Friday, December 19, 2014

In Sudbury By-Election, the Only Vote for Change is a Vote for the Green Party


Sudbury has a chance to make history in 2015 – by electing the first Green Member of Provincial Parliament to the Ontario legislature in the upcoming by-election. Sending a Green to Queen's Park would be a bold statement from Sudburians that it's time we had real change in the business as usual approach of the old-line political parties. Sudburians would be acknowledging Ontario's growing desire to have other voices heard in our legislatures, a desire mirrored throughout Canada as shown by the election of Elizabeth May to the federal House of Commons, and when B.C.'ers and New Brunswickers sent Andrew Weaver and David Coon to their provincial legislatures.

Sounds simple enough – but a number of factors really need to come together to make this a reality. First and foremost, Greens need to give Sudburians compelling reasons to take up the torch of this historic opportunity. The good news is that there are lots of reasons for Sudburians to consider voting for the Green Party in the upcoming by-election. For those voters interested in change, a vote for the Green Party will certainly deliver.

A Focus on Mining and the Ring of Fire

Many in this community believe that the Green Party, perceived as a party of the environment, would be a poor fit for a City which relies heavily on the mining industry for its prosperity. I believe that a lot of the anxiety about this matter has stemmed from partisan machinations from the other political parties who try to portray the Greens as anti-development (or at least anti-resource development).

Of course, I don't see it that way – in fact, here in the Sudbury and Nickel Belt ridings, Greens have asked geologist and former INCO and Falconbridge employee Fred Twilley to carry our banner in 3 campaigns (in Nickel Belt provincially in 2006, federally in 2008 and in Sudbury federally in 2011). And recently, the man who was instrumental in inventing the concept of the “mining cluster”, Laurentian University's Dr. David Robinson, has announced that he'll be seeking the Sudbury nomination for the upcoming federal election. Dr. Robinson has been writing about mining and the economy for a decade, and is one of only a few individuals to have their own hyperlink at Stan Sudol's Republic of Mining of website.

And then there's me. I've been a strong supporter of developing Northern Ontario's Ring of Fire for quite some time – although my support has sometimes been translated by partisans as being in opposition to development. Northing could be further from the truth. Greens like me understand that development of our natural resources isn't going to magically come to a halt – and nor should it. What we ought to be doing, however, is making longer-term sustainability an intrinsic part of resource development – and industries located here in Northern Ontario which extract base metals and rare earth metals are prime for the sorts of innovations which would see the our mining sector become a leader in sustainable development and net-zero practices.

We’re in a very critical time for the Ring of Fire. Plans for development are moving forward, but they don’t appear to be based on a comprehensive analysis of baseline data. It’s unclear whether appropriate assessments are going to occur, or whether the provincial and federal governments are going to take seriously their requirements for nation-to-nation negotiations with the indigenous peoples who call this part of our province home.

This circumstance cries out for a Green voice to be on the frontlines of any discussion. Only a Green will prompt our governments to consider a complete range of impacts as part of a comprehensive assessment of the entirety of the $27 billion industrial enterprise. Climate change, impacts on threatened and endangered species, and water quality and quantity concerns must be at the heart of any physical assessment – yet none of the old-line parties are calling for anything but finding a way forward to get the resources out of the ground as quickly as possible. Increasingly, citizens are coming to the conclusion that the old ways of doing business simply aren’t working – we can’t leap before we look. We’ve got one chance to get it right in the Ring of Fire, and a Green voice in our legislature is needed to amplify that message to our elected decision-makers.

Saying No to Corporate Campaign Donations & Influence

Greens will be sure to hold the line on social and environmental issues related to development of the Ring of Fire – because Greens will be working with the interests of Ontario’s and Canada’s citizens first and foremost. We are not in the pockets of multinational corporations whose bottom lines are often more important that the health and well-being of people who live in communities affected by resource extraction.

The other old-line parties don’t understand this. Despite federal legislative changes made more than a decade ago, banning corporate and union donations to partisan political campaigns, our elected officials in their wisdom in this province have taken no such action. Money continues to speak louder than words at Queen’s Park, and New Democrats, Liberals and PC’s are all on the take.

Greens understand that in a democracy, decisions should be made by real people, without the outside influences of corporate power and money. Only people are allowed to vote in our elections – why is it then that those seeking office line their campaign pockets with donations from corporate entities? We all intuitively understand that accepting money from corporations and unions opens the door to access, abuse and corruption. Why, then, do the other parties continue to accept money from corporations?

Over the last week, we’ve had a front-row view in Sudbury regarding how backroom dealings, fuelled by promises of money and patronage, are corrupting our democracy. Greens understand that the very foundations of our democracy at all levels of government are being shaken by a level of corruption not seen before in this country. To that end, Greens will again be challenging all provincial by-election candidates to come clean with Sudburians about who is ponying up the money for their campaigns – we’ll be challenging candidates to just say no to corporate and union influence, and refuse campaign donations from anybody but a human. And should they continue to pocket corporate money, we’ll be reminding them that it’s a sorry excuse to say they’re simply “playing by the rules” when the question is really one of morality, and not just adhering to the letter of the law.

Prioritizing Local Businesses and Labour Rights

Yes, I’m certain that our Green candidate will be subject to accusations from New Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives that our stance on corporate and union donations makes us “anti-business” or “anti-labour”. It’ll be easy to hurl these accusations without a shred of evidence – it’s certainly what the old-line parties do at every opportunity they get. We’ll have to be prepared to show Sudburians that the Green agenda is one friendly to business and will help give rise to economic prosperity throughout the province – and especially here in Northern Ontario, where we understand the value of putting community ahead of enriching foreign multinationals. Sudburians understand the importance of good, well-paying local jobs, and the need to defend the rights of workers.

And we’ll need to tell those involved in the labour movement that they’ve nothing to fear from we Greens. Labour rights are human rights, and Greens understand that the bedrock of true prosperity has to include social equity and environmental sustainability. It’s unfortunate that the other parties seem to be doing what they can to move us backwards on one or both of these foundational issues, yet successive PC and Liberal governments have lowered the bar on both, creating the social and economic conditions to grow the gap between the rich and the rest of us, much to our detriment. New Democrats, too, seem to be confused about a way forward, especially with regards to environmental sustainability – a concept they like to talk about, but one which they clearly fail to grasp.

There are compelling reasons for Sudburians to give the Green Party a chance in the upcoming by-election. Sudburians know that Greens are coming from a place quite different than that of the other parties – that Greens are looking ahead towards the future to answer the hard questions of today, rather than back at the past as the old-line parties are doing. Greens understand that tomorrow isn’t going to be like today, and at a time of scarce resources, income inequality and climate change, more than ever we need to plan for tomorrow in a fiscally responsible way. Solutions which may have worked in the past are not necessarily the right ones for the future.

Saying No to the Status Quo

We’ll be making a strong case to Sudbury voters that it’s time to put away partisan differences, and vote for real change to our democratic discourse. Those who have in the past cast ballots for New Democrats, Liberals and Progressive Conservatives will be heartened to know that this time voting Green won’t be perceived as a “wasted vote”. Sending another New Democrat or Liberal to Queen’s Park isn’t going to change anything – it will only perpetuate the status quo. Electing a lone Green to Queen’s Park, however, will change the complexion of the political conversation around many issues which are important to Sudburians, including fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency, the Ring of Fire, climate change and creating a better, truly sustainable economy for all of Ontario.

We Greens have long committed to doing politics differently. It's time to show Sudbury what this really means. Watch us.

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Giving Sudbury Reasons to Vote Green in 2015

An abbreviated version of this speech (without hyperlinks) was given by me earlier tonight at the Sudbury & Nickel Belt Greens Holiday Gathering.


Thank you, Simon! It’s great to be here tonight at Sudbury and Nickel Belt Greens Holiday Gathering. Peddler’s Pub has always gone out of its way to make us feel at home – and what great service! This is a great venue for this time of year, a great place to come together in fellowship and in celebration! There’s a lot of anticipation filling the room – more so than I think I’ve ever felt at a Green Gathering. And I suspect it’s not because we’ve all finished our Christmas shopping and are just sitting back to relax waiting for the big day to arrive.

Our community has been thrust into the spotlight this week – the provincial spotlight and the national spotlight. When Sudbury MPP and my former City Councillor for Ward 1, Joe Cimino, resigned his seat in provincial parliament back in November, we were all surprised, and we knew that we’d be in store for an interesting ride. But – wow! This week has been a very interesting week in Sudbury. And an interesting week for the Green Party. So I’m glad that you’re all here this evening to share in the conversation, in the spirit of the seasons – Holiday and Election.

We are in for what is likely to be the strangest ride in Sudbury’s history, from an elections point of view. After just having come through two elections last year, the first provincial and the second municipal – where Sudburians spoke very loudly about the need for change – we’ve now got three elections on our schedule for next year – a provincial by-election to replace Joe Cimino – a federal by-election to replace Glenn Thibeault – and a federal general election in which we’ll need to do all that we can to hold Sudbury for the Green Party after winning the by-election!

To your ears, that may sound, I don’t know – odd? Unlikely? I know that as Greens we’re used to hearing from voters that they’d cast their ballots for our Party if they thought we could win – and often that has meant that we’ve been unable to convince them to give us a chance. It’s frustrating, but it’s a reality that Greens across Canada and around the world have come to accept.

But acceptance doesn’t equal complacency. Elizabeth May, for a while Canada’s only Green voice on Parliament Hill, has shown how the election of one Green can change the dynamics of political conversations inside the legislature – and outside as well. In British Columbia, Andrew Weaver has stood up to both the Liberal government of Christy Clark and the NDP opposition over matters of climate justice. And in New Brunswick, Green leader David Coon, elected just this past summer, is already driving the conversation on fracking.

Greens are showing that we are making a difference where ever we are elected. Having a Green in the legislature leads first to opposition parties paying attention to what we’re saying, followed by the media. And although communicating through the media has its flaws, I seriously don’t think anybody here this evening doubts that once your message is in front of the media, the conversation about it really heats up.

Just today, Elizabeth May announced that climate justice activist Lynne Quarmby – a Professor of Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University in B.C., will be seeking the Green Party’s nomination. You may not know Quarmby by name – but you’ve likely heard about her and her friends, family and fellow citizens who were recently arrested on Burnaby Mountain, opposing Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline. When asked why she was running for the Green Party, Quarmby reportedly said, “I didn’t choose politics; politics chose me,” and “all of the other parties are pulling punches on climate change” and that the push for more fossil infrastructure in the age of climate change is a kind of “immoral behaviour” (see: "Kinder Morgan arestee Lynne Quarmby to run for Greens in federal election", the Vancouver Observer, December 17, 2014).

We Greens know and understand this, as do many of the good citizens in our community – including those who have said that they can’t support us because we can’t win. How many Andrew Weavers have to get elected to demonstrate that Greens can make a difference? How many Lynne Quarmbys are needed to instill in voters the confidence they need to cast a ballot for the Green Party?

Well, here in Sudbury we’re going to find out in 2015. Already, we’ve had Laurentian Professor of Economics Dr. David Robinson step forward to seek our Party’s federal nomination. Dr. Robinson – like me, and like you, I suspect – is concerned about the future. Not for himself – he insists that he’s past his prime, although I’m not so certain – he’s not concerned about his own future, but that of his children and grandchildren. He sees the issue of climate change staring us in the face, and he sees all of the old line political parties failing to act. Worse, he sees each of them, including the NDP, doing what they can to exacerbate the problems of climate change by encouraging the development of fossil energy over renewables. As an economist, Dr. Robinson understands the risks climate change presents to our well-being, and he knows that a starting point in getting serious about tackling this issue and creating the right economic environment for investment must be the imposition of a job - creating carbon tax!

Voters who are concerned about our fiscal, social and environmental well-being are turning away from the old-line parties. Many, unfortunately, are giving up all together, staying away from the ballot boxes in droves. Some, however, recognize that we Greens want to do politics differently – and that we are the only party willing to address some of the most important issues of our time, like climate change. And not just address it – but offer serious solutions which make fiscal sense. We Greens know that we just can’t keep throwing good money away on projects which have limited or questionable public good. That’s the way that NDP and Liberal governments have operated for too long. Yet here in Sudbury we see both parties scrambling to be the first to bring funding to town to build more roads like Maley Drive – roads we don’t need for growth which should be focused in areas where citizens already have an abundance of transportation choices. There’s been no cost benefit analysis undertaken – they just want our hard-earned taxpayer dollars to build something tangible – something that they can be seen to have supported – despite the long term costs, and questionable benefits.

Well, this brings me back to 2015. Here in Sudbury, we Greens are going to have the unique opportunity to make a case to voters that their votes won’t be wasted – that it’s finally time to vote their conscience and support the Green Party. We’re going to have our work cut out for us, though, but frankly there has never been a better time. With New Democrats and Liberals giving voters lots of reasons not to vote for them, the time is ours if we seize it. The time is right in Sudbury for the Green Party to make history in Ontario – voters can send our province’s first-ever Green MPP to Queens Park. Taking this action will change everything. It will allow Greens to hold Kathleen Wynne’s government accountable on issues like climate change, carbon pricing, protecting endangered species, and getting it right in the Ring of Fire. And it would mean that our Leader, Mike Schreiner, will finally be able to participate in the televised Leader’s debates in the next general election campaign.

The benefits of electing a Green MPP are pretty clear to me, and likely to you too. Heck, we’re in the choir. What’s going to be our chief challenge moving forward is making a case to Sudburians that this is the time to vote Green. As far as evidence-based arguments go, well, I think we’ve got this one wrapped up. But we all know that as humans we don’t always base our decisions on the best available evidence. The case we have to make to Sudburians will have to be made across a wide spectrum – one based on our shared values, hopes and aspirations for our community and for our province.

Some of those values – transparency and accountability – have certainly taken a hit in our community this week, with the announcement on Monday that a former Liberal candidate was told to ask for a job if he quietly stepped back from seeking his party’s nomination. And then we witnessed our NDP MP announce that he would be appointed to run for the Liberals – triggering a federal by-election. These behind-the-scenes machinations which affect all of our lives in this community – have gone on for too long.

Recently, the entire Liberal Cabinet came to town on the taxpayer’s dime – ostensibly to conduct their business in the field – but the day was topped off by an evening at the Caruso Club where diners had to pay $1,700 for chicken and pasta. I know that the Caruso serves up some excellent chicken and pasta, but I think the elites who forked out that kind of cash at Gerry Lougheed’s prompting were paying for something else – access to government. Access to a government that travelled north under the guise of doing business, but really to collect money from well-heeled and corporate sponsors.

The very fact that this Liberal government has failed to close the loophole which allows corporations and unions to influence our democracy speaks volumes about what their priorities are. Corporations aren’t people – they are not allowed to vote. Yet they are given opportunities to buy influence. We’ve seen how the Liberals have benefitted from corporate donations.

And yesterday’s Sudbury Star reports that the United Steelworkers are going to do what they can to elect a New Democrat. If USW is thinking about asking its members to go knocking on doors in support of the NDP, that’s one thing – I don’t think anyone would have a problem with that. But for too long we’ve seen unions pour their member’s dues into political parties, often without consultation. It’s a practice that has to stop – and we Greens are the only party talking about ending corporate and union donations to political candidates.

Let me say one last thing about the labour movement. Labour has nothing to fear in the Green Party. We Greens understand that labour rights are human rights. We have long expressed our solidarity with the labour movement. Our desires and aspirations have significant overlap with those of Labour. Many of us belong to unions and some of us have been active in the labour movement. Greens understand that climate justice and social justice go hand and hand, and that a strong Canada includes strong labour rights. Those who support the labour movement will find no reason not to cast their ballot for a Green.

(for more information the Green Party and Organized Labour, see Section 1.8 of Vision Green)

The fact is, we’ve got a very positive message to share with Sudbury. And that, unfortunately, might be to our detriment, as the focus of most election campaigns has been on negativity and partisan game-playing. Getting our message out in such a hostile media environment is going to be a challenge. Earning the media’s coverage has never been something our Party has excelled at – although here in Sudbury I think we do better than almost anywhere else in Canada, when we put our efforts into it. But relying on earned media only goes so far. The other parties win campaigns not because they have the policies – clearly, the don’t. They don’t win because they have the most internally consistent platforms. They win because they can find good people to do and say what their parties tell them to do and say in order to get elected. And they win because they can get their messages out through advertising.

If we Greens are to seize this opportunity to make a compelling case to citizens in our community – to bring Sudburians together and give them a reason to vote Green this time – to give them the confidence that their votes will not be wasted, because the Green Party really does have a very good chance of winning – if we are going to make this case to our friends, our families, and our co-workers, we’re going to have to do it together. You – every one of you in this room this evening – are going to have an important role to play in the success of our Party in 2015.

If you can help with the campaigns, that’s fantastic. We’re going to need people to make phone calls and knock on doors – and we’re going to make participating this way as fun as possible! With 3 elections coming up to contest – oh boy – we’d better put the emphasis on fun!

But campaigning isn’t for everybody, I understand that. Talking up the party, though, around the tap water jug at the office, at gatherings, and on social media – maybe there’s something you can do to help us out there.

And finally, of course no appeal for help from any political party can avoid that which we least like to talk about – and that which is so important to the success of local elections – money. Look, I’ll be blunt – I hate asking for money. I hate being asked for money. But your monetary donations are important – they are more important now than ever, with three elections on the horizon, and a real need to give the community compelling reasons to vote Green.

So, in the spirit of giving, if you can, please do – and if you can and do before the end of the year, you can get a tax receipt to apply to your taxes in a few months. We just ask that you write a cheque to the Sudbury Green Party Constituency Association, so that your money stays here and helps us elect Ontario’s first Green MPP.

We’re also going to pass around the hat tonight – not sure whose hat this is, but all of the money in it is going to go to the Sudbury CA – which means that you can give up to $25 in cash. If you’d like a receipt for your donation, please let the hat go by and see Pat Rogerson, the Sudbury CA’s Financial Agent, before the night is through.

(Here's just a little FYI to my readers: if you are eligible to vote in the Province of Ontario, and would like to give to the Sudbury CA in support of the upcoming by-election, please make out your cheques to "Sudbury Green Party of Ontario Constituency Association" and send them to the Sudbury Green Party CA, 107 Riverside Drive, Sudbury ON, P3E 1G7)

Greens, we really are on the verge of making history here in Sudbury. Even a really good show in the by-election will be enough to get tongues wagging in the same way that they were in Calgary Centre in 2012 when Chris Turner had his spectacular run. This by-election will allow us to build our support base, and get better organized for the federal election. It’ll also help voters in Sudbury get into the habit of voting Green. We’ll bring people and community organizations together so that they can proudly proclaim their support for the Green Party and fearlessly cast their ballots for our candidates.

2015 is going to be an exciting year for us. Thank you for coming out this evening, and thank you very much for your help with 2015.

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ending Fossil Fuel Subsidies will Help our Shift to Renewables

Climate negotiations have just wrapped up in Lima, Peru, with some successes being made towards the creation of a new international. The European Union has pledged to reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030, and the United States and China, the world’s two largest emitters, recently announced an important bilateral agreement to reduce emissions.

In preparation for the new treaty, anticipated to be signed in Paris next year, all nations will publicly commit to strategies and targets to reduce emissions in early 2015. One of the goals of the Paris treaty will be to hold warming at 2 degrees Celsius – a point at which the best available science suggests we dare not pass for fear of triggering feedback loops and catastrophic warming. An international agreement to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius was perhaps the only success achieved at the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009.

Some developed nations should be able to meet their emissions reduction commitments with little challenge, as they're already making the switch away from high-carbon fossil energy sources. Renewable energy has been the go-to choice for Denmark and Germany, and renewables are positioned to make headway in India and China. Today, renewable energy is the world's fastest growing industrial sector.

In Canada, however, it's long been our national policy to subsidise fossil fuel production, in preference to renewable energy. Although some of the richest multinational corporations in the world are profiting from extracting our fossil resources, our federal and provincial governments continue to subsidize them with taxpayer's money to the tune of about $34 billion per year, according to the International Monetary Fund (see: "IMF Pegs Canada's Fossil Fuel Subsidies at $34 Billion", the Tyee, May 15, 2014). At the G20 summit in Pittsburgh in 2009, Canada promised to end fossil fuel subsidies, but we’ve taken no action to fulfill our international commitment.

Massive subsidies to fossil fuels distort market conditions in Canada for investment in renewable energy. Despite these governmental interventions in the marketplace, the renewable energy sector in Canada has put down firm roots. According to a recent report from Clean Energy Canada, about $25 billion has been invested in renewables over the past 5 years, driving employment in the renewable sector up by 37%. Now, more people are employed in the renewable energy sector than in the Alberta tar sands (see: "Green energy sector jobs surpass total oil sands employment", the Globe and Mail, December 2, 2014). All of this has been accomplished with only minor subsidies – the biggest through the government of Ontario's feed-in-tariff program, which has allowed our province to become a job-creating green energy leader.

Fossil fueled industries continues to pollute our atmosphere with climate changing greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, without any real consequences to corporate profits. Instead, the real costs of a changing climate, in terms of environmental, health and adaptation related impacts, are borne by taxpayers. A recent report by the United Nations estimates that the costs of adapting to a world warmer by 2 degrees Celsius could end up costing between $250 and $500 billion annually (see: "Adapting to a warmer climate could cost almost three times as much as thought, UN report says", The Guardian, December 5, 2014). And we're currently on target to experience between 4 and 6 degrees of warming by the end of the Century.

Every dollar invested in new fossil infrastructure will lock us into a high-carbon future that finds Canada swimming against the current of history. To get serious about reducing our emissions, Canada has some options - but all will require reversing our national policy of promoting fossil energy over renewables. A good start would be putting a price on carbon, and helping to end market distortions by shifting the costs of pollution away from taxpayers and onto polluters. A price on carbon will help create the well-paying clean technology jobs needed to transform Canada into a renewable energy superpower.

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

Originally published as "Subsidies delaying shift to renewables", the Sudbury Star, Saturday, December 13, 2014 (print and online), without hyperlinks.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Ontario Liberals “Blowing Smoke” on Climate Change


With the re-election of Premier Kathleen Wynne, and a new majority for the Ontario Liberal Party, I actually had a smidgen of hope that Ontario might finally start to get serious about climate change. The extra attention afforded to this important issue by the renamed Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, under the direction of the very capable Minister Glen Murray, gave me some optimism that Ontario might finally start to move again in the direction of taking the climate crisis seriously. Mandate letters issued to various provincial ministers – made public by Wynne’s government for the first time ever – were riddled with references to climate change. There was cause for optimism.

But, when faced with the first serious test of credibility – when asked to “walk the talk” - it was Premier Kathleen Wynne herself who hastily retreated on action related to climate change.

After meeting with Quebec’s Premier Phillipe Couillard, the two Liberal Premiers of Canada’s largest provinces issued a statement setting out conditions for the development of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline – a $12 billion pipeline which will flow diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to a new port facility in Quebec, with some continuing on to New Brunswick. One of the conditions Wynne and Couillard required of TransCanada assess whether developing the pipeline would raise greenhouse gas emissions – something that the pipeline regulator, the National Energy Board, insists is beyond the purview of its mandate (see: “Premiers Wynne and Couillard set seven criteria for Energy East”, the Globe and Mail, November 21, 2014).

Initially, environmentalists and those concerned about climate change cheered. Finally, it looked like Canada’s two largest provinces were going to back a position outlined by U.S. President Barack Obama regarding the Keystone XL pipeline – that upstream impacts needed to be considered as part of any pipeline development proposal. And realistically, that position only makes sense.

Pipelines Only Needed for Expanding the Tar Sands

The only reason why there is a rush on now to develop Energy East, Keystone, Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain is to facilitate the planned expansion of the Alberta tar sands. These pipelines aren’t needed if production were to remain relatively stable over time, but the plan is to see a more than doubling of production - from about 2 billion barrels per day in 2014 to 5.2 billion barrels per day by 2030 (see: “Oilsands: Facts and Statistics”, Alberta Energy).

Of course, the plan to more than double production just isn’t going to work out unless an economical way of moving the bitumen to markets is found. Some pundits believe that the bitumen will flow to market with or without any new pipeline capacity, utilizing rail or trucks if it has to. Frankly, that sort of assessment is just absurd, as it completely defies economic believability. The profit margins for bitumen, in comparison to other forms of oil, are quite narrow, due to significantly higher production costs. With Canada’s rail system already experiencing strain just trying to keep up with production here and from the U.S. Baaken, it’s just inconceivable that Alberta bitumen will flow without one or more of these pipelines.

And that’s not just my opinion. It’s one shared by Canada’s former Natural Resources Minister (and current Finance Minister) Joe Oliver. It was routine to hear Oliver talk about the need for the Keystone XL pipeline on his junkets to the United States, where he spoke to congressional leaders and the business community. Oliver insisted that while rail could take up some of the transportation of increased capacity, pipelines were absolutely essential if tar sands production were to increase (see: “Joe Oliver on Keystone: Pipeline Expansion Still Needed Despite Price Gap Narrowing, Oliver Says”, the Huffington Post, March 18, 2013).

In light of this reality, it becomes evidently clear that the development of new pipeline capacity is essential to realize the planned for increase in output of the tar sands. You just can’t expand the tar sands without new pipelines, period.

And if you expand the tar sands, guess what happens to greenhouse gas emissions?

That’s been the point of all serious commentators on this topic – that it is an effort of willful ignorance to pretend that the development of a new pipeline won’t contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. So, when Wynne and Couillard made it a condition for TransCanada to demonstrate how they’d get around this bind with regards to Energy East, really they were establishing a condition which would have been almost impossible for TransCanada to fulfill. Nevertheless, demonstrating how the new pipeline wouldn’t increase emissions would have to be a part of the assessment to obtain a social license for development from Ontario and Quebec.

Enter Jim Prentice

Almost immediately, new Alberta Premier Jim Prentice flew into the picture, conducting whirlwind meetings with Couillard and Wynne – changing their minds on their stated position (or maybe just pointing out where the logical conclusion of holding that position would take them – to saying “no” to the pipeline – although how Wynne and Couillard couldn’t have known this in advance of listing their 7 conditions just baffles me – either Wynne was trying to fool Ontarians about climate action, or she just didn’t understand the implications of her own position).

Quickly, Kathleen Wynne pulled a complete u-turn on the climate condition for Energy East (see: “Wynne drops main climate change requirement in considering Energy East pipeline”, the Globe and Mail, December 3, 2014). Rather than assessing greenhouse gas emissions from the project, now all that Ontario wanted to do was to have TransCanada consider the tiny amount of emissions associated with the construction and laying of the pipe itself. And that’s like deciding to assess what traffic impacts of a new 8-lane elevated super-highway will have on the local roads system by only looking at the girders and columns, on-ramps and off-ramps – and pretending that there won’t be any vehicles which ever use it.

Needless to say, environmentalists and others concerned about climate change were appalled by this complete and utter flip-flop from Kathleen Wynne. Worse yet, Wynne insisted that this reversal wasn’t a change in Ontario’s position, despite it so clearly being the case (why did Wynne think that Prentice jumped on the plane the next week to have an emergency meeting with her? Was it because Prentice didn’t think she was talking about upstream impacts? Seriously?).

This flip-flop has been a super-fail for Ontario – and by extension, for all of Canada. Rather than using this opportunity to demonstrate real leadership on climate change, Wynne and the Liberals decided to step back into the comfort of “business as usual” – while simultaneously trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the public by pretending that they’ve been taking the issue seriously. It’s shocking and appalling, and Ontarians are right to be upset about yet another Liberal sell-out.

Ontario Liberals - No Coherent Plan for Climate Action

Look, I still have some hope that Ontario’s Liberal government might take some positive actions for our global climate. I have to acknowledge that under former Premier Dalton McGuinty, Ontario has demonstrated that it was willing to be a Canadian leader, if a modest one, on climate change. Ontario shut down all of its coal-fired generating stations (although it took about twice as long to do so as originally forecast), and developed the Green Energy and Economy Act, which has kick-started renewable energy projects here, making our province a North American leader (although the Act itself could have been implemented so much better, by preferencing local energy co-operatives over large scale multinational developers who haven’t taken the time to obtain their own social licenses from Ontarians pre-development in far too many cases).

But steps forward by the Ontario Liberals have been compounded by numerous steps backward. This week, Ontarians learned from our Auditor-General that the smart meter installation program went over budget by a considerable amount – costing Ontarians almost $2 billion for a system which still isn’t working at 100% capacity as about one sixth of all installed meters aren’t transmitting data. Worse yet, due to the Liberals energy pricing policies around time of use billing, Ontarians haven’t realized any energy savings from having a smart meter program in place. For the climate, that means that the expensive installation of smart meters hasn’t done anything to reduce emissions from our electrical generating capacity (and although Ontario’s electricity system is one of the greenest in North America, about one quarter of electrical production is from fossil fuels, primarily natural gas).

But the Liberals seem content to brush the Auditor-General’s criticism off as “blowing smoke” - unbelievably complaining that her numbers are wrong, and that she doesn’t understand how electricity systems work (despite the A-G having worked for 10 years at Manitoba Hydro before taking her current position - see: “Bob Chiarelli accused of ‘sexist’ shots at Bonnie Lysyk after auditor’s report”, the Toronto Star, December 10, 2014)). This new sort of arrogance is surprising, and if this is what we can expect of Kathleen Wynne’s government on a go-forward basis, it doesn’t speak well of the Liberals ability to listen to voices which may make them uncomfortable – including the voices of the people who put them into power in the first place.

Betting on Discredited Cap & Trade

Back in 2003, Dalton McGuinty was talking about putting a price on carbon through a Cap & Trade scheme. Ontario eventually joined the Western Climate Initiative, along with California, Oregon and Washington State, but there’s never been much of an effort to actually cap carbon emissions. Interestingly, it may be that’s about to change now, with Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray making some noises about carbon pricing.

But with the disaster of the European emissions trading scheme and the complete collapse of the Chicago market, cap & trade has become a pretty discredited way of pricing carbon. Just when economists and industry leaders are calling for the imposition of a carbon tax, it looks like Ontario is about to embark on setting up an extremely costly trading scheme which will lead to questionable outcomes in terms of reducing emissions. Frankly, this could be another complete disaster for Ontarians – and for the climate. A straight tax on carbon is a proven winner in terms of reducing emissions and creating cleantech jobs, yet for some reason the Liberals are reluctant to go there.

Ontario Progressive Conservative - No Credibility on Climate, Energy, Economy

What Wynne’s Liberals need now at Queen’s Park is someone who is going to both hold them accountable for their actions and decisions, and push them forward on climate change and renewable energy. But at the moment, there isn’t anyone who appears positioned to do so. The Official Opposition, led by the leaderless Progressive Conservatives, have demonstrated time and again that they’d pull the plug on Ontario’s participation in the fastest growing industrial sector in the world – the renewable energy sector. Why Conservatives want to plunge Ontario back into the dark ages and stifle innovation, prosperity and job creation is lost on me (well, not entirely – fact is, the Liberals bungling of the Green Energy Act has led to significant push-back of solar and wind power projects in particular – push back that the Conservatives are keen to capitalize on for grabbing votes in rural areas, despite such push back going against the long-term economic interests of the Province. But Conservative parties seem to be far more interested in obtaining power and enriching their elite backers than in promoting general economic health for all citizens).

New Democrats - Acting Against the Interests of the Climate, Public

So that leaves Andrea Horwarth’s NDP as the only other party at Queen’s Park that might be able to hold Wynne to account right now. However, the NDP in Ontario, similar to Tom Mulcair’s federal New Democratic Party, has become the anti-climate party – or more precisely, they’ve never ever bought into taking climate change seriously in the first place, and despite talking the talk, they’ve really started to show their true feelings about it.

Horwarth’s NDP has consistently campaigned on making it easier to waste fossil fuel energy, through capping its price at the gas pump, and by having taxpayers subsidize the generation of electricity for business and residential users. Out of a misguided notion of what it means to champion “hard working Ontarians”, the NDP seems to believe that creating more carbon pollution will somehow boost the economy – rather than risking its collapse. Federally, Tom Mulcair has publicly supported the expansion of the tar sands enterprise by embracing the Energy East pipeline. In British Columbia, New Democrats who campaigned against putting a price on carbon have just recently voted to create a taxpayer subsidized liquefied natural gas industry, from which carbon and methane pollution have yet to be assessed. In Manitoba and Nova Scotia, recent and current NDP governments have done little to nothing to take meaningful action on climate change – certainly, no NDP government has ever put a price on carbon, despite having the opportunity to walk the talk.

An Opportunity for a Real Green Champion at Queen's Park

What Ontario needs right now is a real champion of climate change at Queen’s Park, not the on-again/off-again but-always-bungled “leadership” from the Liberals. A Green voice at Queen’s Park would go a long way in holding Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government accountable on climate change and renewable energy. Even a lone Green voice – as Elizabeth May has shown Canadians on the federal scene – can drive the political conversation both inside and outside the legislature.

With an unexpected by-election coming up in Sudbury in 2015, there will be an opportunity for Sudburians to make history and send a Green to Queen’s Park and change the tenor of the conversation around climate change and renewable energy (amongst other issues). Sending another New Democrat or Liberal back to Toronto isn’t going to lead to anything more than business as usual – but sending a Green will change everything.

In 2015, Sudbury will have the unique opportunity to make provincial history – and make national headlines – by electing Ontario’s first Green Member of Provincial Parliament. It is certainly my hope that Sudburians see the need to send a Green to Toronto for the benefit of our collective prosperity; issues like climate change, which the old-line parties either don’t get or refuse to wrap their heads around.

Greens across Canada know that having a Green elected to the largest provincial legislature will go far in helping shape the conversation and debate around a number issues the Green Party champions, including climate change. Anyone familiar with the Rob Ford saga knows very well that the concentration of media in Toronto presents a unique opportunity for an elected Green MPP to play a part in what is fast becoming a national conversation about the need for taking real action on climate change. With Greens now in the federal legislature, and in provincial parliaments in B.C. and New Brunswick, it’s clear that Greens can win in a first-past-the-post electoral environment – and can add a degree of post-partisan decorum to our rapidly degenerating democratic institutions.

We’ve got the chance here in Sudbury – let’s seize it.

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

Interesting Times for the Green Party in Sudbury

Luckily, it doesn’t happen very often – but when it happens, you can actually feel everything start to slip sideways.  It’s not unusual for me to work on a blogpost over a period of days – or even weeks and months.  It had been my intention to polish this post and publish it on Thursday evening, the 20th of November.  However, events from earlier in the day – specifically, Sudbury NDP MPP Joe Cimino’s resignation from our provincial parliament – left me doing a bit of a rethink. 

Cimino cited no specific reasons for stepping down, although the media has reported that it appears his family life was being squeezed by the demands of his new job (Cimino came to represent the Sudbury riding in the June, 2014 election).   While the words “personal health” have been used by Cimino, the context remains somewhat unclear.  Cimino, though, has asked the public to respect his privacy and that of his family’s at this time (see: “Cimino quitsas Sudbury MPP, citing personal reasons”, the Sudbury Star, November 20, 2014).

Anyway, yesterday just didn’t feel like an appropriate day to publish a blog about how the Green Party in Sudbury now has the time to gear up towards the federal election.  Yesterday wasn’t a day for partisan politicking.  But yesterday has come and gone – and if anything, with yesterday’s unexpected news taking us all in Sudbury just a little sideways, it’s no longer  a time to remain silent.  While some of what I’ve written here clearly requires modification in light of the new reality, I’ve thought it best to leave the post generally as is (save for the addition of this introduction), with the hopes that my readers won’t hold me to anything I’ve written – specifically about planning and timing.

After this post, let the by-election begin.

May You Live in Interesting Times

It’s been an interesting month for me and my Party locally.  With municipal elections in Ontario having wound down, there’s been an exclusive focus on gearing up for the next federal election – tentatively scheduled for October, 2015.  And exciting things are starting to happen!

Dr. David Robinson

Last week, Laurentian University Professor of Economics, Dr. David Robinson, publicly confirmed that he was going to seek the Green Party of Canada’s nomination in the Sudbury riding (see: “Professor seeks Green Partynomination“, the Sudbury Star, November 14, 2014).  Speaking to the Northern Life earlier this week, Dr. Robinson shed some light on why he, a lifelong New Democrat, has made the move to the Green Party.  It’s not surprising to me that Dr. Robinson’s primary motivation has to do with climate change – and significant concerns that Thomas Mulcair and the New Democrats simply don’t have their act together on how to tackle the climate crisis (see: “David Robinson seeks Green Party nomination”, the Northern Life, November 17, 2014).

I’ve known for a while that Dr. Robinson was considering taking this step – I’m glad to see that he’s made up his mind, and very glad to see that he’ll be seeking the nomination.  Earlier this summer, David was instrumental in helping grassroots members of the Party develop a comprehensive policy for the Ring of Fire.  Ultimately, this policy was proposed to the Party’s membership at our General Meeting in Fredericton, New Brunswick this past August, where it received overwhelming approval (see: “Development of theRing of Fire”, motion presented to Green Party membership).  Dr. Robinson is currently the Green Party’s shadow cabinet critic for the Natural Resources portfolio.

Developing the Ring of Fire

By adopting this comprehensive and progressive policy for the sustainable development of mining, energy, social and educational infrastructure in Northern Ontario, the Green Party has really demonstrated that it understands regional development centred on an extractive resource-based economy.  Unfortunately, at this time, few have been paying attention to our Party’s call for a dynamic approach to development.  That may begin to change, as Green MP Bruce Hyer stands for re-election in the riding of Thunder Bay – Superior North.  I’m pretty sure that Hyer will be engaging with voters on these issues.

The NDP is certainly trying to up its game on the Ring of Fire, in a bid to catch up to where the Green Party is at.  Recently, Tom Mulcair appointed former Ontario provincial NDP leader and prominent Northerner Howard Hampton to be a special liaison to his Party on the Ring (see: “Howard Hampton to advisefederal NDP on Ontario’s Ring of Fire”, November 5, 2014).  While Hampton’s duties aren’t defined, what is clear is that the NDP is eyeing Hyer’s riding, and considers all of Northern Ontario as being in play for them in the next election.

Unfortunately, from a policy perspective, the NDP seems just as wedded to a “rip and ship” mentality as the Liberals and Conservatives are.  Being immersed in this topic, I can’t help but focus on the words which New Democrats use to describe development in the Ring – their focus on “growth” and their desire to “speed things up”.  It’s all code for ignoring the fundamental realities of sustainable development in the 21st Century.  The NDP seem content to develop the Ring as they would any other 19th or 20th Century mining camp – meaning without true regard to sustainability, the natural environment or to the indigenous peoples whose communities will be most impacted by development.  While I’m encouraged to hear New Democrats (and others) talk about creating a value-added stainless steel industry in the region, I’m hearing nothing from the NDP about alternative energy and climate change.

In fact, what I’ve been hearing out of the NDP with regards to other initiatives has me supremely worried about the NDP’s real commitment to the Ring of Fire.  Actually, I’ll give the NDP the benefit of the doubt here – I know that Northern New Democrats are committed to developing the Ring of Fire, but as with many things, I don’t believe that most New Democrats have quite worked out the dynamics of their own party’s contradictory policy proposals.  In short, when it comes to the Ring of Fire, like so many things with the NDP, it’s one step forward, one step backwards.

So let me back up and explain. 

Flaws with NDP Cap & Trade Scheme

What Dr. David Robinson identified as being a concern for him with Tom Mulcair and the NDP is that party’s decision to continue to call for a cap and trade scheme as part of their platform to address climate change.  There are many huge concerns with cap and trade – from the development of the infrastructure to make it work, to the price of carbon credits, the use of offsets (or not), all the way to figuring out whether emissions have actually been reduced.  The European market has been a pretty big failure, and the Chicago market collapsed altogether a few years back.  In short, cap and trade is an overly cumbersome and expensive mechanism to reduce emissions – one that disadvantages small businesses and favours rich multinational corporations. 

The NDP likes cap and trade, however, for two reasons.   First, it hides costs.   A cap and trade scheme allows the NDP to pretend to voters that only “polluters” will pay, meaning those large emitters participating in the trading market.  And sure, that’s true – to an extent.  But ultimately the costs are going to be passed on to consumers.  The NDP, however, doesn’t want you to think about that.  In its world of game-playing and spin, the NDP wants voters to believe that we can reduce emissions at no costs to average working families.  And that’s just bunk.

NDP’s Ideologically Motivated Disdain to Carbon Taxes

The second reason that the NDP likes cap and trade is because it’s not a carbon tax.  The NDP really doesn’t like the idea of taxing carbon, and as near as I’ve been able to determine, their dislike of a carbon tax can be traced back to the NDP’s fundamental misunderstanding of economics – an area which has never been a strong suit for the New Democrats.  The NDP continues to believe that a carbon tax is a regressive tax (maybe it’s just the word “regressive” that the NDP doesn’t like) because it’s a tax on consumption.  Regressive taxes typically end up hurting those who are less well off more than they do those with higher incomes, because those with lower incomes tend to spend more and save less – they tend to consume more as a percentage of their income than the rich do.  For example, the price of bread is the same for both the rich and the poor, but buying that loaf of bread will use up more of poorer person’s income than it will a rich person’s.

However, a tax on carbon pollution isn’t exactly a typical consumption tax, as it would apply only to some consumables (actually, it would likely have an impact on many consumables, including that loaf of bread.  But many isn’t all).  If citizens decide to choose goods and services with lower carbon intensities, they’ll be paying less in terms of a tax on carbon pollution.  The fundamental difference between a carbon tax and other forms of consumption taxes (like sales taxes) is that it wouldn’t be universal.  If you want to avoid the tax, simply choose different goods and services.  In that respect, a carbon tax is actually more like a sin tax – a tax on cigarettes, for example.

However, it’s true that the range of goods and services which a carbon tax would impact is likely to be extensive, and right now, consumers may not have that many options to choose lower-intensity goods and services.  Energy is often cited as an example where substitutions simply can’t be made.  But the reality isn’t actually as black and white.  Even with energy products like gasoline and heating, there are options.  Drive less.  Take the bus.  Turn down the thermostat.  Down the road, energy bills will be driven down by cheaper renewable energy coming online in a distributed form.

The other part of the equation that the NDP typically doesn’t want to talk about with regards to a carbon tax is that every political party which has proposed a carbon tax has always done so within the confines of “revenue neutrality” – meaning that there is some mechanism also which is to be put in place to help offset the rising costs of carbon in our goods and services.  In British Columbia, the province lowered personal income taxes, putting more money back into people’s pockets, while making up lost government revenues through the carbon tax.  Stephane Dion’s Liberals proposed to do the same thing in 2008.  The Green Party proposes to pool collected revenues and return funds to Canadians in the form of a dividend cheque – a position advocated by Canada’s Citizens Climate Lobby, which estimates that two thirds of Canadian households will either break even or benefit from (see: “Here’s a tax most of us will like”, Dave Carson, the Hamilton Spectator, November 19, 2014).

But if income taxes are lowered and dividend cheques are being cut, the NDP would have to acknowledge that we individual Canadians are actually the “polluters” – and that can be a very dangerous place for the NDP to go, ideologically speaking.  The notion that hard-working every day Canadians are actually polluters is a difficult pill for New Democrats to swallow, because, after all, isn’t our economy being driven forward by this group of people?  In their play for middle class voters, the NDP (like the Liberals and the Conservatives) wants voters to believe that voters aren’t the problem when it comes to climate change.  It’s someone else’s responsibility to solve – not the responsibility of hard-working Canadians.  Because if it were actually our responsibility, we might have to consider making some changes to the way we go about living our lives – such as re-evaluating how we get around, and where we work, and our use of energy.

In short, we might have to think about whether maintaining our consumer lifestyle is in keeping with the notion of combating climate change.

Pro-Consumer Policies Over Issues of Social Justice

The NDP wants voters to believe that building pipelines to allow the Alberta tar sands to expand makes sense, so the NDP champions the Energy East bitumen pipeline because it will create well-paying Canadian jobs.

The NDP wants to make it easier for hard-working Canadians to drive their cars – so they propose building more highways, and capping the price of gasoline.  Here in Sudbury, our MP, Glenn Thibeault, has been leading the charge to have gasoline prices lowered for consumers.  In the past, the NDP has been behind similar initiatives to keep electricity rates low so that consumers have an additional incentive to continue consuming, rather than receiving incentives to conserve energy.

Of course, capping and lowering energy prices means we’re not actually paying the full price for our energy use, so we’ve got to subsidize prices.  In this scenario, consumers might not pay - but the public does, through tax subsidies.  Some might suggest that since consumers and taxpayers share the same pockets, the money is taken out of those pockets anyway, so it’s really just a wash – but the reality is that since the rich consume more energy than the middle class or the poor, it’s the middle class and the poor who end up disproportionately subsidizing the rich for their profligate energy consumption – and if that appears to be anathema to the NDP’s desire to be social justice champions, well, it is.

NDP’s Energy Policies: Not Progressive

There is nothing progressive about the NDP’s energy policies, despite voters beliefs that saving a few bucks at the pumps will ultimately make them better off.  In the long run, making it easier for people to use fossil energy means that we won’t get a handle on climate change – and the costs associated with doing so in the future are only going to be higher than if we acted now – to the tune of between 5% and 20% of global GDP as estimated by the Stern Review (2006).  In short, the NDP’s policies are prone to leave the middle class and the poor worse off than we are now.

Again – economics: not the NDP’s strong suit.

But apparently neither are long-term issues of social justice.  Policies which favour rich consumers over the least well off can hardly be described as “progressive”.

Energy East – the NDP’s Pipeline

If economics were one of the NDP’s strengths, it would be fair to say that Tom Mulcair and the NDP would not be championing TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline – a pipeline that only needs to be built if production in the Alberta tar sands is going to increase.  Make no mistake – the Province of Alberta and the oil companies, the media and almost everybody else presume that tar sands production is going to increase; the current Government of Canada believes that production will more than double over the next decade.  Never mind that former NASA scientist Dr. James Hanson referred to this development assumption as “game over for the planet” – the NDP, the Liberals and the Conservatives are all embracing tar sands expansion.

At least the Conservatives and Liberals are being upfront about this.  The NDP, however, continues to want to deceive voters.  They want voters to think that they’re against pipelines – even though they favour the biggest and baddest pipeline proposals on the table, Energy East and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain (having reversed their past opposition to that B.C. pipeline).  When this kind of hypocrisy has been pointed out to the NDP, their response has been typical: we’ll deal with carbon pollution through cap and trade.

Calls from groups like 350.org and the Council of Canadians for the NDP to rethink their position on Energy East have been greeted with silence.  Even simple requests made to the NDP to call on the National Energy Board to include climate change in their review of pipelines have been met with silence and spin.  “Full environmental review” – that seems to be the term the NDP has trotted out when confronted by such calls, but it’s not at all clear whether the NDP considers the inclusion of climate change impacts as part of its “full environmental review”.  Requests for clarification continue to be rebuffed.

The NDP’s Climate Change House of Cards

And who can blame the NDP?  If they really were to call for a climate change impacts to be considered for pipeline development, their whole climate change and energy policy house-of-cards would quickly fall down.  Clearly, new pipeline proposals which facilitate tar sands expansion will have unfavourable climate change impacts.  By acknowledging this reality, the NDP would then either have to reverse itself on its support of Energy East and Trans Mountain – or it would have to acknowledge that it, like the Liberals and the Conservatives, really isn’t serious about climate change.  Their progressive fa├žade would cave-in.

So the NDP would rather not be honest with voters about where they stand on pipelines and the tar sands.  That’s bad enough.  But when you throw into this equation the NDP’s terrible cap and trade scheme as the mechanism that it would rely on to reduce Canadian carbon emissions while simultaneously allowing the tar sands to expand, what you’ve got is an economic disaster waiting to happen – and it’s going to happen here in Ontario.

NDP’s Cap and Trade Disaster

You see, if the NDP does bring in an emissions trading scheme to cap industrial emissions, at first blush that might seem to suggest that tar sands production might also be capped.  Theoretically, it could work out that way – but realistically, it has about zero chance of doing so.  By making a commitment to pipelines and tar sands expansion – a commitment which locks Canada in to a fossil fuel future controlled by some of the world’s richest energy companies, it’s going to be very hard for other industries to compete for credits, no matter the price.  Super-rich oil companies will snap up the credits – much to the detriment of other industrial sectors, especially those which use a great deal of energy.  Here in Northern Ontario, that would be the mining sector.

Although a lot is happening to reduce the mining sector’s reliance on fossil fuels, as with just about every other sector of the economy, not a lot is happening fast.  That’s one of the reasons that we in the Green Party developed our policy on the Ring of Fire – we wanted to ensure that things roll out right the first time with regards to energy, rather than having to go back and do expensive retrofitting.  A net-zero approach to energy, therefore, has to be a starting point.  And while that only makes sense, the reality is that it’s not likely to happen (or even be on anybody’s radar) unless the Green Party forms government.  Certainly the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP with their collective “rip and ship” attitudes towards the Ring of Fire are not going to be championing a net-zero approach.

But if the NDP introduces a cap and trade system, it’s the unsuspecting mining sector which is likely to find itself at a disadvantage.  Someone is going to have to toe the line on emissions, and it’s not going to be tar sands producers, who will see that doubling of their production over the next decade (after all, they’re going to have fill those pipelines with something).

Look, I’m all for measures which will reduce carbon emissions – that’s why I’ve not been as critical of the NDP’s cap and trade scheme as others have.  I think that under the right circumstances, a cap and trade scheme really could work to reduce emissions.  Unfortunately, by embracing pipelines and the expansion of the tar sands, the NDP (and the Liberals and Conservatives) would not be creating those “right circumstances”.  In fact, it would be a disaster to implement cap and trade while simultaneously encouraging tar sands expansion – as Tom Mulcair would have Canada do should he become Prime Minister.

Only the Green Party has a Consistent Approach to Climate Change

The same would not be true of a carbon tax, as a carbon tax would hit all producers -  big, medium sized and small - the same.  Big rich multinationals would be no more or less disadvantaged by a carbon tax as other competitors.  The oil and mining industry would both be affected, but by a uniform price – and hopefully forced to innovate as a result.  A carbon tax would not seek to create favorites – or economic winners and losers amongst polluters – in the same way that an emissions trading scheme would.  A carbon tax alone would not necessarily slow down production in the tar sands, but it would help level the playing field for renewable energy producers who aren’t treating our atmosphere like an open sewer.

So, you can see that the NDP really doesn’t have its act together on climate change – and by not having its act together on climate change, it’s getting too many other things wrong, as well, including its stance on social justice issues, and Northern Ontario’s economy.  This is obvious to me, and I’m not a social justice advocate or an economist.  I’m just some guy with a blog who has read a thing or two about energy politics, and who has come to understand the economics of mining.  Sure, I’ve got a partisan axe to grind, but it’s a pretty blunt axe seeing as how I’m with the Green Party – an outfit not exactly well-known for its partisanship.

In Pursuit of Power, NDP Has Abandoned its Principles

It’s these sorts of inconsistencies, however, which many progressives are starting to find when we take a close look at what the NDP is really talking about.  There are also inconsistencies with the NDP’s proposed marquee child care plan, which will favour the rich over the poor.  The NDP also seems to have embraced sovereignty-destroying investor-trade dispute provisions in so-called “free trade” deals, with members here in Sudbury and Nickel Belt recently voting to support the Canada-South Korea trade deal which included these provisions.  Eliminating barriers to trade is one thing – but allowing secret star chambers to rule on the applicability of Canadian environmental laws is quite another.  Didn’t the NDP learn a damn thing from NAFTA?  With Quebec now facing a Chapter 11 challenge from a U.S. fracking firm over that province’s ban on natural gas fracking, we can only expect more such challenges from other multinationals who may be similarly impacted.  So much for our elected governments having the right to decide what activities can take place in their jurisdictions.  Already the Province of Ontario suffered a defeat at the World Trade Organization because it wanted to prioritize buying local (and creating local jobs) over opening up contracts to international competition. 

In light of this, is it any wonder that former NDP members like Dr. David Robinson are looking around for a new home, and discovering the Green Party?  NDP members and supporters may continue to think that their party has the best interests of low income and middle class Canadians at heart – but the NDP’s policies, when put together, really end up favouring the rich and disadvantaging the poor.  As hard as that may be to believe, upon careful review, it’s the only conclusion that I’ve come to.  And it’s not just me who is coming to that conclusion. 

The Green Party is the Only Progressive Option

While the NDP might be talking a better game than the Liberals and the Conservatives, increasingly progressives are noticing that the Green Party appears to have inherited the mantle of Tommy Douglas – I know that sounds like heresy, but really, is Tom Mulcair’s pitch to Canadians (or Andrea Horwarth’s to Ontarians) on the same planet as Douglas?  Where there was once vision in the NDP, we are now stuck with spin and game-playing, all in the pursuit of power.  We’re left with a buffet of policy options, many of which conflict with each other and will have perverse outcomes should they ever be implemented.  The NDP isn’t thinking holistically or comprehensively – certainly not in the same way that the Green Party has been thinking for the past decade or more. 

So yes, clearly I’m excited about what the future holds for the Green Party, especially here in Sudbury and the Nickel Belt.  Although I can’t presuppose who might end up with the Sudbury nomination, Sudbury Greens would certainly be well-served by Dr. Robinson.  Robinson knows Northern Ontario, he understands carbon pricing, and he has seen through the NDP’s contradictory and ultimately destructive policy environment.  He would be a formidable challenger to nice-guy Glenn Thibeault, Sudbury’s NDP MP, and to whoever ends up with the Liberal nod and has to champion whatever thin gruel Justin Trudeau lets them speak about.


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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Superstack Removal Symbolic of Mining Industry's Green Efforts

Last week in Sudbury, Kelly Strong, Vice President of Vale's Ontario and U.K. Operations, announced that Vale was considering taking down the iconic Superstack - a symbol of both Sudbury's mining prosperity and of environmental degradation (see: “Sudbury’s Superstack could be coming down: Vale”, the Sudbury Star, November 4, 2014, and “Vale clear to tear down Sudbury’s Superstack”, the Sudbury Star, November 7, 2014)

Mining has a reputation of being one of the world's least environmentally-friendly enterprises. Along with scars left imprinted on natural landscapes, toxic chemicals released from processing and refining poison our soils and water. Massive amounts of energy, often from fossil fuel sources, are used to power industrial mining processes.

Yet, the world has a voracious appetite for minerals and metals. According to the Ontario Mining Association, mining contributes approximately $10 billion annually to Ontario's economy, and employs around 23,000 workers directly and in support activities (see: “Mining: Dynamic and Dependable for Ontario's Future”, submitted to Ontario Mining Association, December 2012). Although we could be doing a much better job at recycling existing mined materials, it is expected that demand for new resources will remain high.

The story of the mining industry's impacts on the natural environment isn't all that different from that of other industries, except perhaps for the scale. Throughout the 20th Century, the mining industry was prodded to clean up its processes coincident with the public's demand for healthier communities. In the 1960's, the publication of Rachel Carson's “Silent Spring” kicked off an environmental awakening culminating in the early 1970's with new federal and provincial laws to protect the environment. With the public demanding real action from government and industry, INCO, Vale's predecessor, was at work planning to reduce dangerous emissions.

INCO's plan was to diffuse sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrous oxide and other dangerous emissions by building what was at the time the world's tallest smoke stack – the Superstack. The acid-stained black rocks of the Sudbury basin, and our treeless landscape were a testament to the mining industry's dirty past practices. The Superstack, and an aggressive re-greening initiative, saw communities in the Sudbury region reclaim despoiled lands, leading to international recognition by the United Nations at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero in 1992. SO2 emissions from the Copper Cliff smelter plunged from 2,000 kt (kilotonnes) in 1970 to about 600 kt by 1990 (see: “Vale Clean AER Project Brochure”, 2014).

In the 1980s, with international calls for action on acid rain, INCO responded with a new round of technological initiatives to scrub the primary culprit, SO2, from emissions leaving the stack. SO2 emissions were reduced further, down to about 250 kt by 2000.

With the $1 billion Atmospheric Emissions Reduction (AER) project coming online in 2015, the Copper Cliff smelter will be emitting even less SO2 – only about 20 kt (kilotonnes) per year, well below the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change's 66 kt regulatory maximum. Vale may be able to save money while lowering climate changing carbon emissions by decommissioning the Super Stack, and replacing it with a smaller chimney.

INCO's, and now Vale's experiences dealing with environmental matters mirrors those of other industries which have reacted and adapted to a growing awareness of the importance of the natural environmental throughout the 20th Century. In the 21st Century, the mining industry is already looking at ways to mitigate climate change (see: “Renewables repositioning to meet mining industry's energy needs”, MiningWeekly.com, September 16, 2014). Industry leaders like Glencore are replacing diesel power with renewable energy for mining activities in remote areas (see: "Raglan mine: Canada's first industrial scale wind and energy storage facility”, Henry Lazenby, MiningWeekly.com, August 22, 2014). And here in Sudbury, Vale is partnering with a local renewable energy co-operative, making available waste rock-covered lands for the installation of solar panels.

Should the Superstack come down, its absence from the landscape will prove to be just another step in the decades-long greening of the Sudbury basin and mining practices more generally. In the coming decades, wind towers and solar arrays may become new industrial landmarks and symbols of mining prosperity.

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

Originally published as "Stack reflects mining's green efforts"the Sudbury Star, Saturday, November 15, 2014 (online November 16, 2014), without hyperlinks).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Energy East Foosties: LIUNA, the Liberals & the NDP

Last month, in my environmental column with the Sudbury Star, I wrote about the Energy East pipeline, and why it should be given a “rethink” by supporters, in light of what we know about the need to hold the line on global warming at 2 degrees Celsius (see: "Rethink Energy East pipeline", the Sudbury Star, October 18, 2014). Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, had recently spoken about the need for investors to be wary of fossil fuel assets which could become stranded when the world finally got serious about climate change. I took Carney’s conclusion one step further, and suggested that investing in transportation infrastructure for fossil fuels was incompatible with the fight against climate change, and I suggested that when the carbon bubble bursts, infrastructure projects like Energy East may lose their value very quickly.

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That column elicited a response in the form of a letter to the editor of the Sudbury Star from a Mr. Mike Ryan, Business Manager for LIUNA (the Laborers International Union of North America). Unfortunately, Mr. Ryan’s letter wasn’t published online by the Star. I’ve taken the liberty to provide a reproduction of the letter here, so that readers will have a better sense of where I’m coming from with this blogpost.

Not Thinking about Climate Change

Upon reading Mr. Ryan’s letter, my first reaction was one of confusion, for although Ryan referenced my column, it was entirely unclear as to which parts of that column he was responding to. It remains unclear to me whether Ryan even read the column at all before penning his letter to the Star. Ryan certainly had a lot to say about Energy East’s safety and environmental features, along with the jobs that it was sure to bring to LIUNA members in our community. But there was nothing in his letter which addressed the specific economic issues which I had raised in my column – economic issues which specifically arise as a result of climate change.

Of course, Mike Ryan and LIUNA don’t want people to think about climate change, and how building pipelines are only needed if for an expanded tar sands – and not simply to meet current production levels. Expansion of the tar sands, of course, has already been compared to being “game over for the planet” by former NASA researchers Dr. James Hansen. And even if Hansen’s assessment goes too far as many believe, what is clear that if tar sands production doubles between now and 2030 (as called for by the Alberta provincial government), Canada can forget meeting its commitment made in Copenhagen to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

Worse, this kind of reckless expansion of the tar sands imperils other industrial projects throughout Canada, including in the energy-intensive resource extraction and manufacturing sectors. If Canada tries to meet its greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets while simultaneously allowing the tar sands to double its production capacity, reducing emissions in other energy-intensive sectors will be necessary to offset rising tar sands emissions. And this is especially true if some sort of carbon trading scheme is implemented under a hypothetical NDP or Liberal government.

LIUNA, however, really doesn’t want you to think about any of this. They’d rather paint a picture of happy workers making good wages, building safe and environmentally friendly infrastructure. It’s a very compelling picture, too, because if you take climate change out of the equation, that’s probably what you’d have.

But you can’t take climate change out of the equation, given that this infrastructure is needed to allow the tar sands to expand. And that’s true no matter how much LIUNA – or Canada’s Conservative government – might want to pretend otherwise.

Support for Energy East: The Liberals and the NDP

Oh, and by the way, it’s also true no matter how much Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party, along with Tom Mulcair and the New Democratic Party, want to pretend otherwise. Trudeau and Mulcair are certainly not the “climate warriors” their publicists make them out to be. If an expanding tar sands is incompatible with the fight against climate change and holding the line at 2 degrees C, it’s clear that Trudeau and Mulcair either didn’t get that memo – or are willfully disregarding it. Both the Liberals and NDP support building Energy East and allowing the tar sands to expand. Mulcair has been very direct in his support for the pipeline (see, “Mulcair to make energy policy power play", CBC, December 3, 2013, and "Despite environmentalist opposition, Mulcair supports west-east pipeline", mymcmurray.com, February 7, 2014). Trudeau has been a little more cagey, but ultimately when confronted by those demanding an answer to their questions, Trudeau made it quite clear that Liberals will support the Energy East pipeline, just as they support the Keystone XL pipeline (see: "Canow, with 350.org, meet Justin Trudeau", September 19, 2014).

If pipelines are being built because they are required to permit the tar sands to expand its production, and if an expanding tar sands means “game over” for the planet, it is then fairto say that both Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair both support ending the game for the planet – and not in the planet’s favour.

LIUNA's Financial Donations and Support

In light of the support Energy East enjoys from the Liberals and the NDP, is it really any wonder that LIUNA plays a little “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” with both of these political parties? Sure, donations made to political parties from unions at the national level are no longer allowed, but here in Ontario, unions can (and do) still give to political parties. LIUNA, of course, is one of the biggest donors to the provincial Liberal Party – the party which is now in power in Ontario, and which has directed the Ontario Energy Board to review the Energy East and Line 9B pipelines. Between 2004 and 2011, LIUNA gave Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals more than three quarters of a million dollars in political contributions – a figure three times the size made by the Ontario Liberal’s largest corporate donor, developer Ellis Don, over the same period (see: "Follow the Money: Funding Ontario's Political Parties, 2004 - 2011", votetoronto.ca, October 4, 2011)

In the 2011 federal election, LIUNA publicly endorsed Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff (see: "Labourers International Union of North America supports Michael Ignatieff's vision of Canada", press release from LIUNA, April 28, 2011). Since then, LIUN has continued to play footsies with the NDP, as a quick Google Search with keywords “LIUNA” and “NDP” reveals. At the electoral district association (EDA) level, LIUNA has partnered with the NDP on movie nights and other special events, largely because LIUNA remains involved in social justice matters important to the NDP. But LIUNA did have a fairly public split with Jack Layton’s NDP in 2011, when its executive decided to support Ignatieff and the Liberals. And of course, LIUNA was a very public backer of the infamous Ontario Bill 74, which would have allowed Ellis Don to tear up contracts made with other unions – something that the NDP and the Green Party opposed.

Perhaps LIUNA and the NDP have kissed and made up, given Tom Mulcair’s strong and equivocal support for Energy East (see: "Mulcair sticks with pipeline policy as report challenges Energy East", the Globe & Mail, February 6, 2014). LIUNA has been engaged in a battle for public opinion all along the proposed Energy East route, popping up at Energy East events in Timmins, Ontario (see: "Pipeline leaks worry Timmins residents at Energy East meeting", CBC, April 2, 2014)and Saint John, New Brunswick (see: "Energy East open house in Saint John met with opposition", New Brunswick Media Co-op, November 1, 2014). With some Northern Ontario cities located along the pipeline route electing anti-pipeline councils (Kenora, Thunder Bay and North Bay), you can bet that Northerners will be hearing more from LIUNA in the future.

Of course, in the United States, LIUNA has been very vocal about pressuring President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project. LIUNA’s position on Keystone XL tore apart the “Blue Green” alliance in the labour movement, paving the way for a return for “brown” vs. “green” divisions within labour and the political parties supported by labour. LIUNA also continues to support Northern Gateway, despite the solidarity shown by unions like UNIFOR, which took a stand with communities, indigenous peoples and the environment in its opposition.

Not in the Best Interest of Members

The very worst part about LIUNA’s position on never having seen a bitumen pipeline it didn’t like is LIUNA’s executive appears to be acting against what is best for many of its members. Although LIUNA represents pipeline workers, the union also represents those in the renewable energy industry – which is now the world’s fastest growing economic sector. Here in Canada, despite some promising starts towards prioritizing renewables, we’ve really been losing ground to international competition thanks to an uncoordinated national policy of putting all of our energy eggs in the bitumen basket. Although Stephen Harper promised to stop subsidizing rich multinational oil corporations back in 2009 at the G20 in Pittsburgh, little action has taken place (see: "Joint Report by IEA, OPEC, OECD and World Bank on fossil fuel and other energy subsidies: an update on the G20 Pittsburgh and Toronto commitments", 2011). This week, a new report was released by the Oil Change International and Overseas Development Institute which shows that taxpayers are funding exploration for oil reserves which can't be mined/burned (see: "Stop subsidizing oil exploration: think tank", Canadian Press, November 11, 2014). Harper continues to delay the regulatory mechanisms long promised to the Canadian people to limit greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sector.

As long as the tar sands continue to be subsidized by Canadian taxpayers, renewable energy producers in Canada will have to continue to accept an uneven playing field. But rather than calling for an end to the market interventions which disadvantage its members, LIUNA has instead decided to play along and promote the continued expansion of the tar sands. And perhaps that’s another thing which the decision-makers at LIUNA would like for you – and its own membership – to forget.

#NotProgressive: Accepting Corporate and Union Donations

What’s clear to me is that unions like LIUNA, along with corporations, continue to have far too much of a role to play in distorting our democratic processes. Although LIUNA can’t donate to federal political parties, the massive amounts of money that it has given the Ontario Liberal Party over the years makes enough of a case that it’s well past time to outlaw corporate and union donations at the provincial level. Further, that political parties like the NDP and the Liberals continue to partner with LIUNA on events and other activities is quite problematic, given LIUNA’s pro-pipeline and anti-planet agenda.

Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party, along with Tom Mulcair and the NDP, really want voters to cast their ballots for a “progressive” leader and party during the next federal election – each believing that voters should opt for their specific parties. What is becoming clear, however, is that any political party which puts the interests of tar sands corporations ahead of the planet can’t be considered progressive. That there are those in the labour movement which continue to work against the interests of the common people and the planet is illustrative of the fact that the labour movement itself cannot be uncritically considered “progressive”, despite some of the very good work done by unions to promote an alternative energy vision.

The Liberals and the NDP need to terminate their relationship with LIUNA if they want to be considered real progressive options for voters. Further, Trudeau and Mulcair need to abandon their support for the Energy East and Trans Mountain – pipelines which have but one purpose: to facilitate the expansion of the tar sands. As an expanding tar sands is incompatible with holding the line of warming at 2 degrees Celsius, there is no other option available – at least not for anyone or any party which wants to consider itself as being “progressive”. And until the Liberals and the NDP adopt these positions, it is quite clear to me that they will remain #NotProgressive.

Looking for LIUNA's Climate Change Plan

And as for LIUNA and letter-writer Mike Ryan, I’ll leave with this one last thought. Mike, the Green Party has a very good plan to end Canada’s reliance on fossil fuels in order to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Our plan involves slowing tar sands growth, ending subsidies for fossil fuels, putting a price on carbon, and promoting renewables and conservation. It is a realistic plan, but it will require a shift in the way that we produce, use and price energy. It’s a plan which, in some version, will need to be enacted by decision makers if we are serious about taking a stance against warming. In light of the reality of climate change, what is LIUNA’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? I looked online, Mike – I searched and searched, but I couldn’t find any position which LIUNA has taken on climate change. I’d dearly like to know what LIUNA has to say about climate change.

I hope that I’m wrong, but I expect I know the answer: Nothing.

Maybe when LIUNA shows up at the next TransCanada open houses, private citizens in attendance can level the same question at the union. The fight over Energy East is just beginning, and it’s likely going to get ugly. If the NDP and the Liberals can’t be climate leaders, they need to get out of the way for politicians who have the courage to stand up for average citizens, communities and the planet – politicians who are not beholden to corporate and union interests. Right now, it seems to me that those politicians can only be found in the Green Party.

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