Friday, June 23, 2017

An Open Letter to My Ward Councillor, Fern Cormier, Regarding the Events Centre

I am writing to you today to express my thoughts on the matter of a new events centre for our community, which I understand Council will be discussing at its upcoming meeting on June 27, 2017.  I am writing to you today as a resident of Ward 10 (and in no other capacity).  I am copying your Council colleagues this email for their information.

I have been following this matter since the November 27, 2015 Large Projects Public Input and Information Session (see: “Big ideas and big projects get public airing,”, November 26, 2015), and I have been engaged in discussions taking place throughout the community – and especially on social media sites.  I highlighted some of the issues which I felt our local decision-makers should consider when looking at locations for a new events centre in a column that I wrote for the Sudbury Star, (“Sudbury centre would attract creative class,” the Sudbury Star, March 11, 2017), including the need for a community facility to act as a catalyst for supporting the individuals who will be taking up the jobs that our City needs to attract to prosper and thrive in the future.

While my preference for an events centre would be to repurpose the existing Sudbury Community Arena, I understand that option is not presently on the table, and I acknowledge that Council has expressed its intention to pursue the construction of a new events centre.  With that in mind, I’ll focus these comments on one of the decision’s that Council may be making on June 27th – on the location of a new events centre.  However, I feel the need to express my dismay that the decision facing Council next week will not be one informed by a public consultation a process – a very obvious and troubling omission for those who have wanted to engage in a discussion about the location of an events centre – or whether a new events centre should be pursued at all.

I have read both the report to Council of February 22, 2017, which included the February 21, 2017 “Proposed Sports and EntertainmentCentre Feasibility and Business Case Assessment” from PWC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), and the more recent report to Council dated June 15, 2017, which includes the “GreaterSudbury Event Centre Site Evaluation” report from PWC. I am also familiar with many of the City’s strategic documents, including the Official Plan (2006), the Downtown Master Plan (2012) and the City of Greater Sudbury Community Development Corporation’s community economic development strategic plan, “Fromthe Ground Up, 2015-2025” (2015) and the Downtown Community Improvement Plan.

All of these documents benefited from significant levels of public consultation, citizen engagement and city-led stakeholder discussions prior to their adoption by Council. All of these documents articulate a clear vision for the City’s downtown – a unique location in the community described as being “the vibrant hub of a dynamic city” (Official Plan, page 34) and which “plays a key role in defining the City’s image and quality of place, perceptions that are essential to the success of a number of City initiatives” fulfilling “its important function as a local and regional centre of government services, business, retail, sport and entertainment uses, arts and culture, and community and institutional uses” that “services a large catchment area that extends beyond Greater Sudbury.” (Downtown Community Improvement Plan, page 1).

The provision of cultural amenities, including institutional uses, in the City’s downtown has been an on-going feature of planning efforts in our City for at least the past decade.   An events centre has been in the downtown is championed by many of these strategic documents.  The Downtown Master Plan contemplates the retention of the Sudbury Community Arena (in an up-graded form) due to its function as a catalyst for new business and economic development, along with other community amenities, including a four-star hotel and conference centre.   Our economic development strategy builds on the Downtown Master Plan, calling for a new multipurpose facility for arts, culture and sport in the form of a new community arena in the “Heart District” (downtown), and specifically in recommendation 7.1.1 , it calls for the development of a new “arena/sports complex” in the downtown core.

Clearly, the retention of a community facility (a community arena / events centre / multi-purpose facility) in our downtown forms a keystone of the strategies which have been endorsed by Council and citizens to promote economic development, well-being and livability in our City.
On Tuesday evening, our elected officials will be facing a choice – one it arguably should have never been put in a position to have to make.  You will be asked to choose between the vision that the City has been working on developing for over 10 years, or to reject that vision and adopt in its place an alternative vision that has never received the benefit of public input and consultation – one that is fraught with risk and uncertainty, centred on lands that have never been evaluated for the types of uses included in this vision.

In contrast to the option of putting a new community events centre in the downtown, the proposal coming forward from a local developer is very problematic. The vision is grandiose – quite different from what Council directed staff to prepare a report on.  Yes, the developer’s vision includes a new community events centre – but it is far more than that.  The developer’s intention is to use the events centre as a lynchpin for future development, including (that we know of ) a casino, hotels, a motorsports park and (possibly) a water park.   

Not one of these uses has ever gone through an evaluation of any sort for appropriateness on the developer’s lands, save for the recent site selection report from PWC which looked only at whether the lands might be able to support an events centre.  And the findings of that report raise doubts, as it indicates the lands are not currently zoned for the use proposed (unlike the downtown).

While it is often thought that rezoning lands is a fairly straight-forward regulatory matter, that won’t be the case with these lands.  The PWC report highlights a number of constraints, including the proximity of a municipal landfill site and its potential impacts on proposed sensitive uses; the costs of site preparation for the uses proposed; and the acquisition of Crown Lands – an issue which is out of control of either the City or the development proponent.

And there are other constraints.  The Greater Sudbury Source Protection Plan highlights issues with salt contamination in one of our City’s primary drinking water sources, Ramsey Lake.  Salt contamination occurs from the spreading of winter road salt on streets and in parking lots, where it merges with groundwater and eventually ends up in streams and lakes.  Lands owned by the Kingsway developer and proposed for an events centre are located in the Ramsey Lake watershed.  His development proposal requires the construction of a massive new surface parking facility of approximately 1,200 spots (and that’s just for the events centre – other proposed uses will have additional surface parking requirements).  In contrast, the downtown option is not anticipated to generate the need for any new parking spaces – and even if new surface parking were to be contemplated, our downtown is not located in the Ramsey Lake watershed.

We also know that the developer’s lands on the Kingsway may contain habitat of species at risk.  In a report to Planning Committee for the rezoning of these lands in 2014, the City identified species at risk as an outstanding red flag that required further evaluation.   It is not clear that any action has been taken to address this matter, even though it was flagged by the City in 2014.

The clustering of sports and entertainment uses at the Kingsway location may ultimately require Council to re-evaluate its priorities for road maintenance and upgrades, given the considerable vehicular traffic that is likely to be generated by these uses.  Unlike the downtown, where options exist for alternative transportation and transit, the Kingsway will be largely accessed by personal vehicles, along a single road.  Existing road priorities, such as widening MR 35, may need to be delayed or canceled in favour of needed work to make this area of the Kingsway accessible to traffic.  The good news, however, might be that dubious road projects like MR 35 widening may be reassessed by the City, given that there will be a shift in jobs and entertainment facilities from Azilda/Chelmsford to the Kingsway corridor, particularly if the casino were to co-locate on the Kingsway property.  At a time of population and economic stagnation, road projects like MR 35 are difficult to justify anyway.

There is also the matter of the appropriateness of lands set aside for industrial uses in the City’s Official Plan for the uses proposed – most of which, including a casino and a community events centre - do not appear to be in keeping with industrial area policies.  With specific regard to the community events centre, institutional uses and other community facilities do not appear to be contemplated in industrial areas.  To rezone these lands for a community events centre facility will be to ignore the policy direction of the Official Plan as it pertains to industrial uses – along with the other policy sections of the Plan that relate to the Downtown (Section 4.2.1 ) and Healthy Community (Section 16) policies, which promote the clustering of community facilities in walkable areas of the City.  In his desire to see a community events centre built on his Kingsway lands, the developer is asking Council to turn its back on our Official Plan – our guide for developing a strong future for all Greater Sudburians.  While PWC’s site assessment report indicates that the rezoning of this property may take as much as a year, given the significant and relevant policy issues and technical challenges that the uses proposed for this industrial property face, I suggest that zoning may take longer than a year to complete – and ultimately, changing the zoning on these lands to permit those uses may never come about.

Further, the ultimate costs of the developer’s vision have not been assessed.  While I understand that there are some numbers floating around with regards to how much the City might accrue through new taxation should all components of the developer’s vision come to fruition, I caution that those numbers appear to be dubious at best, and certainly nothing that I’ve seen takes into consideration the anticipated costs  of development in this location.  Basing a decision on anticipated benefits alone just isn’t sustainable – and anyone promoting even a back-of-the-envelope fiscal analysis that fails to consider both anticipated benefits and anticipated costs is doing our community an injustice.

I understand that the City is currently working on a report that will assess the costs of development in various parts of the municipality. Moving ahead with a massive new development proposal on the Kingsway at this time is incredibly premature, given this outstanding report which at least may provide some additional guidance regarding municipal cost expectations for development in this location.

And these are just the issues that are known. There are likely to be others which will only become apparent once necessary technical studies and evaluations of the site for the appropriateness of the proposed uses are made.  What is astounding is that no action to address any of the known issues by the developer appears to have occurred since his location was pitched to Council back in 2015.  There does not appear to have been any zoning by-law amendment application made.  Nor do the issues pertaining to traffic, species at risk and costs/benefits appear to have been addressed, at least based on information available to the public.  That these known issues have remained dormant and unaddressed by a developer who has insisted that he is sincere about his desire to develop is, frankly, difficult to understand.

For all of these reasons, Councillor Cormier, I ask that you consider that the best location for a community events centre is in our City’s downtown.   A downtown location is consistent with the city-building vision articulated for more than a decade in our strategic planning documents.  It’s a vision that has received significant public buy-in.  And it’s based on what subject matter experts have long insisted – that a strong, vibrant downtown core acts as the economic engine of our City.  Let’s keep that engine well-stoked, going forward.  At a time when our population is not expected to increase by very many people, the choices that are made now will resonate down through the decades.  Choices must be sustainable – fiscally, socially and environmentally. 

That’s why the downtown is the only viable option for an events centre.  The risks associated with selecting the other sites are just too great.

(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 Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Motorsports in a Time of Climate Crisis: Sustainability Must Be Our Focus

It's 2017. Are we finally going to start taking the climate crisis seriously? Are we prepared to do more than just treat terms like “sustainability” and “low carbon economy” as meaningless buzz-words?  Are we finally going to acknowledge that we ought to be planning for the future that the market economy is already making a reality – a future based on clean, renewable energy - not fossil fuels?

I'm extremely troubled by a recent announcement here in my community.  At a time that we should be doing what we can to bury the internal combustion engine, a group of people here in my home town have decided to embrace recklessly emitting greenhouse gases for no other purpose than entertainment.  Yes, I'm talking about the recently announced Sudbury Motosports Park, which is intended to be built on my City's urban fringe as part of a massive, car-centred development initiative spear-headed by private developer, Dario Zulich (see: "Plan for True North motorsports park revealed," the Sudbury Star, June 5, 2017).

Look, I understand that vehicles powered by internal combustion engines remain a significant part of every day life for many in my community - and indeed, throughout the world.  After trying - and failing - to go car- free with my family this past winter, we were forced to acknowledge just how much we rely on our vehicle for getting around our City.  I get it. And I know that despite the switch that is on towards electric vehicles, it's going to take some time before the majority of vehicles on our roads are powered by anything other than greenhouse gas emitting petroleum and diesel fuels.

But I also know that the transportation sector is Ontario's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, representing 35% of total provincial emissions (see: "Ontario's 5 Year Climate Change Action Plan," Government of Ontario - page 6).  And emissions in this sector are growing, thanks to population growth mainly in the southern part of the province, coupled with a severe lack of alternatives for people to get around.

The good news is that things are starting to change – the province appears to be committed to building the infrastructure we need in place to make the switch to electric vehicles.  Of course, I've been critical of our provincial Liberal government and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Glen Murray in particular, over the general lack of ambition contained in their Climate Change Action Plan (see: "Sudbury column: Climate change plan lacks ambition," the Sudbury Star, July 2, 2016).  Yet, credit where it's due – the government recognizes the issues with greenhouse gas growth from the transport sector and is taking action.

A recently released study from Stanford University economist Tony Seba predicts the imminent demise of the internal combustion engine within the next 8 years (see: "Stanford study says fossil-fueled cars will vanish in 8 years as ‘big oil’ collapses," Inhabitat, May 17, 2017).  I think that's an incredibly ambitious timeframe, but without a doubt, market forces that are making renewable energy cheaper, coupled with carbon pricing that is finally addressing the externalities of climate changing pollution, make the demise of fossil fueled vehicles inevitable. The writing is on the wall for internal combustion engines, and some nations are already looking ahead and doing what they can to hasten its demise (see: "Germany votes to ban internal combustion engine cars by 2030," Extremetech, October 10, 2016).

With all of this in mind, it is baffling to me why anyone would be proposing to establish a new  entertainment use that celebrates and glorifies the internal combustion engine – a sunset technology, and one responsible for so much of the harm caused to our atmosphere.  Yes, let's continue to use our personal vehicles wisely, as tools to get us from Point A to Point B until better alternatives become available. But the days of using fossil fuels for entertainment must come to an end, as U.K. environmental journalist George Monbiot suggested over 10 years ago (see: "How sport is killing the planet," the Guardian, October 29, 2006).  Real change has to come - and it starts with like-minded community members standing up for the planet and proclaiming that sustainability must be at the heart of our decisions.

And a motorsports park just isn't sustainable.  In 2017, it can't be justified.

Keep that in mind, because the group behind this carbon behemoth wants you to believe that their proposal will create jobs and lead to economic development.  And they may be right.  Of course, the tobacco industry also creates jobs.  As do those companies that build weapons of mass destruction.  Yes, I understand that comparing a motorsports park to the nuclear weapons industry and Big Tobacco is more than a little over-the-top.  But I'm being deliberately provocative to make a point: There are lots of ways of making money and creating jobs, but not all are moral. At this time of climate crisis, promoting jobs and economic development initiatives that will exacerbate the crisis is not a moral response.  Let me repeat that.  No moral economic development strategy can continue to rely on the use of fossil fuels for the exclusive purpose of entertainment.

Yes, I understand that the focus of this post here has been a new motosports park in my community, rather than railing against the Toronto Indy or Montreal Grand Prix – events which probably have far larger carbon footprints than will ever be achieved by motosports in Greater Sudbury.  Of course those other events have been around for a while – and yes, they ought to be phased out, unless racing organizations embrace the shift to electrical power vehicles ahead of the curve (and in fairness, there is some evidence that the industry is getting the message - see: "Wanted: Climate Scientists Who Can Save the Future of Racing," Jack Baruth, Road And Track, February 9, 2016).  The Indy and Grand Prix are problematic, that's for sure.  But their existence should not be an argument against standing up for establishing a new and needless greenhouse gas emitting entertainment venue in Greater Sudbury.

It's not even clear that a new motosports facility here would be a net fiscal boon for the City and us taxpayers.  When the City tried to justify the Maley Drive Extension, it did an admittedly poor cost benefit analysis that looked at the proposed benefit of saving greenhouse gas emissions, using an $88.5 per tonne price on carbon (see: "Some Initial Observations on the New Cost / Benefit Analysis for the Maley Drive Extension,", November 3, 2015).  If a similar cost/benefit analysis were prepared based on projected greenhouse gas emissions from the motosports facility, how much will the public be on the hook for when it comes to the social costs of carbon pollution?  Keep in mind that carbon pollution represents a real cost to taxpayers through higher health-related costs, higher insurance premiums and climate change adaptation costs.  These costs aren't make-believe. Business and industry are already building these costs into their corporate investment strategies (see: "The true cost of carbon pollution," Environmental Defense Fund).

These motorsports folks have been trying to move their initiative forward for some time now.  I would have expected to be reading about the work that they've done to justify their new entertainment facility, and to reassure the public that greenhouse gas emissions will be minimized and paid for by the organization or facility users, and how those costs underpin their financial plan. That's the kind of analysis that the public expects nowadays – especially from a high-carbon enterprise.  And especially especially from one which is relying on the use of fossil fuels strictly for the purpose of entertainment. But there's nothing like this posted on their website.

Of course, the City of Greater Sudbury needs to undertake it's due diligence as well. How will this carbon-centred motorsports park fit in with the greenhouse gas reduction initiatives identified in City's own climate change plan (see: "The EarthCare Sudbury Local Action Plan" City of Greater Sudbury, 2003)? Will this help or hinder us in meeting our emissions reduction targets?  And here the City will need to look at more than just the greenhouse gases that are emitted from racing and the transport of vehicles and the public to and from the venue located on the fringe of our urban area (and the extension and expansion of infrastructure needed to support that initiative).  The City should be assessing the comprehensive carbon costs of creating a new entertainment complex on the urban periphery – and what that means in terms of contributing to the carbon costs of urban sprawl.

Yes, I understand that these sorts of studies may take some time, and generally speaking, even when they have been undertaken, they usually fall short (as in the case of the Maley Drive cost/benefit analysis).  Making announcements is easy - but undertaking the necessary hard work to inform decision makers and the public about a range of issues is necessary if we are going to take the concept of evidence-based decision making seriously - something which we must do, if we are to take the notion of sustainability seriously. Not studying an issue because it's too costly is simply unacceptable, and no PR campaign can change that.

Of course, on this matter, the City may be out in front of the curve, with a study expected to be completed this summer that looks at the costs of urban sprawl throughout the City and impacts on the City's bottom line (see: "Decision on splitting, developing rural lands delayed," sudburydotcom, May 29, 2017). At a time when the experts are proclaiming that our population will remain stagnant or be reduced in the coming decades (see: "Population in Sudbury District to drop - updated, the Sudbury Star, May 13, 2017), it's even more important that we look at fiscal sustainability as the primary guiding principle for any new development initiative.

Can we develop a motorsports entertainment facility here in Greater Sudbury that is sustainable?  Yes, I believe we can, but the challenges will be significant, as the only moral way forward will be to rely on the use of renewable energy – and not fossil fuels.  That's just not in the cards for any motosports facility currently being contemplated anywhere.  And that's all the more reason that we have to start changing our thinking about entertainment, economic development and job creation.

College Boreal was identified as a potential partner for this motorsports complex.  I strongly suggest that publicly-funded institutions like our post-secondary education institutions should be doing their own due diligence with regards to the initiatives that they are backing and with whom they are partnering.  For those, like me, who are extremely concerned about motorsports and climate change, it should be obvious that College Boreal should be encouraged to give their backing a rethink at this time.

The same, of course, applies to our provincial government, for the land being eyed by the Sudbury motorsports group is currently in Crown ownership.  Release of Crown lands for the purpose of creating a high-carbon entertainment facility is, I suggest, not in the long-term interests of the province.  The Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, Kathryn McGarry, should be reminded of this at every opportunity.  The Minister should also be reminded that there is a naturally occurring wetland on this site that may include the habitat of threatened and endangered species – an issue raised by the MNR with regards to lands located just to the south of this Crown parcel (and yes, I am referring here to the lands that Mr. Zulich wants to build his events centre on - see: "Request for Decision, Application for rezoning in order to permit the development of a complex with office, hotel, bulk retail, warehouse, and commercial recreation centre uses. Kingsway, Sudbury - 1777222 Ontario Ltd. & 1777223 Ontario Ltd.," City of Greater Sudbury, Agendas Online, September 12, 2014).

By the way, you can remind the Minister of her government's obligation to protect threatened whip-poor-will and blanding's turtles under the Endangered Species Act by writing to her at:

The potential presence of species at risk habitat on this parcel should have been something that the motorsports group already explored – if for no other reason than to shut people like me up for raising it as an issue. Likewise, I would have expected the motorsports group to have entered into consultation with area First Nations about this parcel. Perhaps they've been looking after species at risk and First Nations issues both, despite the absence of information they've made available to the public on their website or at the media scrum they held earlier this week.  Maybe I just don't know about it - which is more than possible, given that I've not been plugged into what this group has been doing.  Given the involvement of a publicly-funded institution, College Boreal, it may very well be that these issues have all been looked after.  Why else would College Boreal want to be a associated with a proposal that would see greenhouse gas spewing vehicles occupy a wetland that once was the habitat of threatened species? Why else would College Boreal want to associate themselves with a proposal from a group that hadn't reached out to area First Nations to determine their thoughts on exacerbating the climate crisis?  Maybe if I were the kind of person that really wanted to know about what went into College Boreal's decision-making process to involve themselves in this initiative, I'd email College Boreal President Daniel Giroux at and ask him.

It's 2017.  We can do better.  We must do better.  The future requires it of us – it requires us to finally start getting our act together and planning for the things that we need to be doing to aggressively wean ourselves off of fossil fuels.  It requires us to remind and prod our governments and public institutions that the status quo on fossil energy is no longer acceptable.  The future requires us to change our ways - and change our ways we must.

A motorsports park in my community?  No. It's time to draw the line.  We can't keep doing this. It is not moral, just, or sustainable. It fails our children and grandchildren out to the seventh generation.  It is not helping build the low-carbon future that we know we must build.  In fact, it will hinder its progress.

(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 Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Trump, Trudeau and Notley: North America’s Carbon Triumvirate

Green economy is booming.    The price of renewable energy is falling.  While climate changing fossil fuels remain an essential component in our current energy mix, all signs point to a collapse in demand within the next few decades.  Investing in clean, green energy to power our future is proving to be good for the economy – and that’s good news for the planet.

Green job growth is outpacing job creation in the fossil fuel sector.  The International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) 2017 Annual Jobs Review report tells the story:  in 2016, the renewable energy sector employed 8.3 million people, with a growth rate of 2.8%.  By 2030, IRENA estimates there will be 24 million people employed in the renewable energy sector (see: “Global Green Energy Job Count Approaches the 10 Million Mark,” Green Tech Media, May 31, 2017).

The on-going good news about green job growth makes President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement that much more puzzling.  If Trump wants to throttle the clean energy sector in the U.S. out of some misguided belief that protecting vanishing fossil fueled jobs at the expense of green tech innovation is in America’s long-term economic interest, so be it. The rest of the world is sure to profit.

But what about Canada?  Trump isn’t the only one betting against the low carbon economy.  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley made headlines this week when they called for a business as usual on approach to the Trans Mountain pipeline (see:“B.C. has no exclusive claim on its coast, Alberta premier warns pipeline foes,” CBC News, May 31, 2017).  That project came under fire after British Columbia NDP leader John Horgan announced he had reached a deal with B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver to form a government-in-waiting, contingent upon the new B.C. government doing all that it can to stop the pipeline (see:“A historic moment for B.C. politics – and our environment,” Kathryn Harrison, the Globe and Mail, May 31, 2017).

Of course, ‘business as usual’ for Notley and Trudeau means a commitment to almost doubling tar sands emissions by 2030.  That’s the dirty little secret buried in Alberta’s much hyped Climate Plan: almost all of the emissions reduced by eliminating coal plants and pricing carbon will be offset by growing the tar sands.  A real reduction in emissions isn’t expected until sometime after 2030 (see: “Opinion: Alberta's climate plan stands in the way of Canada's,” Gordon Laxer, the Edmonton Journal, December 3, 2015). 

With national emissions continuing to rise, Canada finds itself on course to blow through our 2020 and 2030 targets.  And despite what the federal Liberals insist, there is no credible plan to get us on track (see:“The Case for Phasing Out Alberta’s Tar Sands,” Gordon Laxer,, May 23, 2017). Trudeau’s climate ignorance was on display earlier this year, when at a gathering of Big Oil big shots in Houston, he stated that “no country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there.” (see: "Trudeau: 'No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there'," CBC, March 10, 2017).  If Canada is serious about holding global warming to just 2 degrees Celsius, quite clearly we’re going to have to leave a lot of that oil in the ground – perhaps as much as 80% of it.
If the future outlook for the green economy seems so secure, why the pushback from the carbon triumvirate of Trump, Trudeau and Notley?  Trump at least is being honest with his intentions – meaning that he’s made it clear that he has no intention of helping the world limit warming – maybe because he believes climate change is a hoax. Here in Canada, the Trudeau and Notley’s spin machines are doing what they can to convince Canadians that ‘legitimate’ climate plans include building new pipelines and growing the tar sands (see:“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Kinder Morgan pipeline part of Canada's climate plan,” the Vancouver Sun, December 20, 2016)  – propositions soundly rejected by voters in the recent B.C. election. 

Trump, Trudeau and Notley can’t turn the tide of history and prevent the emergence of the green economy . But together, the three of them might just influence whether North America will be leader or a laggard in a low-carbon future.

One last thing about those renewable energy jobs reported by IRENA: almost half of them are in China.

(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 Parties of Ontario and Canada)

This post originally appeared in the Sudbury Star, as "Sudbury Column: North America's carbon 'triumvirate'" online and in print, June 3, 2017 - without hyperlinks.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Canada’s 200 Megatonne Challenge

13 years ago, Jean Chretien’s federal Liberal government rolled out the One-Tonne Challenge – a public education campaign that ultimately became Canada’s most recognizable climate change initiative.  Comedian Rick Mercer, best known in these parts as the voice of rubber boot-wearing  “Sheepy” from Science North’s “The Changing Climate Show,” (see: “The Changing Climate Show,” Exhibits, Science North) challenged Canadians to personally reduce our carbon footprints by taking public transit, composting, and using programmable thermostats.   Canadians could sign-up online, pledging to reduce personal greenhouse gas emissions by a single tonne.  Mercer appealed to our sense of patriotism by reminding us, “C’mon, we’re Canadian. We’re up for a challenge.” (see: “Canada’s One Tonne Challenge,” Liam O’Donnell, December 9, 2004)

Only we weren’t.  In 2005, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives replaced the Liberals, and the One Tonne Challenge was scrubbed from government websites.  For the next 10 years, greenhouse gas emissions remained relatively stable, dropping by just 11 megatonnes (Mt) annually between 2005 and 2014.  The government’s April, 2017 national inventory report shows that our 2015 emissions fell by just 0.7% from the previous year – down to 722 Mt. (see: “Canada 200M tonnes away from meeting emissions promise,” the Sudbury Star, May 2, 2017).

Canada signed on to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, promising the international community that we would reduce our emissions to 6% below 1990 levels by 2012.  Had we taken our Kyoto commitments seriously, in 2012 emissions would have been down to around 555 Mt. (see“Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” Environment and Climate Change Canada).

In 2009, Canada made another international commitment.  Under the Copenhagen Accord, we pledged to reduce emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020 – a target that would see just 613 Mt emitted in 2020.  Despite repeatedly calling the Harper target inadequate while on the opposition benches, in Paris in 2015, the new Liberal government kept Harper’s 2030 emissions reduction target of 30% from 2005 levels.

The Paris treaty means that Canada will need to reduce emissions to just 523 Mt annually by 2030. That’s just slightly lower than the 555 Mt target we aimed for back in 1997 through Kytoto for the year 2012. Had we treated emissions reduction as something a little more than a public relations exercise, we might have actually reduced emissions, as other Kyoto signatories did.  Instead, to Canada’s great shame, we pulled out of the treaty – walking away from our international commitment.

A 2006 government analysis of the One Tonne Challenge gave pats on the back to the PR people, while suggesting that actually reducing emissions would require more than educating people on how to pick low hanging fruit, like idling cars less in the winter.  Recommendations included government regulation and the use of economic instruments, like carbon taxes (see:“Evaluation of the One-Tonne Challenge Program, Final Report,” Environment Canada, July 18, 2006).

The landscape in 2017 has changed somewhat.  Regulations and carbon taxes have moved out of the realm of theory.  Justin Trudeau has said that there will be a $50 per tonne price on carbon in place throughout the nation by 2022.  In Ontario, the provincial Liberals are using Cap and Trade to price carbon pollution.

But we’re hardly out of the woods yet.  In just 13 years, we need to figure out a way of reducing emissions by a staggering 200 million tonnes.  Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna believes we’re on track, but her government continues to approve pipeline projects that will help emissions from Alberta’s tar sands double by 2030 (see: “Oil sands share of GHG emissions to double by 2030,” the Ottawa Citizen, January 29, 2016).

NDP Premier Rachel Notley’s much-hyped climate change plan doesn’t contemplate actual emissions reductions until after 2030 (see: “Climate Leadership Report to Minister,” November 20, 2015 (Government of Alberta)*).  That raises the question, if not Alberta, which province is going to have to pick up the 200 Mt slack?  Will Northern Ontario communities dependent on energy intensive resource extraction end up doing more than their fair share to meet Canada’s 200 megatonne challenge?

Maybe it’s time for a Rick Mercer climate comeback. We’re going to need all the help we can get.

(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 Parties of Ontario and Canada)

This post originally appeared in the Sudbury Star, as "Sudbury Column: Is Canada up for 200 Mt. challenge?" online and in print, May 6, 2017 - without hyperlinks.

*See page 10: “…absent further action, Alberta’s emissions are currently on a trajectory to grow from 267 MT in 2013, to 297 MT in 2020, and to 320 MT in 2030. Implementation of our full policy framework will accelerate emissions reductions in some sectors in the short-term, while providing the basis for longer-term emissions reductions in those sectors that require more time and investment to accomplish this transition. Our policy architecture is expected to reduce emissions from current trends by approximately 20 Mt by 2020, and approximately 50 Mt by 2030. This would roughly stabilize emissions, by 2030, just above current levels at approximately 270 Mt.”

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Cap and Trade Paints Liberals into a Corner

The results are in – and it’s good news for Ontario’s Liberal government .  The Cap and Trade carbon auction out-performed the expectations of many who have been closely following Premier Kathleen Wynne’s marquee carbon pricing initiative.  Sales were brisk - $472 million was raised from the auction, and at $18 per tonne of carbon, allowance prices exceeded expectations (see:“Ontario sells $472 million of allowances in first cap and trade auction,” CBC News, April 3, 2017).

Perhaps burdened by the knowledge that next year will see auction money fleeing Ontario when our carbon market is linked with California’s, Glen Murray, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, tempered the giddiness by reminding us that the real success of Cap and Trade will be measured by the amount of emissions reduced.  The Minister is right, of course – and that’s a huge problem for the Ontario Liberals, because Ontario’s Cap and Trade scheme is ultimately doomed to fail.

The problem is that Cap and Trade paints the Liberals into a corner that they can’t get out of on their own.  The Cap part of the program is a great idea.  We know that we have to aggressively lower emissions if we are to keep our Paris climate commitment of holding global warming to just 2 degrees Celsius.  A hard cap will limit industrial greenhouse gas emissions, with the plan being to lower the limit every year.  If you do that, you reduce emissions, problem solved.

Unfortunately, aggressively lowering the cap creates several new problems.  It drives up the cost of purchasing allowances.   That $18 per tonne allowance is a real cost to businesses and industry – one they’ll  pass along to consumers in the form of higher prices.  And that makes a lot of voters angry.
Higher costs make domestic businesses less competitive than those based in jurisdictions that haven’t priced carbon pollution. This could lead to real job losses in trade-exposed industries. And that makes a lot of voters angry.

At $18 a tonne – the equivalent of adding about 4 cents a litre to the price of gasoline – Cap and Trade costs are not a significant burden to consumers.  But we know that Justin Trudeau’s federal government has been talking about having a $50 per tonne price in place by 2022.  That’s equivalent to a little over 11 cents on a litre of gasoline.  And that’s still not enough. The International Energy Agency estimates that by 2040, we’ll need to be taxing carbon at US$120 per to achieve our Paris commitments.  That’s almost 27 cents on top of the price of a litre of gas! (see: “Here’s how much carbon pricing will likely cost households,” MacLean’s, October 11, 2016).

That’s the corner that the Liberals find themselves in. Meaningfully lowering emissions can only be accomplished through Cap and Trade by driving up prices, causing consumers to rebel and businesses and industries to flee the province.  Who really expects decision makers that have to face voters once every four years to pull off that kind of stunt?

The only way to make carbon pricing work is to make sure consumers are insulated from rising prices, and businesses are protected from foreign competition. The provincial Liberals could address the first point by making their carbon price truly revenue neutral by giving all collected fees back to individuals in the form of dividend cheques.  Their federal cousins could address the second point by ensuring that imported goods produced with carbon prices are subject to border tax adjustments, leveling the playing field for domestic goods (see: “What Glen Might Be Saying if He Understood,” Dr. David Robinson, Economics for Northern Ontario, December 3, 2016).

Neither Liberal government appears to understand how to achieve Minister Murray’s measurement of success for carbon pricing: a real reduction in emissions that will help Canada meet our Paris climate commitment.  The Ontario Liberal’s Cap and Trade scheme simply can’t get us there.

(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 Parties of Ontario and Canada)

This post originally appeared in the Sudbury Star, as "Sudbury Column: Cap and trade doomed to fail," published online, April 8, 2017, and in print, April 10, 2017 - without hyperlinks.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Sudbury Events Centre Should Drive Creative Class Economy

A 2.2% property taxes increase to support a facility that’s forecast to lose between $600,000 and $850,000 a year - that’s what Greater Sudburians might be asked to shell out to replace our ailing Sudbury Community Arena.  The experts seem to be in agreement: after 66 years, it’s time for ‘The Barn’ to close its doors.  A new events centre will be expensive to build and an on-going drain for the City’s operating budget. How can we possibly afford to pay for it?

The way I see it, we can’t afford not to.

Richard Florida, author of ‘Cities and the Creative Class’, has long made the case that successful 21st century cities are those that attract and retain creative professional workers (see:“Richard Florida,” Wikipedia).  Successful strategies to charm the creative class involve a focus on providing lifestyle amenities like transit, bike lanes and vibrant socio-cultural assets, rather than reducing road congestion. In contrast to large cities, mid-sized centres like Sudbury are strategically positioned to offer a balance of positive lifestyle experiences accompanied by a lower cost of living.

The Greater Sudbury Community Development Corporation’s 2015 economic development plan, “From the Ground Up”, recognizes the numerous opportunities our city has to attract creative class jobs (see: “From the Ground Up, 2015 to 2025,” Greater Sudbury Community Economic Development Corporation, 2015).  Although ‘Canada’s Resourceful City’ is known throughout the world for mining and supply services, Greater Sudbury has evolved into a leading centre for health and education.  This week’s announcement by Cambrian College and Laurentian University to grow research and innovation in our community will surely enhance Greater Sudbury’s reputation as a ‘City of Science’ – an epithet underscored by SNOLAB Director Art McDonald’s 2015 Nobel Prize in physics.

Investing in community infrastructure must be strategic, and over the long term, sustainable - economically, socially and environmentally. Costs alone can’t drive decision making.  Sustainable decisions are those that look at a complete range of both costs and benefits, and consider future trends, like climate change and higher fossil fuel prices.   When it comes to the long-term health of a community, minimizing impacts on our natural areas and species at risk habitat are just as important as an affordable tax rate.

A community events centre isn’t about turning a profit, as a recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers made clear (see:“Proposed Sports and Entertainment Centre, Feasibility and Business Case Assessment, City of Greater Sudbury,” pwc (PricewaterhouseCooper), February 21, 2017). Very few similar facilities across Canada are operating in the black.  Most, like Sudbury’s Community Arena, annually lose money.  But so do transit systems.  And while Sudburians love to complain about our roads, I’ve yet to hear anyone suggest that the City get out of the roads business because roads aren’t turning a profit.

City’s aren’t businesses.  City’s deliver essential services, or services that enhance our quality of life.  If cities can make a buck out of service delivery, that’s fine.  If operating a transit system or providing police services aren’t profitable enterprises – that’s fine too.  Cities have other ways to pay.

Since our City is not likely to grow very much in the next few decades, a sustainable location for a new events centre will be one that supports the wise use of existing infrastructure and services.  Other mid-sized slow-growth cities have used new events centres to help stimulate redevelopment in priority areas of their communities.  Decision-makers in Greater Sudbury would be wise to learn from those experiences, and seek to maximize benefits for citizens and established local businesses.

A new events centre could be a catalyst to drive the kind of creative class economic development that Greater Sudbury is already pursuing.  Sustainability, rather than pie-in-the-sky optimism about future growth, must lead the conversation about the best location for a new facility.   Otherwise, we risk closing the door on an opportunity to help build up the parts of our community we are counting on for our long-term economic success.

(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 Parties of Ontario and Canada)

This post originally appeared in the Sudbury Star, as "Column: Sudbury centre would attract creative class," online and in print, March 11, 2017.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Car Free in Sudbury, Day 18 - Making Connections with my Community

Sudbury has been buried in several inches of snow – maybe even several feet. I don't know – I'm from the metric generation. What I do know is that a lot of snow came down this weekend – throughout the day on Friday and Sunday, with a beautiful sunny Saturday wedged in between.

I spent a good part of this weekend reconnecting with my City. Knowing that I won't have to drive has been, in some cases, quite liberating. Take Friday. On a snowy walk home from work, I stopped in at the Laughing Buddha and enjoyed a pint (Granville Island Winter Ale) or two (Beau's new Tripel whose name I can't remember now's a Tripel - ok, the internet tells me it's Triceratops Tripel, which is appropriate, because I felt as if I had been gored by something with big horns after drinking it). On another Friday evening, I would have walked on by, with the expectation of plans having been made that would have included me behind the wheel.

These past few months, our Saturday mornings have been spent at the YMCA, which has some great programs for the kids. Dance, gymnastics, arts and crafts – and some quiet time for me between to read a paper and have a coffee. The Y is pretty close to Riverside Manor, but once the kids are decked out in their jackets, boots, snowpants, etc., it seems as if it takes them a little longer to move from Point A to Point B. I'm not sure that it's the extra clothing that's slowing them down there, but instead the distractions along the way – mountains of snow pushed up by the plow leading to climbing, snowball fights and just general goofing off. My kids have transformed a 5 minute walk into a 25 minute “Hurry Up”-fest.

But they love the Y, and it's just so awesome that we live close enough that we can visit whenever the mood takes us – with or without a car.

Of course, Saturday mornings are extra special for the kids, because they know that when the leave the Y, The Candy Store on Durham Street will be open and Dad can't resist a short visit there no matter how many times he says, “We'll see” in response to the question, “Can we go to the candy store today, papa please?” Yes, I'm a sucker for sweetness – and I like candy too.

This Saturday saw me come back downtown in the afternoon. A rally in support of electoral reform had been organized by a few students from Laurentian University, and they invited the community to come out and join them at Tom Davies Square. Ya, I admit, I get a kick out of things like this – to see people in my community come together around an issue that matters to them and to me. Especially those events that I don't have to help plan and can just show up to!

So, about 30 people came together Saturday afternoon – many of whom I had never met before (which always kind of surprises me at rallies like this. A few years ago, I ran into another 'regular' like myself, walking to Memorial Park, presumably to attend a rally. “What is it this time?” he asked. “Income inequality? Bill C-51?” “No,” I replied. “I think we're here for elephants and rhinos this time,” but I wasn't 100% certain until someone else handed me a sign). A few speeches were made, the high notes were hit, most speakers kept theirs short, and then we walked down to the MP's office (wedged between the Y and The Candy Store! I love Durham Street) and took some photos. The MP wasn't there. We knew that, we didn't care.  We hoped he was spending this beautiful day somewhere with his family.  He'll get our message eventually.  He's a good guy.  Good rally. Well done!

Back home. Saturday evening was set aside as grocery night this week, after our Sunday shopping experience last weekend. So we packed up the kids and our re-usable grocery bags, hopped on the bus, and – didn't quite make it to the transit terminal. Something was missing....apparently it was food in our stomachs, because when the first, “I'm hungry!” was spoken, it quickly turned into a chorus – as I had secretly hoped it might when I said it. We exited the bus on Larch Street and walked over to Peddler's Pub on Durham. It brought back memories to go there for me and Sarah, who had spent a few quality evenings there when we were dating – including one memorable St. Patrick's Day – memorable, of course, for us not being able to remember a whole heck of a lot of it. We had a great meal (here's a shout-out to Peddler's for that awesome Spinach Dip! And for Peddler's new axe throwing venue which is sure to be a hit for Sudbury's downtown), and afterwards walked down the road to continue our journey by bus to the grocery store.

Food Basics. Groceries. Re-usable bags. The one low point of the weekend. But this time, our shopping experience ended and just as we scooted across the street, we saw the bus coming. And the bus driver saw us, running (well, that's a relative term) across the street. He stopped the bus and waited for us to all climb on board. That made our evening. The low point came later – lugging the groceries from the bus to the front door of the house. The straps gave way on the one of the bags, right in the middle of the street. And of course it was the bag with the jars of pasta sauce and jam and everything else breakable. As we stuffed the products back into the now strap-less bag, I was picturing sauces everywhere – and more money down the drain. But surprisingly, nothing had broken, and it was all good. We didn't even hold up any traffic on “busy” Riverside Drive – because really, although the Transportation Master Plan shows Riverside as being at capacity (see Figure 8, page 10), I haven't seen it. And I didn't see it on Saturday night as we picked up our groceries.

Sunday. Church. Great service. The Minister talked about love, and in Sunday school, the kids decorated their own cookies. Veronica wanted to give hers to people who are hungry, which came out of nowhere and blew me and Sarah away. We'll be looking into how we can continue to encourage her and all of our children to think about other people in our community.

Boarding the 502.
After church, we hopped on the 502 Regent-University-Four Corners bus, going the long way around, because it appears to be the most convenient – even if it loops around and takes us back to where we started before heading to the transit terminal. Since we never know how long it's going to take to get the kids winter gear on or even just walk a hundred metres, we've realized that it's best to be early and take whatever bus we can take, even if it means a longer ride, or a wait at the transit terminal.

A beautiful, snowy Sunday, and we're all on the bus heading home to do...well, nothing, really. The usual. Whatever takes our fancy.   So when the bus calls out "Science North" as the next stop, questions are asked, "Can we go?" - and there's no good answer why we can't, other than we've missed the stop!  And even that's not a good answer, because the bus will loop around back to the stop.  "Do you have our membership card?" Sarah asks.  Of course I do. I never leave home without it!

The Science North bus stop isn't exactly at the front doors of Science North.  It's on the other side of Ramsey Lake Road, at the hospital. But it's still a short walk to the building, albeit one where cars have to be dodged crossing Ramsey Lake Road (which was pretty easy on a snowy Sunday afternoon) and then again walking along the access road into Science North's parking lot (a little more tricky, given the blind curves here - a sidewalk would be nice, but I expect it wouldn't be used by all that many.  A typical Sudbury problem.
Veronica, Alice and Brian on the turtle at Science North.

Science North!  What an absolutely wonderful community asset this place is.  And not just because of the tourism it attracts.  It's a wonderful place to learn about so much - and even Brian, who is just 4, learns a lot by doing, seeing, hearing - just being there.  It's an eye-opener for our children, and Sarah and I are always learning something when we're there.  We are just so lucky to have Science North in our community.

After visiting with the butterflies and trying to race the cars along the electrical track without derailing them, we decided to sit in on the Climate Change program at the Object Theater on the top floor.  I hadn't visited this exhibit for years.  If you're not familiar with it, briefly, Rick Mercer plays a sheep whose pasture is drying out due to climate change.  Rick and his friends take us on a quick journey, looking at the problem, and identifying possible solutions - all with the help of videos and models.  Our kids got a kick out of it - Veronica seems to be aware that there's something insidious afoot in the world, with melting glaciers and extreme weather (a Science North and Dynamic Earth have helped inform her growing understanding of her world, that's for sure).
Veronica at the F. Jean MacLeod Butterfly Gallery,
Science North

Sarah, who hadn't seen Rick Mercer as Sheepy before, walked out of the Object Theater and says to me, "We can't go back to the car now."  She's always known that climate change would be bad news for our children.  I think what hit home for her was the discussion of feedback loops - and particularly, the role that melting permafrost will play with massive methane releases.  It's scary stuff, for sure.  But now I'm scared, too.  What is this going to mean for me ever driving our minivan again?  I want to do my part - every day, I feel that I'm doing my bit to help - but am I ready to give up the car, for good?

Oh, and we're also going to turn our backyard into a vegetable garden this summer, apparently.  Thanks, Rick Mercer.  I know you're right, and all, but...  Maybe you can come and help me build the garden!

Back home on the bus, after a walk to Health Sciences North from Science North (I'm sure the proximity of these two closely-named institutions has never led to any confusion).  The bus was late.  It was nice outside.  The kids were tired.  We didn't really care.  We hopped on the first one that came along, headed the wrong way of course - which meant that we had to pass the Science North stop again.  I don't think anyone other than Sarah was awake this time to ask if they could go (and that includes me - I've been dozing on buses for years).
Alice, ready to help sick and injured stuffed
animals, Science North.

My City is a beautiful place.  It's true that this whole car-free experience has at times led me to feel that my world has closed in on us a little.   Getting around isn't easy.  But luckily for us, we live in a very dynamic part of the City - with the downtown so close by, and along a transit route were we can just hop on a bus and end up at a world class venue like Science North, or continue along to the library at Laurentian University, or even further to the Laurentian Conservation Area.  Bell Park is accessible by transit as well.  And many of our favorite restaurants are within walking distance - staggering distance, even, for those nights where I might have a few extras on the way home (not that I know anything about that - wow, it's not easy to write when your fingers are crossed).   This weekend I fell in love with my City again, and I feel so happy, so excited that my children will grow up here - that they, too, will explore and come to love this place - a City that may be built for cars, sure - but ultimately, a City that operates on a human scale.

On the bus, going home.
We're off the bus at Riverside Manor.  Wake the kids up.  No, that's not working. Carrying Alice and Brian off the bus.  It's just a short, short walk now to the house, across the street, up the driveway...Boy, there's a lot of snow in the driveway.  I'd have to shovel that to get the van out if...

This morning, on Day 18 of our Car Free pilot project, the driveway still isn't shoveled.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Think Again About All Growth Being Good

Oh no!  The Census is out, and Northern Ontario is losing population!  Heads are scratched and teeth are gnashed.  Hands are held out – demanding more money from senior levels of government so that we can do something, anything.  We’ve got to figure out a way to grow Grow GROW  – or we risk turning Northern Ontario into one giant ghost town!

Ok, let’s step back for a moment.  What do those numbers really tell us?  The Census shows Ontario’s north has seen an overall loss of population between 2011 and 2016 – down 2,600 people to 548,449 in total. The decline isn’t evenly spread out.  Some areas, like Greater Sudbury and a few surrounding municipalities, have seen modest growth, while others like North Bay and Sault Ste. Marie experienced slight population loss.   The Census story is really more about population stagnation, rather than any significant decline (First release 2016 Census data is available here: “2016 Census topic: Population and dwelling counts,” Statistics Canada, February 8, 2017).

The data isn’t making any values judgement. The numbers can’t tell us what’s good and what’s bad.  And yet, time and again, our elected leaders, our media – and, I suspect, almost every one of us, view growth as both good and necessary for the health of our communities.  We have so completely accepted the pro-growth paradigm that we rarely pause to assess whether it’s true.

We’ve been told that we need to grow our cities in order to grow our economy. With more money in our pockets and in municipal coffers, we can do more things, buy more stuff, fix more roads.   Every new house on a formerly vacant piece of land means more property taxes collected by the municipality.  And the occupants of that new home are likely to be employed, maybe even at a new job, adding their own wealth to our local economy.

But what if it’s not true? What if growth isn’t always a net boon to our community?

That new house on formerly vacant land was likely to have been built on the fringe of an urban area.  Do the new taxes being paid cover the costs of extending services – roads, sewer and water pipes, school busing, maybe even transit?  Is this kind of growth sustainable over the long term?

We often hear that growth pays for itself.  That’s a myth.  All growth comes with costs as well as benefits.  Denser development in areas where services already exist – especially where those services are being used at levels well below their capacity – has proven to be less expensive to service than low density development on urban fringes.  We know this – and yet the Census shows that throughout Canada, we are ignoring this lesson (see: “Big Canadian cities see faster suburban growth despite bid to boost density,” the Globe and Mail, February 8, 2017).

Census data shows that Greater Sudbury experienced modest growth, adding 1,271 people since 2011.  But growth didn’t occur uniformly throughout the City.  Generally, inner city census tracts declined in population, while most of the growth occurred in Valley East, Valley West and Walden.  Outside of the City, Markstay-Warren increased its population by about 10%.

Plans to develop new greenfields in Greater Sudbury are underway.  Later this year, Council will be debating whether to build a new community arena and events centre on unused land on the former City of Sudbury’s urban edge.  And last year, the City committed to spending just under $100 million to build the Maley Drive extension, a new four-lane parkway along the former City of Sudbury’s northern urban fringe, in part to open up new areas of the City to development.

Meanwhile, the several dozen revitalization projects called for in the 2012 Downtown Master Plan are collecting dust after being shelved.  Transit ridership remains flat-lined since 2005, because people are moving out of the transit-supportive part of the City.  And, quite perversely, the City continues to offer those living in outlying communities a break on their property taxes, thanks to an area rating scheme that didn’t make any sense even at the time of amalgamation when it was imposed back in 2001.

We clearly have a conundrum.  The places in our communities which cost the least to service – existing urban areas – are the places which are losing population, while more expensive to service outlying areas are growing (see 2015 Ward 1 municipal election candidate Matt Alexander's excellent analysis: “Census Reveals Flaw in Greater Sudbury Transportation Master Plan,” Matthew Alexander @WestEndMatt,, February 8, 2017).   And it’s happening not just in Northern Ontario, but throughout Canada.  In metro Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto, some of the fastest-growing census tracts are located in the suburbs and the exurbs.  While some existing urban areas (like Toronto’s Liberty Village) have seen spikes in population growth, many other inner-city areas have seen declines.

In Northern Ontario, where growth is stagnant, providing incentives for expensive development in preference to creating strong, viable transit-supportive communities is completely cuckoo – especially when we know that the costs of transportation, home heating and electricity are all going to rise.  Large homes, located far away from jobs in car dependent communities, are the antithesis of a fiscally sustainable development form.   That way lies financial ruin.

Cities are confronting rising costs.  Many, like Greater Sudbury, are facing the need to renew fixed infrastructure, likes roads, bridges and pipes. No one wants to see taxes go up.  And yet we continue to dig ourselves into an ever-growing, increasingly costly hole by ignoring our urban areas, and concentrating new development on the fringes.  The Census can’t tell you that this kind of growth is unsustainable. But it is.

(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 Parties of Ontario and Canada)

An edited version of this post appeared in the Sudbury Star, as "Sudbury column: Not all growth is good," online and in print, February 11, 2017.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Some Uncomfortable Lessons that Progressives Can Learn From Steve Bannon: A Canadian Green's Perspective

In an effort to understand the apparent anarchy that's seized the White House since Donald Trump's inauguration on January 20th, the U.S. news media has been devoting a lot of ink to Trump campaign advisor and former Breitbart News editor, Stephen Bannon (for some good examples, see: "What Steve Bannon really wants,"Gwynn Guilford and Nikhil Sonnad, Quartz, February 3, 2017; "The World According to Bannon," Alexander Livingston, Jacobin, February 7, 2017; Bannon also appeard on the cover of Time Magazine, with articles available behind an internet paywall).  Pundits are pointing to Bannon, whom Trump recently promoted to National Security Advisor, as the beating ideological heart of the whole Trump operation.  Where Trump himself may be a narcissist, at times prone to being at odds with his own words, Bannon's vision offers a clear way forward for the new administration.  And if the Trump regime decides to pursue this vision, woe be to the world – because Bannon wants to take America to war.

Bannon actually believes that America, and what he calls the “judeo-christian west” are already at war – with the forces of radical Islam – even though many in the west either don't recognize it or choose to ignore it.  It's been reported, however, that a growing confrontation with Islam – to prevent the establishment of a new Caliphate – is a task that Bannon sees as a self-evident necessity if America is going to be great again (see: "Steve Bannon's war with Islam: Trump may not even understand his adviser's apocalyptic vision," Jaal Baig, Salon, February 5, 2017).

The Usefulness of Terror

It's easy for progressives – and indeed, for most rational individuals – to dismiss the idea that the West must devote its resources to confront radical Islam.  Actual evidence, produced by security experts throughout the world, provides a clear picture of the depth of the risk to the West that Islamic extremists are: minimal.  The Islamic world is no more ready to unite in a holy war against the West under the banner of a resurgent Caliphate than Stephen Harper is at cashing in his Conservative Party card and joining the New Democrats.

Yes, acts of terrorism – some committed by Islamic extremists, foreign or domestic, are responsible for the loss of lives and damage to property.  However, most of these acts of terrorism perpetuated by Islamic extremists are occurring in Muslim-majority nations.  While there have been a number of high-profile terrorist actions committed in western nations, the scale of damage has been extremely modest – and certainly not even close to approaching the carnage that is wrought on our streets every day by distracted drivers, or to the gun violence that plays out in North America's largest cities.

But Bannon and his followers really believe this stuff.  Fact and evidence just don't matter to right-wing ideologues.  Indeed, the thing to do nowadays is to label those who present facts and evidence as the basis for an argument as being part of a “fake news” conspiracy.  As fakery, facts and evidence are easily dismissed – and the fictional narrative of the alt-right replaces reality with a compelling fairy story – one not to be told to children at bedtime, however, lest they be kept up all night with nightmares.

America's Racial Divide

Feeding Bannon and his followers is a xenophobia that has always found a home, if only lately occasionally a mainstream one, in America (and to a much lesser extent, in Canada).  America's race-divided past remains a prominent political issue even to this day, 130 years after the U.S. Civil War, and almost 50 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King.  There have been those who have closed their eyes to this reality – wishing to pretend that the racial issues that have divided the U.S. in the past have been addressed, if not completely satisfactorily, than at least to the point that the nation has been able to move on.  Many of those who have viewed America's race issue through this lens are comfortably ensconced in the Democratic Party.  Although groups like Black Lives Matter have recently risen to prominence through their efforts challenging the continuing disenfranchisement of racial and other minorities, many Democrats and other liberals continue to ignore the importance of systemic racism as a U.S. Political issue.

But xenophobia and racism persist.  Whether it has been growing, or has simply emerged more into the open thanks to enablers like Bannon and Trump (and in Canada, people like Stephen Harper, Chris Alexander and Kellie Leitch), it's hard to deny that race is again an outward point of division in North America in a way that it has not been since the 1960s.

With this in mind, a question needs to be asked: Can progressives find any common ground with the likes of Stephen Bannon and Donald Trump?  The answer is – perhaps surprisingly – Yes.  I'll look at this now in greater detail – and after doing so, I'll offer some advice for a way forward that I think will unsettle some progressives and those in the environmental movement – especially those who continue to identify as classic liberals.

Being Progressive

First, a thought experiment.  When you heard that Trump was going to pull America out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), essentially killing the deal, how did that make you feel?  When I first heard, my reaction was mixed.  My first thought was, Good for Trump to keep an election promise – goodness knows we could use a little of that here in Canada.  My second thought went to the nature of the TPP – good riddance to a bad deal for Canada.  But my third thought went to how this was going to be interpreted by mainstream political pundits in the U.S. and here in Canada.  Clearly, they were going to get this one wrong.

I self-identify as a progressive, as I'm sure that many of the readers of my blog do.  The Green Party, which has been my home now for these past 10 years, is, in my opinion, Canada's only progressive political party that contends elections on a national basis.  I realize this opinion is at odds with the opinions of many New Democrats, who consider their own party to be the one and only progressive party.  And clearly, the mainstream media likes to lump most Liberal parties into the progressive mix, with self-professed feminist Justin Trudeau presumably the King of all things Progressive (see: "Chris Selley: Trudeau has been anointed the global standard-bearer for 'progressivism'. That's just bizarre," the National Post, January 5, 2017).

What does it mean to be a 'progressive'?  Clearly, there is no single definition, but prerequisites appear to be a dedication to equity, social and environmental justice.  Lately, however, the media has been identifying a liberal commitment to globalization – often in the form of international “free trade” deals – as another criteria for progressivism.  This probably comes as a surprise to many progressives – especially the ones who have railed time and again against sovereignty-destroying trade deals that lead to the off-shoring of jobs and the hollowing out of communities (see: "Justin Trudeau is Not Your Friend," Jordy Cummings, Jacobin, September 9, 2016).

Trade and Globalization

The mainstream media and Liberals have mis-read progressives' criticism of trade – and indeed of globalization in general.  I know I don't speak for all progressives, but generally progressives tend to be concerned about workers in both Columbus, Ohio and Kolkata, India – given that, in both cases, workers are actual people.  What progressives seek is equity and promotion of human rights – something that our so-called “free” trade deals are at odds with, due to the way in which they assist in concentrating wealth into the hands of the already wealthy, at the expense of the rest of us.

Progressives aren't against trade – fair trade.  What we oppose are star-chamber like clauses in free trade deals that bind the hands of democratic governments in order to promote the interests of for-profit multinational corporations.  But classic liberals like Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Tom Mulcair like these deals because they create freedom for capital – which is one of the tenets of liberal economic theory.

Of course, capital can be pretty free to run around on its own without the impetus of Chicago School neoliberals that want to temper the power of democratic governments.  In the 20th Century, John Maynard Keynes and his followers provided a pretty good program for international capital that led to the success of the global system post-World War II (at least in the West) – the system dominated by an America where the gap between the rich and poor was drawn closer than at any other time in history.  But the multinationals weren't making enough money, so the neoliberals embraced disaster capitalism and debt financing to create wealth which largely went to benefit those who were already rich.

The result: governments saddled with debt, giving away taxpayer money to rich corporations while those same corporations moved both capital and jobs offshore.  As good, well-paying jobs (many unionized) were replaced with tentative, unstable and low wage service jobs ('McJobs'), people looked about for answers.  For the most part, fingers weren't pointed at Wal-Mart, the source of affordable consumer goods – now mostly produced outside of North America.  Fingers also weren't pointed at the fossil fuel companies who lobbied governments to keep the price of burning their products artificially low.  Consumer goods (stuff) and cheap energy have remained high-demand items, so the governments that have supported keeping prices down through making globalization easier for corporations and passing on today's costs to future generations have remained relatively popular.  In doing so, however, governments have undermined our democratic institutions.

Identifying the Correct Problem Statement

Progressives, you know this.  This isn't news for you.  In Canada, the Green Party has a suite of policies adopted by members that, if ever implemented, would lead to greater instances of equity for people, fairer trade agreements, getting the price of energy right, and restoring the health of our democracy (see: "Vision Green", Green Party of Canada).  What progressives might find interesting, however, is that these same points – which we must acknowledge are contentious to liberals – are largely the same ones that Bannon and Trump based their successful 2016 Presidential campaign on.

Sure, there were Trump's racist and misogynist overtones that were clearly attractive to some.  And yes, Bannon and Trump, who are climate change deniers, clearly lack an understanding of what the real crisis facing America is - but the right-wing media in the United States has been on a mission now for years to convince Americans that climate change is left-wing plot.  In place of the climate crisis, Trump has his twin crises of radical Islam and immigration – the second of which is arguably at least a real issue for America, and not a trumped up social construct in the way that radical Islamic extremism is being portrayed (and by acknowledging the reality of the issue, I am in no way condoning Trump's solutions).

I suspect many progressives – who have never visited Breitbart News or an alt-right website, or who have never tuned into Alex Jones and InfoWars – might be surprised to discover that Stephen Bannon and Naomi Klein have both been talking about the same thing for years – what Bannon calls the “crisis of capitalism”.  It's disconcerting for me, as a Green and a progressive, to realize that at least in part, Bannon and Trump have identified what the real problem is today in the world at the beginning of the 21st Century.

The Project to Reform Capitalism

During the U.S. election campaign, it wasn't Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton who was talking up the need to reform capitalism – despite some mealy-mouthed efforts where she claimed that she would cancel the TPP.  It was Democratic Party nomination contestant Bernie Sanders who rightly pointed to the current situation of injustice and inequity that is rooted in the disaster capitalism of the neoliberals.  In the lead-up to the Democratic Party convention, many pundits were astonished to discover that many Sanders' supporters said that if Sanders didn't get the nomination, they might very well have to go over to Donald Trump.  They recognized that Trump at least, for all of his bombast, racism and misogyny, identified one of the primary culprits which they believed needed to be sorted out.  Clinton and most of the Democratic Party, however, would and could never admit that neoliberal economic policy – disaster capitalism – was at all responsible for the ills of American society.  The nation, they believed (and continue to believe, as far as I can tell) would go on, with some minor tweaking here and there.  Liberals always believe that muddling through with minor, incremental reform, represents the best course of action.

But the times have changed – and systemic reform is needed.  Clearly, many Sanders supporters weren't prepared to offer their votes to Clinton – the candidate least likely to initiate any substantive reforms.  Of course, many other Sanders supporters acknowledged that the sorts of reforms on offer from Trump would actually take America – and the rest of the world along with it – to a place much darker and less equitable than exists today.  Some – quite rightly, in my opinion – turned to Jill Stein and the U.S. Green Party.  Other Democrats ridiculed Stein – and some believe to this day that it was Stein that cost Clinton the White House (see: "So We're Still Blaming Jill Stein and Jim Comey, Huh?" Jim Newell,, December 2, 2016).

Now, put aside for a moment how it is that Americans could buy into the notion of billionaire Donald Trump as an anti-disaster capitalist freedom fighter for the little guy.  A lot of what Trump/Bannon were selling was compelling.  Cancelling sovereignty-destroying trade agreements.  Withdrawing from the international community as part of an effort to put the interests of America first.  Throw in a Mexican wall to appeal to the xenophobes and a war against Islamic extremism for the Breitbart/InfoWars conspiracy theory alt-reality crowd, and the campaign sold itself against Hilary Clinton, candidate for the neoliberal status quo party.

I would suggest that Democrats and other liberals take a good look at how things are unfolding in America right now.  Trump is doing much of what he said he would do on the campaign trail.  Expect more of it.  Although Trump has ham-fisted a number of signature initiatives, leading to record-low approval ratings, much of what he is doing remains popular with a certain segment of voters – those who have rejected the neoliberal status quo.

Resistance and an Emergent Opposition

Resistance to Trump is growing – and as a Green and a progressive, I think that's clearly a good thing.  Right now, the focal point of resistance efforts has been Trump himself – and a desire to undo some of what Trump has already undone.  At some point, however, the Resistance will have to confront a stark reality – what will it offer Americans instead of Trump? To be effective, Resistance must become Opposition.  Those that expect a Democratic Party entrenched in its support of neoliberal disaster capitalism to be leading the Opposition have misread the times.  In short, liberals aren't equipped to offer solutions in opposition to Trump, because they are wedded to their own version of reality – one which may not be as devoid of facts and evidence as Trump's – but one which is clearly not based on the facts and evidence that good public policy ought to be based on as we head deeper into the 21st century (see: "The wages of liberalism is Trump," The Left Chapter, November 9, 2016).

At the very heart of liberalism today remains the desire to free capital at the expense of everything else.  Until true reformers emerge, liberals will have increasingly little value in any leading role in opposing fascism.  While I understand that consumerism, cheap energy and inaction on climate change remain very popular today, the next generation has already begun to reject these 20th century values in favor of the progressive values I outlined earlier: equity, social and environmental justice – values which are at odds with those of today's liberals – whether they admit it or not.

If Democrats try to lead the opposition to Trump, Trump wins.  And that's a problem, because Democrats are best positioned to be the leaders, given that they are the only other political party represented in Congress.  The media will look to Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and California Governor Jerry Brown to lead the anti-Trump charge.  The expectation exists, based on 150 plus years of history, that the task of politically opposing Republicans must fall to Democrats.

America, however, would be better served if the Democratic Party simply faded away – voted itself out of existence like the U.S.S.R. under Gorbachev, as an acknowledgement that its time in history has come and gone.  Of course, Democrats have another option – reform from within.  That's what Bernie Sanders wanted, and we all know where that got him.  I have zero expectation that the Party of Wall Street could sufficiently reform itself to the point that they walked the talk.  Here in Canada, we saw Justin Trudeau and his Liberals pretend to be reformers while campaigning in 2015 – but who have consistently failed to act in any meaningfully progressive way (well, meaningfully to progressives, if not the mainstream media).  The realities facing American under a fascist Trump regime are much more grave than those facing Canada in 2015.

The Opposition Must Reject Both Conservatives and Liberals

As it morphs from Resistance to Opposition, the Opposition should look to real reformers like Jill Stein and the U.S. Green Party to lead the way.  Bernie Sanders ought to publicly distance himself from a Democratic Party that has nothing to offer Americans in the 21st Century (save for it not being Trump), and take on a real leadership role.  Rooted in Green values that are fundamentally at odds with neoliberal disaster capitalism, the Opposition must reject both Republicans and Democrats alike.  The Leap Manifesto may be a rallying point for a way forward for the Opposition.

I know this is difficult to hear.  And I suspect that for many readers, it's difficult to believe – and after reading this far, I'm sure many will write me off as a long-winded quack.  I get it.  We all share a recent history where the world was enriched by liberalism and capitalism - and cheap energy.  But liberalism and capitalism have changed.  Neither remains sustainable going forward into the 21st Century.  Neither is equipped to confront the crises which we now face: the crisis of climate, and the crisis of democracy.

Progressives, the hard reality is that we know Trump and the right-wing are not our friends.  What we must learn, accept, and act on is the reality that liberals, who seem to us to be softer, and less sinister, are also not our friends, as they stand in the way of real and necessary progress.  Liberals – their values and solutions – must be rejected out of hand.  Their policies have ignored the erosion of equity, social and environmental justice, have precipitated the crisis in democracy, fuelled the climate crisis, and have led to the rise of fascism in the West.

Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Justin Trudeau, Chrystia Freeland, Rachel Notley and Tom Mulcair – these liberals are not our friends. Their support of a 20th Century world view and economic status quo mean that they have nothing to offer us in the 21st Century.  It's time that we put them on a shelf in the cupboard of history and closed the door.  If we continue to let them run amok, and assume leadership roles in the Opposition, Bannon and Trump win.  It's that simple.

(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 Parties of Ontario and Canada)