Friday, July 3, 2015

Orange Sleaze: The NDP’s Fact-Free Smears of the Green Party

There used to be a time when New Democrats wouldn’t lower themselves to uttering the name of the “Green Party” or its leader, out of fear that acknowledging its existence would lend legitimacy to the Party.  It’s 2015 now, and all of that has changed.   With the Green Party now polling at around 16% in British Columbia, the NDP appears to be in the midst of launching an all-out smear campaign against the Greens.

The filthy mist rising from the ranks of BC’s NDP is starting to waft westward, across the country.  Rather than taking the Green Party on based on policies or other issues, what I and many others who are paying attention are seeing instead is an effort to malign and marginalize the Green Party based on innuendo, spin, distorting the facts and just plain making things up.  Of course, the NDP are the masters of this game (although the Conservative Party has certainly given the NDP a good run for its money in recent years) – the use of sleazy tactics has long been one of the aspects of the New Democratic Party which has completely turned me and others off.

Sleaze Starts at the Top, Flows Downhill

While many might want to write the recent disgusting attacks off as the work of a few anonymous NDP muck-raking partisans, the fact is that the direction here is coming from the top.  Back in November, 2014, just before the Lima COP conference, the NDP issued a release about a Green Party fundraising email in which the Green Party “attacked” the NDP for not sending delegates to COP conferences (see: “Elizabeth May’s climate conference hypocrisy”, NDP, November 4, 2014).  The release goes on to criticize Elizabeth May, inferring her hypocrisy on attending international environmental conferences by selectively using a quote from May which – on the surface – is quite critical of flying to international conferences.

Of course, the NDP revels in dealing in half-truths.  What the release didn’t say was that the quote from Elizabeth May wasn’t about the UNFCC’s COP conferences, but rather was made in response to why May was not going to the Rio +10 conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, back when May was in charge of the Sierra Club Canada in 2002 – 4 years before becoming leader of the Green Party of Canada.  As May pointed out to Mulcair and the NDP in her response, the Rio +10 conference was not in fact an international climate change negotiation (see: “Response from Elizabeth May:Dear Tom”, Green Party of Canada, November 5, 2014).  Essentially, Mulcair and the NDP have called May a hypocrite over comments May made on a matter unrelated to the matter for which the NDP branded her a hypocrite.  I’m not certain what the term is for that – so I’ll just refer to it as “sleaze”.

And although this is a minor point, it does help illustrate how the NDP likes to twist the facts or just make things up.  The so-called “fundraising email” was sent to members from Executive Director Emily McMillan.  I received it.  I can confirm that nowhere in the email were members asked to contribute funds.  As a Green Party member, I recall this being an unusual circumstance, as just about all of the emails I receive from the Party are asking for a donation somewhere in the text – but not this one.

Despite having received May’s comments and having had these issues brought to their attention, the NDP news release remains available on the NDP’s website for all to read – errors and distortions included.  Spin and fantasy sell better than hard reality and facts, I guess.

NDP Can't Challenge Greens on Issues

And there’s the rub.  Not only is it true that more compelling stories are often those that are made-up (think of any fishing story – “I caught a fish THIS big”), but it’s especially true when the facts of an issue are problematic.  And when it comes to the issues that the Green Party of Canada have been talking about – especially in British Columbia – the hard reality for the NDP is that their own party’s policies on climate change, pipelines and tankers just don’t measure up.  In fact, the NDP’s poorly conceived and uncoordinated policies are a complete hash.  Kudos to the NDP for wanting to put a price on carbon, but what’s up with wanting to expand the tar sands?  Good on the NDP for wanting to change the National Energy Board’s flawed assessment process for pipelines, along with the NDP’s opposition to Keystone XL and Northern Gateway – but the NDP’s refusal to call for a halt to Kinder Morgan and Energy East is extremely problematic.  Bravo to the NDP for wanting to ban tankers from accessing the Port of Kitimat, but it’s too bad that they don’t have the same concerns about tankers in the Port of Vancouver.

In a word, the NDP’s policies on climate change can be summed up concisely: Greenwashing.  Simply put, the NDP has no credible plan in place to address the biggest issue facing humanity in our times.  And given that the NDP was the party to introduce legislation calling for meaningful targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and has re-introduced that legislation several times now since 2006, there really is no excuse for the NDP not to have gone further and developed a full-fledged plan to take on climate change.  Frankly, the NDP has missed 9 years of moving forward on climate change.  Good targets can’t be equated with a credible plan, as we’ve seen from prior Liberal governments which endorsed reasonable targets for Canada under Kyoto, which also proved to be greenwashing. 

On the other hand, the Green Party has a very comprehensive plan in place to provide leadership for Canada on climate change.  The plan has long been available on the Party’s website, for anyone wanting to take the time to read it (see: VisionGreen, Green Party of Canada).  Recently, Elizabeth May announced a more condensed, election-ready version at a news conference in Victoria (see: “May announces Green Party’s plan to fight climate change”, ipolitics, June 15, 2015), a riding which the Green Party has been pretty clear that it is contesting with the nomination of star candidate, veteran CBC journalist Joanne Roberts (see: “Greens going after Victoria with‘all we’ve got’”, ipolitics, April 10, 2015).

Green Audacity to Run Candidates, Contest Election

Victoria is currently held by NDP MP Murray Rankin, who narrowly defeated former Green Party candidate professor Donald Galloway in a 2012 by-election.  Rankin, who came to the NDP with some pretty impressive environmental credentials (Wikipedia identifies him as an “internationally recognized expert on environmental and public law”), is that Party’s Health Critic (an extremely important portfolio for the NDP).  Many partisan Rankin supporters have taken the Green Party to task for having the audacity to oppose a man with such “green” credentials (for an example, see: “Greens disappoint with candidate decision”, Victoria Times-Colonist, January 28, 2015).

Of course, this criticism of the Green Party from the NDP is not only self-serving (the above letter was authored by Lynn Hunter, a former NDP MP, although her affiliation is not referenced in her letter to the editor) – it completely defies logic.  But Hunter is far from the only New Democrat to insinuate that something “sinister” is at play in Victoria.  NDP supporter Nicholas Ellan imagines a much broader, Green-Liberal conspiracy, based on his bizarre analysis of the sequence of the Green Party’s candidate nominations, which fail to consider that the Green Party has publicly insisted it will be running candidates in all 338 ridings (see: “Nicholas Ellan: Why Greens target NDP ridingsand Elizabeth May’s decade of Liberal deal-making”, the Georgia Straight, January 23, 2015).  Of course, in Ellan’s parochial worldview, certain parties “own” certain ridings, and parties with similar interests shouldn’t challenge one another there.  Nevermind that it’s actually the voters who get to decide whom they are going to support.  For Ellan and the NDP, Victoria and ridings like it would be declared off-limits for Greens, except for that unholy pact the Green Party has made with the Liberals!

Battleground B.C.

But seriously, why wouldn’t the Green Party contest the Victoria riding?  If Green Party members and supporters, those who have presumably come together because they share similar, if not identical values – one of which is quite likely a desire for clear and immediate action on climate change – why wouldn’t Greens want to defeat a sitting member of the New Democratic Party?  After all, the NDP has no credible plan to tackle climate change.  Rankin himself might have some really good ideas – but as an NDP member of parliament, he will do as he’s told by the Party leadership and vote in accordance with the paper instructions he’s given every day.  Rankin will have to parrot his party’s line, no matter how he might feel personally about a particular issue.  The NDP is the most whipped party in all of parliament, so looking at individual NDP MP’s as akin to interchangeable parts under the instructions of the leadership is quite appropriate. 

Rankin and other NDP candidates running in and around Vancouver and on Vancouver Island obviously see the Green Party as a threat.  In the 2013 provincial election, Greens did well in this part of B.C., electing MLA Andrew Weaver in Oak Bay-Gordon Head, and finishing a strong second place in two other ridings.  NDP insiders were critical of the Green Party in their analysis of the NDP’s election-day defeat to the Christy Clark Liberals (see: “Brian Topp Reveals How NDP Plays Cynical Partisan Games WithEnvironmental Issues”, Sudbury Steve May, September 24, 2013).  With the federal Green Party now routinely polling in the mid- to high-double digits provincially (with the prevailing thought being that a lot of that provincial support is actually concentrated geographically on the lower mainland and Vancouver Island), what’s clear is that the NDP has a problem on an unexpected flank. 

NDP: Playing the Fear Card

From the NDP’s perspective, something clearly has to be done.  And since the NDP can’t take on the Green Party over climate change, they’ve instead clearly adopted a different set of tactics, which include character assassination of Greens, including leader Elizabeth May, along with implying certain things about the Green Party based on little or no evidence, or simply making things up about what Greens stand for – which includes some pretty crazy stuff that I’ve seen, such as “Greens are against renewable energy”, and “the Green Party supports the Liberal Party”.  Often, these irrational criticisms come from anonymous NDP proxies – however, the NDP is also clearly playing the fear card, which is probably its biggest weapon against the Greens, as they try to make the case that Liberals have historically tried to make against the NDP – that the presence of Green candidates will split the vote and elect Conservatives (see: “Why is ElizabethMay helping elect Conservatives?”, the Tyee, June 25, 2015).

Even environmentalist Tzeporah Berman was sucked into the fray, as she recently called for the Green Party to change its electoral strategy.  Look, the notion that the Green Party splits the progressive vote is a prolific one – especially since our archaic first past the post electoral system awards winners based on the narrowest of margins, and sees everyone else’s votes relegated to the trash.  However, what appears to be a pretty straightforward argument, one increasingly used by New Democrats in an attempt to marginalize the Green Party, is actually anything but straightforward.


In a follow-up piece to the George Ehring evidence-free rant in the Tyee, Elizabeth May provided some significant and concrete examples of how the presence of Green candidates are actually stimulating voter participation – at least in those ridings where Greens have figured out a way to build a local profile and electoral momentum (see: “May: ‘Green Party DoesNot Split the Vote’”, the Tyee, June 27, 2015).  May’s own observations were deconstructed by Christopher Majka, who revealed a pretty good picture about what really might be at play in the minds of so-called “progressive” (read here: “non-Conservative Party) voters.  Interestingly, based on Majka’s analysis, rather than calling for Green candidates to step down to prevent vote-splitting, the NDP would be better served by calling for Liberal candidates to step aside (see: “Who Splits Whose Votes”, rabble.ca, June 30, 2015). 

Of course, at this point, calling for the Liberals or the Greens to stand down is like King Canute calling for the tides to stop coming in.  The Green Party has already nominated candidates in over 75% of Canada’s ridings.  The NDP knows this.  But that certainly isn’t going to stop the NDP from playing on the fears of voters, because the NDP knows full well that fear sells.

NDP: The Misrepresentation Game

And if fear isn’t enough to compel voters to cast their ballots for the NDP rather than the Greens, the NDP has apparently decided that it will just make things up about Elizabeth May and the Green Party, to confuse voters into thinking that Greens stand for and support things that they don’t.  Again, this starts at the top.  Back in March, NDP leader Tom Mulcair was part of an exclusive interview with the Vancouver Sun.  Discussing, possibly for the very first time, Elizabeth May and the Green Party’s view on pipelines, Mulcair made the disingenuous leap of logic that because May and Greens are opposed to new pipelines like Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain and TransCanada’s Energy East, that Greens must also be opposed to existing pipelines, seemingly suggesting that May and the Greens are ready to rip them out of the ground (see: “TomMulcair fights the squeeze in Metro Vancouver ridings”, the Vancouver Sun, March 17, 2015). 

Other examples of the NDP distorting the Green Party’s policies and positions are rampant, especially on Twitter, where the anonymous NDP trolls have been having a field day with the #gpc hashtag, and through tweets to @ElizabethMay. 

"Progressive" Political Parties

A lot of the noise on social media has focused on whether the Green Party is a “progressive” political party.  Lately, some of that noise has been entering into the mainstream media.  In April, CUPE head Paul Moist took a swipe at both the Liberal Party and the Green party, claiming that only the NDP was a “progressive” political party (see: “CUPE slams LeadNow for encouraging Canadians to ‘Vote Together’”, HuffPost Politics, April 13, 2015).  Since then, the Green Party’s wealth redistributing carbon fee and dividend approach to carbon pricing has come under fire from the NDP – a party which, interestingly enough, supports a carbon pricing policy which will line the pockets of brokers and lawyers. 

Canadians in general have had a hard time positioning the Green Party on Canada’s left-right political spectrum.  It was the conflicting views of some in the media as to whether the Greens were a party of the right or the left which first led me to investigate the Green Party in the first place, shortly after Elizabeth May won the leadership and carried the Party’s flag in the 2006 London by-election.  After doing my own research, what became clear to me was that the problem of fitting the Green Party into the left/right spectrum wasn’t a problem for the Party – but rather, it has more to do with how the notion of left/right politics is outdated, and frankly failing Canada.

NDP Entitlement

The NDP doesn’t see it this way (despite recent moves away from the left of the spectrum, and instead embracing populist politics).  The “progressive” mantle is one which they feel entitled to – no matter that some of the policies they champion will have outcomes which negatively impact the least well-off in our society.  And since the NDP feels entitled to the progressive mantle, they also believe that they alone have the privilege of wearing it.

The NDP is no more entitled to own the term “progressive” than any other party.  For anyone who hangs around social media for even a little while, it quickly becomes clear that the term “progressive” actually has little meaning.  Conservatives consider their party to be “progressive” because they are dismantling regulations which sand in the way of free enterprise (while simultaneously picking winners and losers through their investment decisions).  Liberals, too, seek to wear the “progressive” mantle by championing the Charter of Rights (which voting as a block for Bill C-51).  And the NDP, of course, embraces the term – but then flirts with supporting investor-state resolution mechanisms in the Canada-South Korea Free Trade deal, and wants to build more dilbit pipelines in order to expand the Alberta tar sands to the detriment of humanity.  And since I’m on the subject, even the Green Party has some issues when it comes to the term “progressive”, when one of its members votes to send Canadians off to fight in a foreign war in which the prospects for victory are murky at best.

The Progressive Mantle

But for many, the “progressive” title matters, and the NDP knows it.  That’s why they’re doing what they can to paint the Green Party as a party of the corporate elite which embraces neo-liberal economic policy.  Now I consider myself to be someone who knows a thing or two about Green policy.  To me, these accusations are completely unsupportable – and they clearly demonstrate the hypocrisy of the NDP.

Recently, rabble.ca blogger Michael Laxer completely disassembled the NDP’s notion that the Green Party isn’t a progressive party (see: “Greens deserve ‘progressive’ votes as much as anyone”, Michael Laxer, rabble.ca, June 30, 2015).  Writing from a perspective very much to the left of the NDP’s current policy position, Laxer took a critical look at the policies of both parties, and determined that when it comes to which party should wear the “progressive” mantle, that it’s a wash (followed by a big “meh” from Laxer about the relative importance of the whole “progressive” mantle debate in general).

NDP: The Ends Justify the Means

Of course, Laxer was looking at the matter of being a “progressive” political party purely in terms of policy.  What Laxer didn’t explore was the political angle – probably because an analysis of policy is more important to answer his question.  However, what is becoming increasingly apparent to many Canadians is that truly progressive political movements have to walk the talk.  They can’t rely on using the tactics of their regressive political opponents – even when those tactics are ones which work.  Accepting political donations from non-people (read: corporations and unions) to influence electoral outcomes (thankfully banned at the federal level, although not at the provincial or municipal levels in all provinces); engaging in the politics of sleaze (character assassination, fear-mongering, personal attacks); playing populist politics at the expense of good public policy; and, of course, the spending of public money in pursuit of partisan political goals – all of these are the tactics of the regressive, established political parties.  They are the tactics used by the Conservatives and the Liberals.

And they are the tactics used by the NDP.

For Canadians that are looking for more than just more of the same, at least as far as the nation’s democratic health is concerned, it’s clear that it matters how a party pursues, obtains, and holds on to power.  A party which pursues power from an ethically challenged standpoint will in all likelihood form an ethically challenged government. Now, I realize that when it comes to ethical challenges, the NDP has a ways to go to rival the Conservatives and the Liberals, but in the past 4 years, it’s clear that the NDP is making up for lost time. 

Greens in Liberal Clothing

Along with concerns being expressed by the NDP about the Green Party’s progressive credentials, the NDP has decided to adopt the Conservative Party’s tactic of claiming that the Green Party is really just an outlier of the Liberal Party.  Some may recall that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives used the Elizabeth May / Stephane Dion leader’s riding no-compete agreement back in 2008 as “evidence” that May was really a Liberal, and that she shouldn’t be allowed a coveted spot in the Broadcast Consortium’s televised Leader’s debates.  Well, in 2015, Harper has chosen to ignore those debates, and has agreed to participate largely in debates in which May hasn’t been invited.

As has NDP leader Tom Mulcair.  And unlike Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who has publicly supported May’s participation in the leader’s debates (see: “Elizabeth May gains Trudeau’s Support to Include Greens in 2015 ElectionDebate”, HuffPost Politics, April 8, 2015).  For Trudeau’s public support, May has come under fire from New Democrats who are claiming further evidence of Liberal/NDP collusion. 

NDP: The Non-Cooperation Party

In the hyper-partisan world in which the New Democrats seem to be comfortable operating in, there can be no working with other political parties, no acknowledgement that others might have good ideas.  If you’re outside of the Party, don’t look for anything akin to support.  Even when its apparent that positive comments are the only ones which can be offered, for example in circumstances where members of another party are in complete agreement with the NDP’s position, only begrudging comments are received.

For examples of the latter, look to the Ontario provincial NDP’s extremely tepid support of Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne’s desire to implement a cap & trade scheme for carbon pricing – something that the NDP have long called for (but have failed to implement in every province in which they’ve formed government).  Look at the NDP’s reaction to Justin Trudeau finally coming out in favour of reforming our electoral system.  And of course, look at the way in which the NDP has completely ignored Elizabeth May and the Green Party over early Green opposition to Bill C-51.  The NDP even took the extraordinary step of playing partisan politics, blocking Elizabeth May’s attempt to introduce amendments to Bill C-51 (see thisthread from Twitter). 

Even non-partisan fellow-travellers are taking hits.  Recently, NDP supporter Nichoals Ellan retweeted Jason Kenney’s anti-David Suzuki rant, adding that Elizabeth May and the Green Party’s Burnaby – North Seymour candidate, Lynne Quarmby, should be shamed for respecting Suzuki.  Seriously. What did Suzuki do to earn the NDP’s hostility?  Suzuki had the audacity to publicly support Quarmby in her bid to become an MP, because Suzuki believes we need more “scientifically literate MPs in parliament”.  And so the NDP have added David Suzuki to their list of targets. 

No, in the hyper-partisan world of the NDP, you can only be a New Democrat – or against New Democrats.  There is little room for a more nuanced, and frankly, a more realistic view of politics and politicking.  Elizabeth May tried to get the NDP to consider some sort of co-operative front against the Conservatives – but Mulcair and Trudeau both completely rebuffed her efforts (see: “Elizabeth May pitches electoral co-operation for next election”, CBC, July 21, 2014).  Now, May and the Greens are under attack by the NDP for having the audacity to democratically contest an election. 

Liberal Party Climate Policy

More recently, anonymous NDP trolls have jumped all over a tweet from Green Party of British Columbia MLA Andrew Weaver, in which he praised Justin Trudeau for releasing a much more substantive climate change plan than the non-plan Trudeau had earlier been talking up.  Unfortunately, Weaver, always the pragmatist, and not much of a partisan (a badge of honour he wears proudly!), might have went a little too far for my liking, suggesting that voters should consider casting ballots for the Liberals in ridings where Greens aren’t going to be competitive.

First, let me be clear: I’m not a fan of Weaver’s message. Frankly, I think it’s unhelpful to the Green Party.  But Weaver, who has been taken to task by the NDP over his implied support of the pro-Bill C-51 Liberal Party, was offering a nuanced and, I’m sure what he would consider pragmatic view of politics.  At the end of the day, Weaver isn’t in the political game to advance what are primarily partisan interests.  He’s concerned about the climate crisis – full stop.  And as much as I’m sure he’d like to pretend that Greens are going to be elected by the dozens and hundreds across Canada in October, his realpolitick worldview suggests that might not be the case, so Canada would benefit from a “second best” approach to fighting the climate crisis.  As a climate scientist, Weaver recognizes that the Green Party has by the far the best set of policies on climate change – and now he believes the Liberals have pole-vaulted into second place, over the NDP – a party which has put little thought into the issue.

I don’t agree with Weaver’s assessment either, by the way.  I remain concerned with the Liberals previous track record on climate change, as well as Trudeau’s earlier plan to abdicate federal leadership and let the provinces sort things out. I realize that Trudeau has pulled a complete 180, yanked some policy from the Green Party’s Vision Green and 2008 Platform – but given the business interests that the Liberals will, I believe, fail to stand up to, I can’t help but be cynical that when push comes to shove, the Liberals will fold like a cheap suit.  Of course, that’s not a rationale or evidence-based argument.  I realize that.  Perhaps I, like Weaver, should be evaluating the Liberals on what they say they’re going to do, rather than what I think they’ll do.  But since the Liberals have a pretty poor track record of doing what they say, it’s difficult for me at least to see beyond that.

NDP Misdirection - Canada Deserves Better

So the NDP is using Weaver’s words to tar the Green Party of Canada – even though Weaver is not a candidate for the Green Party of Canada, and nor does he hold any other position with the Party beyond that of “member”.  But since Weaver is a Green MLA at the provincial level, to the NDP it makes no difference.  Of course, one might expect that sort of reaction from political party partisans who make you pay for two memberships – one federal, one provincial – every time a new member wants to join.

The NDP have, of course, tried to smear Weaver this way in the past – by insisting that he supported Northern Gateway and building refineries at Kitimat and allowing tankers to navigate the B.C.'s pristine coasts.  In that incident, Weaver again took a nuanced position, arguing that there’s a “best” approach to tar sands development (which amounts to “leave it in the ground”), and what others might perceive as perhaps a more realistic, if undesirable approach (if it’s going to be mined, ship it by pipeline to B.C. and refine it in Canada).  But fervent NDP partisans, some in B.C.’s legislature, continued to insist that Weaver supports pipelines and tar sands – despite the facts.

Of course, the NDP know that if you repeat a lie often enough, some people will come to believe it.

Of course, the people know that if you repeat lies often enough, people will eventually stop believing in you.

The NDP appears to be hoping that their day of reckoning will be delayed until sometime after October 19th.

(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)



Thursday, July 2, 2015

My Comments on Solar Energy Proposals in the City of Greater Sudbury

The following is my submission to Greater Sudbury's Planning Committee regarding a number of solar energy proposals which are seeking municipal endorsement at the July 6, 2015 Planning Committee Meeting, and the endorsement of full Council later in July.

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I am writing today with regards to the above-referenced matters appearing on Planning Committee’s Agenda for July 6, 2015. The above-referenced matters are proposals for solar energy projects, primary ground-mounted projects.

Despite the clear limitations of the Provincial approval process, I nevertheless urge Planning Committee to consider offering its support for all of the projects appearing before it on July 6th, 2015.  City Council’s endorsement of these solar energy projects will go a long way with the provincial Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.

EarthCare Action Plan: Energy

Although the City of Greater Sudbury lacks a renewable energy strategy which might guide decision-makers such as Planning Committee and Council in their consideration of these solar energy proposals, there are nevertheless some policies which the City has adopted through the EarthCare Action Plan which are relevant to these projects, which Planning Committee and Council should strongly consider.

All of these proposals are in keeping with the City’s stated goals related to renewable energy and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, as stated in the EarthCare Action Plan: Energy.  Specifically, these new solar energy projects will help achieve the following Objectives of the Action Plan, to “Increase local supply of energy derived from renewable sources.” 

For this objective, the EarthCare Action Plan: Energy indicates that City of Greater Sudbury will promote and facilitate opportunities for energy generation that are supported by Ontario’s Green Energy Act.  Further, EarthCare partners are tasked with attracting and retaining corporate investment in local renewable energy projects, and building local labour capacity in renewable energy, and continuing efforts to generate renewable energy locally.

The Public Interest

Clearly, the City of Greater Sudbury has articulated a firm commitment to establishing renewable energy projects within the City.  Given this past commitment to renewable energy on the part of the City, if the City should withhold its support of these solar energy projects at this time, there ought to be a very good reason in the public interest for doing so.

I submit that there is no good reason for the City to considering withholding its endorsement of these solar energy projects.

I understand that concerns have been raised by members of the public, largely through social media, but also at public meetings related to these energy proposals.  I have also seen support for these projects on social media sites, but it is my observation that I have seen more people comment unfavorably than favorably, at least with regards to some of these proposals.

In this case, however, public comments should not deter Planning Committee and Council from following the lead of the City’s excellent public policy as found in the EarthCare Action Plan: Energy. 

Concerns Related to the Province’s Process

It is my observation that most of the more legitimate concerns of the public have more to do with the provincial process for evaluating these proposals than with the projects themselves – although I have to acknowledge that I have seen concerns raised about the impacts of these proposals on neighbouring landowners and land users as well, which I will address further – as well as a number of comments made publicly which have simply disparaged renewable energy in general, which I won’t further address.

The provincial process is, to me, an awkward one.  I would certainly like to have the provision of more technical information up-fronted as a part of the process.   That being said, technical information pertaining to a number of the issues identified by the public, including developing in wetlands, developing in the significant habitat of animal and plant species (which may include the habitat of endangered species), and stormwater runoff will all be undertaken by the solar energy project proponents as part of the provincial approval process.

Like the City of Greater Sudbury, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change is charged to look out for the impacts of development on natural heritage features and ground and surface water.  The provincial approval process for these will restrict development in circumstances where the habitat of threatened and endangered species is found to be present, and will address ways of mitigating impacts on other natural heritage features.  Stormwater will be managed in ways which are acceptable to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.  It should be noted that the provincial approval process already restricts solar energy projects from developing in prime agricultural areas, or in areas set aside for industrial and commercial development, or in areas adjacent to existing residential development, unless the project can be appropriately buffered.

Solar Energy Project Location-Based Issues

The ground-mounted solar energy proposals appearing before Planning Committee on July 6th, 2015, are all located in the City’s rural area (on lands designated “rural” in the City’s Official Plan).  None of these lands have been identified by the City as areas worth preserving for agricultural activities (they are not prime agricultural areas - although agriculture is a permitted use on rural lands).  Neither do any of these lands have designated natural heritage features.  Some lands are impacted by floodplains, and all of the project lands which are so impacted contemplate development outside of floodplains.  All of the subject proposals are located in areas outside of the City’s settlement area boundaries, and none are in areas which have been set aside for residential development over the lifetime of the City’s Official Plan (although it should be noted that one proposal is located in the Valley Urban Reserve – on lands set aside for urban development at some point in the future, beyond the lifetime of the City’s Official Plan).

Some members of the public have suggested that some proposals may be within provincially significant wetlands which have yet to be evaluated by the province.  At this time, the province and the City have not identified any of the areas as being within a provincially significant wetland.  It the lack of provincial evaluation is an issue which the province can address through the provincial approval process.

Public assertions have also been made that some of the projects contain lands which include the habitat of threatened and/or endangered species, or other significant wildlife habitat.  As part of the provincial approval process, each project will look at and address these issues.  At this time, however, there do not appear to be any flags in the City’s Official Plan which would suggest that any of these projects are include provincially significant wetlands, the habitat of threatened or endangered species, or other significant wildlife habitat.

Similarly, surface and ground water impacts will be evaluated by the province as part of the provincial review process.

Again, I personally would be more comfortable if these issues were to be addressed upfront in the process, but the province in its wisdom has determined that a more specific analysis of these and other issues (such as archaeological heritage) will be addressed later in the provincial process.  Given that these issues are all matters of provincial interest identified in the province’s own policy documents, we should have some degree of comfort knowing that the province is likely to look after matters which it has itself flagged as important.

Issues Which are Non-Substantive and Why

The public has also identified a number of other issues with these proposals which I consider to be largely non-substantive – and I hope that Planning Committee and Council will agree with my analysis.

From what I have seen of my review of comments on social media sites like Facebook, many in the public are taking issue with the fact that these solar energy projects will result in a loss of tree cover.  Concerns with a loss of tree cover are often related to a loss of view from the windows and backyards of abutting landowners, and a loss of prestige for the City of Greater Sudbury, as removing trees runs counter to regreening initiatives underway in our City since the 1970s. 

I have been a big supporter of municipal regreening initiatives.  There were many reasons initially identified with regards to replanting trees and shrubs in our communities.  While I was not around at the time that the regreening initiative began, I can’t believe that one of the purposes of the initiative was to preserve each and every tree in the City for its own sake.  Indeed, subsequent development proposals in our City for residential subdivisions, including many in the former Towns of Valley East and Walden, have led to the destruction of forests. 

Although preserving tree cover is a worthy initiative, the fact is that Greater Sudbury has an abundance of forested areas.  These solar energy project proposals are being made because the subject lands for each proposal are in locations near or adjacent to vital energy infrastructure needed to connect projects to the grid.  As such, none are located in pristine areas of our City – all of the sites are in areas which have been subject to some sort of development activity in the past, whether specifically onsite or within close proximity to the subject lands.

Further, the City of Greater Sudbury has never passed a tree-cutting by-law under the Municipal Act to limit the removal of trees from private property.  As such, there is nothing stopping any of the landowners today from clear-cutting the properties currently being considered for solar energy use.  Clear cutting these properties can take place today – with or without solar energy development applications.

Further, the range of permitted uses in rural areas includes a number of uses which, by their very nature, will lead to a loss of tree cover. 

While I respect that people are concerned about the loss of vegetation in our community, I would submit that these proposals are not substantively different than situations which can occur now on the subject properties as-of-right for property owners, without any public consultation necessary.

Issues Related to View Impacts

I understand that adjacent homeowners may be concerned about the loss of tree cover on their neighbour’s property.  To address that very issue, the provincial approval process requires the creation of a buffer area between the solar project and the lot lines of abutting residential land uses.  I understand that these buffer areas are to include visual buffers as well.

Finally, concerns have been raised by some members of the public that there are better locations for these solar energy projects.  I agree with those concerns, as I clearly think that there are a number of locations in our community which are more suitable for this type of development than the ones being considered by Planning Committee on July 6th, 2015.  However, the same can likely be said about a number of development proposals which have recently appeared on Planning Committee agendas.  The City (or the Province for that matter) doesn’t get to be the decision maker in terms of choosing specific sites for certain kinds of development.  Instead, as decision makers (and in this case, as potential endorsers) the City’s task is to evaluate matters which come before it, brought to it largely by private land-owning interests. 

The onus is clearly on the development industry in these circumstances to make the case to the City that the lands can meet the tests of public policy and regulation before development is allowed to proceed.  In the case of these solar energy proposals, those tests will be addressed at the provincial level through the Province’s own processes.  If the solar energy developers can’t make the case to the authorized decision-maker that the projects will proceed, than the Province will have the ability to put a stop to any or all of the projects.

Community Vibrancy Funds

The development of any renewable energy projects within the jurisdiction of the City of Greater Sudbury will lead to contributions made to the City through community vibrancy funds.  As articulated in the staff report, for a 25 MW project, the City can expect to receive approximately $60,000 per year in community funding. While this amount is not especially considerable (and while not all proposals will generate a contribution at that level), taken over the expected 20-year life of each proposal, vibrancy fund contributions for a 25 MW proposal would be estimated at $1.2 million – all of which are in addition to taxes the City currently receives from these rural lands.

Recap

To recap, I believe that the City has laid out a clear interest through the EarthCare Action Plan: Energy in facilitating the development of renewable energy projects in the City.  While I understand that there have been a number of concerns raised by the public, I believe that these concerns will either be addressed by the Province through its approval process, or are lacking in substance. 

The City has before it an opportunity to become the “Solar Capital of Northern Ontario”. To do so, however, the City must first champion the proposals which are in front of it.  Each of these proposals represents an opportunity for economic development.  On their own, each proposal is limited in terms of its likely impact on the local economy, but if the City is able to strategically position itself as being “open for business” to the renewable energy industry, it is quite likely that the sum of economic development activity will be greater than its parts.  Admittedly, endorsing these projects would ultimately be just one of the first steps in the City establishing such a reputation (although in my opinion, it will go a long way after the City refused to consider any ground-mounted solar energy projects outside of gravel pits in its 2013 decision related to solar applications).  First steps are, however, important ones to make.  Subsequent steps would include developing a renewable energy strategy which includes goals, objectives and timelines for desired outcomes.  It could also include an inventory of priority lands for renewable energy development, or policies to further guide private renewable energy development applications.

Other communities are taking a lead.  Recently, Oxford County endorsed a resolution committing itself to being powered by 100% renewable energy by 2030, opening its doors to economic development activity from the renewable energy sector.  Certainly Greater Sudbury is equally positioned to enjoy the benefits of the renewable energy revolution that is underway around the world – but to do so, we must have the courage to stay the course with our convictions, and the foresight to plan ahead for our success.

That is why I believe that the public interest in developing renewable energy as articulated in the EarthCare Action Plan: Energy is paramount, and that the City should endorse these projects.
Sincerely,


Steve May

(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)

Renewable Energy Strategies Needed in Northern Ontario

Earlier this month at the G-7 meeting of nations, Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed Canada to a decarbonized economy by the year 2100 (see: “The G7 and its 85-year carbon pledge”, CBC, June 9, 2015).  Others have suggested that more aggressive efforts are needed to wean society off of our reliance on fossil fuels in order hold global warming at 2 degrees Celsius.  What’s clear is that as we head deeper in the 21st Century, our carbon-based economy will continue to transition towards one powered by clean, renewable energy.

That means we’ll need more electrical generating capacity, not less.  Energy conservation efforts, and the development of a smart, distributed grid, will help reduce waste and improve efficiencies – but these efforts alone can’t compensate for the switch from fossil fuels that decarbonization demands. In a decarbonized world, cars won’t run on petroleum, and homes won’t be heated by oil or natural gas.  Power and heat will come from wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy sources.

As aging energy infrastructure begins to be replaced by smarter and greener technologies, communities in Northern Ontario are discovering that they are geographically positioned to take economic advantage of global decarbonization efforts.  Our northern communities must be prepared to build on this advantage, and seize opportunities to create a truly green economy.  Success will require up-front planning, and buy-in from local residents. Municipalities throughout the north should be looking at adopting renewable energy strategies in order to better leverage economic development from the renewable energy revolution.

Already, renewable energy projects have been built in Northern communities, although not always without controversy. Wind farms north of Sault Ste. Marie and on Manitoulin Island were constructed despite complaints from local residents that the development should have been located in more desirable locations from the community’s perspective, and at a scale which could would have been a better fit for local circumstances.

In Greater Sudbury, a number of large solar power proposals are moving forward through the provincial approval process.  On July 6th, the City’s Planning Committee will be approached by solar developers to endorse these projects.  In absence of a municipal renewable energy strategy, it is not clear what criteria Committee members will use to evaluate proposals.  In 2013, the City refused to endorse all ground-mounted solar proposals except those tucked away in gravel pits.

A renewable energy strategy, developed in consultation with the public, renewable energy companies (many of which call Northern Ontario “home”), and other stakeholders would provide direction and identify opportunities for action.  If stakeholders prefer renewable energy to be developed by way of municipal partnerships, or through citizen-owned co-operatives like Sudbury’s SUN Co-Op, the strategy could highlight ways of prioritising and facilitating these forms of development.  For those who prefer roof-top solar to ground-mounted, the strategy could suggest the creation of a database of “solar ready homes” which energy developers could access.  The strategy could suggest financial incentives for home builders to offset costs where roof and wall-mounted solar panels are included in new houses at the time of construction.

The strategy could be used to promote and enhance synergies from initiatives already underway in the community.  Earth Care’s Action Plan calls for a 15% reduction to greenhouse gas emissions from a 1990 baseline by 2019. In part, the City hopes to achieve this goal by increasing the supply of locally-produced renewable energy.  Cambrian College’s Energy Systems Technology Program is graduating students equipped with the skills needed to literally build the renewable energy sector in Ontario’s north. 


Renewable energy can no longer be looked at as a “nice to have” environmental benefit.  It’s an opportunity for economic development that our Northern communities can seize, with the expenditure of nothing more than a little political will.

(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)

Originally published as "Northern Ontario needs plan for renewable energy", the Sudbury Star, Saturday, June 27, 2015 (print and online), without hyperlinks.

Friday, June 26, 2015

My Comments on Greater Sudbury's Draft Transportation Master Plan

I attended the recent public information session for the Draft Transportation Master Plan (2015) held on June 24, 2015, and made a presentation there, which included asking a question of municipal staff.  I thank Council for the opportunity to provide public input in such a venue, and to be able to interact with staff in that format.

At the conclusion of the evening, there was some discussion regarding next steps. It was not made clear that the deadline for further public submissions would be less than 48 hours later – even though there was ample opportunity to provide that information to both Council and to many of the citizens in our community which have been engaged with the review of the draft Plan.  Many of the questions that we had about the plan were only answered during the public input session, or several hours before at the Public Information Session.  As further comments from the public would be informed by new information brought forward at both of these sessions, it is incredibly unreasonable to expect submissions to be made with less than 2 days worth of time (and to only find out about the deadline through a post made to the City’s website on June 25th is, frankly, insulting).

This is not what public consultation is all about.  When many of our new council members were elected, there were promises made to the public about increased transparency and providing opportunities to the public to become more engaged in civic issues.  Given the significance and importance of this matter to the future health and economy of our City, I am simply shocked that the City has decided to cut off further public input at this time, with just 24 hours notice.

While I understand that there will still be an opportunity for additional public input as part of the review and Environmental Bill of Rights processes, I feel that it is very important for the City to take careful consideration of all public comments at this time, as revisions to the plan which are to be presented to Council on July 7th will likely put the Plan in its final form – meaning that it will likely only face further alteration if required by an outside agency, or if specifically directed by Council.

To be blunt, the public has been waiting for the completion and release of this draft plan since input was first requested in 2013.  The draft plan was only made available to the public in April, 2015.  The review of the plan raised a number of questions.  Some of those questions were answered only on June 24, while others have not been answered.  With this in mind, there is no good reason to move with undue haste now through the public consultation process. 

With this in mind, I offer the following comments:

Official Plan and Environmental Assessment Process

Part of the purpose of developing a Transportation Master Plan is to inform the Official Plan 5-year update, and to provide a base for future environmental assessments for planned infrastructure projects.  As such, the Transportation Master Plan (TMP) is far more than a guidance document – it is an important part of Official Plan (OP) and Environmental Assessment (EA) processes.  As such, what the TMP says really matters – and what it depicts on its schedules is really important.

Shifting From Auto-Focus to People Focus

Although the TMP includes a number of good measures regarding the direction that policy development may take, such as the development of a Complete Streets policy, and calls for a the development of a Transit Master Plan, what is clear is that the Transportation Master Plan has at its heart a focus on moving motorized vehicular traffic, rather than moving people.  While I believe this is the wrong focus, after a number of years of production, I acknowledge that we have probably gone too far down this particular road to turn back now.  While it would have been my preference to include robust policy and guidance for AT and transit in the TMP, I understand that we may need to wait until the time of future updates in order to have alternative transportation options for citizens treated on the same level as cars and trucks.

The TMP’s deficiency in considering cycling, walking and transit is all the more reason that the Plan should establish clear direction for the preparation of an Active Transportation (AT) Plan and a Transit Master Plan.  The TMP should direct the preparation and completion of both of these plans by incorporating timeframes for their completion.  The City should undertake to complete these plans, and budget for their completion.  The Plans themselves should include goals, objectives, timelines for action item implementation, as well as budgets. 

The Official Plan review should be informed by the completion of both the Active Transportation Plan and the Transit Master Plan.  While I understand that this may hold up the review of the Official Plan, what Council and the public heard on June 24th at the information session was that once a new transportation element appears in, or is removed from Official Plan, it is difficult for changes to be made.  With this in mind, and with questions remaining about the need for an expanded road system to meet the needs of a population which is expected to grow only modestly between now and 2031, it is important that our Official Plan include development direction based on a broad range of evidence.  The completion of the OP review should be informed by the completion of the Active Transportation Plan and the Transit Master Plan.

A Real Long-term, Sustainable Focus

The TMP lays out three scenarios for consideration.  Each scenario depicts what the City’s future road network will look like in the future.  In the “Do Nothing” scenario, which the text of the Plan indicates that only approved projects will be constructed (although it does not identify what “approved projects” are), and in which the schedule depicts no new additions to the road network, there appears to be little new construction.  The “Auto-Focused” scenario includes a large number of new roads.  And the “Sustainability-Focused” scenario includes slightly fewer new roads, and mentions that consideration will be given to alternative transportation infrastructure.  This last scenario is recommended as the preferred choice of the three.

The “Sustainability-Focused” scenario is hardly sustainable.  The significant number of new and expanded roadways it proposes has not been vetted through a needs analysis based on current data.  Data used to propose this network goes back to the 2005 Transportation Study.  Data projects a modal split of only 2% for transit riders, yet even back in 2003, the modal split was 3%, and has since risen to between 4% and 5%.  In 2031, given current trends, we can expect it to be even higher.

There is no modal split calculated for alternative transport (AT) users, despite the “Sustainability-Focus” scenario’s stated desire to have AT play a more significant role in trip generation.

Further, there is no discussion about Transportation Demand Management (TDM).  TDM can likely play an important role in alleviating congestion at peak periods where levels of service have become degraded.

Also, there has been no consideration of other activities to reduce congestion beyond expanding existing and building new roads.  The implementation of High Occupancy Vehicle lanes and car-pooling initiatives should be considered by the TMP.

Getting Serious About Sustainability

For a truly long-term, sustainable option for the development of our transportation system, it’s important that right calculations be used to justify expanding the system.  What is clear is that the right calculations to justify the expanded road network as depicted in the “Sustainable Focus” scenario have not been used, as they have failed to consider an appropriate modal split, or consider Transportation Demand Management.

Further, the outcomes depicted in the “Sustainable Focus” scenario include only the development/enhancement of existing roads to serve the needs of vehicles.  While the TMP does identify active transportation elements and refer to the development of a Complete Streets policy, these non-vehicular based elements exist outside of the 3 scenarios, and will not inform how the road network is to be considered for development through the EA process.

In recent comments made by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) regarding the EA for Second Avenue, the MOECC requested additional information on both modal split and TMD, as it appeared that the City had not considered either as part of the justification for moving forward with plans for widening Second Avenue.  Given that the TMP is intended to be a part of the EA process, fulfilling Master Plan requirements, it is not unreasonable to assume that a similar response from the MOECC may be received should this plan move forward based on an unsupported modal split, and without the benefit of TMD considerations. 

Design Standards

It’s encouraging to see that design standards for roads have been included in the TMP.  However, these design standards don’t always match the type of active transportation elements depicted on the AT schedules.  Further, in some cases the AT schedules appear to include gaps (the Kingsway between Bancroft and the downtown comes to mind) for cycling infrastructure where the TMP’s design standards suggest cycling infrastructure should be present.

Cycling Infrastructure

There should be greater direction regarding the timing of cycling infrastructure implementation on existing roads.  If we are to achieve a minimum grid, we can’t simply rely on infrastructure being included at the time of road repair.  Retrofitting existing roads will be necessary.  Council has already started budgeting for retrofits.

The Active Transportation Plan will hopefully address these matters, although again, it’s unfortunate that they weren’t addressed in the TMP.

Pedestrian Infrastructure

Safe locations for pedestrians to use to cross roads should be prioritized – especially where they coincide with bus stops.  The needs of pedestrians should be considered at the time that roadwork is to be considered.

Final Thoughts – Opportunity Costs

The economic success of any community is contingent upon a number of factors.  The types of jobs which our community is strategically positioned to pursue include well-paying, professional jobs in the mining supply, public service, health and education sectors.  In short, Greater Sudbury finds itself in competition with other communities who are trying to attract the Creative Class.

The Creative Class does not fear congestion – it embraces it.  The Creative Class knows that a successful, livable City is one in which congestion is present.  The Creative Class wants to live in communities which are transit-friendly, and cater to the needs of cyclists and pedestrians.

Cities which have emphasized the priority of fighting congestion have found that they have become less desirable locations for building the Creative Class economy due in large part to the design of the cities that they have constructed.  If fighting congestion is a priority, a city will build wide streets, and lots of them.  It will tend towards sprawl.  It will create an environment where walking and cycling isn’t a real option, and car ownership is a requirement.  In non-congested cities, transit is an economic drain rather than a healthy, accessible alternative.

For too long, our City has prioritized cars over people.  If we are going to become a destination for creative class jobs, we need to start getting serious about shifting the development paradigm from one which has emphasized unsustainable sprawl towards one founded on the principles of sustainability. 

I believe that the Transportation Master Plan, in its current form, will prove to be an impediment to building the City of Tomorrow that we will need to become to remain economically competitive into the 21st Century.  The numerous roads proposed by the so-called “Sustainability-Focused” scenario are fiscally unsustainable based on the expected growth of population and jobs.  Further, paying for the operational costs associated with these new roads will meant that we won’t be able to pay for other initiatives which would be better able to facilitate the transportation options that we need to promote livability in our community.

That’s why I hope that Council decides to wait until the Active Transportation and Transit Master Plans have been completed before proceeding to finalize the review of the Official Plan.  It’s also why I hope that Council will consider requiring a review of the modal split used to justify the expanded road network, and require that Transportation Demand Management initiatives be considered when running the model before the TMP is posted to the Environmental Bill of Rights for public comments to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.


Thank you for considering these comments.

Sincerely,

Steve May

(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)