not that 70% of Canadians are going to suddenly vote for the Green Party. No, those Canadians are concerned about the health of our democracy, and they understand that when voices are arbitrarily excluded from democratic discourse, the health of our democracy suffers. In essence, the Broadcast Consortium as taken the opportunity for Canadians to find out more about the Green Party away from Canadians through a process which is arbitrary and without transparency.

And that’s another thing which hasn’t changed since 2008. Today, Jack Layton, Leader of the NDP, called upon the Broadcast Consortium to justify it’s decision, and to set clear and transparent rules (presumably in consultation with would-be participants) regarding which Party Leaders have the opportunity to be heard over our public airwaves. Back in 2008, there were no rules in place, and in 2011, this remains the situation. Backroom deals between high-powered and well-paid executives are made, and the results are that Canadian democracy suffers.

Remember that this election is happening because a majority of our elected officials found the ruling government to be in contempt of parliament. This loss of confidence in the government’s democratic ethics brought down the House, and was the immediate cause of the election. It’s not as if the NDP and Liberals really believed that they had a lot to gain by forcing an election based on recent polls, because all of the polls have shown the Conservative Party heading towards false majority territory. We’re having this election because Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Party and Jack Layton’s New Democrats took a principled stand to bring down the government for the sake of democracy.

And just 5 days into the election, we witness the faceless Broadcast Consortium making a decision to exclude the leader of a political party running candidates in each and every of Canada’s 308 ridings from participating in the televised debates.

As much as some bloggers and anonymous posters would want to have you believe that the Green Party is a fringe party no different from the Pirate Party or the Family Coalition Party, the facts speak otherwise. While it remains true that the Green Party has never elected a member of parliament, what is indisputable is that the Green Party runs candidates throughout the nation (unlike the other smaller parties) and has achieved electoral results of hundreds of thousands of votes. Yet, the Broadcast Consortium chooses to ignore this.

And it’s not that the Green Party is a regionally-based party which runs candidates only in one part of the nation. If the Green Party were such a party, maybe it would make sense to exclude their leader from the televised debate (although I would disagree that a successful regional party should be excluded). But wait just a moment – of course the Bloc Quebecois is just such a party, yet Gilles Duceppe, the Bloc’s Leader, gets an invite even though his party is running candidates only in the Province of Quebec!

Some say that the televised debates are growing increasingly irrelevant in elections anyway, so the exclusion of Elizabeth May from being able to participate isn’t such a big deal. I don’t agree. Our televised political debates are watched on TV by a significant number of Canadians, and while the debates are but one piece of information which will assist in informing voters on how to cast their ballots, the debates are a very accessible way for Canadians to obtain information about the parties and their leaders. In short, if May were at the debate, she’d be talking about the Green Party to voters; if she’s not there, no one will be talking to voters about the Green Party, which will have a candidate on each and every ballot on which a voter is asked to mark.

TV and the mainstream media remains a very influential way of sharing ideas. The media isn’t perfect by any means. Yet, when it goes out of its way to exclude information which might be cogent to Canadians, there’s something not right. It’s as if the media has decided which voices were relevant, and which aren’t. It’s almost as if they’re saying that if you don’t support one of the 4 parties which had previously elected MP’s to the House, you are somehow irrelevant as well. That’s the message being given to almost 1 in 10 Canadians, many of whom could be members of your family, your neighbours or co-workers. People that you value and respect. Why doesn’t the Broadcast Consortium value and respect these Canadians as well?

Many of the people who read my blog will never vote for the Green Party of Canada, and that’s just fine with me. There may come a day when I won’t vote for the Green Party either, but I’ll tell you this much: our democratic values are slowly being eroded. In part, this election was called because of that erosion. The fewer voices which can be heard by Canadians through the mainstream media mean that there will be fewer choices for Canadians about where we want our nation to take our nation’s future. Whether voices turned off during an election, or they are drowned out by name-calling and personal attacks, the loss of these voices in the public realm is detrimental to our democracy.

One thing which has changed since 2008 is the Green Party did not have any MP’s in the House of Commons at the time parliament was dissolved. Days before Stephen Harper broke his own fixed election date law by dissolving parliament, some may remember that Blair Wilson, a British Columbia MP, had indicated his intent to sit no longer as and Independent, but as a Green. Wilson never did get the opportunity to actually sit as a Green, but some have suggested that since the intention for him to do so was there, the situation in 2008 was different from today’s situation.

I partly agree with that assessment, but I believe it’s a complete red herring, because it doesn’t change the fact that there are no set rules for which the Consortium has applied to its star-chamber decision making process. If there were a rule that said that a Party must have an MP in the House to participate in the debate, that would be fine, and clearly the Green Party wouldn’t qualify, and you wouldn’t have the sort of online democratic uprising that we’re experiencing now on our hands. When decisions which affect Canadians are made without criteria, in backrooms, without consultation, and based on arbitrary values, it’s no wonder that Canadians get upset.

What happened last night with the Broadcast Consortium’s decision wasn’t just about the Green Party. It was about Canada and our democratic processes. In the long run, it might not even affect the Green Party or the outcome of this election, on the one hand. But this decision is sure to affect the way in which our democratic values continue to be eroded, bit by bit, until there comes a time when we look at the Canada that we have and can no longer recognize it.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Election Issues: Ending Fossil Fuel Subsidies and Putting a Price on Carbon

With the federal election now underway, I haven’t been hearing much discussion in the mainstream media regarding issues. The Opposition parties in parliament have been trying to frame the election as necessary to deal with ethical issues, after voting a charge of Contempt of Parliament to bring down the government. Initially, it had seemed that the Conservatives were intent to run on their Election-ready budget, but the Conservatives appear to be more content to vilify the Opposition Liberals, NDP and Bloc over a planned coalition take-over of government after the election.

Perhaps what the other parties are talking about is of interest to Canadians. But what I’ve been hearing is that Canadians are growing frustrated with the posturing of the political parties, and instead are yearning to hear more about those parties’ policies, and about what MP’s would actually do once elected.

These sorts of discussions are the ones which we should be having during the election. That we’re not having them isn’t all the fault of the political parties. The mainstream media likes to report on the story-of-the-moment, which is so much easier to identify than a long-winded policy discussion. For example, which would a TV viewer of a national news program rather watch: a discussion about the environmental impacts of the Alberta tar sands, or how a precocious 2 year old stole the show behind the Prime Minister’s back? Kids and kittens continue to rule the day, and we are the worse off for it.

I’d like to go back to the proposed Federal Budget for a moment, as I anticipate that many of the goodies it proposed might be in the next budget, no matter which Party comes to power. One of my concerns about the budget is that the government has decided not to pursue its commitment made at the 2009 G20 Summit in Pittsburgh regarding subsidizing the fossil fuel industry.

Currently, the Government of Canada subsidizes fossil fuel industries by providing them with approximately $1 billion in tax breaks every year. That’s approximately the same amount of money which the government spent hosting the G20 summit in Toronto this past year. It was at the earlier G20 summit in Pittsburgh that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, along with other G20 leaders, agreed to phase out subsidies and tax breaks to companies producing oil, coal and natural gas.

Canada’s fossil fuel producing industries certainly aren’t in need of this hand-out, yet year after year, Canadian taxpayers help these companies accrue record-breaking profits. This misuse of our hard-earned tax dollars is intolerable. As the world moves towards a clean energy economy, Canada will continue to play catch-up. Our government’s investments in fossil fuel industries are helping facilitate the rapid expansion of the tar sands, which is our nation’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution.

Artificially low fossil fuel costs have been shown to encourage wasteful consumption, and act as a disincentive to investment in cleaner, greener forms of energy, such as wind, solar and biomass. Continuing investments in fossil fuel industries aren’t just bad for our environment, they are bad for our economy.

Currently, the Canadian dollar is trading on par with the U.S. dollar, and as our dollar continues to rise as a result of tar sands profits, we here in Ontario can expect to see our manufacturing sector, which consists largely of small and medium sized businesses, increasingly disadvantaged. The higher our dollar soars, the more likely job losses in Central Canada will soar along with it.

Taking serious action to address the global climate crisis is going to require making difficult choices. The fact is, if we are to have any hope of holding global warming at the all-important level of 2 degrees Celsius, we are going to have to begin making decisions to leave fossil fuels in the ground, or else we will run the risk of setting off climatic feedback loops leading to runaway warming.

Whether tar sands bitumen proves to be one of the resources we ultimately leave locked in the ground, the fact remains that our government can make an easy choice to help both Canada’s environment and economy, by choosing to end the $1 billion subsidy to rich oil companies.

So far, only the Green Party’s Leader Elizabeth May has been talking about the need to both put a price on carbon emissions, and to end the perverse subsidies to the fossil fuel industries. In fairness, NDP Leader Jack Layton continues to mention the need to end these subsidies, although we’ve yet to see what the NDP proposes to do about pricing emissions. While I’m sure that the NDP will have carbon pricing as a part of their platform, I certainly hope that the NDP doesn’t propose the costly and potentially not-very-useful “Cap and Trade” mechanism for pricing, as they did in the previous election.

A better approach would be to follow the Green Party of Canada’s lead, along with that of the Liberal provincial government of British Columbia, and place a direct fee on emissions. Carbon pricing is inevitable, but we need to make sure that we get the mechanism right. By imposing a fee, and offsetting the collection of revenues by reducing personal income taxes, the carbon fee would be revenue neutral to the government, while providing Canadians with more money in their pockets to make sensible choices when it comes to the purchase of goods and services.

Hiding the cost of carbon in the prices of goods and services without a corresponding offset in income taxes, or another method of providing real money back into the pockets of the public, would be incredibly detrimental to our economy. Yet, that’s what a Cap and Trade emissions trading scheme is likely to do. Unless the price of carbon is so low that the trading scheme becomes virtually useless at reducing emissions.

I’d rather be able to make choices for myself and my family regarding how to spend my own money. That’s the approach currently being used in B.C., and that’s what the Green Party is proposing. Tax shifting is a big component for moving Canada towards developing a smart economy. By taxing what is detrimental to Canadians (pollution) and not that which is beneficial (income taxes), and by eliminating perverse subsidies to fossil fuel industries, we’ll be moving Canada towards a cleaner, healthier future.

Right now, though, as our government continues to subsidize fossil fuel industries while cutting investments to renewables, it’s clear that there remains a lot of work to be done to move the nation forward to a point that we’re actually doing something to meet our international carbon reduction commitments which were made at Kyoto and Copenhagen, and reaffirmed just recently in Cancun.

A change in the composition of parliament will undoubtedly help. That’s why it’s going to be important to Canadians to elect Members of Parliament who are ready and willing to take a stand on climate change. I sincerely hope that Canada’s national political parties and the mainstream media decide that climate change discussions are actually a necessary part of the current election debate.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Economic Crisis That Is Climate Change

I composed the following as an online response to an editorial published earlier in today’s Sudbury Star by Editor Brian MacLeod, “Bottom line trumps the environment”. MacLeod argues that voters are less interested in the environment than they are in the economy, and uses some recent polling to back up his claims that, despite making some small lifestyle changes, voters really don’t want to take personal action to address climate change.

Personally, I think he’s on to something, but I don’t agree with his rationale. I think that many Canadians are waiting for the government to show some leadership on greenhouse gas emissions, in part because they’re getting tired of shouldering most of the burden themselves. It’s not that we’re satisfied with baby steps; it’s more that we’re not willing to do more ourselves until everyone else steps up too.

MacLeod believes that governments usually act as followers of public opinion, and not leaders themselves. Although our current Conservative government hasn't shown much in the way of leadership on issues, that doesn't mean that we haven't seen other governments get out in front of issues in the past, or even today at the municipal or provincial level.

MacLeod also seems to be under the mistaken impression that the economy and the environment are two discrete issues, where one must always triumph over the other. It’s an outdated way of thinking, which, thankfully, more and more people are beginning to realize.

I’m reposting my comments here on my blog, to share with a larger audience.


In 2007, the Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its 4th Assessment Report to the United Nations and the world at large. In that report, the IPCC identified that climate change is happening, and that it is being caused by human activities which release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Since the release of that Report, governments around the world have come together to take action to address the climate crisis. In Copenhagen in 2009, and then recently in Cancun in 2010, just about every world government committed to taking action to reduce emissions. So far, however, what has been lacking is a credible plan which will compel action.

In our country, Canadians and our government both understand the importance of reducing emissions. It’s the level and pace of action which has been problematic for many Canadians. An increasing number of Canadians are making greener decisions for themselves and their families every day. Could we all be doing more to reduce emissions? I know that I could be doing a whole lot more; likely others feel the same way. But if our government doesn’t want to take leadership to reduce emissions to address what it acknowledges as a crisis, it can be very discouraging to Canadians.

I don’t agree that governments can’t be on the leading edge of public policy. In fact, governments have an obligation to lead for the good of those governed. While its true that in a democracy, governments can sometimes pay a price for an unpopular, but necessary, decision, it’s not always the case. Witness the last provincial election in British Columbia, where Gordon Campbell’s Liberals were returned to power despite implementing an unpopular carbon tax, on which the populist provincial NDP tried to capitalize on by promising to repeal.

Both the BC Liberals and Brian MacLeod have hit the nail on the head, though. Real change is only going to happen when there is a cost involved which facilitates making green decisions easier for businesses, industries and private citizens.

In the past, industries were allowed to pollute rivers and streams with impunity – there was no cost associated with funnelling toxic run-off into our waterbodies. When governments took on a leadership role for the good of those governed, and instituted regulations which would cost industries real money to continue doing business as usual, real change happened. Industries stopped polluting, our waterbodies were gradually brought back from the brink, and private citizens were able to enjoy the natural environment again.

Today, we don’t regulate greenhouse gas emissions, which have been recognized as a pollutant for their contribution to global warming. The public remains somewhat confused about the need for governments to do so. There are many who would likely lead greener lifestyles when they see their government start to take climate change seriously, but there remain many who fail to see the connection between climate change and a healthy economy.

Polls such as those discussed in Brian’s article which pit environmental choices against economic ones offer a false choice for respondents. By way of example, if you were to ask me about what the most important issue of the day is, I’d likely respond “the economy” as so many others do, because I believe that our economy is at risk from climate change, and that our government needs to do more to protect the health of our economy. Others might answer “security” or “law and order” for the same reasons.

The climate crisis is not just an environmental issue. It will affect so many varied aspects of our lives. That’s why it is very important for our government to show leadership on managing this crisis. For example, we know that there is a need to put a price on carbon is the best vehicle for us to realize reductions in emissions. However, simply instituting a carbon tax will wreak economic havoc with businesses and citizens, as it will raise the price of consumer and industrial goods beyond the means of businesses and citizens to afford. While such a tax might generate new revenues for governments, surely any government that implemented it wouldn’t be governing for very long!

By reducing taxes on things which contribute to our environmental and economic health, and which promote innovation and job creation, governments can offset rising prices for industries and citizens. It only makes sense to tax goods and services which provide us with a benefit at a lower rate than those which contribute to a problem. Look no further to taxes on cigarettes as an example.

In BC, the carbon tax imposed by the Liberal government was revenue neutral, being offset by a reduction in personal income taxes, which put money back into the hands of citizens to spend as they would choose to. Many chose to spend that money on greener lifestyles, investing it in energy saving retrofits, or a transit pass and bike instead of a second car. By offsetting a carbon fee on some goods and services with a lower income tax, BC created many winners. Those who still pursued more carbon-intensive lifestyles were slightly penalized for the choices they made – choices which impact the economic health of all Canadians.

Climate change and the environment hasn’t really gone away as an issue. Instead, it’s evolved into a discussion about economics, social justice and security. We can’t afford to pretend that these issues exist in isolation of one another. They never did fit into these artificial silos which we had created, and that’s partly why we’ve got such a problem today.

For Partisan Political Gain, Conservatives Continue to Create False Choices Between the Economy and the Environment

I composed the following as an online response to an article published in yesterday’s Sudbury Star by Sudbury Conservative Party of Canada Electoral District Association Director, Mark Mancini. The article, about Bill C-311, entitled “NDP bill would have hurt north’s economy” unfairly (in my opinion) attacks the NDP (and by extension, all Opposition Parties, which supported Bill C-311) by using that tried and true Conservative tactic of pitting the economy against the environment, while pretending that they somehow aren’t connected. Here in Sudbury, we have an NDP MP (Glenn Thibeault) who has spoken out about the need to put a price on carbon. The Conservatives are targeting this riding as one of the ones they think that they can take in order to win their majority government.

I’m reposting my comments here on my blog, to share with a larger audience.


Here we go again with a Conservative proffering a false choice between, on the one hand, the economy, and on the other, the environment. Whether Mark Mancini is just trying to spin this situation for his own partisan gain, or whether he's really naive enough to believe that the environment and economy must always be considered issues in opposition to one another, I can't say for sure. But I do know that Conservatives and Liberals have long professed to want to take action against global warming, but haven't done so for fear of "economic catastrophe".

What Conservatives don't want to tell you, for fear that you might catch on, is that by continuing to ignore the perils of climate change, the economic health of our nation is increasingly put at risk. It doesn't take much to connect the dots, but apparently Conservatives have this real problem with the use of numbers and statistics.

Look, Canada is part of a global economy. In a warming world, there will be more severe weather events, which cause damage, and claim lives. In a warming world, food will no longer grow where it once did, sometimes due to hotter growing seasons, sometimes because of severe weather, and sometimes because of increasing drought and desertification. When people get hungry, and their homes are washed away, it sometimes causes unrest.

We need to look no further than to what's happening right now in the Middle East and Africa, and the impact that it's having on the price of oil. What sometimes seem to be far-off events can have serious impacts on our daily lives, thanks to globalization. We have pretty much shed all of the insulation which we used to have around our economy which acted as protection, all in the name of free trade and higher profits for the richest businesses.

As the world continues to warm due to increasing levels of greenhouse gases (especially CO2 and methane), we will be creating the underlying circumstances which make our globalized economy that much more vulnerable than it already is. With just-in-time supply chain delivery, and the outsourcing of our manufacturing sector, what happens in China and Bangladesh and the Sacremento Valley will impact us here in Canada. We are particularly vulnerable here in Northern Ontario, sitting as we are four hours north of most of the hubs from which our grocery stores derive their products.

Bill C-311 was a flawed piece of legislation in that while it established targets for greenhouse gas reduction, it left the planning on how these reductions would happen to a later date. Nonetheless, it was a remarkably progressive piece of legislation which was supported by all of the Opposition parties. Given the current situation, it was my opinion that Bill C-311 was a good first step towards action, despite its shortcomings.

Mark Mancini, though, probably knows that the Bill lacked anything in the way of specifics regarding a plan to actually reduce CO2, but he's not going to tell you that. Instead, he'd rather mislead you, for political gain. The Bill itself did not create carbon winners and losers; it only set out the circumstance for future planning and discussion.

There was nothing in Bill C-311 itself which would have had a direct impact on Northern Ontario's mining sector.

Keep in mind that the biggest sectors of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada are the transport and energy production sectors. For the most part, the mining sector's contribution towards those two sectors is quite small, and is already ahead of other industrial sectors (the mining sector often opts for rail for the transport of goods; it often produces its own energy through cogeneration, or utilizes renewable hydro electricity). And while it's true that the mining sector relies on one heck of a lot of electrical power for its processes, the fact is that the mining sector is one sector where there is little in the way of alternatives.

Relatively speaking, we can change our transportation and energy production infrastructure much more easily than we can find metals in the ground for our industrial needs. Yes, we could probably do a lot more with the recycling of existing metals, but if we are going to continue as an industrial society, it's not as if we're not going to keep needing to pull metals out of the ground.

Yet, not taking action to address climate change actually imperils our situation here in Northern Ontario. When the global economy slumps, metal prices drop, and the mining sector is faced with making hard decisions. In a future where the world is warmer, there isn't any question that the globalized economy we've created for ourselves is going to sputter and stall, due to climate change and to the end of inexpensive oil.

Instead of preparing ourselves for this future, Conservatives like Mark Mancini would rather turn a blind eye to it, all for short term political gains. They do so by exploiting the very real fears that people have about the economy and jobs. However, the more people begin to realize that what we have most to fear from in terms of our economic health is inaction on climate change, the less this kind of fear-mongering is going to work.

Our economic health isn't dependent on a false trade-off between the economy and the environment. It's dependent on communities being able to chart sustainable courses for their own future, in the face of a warming planet and the end of inexpensive fossil fuel energy sources. Localized decision-making which promotes a healthy and sustainable local economy is the only way that we're going to avoid the economic hardship which awaits us in the future. Taking action to reduce the impacts of the climate crisis will help, and it will require national and international-level decision-making, because we individuals can only do so much ourselves.

Conservatives don't understand this, or worse, they willfully ignore it. Mark Mancini wants you to believe that taking action on climate change is somehow bad for the economy, in order to score cheap political points in the Sudbury riding at the expense of an NPD incumbent. This kind of nonsense is so cheap and cynical, it's truly appalling to see. Yes, I know that all of the parties in parliament are prone to play these silly games, especially during an election.

That doesn't make it right, though. And it gets in the way of Canadians having the opportunity to understand issues, and to engage in ways of resolving those issues satisfactorily. Democracy is about more than taking a trip to a ballot box every few years or so. It's about being part of the discourse, about being able to understand and influence decisions. It's about caring and taking part.

The mining sector understands that it's not going to be business as usual in the future, because of climate change and the end of inexpensive energy. I'd go so far as to suggest that even the oil companies understand this. The responses of the two sectors, though, couldn't be more different. While the mining sector has decided that it has a role to play in responsible development with a smaller impact on the environment, the oil sector has gone the other way: to try to convince Canadians that there really isn't anything to worry about. Isn't it funny that our current government seems to be doing the same thing? Isn't it funny that our current government continues to subsidize the richest oil companies with taxpayer money? Isn't it funny how easily the dots can be connected, if one were inclined to try.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Opposition Parties Do the Right Thing – Finally

It looks like the last Opposition Party which remained non-committal about its support of the Conservative government has made up its mind. Last night, Jack Layton announced very soon after the budget was delivered by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty that the NDP did not support the budget as written. The door to bring amendments forward was then slammed in his face by Flaherty, who decried in the spirit of Conservative co-operation, that either the budget gets adopted as-is, or it gets defeated.

Flaherty’s actions were expected; Layton’s, less so. Leading up to the budget, Layton and the NDP had been cagey. They said that they wanted to see the budget first, and never mind the ethical scandals the Conservatives have found themselves immersed in; nevermind that voting to support a budget would be voting to keep the most regressive government Canada has ever seen in power for likely another year. It seemed that if there was a chance for political gain for the NDP, Layton would take it. The question then became, could the Conservatives convince Layton to again set aside his Party’s principles and vote to support their regressive regime?

Some goodies were indeed thrown to the NDP, and to Canadians, in yesterday’s budget. First, some compliments where they are due: the continuation of the Eco-Energy Home Retrofit program, to the tune of $400 million, was one of Jack Layton’s targets for budgetary co-operation. This program has been effective with helping Canadians pay the costs of energy efficiency upgrades to their homes, which in the long run, benefit everyone through the reduced need for energy production. No doubt, whatever happens after the upcoming election, this program will remain funded, at least for another year (although it’s unfortunate that a grander vision for this program wasn’t being requested, nor offered: this program could have been extended to landlord situations where low-income tenants would benefit through rental reductions as result of energy savings; grants could have been offered to low-income working families who otherwise couldn’t afford to wait until tax time to see returns).

Indeed, as I indicated yesterday, there is something good for just about everybody in the budget. But having one or two goodies frankly isn’t good enough. The over-riding myopic vision of this budget is one of political opportunism. And that certainly includes the few bones thrown to the NDP by the governing Conservatives.

When it comes to budgets, surely our government could have done much better than this. How about having a realistic plan to address the $56 billion deficit in the face of a downturn in global economic activity, as a result of on-going crises in the Middle East and North Africa, along with rising oil and food prices? We’ve been relatively lucky here in Canada, finding ourselves somewhat insulated from the worst effects of the 2008 recession (at least in comparison to many other industrialized nations). However, as the economy is expected to sputter again as the demand for oil outstrips production, causing prices to soar and contributing to inflation and a loss of economic activity, wouldn’t Finance Minister Jim Flaherty have been better off to rely on tried and true methods of deficit fighting?

However, this is the same Jim Flaherty who, while Minister of Finance in Mike Harris’ provincial government, tried to hide deficits and keep spending secrets from other parliamentarians, so that when a new government came in and opened up the books, they were horrified to discover the extent of his deceit. I can’t help but wonder if this leopard has changed his spots, and whether there might be some very dark spending secrets still hiding in Flaherty’s books. Kevin Paige, parliament’s financial watchdog, seems to think that there is, and the Opposition parties have been trying to get clear answers from the Conservatives regarding the costs of new prisons and fighter jets, with no success. Michael Ignatieff likes to go on and on about how you can’t trust the Conservative’s numbers. He’s right to do so.

So, instead of keeping Harper’s promise made at the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh back in 2009 to eliminate corporate welfare to some of the richest oil and gas companies in the world, Flaherty is largely relying on economic growth to get us out of the deficit mess we’re in. Flaherty’s tax cuts for big businesses come at a bit of a perverse time, as middle class and low-income Canadians are being asked to tighten their belts and do their parts to fight the deficit.

Some are saying that the current Conservative government is running a kleptocracy on behalf of their corporate benefactors. I wouldn’t go that far, but I can understand how it seems that the government is looting its own cupboards and trying to squeeze as much as they can from a shrinking middle class, so that the rich can enjoy paying fewer taxes. Don’t misunderstand me: the Conservatives, like their tea-party cousins south of the border, are doing a very good job of getting the middle class voters to support measures which actually run contrary to the interests of the middle classes. Small tax savings and promises of transparent, smaller government come wrapped up with big bows, but when unwrapped, it’s always the same old gift to the rich, who get richer, while the poor get poorer, and the middle class shrinks in the face of rising prices.

The NDP likes to say that they have the interests of hard working Canadians in mind, and it seems that after supporting the regressive Conservatives back in 2009, they realized that doing so again would mean abandoning their core supporters even further. This should have been a no-brainer to the NDP, and so it was disappointing to see Layton be cagey about the budget. With the NDP polling at around 14% nationally, and forecasted to lose seats in a spring election (including here in Northern Ontario), it might seem to the NDP that supporting the government makes more political sense right now. However, continued support of the Conservatives would have meant that the NDP would alienate its own supporters, who are stunningly upset about a Conservative government being allowed by the Opposition parties to run amok.

If the NDP had decided to vote to support the current Conservative government, in the face of an underwhelming and ill-planned budget, and against the backdrop of ethical scandals the size of Mount Everest, they would have successfully prevented an election from happening this spring, and likely delaying an election until 2012. The NDP might have thought that, given their lacklustre performance in the polls, they will benefit from this additional time to regroup and refocus.

But the slap in the face the NDP would have delivered to working families throughout Canada, who are being stung by a government bent on squeezing them for all their worth, would have been too much for future voters to ignore. In the past, the NDP has seemingly always put its own partisan interests in front of the interests of the voters it seeks to represent.

There appear to be rifts within the NDP caucus itself, over support of the budget. Thomas Mulcair, the NDP’s MP from Outrement, has been leading the charge to bring down the government. Perhaps this internal political reality might have also influenced Layton’s decision last night to help bring down the government. With a firebrand waiting in the wings to inspire and lead its disenchanted members, Layton really could ill-afford to lend his support again to the Conservatives.

The NDP is not a Party which always acts on its stated principles; indeed, they often say one thing and do another. In the past, the NDP has rationalized their support for an otherwise odious government by claiming that small, not-all-we-wanted-but-good-enough “wins” in a budget were somehow better than voting against a generally problematic document. It’s good to see that the NDP has this time decided that following their principles makes good political sense.

I have always admired the NDP’s principles, and some of their policy initiatives as well (where they were costed, and where they made sense). But the NDP’s emphasis on partisan game playing has always turned me off (their attacks on the Liberals carbon pricing plan in the 2008 federal election were particularly disgusting to me, given that the NDP’s own member-approved policies contained a very similar plan). This time, it looks like the NDP has decided to finally do the right thing. If only their principles consistently guided their decision-making.

The budget’s few small bright spots do not alter the general narrative of its overall weakness. The budget lacks any realistic plan to fight the deficit, and to start making the changes we need to make to prepare ourselves for the future. The budget does not help Canadians with preparing ourselves for a future where rising energy prices will impact so many aspects of our existence, from the way in which we get ourselves to work, to the nature of that work itself. Canada’s continued reliance on fossil fuels to power our economy is further evidence of an outdated economic model, which imperils our children’s economic health.

It’s good to see that the Opposition parties have finally come to the conclusion that they need to do something about the menace to Canada which is the Conservative government.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It’s Time: Conservatives’ Economic Mismanagement and Contempt for Democracy

So, today’s Federal Budget rolled out largely as the pundits expected, based on the Conservative government’s strategic leaks to the media in the past 48 hours, leaked in advance of receipt by our elected officials. Cynical ploys from the Harper government aside, there are few surprises in the budget (positive or negatives); the budget, clearly, has been tailor-made by the Conservatives for an election campaign.

This budget contains something which is likely to please just about every Canadian, as it’s ripe with niche goodies: a tax break here, a spending hike there. The Conservatives have truly gone out of their way not to remind Canadians that we’re facing a $56 billion deficit without any clear plan about how it’s going to be repaid. Yes, Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty would very much like for Canadians to forget that we’ve mortgaged our children’s future in a two-year spending orgy which happened outside of the context of a strategic framework, and was based on political priorities rather than societal needs.

The Liberals and the Bloc have already indicated that they won’t be voting for this budget; they’re ready to fight an election based on the ethics of the Conservative government. There is a lot of ammunition there, too, given the recent contempt of parliament ruling, RCMP investigations of party insiders, charges being brought against top party Officials and Conservative Senators. Not to mention the misuse of parliamentary resources for political gain, lying to parliament by Conservative MP’s, and the muzzling of respected civil servants. On the ethics and accountability front, there’s no question that the current Conservative government has sunk to historic lows.

What of the economics of the budget, however? The Conservatives like to put forward the claim that they have been adept financial stewards of the Canadian economy. This myth has largely remained unchallenged by the Opposition parties, due in part to the lack of credibility that those parties bring to the table. The current facts of Canada’s economic situation in the larger world might at first suggest that there is some merit to the Conservatives’ assertions regarding financial management, although one has to wonder if maybe that’s more to do with the economic legacy left to Canadians by the Chretien/Martin regime. Or perhaps it says more about the poor financial management of other nations.

Either way, though, the fact remains that the Conservatives’ financial planning has been a great success for the wealthiest amongst us, and for big businesses. Tax cuts have largely gone to benefit those who need them the least: to the rich, and to the corporate sector, while the middle class and small businesses have seen costs continue to rise in the face of inflationary pressure.

Women, seniors, students, those living on fixed incomes, and the middle class, have all experienced net financial losses over the 5 years of Conservative rule. For some of us, the pain is just starting to hit us: at the gas pump, through higher energy bills, higher property taxes, banking fees, etc. Sure, some of these things aren’t, strictly speaking, within the federal government’s jurisdiction to directly influence. Governments, however, need to remember that there is only one taxpayer. When the federal government cuts back on transfers to the provinces, or to municipalities, or allows corporate oligopolies to fix consumer prices, the economic burden on the one single taxpayer increases.

In the coming few months, we can continue to expect higher energy prices, especially at the fuel pump, along with higher prices on food and imported goods. What’s the government’s plan to do anything about this? I didn’t see anything in the current budget which even considered that the future isn’t going to be like the present, and maybe we ought to plan for that future.

And that’s the single biggest problem with this Conservative budget, and frankly with the Opposition parties which are looking for specific, niche adjustments to the financial management of this nation, when more substantive efforts are required. Simply put, our government needs to build a smart economy, which is flexible enough to deal with both threats and opportunities, and equitable enough to allow all Canadians the chance the flourish. We need to create investment opportunities to facilitate the growth of healthy communities throughout the nation. And we need to do so through an open, consultative, and truly democratic process, so that all Canadians are engaged in building the future Canada that we need to thrive.

It’s nice that the budget offers one or two good things for everybody. But if we are to continue along the course we’re currently upon, pretending that the status quo is sustainable, we’re going to be in for a very rude economic awakening in the next few years.

All eyes will now be on Claude Gravelle, Glenn Thibeault, Jack Layton and the rest of the New Democrats. Pundits have already begun to speculate that there might be enough goodies in this budget to entice a poll-slumping NDP to support the government on this budget and any other matter of confidence which might arise later this week. I hope that the NDP chooses to stick to its principles, rather than to once again flip-flop for political gain at the expense of doing what’s right.

It’s time to seek a new mandate. Hopefully one which represents the electoral will of all Canadians, although with our archaic first-past-the-post electoral system, there is a very real risk that the Cons could be handed a false majority government. That’s a risk which needs to be taken, because the future of this nation can no longer be held hostage to partisan politics. Canadians deserve far better than our current Conservative government, and frankly better than what’s on offer by the other parties in parliament. However, even a small step towards the right direction would be welcome at this point, because the road the Conservatives have us on is leading us towards economic disaster.

Although the right-wing corporate media won’t tell you about the Green Party’s plan for the economy, rest assured that Elizabeth May and the Greens have been working for years now on a comprehensive and fully costed plan for the future economic health of our nation. It’s actually been hiding in plain sight on the Green Party’s website for a while now. Click on the link to “Vision Green” at the Party’s website:, to see how you and Canada would benefit from smart economic action which is co-ordinated and considers our current and future needs, rather than political circumstances.

I, like most Canadians, don’t want an unnecessary election. With the release of today’s budget, and with the contempt shown by the Conservative government to our democratic parliamentary institutions, and indeed to all Canadians, the time has come for Canadians to return to the polls. Canadians need this opportunity to revisit the economic mismanagement of the Harper Conservatives, and perhaps turn towards other ideas and political parties which would take us toward a better direction for the future.

It’s Time.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Local Food Security Issues Impacted by Climate Change

The following text had previously been submitted as a letter to the Editor of the Sudbury Star, in response to an article written by Andrea Deemer, "Looming food-price spike must be addressed now", and published in the February 28th edition of the Star. At this time, the letter has not been published.


Andrea Deemer, in her article, drew specific attention to where the impacts of global climate change are likely to be felt by Sudburians. Deemer indicated that we can expect higher food prices and shrinking availability of food products as a result of the climate crisis and higher energy prices.

On February 24 through the 26th, I had the pleasure of attending the “Moving Forward Together Conference on Climate Change and Social Justice”, hosted by the Nickel District Conservation Authority and the Greater Sudbury Social Planning Council. At this conference, the issue of food security was top of mind for social justice advocates and for those looking for local solutions and strategies to address the climate crisis.

Those attending the conference heard Dr. Liette Vasseur of Brock University (formerly of Laurentian University) indicate that a warming global climate will likely add an extra 3 weeks to Greater Sudbury’s growing season over the next 90 years. However, with less summer moisture forecast, and with more precipitation occurring in the winter in the form of rain rather than snow, water levels in lakes and aquifers are likely to decrease, causing problems for irrigating local farms.

Nevertheless, our agricultural sector here in Greater Sudbury is likely to be less impacted than other major agricultural areas, particularly in the American south and throughout the tropics. The problems for these breadbasket areas are also Greater Sudbury’s problems, as we get most of our food from parts of the world which will be more seriously impacted by a changing climate.

Food scarcity as a result of climate impacts, coupled with increasing transportation costs, will continue to drive the price of food ever higher. For those living on fixed incomes, this will mean fewer healthy food choices, and a greater reliance on less-expensive (and less healthy) processed foods.

Certainly, that’s a bad situation for those living in poverty. Consider, though, what your own financial circumstance might be in a future where continued economic growth is no longer occurring, due to disruptions brought on by global food shortages, climate change and the end of inexpensive energy. Maybe this isn’t just a problem for the poorest amongst us after all.

The longer we delay taking meaningful action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to address the climate crisis, the more we continue to risk our future economic health. When it comes to climate change, the cost of inaction will certainly be a heavy burden for the majority of Canadians.

Through the efforts of local businesses, the not-for-profit sector, and governmental organizations, Greater Sudbury continues to show leadership throughout Canada by demonstrating that we are thinking ahead and planning for the future.