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.

click to open larger size
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)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Greenwashing on Climate Change Starting to Take a Toll on NDP

The NDP is in trouble on the environment, and it’s really starting to show. Engaged environmentalists across Canada have really started in on the NDP over that party’s support of bitumen pipelines, and over a recent vote on the Canada-South Korea trade deal which includes investor state provisions – mechanisms designed to frustrate democratic laws passed in Canada which may threaten the profits of rich, multinational corporations. Repeatedly, the NDP is being called out – asked to do more to address the climate crisis. The response so far has been incredibly pathetic. The NDP’s strategy appears to be “dodge questions, confuse the issue and slam Elizabeth May and the Green Party”.

Growing Concerns about Climate Change

Things have really started coming to a head recently. Last week, TransCanada filed for approval of the Energy East pipeline with the National Energy Board (NEB). While this action has long been anticipated by environmentalists, the NEB filing really ratcheted things up a notch in the eyes of the media. As a result, all parties have come under media scrutiny for their stances on the pipeline. More on that later.

On Sunday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the final installment of its 5th Assessment Report – the Synthesis Report, which essentially says that while there is still time to hold warming to 2 degrees Celsius, decisive action must now be taken to reverse emissions by reducing the consumption of fossil fuels. This means that alternative sources of energy must be found and our reliance on carbon fuels (coal, oil & gas) must be reduced. To achieve this result, a significant amount of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground as unburnable carbon (see: “IPCC Press Release”, November 2, 2014).

About a month ago, what is sure to be one of the most important books of the first half of the 21st Century was published. Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate” profoundly makes the case that business as usual isn’t working for the planet, and that only significant reforms made to our corporate capitalist economic model are going to move us forward. These changes have to acknowledge the natural limits of the planet to absorb climate changing greenhouse gas emissions. What’s standing in the way, according to Klein, is the political will to champion the planet over profit.

As a growing number of readers pick up Klein’s book, even those who might not agree with her thesis are probably coming to realize that most of the western world’s leading political parties are woefully equipped to champion the planet over corporate profit margins. Here in Canada, this realization is apparently coming as a bit of a surprise to many long-time supporters of the NDP – a party which has moved against the tide of history and towards the centre of the Canada’s political spectrum in a bid to gain vote share and govern. For the most part, environmentalists and those concerned about climate change had already abandoned the Liberal Party after Stephane Dion stepped down as leader. Michael Ignatieff really took the Liberals in a different direction on climate change, and although Justin Trudeau now wants Canadians to believe that his party will take some sort of (very ill defined) action, it’s not at all clear what that might be, or how it could ever be reconciled with his stated support for grossly expanding the Alberta tar sands.

For many, that has largely left the NDP as the only “mainstream” (read: “likely to be elected”) party who has a somewhat decent position on climate change. After all, starting in 2006, it was the NDP that introduced the Climate Change Accountability Act, which made it all the way to the Senate before Conservative Senators killed it without debate. And the NDP has long championed a cap and trade emissions scheme for large emitters, which would put a price on carbon and might even lead to a reduction in emissions. For those paying attention, those actions had resonance.

But while a (slightly) revamped Climate Change Accountability Act and a cap and trade scheme remain in the cards for today’s NDP, that’s about all the NDP has on offer regarding climate change. And while those two measures would be vast improvements over what’s in place in Canada today, it’s the other issues that the NDP are championing which would take Canada in the opposite direction on climate change. Specifically, the NDP’s reversal on the Kinder-Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline and outright support for the Energy East pipeline are incompatible with the kind of action envisioned by Naomi Klein and others, as the creation of these pipelines will lead to the expansion of the tar sands – more than doubling the rate of production by 2030.

The NDP, Energy East, Trans Mountain and 2 Degrees C

The NDP won’t admit that their support of these two massive pipeline projects will lead to an expansion of the tar sands – even though it is self-evident. Energy East will have more than double the capacity than Northern Gateway, and Trans Mountain will have about two thirds more. The only reason these pipelines are being proposed in the first place is to facilitate the expansion. By not acknowledging that pipeline infrastructure is directly tied to the expansion of the tar sands, the NDP is being as disingenuous as the National Energy Board, the regulatory body which has refused to include climate change impact assessments as part of the scientific review of the pipelines. As with the Northern Gateway approval process, the NEB believes that down-stream impacts (like greenhouse gases emitted from the refining of bitumen and burning of fossil fuels) are out of scope for their review.

Yesterday, in a live Facebook chat, straight-forward questions by environmentalists and private citizens were put to NDP MP and Environment Critic Megan Leslie about whether the NDP would demand the NEB consider climate change impacts in its assessment of Energy East. Leslie dodged and wove and wrote about how Stephen Harper has fundamentally altered the environmental assessment process – but she refused to answer a pretty easy “yes” or “no” question about climate change. I even felt a little embarrassed for her, as it was quite clear to me that the majority of the participants in her Facebook chat were there to hear about the NDP’s position on Energy East and Trans Mountain.

In contrast, when tweeted about her Party’s position on Energy East by 350.org’s tar sands organizer, Cam Fenton, Green Leader Elizabeth May offered a straight-forward response: the Green Party “has been clear. We oppose Energy East and any other pipeline to get bitumen to tidewater.” (see: tweet). Fenton's earlier questions to the NDP about Energy East remain unanswered (see: "10 Questions for the NDP on Energy East & Climate", 350.org, November 3, 2014). Likely, there won't be any answers to these questions coming from the NDP, because if they were to answer them, the edifice of their climate change policies would begin to crumble because expanding the tar sands isn't compatible with holding the line on warming to 2 degrees C.

Meanwhile, BC Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver has been very outspoken and clear about the need for the NEB to include an assessment of climate change impacts in its review of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline (see, “Determining the Scope of the Trans Mountain's Pipeline Consultations”, September 3, 2014, and “Confidence Lost in NEB Assessment Process for Trans Mountain”, November 3, 2014 – both from www.andrewweaver.mla). The NDP has been relatively silent on Trans Mountain, after Tom Mulcair reversed his party’s position of opposition which former BC NDP leader Adrian Dix had voiced on Earth Day during the 2013 election (see, “Mulcair confident in face of sinking polls”, the Vancouver Sun, December 23, 2014).

NDP Browns Triumphing Over Greens

Some brown NDP pundits, including former national leadership contestant Brian Topp, in part blamed Dix’s decision to oppose the pipeline for the NDP’s historic election night loss to Christy Clark’s Liberal Party. Clearly, Mulcair bought into Topp’s analysis this past December when he announced a change in the NDP’s position on Trans Mountain, favouring the browns in his own party over the greens, and putting partisan interests ahead of the public good (see, “Brian Topp Reveals how NDP Plays Cynical Partisan Games with Environmental Issues”, Sudbury Steve May, September 24, 2013).

The NDP’s support for Energy East is no different. Mulcair believes that there are votes at stake, and that a majority of Canadians want the tar sands to expand because of all of the jobs that will be created. He’s also trying to pick up the support of some of the labour unions like LIUNA and UNIFOR which have either abandoned him completely, or have vowed to back a Liberals on a case by case basis. Many in the labour movement are greedy about the jobs which they believe will be created through pipeline construction.

Again, though, a simple truth continues to emerge. None of this is compatible with holding warming at 2 degrees Celsius. Investing in pipelines will guarantee an expansion of the tar sands enterprise, locking Canada even further into putting all of our energy eggs in the bitumen basket. Mulcair has talked a good game about using the proceeds of an expanded economy to invest in renewables, but the reality of the matter is that we just can’t grow our economy this way and hope to hold the line on warming. The other reality is that the fastest growing industrial sector in the world right now is the renewable energy sector, and the longer that Canada delays its significant entry into that market, the more we expose ourselves to risk – from border adjustments, and from the bursting of a carbon bubble. With this in mind, it is fair to say that the NDP’s plan to expand the tar sands through pipelines is a bad one for both the environment and the economy.

Tar Sands Expansion and Cap & Trade Insanity

Yet, the NDP believes that it can limit emissions from an expanded tar sands through cap and trade. Theoretically, that might be possible, but the implications for Canada’s resource extraction and manufacturing sector would be too much to bear. If the NDP’s plan to expand the tar sands and cut emissions through cap and trade were to play itself out, what we would have would be emissions continuing to rise like there’s no tomorrow due to the tar sands – and a corresponding massive offset in emissions from all other industrial sectors, including manufacturing, mining , agriculture and transportation. In this scenario, the oil industry is put front and centre, while those engaged in industrial activity in other sectors are penalized so that Big Oil can get bigger.

Here in Northern Ontario, we are especially at risk from the NDP’s cap and trade insanity. Almost certainly, a national cap on emissions coupled with an expanding tar sands will continue to put on hold any new development in the Ring of Fire. It’s almost impossible to believe that energy-intensive mining industry wouldn’t suffer from the cap – unless carbon credits were priced so low as to be almost useless. The thing is, we just don’t know, because aside from simple declarations about targets, the NDP has actually said very little about the mechanics of its proposals. Nevertheless, if the NDP is serious about climate change (or at least as serious as it claims to be), it is fair to conclude that the NDP’s current plan is reckless in the extreme – to the environment and to Northern Ontario’s well-paying mining jobs.

A much better carbon pricing mechanism – one with an actual track record of proven reductions to emissions – is a carbon tax, using either a straight taxation model (with corresponding offsets to income taxes), or through a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend, where taxes collected are then redistributed back to all citizens. Industry would benefit from the certainty of a taxation model. Smaller businesses won’t be squeezed by bigger players in a free-for-all stock market-like carbon credit trading scheme. And real money would be much more easily returned to every day citizens to allow them to make smarter decisions about low-carbon goods and services.

Environmental organizations such as Citizens Climate Lobby have championed a carbon fee and dividend approach to carbon pricing, as it’s becoming increasingly apparent that a cumbersome cap and trade scheme as proposed by the NDP is not likely to accomplish its intended outcomes.

The Green Party is Driving the Climate Change Debate in Canada

Back in 2012, the membership of the Green Party of Canada decided to adopt the carbon fee and dividend model for carbon pricing – a slight change from a tax-shifting carbon tax proposal. This action might have had an adverse effect on the NDP, leading that Party to continue on with cap and trade. The NDP continues to feel threatened by the Green Party on its environmental flank. As a result, some (including Brian Topp) have suggested that the NDP has had no choice but to move away from environmental issues. In his “Campaign Post-Mortem” of August 21, 2013, Topp wrote:

“Indeed, the existence of the Green party provides a compelling electoral incentive for all other parties at all levels of government -- New Democrat, Liberal and Conservative -- to marginalize environmental issues, an important reason why these critical issues have faded from Canadian politics. The Green party is a perfectly legitimate player in Canadian politics with every right to contest elections – just as the NDP does. So far, their work is having the opposite effect of their aims.”

What underscores the assumption made by Topp and other NDP strategists regarding environmental issues is poor position the NDP (and the Liberals, for that matter) are in to talk about climate change and the environment more generally in a way which is both serious and sincere. What’s becoming increasingly clear is that the more climate change is talked about, the more apparent the NDP’s anti-climate hypocrisy. When brought out into open daylight, the NDP is exposed as just another pro-corporate greenwashed political party. I realize that probably sounds rather harsh, but I’ve really no other way to reconcile what the NDP says about climate change with the NDP says about pipelines and free trade agreements. I’ve read Naomi Klein’s book, and to me it’s extremely apparent that the NDP is a significant part of the problem – and in a way that the Conservative Party isn’t – mainly because the NDP pretends to be serious about climate change.

The NDP really does need to either up its game on climate change, or get out of the way. It has to stop pretending that it will be a leader – or else it has to actually lay out a realistic program about how it will lead. Clearly, leadership in this circumstance can’t include support for infrastructure projects which lead to an expansion of the tar sands.

Game Playing and Lies from the NDP

And frankly, the NDP has to stop attacking climate allies like Elizabeth May. Yesterday, Megan Leslie tweeted a shameful little personal attack on Elizabeth May for taking “pot shots” at other progressives over climate change – all for the purpose of raising money for the Green Party. Today, the NDP issued a press release about Elizabeth May’s climate hypocrisy, repeating Leslie’s story about May maligning progressives.

All of this stems from an email that Green Party Executive Director Emily McMillan sent to members on the morning of Monday, November 3rd. In that email, McMillan pointed out that neither the Liberals or the NDP had sent anybody to the United Nation’s Conference of the Parties conferences for the past 3 years. Clearly, she was questioning the commitment of each of these parties to taking a strong stand on climate change, in contrast to Elizabeth May, who continues to attend yearly.

However, there was no “ask” for money in this email, which is in my experience unusual for the Green Party. The email directed readers to sign a petition to “Stand with Elizabeth May”. But there was no request for money.

So the NDP have clearly blown it on a couple of fronts. First of all, the email wasn’t from Elizabeth May, but rather from the Executive Director of the Party – not the same person at all (but I suppose in the leader-centric world of the NDP, everything that the Party does must perforce be about the Party leader – something which frankly just doesn’t fly in the Green Party). And second, the NDP has completely made stuff up about this being a fundraiser. And the quote that they used from Elizabeth May was one she made about Rio +20, and not the UNFCC's Conference of the Parties as the NDP would have readers believe. That last one may seem like semantics to some, but not in the world of climate change advocacy. It leads me to question whether the NDP actually know the difference between the various international climate change negotiations which have been going on for decades now. Maybe if they sent some reps to some of them...

I’ll add another to my own list which might not be on everybody’s – and that’s the notion that May bashed other “progressives”. When I look at the Liberals and NDP’s support of Trans Mountain and Energy East, along with their greenwashed approach to climate change, I tell you this: I don’t see either of those two parties as remotely “progressive”.

Only the Green Party Has the Courage to Speak the Truth on Climate Change

Only the Green Party is standing up for climate change action in Canada. At our Biennial General Meeting held earlier this year in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Greens voted to adopt policies which would restrict building significant new fossil fuel infrastructure, such as the Trans Mountain and Energy East pipelines. Infrastructure would only be contemplated where it would be proven to reduce climate change impacts – impacts which would perforce be looked at as a part of any environmental assessment.

The Party also voted to restrict shipping raw bitumen through Canadian waters with the hopes that this would reduce emissions created overseas in jurisdictions with poor environmental regulations. Off-shoring Canada’s responsibility to control emissions might be a part of the Liberal and NDP plans to reduce Canada’s overall emissions, but Greens know and understand that the atmosphere doesn’t care where the bitumen is burned – it all ends up in the same place, and Canada has to take responsibility for what comes out of the ground here.

Eliminating opportunities for off-shoring our responsibilities may lead to the creation of opportunities to do more value-added in Canada. In recognition that existing production might be restrained during the needed shift to renewables, the membership agreed to an increase in refinery capacity within Canada – again, under strict conditions that increasing capacity will lead to an overall reduction in emissions. Clearly, new capacity won’t be put in place to allow tar sands expansion, but rather used as interim measure for existing operations, if necessary.

Behind all of this membership-approved policy is a comprehensive understanding that limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius has to be the outcome of any and all policy initiatives. The health of our living systems – not to mention the health of our economy – is dependent on limiting the impacts of climate change. There really are no other options.

NDP Must Get Out of the Way of Real Progressives Demanding Climate Action

And that’s why, increasingly, those who are concerned about climate change are turning away from the NDP. The more light that is shone on the NDP’s contradictory policies – not to mention the outright lying and bully tactics the party employs to vilify its political opponents – the more voters are going to come to realize that only the Green Party represents a viable choice for Canadians. The Green Party has long had a comprehensive plan in Vision Green – which has been available online since before I joined the Party in 2007. In fact, it was after reading Vision Green that I knew I had found a political organization which shared my views and values.

The NDP must be aware that they are faltering on climate change and the environment. New Democrats are a very poll-driven focus-grouped party. No doubt they’ve been looking at their own softening numbers on climate change, and that’s why we’ve seen the recent assaults on the Green Party – a party whose name the NDP is reluctant to utter, and a party which the NDP has done everything in its power to shut out of legitimate democratic discourse, including the two times that Jack Layton opted to keep Green Leader Elizabeth May out of the televised leader’s debates. Likely, Tom Mulcair will pursue the same course of action regarding May's participation in the 2015 televised debates, in an effort to silence Greens and minimize the public discussion about climate change, given his Party's indefensible and contradictory policy position.

One might think that rather than attack the Green Party, a better move for the NDP would be to change its own policies and positions so that they are more in keeping with the health of the planet. However, that appears to be too difficult for the NDP now in the run-up to 2015. Perhaps after the next federal election – and maybe after Tom Mulcair steps down as leader of the NDP – perhaps then the NDP might decide to look for some consistency on climate change. In the meantime, it appears that the only option available to them will be to lie to voters about Elizabeth May and the Green Party as part of an overall campaign to marginalize Greens.

It would have been my hope that the NDP decided to get serious about climate change. Canada could have used a strong voice in the NDP. But instead, the NDP seems content to play games while the planet continues to heat up. Shame on them!

(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, October 31, 2014

Electoral Reform & Lobbyist Registry: Sleeper Issues Arising from the Greater Sudbury Municipal Election

Now that the results of the municipal election have been made official, I’d like to take some time to explore a few of the “sleeper” issues which arose during the latter part of the campaign period, and discuss how I think some of those issues might have legs, moving forward over the next four year term of Council.

Most of my Sudbury-based readers will be familiar with the election issues largely covered in the mainstream media, but for the sake of those readers from other areas, let me provide a quick re-cap of what went on in “Greater Sudbury” over the past couple of months.

A Short History Lesson

“Greater Sudbury”, as many know, was created via amalgamation under former Premier Mike Harris. The former City of Sudbury (often now referred to as the “inner city” or just “Sudbury”), with a population of around 90,000 people, was combined with 6 other municipalities (with population around 70,000) in the Region of Sudbury to create the City of Greater Sudbury. The regional level of government, made redundant by the amalgamation, ceased its operation.

Today, the City of Greater Sudbury remains a divided municipal entity, with tensions continuing to be apparent between the “inner city” and the “outlying areas” – those parts of the 6 former municipalities of Rayside-Balfour, Onaping Falls, Nickel Centre, Valley East, Capreol and Walden (along with areas previously unorganized, which were incorporated into the City in 2001). These divisions have manifested themselves on Council throughout the history of the Greater City since 2001. Specifically, concerns have been raised from the outlying areas over the perception that residents living in those area are now paying higher taxes for the same level (or a reduced level) of services, and that they are being ignored by the inner City. Often, these clashes occur over the attention which the former City of Sudbury’s downtown seems to enjoy from the City, seemingly at the expense of other outlying downtowns.

Ward Boundaries

In an attempt to address some of these tensions, the ward boundaries which ultimately came into being for the City of Greater Sudbury were drawn in such a way as to (in some cases) combine areas of the new City which had little or no historical association with another, creating “combination wards” between former inner city and outlying area communities. For example, Ward 4 consists of the Donovan neighbourhood in the former City of Sudbury, along with Azilda, a community in the former Township of Rayside-Balfour. These two communities are about 10 km apart, separated by Vale (formerly INCO) mining lands. They have very little in common geographically, socially or culturally.

And Azilda has about twice the population as the Donovan. And that's a very critical element present in all of the combination wards: the population in the outlying areas exceeds that in the former City usually by about a 2:1 ratio.

A map of the City's wards shows that wards 1, 8, 10, 11 & 12 are entirely within the former City of Sudbury, while wards 3, 6 & 7 are exclusive to the outlying areas. Wards 2, 4, 5 & 9 are combination wards, all of which have populations higher in the outlying areas than in the former City. A quick review of electoral history since 2006 reveals that on only one occasion has an inner-city councillor been elected in a combination ward (and arguably this has been off-set by the one time that an outlying area councillor was elected in an exclusive inner-city ward).

The Mayor is elected at large. Since the inception of the City of Greater Sudbury, only one Mayor out of 5 has been elected from the outlying areas. When this is all put together, it means that the relative power structure on Council has resided with the smaller-based population of the outlying areas. The former City of Sudbury has been, and continues to be, under-represented on a Council which elects its members based on geographic jurisdictions, with 7 positions favouring the outlying areas (with a smaller population) to 6 positions favouring inner-city representation, where a majority of the population resides.

Electoral Reform - Ranked Ballots and Redrawing the Ward Map

Some in the City are calling for a change in the way that we elect our Councils, including looking at moving to an at-large election process. Others want the ward boundaries re-drawn, but many of these are making this call under the false impression that the outlying areas are the ones which are suffering from under-representation. In the recent election, electoral reform became a bit of an issue which some candidates, especially outlying area candidates, started talking about.

A session was hosted in the City during the municipal election about the Province's indication that it may allow municipalities to move to a ranked ballot system for electing municipal Councils. Given that just about every municipal councillor and the Mayor were elected with less than 50% of the vote, I don't think that there's any question that a ranked ballot will prove to be an effective electoral tool for the City.

I'm less convinced that moving to an “at large” electoral system will prove a sensible choice, given the existing tensions between the inner and outer City, and given that higher spending limits for at-large candidates will likely mean that those with modest incomes are even further discouraged from seeking a seat on Council.

Nevertheless, the reform of electoral system, including ward boundaries, is likely to prove to be a sleeper issue going forward over the next few years of Council. There will be calls for Greater Sudbury to adopt a ranked ballot, and those calls will be made as part of a larger call for electoral reform. I only hope that should electoral reform happens, that ward boundaries are adjusted so as to bring better representation on our municipal council based on population within existing communities of interest. Combination wards are inherently anti-democratic, no matter how they are drawn. It's time for Greater Sudbury to do what the federal government is doing in Saskatchewan – eliminate combination jurisdictions in favour of those which have at their heart the concept of “community of interest”.

Transparency & Accountability

One of the other big election issues in Greater Sudbury was “accountability and transparency” - a platform plank which almost every single municipal candidate ran on. Local perceptions have been that the past Council was too secretive, and not being accountable for their decisions. These perceptions were fuelled by the fireing of the Ontario Ombudsman, Andre Marin, the City's open meetings investigator, shortly after Marin delivered a scathing report which singled out a number of councillors for the lack of co-operation during one of his investigations. The motion to fire the Ombudsman was brought forward without notice, but received the consent of a majority of Councillors, so it was quickly debated at the end of an hours long Council meeting, and passed. Many thought that the real debate had taken place before the meeting, either in a back room or via email exchanges, and a number of complaints about a secretive closed door meeting to fire the Ombudsman were ultimately made to the City's new closed meeting investigator.

Vowing to bring transparency to City Hall, former Auditor General Brian Bigger (who at one point took the City – his employer - to court to obtain the information he needed to do his job) ran for the office of Mayor, and received 46% of the popular vote. Bigger wants to implement something akin to the “Vaughan Charter”, which he believes will provide a greater moral direction to Council. Another prominent mayoral candidate, second-place finisher Dan Melanson (former head of the Greater Sudbury Taxpayers Association) campaigned on the idea of the City establishing the position of Integrity Commissioner, something echoed by some of the other council candidates.

All mayoral candidates vowed to bring back the Ombudsman as open meetings investigator, including Ron Dupuis, who was the Councilor for Ward 5 at the time of the vote to fire him – something Dupuis voted in favour of at the time. Brian Bigger went further, praising the provincial government for its stated desire to give the Ombudsman much more significant investigative authority over municipal matters, as part of Bill 8. It was unclear to me if Bigger ever stated his support for the appointment of an Integrity Commissioner.

A Lobbyist Registry

Arising out of the discussion around oversight and transparency tools was the interesting idea of instituting a lobbyist registry. This issue first came to my attention in the municipal election from Ward 1 candidate Matt Alexander – a candidate who despite having more good ideas than the other 69 election candidates combined – finished a distant third in his ward. Soon after raising the issue publicly at a Ward 1 debate, other municipal election candidates picked up the torch – although to my knowledge, none of those running for Mayor did.

Indeed, John Rodriguez, Greater Sudbury's former Mayor (2006-2010), took an opposite track, vowing to organize private meetings with developers, Council and municipal staff, in order to better address the needs of the development community. This kind of backroom meeting is exactly the sort of access which a lobbyist registry would provide residents with information about. A registry itself wouldn't permit these sorts of interactions, but it would provide the public with an idea of who met with whom, when, and what they talked about. Right now, these meetings can go on behind closed doors and the public is none the wiser.

And this is a big deal, given the limited access to municipal Council which the rest of us enjoy. And it's also a big deal given the financial contributions to candidates campaigns made by developers and others who lobby City Hall. While I hope that the Province will end the anti-democratic practice of allowing non-people (like corporations and unions) to influence electoral outcomes by allowing them to give money to election campaigns, we here in our own municipality could be doing more to shine some light on the secret dealings which these “non people” have with our elected officials and staff. The establishment of a lobbyist registry only makes sense.

For those interested, here is the City of Toronto's website for their Office of the Lobbyist Registrar. The website explains what a Registry is, who should register, want the responsibilities of lobbyists and those being lobbied are. It would be a great model for Greater Sudbury. I understand that both Ottawa and Hamilton have also created lobbyist registries.

Moving from the Back Burner to the Front

Other issues, like the store hours by-law, dealing with Healthy Community Initiative funds, handi-transit, the new casino, a new Arena for the Sudbury Wolves, and finding money for Maley Drive are sure to be on the front burner at Council sooner rather than later (as is the 2015 budget for that matter). But I believe that electoral reform and a lobbyist registry are two issues which are going to gain traction moving forward – issues that citizens are going to demand that our Council deal with over the course of its next four years.

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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

UFCW's Anti-Democratic Position on Sudbury Store Hours Referendum Outcome Reflects Poorly on Labour Movement

So, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) is claiming victory in the recent referendum on store hours in the City of Greater Sudbury. 3 questions were asked of voters with regards to changing the by-laws which currently prohibit stores from setting their own hours, and opening on the August Civic Holiday and Boxing Day. By pretty healthy majorities (between 60% and 75%), voters in Greater Sudbury said “Yes” to the proposed changes. However, the Ontario Municipal Act requires 50% of eligible voters to vote on each question or else the referendum results are non-binding. While voter turn out in Greater Sudbury was just over 50%, not everyone voted on the questions, meaning that no question met the 50% threshold.

Although UFCW did not register as a lobbyist for the referendum question (only lobbyists were allowed to campaign for or against the questions), they are nevertheless now interjecting themselves into our democratic processes – after the fact. Today, the Sudbury Star is reporting that a member of the UFCW's region 8 is insisting that since the questions failed on the 50% threshold, that the matter has been resolved. “It's a done issue, and we should move on.” (see: "Both sides claim victory", the Sudbury Star, October 30, 2014).

As a supporter of democracy, I absolutely agree with the Union's rep – but clearly, not in the same way that the Union sees it. The electorate, in its wisdom, made a clear declaration to the City through a democratic process. The 50% threshold is simply one which would bind Council to take action. The threshold itself is not a part of any expression of democratic will – at least not in a democratic process which does not require everyone is eligible to participate.

UFCW is doing itself no favours in this community – not for itself, and not for the broader labour movement. By trying to confound the democratic expression of voters through a semantic – and frankly, quite silly – argument based on the idea that 50% turn-out of eligible voters is necessary to interpret the results as an expression of the will of the electorate. Frankly, this is an anti-democratic position to adopt.

As a long-time supporter of the labour movement, and as a current union member, I am appalled the UFCW has taken the extraordinary position that the expression of a majority of voters should be discarded in this circumstance. Their position is not democratic – and it will only enrage and provide more fodder to those who are actively working to under the labour movement.

Shame on UFCW.

(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)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Energy East Pipeline in Need of a Rethink

At a seminar hosted by the World Bank last week, Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, told attendees that a significant amount of the world’s fossil fuel reserves will need to remain in the ground. Carney, former head of Canada’s central bank, warned investors of a “carbon bubble” which could negatively impact the value of assets, such as heavy oil and gas fields, which are likely to become stranded as a result of market failures which don’t adequately assess environmental liabilities (see: "Mark Carney: Most fossil fuel reserves can't be burned", The Guardian, October 13, 2014)

Equally, Carney could have warned investors about the risk of sinking money into infrastructure needed to expand of fossil fuel extraction, including the many pipelines now being proposed to transport tar sands bitumen. Increasingly, it is becoming apparent that significantly expanding fossil fuel enterprises such as the Alberta tar sands is incompatible with limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius – a limit acknowledged at Copenhagen in 2009 by all national governments as one we dare not pass.

With this in mind, there are only two options available. We could continue to expand the burning of fossil fuels, which leads to between 4 and 6 degrees of warming by the end of the century. Or, we seriously begin shifting towards a renewable energy economy, and leave unburnable carbon safely sequestered in the ground.

If we follow the path we’re on, we will almost certainly doom our children to a future of political, economic and social turmoil caused by global warming and high energy prices. Taking the path towards a renewable energy future, however, requires that we change how we buy, sell and use energy. Specifically, it means shifting our private and public sector investments out of coal, oil, gas and pipelines and into conservation and renewables.

The latest pipeline proposal up for approval is TransCanada’s Energy East – a $12 billion project which will transport dilbit (diluted bitumen) by converting an existing 40-year old natural gas pipeline between Alberta and Ontario, and constructing about 1,500 km of new pipeline through Quebec and News Brunswick. Over 1.1 million oil-equivalent barrels per day will flow out of Alberta, at about twice the rate of Enbridge’s recently approved Northern Gateway. Most of this unrefined product will be shipped out of Canada.

Alex Pourbais, TransCanada’s Executive Vice President and President of Development, referred to the federal government’s approval of the Energy East pipeline as “virtually a done deal” (see: "Keystone be Darned: Canada finds Oil Route Around Obama", Bloomberg, October 8, 2014). It seems that TransCanada is anticipating yet another rubber-stamp exercise from the National Energy Board (NEB) through a rigged review process. The Pembina Institute estimates that Energy East’s approval would allow the tar sands to significantly expand, adding an additional 30 million tonnes of carbon pollution to the atmosphere from extraction alone.

Yet, the NEB, in its “List of Issues” notes that it does not have “authority over upstream or downstream activities associated with the development of the oilsands” and won’t consider higher carbon emissions from expanded industrial activity as part of its review (since publication of the print edition of this post, the National Energy Board has removed this document from its website). That the regulatory authority tasked with assessing pipeline proposals doesn’t have the mandate to examine known negative impacts is an absurdity brought to us by Canada’s Conservative government through sneaky changes made to the environmental review process in omnibus budget bills.


In its approval of Northern Gateway, the NEB concluded that the pipeline would provide Canada with a net economic benefit because it would lead to increased output from the tar sands. With Carney and others warning of a carbon bubble, those who expect positive results from sinking money into fossil fuel extraction should give these plans a serious rethink. That includes the Conservative, Liberal and New Democratic parties, all of which support Energy East.

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

Originally published in the Sudbury Star, Saturday, October 18, 2014 online as "Rethink Energy East Pipeline", without hyperlinks)