Friday, September 4, 2020

Higgs the Big Winner in New Brunswick Leader's Debate

 Last night's New Brunswick leader's debate was rather interesting - for several reasons.

First, Premier Higgs was under attack from all sides for calling an unnecessary election. Higgs nevertheless handled himself well, although his anger was quite apparent and a little unbecoming.
People's Alliance Party leader Kris Austin appeared to be the most polished, and probably the best versed on the issues. He oozed charm and credibility - although I found some of his statements (like being proud about unilingual emergency services) a little off-putting. But there is no denying that Austin shone on this stage, making a strong pitch to voters to elect his MLA's to parliament.
NDP leader Mackenzie Thomason, just 23 years old (and played up his youth with a sharp Jimmy Olsen bow-tie), was the other stand-out of the debate. He knew his stuff, spoke off-the-cuff very well, hitting all of the high notes on issues from the economy and health care to regional development. Watch this guy - he is going to be a rising star in his party. If anybody was wondering whether a vote for the NDP in New Brunswick would be a "wasted" vote, Thomason firmly answered that question last night with a loud "No Way!"
Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers was probably the most underwhelming. I expected a lot more from Vickers - but largely he stuck to his talking points, and looked very uncomfortable with his wooden delivery. Higgs essentially manhandled him every time there was a confrontation between the two. It didn't help that in certain camera angles, Vickers make-up turned his face the colour of his tie - beet-red. Going on about untested technology (small modular nuclear reactors) made him look scary and fringe. And essentially calling the Moderator a liar at one point really sunk Vickers.
Green Party leader David Coon gave a bit of an unremarkable performance, providing few specifics about what Greens would do to influence the next government. Coon was most at home speaking about environmental issues, like Maritime Iron and the Paris Agreement. Coon's relaxed performance was remarkable (how could he be so cool in such a high pressure situation?) - but he came across as being a indifferent and lacking passion - except during a strange exchange between himself and Vickers where Vickers accused the Greens of walking away from some vote or the other (rich coming from Vickers who actually walked away from the all-Party committee that led to this election, and whose party abstained from voting on the budget). Vickers even made a pitch to Green voters, claiming in defiance of evidence, that the Liberals are "greener than the Greens". But even then, Coon failed to capitalize on this opening.
And finally, what on earth was the "Keep It Simple Solutions" Party leader doing in this debate? They're not even registering in the polls, they don't have any sitting MLAs. And their bewildered leader was completely out of place on that stage. The only thing I learned about KISS is that their leader has an allergy to cattle, and embraces homeopathy (of all things).
I suspect the media will spin this in the following way: Higgs winning the debate, despite being under fire, with Vickers wooden, shakey, and angry - especially when taking on the Moderator. Vickers really doesn't appear ready to be Premier. Possibly the media will also remark on the strong performances for Austin and Thomason.
But whatever the spin is likely to be, last night's debate was not very helpful to David Coon and the Green Party. At this point in the election, it might be too much to expect the NDP to start climbing in the polls. But Thomason's strong performance means that their polling numbers aren't likely to collapse further.
Coon needed to make the case that the Green Party was the only party that could hold the Progressive Conservatives accountable. Kevin Vickers opened the door for that to happen. But Coon just didn't walk through it.
One final note: Who else here is getting sick and tired of political debates where zero questions are asked about the biggest issue of our times - the climate emergency? I am just so fucking fed up that debate organizers at all levels are ignoring this. It's an injustice to the voting public, in my opinion.
(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, August 6, 2020

Here's Why a Letter to the Editor from Ward 2 Councillor's Adviser Published Today in the Sudbury Star is Misleading - and Unhelpful

I just read this letter to the Editor of the Sudbury Star from Tom Price, who is an adviser to Ward 2 Councillor Michael Vagnini. I have serious concerns about this letter due to a number of things in it that are simply not true.
As some here know, I am an appellant to the Kingsway Entertainment District matter presently before the LPAT. I am also a blogger and Star columnist who writes about the environment. I believe it's important to get one's facts right when calling for measures to be taken to address important issues. I'd say that's important for any member of the public.
It's doubly so when one has some kind of official capacity in government. I understand that people who have political agendas don't always tell the whole truth, in order to further their agendas. But this letter from Tom Price goes much further than that. He is simply not telling the truth on a few significant matters here.
Water Quality - An Important Municipal Issue
Water quality - especially for drinking water sources - is a serious issue in our City. In my opinion, it's one that isn't being addressed adequately by our elected officials and city managers who rely on dated minimum standards. I have called for freezing development around Ramsey Lake until the completion of the Ramsey Lake Watershed Study, and until its recommendations can be worked into municipal policy documents like the official plan. That would be one way for the city to demonstrate a more serious commitment to protecting at risk lakes from the impacts of development.
What is not helpful in these sorts of discussions is to make claims that are not supported by facts and evidence. Price does this in a number of locations in his letter. It's almost as if he wants to present a distorted picture to the public to further his own (or if not his own, than someone's) narrative.
Source Water Protection and the KED
In this letter, Price concludes that the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) "deemed source water protection not important to decisions regarding" the KED and "taxpayers need an explanation of why source water protection is not part of considerations by LPAT" for the KED. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is true that the LPAT dismissed the Minnow Lake Restoration Group's appeal of the parking lot zoning by-law, but it was not because LPAT believed source water protection was unimportant. It was actually the complete opposite. LPAT sided with the developer (not the City) who initiated the motion to dismiss Minnow Lake's appeal BECAUSE the proponent had undertaken studies to demonstrate that impacts of salt migration on Ramsey Lake (a drinking water source) could be mitigated, and that Minnow Lake - not coming to the table with its own technical studies to back up its opinion those mitigation methods called for in the developer's Plan wouldn't be enough, was raising apprehension instead of addressing an issue on which the LPAT could adjudicate. In other words, the LPAT decided it wasn't good enough to just say "we don't believe the technical studies are good enough" without presenting actual evidence to the contrary.
That said, there are some serious flaws to the Source Water Protection process, in my opinion. But rather than identify that the KED developer undertook technical studies, developed a Plan to identify potential harmful substances (including road salt) and measures to mitigate impacts from those substances, and that the City reviewed and approved this plan n compliance with our Source Water Protection Plan, Price simply provides a throw-away statement the LPAT didn't care about protecting water quality.
Valley East Twin Pad
Similarly, Price claims that Council isn't doing its due diligence with regards to the Valley East Twin Pad. Here he goes so far as to claim that the Valley East Twin Pad will "present a major risk to the municipal water supply" - a drinking water source that Price says "already exceeds Public Health recommendations" and that Council was "not following the advice of" municipal technical experts.
None of this is actually true in any meaningful way. While it is true that there is a drinking water source (a municipal well) in proximity to the proposed Twin Pad arena in the Valley, and that drinking water source - along with other municipal wells in the Valley - is under stress due to the presence of contamination - the well is still being used to provide safe, clean drinking water to Valley residents. Public Health has not recommended that use be discontinued.
It is also true that the well is expected to be impacted by the Twin Pad. And that's why the City followed its Source Water Protection Plan and developed a strategy to mitigate those potential impacts. As with the KED, no strategy is going to mitigate every single expected impact. But mitigation here was deemed possible and appropriate by City staff - those technical experts whose advice Price insists Council did not follow. Again, the opposite is actually true.
Lake Nepahwin
And finally, Price raises the matter of Lake Nepahwin and a recent study that shows that lake as being in serious trouble. What Price doesn't do, however, is identify Lake Nepahwin as not being a drinking water source. Instead he lumps it in with Ramsey Lake and a municipal well in the Valley. This is an important omission, because the level of protection for water quality for drinking water sources is much higher than for surface water features that are not the sources of potable water.
Price also fails to identify that the Lake Nepahwin report concluded that the majority of the damage that we can expect to see in the Lake has already been done, and little further opportunity exists to do more damage, due to the fact that there are few available places on the lake for more development, and due to the fact that the City has been paying closer attention to things like road salt and phosphorous run-off into all urban lakes.
The Sudbury Star
I often call the Sudbury Star out for publishing letters that offer opinions that are clearly based on nonsense or that are unsupported by facts and evidence. I can't do so here for two reasons. First, a lot of this is very technical and easily misrepresented by those who either don't care about the nuances of how policy, regulation and reports interact to better protect our natural environment. It's a lot easier to claim that something lakes aren't being protected than to explain how they're not being protected. And let's face it, I agree with Price's thesis that the City should be doing more to protect vulnerable lakes. But it's unhelpful when conclusions are distorted and facts are invented to support that thesis.
Second, Price is a political animal. He advises a municipal Councillor - one whom many believe has ambitions beyond Ward 2. By publishing this letter, the Star is contributing to the political discussion in our community - if not helpfully advancing concerns of citizens who have long been involved with trying to push the City towards more protection for vulnerable lakes. Those people (and I am not one of them) have experienced considerable success over the years - and have made our City a better place for everyone to live.
(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)

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Quick Impressions of the TVO Green Party of Canada Leadership Contestant Debates

Two really great, if quick, leadership contestant debates were held today.  Hosted by Steve Paikin of TVO's The Agenda (who runs a pretty tight ship when it comes to debates), leadership contestants, in two groups, were put on the spot to discuss timely issues of the day, like defunding the police, as well as existential matters like the Green Party's relevance and position in Canada's political climate.

The first debate was held between Annamie Paul, David Merner, Judy Green, Glen Murray and Amita Kuttner.  The second involved Dimitry Lascaris, Meryam Haddad, Dylan Perceval-Maxwell and Courtney Howard and Adam West - the latter two of which were both absent from this past Sunday's Fair Vote Canada debate (Howard did submit videos to Fair Vote in advance of that debate).

Winners and Losers

Look, it's still so early in the campaign that being a "winner" or "loser" in a particular debate really doesn't matter that much.  It's June - is anybody really paying attention yet?

Cross all of that out - of course this TVO debate matters.  It's not so much that people will be looking at at this at the end of June and thinking, "Hmmm...I really liked so-and-so, maybe I'll try to remember who they are and in September, I'll vote for them". The fact is these TVO debates are going to be up online for the remainder of the leadership contest. They will be go-to sources for Greens - including many in the Green base who want to be a little more informed about the candidates.  The fact that Paikin and TVO are involved automatically bump up the importance of these debates.  So make no mistake, these debates were important.

And you know what?  All of the candidates impressed today.  I don't have a lot to say that's particularly negative.  The debate itself was mostly civil, and the candidates were generally well spoken.  There was only one real exchange that stood out for me, where Meryam Haddad called out Dylan Perceval-Maxwell's "$20 solution" to the police issues as "completely racist" right at the end of the second debate - just as time ran out for any rebuttal - was probably the one moment where I felt a bit of a knock-out punch - and let me be honest here about this: from what I've seen of Haddad, I'm not a fan - I won't be voting for her - but with regards to this moment, she was 100% right to call out her fellow leadership contestant in the way that she did. And if it had been anybody but Perceval-Maxwell, it might have meant something.

Dylan Perceval-Maxwell

So let's start with Perceval-Maxwell.  He clearly doesn't belong in this contest. He may be all right to listen to, and perhaps it's true that every leadership contest needs someone on the fringe who can say things about political opponents that legit contestants can't, but all of that is offset by his meandering answers to questions. And that top hat just screams "I'm not a serious candidate".  And he's not.  

It's also been twice now that he's brought up endorsing strategic voting as a way of helping the Green Party.  Yes, if you can believe that, we have a leadership contestant who actively wants to tell Green members and supporters in certain parts of the country NOT to vote for the Green Party.  I don't know how many times it needs to be hammered home: strategic voting doesn't work.  Greens should not be supporting Liberals and New Democrats. And the Green Party will *never* get the NDP to not run candidates against us somewhere - anywhere.

I think I'm pretty much done with Perceval-Maxwell.

Andrew West

Today was West's first debate with some of the candidates, as he had missed the Fair Vote Debate for some reason (I'd still like to know why, Andrew....).  West came across as affable, if a little off his game.  He was the only contestant who dared admit that he was a centrist and viewed the Party in the same way. West's whole thing is that the Party should be promoting the fact that it is fiscally responsible - but it was pretty clear from an exchange he had with Dimitri Lascaris that his version of "responsible" differs significantly from Lascaris' - and frankly from mine, too.  Although I'll give West the benefit of the doubt that his half-hearted and quick rebuttal to Lascaris could have been more substantive had their been time, so I don't want to suggest that West and I are completely out of line with another on this.

But about "time" - if West is going to be taken as a serious contestant, he's going to really need to up his game to compress MORE into the time he's been given.  If Perceval-Maxwell's responses were wandering, West's were needlessly pedantic.  And since one of the things I've stated time and again that I'm looking for in a leader is someone who can be a good spokesperson for the Party - well, West just isn't there yet. 

Meryam Haddad

Haddad had a good debate.  She came across as being far less radical that she was at the Fair Vote debate. That doesn't mean that I believe something has changed in her heart since Sunday - but rather that she was able to present herself a little more seriously for a broader audience while still staying true to herself.  For example, she appeared to throw moderator Paikin for a bit of a loop when she brought up abolishing the police - but she continued to carry on as if the idea was simply one that perhaps others hadn't arrived at yet, but through the force of history, would get there some day, while being very personable.  It's difficult to walk that tightrope - especially in a Party where many members would NEVER consider themselves to be left-wingers, much less socialists like Haddad.  

I'm not going to vote for Haddad because I still believe she wants the Green Party to be something that it's not. But if all you knew about Haddad was what you saw on TVO today, you certainly might want to rank her high on your ballot (even if fools like me are whispering in your ear, 'don't be fooled').

Annamie Paul

Perhaps my biggest disappointment today was Annamie Paul.  In contrast to some of the other contestants that Paul was debating, her answers to questions generally lacked specifics. The vagueness, though, wasn't a particular problem (how much detail can you really get into with just 60 seconds? Ok, maybe Judy Green could pull it off - and did, but not everyone can).  What turned me off more than anything was that Paul just seemed less than genuine.

Clearly, Paul had been well-coached: don't ever yield the floor, just keep on talking (because when you're talking, your opponents aren't talking).  Speak over others if you can (because then no one hears your opponent). Interrupt. Try to take the floor back.  All of these are classic techniques for winning debates.  And she did a very good job of employing those tactics.  Thing is, though, none of the other contestants were going to play those games, so the fact that she was employing these tactics really stood out for me. And I'm sure I wasn't the only one with whom she's left a negative impression.

The Fair Vote Canada debate didn't really allow any of the candidates to do what Paul did today. But even in that debate, Paul's answers to questions were a little vague and lacklustre.  After watching her in two debates now, it's becoming clear to me that she's just a little underwhelming in circumstances like this.  Now I know that we should never judge leadership on "debates" - but I also know that being the Leader of the Green Party means that you're going to have to explain yourself (very quickly, because the media isn't going to give the 5th party much time to get into the weeds). And from what I've seen, there are better contestants to do this than Paul.

Amita Kuttner

I don't know what to say about Kuttner.  They had a better debate this time than the Fair Vote debate for sure.  They answered questions directly and succinctly - which was really great and in contrast to Perceval-Maxwell, West and Paul.  I like that (again, I think there's a reason Elizabeth May speaks so quickly, because you're not going to have much time to - oh, just re-read what I wrote above!).  Kuttner is clearly in touch with issues that have suddenly been thrust to the forefront of political discussion.  But there is clearly something of a hard edge to Kuttner that I find off-putting and unfriendly.  They may know the issues very well, but I think they've got to work on that whole "spokesperson" thing a lot more.  And again, maybe in a few years, who knows?

Courtney Howard

This was Howard's first leadership debate - and as far as I know, it might also have been her political debate. I don't think Howard's ever run for anything before.  And yes, I do find it kind of odd that not having run for anything before, she'd want to throw her hat into the ring to lead the Green Party of Canada - a party that she seems to have no history with.  That lack of history came through a little today.  Howard seemed a flummoxed and vague when discussing the Green Party in today's political climate - in a way that Haddad, Kuttner, Lascaris, Green and Murray weren't.  

Howard came across as being very intelligent, and fairly engaging.  She does speak well, and it's clear that she knows how to integrate data and evidence into the conversation.  She struggled a little with some of the issues of the day that most of the other candidates really nailed.  Generally speaking, though, I wasn't particularly impressed - but nor was I unimpressed.  I'll have to keep watching, I suppose.

Judy Green

I have to say, Green really impressed me.  In this format, she was a bit of a stand-out - even among some of the more formidable leadership candidates.  Green clearly knew her stuff, understands what the Green Party is, where it's come from, and where the Members seem to want to take it.  She was charming, engaging and trying to cram as much as she could into the little time that she had.  She was able to express her varied life experiences and relate to others while answering questions.  

I think we all need to keep our eye on Green. She's got a little touch of Elizabeth May about her, mingled with a folksy Maritime charm.  Could Green be the populist in this leadership contest?  But a populist in the true sense of the word - someone with their finger on the pulse of the times.  In a field riddled with laywers and policy wonks, Green is offering up something a little different.

Three Stand Outs

Dimitri Lascaris

I always feel the need to put this disclaimer in front of anything that I write about Dimitri Lascaris.  I do not believe that Lascaris should be running for leader of the Green Party of Canada due to a number of serious matters in his past that really ought to have disqualified him.  That the Party has greenlighted his leadership bid is a real problem, I believe, one that the Party is going to have to wrestle with at some point in the future.  I'm not going to get into specifics here, as Lascaris' toxic backstory is easily found with a quick Google search.

All of that said, even I have to say that Lascaris was one of the stand-outs of the day.  That he found himself in a debate with some of the less-tested candidates (Howard, Perceval-Maxwell and West) may have helped him a little, but really Lascaris is a great speaker - and he himself has had a lot of practice at this sort of thing.  If you didn't know much about Lascaris and just tuned into the TVO debate, no doubt you'd be wondering now about whether this is someone to be supporting.

Lascaris clearly has charisma and charm, and he knows how to engage with everyone - the moderator, other candidates, and with his audience (correct me if I'm wrong, but he was also the only contestant to do a land acknowledgement - something that there's really no excuse for any leadership contestant not to be doing first thing when they're given the floor to speak).  Lascaris also really seemed to think quickly on his feet, and his rebuttal of West on the matter of what it means to be 'fiscally responsible' was probably the highlight of the day - and a serious showcase for Lascaris' talents. 

David Merner

What can I say about David Merner? This is twice now that Merner has proved to be the complete package: knowledgeable, empathetic, charming, engaging, considerate.  There is really something about him that I am growing to like.  It's clear that Merner has spent a lot of time connecting the dots, and thinking on his feet.  He shows all of the qualities that a national party leader ought to show.  It was all on display today.  And although today's discussion was not particularly combative, I'm sure that Merner could mix it up with the best of them if push came to shove.

I'm just going to leave it at that, after saying one last thing: I'm still not convinced I will vote for him, because I continue to feel that the Party would be best led by someone who is not an older straight white man.  

Glen Murray

Equally engaging as Merner, and so clearly able to discuss politics and everything political, Murray has a depth of understanding based on his years of experience in the political realm.  It is so clear to me that Murray possesses all of the leadership qualities one could ever hope for in a leader. And I am sure that if the Green Party elected Murray, our future would be in really good hands.  I can already picture Murray on stage with Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh and Peter McKay - not just holding his own, but seriously dishing it out to all of those leaders.  

There's something very genuine and engaging about Murray too.  It's not so much charm as it is, I don't know, gravitas.  But that's not to suggest that he can't connect with people, because clearly he was able to do that in today's debate.  Some of the candidates like Merner and Lascaris might approach him in this area, but it's clear to me that Murray is just on another level.

But...today he completely lost my vote.

Look I know that I've said time and again that PR matters more than policy.  But sometimes policy matters - and when it does, it really does.  Today, Murray made it very clear that he would try to get the Party to abandon our long-standing Carbon Fee & Dividend policy in favour of something like his Ontario Cap & Trade program - which he continues to believe is more "efficient" with money and will lead to a larger reduction in emissions.  Annamie Paul was right to point out to Murray that economists don't agree with him on this (like Sudbury's own Dr. David Robinson, Professor of Economics at Laurentian University, who wrote, "What Glen Might Be Saying if He Understood," Dr. David Robinson, Economics for Northern Ontario, December 3 2016). 

But Murray sure as hell didn't listen to those economists when the Ontario Liberals had their dog and pony show, er, province-wide public consultation sessions on carbon pricing back in 2016.  At that time, the Liberals were overwhelmingly told to go with carbon fee & dividend.  I don't know if it was through Murray's force of will or because of something else, but the Wynne Liberals opted instead to go with Cap & Trade - better than what Ontario had before (which was nothing), but absolutely not the program that is ever going to price carbon at a level that can be both economically sustainable and meaningful for emissions reduction.  I wrote about the problems with Ontario's Cap and Trade program back in 2017 (see: "Cap and trade doomed to fail," Steve May, the Sudbury Star, April 8 2017).  

And that Murray wants to push this now on the Green Party - a party that had this very conversation over a decade ago - sorry, that's just unacceptable.  And frankly more than a little disrespectful.  

Well, I guess by disqualifying himself from my list of "those whom I might support for leader", he's at least done me a favour today.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)


Sunday, June 21, 2020

Quick Impressions of the Fair Vote Canada - Green Party of Canada Leadership Debate

I just wanted to take a moment to provide my first impressions of the Fair Vote Canada - Green Party of Canada Leadership Contestant "debate".  I can't help but put the word "debate" in quotations, because really, it was anything but a debate.  But that doesn't mean it wasn't useful as Greens get ready to case their ballots at the end of September for our next leadership candidate.



National Indigenous Peoples Day

First, let me address the elephant in the room: Fair Vote Canada scheduled this debate on June 21st - which is National Indigenous Peoples Day.  Without question, this was a completely tone-deaf move on Fair Vote Canada's part.  Frankly, it should have never happened.  While Fair Vote, the moderators, and especially the leadership contestants, all tried to address this situation, it still fell flat in my opinion.  This was the wrong day to be having a discussion about democracy in Canada.  In the future, if things like this happen again, it is my hope that the leadership contestants themselves have the courage to stand up to organizers and say, "Thanks, but No - we have to consider the greater good here". 

Look, I know that's not an easy thing for any leadership contestant to do. I'm reminded of a situation that happened here in Sudbury in 2008 at an all-candidates debate that was organized by a student group at a local highschool. During that debate, one of the candidates, and Independent, remarked that gay people should be rounded up and shot.  The other candidates didn't quite know what to do. I'm sure that none of them supported this position, but rather than call out a fringe opponent - or do the right thing and walk off the stage so as not to be sharing a podium with the homophobe - they did nothing (including our Green Party candidate).  But the people watching the debate did the right thing - they called out the candidate, they decided to leave the debate.  Clearly, they didn't have any 'skin in the game' that might have left them questioning what was the smart thing to do - continue to engage in the debate because of the potential of securing a few votes?  No, they left because it was the right thing to do.  

And that's why I have to fault all of the candidates who participated in tonight's debate - while also acknowledging that not participating would also have been a problem. But from where I sit, those that participated tonight all made a blunder - siding with doing what was expedient for their campaigns, versus doing what was right, moral and just.

All of the 10 leadership contestants participate tonight except for Andrew West.  It was not mentioned why West wasn't there - perhaps we will find out the explanation from West's campaign at some point.  Also, Courtney Howard was not able to participate in person, and debate organizers indicated that it was because she was working.  Howard did pre-record responses to a few questions, as well as opening and closing remarks.  So 9 out of 10 opted to participate in this debate, held on National Indigenous Peoples Day.  Shame.

My Personal Winner

There were several candidates that did quite well, which didn't surprise me. For example, I've been following Glen Murray's career for some time now.  The fact that he was able to provide meaty, cogent responses that differentiated himself from the other contestants in a thoughtful and deliberate way was absolutely no surprise to me.  I believe that all Greens need to take a serious look at Murray - and even though he's an outsider to the Party, there's no question in my mind that he really should have been a Green a long time ago.  As Minister of Environment and Climate Change in what was unquestionably the "greenest" government in Canada's history (under the leadership of former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne), and as former head of the Pembina Institute, Murray knows very well what Canada needs to do to get its act together to combat the challenges of climate change.  So his performance in tonight's debate was no surprise to me.  Frankly, there was really no one else who was able to step up onto the same plain as Murray - with one exception.

And that exception was David Merner - and I'm going to pick David as my personal winner in tonight's debate.  Holy cow, where did this guy come from (I ask knowing full well that Merner has been a political force for years now - first in the Liberal Party and most recently as a Green candidate in Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, where he nearly won a seat in parliament in 2019).  Merner came across as professional, responsible and completely in touch with the issues that are top-of-mind for so many today.  His presentation was genuine, engaging and ready for prime-time in a way that frankly only former cabinet Minister Murray was able to compare to.  

I can't say that Merner "won" the debate.  Really, there weren't any winners (although there were a few losers - see below), but Merner, who has never been elected to anything, was a stand out for me, so I'm going to name him my personal winner.

Tonight's Losers

There were a few losers tonight - some bigger than others.  Here are my top three:

Dylan Perceval-Maxwell

If anyone was seriously thinking of ranking Perceval-Maxwell as their first pick in the leadership contest (and frankly, other than his friends and family, I have my doubts anybody was considering this anyway), tonight he put on a display that was sure to convince Greens just not to bother.  Entering the debate wearing a 19th Century-style top hat already made him look so far from the type of professional leader that the party needs now, it wasn't even funny. And his responses to questions were clearly not very well thought out or rehearsed.  In short, if Dylan hasn't already raised the $20k needed to stay in the race, I sincerely hope he does not bother and saves himself some grief and heartache, because it was quite clear to anybody watching that he did not belong on this virtual stage with any of the other candidates.

Meryam Haddad

I don't think that I was the only one that found Haddad to be a little offensive.  She clearly has her own vision of what it means to be the leader of the Green Party of Canada - and frankly, about what the Green Party of Canada should be, in order to conform itself to her vision.  Haddad is a proud socialist, and her responses to questions were clearly influenced by that.  But unlike Dimitri Lascaris, who also self-identifies as being on the left-wing of the Party, Haddad just came across as too radical for the Green Party in a way that Lascaris didn't.  It wasn't clear to me at all that Haddad had a decent understanding of what it meant to be a Green.  What did come across is that Haddad, if she ever found herself to be a leader of the Party, would try to impose her will on the party over that of the membership.

Beyond that, Haddad proved to be a pretty ineffective communicator.  There was a bitterness to her responses that was missing from all of the other candidates (save one).  She seemed angry and oppositional - rather than someone who appeared willing to work with others.  If you were considering Haddad because you support the ecosocialist side of the party, I think that it's pretty clear that Lascaris made a far better impression tonight. Although I will never suggest to any Green that they should ever cast a ballot for Lascaris, given some of the public statements he has made over the years that are just so deeply problematic.

I think Greens just need to give Meryam Haddad a pass.

Amita Kuttner

Tonight's biggest disappointment for me was Amita Kuttner.  This is a candidate that I really want to like.  I've been following them for some time now, and I really like what they have to say. They've clearly positioned themselves to be on the progressive side of politics, and have a pretty good understanding of what it means to be Green.  So this "quick impression" isn't based on their approach to policy or anything like that. It's completely about personality and their ability to represent the Party as leader - which the Constitution defines as being a "spokesperson for the Party".

Kuttner just seemed angry and pissed off throughout the night.  There was barely a smile. There was no engagement with anybody - moderators, fellow contestants - that let the real Kuttner shine through. Instead, we ended up with a scowling leadership contestant who appeared more than mildly irritated with the state of the world.  And this is exactly not the sort of "leader" aka "salesperson" that the Party needs right now.  Kuttner was clearly out of place on tonight's stage, doing little better than Perceval-Maxwell to convince voters to give them a try.  

And this isn't unusual for Kuttner.  Recently, they released a video about how they would not be accepting the Party's equity-seeking special provisions for the leadership race.  The message was a good one, I suppose - but the messenger was problematic for the same reasons: Kuttner just appeared to be pissed off, carrying around a giant chip on their shoulder.  And that's not at all what the Green Party needs right now if we're going to attract new voters and win new seats.

Dr. Courtney Howard

This isn't a knock on Howard's pre-recorded responses (although they were quite unmemorable), but rather on Howard's absence.  Frankly, I don't care whether one has to work or not, if you're going to bail on leadership debate, at least do it for the right reasons (like, "National Aboriginal Day - you can't be serious!").  I get that Howard probably has a pretty important job - but you know what? I took the time tonight, as did many other Greens, to tune in to see the leadership debate. And Howard couldn't be bothered. Sorry, being the leader of the Green Party is also a very important job.  So Howard is my biggest loser of tonight's debate.

Strong Second Tier Performances

Without question, going into tonight's debate, Merner, Murray and Paul have to be the odds-on favorites to win the contest.  Each of these candidates have a strong team in place, and are raising a lot of money - doing the sorts of things that you have to do if you want to win the race.

But tonight's debate left me with the impression that there is a strong second tier of candidates that perhaps Greens should not overlook when it comes.  

Judy Green

Green had a solid performance. She was able to remind Greens that she is coming from a different place, having served in the armed forces, and being from the Maritimes.  Greens ought not to count Green out of the race, as she is the only candidate from Atlantic Canada, and if she plays her cards right, she could yet end up as a bit of a force in the contest.  She certainly has a great grasp of party policy, and she's fairly personable. I'd likt to see more of her personality shine through in the same way that those who have attended one of her virtual "Kitchen Parties" have seen.  

Dimitri Lascaris

Those who follow me on social media know very well that I am no fan at all of Dimitri Lascaris, and I sincerely wish he was not in the leadership contest.  That said, there is little to fault Lascaris for in tonight's leadership debate, so I'll have to give him well-deserved kudos.  Lascaris came across as a personable and knowledgeable - while offering a viewpoint that was slightly different than the status quo candidates.  Say what you want about Lascaris, he is clearly in touch with the zeitgeist of today.  And given that he has his own little power group in the Party - well, no, it probably doesn't matter, because most still aren't going to give Lascaris their preferences, no matter how well he comes across in debates like tonight's.

Ranking

Here is my ranking of the leadership contestants' performance in tonight's debate.  This is not representative of my own personal feelings towards the candidates, or what I feel their electoral chances are in general. This was just about tonight:

1) David Merner
2) Glen Murray
3) Annamie Paul
4) Judy Green
5) Dimitri Lascaris
6) Meryam Haddad
7) Amita Kuttner
8) Dylan Perceval-Maxwell
9) Courtney Howard

One Last Thing...

Who out there watching tonight's debate wasn't thinking this very thought: it's too bad that Elizabeth May stepped down as leader.  She exudes charisma, charm, knowledge and political acumen with everything she says and does.  And tonight was no exception.  May absolutely shone in her role of co-moderator with former Party leader Jim Harris (who was also very good).  I tell you this - if I had my druthers, I would surely like to see May lead the Party into the next election. I know that's not going to happen - but it was pretty clear to me tonight that even with the excellent tier-one candidates that we have in this party, no one - and I mean NO ONE - can hold a candle to Elizabeth May.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Disappearing Green Party

With massive disruptions taking place across Canada in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, it may seem a little trite for me to sit down and write a critique of the Green Party - a party that I've been a member of for over 12 years now.  Surely there are better things that I could spend my time writing about.

And yet, it's because Canada is experiencing these disruptions that writing about the Green Party is prescient - or rather, writing about how the Green Party has figured out a way to absent itself from the national discussions which are taking place in government, in the mainstream media, on social media, and even at the Tim Horton's here right in downtown Sudbury.  


The Disappearing Green Party
For all intents and purposes, the Green Party has disappeared.  And not just with regards to the Wet'suwet'en - but on just about every major issue of our times.  OK, sure, Elizabeth May had something good to say about rejecting Teck a little while back (see: "Elizabeth May calls on the government to reject the Teck Frontier mine," Elizabeth May MP, January 27, 2020), and this piece on the soaring costs of the Trans Mountain pipeline was pretty good (see: "Elizabeth May asks, ‘At what cost, Canada?’ Elizabeth May MP, February 14, 2020 - and it's also available at the National Observer so long as you don't view more than 7 of their posts a month). and I know that Paul Manly and the Green Party apparatus have been busy tweeting about land defenders, pipelines, uhm, indigenous rights, pipelines, and I think pipelines.  So yes, people are busy.  But is anyone noticing?

I frequent the National Newswatch news aggregator website.  I don't always have a chance to read everything that's linked there, but I tend to get a good feel for what's making the news just by reading the headlines.  It's kind of like a barometer for figuring out what stories are important to the mainstream media.  It's fun to watch as stories I've been following through other media start to percolate in the MSM sometimes days or weeks after they've broke elsewhere. 

In the lead-up to the 2019 federal election, the Green Party was getting some serious (well, "serious" for the Green Party) coverage in the mainstream media.  News stories and columnists were taking the time to write about a good number of different things related to the Party, Elizabeth May, and provincial Green parties.  With two weeks to go in the election, though, coverage of the Green Party dried up.  It sputtered on and off again (mostly off) for another month or so.  And after Elizabeth May made it known that she was stepping down as leader of the Party, coverage just vanished.

The Elizabeth May Party

What good is a political party that no one is talking about?  Sure, the Green Party of Canada is going through a bit of a renewal at the moment.  And by "renewal" I mean I'm seeing and hearing about long-time committed Greens like myself either openly questioning whether they should continue on with the Party, or are just leaving, packing it in.  The 2019 election sure as hell left a pack of disillusioned members behind.  
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Greta Thunberg

For those keeping score, that would be the fourth general election now where the Party anticipated a serious breakthrough but failed to deliver.  Arguably, the electoral dynamics in 2019 were the best we've ever seen: a lacklustre Liberal Party trying to hold on to the reins of government; the NDP a sinking ship; and the Conservative Party doing all that it can to alienate what remains of the progressive political right.  With climate strikes going on around the globe, with Greta Thunberg telling centrist politicos that they weren't doing enough, and with the mainstream media talking up the Green Party in a way that it never has before, it should have been fairly easy to elect a handful of Greens to parliament.

But instead, we stunk out the joint.  We released policies that committed us to supporting new fossil fuel infrastructure - maybe as an attempt to get a few votes from Alberta (because seriously, there was no other reason for our refinery policy to ever have seen the light of day in an election - much less as part of a 20-step plan to fight climate change.  We welcomed former NDP candidates into the party, despite many of those candidates never having agreed to join the party (see: "Some former NDP candidates in N.B. say they weren’t part of exodus to Greens," Global News, September 5, 2019).  And then we got embroiled in a discussion about whether those candidates were racists.


Federal Leaders Trainwreck Debate
Elizabeth May just didn't seem to have fire in her belly the same way that she did in previous elections.  While she had a pretty good debate performance that no one saw at the Macleans National Leader's Debate, she still took a hit from the NDP's Jagmeet Singh, who rightly questioned why she would continue to trot out the idea of having SNC Lavalin pay for water systems on First Nations reserves.  Unfortunately, May was all but invisible in the horrendous nationally televised English-language trainwreck "debate". 

And it would have been nice had May maybe not brought up the fact that, as Leader of the Green Party, she doesn't actually have the authority to tell other Greens in her caucus what they can and can't bring forward as private members bills - so if someone ever wanted to limit a woman's right to choose, while May was clear she'd oppose that bill, as Leader she couldn't kill it.  That kind of nuance did not go over well with the mainstream media, and it gave the NDP ammunition to convincingly make stuff up about the Green Party's and May's commitment to women's issues.  

The Green Party Has Lost Its Way


That damn cup.
May can't take the fault for the Green Party's lacklustre performance in the last election.  Or at least Greens aren't going to blame her.  What most engaged Greens have been complaining to one another about for the past few months hasn't been May - it's about how the Party has lost its way.  This was exemplified in the election by the infamous coffee cup episode, where a backroom staffer fiddled with a photo of May holding - well, originally holding a coffee cup, but the cup was photoshopped out in favour of a reuseable mug.  Thing was, the coffee cup that got photoshopped out was actually a biodegradable cup (see: "Green Party Leader Photoshopped With Fake Reusable Cup and Straw," Vice News, September 24, 2019). 

So much for doing politics differently.

All in all, May and the Green Party spent a lot more time during the 2019 election explaining themselves to the media, rather than talking about the issues.  Granted, discussions about actual issues by all political parties were noticeably absent during the 2019 election.  But as Ronald Reagan once said about something or other, "If you're explaining, you're losing." When all of your media oxygen is taken up trying to convince the media that you're not a racist or anti-choice or that you don't go around photoshopping every picture you can get your hands on - well you're losing. And we lost. Big-time.
We sure did do it.

Or did we?  The Party initially tried to spin the fact that we elected 3 Green MP's as some sort of huge victory.  Either that didn't go over well with Greens like me who have been paying attention and were expecting a few more in the "win" column in 2019, or the disappearance of the Party and its growing irrelevancy since about mid-November led the spin-doctors to call it a day.  Clearly, 2019 was no victory for the party.

Leadership Contest


Alex Tyrrell in a canoe.
With May's departure as leader in early November, the "race" to replace her was on!  Almost immediately, Green Party of Quebec leader Alex Tyrrell announced that he was going to throw his hat in the ring  (well, actually he announced his intention to replace May even before May resigned - see: "Quebec's Green Party leader eyeing federal job if Elizabeth May steps down," CBC News, November 3, 2020).  For a few days in early November, Tyrrell got his name in the news. But since then there has been little but silence in the mainstream media about the Green leadership contest (even though Alex has now released what has to be standard gear for any national political party leadership aspirant - a photo of themselves alone in a canoe).

Now I know it might not be fair to contrast the Green Party's leadership contest with that of the Conservative Party - especially in terms of coverage given the two parties by the media.  But at the same time, I just can't help but notice that every day, a Conservative leadership candidate is making national headlines.  Sure, they're not always positive headlines.  And ok, so the Cons have 121 seats to our 3.  And they've got gobs of money.  And they've got former cabinet ministers vying for the top spot.  And - well, let's just say that they seem to have their act together, at least when it comes to the contest itself - even though Andrew Scheer stepped down as leader over a month after May resigned.  And Scheer has stayed on as interim leader, hogging some of those headlines (er, again, often not in a good way), whereas May has handed the reins of the Green Party over to interim leader Jo-Ann Roberts whom no one has ever heard of (at least not in the context of being the interim leader of the Green Party).

Today was the deadline for leadership contestants to clear the first hurdle of the Conservative Party's nomination process.  The Cons have been right eager to elect a new leader (and with Andrew Scheer staying at their helm until a new one is elected, who can blame them?).  But the Green Party has decided to take a more leisurely approach - I guess because we're not going to have to struggle with getting our new leader's name out there to the public before the next election.  Who knows.  Anyway, the same day that May stepped down, the Party announced that the leadership contest would take place in Charlottetown, on October 3, 2020 - 11 months away.

No bodies and Nobodies

Here's what I have to say about an 11 month leadership contest.  It's probably the right amount of time for the Green Party to pick a new leader - although I can see why the Conservatives decided to compress their contest into a much shorter timeframe given that we are in a minority government situation.  But the real think about the Green Party's 11 month leadership contest is that it isn't.  Isn't 11 months, I mean.  The Party only got around to releasing the Rules for the contest on February 3, 2020 - leaving just 8 months for contestants to campaign (see: "Green Party leadership race officially launches today in P.E.I." CBC News, February 3, 2020) and to raise the $50,000 entry fee.

That's right.  You want to be leader of the Green Party, you've got to pony up $50k.  Oh, not all at once, though.  There's a staggered submission process.


GPC Leadership Contest Rules - Section 11

Potential leadership contestants have until June 3rd to apply.  So we'll know in another few months exactly who has thrown their hat in the ring - just as the mainstream media is taking off for the summer.  Good luck to all of the leadership candidates getting their names out there to Party members via the mainstream media!

Ah, but who am I kidding?  The mainstream media wasn't going to be paying any attention to this leadership contest anyway.  Why would they waste their time reporting on the Green Party now when they haven't wasted their time reporting on the Green Party since the election?  At least people have heard of Elizabeth May - she still commands a bit of a media following, despite no longer leading the Party.  But - this is not to denigrate those who have currently expressed interest in the Green Party's leadership - why would the media write about any of the would-be leaders?  It's not like Green Party members have expressed any degree of excitement about them, so why should the media?

Especially since it's not clear that any of them are going to be able to raise the $50 grand needed to officially register as a candidate.  This might be the leadership contest where the only bodies anyone could find to run were nobodies.

Alternatives?

Could there be others waiting in the wings to announce their candidacy?  God, I hope so.  It's not that those who have signaled interest would make bad candidates, it's just that nobody's ever heard of them, and I fear that the Green Party is going to spend years in the wilderness trying to build up a little name recognition.  I get that the Green Party is not a leader-driven Party in the same way that the old-line parties are, but I will say that until the media figures out how to report on the Green Party (should they ever show any interest in doing so again), it's important that our leader at least be known by, oh, maybe 1% of 1% of Canadians.

If a big name doesn't step forward to lead our Party, I can't help but think that our Party is going to remain invisible throughout 2020 - and maybe into 2030.  And I don't know that I've got the appetite to stick around and build (rebuild?) the Party with the hopes that one day we might elect enough Greens to actually be able to influence something that's important to us.  

I've been of the opinion for some time now that the Green Party ought to seriously consider merging with the NDP, because our two parties are not actually all that far apart on the issues (see: "Is This All That Stands in the Way of NDP-Green Electoral Co-operation?" Sudbury Steve May, May 14, 2019). It had been my hope that at least one leadership contestant might grab ahold of that idea and run with it.  But no one is going to pay $50k to try to merge it with the New Democrats.

If a merger wasn't going to be a thing, I've expounded on the need to recruit a household name as leader (see: "Who Will Be The Next Leader of the Green Party?" Sudbury Steve May, November 5, 2019).  I offered up former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne - but I presume that she remains otherwise engaged.  I suggested maybe Rick Mercer or Pamela Anderson - but I suspect that they might have other things on the go, too (see: "OK Greens, Where Do We Go From Here?" Sudbury Steve May, November 13, 2019). 


Glen Murray on Twitter
Who Can Save Us?

So who does that leave?  I've been watching with interest the recent tweeting habits of Glen Murray, Ontario's former Minister of the Environment and the former Mayor of Winnipeg.  His tweets have stirred a slight flutter in my curiosity.  But I don't think we Greens can count on that former Ontario Liberal to ride in and try to save the day.  So who really does that leave?

In all seriousness, I'd like to offer up one final suggestion - even though I suspect the chances of her going for it are slim to none.  But she does have a seat in parliament, and she commands a degree of respect from the media.  

You know I'm talking about Elizabeth May.
  
Yes, Elizabeth May.

And why wouldn't I be?  Faced with what might be (yet even more) years in the political wilderness, and with a minority government situation that could send us to the polls on a moment's notice, why not turn back to May?  She certainly has the capacity to turn our party opaque from its present invisible status.

Think about it: if May ran, she would win.  You know it's true.  And that says a little something about the Green Party of Canada that some don't want to hear.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)




Saturday, February 22, 2020

Teck Decision Could be an Existential One for Canada’s Liberals

This month, Canada’s Liberal government is faced with what might be an existential decision. Vancouver-based mining giant Teck Resources needs federal cabinet’s approval for a new open-pit bitumen mine in Northern Alberta which is expected to generate 6 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually until the year 2067 (see: “Behind the headlines: 6 need-to-know facts about the Teck Frontier mine,” Jesse Firempong, Greenpeace Canada, February 3, 2020).  For Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, having campaigned twice now on getting serious about climate change, approval of Teck’s Frontier mine could lead to a caucus revolt (see: Teck Mine a ‘pretty easy no’, Liberal MPS tell Trudeau in raucous caucus meeting,” the Energy Mix, February 7, 2020).  With citizens from coast to coast to coast already protesting in the streets in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en, a federal decision to build yet more fossil fuel infrastructure on the basis of a questionable review process would certainly kill any last shred of climate legitimacy the Liberals might still be clinging to (see: Regardless of the decision, Teck Frontier proves the system is still broken,” Simon Dyer, the Globe and Mail, February 12, 2020).

Teck’s cheerleaders, like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and former Liberal Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi, are keen to point out that greenhouse gas emissions can be accommodated under Alberta’s 100 megatonne emissions cap, first put in place by former NDP Premier Rachel Notley (see: “Sohi solution can give Trudeau and Kenney the win-win on Frontier oilsands mine that Canada needs,” David Staples, the Edmonton Journal, January 31, 2020). However, Alberta’s cap on tar sands emissions has never been integrated into a coherent national plan to reduce emissions (see: Alberta's climate plan stands in the way of Canada's,” Gordon Laxer, the Edmonton Journal, December 3, 2015). After 5 years in power, the lack of a serious national plan to achieve even former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s weak and ineffectual emissions reduction target for 2030 is a national embarrassment (see: Trudeau set to break its promise to meet even Harper's weak carbon-emissions reduction target,” The Council of Canadians, March 29, 2017)

Alberta’s CO2 equivalent emissions are about 65 tonnes per capita, compared to the average for the remainder of Canada at just 15 tonnes (see: “Behind the headlines: 6 need-to-know facts about the Teck Frontier mine,” Jesse Firempong, Greenpeace Canada, February 3, 2020).  If Alberta’s tar sands emissions climb to 100 megatonnes, other provinces, like Ontario, will have to do more than their fair share in compensate (see: Alberta’s new carbon tax,” Andy Skuce, Skeptical Science, December 31, 2015).  The Frontier mine alone, if built, would become the 5th largest greenhouse gas emitter in the nation. With new mining ventures in northern Ontario needed to produce the mineral resources to power the green economy, what might our province have to give up in order to allow Alberta to keep pumping high-emissions energy for yesterday’s marketplace? 

However, if projects like the government-owned Trans Mountain bitumen pipeline are going to at least pretend to be economically viable, a higher level of extraction from an expanded tar sands is necessary.  Cost estimates for Trans Mountain have ballooned to $16 billion (see: “Elizabeth May asks, ‘At what cost, Canada?’” Elizabeth May MPP, February 14, 2020).  Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau might think it would be a shame to spend all of that money on a pipeline, but have nothing to fill it with. With the job-producing green economy taking off globally, how much taxpayer money is going to have to further subsidize Canada’s fossil fuel sector to keep up appearances of competitiveness?

The Frontier mine simply can’t proceed. The only sensible decision for the Liberals is to reject Teck, and to finally develop a truly national plan to do what’s necessary to begin tackling the climate emergency.  That plan will be based on serious emissions reduction targets and provide for realistic provincial carbon budgets. It must include plans for a just transition for fossil fuel workers.  It will end subsidies to the fossil fuel sector. And it will include a roadmap for a bold transition to the green economy, including winding down fossil fuel production over the next several decades (see: “A strong climate plan is key to Canada’s economic prosperity,” Pembina Institute, October 8, 2019).

It’s the sort of plan that the Liberals should have been working on over the last 5 years, after climate obstructionist Stephen Harper and the Conservatives were ousted by voters at the ballot box.  It’s what Trudeau promised Canadians while on the campaign trail – in 2015 and again in 2019. Liberals should keep in mind Canadian’s opinions on climate change have shifted massively over the past decade, with polls showing voters having little appetite for inaction.  The decision on Teck could very well be a defining moment for Canada’s Liberal government – and for the Liberal Party.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Originally published online and in print as, "May: Teck decision an existential one for Canada’s Liberals," at the Sudbury Star, Saturday February 22, 2020 - without hyperlinks.