Monday, April 30, 2012

Bruce Hyer and the Values of Political Parties

“Instead of cooperation and compromise, voters often see mindless solidarity, where political parties are always right and voters are always wrong. … And on climate change, parties are hopelessly locked to Cap and Trade or outright inaction, making compromise to achieve even piecemeal progress impossible.”

-Bruce Hyer, Member of Parliament, Thunder Bay-Superior North, from his April 23 2012 press release explaining why he will sit as an Independent MP

“People are also disillusioned with MPs’ allegiance to parties instead of constituents, government inefficiency and wasteful spending, and the failure of government to address critical issues like the climate crisis.”

-Green Party of Canada, Vision Green 2011, Part 6: Good Government (page 125)

Last week, Member of Parliament for the Northern Ontario riding of Thunder Bay-Superior North, Bruce Hyer, announced that he was leaving the New Democratic Party’s caucus over what appear to be irreconcilable differences between himself and the direction which NDP Leader Tom Mulcair wants to take on the long gun registry. Hyer also cited intransigence with party’s positions on climate change action, and significant concerns about the democratic deficit within parliament (especially those related to “whipped” votes).

Hyer, along with NDP MP John Rafferty (Thunder Bay-Rainy River) was previously sanctioned by the NDP’s former interim Leader, Nycole Turmel, for voting with the Conservatives to repeal legislation related to the long gun registry. Turmel had indicated to the NDP caucus that they would be participating in a whipped vote in an attempt to preserve the registry. Previously, some NDP MP’s had voted with the Conservatives to send the bill to dismantle the registry to committee, ostensibly so that the bill could be amended to change the registry, rather than kill it outright.

Ultimately, the Conservatives did not allow any amendments, and opposition MP’s were left with the choice of voting to save the registry as-is, or ending it. The Liberal Party and NDP whipped their caucuses to support saving the registry, which led to (in my opinion, unwarranted) accusations that some NDP MP’s such as Sudbury’s Glenn Thibeault had “flip flopped” on their positions regarding the registry. However, with a Conservative majority government, the writing had been on the wall all along to kill the registry. Hyer and Rafferty’s votes, frankly, did not matter one way or the other in terms of saving or dismantling the long gun registry.

But what Hyer and Rafferty did was to place what they perceived to be the interests of their constituents over the interests of their Party, and in this era of ultra-partisanship on Parliament Hill, that’s one of the biggest no-no’s that an MP can commit. By putting the interests of their voters ahead of the interests of the New Democratic Party, Hyer and Rafferty received the punishment of being turned into non-entities in the House by Turmel, who removed their ability to ask questions in the House, which is really one of the most important roles that an MP can perform on behalf of their constituents.

When Tom Mulcair became the Leader of the Party, Hyer and Rafferty’s punishment was lifted. However, in resigning from the NDP caucus, Hyer cited Mulcair’s desire to re-instate the long gun registry when the NDP forms government, through a whipped vote, as one of the major reasons for his departure. It seems that Hyer, who appears to want to hang around as an elected MP past 2015, did not want to find himself back in the same place he just emerged from – punished for voting on behalf of his constituents instead of following the Party whip.

So now, Hyer has been banished to the nether-regions of the backbenches, where he’ll sit with other House “Independents”, such as those MP’s elected under the banners of the Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party. Hyer is likely already on a first-name basis with these MP’s, many of whom participate in the all-parties climate caucus, initiated by Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands.

Bruce Hyer

Hyer came to politics with a background in ecology, forestry and tourism. A successful local business person, Hyer was a community leader on issues related to the natural environment before deciding to pursue politics. He ran for the NDP in two elections, paying his political dues before finally being elected as MP in 2008.

Aside from his recent renown related to the long gun registry, Hyer is probably best known for introducing Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act, a private member’s bill which was passed by the House under the Conservative’s minority government (it received support from the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois, along with the NDP). Despite its democratic passage in the House of Commons, the bill was ultimately killed by Canada’s unelected senate, on the direction of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

I’ve been watching Hyer’s career for some time now, given that he represents a Northern Ontario riding, and has a keen interest in taking action on climate change. While I did not personally support Hyer’s vote to dismantle the long gun registry, I have supported his decision to put what he perceived to be the interests of his constituents ahead of the interests of his Party. I certainly share Hyer’s frustrations with partisanship and the diminished roles which our elected officials appear to be playing in decision-making.

Hyer seems to be concerned with the direction that Tom Mulcair wants to take the NDP. When Mulcair became the NDP’s Leader, Liberal interim Leader Bob Rae suggested that Mulcair was a “mini-Harper” due to Mulcair’s desire to micro-manage the NDP’s messaging and policy, which will no doubt further add to the democratic deficit in parliament. The NDP has always had a bit of an independent streak, but over the past decade, through the heavy-handed use of the Party whip, and with the Conservative Party as its role model, what we’ve seen is the evolution of the NDP towards a more carefully stage-managed party which values the consistency of its message over exercising its principles. This will likely prove to be a recipe for electoral success for Tom Mulcair, but it’s sure to rub many within the NDP the wrong way.

Hyer rightly points out that, as an Independent, he’ll be able to vote his conscience on an issues-by-issues basis. However, as an Independent, Hyer is going to face some unique challenges with Canada’s democratic system, which is sorely in need of reform.


By leaving the NDP caucus, Hyer has likely left behind a healthy Electoral District Association, which amongst other roles, acts as a fundraiser for candidates between elections. Only registered political parties are entitled to have these associations (known as “EDA’s” or “riding associations”); independents can’t set them up, and therefore can’t engage in fundraising between elections. Should Hyer wish to run again in the next federal election (and given his concerns about a future Mulcair government, it seems that Hyer is interested in doing so), fundraising is going to be an issue, although I suspect that with Hyer’s local popularity, there’s a good chance that many NDP members in Thunder Bay-Superior North will likely rally around him now, rather than the NDP, especially given Mulcair’s stated position that he wants to bring the long gun registry back.

If Hyer is serious about wanting to remain an MP after the next election, he’s going to have to think about money. In 2008 (the last election year for which information is currently available), Hyer and the NDP spent about $70,000 on the local campaign. It’s likely that he spent as much, or more, in 2011, and who knows how much the NDP EDA spent pre-election, or how much the EDA contributed to his campaign. As an Independent, Hyer is going to be on the hook to raise all that money himself, and he’s going to have to do it all during the 35-day writ period. Of course, he might not need to spend as much to win next time around, relying instead on name recognition. Although with the likelihood being very high that the NDP will be running a candidate against him, I would think that if he’s serious, he’s going to have to spend some serious dollars, as one of the dirty little secrets of Canadian democracy is that, for the most part, successful local campaigns are those campaigns which are nearly or completely fully funded. Generally speaking, if you don’t pony up the money, you’re likely not going to get elected.

The Long Gun Registry

In rural Northern Ontario, there’s not a lot of support for the long gun registry. I’ve generally avoided writing about the registry altogether, as I’ve found it to be more of an emotional touchstone issue than anything else. For me, it was a well-intentioned but poorly implemented public policy. My Party does not have any member-approved policy on the registry, likely because the Green Party has seen the whole debate about the registry as a distraction from getting down to work on more serious issues related to gun control. In the vote in 2011 to dismantle the registry, Green MP Elizabeth May voted with the NDP, Liberals and Bloc to save the registry, but made it very clear that it would have been her preference to make some significant changes to it, rather than be forced to simply vote for it or against it. But the Conservatives left all MP’s no choice in the matter.

In absence of member-approved policies, I’ve no doubt that May based her vote to save the registry on the Green Party’s values and the wishes of her constituents in Saanich-Gulf Islands. Vision Green 2011, the Party’s comprehensive position document, speaks to the need to reform the registry, making it “free” and “fair”. Actually, the Green Party’s emphasis on firearms policy has little to do with the registry, and much more to do with preventing illegal hand guns from entering Canada (and giving our border security the tools they need to do the job, which I note now at a time when the Conservatives have decided to cut front line border guards, despite their stated “law and order” agenda).

See Section 4.11.7, Gun Control and Ownership Rights, of Vision Green 2011 for the Green Party’s positions on firearms.

With the lack of member-approved policy on the registry, and the lack of opportunity for a political compromise to be found which would have brought fulsome changes to the registry, it’s quite likely that if the Green Party had another elected MP in Ottawa, that Green MP may have used the interests of their constituents as guidance for their vote. The Party’s Green Values of participatory democracy and respect for diversity would have also guided this hypothetical MP’s vote. Given these circumstances, it’s quite possible that another Green MP in parliament would have voted with Hyer and the Conservatives to dismantle the registry.

That hypothetical MP’s punishment for voting to dismantle the registry, contrary to our Leader’s vote would have been…well, nothing at all. Such a vote could very well be considered to be in keeping with the values of the Green Party of Canada. The vote would not have been whipped, and any elected MP would have been able to vote as they determined to be best.

Bottom-Up Decision Making

Like Bruce Hyer, the Green Party wants to do politics differently. One of the compelling reasons which members often cite for joining the Green Party is that we’re not really much of a “party” at all. By that I mean the Green Party of Canada is probably the least partisan national political party currently operating on the North American continent. Besides being a “big tent” party which has welcomed members who once belonged to the NDP, Progressive Conservatives or, like me, the Liberal Party (along with members who have never been involved in party politics), the Green Party’s emphasis on grassroots decision-making based on shared values permeates throughout the structure of the Party. While the NDP, Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc are all leader-driven parties, the role of the Leader of the Green Party is extremely limited. Our Leader can’t create policy or overturn member-approved policy in the same way that Tom Mulcair seems to want to run roughshod over some of his Party’s policies.

When Elizabeth May decided that she wanted to represent the Green Party in Saanich-Gulf Islands, an almost unheard of situation in Canadian party politics occurred: another member of the Green Party actually challenged our Leader for the nomination to represent the riding! May had to fight a nomination contest. This is illustrative of the significant independent streak which exists within the Green Party. In short, the Green Party can in no way be considered “disciplined” in the same way that the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP can. And we thrive on our ability to publicly disagree with one another on matters of policy and politics. That party members can do so without the fear of reprisal is simply staggering. Please take my word for this, as I have some considerable personal experience for publicly disagreeing with members of my Party, including our Leader, on issues of importance. I can tell you at no time has anyone, including Elizabeth May, ever asked me to keep quiet or to even tone down how I’ve expressed my opinion. I’m sure I’ve irritated some Party members along the way, but we all understand that we’re in this together, and that we belong to a Party which encourages dissent, because dissent leads to critical analysis and discussion, and ultimately to better public policy. That’s what bottom-up decision making is all about.

Certainly, The Green Party’s lack of partisan focus has created some significant challenges for the Party. It might be a safer electoral strategy to mimic the Conservatives and NDP and stick to focus-group developed talking points in order to best articulate the Party’s messaging. But to do so would run counter to just about everything which the Green Party stands for in terms of participatory democracy.

And the Green Party has been thinking ahead to a time when answering the question about having a party whip becomes more than an academic exercise. With only one MP in the House right now, there is no need for a party whip. But, it seems to me that based on the Party’s grassroots approach to decision-making, our shared value of participatory democracy, and a reluctance to impose top-down control in just about everything we do, I just can’t see the Party ever successfully using a whip.

Here’s what Green Party Leader Elizabeth May had to say about her experiences in parliament, and about the future of the Party with a larger caucus:

“The single most empowering benefit of being a Green MP is that I am not oppressed by the top down system of all the other parties. Every day the pages deliver to every desk (except mine) the instructions from that party’s whip: Vote yes, vote no. Complete instructions. No individual thinking or action is allowed by any of the other parties. It has been a far greater level of control than I had expected to see.

Of course, some might say that as a caucus of one and as leader, of course, no one is telling me what to do. But the reality is, we will have a bigger caucus – a far bigger caucus – and it will never involve top-down control.”

-Elizabeth May, Message to B.C. Greens

Contrast May’s approach to party politics with that of NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who spoke about Hyer’s resignation from caucus: “In the Canadian parliamentary system, there is a caucus system. You vote with your party and you vote with your caucus and there will come times when you have to impose that.” (see: “I’m not whipable: Ontario MP quits NDP caucus over gun registry”, the Globe and Mail, April 13 2012). I guess party politics is all very black and white for Tom Mulcair, and given his past experience with the Liberal Party in Quebec and his current experience with the federal NDP, that stands to reason. But what Mulcair seems to refuse to want to acknowledge is that it doesn’t have to be that way, and in fact, for one national political party (the Green Party of Canada), it’s not that way.

As Tom Mulcair continues to build on the NDP’s record of silencing independent-thinking candidates like Hyer and whipping all of his MP’s into the voting equivalent of bleating sheep rather than allowing them to truly represent the constituents who elected them, it’s clear to me that the NDP can not help stem the erosion of Canadian democracy. In short, they are a significant part of the problem.

Does anybody really think that Prime Minister Mulcair is going to exercise less control over his cabinet and caucus than Prime Minister Harper currently does?

Climate Change

So, to recap, Hyer left the NDP caucus over concerns about Mulcair’s desire to reinstate the long gun registry, and over the NDP’s continued shift towards command and control top-down politics. That alone would be reason enough for Hyer to leave the NDP caucus, given the recent ostracism he experienced related to his vote to dismantle the long gun registry, and his concerns about Mulcair’s stated desire to whip future votes on a resurrected registry. Those connections are very clear, and Hyer has also suggested that he felt that being overlooked by Mulcair for the NDP’s shadow cabinet was also problematic, given his previously role in shadow cabinet.

So, why then Hyer’s remark about climate change?

Needless to say, I found Hyer’s concerns very interesting indeed. I can only speculate that Hyer is expressing his concerns over the entrenched position of the NDP to continue to sideline a sensible carbon tax policy in preference to Cap and Trade, championed by Tom Mulcair, despite the growing evidence which suggests that Cap and Trade will be a massive boondoggle and may not actually lead to reducing emissions. I think that Hyer might share my own fears that politics is getting in the way of taking meaningful action to address the climate crisis, and he couldn’t help but note this when he chose to leave caucus.

With the Liberal Party having abandoned Stephane Dion’s carbon tax policy wholesale after 2008, Hyer is going to find himself sitting near the only MP in parliament who belongs to a Party which unequivocally campaigned in 2011 on the imposition of a revenue neutral carbon tax. Of course, that’s Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who along with Hyer, understands that there’s a bit of urgency around the need to take action on climate change.

Look, we can’t continue to let politics get in the way of doing something to begin the process of decarbonising our economy. For far too long we’ve put off doing what we know we should be doing to reduce our fossil fuel consumption. As a result, we’ve been digging a massive hole for children to climb out of in the future. With the anticipated effects of climate change expected to cost the Canadian economy over $6 billion dollars in 2020 (and rising every year thereafter), our lack of foresight and planning and, let’s be honest, our complete disregard to this pressing issue has left Canada economically disadvantaged. Other countries are embracing the green economy of the twenty-first century; Canada under the Liberals and Conservatives seems content to continue being wed to the brown economy of the 19th century.

I know Hyer understands this. In fact, I think the NDP understands it too. But the NDP has been far more focused on saying the right things to get elected, rather than developing sensible public policy. It must be very frustrating to be a supporter of the NDP, given that party’s record for abandoning its principles in pursuit of electoral success. And the NDP will certainly be doing more of that in the future, under Tom Mulcair, as Mulcair takes his party further down the road of populist boutique policy development.

Party Politics

I’ve got a lot of respect for Bruce Hyer to stand up for the things which he believes in. As an elected MP, I’m sure his decision to leave his caucus was not an easy one to make, given his long history with the New Democratic Party. However, I think that Hyer sees that the NDP of today isn’t quite the same as the NDP he joined years ago, or that it at least hasn’t lived up to expectations, despite its recent electoral success.

Politics does not always have to be about the pursuit of power. Politicians often lose sight of the fact that they are elected as public servants; they are put into power to do public good, and not simply to figure out a way to gain or hold onto power. The pursuit of power alone can not and should not justify decision-making. The NDP used to understand this, but over the past decade, there has been a drift. Over the next decade, under the leadership of Tom Mulcair, I expect that drift to continue, especially if it brings the sort of electoral success which I suspect it might.

Where, then, does that leave principled politicians like Hyer, who want to continue to represent their constituents without slavishly following partisan political doctrine? The Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats would suggest that it should leave MP’s like Hyer on the sidelines, or better yet, not see them elected in the first place. However, I suspect that like Hyer, most Canadians are fed up with ultra-partisanship of the three big national parties, and in the process, condemn all party politicking.

Yet, until real reform is brought to our electoral system, political parties will continue to thrive, because only political parties can raise the kind of money needed to win elections. That’s our current electoral reality, and I despise it, as I think it’s an absolute affront to democracy. But given the reality in which we find ourselves, it’s necessary to dwell within the system for now, with the goal of bringing about real and meaningful change from the inside.

It would be a shame to lose a strong and sensible voice like Bruce Hyer’s from our parliament, and not just for the good people of Thunder Bay-Superior North. All Canadians should take pride in elected public servants like Hyer. I only hope that Hyer might come to a different conclusion about party politics in the near future, and discover that his own values appear to be extremely well-suited to the values which many of my friends hold dear.

Something to think about, Mr. Hyer.

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mining and Climate Change, Part 4: The NDP and the Wrong Carbon Pricing Policy

Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, the New Democratic Party, should they form Canada’s next government (and let’s be frank here: there’s a very good chance that they will do just that), if it follows through on its policy (always a big “if” for the NDP), will establish a Cap and Trade emissions trading scheme which will see the sale of carbon offsets between various industrial emitters. Such a Cap and Trade scheme could conceivably involve about half of Canada’s emitters, in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon Trading

The Cap and Trade approach to carbon pricing will prove to be very problematic for business and industry, and for all Canadians. With their advocacy to implement carbon trading, the NDP may have struck upon a better policy than the Conservative’s regulatory approach, but with so many uncertainties and the opportunity for exemption and fraud in new carbon market, it’s far from the best option on the table if the goal is to reduce emissions. I've previously blogged about my concerns with Cap and Trade, so I'll not go into significant detail here, as I've done so elsewhere (see: "Cap and Trade: Is this the Best that We can Come Up With?", January 15,2010)

Right away, one glaring issue with Cap and Trade becomes apparent: it does not involve all emitters. And it can’t, because a significant portion of emissions come from very small-scale sources, including agriculture, home heating and personal transportation.

But, conceivably, even with just the biggest emitters in play, Cap and Trade could still do some good to actually reduce emissions. As long as the emissions cap is set low enough, and offset purchases are going towards projects which demonstrably reduce greenhouse gases, it’s possible that it might do some good. In Europe, however, where there has been an emissions trading scheme in place since 2005, and for a host of reasons, it’s been a white elephant. It’s not even clear that emissions have actually been reduced, but what we have seen is a lot corruption and swindling, particularly through price manipulation and questionable offsets mechanisms.

Better Policy: A Carbon Tax

A carbon tax, on the other hand, is a lot less complicated to implement than establishing a Cap and Trade scheme. Our governments are pretty good at taxing things; a carbon tax is really just another form of consumption tax. It’s implementation would be relatively straight-forward, and could occur very quickly.

Here in Ontario, our provincial government has been participating in something called the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) for many years now. The WCI came out of the western United States, when states like California, Oregon and Washington got together and decided that they were going to look into establishing a common carbon market and use Cap and Trade to reduce emissions. Eventually, other jurisdictions joined, including B.C., Ontario and Quebec. Today, despite years of involvement, there remains no plan to actually get a Cap and Trade scheme up and running, at least not in Ontario. And given the urgency of the climate crisis, that’s just unacceptable.

For the mining sector, and for businesses of all sizes, a carbon tax actually represents a much lower-risk public policy, than does Cap and Trade, due to the inherent volatility of trading markets. Businesses would be able to engage in longer term planning with predictable price knowledge. While larger businesses might be ok to weather the storm of Cap and Trade market volatility, smaller businesses could be hit fairly hard, especially those businesses which are more intensive consumers of energy, such as junior miners.

A carbon tax can also be applied equitably, dependent upon emissions. This is important to the mining sector: a direct consumption tax, if implemented across the board, would not play favourites in the same way that intensity targets established through regulations would. Under a carbon tax, each industrial sector would be paying its fair share for the emissions it produces.

Reducing Personal Income Tax Contributions and Carbon Emissions

A carbon tax, if applied in the way which the Green Party of Canada currently advocates (and which the Liberals under Stephane Dion had previously contemplated), would be “revenue neutral”. Now, that doesn’t mean that it would be revenue neutral for everybody, just for government. One of the big ideas around the introduction of a carbon tax is that it can only be done if you also figure out a way to allow people to hold onto more of their own wealth. As a carbon tax is going to make a lot of things more expensive, it’s imperative that people be able to keep more of their own money. In British Columbia, when the carbon tax was introduced by the provincial Liberals, there was a corresponding reduction to personal income tax contributions. This is known as “progressive tax-shifting”, and it places the tax burden on goods and services which are more problematic for society (those with higher carbon-intensities) while removing the tax burden from those things which are good for society (personal productivity through hard work).

But there are other ways of giving people back their money. In the United States, it’s been proposed that almost all of the revenues collected by government through the imposition of a carbon tax be returned to citizens by mailing them out a cheque. This is known as “carbon fee and dividend”, and essentially it makes all citizens shareholders in the successful implementation of carbon fee collection.

Either way, though, by allowing people to keep more of their own money, people will be able to make personal choices about the goods and services which they purchase. Less carbon-intensive products will likely cost less money, which will lead to greater competition and innovation in low-carbon goods and services, which are ultimately good for the environment.

By factoring in all real costs into the price of a good or service, it’s quite realistic to expect innovation, which is good for economic activity.

Perceptions and Reality

It simply boggles my mind that the NDP hasn’t embraced the idea of a revenue neutral carbon tax. I’ve often heard the explanation given that the NDP already has a reputation of being the party of higher taxes, so for political reasons, they want to stay away from anything remotely resembling a new tax. But the reality is that those who support the NDP are actually going to be disproportionately disadvantaged should the NDP’s Cap and Trade policy ever be implemented. While Cap and Trade will require only the participation of the big emitters, who do you think the costs of purchasing those offsets are going to be absorbed by? What’s going to happen is that the costs are going to be passed on to consumers. And since the NDP is not recommending the implementation of a carbon dividend or a reduction in personal income taxes, Canadians will be faced with rising prices without the benefit of new personal revenue streams to compensate. In this scenario, it’s the richest amongst us who will be able to weather the storm, while less economically advantaged Canadians will take disproportional hits.

Many business and industry leaders have already accepted the inevitability of carbon pricing, and they’ve been publicly indicating their preference for a carbon tax over Cap and Trade. The conversation about climate change has shifted in the past decade from trying to figure out whether climate change is happening to now figure out what the best mitigation and adaptation strategies are. In 2010, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, under the leadership of the Honourable John Manley, former Minister of Finance, and former Minister of Industry, released a policy paper, “Clean Growth 2.0: How Canada Can Be a Leader in Energy and Environmental Innovation”, which recommended a coherent national approach to carbon pricing.

Many of our leaders of business and industry are found in North America’s mining sector. There’s a growing agreement that a more direct and transparent, predictable price on carbon will be better for business. There’s also a growing understand that as other nations decide to take action to regulate emissions, that Canadian business and industry could be disadvantaged by the imposition of border adjustment fees (a.k.a. “carbon tariffs”). Canada must start taking a leadership role in addressing climate change, or else we will be placing our own economic health at risk. The implementation of sensible and sound carbon pricing policy at a national scale will demonstrate that Canada is ready to do its part to reduce emissions.

Canada’s mining sector, and those who depend on the success of the mining sector for their livelihoods, should be very wary of the NDP’s Cap and Trade policies. On the campaign trail for the NDP’s leadership, Thomas Mulcair committed himself to implementing a Cap and Trade scheme when he became Prime Minister. Mulcair and the NDP could very easily lead us to a new white elephant boondoggle which ultimately demonstrates only marginal success at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The continuing health of the mining sector is important for my community of Sudbury, and indeed for all Canadians. It’s essential that we implement the right public policy to address the very real issues which we are facing. When it comes to taking action on climate change, neither the Conservatives nor the NDP have landed in the right spot. Sudburians, whether directly involved with mining or not, along with all Canadians, should be concerned.

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

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mining and Climate Change, Part 3: Multiple Issues with Conservative Party Approaches to Emissions Management

Is it sensible that the Conservative Party, which has embraced cutting environmental regulations and environmental assessment processes in the name of economic growth, could ever be a threat to Canada’s resource sector? On first blush, it would seem highly improbable that would be the case, but keep in mind that for the Conservative Party, not all natural resource sectors are created equally.

The Conservative Party’s policies significantly favour Canada’s fossil fuels sector over all other resource sectors. In fact, Conservative policies will actually jeopardize the important success of Canadian miners over the medium and long term. And it all has to do with carbon pricing (well, maybe not "all", as I can't help but recall the uneven and apparently arbitrary application of the "net benefit" provisions of the Investment Canada Act in the Potash Corp. matter a few years back).

Although the Conservative Party of Canada is not in any way, shape or form considering putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions, the fact of the matter is that it’s the only national political party in Canada which is opposed to carbon pricing. Given that we Canadians tend to change our national governments every so often, it stands to reason that in the near future, Canada will elect a government which finally decides to take real action to address climate change, and which will implement carbon pricing in an effort to reduce emissions.

Right now, it’s in part the Conservative’s lack of consideration for the imminent pricing of carbon emissions which is putting Canada’s mining sector at a disadvantage. The Conservatives are being very short-sighted, and that may disadvantage all industrial sectors.

Canada: On Target for Emissions Reduction?

A report issued earlier this week from Environment Canada, which Conservative Environment Minister Peter Kent has been keen to promote, indicates that Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are beginning to level out, even as the Canadian economy has been growing. While this may sound like a good news story for those concerned about emissions, it’s really nothing to get all that excited about. If anything, the spin which the Conservatives are putting on this story is problematic, because if they themselves actually believe it, it’s going to continue to lead towards their intransigence to take real action on reducing emissions.

Let’s take a closer look behind the Conservative spin. That Canada’s emissions are “beginning to level off” tells me a couple of things. First, no one should be surprised that this is the case, given the significant efforts which the Province of Ontario has taken to shut down its coal-fired generating stations, and the significant hits taken by Ontario’s manufacturing sector due to the recession and the rising value of Canada’s currency and attendant Dutch Disease. In those respects, Ontario can almost single-handedly claim to be the green engine which has led to this so-called levelling of emissions. But that’s nothing to get excited about. While I suppose there remains room for Ontario to shed a lot more greenhouse gas emitting manufacturing jobs (which would be an absurd thing for anyone to hope for), the closing of coal plants here was a one-time only carbon-reducing gift from Ontario to Canada.

Second, Kent’s continued engagement on the climate change file tells me that the Conservative Party remains onboard at least with the idea that reducing our carbon emissions is a sensible policy objective for Canada to pursue. This may come as a surprise to many Conservative Party supporters who are also in denial about the reality of anthrogenic climate change (many of whom have their own political and economic agendas). The Conservative Party’s continued engagement on emissions reduction also probably comes as a surprise to most Canadians who have witnessed Canada’s actions on the world stage to sabotage international climate change agreements and to influence foreign governments to ramp down efforts to combat climate change. Whether the Conservative’s hearts are in it or not, however, it remains a policy of this government to reduce Canada’s emissions by 17% over 2005 levels by the year 2020.

To do so, the Conservatives have decided to embark on a slow-paced, sector-by-sector review of emissions, and to establish regulations mandating reductions. Last year, they came out with draft regulations which are intended to affect newly-built coal fired generation plants at some point in the future (which led to proposed coal plants rushing through their last planning hurdles, in order to get their plans in under the wire so as not to be affected by the new regulatory environment). This week, additional regulations were filed affecting the transportation sector. The Conservatives have also been planning on looking at the fossil fuels production sector, but this appears to be put off for now, due to aggressive lobbying from oil and gas industries.

It’s clear that creating a stronger regulatory framework for major emitters can have an impact on reducing greenhouse gases, although critics argue that it’s one of the more expensive choices available for governments to take (but who ever really thought Conservatives were good managers of public money?). There are, however, a couple of big problems with trying to reduce emissions in this way. First, they’re going to add significant costs to industrial operations. Second, given the added costs, industry may have no choice but to turn back to government with its hands out, seeking taxpayer subsidies in order to make the switch to cleaner technologies. That’s already been happening, and it’s leading to the third significant problem: the misallocation of public resources on a grand scale, for investment in an unproven and likely to be unsuccessful new technology: carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The Carbon Capture and Storage Swindle

It’s likely that the Conservative’s regulatory approach for the oil and gas sector is going to lead to an increased reliance on CCS, just as the Conservatives have mandated for coal. CCS is a completely untested technology which is going to have to be built pretty much from the ground up. It also comes with a substantial price tag. In Canada’s case, the Conservative government has already budgeted over $300 million for research and development into this new technology.

Carbon Capture and Storage relies on the idea that emissions can be caught before they leave a smoke stack, and stored underground for…well, maybe for eternity. Technically, it is possible to capture a significant amount of emissions, but it’s the storage aspect which is much more questionable. The spatial requirements for storage alone are significant, as it must either remain in gas form, or be supercooled into a liquid.

But stored carbon dioxide actually has industrial applications: it can be used in place of water to flush out bitumen from tar sands. Which is kind of ironic, in that the whole idea of capturing the stuff in the first place was to help with the overall reduction of emissions. Anyway, those with more technical understanding than me have written about the perils of CCS elsewhere. Suffice it to say that it’s an unproven technology that, based on the best accounts, won’t ever be implemented on a scale where it can actually do significant good.

Anyway, so am I suggesting that the Conservative’s reliance on regulations which lead to CCS is just a bait-and-switch which will cost the taxpayer significant amounts of money for little return? Well, if that’s all that I were suggesting, that would be bad enough. But there’s more to it than that. This is really about how good intentions addressed through bad public policy can lead to expensive white elephants which don’t actually help.

Avoiding White Elephants

We here in Sudbury have a certain familiarity with white elephant projects, just as I’m sure many other Canadians do. "White elephants" in this case refer to the investment of public dollars into projects which never really lived up to their expectations or paid for themselves. Sure, we here in Sudbury don’t have any Olympic Stadiums to brag about like they do in Montreal, but we do have the Highway 69 four-laning which is currently taking place at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars at a time when personal vehicle travel is anticipated to decrease due to rising fuel prices. I know that may sound heretical to Sudbury’s car-cultured, but it’s the reality. A better choice for the investment of public dollars would have been in regional public transportation, but what we have instead is a provincial government which is keen to spend money on highways while downsizing and privatizing public transit in Northern Ontario.

In this Northern Ontario white elephant example, addressing transportation needs over a vast geography is the good issue, but the bad public policy stems from investment choices which don’t actually take into consideration our likely future circumstance. However, once those costs are sunk into a specific project, it becomes really difficult to turn things around. To now disinvest in four-laning Highway 69, for example, would be a politically difficult decision for a government to make, even armed with all of the data in the world necessary to show the public that the project is not necessary to meet anticipated needs. But, the environmental assessments have been bought and paid for, stretches of the highway are already complete, workers are depending on construction jobs. And the public expects the project to go forward.

Here in Sudbury, the rising price of gas has been a big issue lately. There have been calls for governments to intervene, to figure out a way to make gasoline more affordable. While I empathise with those who are concerned about price gouging on the part of gasoline companies, I’ve long believed that a better approach would have been to insulate ourselves from rising prices by investing in infrastructure which would lead our community to become less dependent on cars. But since we’ve continued to sink public investments into roads, parking lots and four-laning highways, we can continue to expect public policy which makes it easier for us to drive, despite the realities of rising energy prices which we can’t do anything about.

As an aside, the very worst thing that the provincial government could do now would be to try to regulate the price of gasoline, which is what the Ontario NDP has promised to do should they ever form government. Artificially low gasoline prices which enable people to continue to be profligate with scarce natural resources mean that we are less likely to make investments in the things which we need. With white elephants, it’s easy to pile them on top of one another, rather than looking for solutions which are truly sustainable and affordable.

OK, so what does any of this have to do with CCS? Well, CCS, which forms the backbone of the Conservative's coal-fired generating plant regulations, and which is expected to be an integral component in oil and gas sector regulations, is one of those white elephants which may lead to the imposition of even more bad public policies at significant expense to taxpayers and industries. All without any certainty that greenhouse gas emissions will actually be reduced.

As long as the Conservatives want to work with industries to develop CCS as a means of reducing emissions, taking real action on actually reducing emissions is going to be increasingly jeopardized, in spite of mounting evidence which shows CCS simply won’t work. It’s the same with Highway 69: CCS projects undoubtedly will make great photo-ops, but they will prove to be costly white elephants which do limited good.

And all of the money which our government and which private enterprise is pouring into CCS could have been more wisely and easily invested in other projects which have a proven record of actually reducing emissions.

Intensity Targets for the Tar Sands: A Potential Trap for the Mining Sector

The other problem for the mining sector is that since Big Oil appears to be calling the shots in Ottawa, and since the Conservatives have pretty much declared war on anyone and anything which might stand in the way of pedal-to-the-metal tar sands development, if CCS proves to be a flop, that means other industrial sectors are going to have to pick up the emissions reduction slack. Already Big Oil is trying to make the case that they should be exempt from all but the smallest “intensity” reductions (which aren’t actually reductions at all, just the scaling back of the rate of emissions).

Intensity reductions aren’t going to get us to the 17% below 2005 by 2020 target set by the Conservative government, because they’re not actually reductions. Yet that appears to be where Stephen Harper is taking the tar sands. Therefore, other energy-intensive industrial sectors, like the mining sector and the manufacturing sector, might actually have to contribute more than their fair share in an effort to meet reductions targets.

That may not sound like much in a loosey-goosey regulatory environment, but keep in mind that regulations can provide an industrial sector with exemptions. And if the Conservatives decide to pursue intensity reduction targets for the tar sands through regulations, it will be pitting one natural resource sector against all others. The mining industry should be looking over its shoulder right now, making sure that they’re not going to be hit with a disproportional reduction target.

Public Buy-In: Getting the Right Policy

Reducing emissions is important, and that’s why we’ve got to get the policy right. What the Conservatives are promoting in terms of wasting public money on untried technology which can’t be useful on the scale necessary to actually make a dent in emissions is problematic in the extreme. Wasteful policies, or those implemented in ways which aren’t transparent, tend to lack public buy-in, even when they do some good. The debate raging in Australia over the past few years over that government’s carbon tax is illustrative.

In Australia, Julia Gillard’s Labor Party campaigned on a platform not to introduce a carbon tax, something her Labor Party predecessor Kevin Rudd wanted to do, which led to his ousting by Gillard. After the election, it turned out that Labor didn’t have enough seats to form government without turning to a couple of independent legislators and a member of the Greens. The price for their co-operation: a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Since then, industry has been up in arms, and Labor’s support in the polls has fallen. People don’t like to feel that they’ve been tricked, and I can understand that. That’s why it’s important that there be transparency, even when the public policy is a good one, such as the imposition of a carbon tax.

For an Ontario example, look no further to how EcoFees were handled. Again, good policy, incredibly poor implementation, with the result being that the policy was scrapped. The same might happen soon to Ontario’s Green Energy and Economy Act, over the way in which the ability for the public to provide input into renewable energy infrastructure projects has largely been scrapped.

Looking Towards Canada's Future

Right now, with regards to CCS, if we continue to follow along the path which the Conservatives have set us on for too much longer, we risk running into a point of no return, where so much money has been sunk into a project that public expectations for its success will require that we continue heading down the road, despite the overwhelming warnings to turn back. While we continue to invest in bad technology, other industrial sectors such as the mining sector, will be called upon to do more than their fair share. They won’t be happy, and rightly so.

The rising level of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere which threaten the globe have been the result of decades of industrialization which have brought prosperity to us and our economy, and which have given us our quality of life. They’ve also shaped our expectations that our energy-intensive lifestyle is somehow normal, which has led to a certain inertia of public opinion on taking action to reduce emissions. Yet we are all culpable as participants in this western society, albeit to varying degrees.

When public opinion catches up to scientific validation, and it becomes apparent that action is necessary, we may be in a position of having to ask those of us who are least responsible for the problem to take the biggest hits, so that the biggest producers can continue to go about their business as usual.

A better approach, in my opinion, would be the application of an equitable and sustainable price on carbon emissions. One which treats all emitters fairly, based on their outputs. Currently, there are two mechanisms for carbon pricing which are often discussed (and which I’m not going to explain to any great degree here, as there are really good explanations available elsewhere on the internet): a Cap and Trade emissions reduction scheme, and a carbon tax. One of these carbon pricing mechanisms is easy to implement and will lead to the reduction of emissions. The other may end up reducing emissions, but more than likely will prove to be a massive white elephant boondoggle. Of course, the NDP is currently the champion of the boondoggle Cap and Trade policy option.

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

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mining and Climate Change, Part 2: Canada's Commitment to Reducing Greenhouse Gases

In my previous post, I wrote about the growing importance of the mining sector to Canada’s economy, and about why it’s important for our governments to enact the right carbon pricing policies. In this post, I’m going to talk about Canada's historic commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to combat climate change, and why Canadians continue to demand action, and how action may impact the mining sector.

The Crises with Our Climate

There is no doubt whatsoever that human industrial activity is causing global climate change to the point that our rapidly changing climate is leading towards a crisis unlike any we have encountered before. This crisis is already having planetary impacts. Coupled with rising prices for non-renewable energy resources, particularly oil, the climate crisis will change not just our physical environment, but our economic circumstance, and social and political institutions as well. These changes are inevitable. That’s why I believe it’s best to plan for them, rather than to let them overtake us.

The mining sector will not be immune from these changes. While a warming planet may bring some opportunities for additional resource development by making currently remote parts of the globe somewhat more accessible, particularly in the extreme north, there are no guarantees that the opportunities will outweigh the challenges.

Canada's Commitment to Reducing Greenhouse Gases

A very real challenge will be the management of greenhouse gas emissions. Whether international processes, including treaties such as the Kyoto Accord, form the backbone of future emissions reduction strategies, it seems inevitable that nations will keep the pressure on one another to reduce emissions. There is an understanding that we’re all in this together, and although progress has so far been slow, the recognition that action is required remains top of mind for most governments. While it may be that we’ll inhabit a future where greenhouse gases will continue to be emitted with impunity, I don’t think that’s going to be our likely future.

Canada has taken a very uneven approach to its commitments to reduce emissions. We were one of the first nations to sign the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, which was later ratified by parliament in 2002. Under Kyoto, Canada committed itself to reducing emissions by 6% below 1990 levels by 2012. Despite this commitment, by 2008 Canada had seen emissions grow by approximately 24% over 1990 levels.

Under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, Canada has made a few different commitments, despite our current continued obligation under Kyoto (note: Harper has committed to the process for pulling Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol, however at this time, Canada still remains within the framework of the treaty, as that process, which was initiated only in December, 2011, takes a year, and may require the ratification of parliament). First, Harper promised that Canada would reduce emissions by 20% by 2020, from 2006 levels. Later, through the Copenhagen Accord, ostensibly in an effort to harmonize initiatives with the United States, Canada committed to a smaller reduction target of 17% by 2020 from 2005 levels.

Based on data released this week by Environment Canada, Canada appears to be on track to reduce emissions in 2020 by only approximately 5% from 2005 levels, which, for those of you keeping score at home, is only about ¼ of our watered-down Copenhagen commitment (see: “Peter Kent says Tory plan to promote economic growth and protect environment is working”, the Toronto Star, April 13, 2012)

Clearly, Canada’s “plan” isn’t working at all, because Canada, under successive Liberal and Conservative governments, has never had anything resembling a "plan". What we’ve had has consisted mainly of press conferences and photo-ops, coupled with data distortions and muzzled climate scientists at Environment Canada. At some point, however, I have confidence that Canada is going to get serious about reducing emissions.

Canadians Want Action

My confidence is based on what I see happening on the political scene in Canada. In the last federal election, a majority of voting Canadians supported political parties which were campaigning on putting a price on carbon emissions as one of the mechanisms to be used in efforts to reduce those emissions. Almost 60% of Canadians voted for those political parties which were championing carbon pricing (the Green Party, the Liberal Party, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois). Approximately 40% more voted for a party which proposed to reduce emissions through regulating industry (the Conservative Party). That means almost 100% of Canadians cast their ballots for parties which were actively campaigning on taking action on climate change. All of the major parties agree that taking action to reduce emissions is necessary; it’s only on the finer points of policy that disagreement is to be found.

But oh what disagreement there is!

For Canada’s mining sector, it’s the various political party’s policy proposals related to emissions reduction which are going to create challenges, and depending on the policy, those challenges may be more significant for the mining sector than for other natural resource sectors. The mining industry should be paying close attention to the political debates which are currently raging around these issues.

This then begs the question: which political party’s proposed policies pose the biggest threat to the mining industry? The answer, I believe, is clearly the Conservative Party, but the NDP’s policies are also a threat, albeit in a different way. As for the Liberals, it remains unknown whether their policies will negatively or positively influence the mining sector, as Liberals have the habit of alternatively embracing and abandoning their policies and principles, to the point that figuring out where they stand on anything of substance becomes difficult.

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

Friday, April 13, 2012

Mining and Climate Change, Part 1: Toward a Sustainable Future

When people think about how Canada’s resource sector is driving economic growth, we tend to first think about the extraction of fossil fuels, such as oil and gas. Certainly, the stories about Canada’s growing fossil fuel sector are constantly found throughout the mainstream media, and tar sands petroleum companies have even been placing their own television and print media ads, in a public relations effort intended to combat negative environmental perceptions.

But there’s been a low-key success story which many Canadians aren’t aware of in one of Canada’s natural resource sectors. The mining industry has been quietly booming in Canada for some time now, and the future continues to look very bright (see: “Canada’s mining boom takes a back seat to no industry”, Globe and Mail, April 4, 2012). The mining industry’s success story doesn’t come as a surprise to Sudburians, and Northern Ontarians, because we see those successes almost daily. However, for other Canadians, especially those living in large urban centres, mining remains a somewhat remote afterthought.

Mining: the Bedrock of Sudbury's Success

Sudbury’s history is the history of local mining. While first established as a Jesuit mission (known as Ste-Anne-des-Pins, named after St. Anne, who also happens to be the patron saint of miners), Sudbury started to grow first as a lumber camp, and then as a mining centre after nickel and copper ore were discovered here as the result of blasting and excavation work on the CP rail line in the late 1800s. With significant deposits of ore to mine, abundant wood needed to fuel processing plants, and a significant transportation link to urban markets in the form of a railway, Sudbury’s success was assured, and today Sudbury finds itself one of the top 5 mining cities in the world. Sudbury continues to lead the way in the development of new technologies for exploration (including space-based exploration initiatives, something which I find personally exciting).

My City has seen a lot of benefit from mining, and continues to benefit as industries grow and expand. While the depletion of local resources is never far from anyone’s mind, we are reassured that proven reserves should keep us busy here for many more decades yet. In the meantime, our mining supply and exploration industries have become regional and global leaders. With Northwestern Ontario’s Ring of Fire located relatively close by, there is significant optimism about the future.

Right now, rumour has it that Cliffs Natural Resources, an Ohio-based mining company, is getting set to announce that Greater Sudbury will be the home to its proposed new chromite smelter, to be located at a former iron ore mine site located outside of the Capreol community. Cliffs investment in Greater Sudbury may bring along with it as many as 400 new jobs. While there remains a level of uncertainty regarding the cost of this project to taxpayers (given the massive energy requirements needed to fuel the arc furnace – the same energy needed for a city of 300,000 people), and environmental issues pertaining to air and water quality will need to be addressed (see my earlier blogpost, “Clffs Chromite Project and the Environmental Assessment Process: Time Will Tell”, October 24, 2011), locating the new smelter facility in the City enjoys significant local support.

Looking Towards the Future

Yes, the future of Canada’s mining industry appears to be a pretty bright one, especially in the north. Changes brought about by a changing climate will create both opportunities and challenges for mining, but with global demands for materials expected to continue for some time, we can expect resource exploitation to grow, along with the mining sector’s contribution to Canada’s economy.

It’s fair to say that the future success of Canada’s mining sector is going to impact us all, and not necessarily in a positive way. Environmentalists and others have long raised very real issues with the massive environmental degradation left behind by industry. That’s something which we here in Greater Sudbury know a lot about, and one look at our soot-stained rocks leaves no doubt that historical mining practices were very hard on the environment.

It’s important now that, as we move ahead into a future which will include a more prominent role for Canada’s mining sector, we construct the right framework for a more sustainable approach to mining. Increasingly, recycling of materials is going to have a more significant role in our economy, but the fact is that miners are going to continue to pull wealth out of the ground in Canada for decades, if not centuries, to come, mostly from northern areas which include some of the most pristine environments in our nation.

Over the next couple of blogposts, I’m intending to look at just one issue which I believe is going to form a critical component of getting things right with the future of mining in Canada. My starting point for this discussion is my belief that carbon pricing is inevitable in Canada, given the strong desire which Canadians have for taking action on climate change. With this as my starting point, I believe that it’s very important that Canada adopts the right policies. The wrong policies would not only be bad for Canada in a general way, but they could put Canada’s mining sector at a disadvantage.

In my next few posts, I’ll take a look at the policies of the governing Conservative Party, and those of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, the NDP. I’ll also look at why it’s important that we match good intentions with good public policy.

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

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Pox on All of Their Houses

I have been feeling this overwhelming sense of despair, frustration, and good old-fashioned anger these past couple of weeks, as I’ve watched the so-called Robo-Call Scandal unfold. My growing sense of hostility has been largely directed at Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, who may have broken the law on May 2nd, 2011, by calling non-Conservative voters, pretending to be Elections Canada officials, and misdirecting those voters to incorrect or non-existent polling stations. Right now, it remains to be seen who, exactly, was behind the phone calls (not all of which used Pierre Poutine’s robo-dialler), but evidence is certainly pointing towards someone who must have access to national data stored in the CIMS, the Conservative Party’s voter identification database.

I’ve been following this story through numerous sources, and it’s clear to me that the mainstream media’s reporting isn’t keeping pace with information which is first appearing on the internet from citizen reporters. Of particular interest is a new website which has been put together at by tweeter @unfuckwithable (and thanks also to @saskboy for sharing many tweets related to robocalls). I note that the website I’ve identified above encourages everyone not to refer to this as a “scandal”, but to instead call it what it is: “the greatest election fraud in Canadian history”.


I am angry. I’m angry that it’s taken so long for all of this to come to light, given that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May brought these issues to the attention of Elections Canada back on May 19, 2011. The mainstream media seems to have only caught on about a month and a half ago, after access to information requests made to Elections Canada led to the story to “break”. Not that the public is on the receiving end of much in the way of information, either, given that Elections Canada’s investigation is on-going. When Elections Canada’s CEO Marc Mayrand testified at a conveniently scheduled committee hearing on Parliament Hill in Ottawa last Thursday, Mayrand had little in the way of specifics to share. Nonetheless, as the NDP’s David Christopherson pointed out, it seemed that the Conservatives were intent on burying any story about Mayrand’s testimony in the media, by scheduling his appearance at a time when most regular Hill reporters were in lock-up reviewing the budget.

What happened on May 2, 2011, is bigger than the Guelph riding, which was the first riding identified by Elections Canada as being under investigation. Similar calls were reported to have been made in Toronto and Winnipeg ridings, here in Sudbury, and interestingly in the Nipissing-Timiskaming riding, where incumbent Liberal MP Anthony Rota went down to Conservative candidate Jay Aspin by a mere 18 votes. In all, it seems that as many as 200 ridings might have been impacted. The scope of this fraud is clearly national in scale. It stretches belief to think that it might have been orchestrated and carried out by a single individual. However, the Conservatives have already thrown one junior staffer involved in the Guelph campaign under the bus, and are doing what they can to make sure that all fingers remain pointed at him.

Look, I don’t know who was behind this illegal activity, although based on what I’ve been reading, it’s likely that someone higher up in the Conservative’s central campaign would have been positioned to have the sort of access necessary to order the calls. Matthew Day, aka bluegreenblogger, wrote an excellent piece about this on March 4th, “Mechanics of Robo-Calling: Not a fluke or rogue campaigner. Someone who had Access did these things”.

Media Should Report the Story, Not Take Sides

Right now, I’m still a little willing to wait for more information to come to light before definitively pointing the finger in a specific direction. My gut tells me otherwise, sure, but I’ll stick with the known facts for now, and I think that’s a reasonable approach. Let’s get all of the facts on the table first before anyone or any organization is proclaimed guilty – or let off of the hook.

However, many in the mainstream media (not surprisingly, particularly Sun Media) have already decided that the Conservative Party should be absolved of any wrong-doing, suggesting that it just makes no sense for the Conservatives to jeopardize the electoral outcome by making fraudulent phone calls. This line of reasoning completely ignores the fact that, prior to the evening of May 2nd, 2011, Conservatives did not know whether they would end up in power the next day, or whether Canada would have a new Prime Minister in the form of Jack Layton.

It is beyond reasonable at this time for some in the mainstream media to use their positions of influence to acquit the Conservative Party in the court of public opinion, given the on-going investigation, and the findings of other journalists. Certainly, the actions of the Conservative Party itself since this story broke have been questionable. The Conservatives, unlike the Liberals and the NDP, have been singularly unhelpful in the investigation, besides agreeing to give Elections Canada broader powers to deal with complaints.

What’s even more unhelpful to Canadians is a compliant, political-party friendly media, which would rather spin news stories than write the truth. Increasingly, what can only be called Conservative Party propaganda is being distributed as “news” from some mainstream media outlets, particularly Sun Media, which owns newspapers such as the Sudbury Star. While Sun Media may be the worst offender, it’s clear to me that other media organizations, for whatever reason, are largely content to be echo chambers for political party’s talking points. Call it what you will, but the days of non-partisan investigative journalism are largely behind us now, and our media is starting to inhabit a strange new realm, where it straddles the lines between “info-tainment” and “propaganda”. In the past, our news media may have provided different opinions to media consumers. Today, increasingly, it’s providing different facts. And that is a troubling trend from those who in the past used to champion the public interest.


Clearly, what’s needed is a national enquiry, which Elizabeth May and the other parties have called for, but which the Conservatives have so far determined that they’re not going to pursue. A public enquiry, however, may be the only way which the public is ever going to get to the bottom of what really happened.

Over the past couple of weeks, the mainstream media’s interest in this story has waned. Two ethical scandals involving Conservative Industry Minister Christian Paradis, an anti-environment budget, and the Auditor-General’s findings slamming the F-35 procurement process have largely changed the media channels on robocalls. That there has been almost a scandal-a-day emanating from the Conservative government over the past month speaks volumes about the fitness of this Party to govern our nation, in my opinion.


However, it’s not just the Conservatives who have some explaining to do. In fact, right now, there’s only one Party which appears to have committed a breach to Elections Canada rules through its own admission. Liberal MP Frank Valeriote admitted that one of his campaign workers made calls to electors in Guelph during the 2011 election campaign, in an attempt to assassinate the character of Conservative candidate Marty Burke. It was revealed that the Liberals broke the rules by making the calls anonymously. In an election campaign, you’ve got to identify that you’re calling on behalf of a candidate, and these calls made by the Valeriote campaign had no such identifier (see, “MP Frank Valeriote owes city an apology, election rival says”, Guelph Mercury, March 13/12).

Look, I understand that there’s going to be a certain amount of shenanigans taking place during an election. Yes, I deplore that kind of behaviour, but I understand that it happens. But telling voters that their poll locations have been changed, or engaging in anonymous smear campaigns crosses the line into law-breaking. Keep in mind that election campaigns are largely financed by the public. Almost three quarters of expenses incurred by candidates, including expenses put toward local and national robo-calling, are recouped by political parties after the election. That’s why it behoves political parties and their candidates to follow the rules. In a very real way, these unethical and illegal calls made in Guelph were made at our expense, literally.

As a result of what’s happened in Guelph, I fully expect that Elections Canada will call for a by-election, and at the very least disqualify Valeriote from participating. If it’s found that Conservative campaigners in Guelph were behind the robocalls misdirecting voters, it’s quite within the realm of possibility that Marty Burke may also be prohibited from running in the by-election.

The NDP and Robocalls

The actions of the NDP, too, have come under a lot of scrutiny over the past couple of months, particularly when former NDP MP Lise St-Denis decided to cross the floor and join the Liberal Party. Shortly after her defection, using a telecommunications company push-poll, the NDP organized a flood of robocalls into her parliamentary and constituent offices, disrupting her staff’s ability to carry out important and necessary governmental work. The push-poll did not identify that it was being carried out by the NDP. Those who received the calls were asked to press a button if they disagreed with St-Denis’ decision to change parties, and those pressing the button were routed to St-Denis’ office without their knowledge (see, “NDP dirty tricks campaign in Lise St-Denis’ riding”, ipolitics, January 16/12).

Constituency and parliamentary offices are not political offices. They are locations where citizens of a riding interact with elected officials. They are staffed by individuals on the government’s payroll. These offices are essentially portals for citizens to access our government. They should not be the target of partisan games.

Further, anonymous push-polls are incredibly insulting to people who receive these calls. Common people are being manipulated by political parties into unwittingly taking part in a partisan scheme, in this case one which disrupts the legitimate business of government. That the NDP chose to express its anger on public governmental institutions and by duping unwitting Canadians…well, to me that speaks volumes about how low the NDP is willing to stoop.

The NDP’s defence, of course, hinged on legality. They claimed that the action itself was not illegal, and therefore somehow justified. That was pretty much the same response given by Industry Minister Christian Paradis when it was revealed that he gave special governmental access to non-registered lobbyist and former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer. Yet in that circumstance, the NDP called for Paradis’ head. The NDP has a bit of a reputation for hypocritical behaviour. In my opinion, it continues to be a well-deserved one.

Frustration Boiling Over

I say, A POX ON ALL OF THEIR HOUSES. I am growing tired and angry at the games being played with voters by political parties. Ultimately, democracy itself is the victim when political parties cross legal and ethical lines in partisan attempts to seize or hold onto power. There’s no question that the democratic health of Canada is eroding, as voter turn-out continues to trend downward at all levels, and as Canadians increasingly tune out of politics altogether.

This can’t go on. I know that I’m not the only one who is feeling angry about this. There are simply far too many unjust and unethical games being played by the Conservatives, Liberals and the NDP. I know that many long-time traditional supporters of these parties, including some current members, are disgusted by the actions of the political elites who are making the decisions.

Governing our nation should be about something more than obtaining and holding onto power, yet that appears to be what it’s been reduced to. Whatever happened to good public policy, and putting the interests of Canadians first?

We call our elected officials “public servants”, but I question what’s happened to the idea of public service? In our hyper-partisan political system, where citizen engagement and democracy itself are being victimized by illegal and unethical behaviour, who in Canada is being served by those whom we elect?

This has got to stop. Canadians deserve better.

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

Monday, April 2, 2012

What Does Thomas Mulcair's Leadership of the NDP Mean for the Green Party of Canada?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to what Thomas Mulcair’s recent ascension to the position of Leader of the New Democratic Party (and to Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition) might mean for the Green Party of Canada. What I’ve concluded after considerable thought is that there are too many variables in play right now to be certain of anything, but generally speaking, Mulcair’s leadership of the NDP could ultimately prove to be very problematic for the success of the GPC.

The NDP Leadership Race

In December of 2011, I predicted that Peggy Nash would take the mantle of the NDP’s leadership. My prediction was based on an “anybody but Mulcair” movement arising within the NDP pre-convention, mostly led by Western Canadians. I did not believe that Nathan Cullen would be able to pull off an upset victory, which left only Nash, Topp, and Dewar as serious contenders in my mind (and I had to think that Dewar would be seen to be at a disadvantage, even by Westerners, given his lack of French-language skills). I also did not anticipate that Brian Topp would do as well as he ultimately did, given that I’ve always thought Topp lacks a certain fire in his belly (and I still think this, despite his strong showing at the convention).

For me, Nash was the logical inheritor of Jack Layton’s leadership style, and I figured that the NDP’s membership would have gone looking for more of the same. But even though I picked Nash to win, I had to acknowledge that the needs of Quebec (and maintaining the NDP’s success in that province) might have outweighed the needs of the rest of the Party. But I still didn’t think that the NDP would hand the leadership to someone with such tenuous roots in the Party, and who appeared to want to turn the NDP into the Liberal Party.

But, the NDP has done just that, in choosing Thomas Mulcair as their Leader. And in the process, they might have just chosen the next Prime Minister of Canada, if the Party faithful decide to ride it out.

Tom Mulcair and NDP

First, let me backtrack a little bit. I really don’t believe that Mulcair wants to turn the NDP into the Liberal Party. I’m merely parroting a line which is playing out in the popular media right now. In fact, if you take a close look at the policies which Mulcair is championing, it’s very clear that they are almost entirely those which the NDP membership has approved (and even Mulcair’s position on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict can be seen as a nuanced interpretation of the NDP’s policy). Given Mulcair’s clear acknowledgement of the primacy of the Party’s policy, I don’t at all buy that he wants to turn the NDP into the Liberals.

That Mulcair is gunning for support from disenchanted Liberals, however, is quite clear. And who can blame him? The NDP, in picking Mulcair over any of the other candidates (except possibly Nathan Cullen) have determined that they want their Party to govern, rather than to continue to exist as an opposition party. Selecting Brian Topp would almost certainly have guaranteed that Government would have continued to elude the NDP, as Topp, who lacks much in the way of personality, would have had his character broadly assassinated by the Conservatives well in advance of the 2015 election. Likely the same fate would have befallen Nash too (although not necessarily, despite the fact that she and Topp have strong histories with organized labour. I believe that if the Cons would have tried to vilify Nash, there might have been a backlash, especially amongst women voters. But Topp would have been completely destroyed, in my opinion).

The Conservatives are going to have a much harder time defining Thomas Mulcair on their own terms, I believe, given Mulcair’s credentials, and his character, along with his lack of roots in the NDP. Not that this means the Cons won’t try, and maybe they’ll even succeed. Ultimately, the success of the NDP is going to in part be decided on just how successful the attacks from the Conservative Party are.

The NDP and Quebec: Two Solitudes

If Mulcair is vulnerable anywhere, though, it’s on his support for the NDP’s policy related to Quebec, and the Party’s propensity to say one thing to the English-language media, and another to the French-language media. Jack Layton used this approach to his advantage, and Mulcair recently went there, providing two quite-different analyses of last week’s budget to the two different audiences (see: “Mulcair issues two budget messages: One to Quebecers, one to Canadians”, ipolitics, Monday April 2/12)

Coupled with the NDP’s Supreme Court-defying Sherbrooke Declaration regarding the threshold for the success of a Quebec referendum on separation, a good case could be made that the NDP is pandering to Quebec nationalists at the expense of the rest of Canada. While this might play well in Quebec (unless Quebecers decide to choose the real thing in 2015 in a resurgent Bloc Quebecois, rather than the NDP’s pale imitation), it may yet prove to be Mulcair’s Achilles Heel in the rest of Canada.

However, if Canadians find themselves clamouring for change in 2015 (and I think that after 4 more years of despicable, mean-spirited government by the Conservatives, they will be), the NDP’s soft-on-separatists stance might be overlooked, especially if a fire-breathing Mulcair can demonstrate that he’s got what it takes to also be Prime Ministerial. And since Mulcair now has some time to start acting like a Prime Minister in-waiting, I have little doubt that he will present a credible rallying point for progressives and others disenchanted with Harperism.

Good for the NDP, Not-so-Good for Greens

Mulcair’s popularity ultimately spells bad news for the Green Party of Canada, which will continue to experience difficulties in getting its message out to voters. Although the Green Party is not a party of the left, the mainstream media continues to portray it as such (just as the MSM continues to insist that the Liberal Party is a party of the left – and perhaps in contrast to the Conservative Party, the Liberals are just that, but anyone who takes a critical look at the Liberal Party would never conclude that they’re left-wing).

So, if the Green Party continues to be portrayed as a left-wing party, despite it being so, and voters are flocking to the NDP and Thomas Mulcair with the hopes of defeating Harper, Greens will continue to be overlooked except maybe in a few ridings where strong candidates can make a case for serious contention through the sheer force of their personality (and believe you me, the Green Party has not been cultivating these types of politicians, and isn’t likely to enlist many “star candidates” for the upcoming election).

Another problem for the Green Party is Thomas Mulcair’s perceived focus on the environment. Already, in a way that Jack Layton never did, Mulcair has come out as a strong fighter for all things environmental. It’s clear to me that he “gets it”, more so than most in his Party. As a former provincial Minister for the Environment in Jean Charest’s Quebec Liberal government, I guess that’s to be expected.

Sure, I completely disagree with Thomas Mulcair’s championing the NDP’s Cap and Trade carbon pricing policy, but let’s face it, amongst the average voter, the best mechanism for putting a price on carbon likely pales in importance to the notion of being seen to want to take action on the environment, and maybe moving towards a low-carbon economy. I know that there are many others who share my concerns about Cap and Trade, and some of them are within the NDP, but in the grand scheme of things, let’s face it: Mulcair is going to talk the talk on the environment and will make carbon pricing a decent component in the 2015 election campaign. And that should go over well in Quebec.

Voters who are concerned about the environment will be left with a choice of whether to support the Green Party because we Greens have better policy, or whether to support the NDP because they might form government and actually be able to implement an inferior policy (but one perceived as taking necessary action nonetheless). I would think that most voters, if those were the only two choices, would be inclined to choose action.

Wild Cards for Mulcair: Quebec

Generally, then, it seems that Mulcair might prove to be an extremely significant threat to the Green Party. But there are a couple of wild cards which could end up hobbling Mulcair.

First, there’s Quebec itself. As much as I’m reluctant to put much faith in polling (especially lately, as there’s been a bit of an unorganized effort to mislead pollsters), the fact is that the Bloc Quebecois seems to be gaining in popularity in Quebec. Should the Bloc continue to rebuild itself, it’s quite possible that the NDP could start to be seen as a one-hit wonder, with a best-before date well in advance of the 2015 election. A resurgent Bloc could force the NDP to try even harder to hold onto its Quebec seats (which is likely the approach they’ll take), which might mean that the perception of the NDP acting in the interests of the rest of Canada might continue to take a bit of a beating. This will be problematic in the West in particular, and it’s in British Columbia where the Green Party probably has the best opportunity for additional electoral success.

Alternatively, the NDP might decide to write-off holding onto Quebec, in which case they’ll move towards more centrist policies in a bid to pick up suburban ridings in Ontario (and possibly Calgary/Edmonton) and focus on the West. This strategy too favours the Green Party, as a more centrist NDP which starts emphasising the needs of the West will have to tone down the rhetoric on environmental policies. This would certainly create some room for the GPC on the B.C. coast, and possibly in southwestern Ontario. But I can’t see the NDP abandoning Quebec.

Although it may be likely that the NDP tries to do both: shore up Quebec with pro-environmental rhetoric in French, and pander to the west by de-emphasising the environment. This approach too could favour the Green Party, as Greens are not especially strong in Quebec, and could stand to gain by making a strong case the NDP is the Party of greenwashing. Or jump on the “NDP = Pro-Separatist” bandwagon.

However, I’m personally not ready to get excited about a resurgent Bloc Quebecois. I have to here put the interests of my country ahead of the interests of my Party, and I’d certainly be very pleased to see the Bloc bumped into oblivion in the next election. It galls me to no end that in their pursuit of power, the NDP have played partisan politics by pandering to separatists in Quebec. For me, the NDP absolutely and clearly lacks principles when it comes to Quebec’s role within a united Canada, and I stand with former Liberal Leader and Clarity Act author Stephane Dion on NDP’s Sherbrooke Declaration (see, “Stephane Dion: NDP’s separatist pandering threatens national unity”, National Post, March 12/12).

We here in Northern Ontario should be particularly incensed that our NDP MP’s continue to support their Party’s playing to both sides in the separation issue, at the risk of our nation.

So that’s why I can’t get excited about a resurgent Bloc, even if it would benefit the electoral chances for Greens elsewhere.

The British Columbia Wild Card

Another wild card for consideration will be the role which Thomas Mulcair assigns to former leadership candidate and B.C. MP Nathan Cullen. Cullen himself is rapidly becoming a significant rallying point within the NDP, and if Cullen eventually emerges as the NDP’s B.C. deputy (which isn’t an official position, but it’s fair to suggest that NDP MP and Deputy Party Leader Libby Davies currently occupies that role), it could spell bad news for Greens, given his rising popularity.

Either way, though, British Columbia will remain an electoral battleground in 2015. What might work in favour of the Green Party would be the election of an NDP provincial government in B.C. next year, as the B.C. provincial Liberals seem set on a path to self-destruction at the hands of both the NDP and the new Conservative Party. How could an orange wave at the provincial level in 2013 benefit Greens in B.C.? Conventional wisdom would seem to suggest that a popular provincial government should pay dividends for federal cousins, and I actually buy into that argument. The problem in B.C. for the NDP, however, is that I have absolute confidence that an Adrian Dix-led provincial government will reveal itself to be an unmitigated disaster for that province by the time the federal election is called. While this should create new opportunities for Conservatives, it also should create some room for the Greens.

Of course, if the B.C. Green Party figures out a way to send a Green to Victoria in 2013, that too would be a big help for the GPC in B.C. That’s why Greens involved in the national party should be prepared to lend a hand to Jane Sterk’s B.C. Greens right now, and throughout the provincial campaign.

The Televised Leaders Debates

Finally, there is the last wild card: will Thomas Mulcair and Stephen Harper get together as Layton and Harper did in 2011 (and tried to do in 2008) to deny Green Party Leader Elizabeth May a seat at the televised Leader’s debate? Certainly, it is within the interests of both Party leaders to do so, and the NDP has the added motivation of also denying the Bloc a voice in the debate, now that the Bloc rump of 4 seats in the House is no longer considered an “Official Party”.

It’s true that based on past precedent, the Bloc and the Greens shouldn’t have anything to worry about, as with at least one sitting member in the House, the Broadcast Consortium has invited Party leaders to attend. But what might be different this time is that we have in Harper and Mulcair two very strong, communications-focussed personalities who are not afraid to mix it up in a hyper-partisan setting. Mulcair, though, might decide that he’d be playing with fire if he were to try to deny Daniel Paille, the Bloc’s Leader, an opportunity to debate. However, if some kind of Commons Committee could be struck to ultimately lay down non-partisan ground rules for televised leaders’ debates, and should that Committee conclude that only the leaders of “official” parties be invited to the debates, than Mulcair would be able to say that his hands were tied, and that the decision was not his. That would mean no Bloc, and no Green Party.

And the message to Canadians would be, once again, that the Green Party is not to be taken seriously by the electorate. May’s lack of participation in the 2011 televised debates was probably the biggest factor in seeing a reduction of the popular vote, and probably helped contributed to the NDP’s strong showing. Certainly the debates themselves, which is where Jack Layton started to turn the election around to his advantage, would have proven quite different had May been there.

Green Party Electoral Success Strategy

Ultimately, though, the electoral success of the Green Party of Canada lies with the Green Party itself. The Party needs to develop a workable strategy for the election of several MP’s, which wisely utilizes our scarce resources. An aggressive fundraising strategy must also be waged over the next several years. And the recruitment of some “star” candidates to run in key ridings certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Name Recognition

In fact, the Green Party may be developing two home-grown stars right now in the form of our Deputy Leaders. Adriane Carr was recently elected to the City of Vancouver’s municipal council, where she is developing a great reputation for herself as the lone Green on Council. Although Carr has in the past underperformed in her Vancouver Centre federal riding, with her name recognition increasing every day due to exposure on Council (as well as a result of the time she’s invested into the riding), it may finally come to pass that Vancouver Centre could go Green, presuming that the Party can persuade Carr to run in the next election.

And then there’s Deputy Party Leader Georges Laraque, who brings with him wherever he goes a considerable name recognition and a great public story to tell. Laraque insisted that he wasn’t ready to run in 2011, and that ultimately was probably for the best. A more-seasoned Laraque should definitely be persuaded to step up to the plate in a key riding in 2015 (or, hopefully before then, so that he can begin acting like an MP-in-waiting), and the Party should do what it can to support him and the electoral district to which he will belong. Although Laraque hails from Montreal, I sincerely hope that he chooses a riding in Edmonton, where he currently resides part-time. Despite the Conservative’s stranglehold on Alberta ridings, there remains a level of dissent, especially in the urban areas of Calgary and (especially) Edmonton which a star candidate for a progressive party could exploit. Laraque could very well be that star. And the right Edmonton might prove a lot more Green-friendly than any Quebec riding, which is sure to find itself a battleground between the NDP, Bloc and even the Liberals.

Targeted Ridings

Beyond that, the Party should be targeting ridings on Vancouver Island and the lower B.C. mainland, especially those currently held by Conservatives. These ridings would more easily benefit from visits by Green Party Leader Elizabeth May during and before the campaign, being geographically close to May’s riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands. Further, television advertising dollars would go a lot further if they were regionally focussed, rather than nationally. That this strategy may mean that most other Canadian ridings will once again be left on their own should not deter Green Party supporters outside of B.C. A stronger contingent of Greens in Ottawa will ultimately only benefit the Party. And right now, B.C. is where the Party’s best hope is.

However, the Green Party may have a few other regions which it should not lose sight of, and depending on which way the wind is blowing, we should be prepared to make some strategic interventions. This could include by-elections, but it should not automatically include every by-election, as our foray into Jack Layton’s old riding of Toronto-Danforth showed.

First and foremost in my mind is the Ontario riding of Guelph, where Greens have shown some past strengths. The robocall scandal investigation by Elections Canada originated in Guelph, and interestingly one of the first casualties of the scandal has been Liberal MP Frank Valeriote, who had to admit to and apologize for a campaign worker calling homes in Guelph in a bid to assassinate the character of the Conservative Party candidate Marty Burke on the issue of abortion (see, “MP Frank Valeriote owes city an apology, election rival says”, Guelph Mercury, March 13/12). Those calls were made from Valeriote’s campaign office, but the caller failed to identify herself as making those calls on behalf of the Valeriote campaign. That’s a violation of Elections Canada rules, and that Valeriote has gotten off lightly for this in the media doesn’t change the fact. Even with the apology, I have to think that voters in Guelph are getting mighty upset at being played by both the Liberals and the Conservatives. Sure, the NDP has also proven to be somewhat strong in Guelph, but I think that there may be some opportunity for Greens on the ground there, presuming that there remain enough Greens on the ground in Guelph to wage an effective campaign (and honestly, I’m not certain that there are). If Elections Canada’s investigation reveals significant voter suppression activities in Guelph, given the Valeriote campaign’s rule-breaking, Greens should be calling for a by-election in the interests of democracy.

Green Party President John Streiker ran a pretty good campaign in the Yukon in 2011, finishing 3rd behind the Conservatives and Liberals with almost 19% of the vote. The Yukon is a bit of a funny riding, in that it’s voters aren’t afraid to shift around between Cons-Libs-NDP (Yukon is currently held by the Cons, who took it from the Liberals, and it was the riding held by former NDP Leader Audrey McLaughlin). If the winds of change are blowing Conservatives out of office in 2015, it’s quite possible that the Yukon could see a 4-way vote split, with the Greens coming up the middle. Or an outright Streiker victory. But it’s going to be a hard-fought battleground.

But there may be opportunities for Greens in those ridings where a strong candidate and a split vote lead to an upset. With a strong Conservative campaign in 2011 and a strong history of Liberal voting, Sudbury itself could prove to be one of those ridings, despite the relative popularity of our NDP MP Glenn Thibeault in the last election.

If Thomas Mulcair steps into a national unity crisis precipitated by the NDP’s coddling to the separatists, it’s within the realm of possibility that NDP MP’s could be directly defeated by Greens outside of Quebec, but it’s going to depend on a vote split and a strong performance by Leader Elizabeth May in the televised debates. Those ridings, however, should not count on national party support to any significant degree. We need to continue to put our eggs into well-defined baskets. And we can’t wait for 2015 to begin ramping up spending. But that doesn’t mean that non-targeted ridings shouldn’t be giving it all that we’ve got. Look at what happened to the NDP in Quebec, where some MP’s were elected without campaigning or even spending a dime.

It’s important for the Party to identify targeted ridings now, and get nominated candidates in place sooner rather than later, in order to start the process of public exposure. Too often Green Party candidates are unknown within their own communities come election day, and part of this has to do with late nomination processes. We have the luxury of time now between this moment and 2015, and at least one unknown, the Leader of the NDP, has now been determined.

Greens: Look for Opportunities to Exploit

Yes, we Greens are going to have an uphill battle, as the NDP has decided to go with a strong leader who is perceived as being less-ideologically motivated than some of the other choices which didn’t make the cut. Sure, Thomas Mulcair is going to have to walk a bit of a tightrope between now and 2015, but if there is anyone in his Party who is positioned to pull it off, it’s him. And even though the level of Conservative Party scandals which we’ve become used to can’t possibly be sustainable, I’m certain that the Cons will continue to hand ammunition to all opposition parties between now and the next election.

It’s a given that the Green Party of Canada stands in stark opposition to the Conservative Party. What isn’t as apparent, however, is that there are numerous policy positions on which Greens and the NDP disagree. And while it’s true that on some issues, there is a fair degree of policy overlap between the two parties, the NDP’s relentless pursuit of power at all costs (including that Party’s own principles) stands in stark contrast to the Green Party, which wouldn’t know how to be effectively partisan with a month-long summer camp crash course.

I believe that it’s time for the Green Party to begin better defining itself in relation to the NDP, rather than to the Conservative Party. Ultimately, it’s the NDP who we are going to battle at the polls in the next election, now that the NDP itself has decided to put its own partisan interests and success ahead of the good of Canada by giving Thomas Mulcair the leadership. Mulcair has vowed that there is to be no electoral co-operation with the other parties in 2015, and has just as much zeal and desire to destroy the Liberal Party as Stephen Harper has expressed. Canadians already understand that the Green Party stands in stark contrast to the Conservative Party. What we need to do now is tell Canadians that we are different from the NDP, particularly under the leadership of Thomas Mulcair. A part of that story should be the Green Party’s unabashed support of Canadian federalism.

And finally, even if Greens end up being squeezed in 2015, let’s keep in mind that an NDP government may prove to be the disaster that the mainstream media believes it will be. Even if it’s not an unmitigated disaster, given the lack of support that the NDP has in an increasingly right-wing media, it’s within the realm of probability that any NDP government will find itself limited to one-term, and facing a voter backlash. In that potential future electoral environment may lie the seeds of considerable success for the Green Party. We just need to be ready to exploit it.

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