Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Voters Should Pass On Municipal Election Candidates Who Deny Reality of Climate Change

We often instinctively look to our federal government to provide leadership on climate change. After all, the government of Canada participates in international climate change negotiations through the United Nations. Clearly, our elected officials at the federal level have a significant role to play when it comes mitigating the impacts of climate change.

However, elected officials at all levels of government are often involved in making decisions which have climate change-related impacts. This is particularly true for those elected at the municipal level. Decisions made at City Hall can affect our community's ability to adapt to a changing climate. In particular, severe weather events can be extremely expensive for municipal property owners and taxpayers.

But what if our elected officials refuse to believe that the climate is changing due to human industrial activity, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary?

Communities that elect to public office those who deny the reality of climate change are likely to find themselves at greater financial risk, due to the costs of an increasing number of annual severe weather events. Elected officials who refuse to engage in evidence-based decision-making are far less likely to endorse appropriate strategies to address climate change -and far more likely to implement policy which exacerbates existing problematic situations.

TD Economics recently published a report, "Natural Catastrophes: A Canadian Economic Perspective" Among its many findings, experts at TD confirmed that Canada can expect to be on the receiving end of more weather-related natural catastrophes. The economic fall-out will be huge -TD estimates that severe weather-related catastrophes will cost Canadians $5 billion annually by 2020, spiking to between $21 and $43 billion by 2050.

With more Canadians living in cities every year, more of us are impacted by a growing number of floods, storm surges, wild fires and heat-related events. Canada's two most expensive natural catastrophes both occurred last year -southern Alberta's June flood, and the storm-related flood which hit Toronto in July. Together, these two floods caused an estimated $2.6 billion in public and private damages. With insurance coverage for private owners only going so far, Canadian taxpayers are on the hook to pick up a big portion of the tab.

While no strategy will completely shelter taxpayers from the costs of a changing climate, decisions made by our municipal councils can have big impacts on our exposure to risk. For example, TD's report indicates that in some regions, storms which used to happen every 40 years are now happening every six years. Municipal decisions which prohibit building in floodplains will reduce our exposure to financial risk from storm damages.

The development of appropriate mitigation and adaptation strategies at the municipal level requires leadership. Unfortunately, for many reasons, including ideology, some who seek public office in our communities are unconvinced that climate change is happening, despite the evidence. Individuals who hold these views can impede the development of good public policy, by letting their personal beliefs get in the way of minimizing our collective exposure to financial risk.

Municipal elections are happening throughout Ontario later this year. As citizens concerned about rising costs from a changing climate, we should be asking those who stand for election whether they accept the overwhelming evidence that human activities are warming our planet. If candidates acknowledge the evidence of climate change, will they then promise to minimize taxpayer's exposure to financial risk as a result of a growing number of severe weather events?

If candidates don't believe that climate change is real, they are far more likely to make costly decisions for our communities. Taxpayers ought to conclude that those candidates aren't fit to hold public office.

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

Originally published in the Sudbury Star, Saturday, April 26, 2014 (online: “May: Consider candidates views on climate change", April 26, 2014), without hyperlinks.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Greater Sudbury Election Notes, Part 1: Social Media Use So Far

Throughout the 2015 municipal election campaign, I’ll be posting a series of short pieces on items which have caught my attention. In Greater Sudbury, there are already dozens of candidates who have stepped forward to run for Mayor and in the 12 Ward races, yet there has been little talk about some of the issues and ideas which many of these candidates have been discussing – discussions largely limited to just themselves.

Our local mainstream media simply doesn’t have the resources to follow the ward campaigns in any detail – and with only one mainstream candidate, current Ward 5 Councillor Ron Dupuis, having declared for position of Mayor so far, coverage of city-wide election issues has been fairly light (although well-funded ultra-right-wing fringe candidate Dan Melanson, the former talking head of the Greater Sudbury Taxpayers Association – essentially the Conservative Party at the Municipal level – stirred things up a little bit with last week’s announcement that he’ll be seeking the Mayor’s chair – and stirred up his anonymous right-wing social media minions to publicly abandon our current Mayor, Marianne Matichuk – it was truly a sight to behold as anonymous Con trolls twisted themselves up in pretzel knots to publicly disown Matichuk after years of uncritical support).

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, social media forums have been pretty quiet too, even though a number of candidates are on two of social media’s most popular sites, Facebook and Twitter. It may be that some of the candidates don’t use social media as part of their day-to-day communicating in the real world, and haven’t therefore transitioned into using it as part of their campaign. Or it may be that social media really isn’t the best way of connecting with local residents for municipal ward races, particularly in a City such as Greater Sudbury where ward boundaries don’t make much sense.

Ward 9's Aaron Beaudry

A couple of candidates, however, have been standouts with their use of social media, in my opinion. Ward 9 candidate Aaron Beaudry has been actively trying to engage people through Twitter. From what I’ve seen of Beaudry, he’s using Twitter in a way that the social media tool was meant to be used – yes, a number of his tweets are “broadcast” type tweets, but he intersperses those with engaging tweets that ask questions about local issues. He also provides his followers with personal insights about himself and his family. And Beaudry often engages with other tweeters on the issues. Of all the candidates running for election in Greater Sudbury, Aaron Beaudry is the stand-out Twitter user.

My only complaint about Beaudry’s Twitter use is that, early on in his campaign, he decided to block me, likely because I made a disparaging remark about his refusal to publicly discuss on Twitter some of the ideas that he was broadcasting. I called him out for responding to a couple of tweets with “call me and we’ll discuss” responses, rather than engaging with tweeters on Twitter. Blocking critics probably isn’t the best Twitter strategy to employ – but at least Beaudry has generated enough interest on Twitter to actually have critics. As for the other candidates, Twitter has been a bit of a wasteland – so far.

Robert Kirwan's "Long Game" in Ward 5

Robert Kirwan is the other social media maven stand-out in the election campaign so far – and perhaps an unlikely one. Kirwan’s strategy has been to play the long-game. As a an elected Trustee for the Rainbow District School Board, Kirwan has been through the election campaign ringer before. Kirwan is also the founder of the locally popular “Valley East Today” website – a website which whisks its users back to the pre-amalgamation glory days of Valley East through an interface that screams for 1997’s Netscape Navigator. Kirwan also administers the popular Valley East Today Facebook Group (yes, Facebook still has groups), has over 1,500 subscribers, and a fair bit of active commentary.

After years of building local followers, Kirwan has been using both the Valley East Today website and Facebook group to push his campaign. Indeed, according to information available on the City of Greater Sudbury's website, when Kirwan registered to run for Ward 5, he listed his official campaign site as – I can’t help but wonder what the local businesses and church groups who sponsor that site think about it having been turned, in part, into a campaign site seemingly overnight – or how Kirwan might be accounting for their financial contributions towards the maintenance of what is now his campaign website – but those are questions for another day.

Today’s point is that through the use of both the Valley East Today website and Facebook group, Kirwan has posted a significant amount of content – including video files of his CKLU radio show, “The Learning Clinic”, on which this year he has been discussing municipal issues with other election candidates. Kirwan has also created a space on this website where he has invited other candidates in Wards 5 and 6 (the two wards which cover the former Town of Valley East) to share their thoughts on local issues. Right now, only candidate Kirwan has uploaded any opinions on the issues – which is good for those who want to find out his thoughts on things such as transit in the Valley or the Barrydowne Extension.

It may be the lack of participation of the other candidates on Kirwan’s site is because, well, why on earth would another candidate choose to post materials to a website under the complete control of one’s opponent? Or for that matter, why would another candidate want to try force their own opinions into narrow boxes as defined by one’s opponent? If I were running a campaign, I would advise my candidate to avoid this kind of pigeon-holing like the plague.

Of course, not participating will provide Kirwan with ammunition that his opponents simply don’t want to engage on the real issues – and what candidate wouldn’t like to go to the voters during a canvass and tell them, “I gave my opponents an opportunity to comment on specific issues. I even created a safe space for them to do so. But they apparently don’t care enough about you to tell you themselves what they think of the issues.” All of this is a brilliant campaign play by Kirwan, no doubt. But it just may simply be that every other candidate in Wards 5 and 6 have such low social media profiles that they simply just haven’t even considered taking up Kirwan on his offer.

So, while Kirwan is using the Valley East Today website as a repository of information about his campaign, he’s been using the Valley East Facebook Group to engage with local area residents – many of whom will be able to cast ballots for him in Ward 5. Kirwan is a regular poster on the group site, and he often discusses issues of importance to the community, some of which likely aren’t election issues. Certainly his posts showcase his commitment to the community – but posts which strategically promote him, his radio show and his campaign website are intermixed throughout. And that's part of a successful social media strategy to use during an election campaign.

Kirwan’s long-game strategy is a brilliant one, in my opinion. Build a loyal base of followers for whatever reason, and then when the election is called, shift gears and use the vehicles you’ve built to promote yourself and your campaign. A lot of politicians do just that – often they do it instinctively, building a base of followers even before they ever think of running for office. Really, there’s nothing wrong with it. One of the tricks here is to remain engaged with your followers at times when the issues you’ve built your base around quiet down.

Transitioning From Real Person to Political Candidate

The other trick is how best to transition from “activist” or “community builder” to “candidate” using the vehicles you’ve constructed. Former popular radio show host John Tory recently went through this conundrum when he announced his bid for Toronto’s Mayor’s chair and stepped down as radio show host. Tory changed his radio-host Twitter handle but retained his followers, rather than starting a brand new political account. No doubt that irked some of his radio-show listeners who were following him on Twitter for that reason – but likely most followers didn’t mind, or were even pleased that he stopped waffling and just got on with the next phase of his own not-exactly-secret long-game election strategy.

Some might consider Tory’s Twitter transition unethical, having amassed followers for one reason (radio show) which he then intended on “exploiting” for another reason (election campaign). But I believe that in today’s day and age, our online presence has become so integrated into our real lives that one need not compromise their Twitter presence (or presence throughout social media) out of a misguided sense of equity. Social media users can abandon an individual with minimal hurt feelings and relative ease. If you don’t like what John Tory is now doing on Twitter, or what Robert Kirwan is doing on Facebook, simply unfollow or unsubscribe.

Twitter and Facebook are one thing, though - what about one's "web presence" on other social media sites, such as the comment pages of mainstream media? If anything, the transition in these realms can be a lot easier because of their transitory nature. One day, you're commenting about cats and beer, and the next you've filed your papers and you're slamming the municipal tax rate - really, it's no biggee. As a candidate, you might find it useful to continue to write about cats and beer, just to add that "personal touch".

Websites, however, might create some problems. Unlike social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, when you register a url for a website, that site is under your exclusive control. You're not boxed in about how you communicate in the same way that you are with Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You pay for the privelege of hosting your site, but the privilege lets you control the content to a much greater extent. If you don't like comments made on your website, you can delete them in a way that Aaron Beaudry can't delete my comments about his ideas on Twitter. And of course since candidates pay for maintaining a website, they claim it as a campaign expense.

If you have your own url that you've been using for your personal business or some sort of hobby slash interest, it may be very unnerving to transition that website to a campaign site. Again, if you've got a lot of information about cats and beer on your website, regular traffic is likely to come to expect that and will be surprised to discover your rants about municipal taxes. Of course, replacing an under-utilized website about cats holus bolus with a campaign website at the same url, well, sometimes that makes a lot more sense and no one notices.

When you try to use an existing website for your campaign, look out for the alligators! Ward 5 candidate Robert Kirwan has tried to find some balance on his existing website, but I'm not certain that it's working. Campaign links and election materials have filtered onto the main page, giving the site the confused appearance. As far as campaign websites go, it's a strange one, with links to local website sponsors such as "Hanson Family Dentistry", "Heatwave Tanning Salon" and "St. Kevin's Catholic Church". The website also contains a prominent links to a municipal publication, the City of Greater Sudbury's Leisure Guide - a link with a visual that includes the City's corporate logo. Very strange indeed to see something like that on a campaign website.

Of course, wasn't developed as a campaign site, but rather a community services site, in part to promote local businesses and in part to promote some of Robert Kirwan's own local initiatives, such as his radio show, "Concussion Management Partners Inc." and "the Sudbury Wellness Group", both of which are business ventures Kirwan is involved with. The current mix of campaigning and community information is a curious one, and may ultimately provide some headaches for Kirwan the candidate when he files his financials after the election, and for Kirwan the business person when local businesses start to realize that they've been funding a candidate's campaign site in preference to other local individuals who are seeking office.

Social Media - How Effective?

All of this brings me back to my earlier point, though: just how effective is social media for running as a candidate in a municipal election campaign? Given the large number of candidates in Greater Sudbury’s election so far, and given that many of them are on both Twitter and Facebook, we could expect to see a level of engagement happening amongst the candidates and voters, or even just amongst candidates themselves. So far, there has been little evidence of either occurring – and that may have a lot to do with the ways in which the candidates are using these social media tools.

That might change somewhat with Dan Melanson – who brings with him a team of Conservative Party-trained social media minions who have no problems talking about the issues amongst themselves, either anonymously on MSM websites, or as real people on Facebook (they’ve yet to prove themselves on Twitter, though). I fully expect that these minions will start engaging one another and flinging the mud around – and it might start to get noticed a little by the broader public. But a lot of time and effort will no doubt be expended, with questionable results achieved.

At the end of the day, I can’t help but feel that social media will largely remain a sideshow in this year’s municipal election. Sure, anonymous trolls might drive some mainstream media coverage of particular issues, but for candidates the tried and true ways of building support remain the best options: knock on doors, talk to people face-to-face, and put up a lot of election signs to attract the attention of passers-by (who will equate the number of signs they see with relative popularity).

Sure, I agree with a recent Sudbury Star column that an online presence is a basic requirement for any political candidate (see, “Social media a political must-have”, the Sudbury Star, April 3, 2014), but it becomes a less efficient tool for communicating when you scale down the potential number of voters. In municipal ward races, where the number of potential voters is counted in the thousands, not the 10s of thousands, and where voter turn-out is often less than 60%, and where older people who are less likely to be social media users are more likely to cast ballots than younger social media users, social media just isn’t as important – yet. And candidates simply can’t do it alone – they need to develop teams of users (or at least multiple aliases) who can retweet and engage with their social media accounts, in order to create the perception of popularity.

Of course, just as the number of lawn signs really isn’t indicative of real popularity, nor is the number of Twitter followers. But both lawn signs and Twitter followers can create the sense of popularity. By way of example, Ward 12 candidate Tay Butt has 1,149 followers on Twitter (the most of any Greater Sudbury municipal election candidate), and his opponent, Councillor Josceylne Landry-Altmann isn’t even on Twitter – which is the more popular?

Of course, if you deconstruct Butt’s Twitter account, it quickly becomes apparent that those “following” Butt aren’t going to be able to cast a ballot for him because they don’t reside in his Ward (or the City for that matter, and many aren’t actually “real people” at all anyway) – but 1,149 followers! Wow! Certainly makes me jealous (I currently have only 530 – but I’m not running for anything).

Amassing followers and “Likes” is both important and unimportant – which is why social media should play a role in any successful election campaign, but it's only one part of a communications strategy. If you’re going to use it, though, use it well - playing the social media engagement game is more complicated than firing off the occasional tweet, and requires more than just one personal Twitter account or Facebook page. So sure, social media is important, but it certainly ought not to be relied on by a candidate as the primary means of getting the message out. Unless you’ve already made an investment in the social media long-game like Bob Kirwan or John Tory, your reach on social media isn’t going to take you far – even if you, like Aaron Beaudry, are able to use it well.

Better just to start knocking on doors – now.

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

Thursday, April 3, 2014

As NDP Old Guard Takes Over, Division Between "browns" and "greens" Starting to Show

If there’s one thing this week’s release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Report ("Climate Change: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerabilities") tells me, it’s that it’s time for the New Democratic Party of Canada to tear itself apart – for the good of our nation, and for the good of the global economy. And the NDP may actually be in the process of doing just that.

Events happening around Canada – and around the globe – this week must make NDP members and supporters who value sensible economic and environmental policies feel rather ostracized. Indeed, for those NDP supporters, many of them younger Canadians, who understand the significance of the climate crisis and the threat it poses to to future of this nation and the world, they must be feeling very demoralized indeed. For NDP members who have long championed putting a price on carbon as one of many actions available to elected officials to help stave off the climate crisis, I can’t help but wonder whether they’ve started to feel that the Party that they thought they knew has morphed into something else all together.

NDP: A Failure of Leadership on Climate Change

Look, I understand that the NDP talks a decent game on climate change – and credit where it’s due, at least Tom Mulcair and the NDP aren’t afraid to mention “climate change” in discussions with the media, with voters, whomever. But the internally inconsistent policies which the NDP has decided to champion show quite clearly that when push comes to shove, the NDP really is all talk – and if they form government (a very big “if” right now, given their stagnant polling numbers), all that Canada will get from the NDP is more of the same.

For my readers who comment to me that I seem to be much harder on the NDP than I am on the Conservatives or Liberals, I feel once again that I should point out that if this is the case, it’s only because I have always expected more from the NDP than I have from the other parties – precisely because they appear to talk a good game, as well as appearing to be somewhat sincere about their desire to protect low-income Canadians. I do not feel that way about the Conservatives, for whom I have little but contempt when it comes to the climate crisis. Nor do I feel that way about the Liberals, a party which has chosen to address the climate crisis much as a diner in a lunchroom cafeteria decides to order a vegetarian meal by opting for the salmon instead of the prime rib.

The Browns Take Over

The problem for the NDP is, quite clearly, too many of their old guard remain in positions of power and influence within the Party, both nationally and provincially. These “browns” running the show are comprised of backroom political operatives who’ve never seen a focus group they didn’t want to spin, and old-style labour organizers. Together, the browns continue to trump the aspirations of the greens – to the detriment of consistent climate change policy, and to the detriment of Canada.

Late last year, I held out some hope that NDP leader Tom Mulcair (who is clearly not a “brown”) would be able to get a grip on his Party and pull it into the 21st Century. I wrote about his December, 2013 speech on energy issues to the Economic Club of Canada in relatively glowing terms (see, “NDP ups its Game: One Green’s Take on Mulcair’s Energy Vision”, December 5, 2013). Since then, though, it’s rapidly becoming clear that the browns are the ones calling the shots in the NDP.

B.C. NDP Browns Lead the Way into the 19th Century

British Columbia will be a battle-ground province for the NDP in the next federal election. After B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix bungled the provincial election, the NDP on the left coast have been doing a fair bit of soul searching. Former federal leadership candidate and brown backroom boy Brian Topp prepared a fairly candid analysis of what can only be described as one of the worst electoral failures in Canada’s history. I critiqued Topp’s critique extensively in a blogpost from last year (see, “Brian Topp Reveals How NDP Plays Cynical Partisan Games with the Environmental Issues”, September 24, 2013). In short, Topp, in typical brown fashion, cited the NDP’s position on the environment as problematic, particularly because a real “Green” Party exists in B.C. to call them out on inconsistencies (I’m clearly paraphrasing here) and due to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain flip-flop. Both issues remain relevant to this discussion. Let’s explore the second first.

Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipeline

Mid-way through the election, Dix announced that the NDP was reversing its position on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline proposal, which would see diluted Alberta bitumen flow from the tar sands to the Port of Vancouver in an amount more than 1 and a half times greater than Enbridge’s Northern Gateway (890,000 barrels per day vs. 525,000. See, “Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain: how two pipeline projects compare”, the Globe & Mail, December 22, 2013). Up until Earth Day, 2013, the NDP maintained that it would take a “wait and see” approach with Trans Mountain in a way that they weren’t taking with Northern Gateway. To some, this seemed like a politically sensible approach to a difficult issue for the NDP, who have long been tarred by their opponents as opposing any and all economic initiatives.

Unfortunately for the NDP, it’s absolutely inconsistent to adopt a “wait and see” approach to a pipeline which will facilitate the runaway expansion of the Alberta tar sands enterprise, and allow some of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels to be exported (without upgrading) to Asia, where it will be burned and significantly contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions. Knowing as we do that we must keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, and having as a nation committed to doing so in Copenhagen in 2009, there is absolutely zero economic or environmental case which can be made to justify the Trans Mountain pipeline.

On Earth Day, 2013, Adrian Dix changed his Party’s position on Trans Mountain (dubbed by the media as Dix’s “Kinder Surprise”). He came out firmly against the project, saying that an NDP government would do what it can to prevent the pipeline from expanding, in order to protect the shallow Burrard Inlet from increased oil tanker traffic. There was little mention of climate change, but for what it was, it was a good decision. A decision which many of the old-guard browns came to lay at Dix’s feet as the primary reason that Dix lost the election.

Back-up to April, 2013 though, and let’s take a closer look at what was really going on with the BC NDP. Dix’s party had been polling far ahead of the incumbent Liberal Party for months, but when BC Premier Christy Clark pulled the plug and the real election campaigning began, the Liberals stole all of the momentum. Importantly for this narrative, the BC Green Party was also starting to steal a little thunder from both the Liberals and the NDP. Dix, feeling squeezed by the Greens in a few strategic ridings on the lower mainland and Vancouver Island, had to find some way of eating into just enough of the Green’s vote to win those seats. In short, Dix’s flip-flop on Trans Mountain had far more to do with niche electoral politicking than it did climate change.

Partisan Electoral Game Playing Driving NDP Policy Decisions

Dix’s decision on Trans Mountain exemplifies everything that is wrong with the NDP. Even when a good policy decision is made, it’s often made for the wrong reasons. Rather than doing what’s right, the NDP is focused on winning elections and obtaining power. They will abandon any long-held beliefs to capitalize on partisan gains. They simply can’t be trusted to stand behind what they say they’ll do. Look no further than to the NDP’s continued insistence that the Party supports moving to a proportional representation electoral system, and ditching the archaic first-past-the-post fiasco in place throughout Canada. NDP provincial government after NDP provincial government have failed spectacularly to take any action on this important issue at all.

(As an aside, and before anybody suggests that the sins of the NDP’s provincial parties should not reflect on the federal party, I must remind my readers that provincial and federal New Democratic parties are integrated in a way beyond all other federal/provincial parties operate. You, as an individual, cannot purchase a membership in the federal party without also purchasing a membership in your province’s provincial party – unless you live in Quebec, where the NDP has no provincial party. Although policy development processes take place independently, the NDP has always had a keen eye to marrying federal and provincial policies. And like most political parties, including my own, the people that operate provincially are also involved federally – but the difference with the NDP being that you, as a member, don’t have a choice in the matter – you must do both. Not only is the NDP’s approach anti-democratic, it values free-thinking individualism far less than it does mindless partisan game playing, in my opinion).

Also importantly, the NDP appears to be completely devoid of vision and is floundering around – which strangely is also a part of the NDP’s electoral strategy. Rather than approaching voters in B.C., Nova Scotia or nationally with some sort of comprehensive vision for a truly 21st Century Canada, the NDP throughout our nation have instead chosen to focus on small-scale boutique issues. Here in Sudbury, our MP, Glenn Thibeault (a classy man whom I admire), the NDP’s critic for small business, tourism and consumer affairs, has been leading the NDP’s charge into “retail politics”, by knocking on doors and telling voters to get behind the NDP’s strategy to reduce ATM fees. I guess that’s fine for it’s worth – I think ATM fees are too high, too – but at the end of the day, if issues like these are what the NDP is going to trot out to voters in 2015 – forget it. For all that I admire Mr. Thibeault, he and his party are proving to be a waste of Canadian’s time.

A Waste of Time Canada Can't Afford

For time really is of the essence. The IPCC says that we have to get our act together on reducing carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2100. If we're going to give ourselves and our children an opportunity to inhabit a livable planet, between 65% and 80% of known carbon reserves must stay in the ground. On greenhouse gas emissions, Environment Canada has already pretty much admitted that Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has abysmally failed to plan to meet our weak Copenhagen reduction targets.

While the world burns, the NDP fiddles.

The Wrong Carbon Pricing Scheme

Browns like Brian Topp are in charge of moving the NDP away from tackling the climate crisis. In the lead-up to the NDP’s policy convention in 2013, the NDP had the opportunity to ditch its bank-friendly Cap & Trade carbon pricing scheme for a much more straight-forward and effective Carbon Fee & Dividend approach to carbon pricing. While Cap & Trade might work on paper, it seems that when politicians get involved in implementation, it’s gone horribly wrong (witness the collapse of the European trading scheme due to low-price carbon credits, and the complete failure of the Chicago trading market). Further, it’s unclear why the NDP, which professes to be champions of “the little guy” would support a carbon pricing scheme which will make it more difficult for small, local businesses to compete against giant multi-national corporations.

Yet in the NDP there remain dinosaur elements who think that they’re economists and insist that any and all “consumption taxes” are somehow “regressive” and therefore not appropriate to burden low-income earners with. And that’s patently nonsense. If a low-income earner isn’t consuming a particular product, such as gasoline, because they can’t afford to own a car, a carbon tax on the price of gas isn’t going to be regressive to them. And while it’s true that carbon taxes on fossil goods and services will make consumption more expensive – that’s exactly the point: we need to reduce consumption, along with investing in sustainable alternatives for people who are impacted - like providing them with a gauranteed livable income.

But instead of acknowledging this reality, the NDP throughout Canada (and especially here in Ontario) continue to go on about making gasoline less expensive so that those who aren’t low income earners can drive their cars more and contribute to changing our climate, which will directly impact the health and well-being of everybody, and especially of low-income earners who won’t be able to cushion themselves from the economic fall-out in the same way that the rich will.

There is frankly no reconciling the position that a Party which advocates cheap gasoline, or projects which facilitate the runaway development of the tar sands, really gives a damn about the climate crisis.

NDP Flip-Flop-Flip on Kinder Morgan Reveals Hypocrisy on Climate

It’s increasingly looking like Tom Mulcair's brave words to the Economic Club of Canada back in December were really nothing more than hot air. Mulciar almost immediately followed up his “energy vision” speech with a low-key announcement that the NDP had, once again, flip-flopped on its Trans Mountain pipeline position. In a piece published in, Mulcair confirmed that the NDP isn’t going to oppose Trans Mountain and “get caught making the same mistake as Dix did when he announced midcampaign that a provincial NDP government would oppose the $5.4 billion Kinder Morgan pipeline project to the B.C. coast.” (the quotation here is from the journalist at, and not Tom Mulcair. See, "Mulcair confident in the face of sinking polls",, December 23, 2013)

NDP Embraces Energy East

Further, Mulcair has long been on record supporting with few caveats TransCanada’s “Energy East” pipeline, which will see diluted Alberta bitumen flow to ports on Canada’s east coast. Mulcair believes that existing refineries in Saint John, New Brunswick, and Montreal and Quebec City, Quebec, will be able to add value to the dirty bitumen, creating jobs for Canadians. Unfortunately, the NDP continue to cling to this notion, even in the face of recent reports which suggest that the vast majority of raw bitumen will have to be exported, due to a lack of refinery capacity and the price-tag of upgrading oil refineries to handle the tarry bitumen (see, “Energy East pipeline no boom for refineries because most oil will go overseas: Report”, the Financial Post, March 18, 2014)

The basis for Mulcair embracing bitumen pipelines has a lot to do with jobs, and the idea that exploiting our non-renewable fossil resources as quickly as possible will create well-paying Canadian jobs. Clearly, he’s not off-base with that assumption. Mining and pumping even more bitumen will certainly create some very well-paying jobs, and if you could figure out a way to refine the bitumen here in Canada, well, we’d get a good number of more jobs out of that. Everybody likes jobs, right?

Supporting the Right Job Creators

Yes, everybody likes jobs. But it’s the kind of jobs that Mulcair is championing, and how job creation in the fossil fuel sector will hamper job creation in Canada’s renewable energy sector – the very sector which is currently the world’s fastest growing industrial sector. By putting the majority of our eggs into the non-renewable resource basket, as the brown brain-trust behind the NDP seems to want us to do, Canada risks missing out on the economic boom which is taking place throughout the globe – and importantly, we risk missing out on opportunities to build a stronger, more competitive national economy based on inexpensive renewable energy, rather than increasingly expensive fossil fuels.

This is yet another example of the NDP’s dumb economics. But wait – it gets worse.

Former B.C. NDP Premier Harcourt's Hypocrisy

This week in B.C, former Premier Mike Harcourt had a very public spat with the Party, and announced that he was leaving, largely because of Dix’s “20 seat losing” decision to flip-flop on Trans Mountain (see, “Former Premier Mike Harcourt quits BC NDP in nasty public split”, the Globe & Mail, April 1, 2014). Despite now being involved with “sustainability issues”, it’s pretty clear that Harcourt, an old-school brown, doesn’t have a clue about climate change – or worse, he’s another focus-group hand-holder who values winning over doing what’s right. By publicly leaving his Party, Harcourt has essentially thrown down the gauntlet to the B.C. NDP – telling them they must choose brown policies over green ones in an attempt to save resource sector jobs (rather than cashing in on the renewable clean-tech sector).

Harcourt’s condemnation of his former Party’s opposition to the B.C. carbon tax does little to build credibility in my mind, despite being warranted. If anything, it simply exposes him as a just another NDP hypocrite on climate change who wants to talk the talk, but will never walk the walk.

Division is Real, and Starting to Show

Yesterday, the Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughan Palmer, writing in, seems to suggest that Harcourt’s challenge needs to be taken up by an NDP struggling with appearing to be “anti-growth” (see, “B.C. NDP caught between a rock and a green place”,, April 2, 2014). Palmer, although misguided in his notion about economic policy, hits the nail on the head, though, by exposing the division within the NDP. Anecdotally, I continue to hear about this division between the “browns” and the “greens” here in the Sudbury and Nickel Belt ridings, and throughout Canada. The division is real – and the browns are winning the day.

Palmer goes on to report that both provincial NDP leadership contenders, John Horgan and Mike Farnsworth, have called for the development of B.C.’s non-renewable fossil resources. Farnsworth has embraced Mulcair’s position of “neutrality” on Trans Mountain, while Horgan is insisting that an NDP government would buy into what must be one of the dumbest economic development proposals of all-time: the fracking of natural gas in northern B.C. for liquefied export (LNG). Not only is B.C. LNG proposal economically suspect on its own merits, given that there is no proven long-term Asian market which justifies such a massive investment of public dollars, a rethink appears to be in order. Whatever B.C. decides to invest to get the LNG dog barking runs the risk of becoming yet another fossil fuel stranded asset – a sinkhole for all investors when the carbon bubble bursts.

Linda McQuaig - Still Welcome in the New NDP?

This division within the NDP between the old-guard browns and the greens isn’t sustainable. Contrast all of the above with an excellent article by former NDP candidate Linda McQuaig (who ran for the NDP unsuccessfully in the recent by-election in Toronto Centre, losing out to Liberal Chrystia Freeland by a healthy margin) appearing yesterday in iPolitics (see, “Death, denial and the toxic politics of climate change”,, April 2, 2014). McQuaig’s position on climate change has been well-known for a long while now, but even for her, the iPolitics article ramps up the urgency of dealing with the climate crisis.

At the time of the Toronto Centre by-election, the NDP was still being cagey with its policy approach to the climate crisis, and the Trans Mountain behemoth was one of the pipelines that the NDP opposed. Sure, Mulcair had embraced Energy East, but the talk of refineries and the benefits of job creation hadn’t been seriously analyzed yet (to recap, it appears that Energy East will create very few jobs, and refineries won’t be profitable, so they won’t get built). Since running for the NDP, McQuaig’s party has now reversed itself on Trans Mountain, embraced LNG in B.C. (but at least not on the basis of the B.C. Liberals’ foolish notion of allowing the project to be proceed based on the use of temporary foreign workers), and are demanding cheaper gasoline and cuts to energy prices in Ontario. It’s absolutely not clear to me that the NDP could be considered the same Party that it was when McQuaig ran under its banner just a few months ago.

NDP's Middle Class Buffet Approach Abandons Canadians in Need

McQuaig, who like Naomi Klein, understands a thing or two about poverty and the distribution of wealth, is clearly on the green (losing) side of the NDP divide. Her iPolitics article charts new territory for someone in the NDP, by first acknowledging that the fossil fuel industry (and our “lickspittle governments”) are the real enemies of the climate – and ergo of our economy, and of people. Can you imagine Thomas Mulcair daring to declare war on the fossil fuel industry?

Wait a minute – didn’t he try to half-heartedly do just that a few years ago when he started to talk about “Dutch Disease”? Thanks to a few clearly biased media reports by journalists who think that they’re economists (and by economists who shill for the fossil fuel industry and its government supporters), Mulcair quickly clamped his mouth shut, and never the phrase “Dutch Disease” has been uttered again. The brown spin-doctors must have went ballistic with Mulcair's implication that the West’s fossil fuel industry was somehow culpable for a loss of jobs in Central Canada – along with being a major contributor to climate change. Canadians are, after all, used to hearing about what a benefit the Alberta tar sands brings to each and every one of us, and to our children. The brown-stained spin doctors surely didn't want to rock that boat, truth be damned.

McQuaig’s no-holds barred piece in iPolitics certainly would not have seen the light of day if she were currently the nominated candidate for the NDP in a Toronto riding. When you're on the NDP Team, you pretty much have to leave behind all critical thinking and subscribe to the orange group-think. Transgressors will be punished. McQuaig, by acknowledging the 2 degree Celsius threshold which warming must held to, has gone much further than Tom Mulcair or Megan Leslie have ever dared, lest they further alienate the browns in their own party. She writes about the threat to investors and the economy of having to leave fossil assets stranded, sequestered safely in the ground, lest the bursting of the carbon bubble wipe out pension plans and savings.

McQuaig’s of off-message dissent would be entirely out of place in today’s NDP (although the NDP does have a habit of saying one thing in one part of Canada, and the exact opposite in another part of Canada, so it might be within the realm of possibility). Maybe McQuaig sees the writing on the wall within her own Party, acknowledging that the division is irreconcilable.

Maybe that’s why McQuaig has started to write like a Green.

NDP: No Longer Part of the Solution

As much as I had hoped, for the sake of my nation, that the NDP would one day get its act together and champion action on climate change, I can see now that my hopes have been misplaced. All around the nation, the NDP is stepping back from the challenges posed by the most important economic issue of our times. The lack of trust which today’s NDP has instilled in voters due to repeated inaction on numerous matters, many of which the NDP considered their own priorities, has led me to conclude that my hopes for change have come to naught.

Rather than the NDP being a part of the solution to the climate crisis, that party has willfully decided to be a part of the problem. And woe be to Canada.

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

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Who Speaks For Woodland Caribou?

When new development is being considered in Northern Ontario, who speaks for threatened animal species like woodland caribou? You may believe that our elected governments are looking after the interests of dwindling herds, but changes to federal and provincial rules have essentially left caribou to fend for themselves.

A December, 2013 study, “Population Critical: How are caribou faring?”, released by the Canadian Parks and Wildlands Society and the David Suzuki Foundation, evaluated the caribou conservation efforts of our governments and found them wanting. While no province scored a high grade in this study, Ontario was identified as one of the worst jurisdictions for caribou conservation. In part, Ontario’s low score comes thanks to changes made to rules in 2013 which exempt conservation efforts from provincial oversight.

Gord Miller, Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner, in a special report to the province, referred to these changes as “an attack on Ontario’s species at risk”. Miller and other conservationists had initially praised Ontario’s cutting-edge 2007 Endangered Species Act, which called for meaningful habitat protection and the production of recovery plans for species at risk. The Endangered Species Act had been the subject of significant public consultation before being enacted by parliament.

In 2009, the province released its caribou conservation plan, which called for a recovery strategy to bring caribou back to parts of Northern Ontario where they once roamed. Caribou are very skittish animals, and generally avoid human habitation. It’s estimated that almost 40% of the habitat of woodland caribou has been lost, in part due to fragmentation as a result of resource development activities such as forestry, mining, roads and pipelines.

The recovery strategy found detractors in resource industries, northern businesses and municipal and provincial politicians, who feared that preserving caribou habitat could lead to a loss of jobs in the forestry, mining and energy sectors - all sectors which some economic analysts expect to grow in the coming decade. Planning to protect caribou came into direct conflict with planning to protect jobs.

In July, 2013, the Minister of Natural Resources quietly published regulations that exempted a broad range of development from provincial oversight. In the past, industries looking to develop within the habitat of threatened and endangered species were required to obtain a permit from the ministry after working together to identify opportunities to minimize risk. Now, as long as developers follow generic compliance rules, developments can generally proceed.

Not only has the province abandoned its traditional role of oversight, it’s deprived itself of the ability to say “No” to any development project.

“In effect, every place, no matter how unique or important, will be open to activities with the potential to adversely affect species at risk,” wrote Miller “No place is untouchable or special. (see: "Laying Siege to the Last Line of Defence”, Section 6, Page 31, inset box)

The province’s rule change prompted Ecojustice, Ontario Nature and the Wildlands League to file a lawsuit against the province (see: "EcoJustice sues to save endangered species", Environmental Law and Litigation, Diane Saxe, September 16, 2013), based in part on the idea that the government cannot make policy decisions which increase the danger to species the government had originally set out to protect.

For woodland caribou, the writing may be on the wall. A lower Canadian dollar and a housing boom in the United States is already boosting Ontario’s forestry sector (see: "Rise in profit hint at forestry sector turnaround", PwC press release, March 24, 2014). Mineral development in the Ring of Fire, and transportation and energy corridors to service the new mines will lead to ever more fragmentation of critical caribou habitat.

There may very well be opportunities to facilitate development while protecting caribou. However, with rules that so heavily favour development over conservation, it seems pretty clear that our elected governments are not speaking for Northern Ontario’s threatened species. Perhaps it will be left to the courts to take on that role.

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

Originally published in the Sudbury Star, Saturday, March 29, 2014 (online: “May: Who is looking after the woodland caribou?", March 28, 2014), without hyperlinks.