Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lack of Attention to Lake Water Quality Contributing to Systemic Public Concerns in Greater Sudbury

Something has been simmering beneath the City of Lakes’ political surface for some time now, and as the summer temperature has started to rise, the issue appears to be bubbling to the top of mind of our citizenry. It’s not the usual issue about roads, or about how tax dollars are spent and why – although both roads and taxes play a part in shaping and defining this issue. In short, Greater Sudburians are becoming increasingly fed up with the lack of attention we are collectively paying to water quality issues, especially those which impact drinking water sources, such as Ramsey Lake.

These water quality concerns are themselves part of a broader discussion having to do with the livability of our City. Frustration from many sides has really started to set in with the baby steps that our City has been making, versus the strides that citizens have really started to expect. Too often, when it comes to progressive measures to make our City a better place for residents, resistance is encountered, and every little effort ends up taking up far too much time and resources. It’s often two steps forward, one step back.

The health of our lakes, though, is really a bellwether issue, because it is an issue based both on logic and emotion. Logically, we know that it’s important to maintain and improve the health of our lakes, especially those which are sources of our drinking water. We know that as Sudburians, we must be good stewards of our natural resources. It’s because most everybody in the City seems to have some attachment to our lakes that the issue can take on an emotional aspect as well. We’re proud of our lakes, and we like to use them and show them off. In a City with 330 lakes, it’s hard not to form a positive attachment to them!

Blue-Green Algae

Yet every summer, the notices from the Health Unit start to come out. This beach or that beach is closed, thanks to blue-green algae. Right now, a number of beaches on Ramsey Lake are closed, and it’s not clear when they may be reopened again. So much for taking the kids swimming at Bell Park, Sudbury’s emerald jewel in the heart of our City.

Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, is toxic – you can get very sick just by swimming in water which has been contaminated by it. It forms at this time of year due to a number of factors, but the presence of high nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the water is a primary culprit. These nutrients naturally occur in our lakes, but urban development contributes additional inputs, thanks in part to a lot of additional hard surfaces which hurry stormwater runoff into receiving water bodies before it can be absorbed naturally.

For more information on blue-green algae, visit Health Canada’s website.

Now, after that public service announcement, back to my blog.

Watershed Studies

Provisions requiring watershed studies have been in the City’s Official Plan at least since 2005 (the year that the Official Plan was updated to incorporate all area of the amalgamated City). While watershed studies for major lakes have been required for almost a decade, none have been done. In 2013, Council voted to make watershed studies a priority (see: “Greater Sudbury city council unanimously passes motion in support of watershed studies”, Naomi Grant, Grassoots Media Co-Op, May 16, 2013), but we’ve heard little more about them since that time. Now, with the City’s Official Plan being updated again, it seems likely that watershed studies are going to remain sidelined for the foreseeable future.

These watershed studies are important, as they would provide a level of baseline data regarding the health of lakes and rivers in a watershed. Ideally, watershed studies would be used to help direct development to appropriate locations – those areas where it will have a minimal impact on the health of our waterbodies. At the very least, they’ll provide direction for mitigating development impacts on the watershed. But instead of doing these studies upfront, Greater Sudbury has continued to put the development cart before the precautionary principle horse. Incredibly, large areas of the City have been set aside for as-of-right urban development through the Official Plan and zoning without knowing whether these locations make any sense from a water quality perspective. A great example of this is the abundant land within identified floodplains designated “Living Area” in the Official Plan.

Our City isn’t alone in operating like this, but with our massive geography and the sheer number of lakes and rivers within our boundaries, we feel this issue more acutely than elsewhere. Development decisions in this City may look at mitigating and minimizing impacts on certain environmental features (such as establishing setbacks from shorelines for buildings and septic systems), but these one-off decisions fail to assess the real culprit with lake water quality issues: cumulative impacts. The watershed study would be the appropriate vehicle to start looking towards cumulative impacts, and shaping the direction of future development as a result.

Yet we’ve not prioritized the development of these studies.

Concerned Citizens

In light of this reality, is it really any surprise that citizens are now starting to get a little hot under the collar where new development is proposed and the long-term impacts on the health of our lakes, rivers and streams aren’t known, and aren’t being assessed?

Citizens have started banding together, demanding that a higher level of practice be used by our City when it comes to new development. A few years ago, urban lake stewardship groups came together under the banner of the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance, in part over concerns that individual voices were being dismissed by City Hall. The Coalition for a Livable Sudbury has brought a number of citizens groups together to advocate for watershed studies, and the implementation of healthier and pre-emptive responses to water quality management, such as naturalization instead of expensive retrofits (like what we see on Lady Ashley Court a few years back).

Together, these groups have experienced only limited success – they’ve at least brought the issue forward onto the Council table agenda. Generally speaking, however, they’ve failed to change the culture at City Hall in any meaningful way. Development decisions in absence of water quality impact information continue to be made. New homes are being built in sensitive flood plains. Stormwater management standards remain mired at the level of provincial minimums.

The Camel’s Back Breaks – Second Avenue

Yet, even though their successes have been very limited, these groups are starting to experience push-back from the City, developers and other citizens who may have different agendas. Recently, when a major road widening of Second Avenue was presented as a fait accompli to Minnow Lake residents, the Minnow Lake Restoration Group and Minnow Lake Community Action Network decided to write a letter to the Ministry of the Environment requesting a “bump up” to the municipal environmental assessment process used to determine the level of consultation and assessment of alternatives. By breaking the project down into multiple parts over a number of years, rather than treating the project as a whole, it was very clear from the outset that the City was doing what it could to avoid going through a more comprehensive level of environmental assessment – one which would look at cumulative impacts and assess other options.

The fiasco and finger-pointing which have resulted from Second Avenue could easily have gone down quite differently had the City better prioritized watershed planning. Again, these plans are a requirement of the Official Plan, and in almost 10 years our City of Lakes hasn’t managed to prepare a single one. The Minnow Lake Restoration Group has argued that the five-laning of Second Avenue will create additional stormwater inputs which will flow directly into Ramsey Lake. The City says that those inputs are manageable – but really, the City doesn’t know, because the background work has never been done. Right now, all the City can really do is offer its best guess. And while that may have been good enough in the past, as Bob Dylan sang, “the times they are a-changing”.

If the redesign of Second Avenue were the only project which was being considered within the Ramsey Lake watershed, chances are that the City’s “best guess” might just be fine. But it’s not. There is significant development which has been approved for the Minnow Lake area (which is in the Ramsey Lake watershed), including the massive residential subdivision south of the Silver Hills big box stores. Still in the Ramsey Lake watershed, three multi-storey apartment towers have been greenlighted for lands overlooking the Brady Mall, and the former St. Joseph’s hospital site is being redeveloped into multiple condominium units. Another big subdivision just west of the Sudbury Curling Club and just off of Howey Drive is currently at the Ontario Municipal Board, where it will likely be approved. Ramsey Lake’s watershed has not enjoyed a comprehensive assessment of how these and other developments will impact it.

Adapting to a Changing Climate

And the blue-green algae continues to bloom, earlier every year it seems. Studies prepared for the Nickel District Conservation Authority show that Sudbury can expect hotter and longer summers over the coming decades, thanks to climate change. Temperatures here are expected to increase slightly more than average global temperatures (generally, the further north one goes, the more extreme the temperature change is likely to be – Sudbury’s mid-latitude position means we won’t be impacts as much as some regions, but we’ll receive more than our fair share of warming). Since we can’t change the weather patterns, if we’re going to get lake water quality issues under control, we’ve got to figure out a way to address other inputs, such as nutrients from stormwater runoff.

The argument has gone that watershed studies are simply too expensive to undertake, even for priority waterbodies like Ramsey Lake, a drinking water source. I can’t buy this any longer, as the cost of not doing these studies and continuing to approve development in absence of data and direction will end up costing this City more in the long run than doing things right, up-front, and prior to decisions being made. We can’t afford (literally afford) to ignore this any longer.

Deligitimizing Public Discourse

Yet, the intransigence at City Hall remains real. And the push-back on citizens who dare speak out against development in absence of information is starting to get a little nasty. A column written by Northern Life reporter Darren MacDonald recently took to task two individuals who have been in the forefront of wanting to make our City more livable (see: “Did activists hijack the Second Avenue consultation process?”, Northern Life, July 21, 2014). I have to admit, I have become used to seeing MacDonald’s arguments made by anonymous posters in the comments section of his paper and other local media, but it surprised me that a journalist would attack the good work being done by John Lindsay, Dot Klein and the Minnow Lake CAN and Minnow Lake Restoration Group - particularly through implying that somehow they've gone outside of the system to achieve their ends. The headline used the term "hijack", which implies illegal action and evokes images of terrorism. Was this just to be provocative, or was there a not-so subtle insinuation that Lindsay and Klein are acting in a immoral manner? Either way, the term is clearly an attempt to delegitimize their participation in a public process.

This kind of delegitimizing attack from our local media on individual citizens will no doubt cast a shadow on those who otherwise might desire to speak up in favour of making our communities better places to live. Lindsay and Klein have been following the rules. For the Northern Life to compare them to "hijackers" is both incorrect and frankly, beyond the pale. In the column itself, MacDonald goes only so far as to suggest that they are "taking advantage" of the system - I would suggest that even that frame is incorrect, and assert rather that they are participating within the public system, legitimately.

Either we have democratic, transparent public processes for development activities, or we say that even the mirage of citizen participation in decisions affecting our communities is something we shouldn't tolerate as a society. For the media to denigrate legitimate and legal expressions of public discourse is extremely troubling.

Changing the Culture at City Hall

MacDonald’s angst appears to be motivated by the notion that somehow John Lindsay and Dot Klein are to blame for costs associated with holding up construction for another season. MacDonald also creates a straw-man argument that those who stand in the way of intensification and redevelopment within urban areas are proving a detriment to a City keen on implementing smart growth principles. MacDonald also completely misses the point that the public consultation process for Second Avenue was designed to be anything but real consultation, and although the City chose to address some of the concerns raised by cyclists and decided to include off-street cycling infrastructure on paved boulevards (likely simply because they could), this last-minute inclusion actually demonstrates the failure of the process. Why weren’t groups like the Coalition for a Livable Sudbury, the Minnow Lake CAN and the Sudbury Cyclists Union invited to provide input into the project prior to the creation of plans in the first place? Did the City really not expect the Minnow Lake CAN not to show up and voice its concerns over the redesign of a major arterial which, once again, failed to consider the inclusion of cycling infrastructure, despite the direction provided to the City through the Sustainable Mobility Plan, accepted by the City in 2010? This is the same Minnow Lake CAN which was instrumental in getting bike lanes on the Howey-Bellevue-Bancroft corridor.

Rather than approach the public for real input and a desire to assess alternatives, which would have promoted public buy-in to the project, the City instead said “Here’s what we’re going to do. Now tell us what you think.” Again, in the past, that might have been enough, but the camel’s back has been broken. The approach that citizens are now telling our City to engage in is to come to the public first, as a starting point, and ask “Given that we have this challenge, what do you think we can do to address it to achieve the outcomes we need to achieve?”

Change the Starting Point

Our decision-making processes are public for a reason: they have been designed with citizen engagement in mind. And although it’s often true that our public bodies choose to do the very minimum when it comes to engagement, those minimum requirements processes are nevertheless there to engage the public. Although some in our City have started to bemoan what’s happened with Second Avenue, the fact is that our Environmental Assessment process is a public one, and real concerns raised by citizens are often legitimate, and can lead to improved outcomes. The really unfortunate part is that our City hasn’t followed through on the promises that it made in the Official Plan to undertake watershed studies which could otherwise guide development (and lead to less friction and better decision-making). And as an addendum, although permitted by EA rules, coming to the public so late in the process with a fait accompli really isn’t the best way to engage in meaningful consultation.

The City can’t have it both ways, though. If it wants to play around with development projects in order to get away with doing as little as possible with public participation, all within the rules, it can’t then take issue with citizens who are themselves following the same rules in order to have their voices heard. This isn’t NIMBY. This isn’t about opposing intensification in neighbourhoods. It’s about ensuring that good decisions are made which have minimal impacts on communities. It’s really about changing the starting point of the development process by relocating it to a place which is truly consultative. In the long run, it’s about minimizing potential conflicts and doing things right the first time.

21st Century Solutions

Moving ahead into the 21st Century, our lakes will continue to face challenges to their long-term health, especially those which are impacted by development. For too long we’ve ignored water quality issues, and those issues have now started coming to a head. There aren’t any easy answers to address these issues, given the current physical state of the City, but we can do a much better job of minimizing impacts on a go-forward basis. To do so, however, requires data and direction – the very sort of data and direction which could be provided through the creation of watershed plans which assess the cumulative impacts from development.

Comprehensive planning which leads to better decision making isn’t focused narrowly on costs. Frankly, it’s not all about money. But for those who are concerned about the bottom line above all else, comprehensive planning can, and does, save money over the long term by getting things right the first time. Although our leaders have said for many years that we can’t afford to do the watershed studies required by our Official Plan, we are already paying far too high a price for a lack of understanding of the impacts that our past, and current, development decisions are having on our lakes.

Had lake water quality impacts been assessed upfront by the City for Second Avenue, it’s doubtful that this construction season would have been lost. Blaming private citizens for the costs of delay is completely wrong-headed, given the City’s broken promises to the public with regards to watershed planning. Second Avenue, blue-green algae and the stronger voices of citizens groups ought to be a wake-up call to our City to finally get moving and deal with these important issues in a transparent and accessible manner.

(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, July 22, 2014

Denying the Reality of Climate Change is No Longer an Option

Recently, U.S. President Barack Obama called climate change deniers a “radical fringe” and compared them to people who believe the moon to be made of “green cheese”. In frustration, Obama remarked, “It's pretty rare that you'll encounter somebody who says that the problem you're trying to solve simply doesn't exist,” said Obama (see: “Obama knocks climate change deniers: Like telling JFK 'the moon is made of cheese'”, Evan McMurray, Mediaite, June 14, 2014).

Yet, climate change denial is both real, and dangerous. Denial has created a false impression with the public that the science of climate change remains unsettled. For too long, the conversation in the media has been focused on the question, “is it happening?” and not “what can we do about it?” In an effort to shape public opinion, deniers cynically attack established climate change science, along with the scientists and academic institutions engaged in research.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 5th Assessment Report, released last year, identified an overwhelming consensus that the planet is warming due to human industrial activities. Pegged at 95% certainty, this consensus is actually higher than the consensus that cigarette smoking causes cancer. Denying that the climate is changing, or that humans are responsible for these changes, simply ignores all evidence to the contrary.

In response, some major media outlets have discontinued giving deniers a platform in the name of “journalistic balance”. Last year, the Los Angeles Times stopped publishing non-fact based opinion pieces from those claiming climate change was a hoax, or that the science was unsettled (see, "On letters from climate deniers" Paul Thornton, L.A. Times, October 8, 2013). Earlier this month, the British Broadcasting Corporation decided it would no longer air guests who dispute established scientific facts (see, "BBC Institutes Changes to Prevent 'False Balance' in Science Reporting", Katharine Trendacosta,io9, July 4, 2014)

The well-funded cadre of climate change deniers are responding to the media’s new-found intolerance of denial. Calling themselves “climate optimists”, they are shifting away from absolute denial to arguing that climate change may actually be a good thing – or at least not as bad as 97% of the world’s climate scientists make it out to be (see: "The Climate Optimists", Well Oremus, Slate.com, July 9, 2014). If a warming planet is good, or at least not bad, their argument goes that we can continue to put off the “what can we do about it?” conversation. However, this “do nothing” argument is doomed to crumble in the face of extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, flash flooding and forest fires – all of which the scientific consensus agrees we are already seeing more of. The climate crisis can’t be ignored.

Besides a few elected officials who have built their reputations on denying the science of climate change (such as U.S. Senator James Inhofe), the most egregious climate change deniers are the ones encountered on social media. Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms are littered with mean-spirited deniers, many of whom hide behind anonymous names and accounts, probably out of fear of being publicly ridiculed for their fringe beliefs.

Last year, Popular Science turned off its website’s comments feature, citing that anonymous comments were “undermining bedrock scientific doctrine” through non-factual arguments (see: "Why we're shutting off our comments", Suzanne LaBarre, Popular Science, September 24, 2013). Referring to scientific studies that show public opinion can be influenced by messages posted in online comment forums – something long known by climate change deniers - Popular Science claimed that fostering fact-based discussion was more of a priority than providing a platform for those with an anti-science agenda.

With the scientific facts of climate change now well known amongst the public, it's time for Canada's mainstream media to catch-up and deny the deniers a public platform for their made-up worldview. Climate change is real, and it's happening. Printing and broadcasting observations of “green cheese” are unhelpful and damaging to the conversation that we need to be having: what now are we going to do about a warming world?

(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, July 19, 2014 online as "May: Denying climate change no longer an option", without hyperlinks.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Where Do We Go From Here? - The Green Party of Ontario & the June 2014 Provincial Election

With the June 12, 2014 Ontario provincial election now in the rear-view mirror, two of Ontario’s four major political parties have been going through a fair amount of public soul searching after less than inspired electoral outcomes. Tim Hudak’s PC party ended up losing 9 seats, while Andrea Horwarth’s NDP ended up with the same number of seats the NDP held at dissolution (21), having lost three key City of Toronto ridings while picking up three smaller urban seats in compensation – the NDP bettered its 2011 election result by 4 seats, and held onto all of their by-election gains.

We’re pretty familiar with the fact that Tim Hudak announced on election night that he was stepping down as Progressive Conservative party leader, but even that wasn’t enough for PC supporters, who had the knives out to filet Hudak anyway, after he had suggested he’d stay on to chaperone the party until a leadership contest was held. A few days later, after a raucous caucus meeting with remaining MPP’s, Hudak stepped away completely from any leadership role with the PC’s. The rules for a leadership contest are now being put together by the PC’s Executive, and already a front-line contender, MPP Christine Elliot, has stepped forward to announce she’ll be running for leader. Other high profile provincial and federal Conservatives are expected to announce soon.

Andrea Horwarth, despite some internal dissent within her own party, has opted to stay on as NDP Leader. She’ll be facing a mandatory vote of confidence at the Ontario NDP’s next convention – a vote she’ll likely win, albeit with some expression of opposition to her staying on. Horwarth was roundly criticized by many in the labour movement for voicing opposition to Premier Kathleen Wynne’s budget, which precipitated the election when Wynne marched over to the L-G’s one day after delivering the budget. Insiders speculate that Howarth’s team was caught off-guard by the quick dissolution of parliament, and the NDP’s very slow start to the election (their platform didn’t roll out until the third week – and the 2011 election platform wasn’t taken down from their website for more than two weeks after parliament was dissolved) suggests that there’s some merit to that. Had the NDP been faster out of the gate, this election’s outcome might have been different for that party.

2014 Ontario Election – Mostly the Same

Generally speaking, though, not much actually changed at the ballot box in this past election. The biggest story at the ballot box was probably the increase in voter turnout (up from less than 50% to almost 54%). This slight shift in voter turnout may have contributed slightly to the change in actual seat counts for each party, despite the very modest changes to vote percentage. The Liberals saw their vote share go up just 1%, yet they picked up 5 new seats over 2011 results (and were up 10 seats from dissolution). The NDP did a little better, gaining just over 1% from 2011 totals, and rising by 4 seats (0 seats from time of dissolution). The PC’s were the biggest loser of the night, seeing their vote share drop by 4.2% from 2011, and their seat count fall by 9 (2011 and dissolution).

The biggest winner of the night, though, based on voter percentages, was clearly the Green Party of Ontario, which saw its vote share go up by almost 2% - almost double that experienced by the Liberals and the NDP. However, despite the increase in voter share, the Green Party failed to elect anybody at all.

Greens in the Wilderness

It’s a crying shame that the relatively minor shifts in vote percentages can (and do) lead to perverse electoral consequences in Ontario and throughout Canada. Now, in Ontario, we have a party with a so-called “majority” government, which less than 39% of votes cast, and about 22% of votes from all eligible voters (45% of whom decided not to cast any ballot at all). The electoral outcome is a clear travesty, and an affront to the concept of democracy. Yet, in the latest election, the issue of electoral reform was nowhere to be found amongst the three parties which elected representatives. Only the Green Party was talking about the need to change the way in which we democratically elect our representatives.

Yet, most Ontarians were probably unaware of that fact, just as most were probably unaware of almost everything that the Green Party was campaigning on. Once again, Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner was left out of all of the Leader’s debates (televised and otherwise), and the Ontario media did a pretty good job of ignoring the existence of the Greens (save for TV Ontario). The only Green issue which seemed to bubble up to the election surface was the call to merge publicly funded school boards. Besides that, most voters were probably quite unaware of where the Green Party stood on any issue.

The Green Party – Where Do We Go From Here?

Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner will be facing a mandatory leadership review of his own this coming September, when the GPO holds its annual general meeting in Toronto. Schreiner was elected Leader by Greens in November, 2009, after a gutsy, but ultimately unsuccessful by-election challenge earlier that year in Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock (where he received less than 7% of the vote, finishing third), a by-election notable for the defeat of PC Leader John Tory at the hands of the Liberals. Schreiner became just the second leader of the Green Party of Ontario, taking over from Frank De Jong, who was elected Leader of the Greens in 1993, five years after the founding of the Party. De Jong led the Green Party to its best electoral showing of all in 2007, when Greens picked up 8% of the popular vote (but still failed to elect anybody).

Since then, Mike has led the Greens to general election shut-outs in 2011 (where he finished fourth in Simcoe-Grey with less than 9% of the vote) and again recently in 2014 (where he finished third in Guelph, with just over 19% of the vote, behind the incumbent Liberal candidate and PC challenger).

Greens – Looking for “Success”

Now look – I understand that “success” is a loaded term, but I think that most readers would agree that the Green Party of Ontario has experienced “success” in a very narrow, limited context, and it’s likely more accurate to suggest that the GPO, a party which has been in existence since 1987, has so far failed to make the sort of inroads with the electorate that a political party needs in order to unequivocally state that it has experienced “success”.

Tim Hudak resigned on election night 2014 after dropping just over 4% of the vote. Hudak made gains for his Party in 2011, increasing its seat count by 11, and its vote count by over 3%. Contrast those numbers with the Green Party’s: In 2011, the Green Party of Ontario dropped over 5% (2007 – 8%; 2011 – 2.9%) and still failed to return to 2007 levels in 2014 (4.84%). Taken together, the Green Party under Schreiner has lost more ground than the PC’s have since 2007.

Greens may not be as eager as PC’s to bring out the long knives – who, after all, is waiting in the wings to replace Schreiner if he steps down (or if Greens vote for a leadership review in September)? Also, it is absolutely fair to say that Greens don’t believe that our lack of good showing was in any way reflective of our Leader’s efforts or campaign mistakes in the same way that many PC’s (and some New Democrats) view the decisions made by their party leaders. I’d strongly suspect most Greens believe that Schreiner gave it his best shot, and that circumstances have simply conspired to keep Greens out of Queens Park. Again.

Leadership

I like Mike Schreiner. I don’t know that I’ve ever met any Green that’s met Mike and whom doesn’t like Mike. I don’t know that I’ve heard much in the way of negative feedback about Mike, except for general comments about his invisibility – something which I know Mike tries hard to overcome. But let’s face it: Mike has never enjoyed the same sort of profile that Elizabeth May brought with her when she became the Green Party of Canada’s Leader. And even then, it took two heart-breaking electoral losses for May to finally win one for the Greens in 2011.

Putting aside Mike’s likability, however, the question needs to be asked: what can the Green Party of Ontario do in the future to change the sorts of electoral outcomes which Greens have become used to? In hockey, it’s easy for a losing team to fire its coach and expect different results under different leadership. In politics, that’s not always the case (nor is it in hockey, as a matter of fact), yet too many political parties are quick to make those kinds of moves. Green parties, however, often don’t put a lot of credence into Party leadership (recall that Frank De Jong became the party’s first leader over 6 years after the founding of the Party – there’s a reason for that, and its rooted in the consensus culture of Green Parties throughout Canada and the world – a culture which is often at cross purposes with electoral politics in this nation and its provinces), preferring to downplay Leaders and keep their power in check through constitutional and by-law mechanisms. Green leaders enjoy significantly less latitude than the leaders of other parties when it comes to so many of the political tools which other parties leader can employ to change course.

In that context, it’s a lot easier for PC’s and New Democrats to blame their leaders for less-than stellar performances.

Meeting the “Enemy”

So if Greens can’t blame Schreiner for yet another lack of electoral “success”, who do we blame? Actually, the list is quite long – the media, the other parties, the electoral system, etc. Look, it’s easy to point fingers at any and all of these hurdles which the Party has to figure out a way to overcome if we’re going to elect anybody. But ultimately, I think we need to take a very close look at the real levers of power within the party and start pointing some fingers in that direction.

Those fingers, of course, should be pointed right back at us – the members of the Party who make the policy and constitutional decisions about how the Party works and what the Party campaigns on. We the members of the Party are also primarily those who provide are time and financial resources to the success of the Party. We are the ones who step up at election time to be local candidates (or find others to do it on our behalf).

We are the ones who have again failed to connect with voters, after all of our struggling, our financial outlays, our social media use and door knocking. We didn’t do it in 2014. We need to start asking ourselves some tough questions now about what we’re going to do differently in 2018. We can’t sit back and pin all of our hopes on Mike Schreiner to gain a beachhead for the Party in a single riding. We need to start taking some responsibility for dynamic campaigns in our own local ridings. As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us”.

The Key to Future Success

In short, we need to start getting better organized. Luckily, we’ve got a pretty good opportunity to do just that coming up in 2015 with the federal election. The trick is going to be holding on to some of the momentum from 2015 should a majority government be returned federally, because that will mean almost three years will go by before Ontarians head to the polls for a general election at the federal or provincial levels.

In this context, it really doesn’t matter who our provincial leader is (although I personally hope that Mike Schreiner decides to stay on for the 2018 election – but I would also understand if Mike decides it’s time to turn over the leadership to someone else, with the hopes that a leadership contest could generate some interest in the Party in advance of the 2018 vote). Our focus now has got to turn to organization – something which Green Parties throughout Canada have been challenged to do effectively. 2015 might help – but what we really need is for our engaged members to recruit a few more engaged members and start building healthy, dynamic and publicly accessible Constituency Associations with the goal of having a vibrant and recognized presence in our communities.

We know that organizing isn’t easy. But it can be a lot of fun. And it’s essential that we engage in this activity in our local communities.

The Green Party of Ontario just doesn’t have the luxury of placing our blame on the shoulders of our leader. We’ve got real work to do, and we’d better start doing it – else we ourselves risk experiencing the definition of insanity which so many of us are keen to share with voters as justification for supporting the Green Party: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

(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, June 27, 2014

Greater Sudbury Election Notes, Part 4: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and the Timely


Candidates running for Council try to distinguish themselves throughout the campaign period by making proposals which, they hope, voters will buy into. Of course, once elected, selling one’s campaign idea to the rest of Council can be a difficult task, especially if those ideas are ones that no one else was talking about during their own campaigns. In 2011, Greater Sudbury Mayor ran on changing the City’s store hours by-law. When she brought her idea forward to council shortly after her election, there was no appetite on the part of Council to consider it.

Some ideas really do have merit – even Matichuk was ultimately able to resurrect the store hours by-law debate after a bit of a public outcry was made. Now, Sudburians will be deciding through a referendum whether we want to amend the by-law.

Some ideas, though, just never catch on with the public or with Council. Maybe they’re too parochial, or limited in application to just one or two wards. In Greater Sudbury, our inner-city / outer-city dynamic often comes into play on certain issues. Consideration of changing Official Plan policies to allow for more expensive-to-service rural residential development comes to mind.

It’s late June, and the municipal election campaign which began on January 2, is more than half over. Although a record number of candidates have thrown their names in the ring, we’ve seen very little in the way of policy proposals being brought forward. Now, it’s true that at least some candidates might have a lot of ideas to share with the City, but little way of communicating them. If you build a webpage, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will come.

Let’s look at four ideas which are being talked about in this election – all four of these proposals are ones which I believe we’re going to be hearing more about as time goes on.

The Good – Ward 1, Matt Alexander - Participatory Budgeting

First-time Ward 1 candidate Matt Alexander has offered up a real winning formula to deal with the City’s much-maligned Healthy Community Initiative (HCI) funds. You may be familiar with the HCI, or “slush” funds - $50,000 in spending a year which incumbent Councillors get to direct towards leisure/community improvement. The funding for community improvement isn’t really the problem – it’s the way that each local ward Councillor gets to dish it out to needy organizations in “their” wards. Some have suggested that the slush fund gives incumbents a $200,000 unfair advantage over other candidates.

Well, Alexander doesn’t have that problem in Ward 1 any longer, now that the voters have Sudbury have sent Joe Cimino off to Queens’ Park. Alexander proposed to keep the HCI funding, but change the way in which it is distributed. While other candidates want to throw out the baby with the bathwater (see: The Bad, below), Alexander wants ward citizens themselves to decide where the money gets spent through a process being used elsewhere in Ontario called “participatory budgeting”.

As Alexander outlined at his campaign launch last night, there no reinvention of the wheel required – something Sudbury voters should take solace in. They’ve been doing participatory budgeting in Hamilton and elsewhere for some time now. If the City believes it is a priority for community improvement funding to be spent equitably in each ward, then it only makes sense for the citizens themselves to make the specific decisions about where and how much.

And finally, unlike changing the store hours by-law, Alexander doesn’t need the buy-in of Council to make this change – at least, not in Ward 1. As long as Alexander adheres to the accountability section of the by-law, and those engaged in participatory budgeting processes follow the funding eligibility criteria, Alexander can lead by example by working with Ward 1 citizens to set up a participatory budgeting process for HCI funds.

For more information about Alexander’s participatory budgeting proposal, you can visit his website.


The Bad – Ward 9, Aaron Beaudry - Subsidizing Doctors

First-time candidate Aaron Beaudry is running in Ward 9. He’s got a completely different take on HCI funding, which, although it tries to address an important issue in the municipality, has got to fall into the “bad” category.

Beaudry’s platform indicates that 1 in 5 Greater Sudburians are currently without a family doctor. Access to timely, professional health care is a very real issue in our community, and it could very well be that the City ought to be doing more in the way of developing a workable strategy to attract and retain health care professionals.

Unfortunately, Beaudry has targeted the community-building HCI funds as his chief means of investing in attracting and retaining doctors. Rather than using those funds to create community infrastructure, like playgrounds, or investing in community organizations which seek to make our City more livable, Beaudry wants to take the entire lump sum and use it to help off-set the relocation costs of doctors and reward them for sticking around.

In short, Beaudry wants to reward rich doctors for making Sudbury their home at the expense of building the kind of community in which doctors, and everybody else, want to live in.

And that’s why the proposal is completely unacceptable. Kudos to Beaudry for recognizing the need to do something about our health care professional deficit, but here’s a failing grade to him for wanting to use $2.4 million (over four years) in money marked for community projects to subsidize wealthy doctors by helping them buy big houses. It’s a bad idea.

The Ugly: Mayor, Dan Melanson - Closing Down Community Arenas

Mean-spirited mayoralty candidate Dan Melanson is fast earning his “anti-family” moniker by promising to cut a slew of public services on which families have come to rely. Along with selling off Pioneer Manor, closing day care facilities and parks, Melanson has also been musing about closing down Greater Sudbury’s many arenas.

“I don’t see that as a core service, frankly – Sudbury Arena, and arenas in general” Melanson mused aloud at his campaign launch event (see: “Melanson opens mayoral bid in with call for leaner government”, the Northern Life, June 20 2014).

Seriously? Melanson, the former head and founder of the Greater Sudbury Taxpayers Association, is a known hard-right ideologue – but his desire to close down municipal arenas because they aren’t, in his opinion, “core services” dives into territory which even former PC leader Tim Hudak wouldn’t have dared to venture.

Look, arenas are part of the fabric of our community. They are places where children and families recreate. They are part of what makes our community – and any community, for that matter, a better, richer place to live one’s life.

Melanson might eventually temper his stance somewhat – maybe he’ll only advocate that the arenas be sold, rather than simply closed down – but the fact of the matter is that our arenas are not money-making enterprises. They are subsidized by taxes for the common good of our citizens. Private sector owners will not be breaking down the doors to pick up these assets – and even if one or two do get snapped up, rest assured that user fees will go through the roof – and only Melanson and his rich buddies will be able to afford the price of admission.

What’s next for “Grumpy Dan” the ideologue? Will transit and libraries also be on the chopping block, because he deems them not be “core services” and because they don’t make money? Apparently, not making money doesn’t matter so much, as Melanson also wants to end the City’s relationship with our municipal energy and water service provider, Greater Sudbury Utilities. If Melanson gets his way, it’ll be years of non-stop chop at City Hall.

Yet, if you visit his promotional website, you won’t see any of Melanson’s choice items for cutting listed, save for Pioneer Manor, which he obviously has a special hate-on for, given that it is staffed by unionized employees receiving living wages. Thank goodness Melanson likes to blab to the media, else we might never have discovered his anti-arena stance. Let’s wait to see if he speaks out against the Farmer’s Market, dog parks, splash pads and public beaches, too. I hope the media starts asking some of these questions, because it’s clear that Melanson is trying to pull a fast one on the electorate.

Melanson’s putting our community arenas on the chopping block will lead to a colder, diminished Sudbury. It’s a very ugly idea.

The Timely – Ward 10, John Antonioni - Flouride

Ward 10 candidate John Antonioni (who needs to up his online presence if he truly wants to have the chance to make Greater Sudbury a more “livable, affordable and progressive community”) recently tweeted, “MONEY DOWN THE DRAIN Sudbury rate payers pay apprx $200k to add FLOURIDE to water. But less than 5% of that supply is ingested. Is that OK?”

Now, since this was the first that I had heard any candidate muse about wanting to take fluoride out of our drinking water, I questioned Mr. Antonioni back in a twee, asking him if he were going to make this an election issue. The response was clear: it’s his intention to do so. Antonioni cited a number of reasons which motivate him to want to take fluoride out of drinking water, including fiscal reasons related to our infrastructure deficit, and the notion that silicofluoride is a pollutant.

In November, 2011, Mayor Matichuk mused that it was time to have a serious discussion about fluoridation. After revealing that adding fluoride to our drinking water (something that Sudbury has been doing since 1952) cost between $95,000 and $115,000 annually, and that upgrades costing $2.2 million would be needed to continue the practice, Matichuk expressed reservations. “It’s very costly to have fluoride in our system, but there is also potential risk factors to our employees who have to handle the chemical in its pure form. The amount in our water is very minute, but people need to take it upon themselves to be educated on fluoride.” (see: “It’s time to discuss water fluoridation: Matichuk”, the Northern Life, November 28, 2011). Despite Matichuk’s assertion that it was time to have this discussion, she quickly fell silent on the issue and no discussion has ever occurred.

Fast forward three years, and to Ward 10 council candidate Antonioni’s twitter musings. With cities such as Kirkland Lake, Orillia, Windsor and Calgary all voting to remove fluoride from drinking water, the time probably has come for Greater Sudbury to have an adult conversation about fluoride being added to our water. There remains significant debate around the issue of whether fluoride really does provide the public benefit to dental care that has long been claimed. With many unflouridated jurisdictions reporting no statistical difference in rates of tooth decay, Antonioni and others, like Mayor Matichuk before, are on the right track to question whether taxpayer’s money should continue to fund the addition of fluoride to our drinking water. I sincerely hope that other candidates weigh in on this timely issue, because it’s a debate and discussion whose time has come.

Antonioni might face some backlash for bringing this subject up. Certainly, it’s never an easy idea for politicians to champion – especially unelected ones. Kudos to Antonioni, though, for having the courage to bring it up, despite the potential for criticism. That’s what leadership is about.

Now if only he had a website which he could direct the public to for more information on this topic. Pssst! John – and all of you other candidates without a website: get a website. Now. It’s one of those “must have” tools for election. LinkedIn and Twitter just aren’t enough!

(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, June 25, 2014

Northern Ontario Could Be Canada’s Biggest Loser from Northern Gateway Decision


The recent federal government approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline may prove to have far reaching consequences for Northern Ontarians, and ultimately may shape the development of the Ring of Fire.

There is little current need for Northern Gateway and other proposed pipelines such as Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain and Keystone XL . These pipelines are proposed to facilitate the expansion of the tar sands industrial enterprise, something Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, and previous Liberal governments, have been pushing.

Successive federal governments have failed to develop a national climate change strategy. Canada doesn’t even have a national energy strategy. Instead, we have a highly politicized Economic Action Plan which puts all of our eggs into a bitumen basket, while ignoring the economic perils which lie ahead when the carbon bubble bursts.

Harper’s Plan calls for a rise in tar sands production from 1.9 million barrels per day (2012) to more than 5 million barrels per day by 2035. In this scenario, Canada’s bitumen will be exported to refineries in Asia and the U.S., where value-added processing will take place. Pipelines must be built to move the bitumen to tidewater ports.

The Joint Review Panel, which recommended approval of Northern Gateway, subject to 209 conditions, didn’t bother to assess greenhouse gas emissions in its report, deeming climate change issues to be beyond its scope of review. The Panel’s report, which the Harper government relied on to approve Gateway, trumpeted the perceived economic benefits of tar sands expansion, while ignoring associated climate-related costs. The Enbridge decision was based on both bad science and bad economics.

At Copenhagen in 2009, the global community, including Canada, committed to holding global warming at 2 degrees Celsius, the threshold at which the best available science has warned we dare not exceed. Stephen Harper further pledged to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions 17% from 2005 levels by the year 2020.

Environment Canada data shows that we’re not on track to achieve our emissions reductions target, despite some pretty heavy lifting done by Ontario by ending coal-fired power generation. All of the Canada’s “wins” at reducing emissions have been wiped out by uncontrolled tar sands growth.

Although Stephen Harper doesn’t take the climate crisis seriously, other nations are. Canada’s day of reckoning for our lack of action on curbing emissions is just around the corner. Recently, in Montreal, Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, rebuked governments, saying, “We are subsidizing the very behaviour that is destroying our planet, and on an enormous scale” (see: "IMF's Lagarde praises Canada's energy sector, calls for a carbon tax", from canadianmanufacturing.com, June 9, 2014)

When that reckoning comes, regions such as Ontario may be forced to do more than their fair share to reduce emissions in order to offset the tar sands. Energy-intensive industrial projects, such as the Ring of Fire, may be jeopardized in a last-ditch bid to live up to our international commitments. Northern Ontario’s dream of a value-added stainless steel industry built around Ring of Fire chromite may need to be sacrificed so that we can continue shipping raw bitumen to Asia.

A smarter idea would be to slow the growth of the tar sands as part of a national economic and climate strategy. Generous public subsidies to rich multinational oil companies need to come to an end. A real national energy strategy should promote Canada’s long-term energy security, rather than making a quick buck by exporting raw resources.

In a world which finally gets serious about the climate crisis, all of Canada’s regions will find themselves at risk should we continue along our present, dangerous path. Northern Ontario could end up being the biggest loser from Canada’s so-called Economic Action Plan.

(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, June 21, 2014 online as "May: North Could be Loser in Gateway Approval", without hyperlinks.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Greater Sudbury Election Notes, Part 3: Melanson Tears a Page from Hudak's Anti-Family Playbook


With the first day of summer having come and gone, things are starting to heat up in Greater Sudbury’s political arena. On the same day that current Mayor Marianne Matichuk announced that she would not be running again for municipal office, ultra-right-wing candidate (and former Matichuk campaigner) Dan Melanson formally launched his campaign in a media event a Buzzy Brown’s. Melanson, who appears to be helming a well-oiled election machine, is now wearing the mantle of frontrunner, as the campaigns of other high profile candidates, including former Greater Sudbury Mayor John Rodriguez, and Ward 5 municipal councillor Ron Dupuis, appear to have stalled. Indeed, Mayor Matichuk claimed that part of her rationale for announcing that she was not seeking re-election was the hope that maybe somebody else would be emboldened to step forward to seek the Mayor’s office. That’s hardly an endorsement of any of the current candidates.

The Conservative Party at the Municipal Level

Not that Melanson seems particularly concerned about receiving Matichuk’s endorsement. Earlier this year, Melanson announced that the organization he has headed now for several years, the Greater Sudbury Taxpayers’ Association (GSTA), would directly intervene in the City’s municipal election by hosting all-candidates meetings in each ward, likely focused on the narrow range of small-government issues important to the GSTA. Of course, although masquerading as a citizens group, the GSTA is really little more than the Conservative Party at the municipal level. Since guiding his group forward to directly intervene in the election, Melanson stepped down as its head in order to run for the Mayor’s chair, in a transparent attempt to use the GSTA to stack the deck in his own favour.

In 2011, Matichuk’s campaign out-raised and out-spent any of her competitor’s campaigns – a pretty impressive feat for a candidate who had almost zero local profile in her community. Clearly, a monied machine was backing Matichuk. Likely, many of those involved in her successful bid for Mayor will be backing Melanson this time around. Since money speaks very loudly at elections time, other mayoral candidates are going to be fighting an uphill battle.

Uninspired Campaigning

And it may be an insurmountable one. Since announcing their intentions to seek the Mayor’s Chair earlier this year, both Rodriguez and Dupuis have been invisible. It could be that they’re planning on using the summer bbq circuit to shore up their support, especially with the unions and their potential supporters in the Sudbury and Nickel Belt NDP associations, but right now, their silence has been deafening.

And let’s face it: both Rodriguez and Dupuis are carrying quite a bit of baggage which they’ll have to figure out a way to jettison. Rodriguez in particular has a pretty massive challenge in front of him, after losing the last election to Matichuk, after 4 years in office riddled with questionable decisions and political cover-ups. Rodriguez’s only hope may be that Melanson ends up alienating more voters than he inspires with his hard right-wing anti-family agenda. Rodriguez’s campaign may have to wade into unfamiliar territory and play the fear card – a difficult option for a man who likes to speak positively about his community and Council.

Slash & Burn Politics

But the fact is that there is a lot to fear from Melanson. At his campaign launch, Melanson mused openly about selling off Greater Sudbury’s arena’s and recreational centres (see: “Melanson opens mayoral bid with call for leaner government”, Darren MacDonald, the Northern Life, June 20, 2014). Melanson questioned the need to continue paying for services and programs which municipalities aren’t “mandated” to pay for – although it’s unclear to whom or what Melanson was referring to with the term “mandate” (last I checked, the citizens of a municipality held the ultimate mandate with their votes – but I suspect that Melanson subscribes to a different view of where a council’s mandate comes from). Already, rumours are filtering throughout the City that Melanson and his small-minded GSTA backers want to have a public service fire sale, with everything from arenas to libraries to parks to seniors homes to children’s splash pads potentially on the “to be tossed” list.

Greater Sudbury voters recently saw another politician want to gleefully cut the very public services and programs on which their families relied upon for their quality of life. Melanson, like Tim Hudak before him, seems to relish the idea of handing out pink slips – certainly, during his tenure as the GSTA’s leader, there was no shortage of media releases calling for one or another public servant’s head on a platter. Using the tactics of bullies, Melanson and his crew successfully forced their way onto the municipal agenda, thanks to a compliant media that likes an easy to tell story.

Positives vs. Negatives

And that’s going to be another problem for Rodriguez and Dupuis going forward. Their election narratives will likely focus on the positives in our City, and their desire to build according to shared values and vision. Rodriguez in particular likes to talk about that vision thing at every opportunity. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with that – indeed, I’ve always applauded him for doing so. But when your primary opponent has the ear of the media, which is the case with Melanson, trying to get print out of vision becomes that much more of a challenge.

The media likes to play up the game and goes for the stories which are easier to describe. We can expect Melanson and his crew to start slagging Rodriguez and Dupuis with dirty, nasty personal attacks – the moment that Rodriguez and Dupuis decide they really want to be in this game and start seriously campaigning, that is. Greater Sudburians deserve better than the disgusting, personal negative attacks that we’ve seen from GSTA supporters over the past four years (especially in the online comments section of our two newspapers, where the cover of anonymity has led to some pretty vile and truly disgusting remarks almost daily). However, Conservatives know that negative campaigning works – and it’s something at which they excel.

Selling Fear - No Hope Campaigns

Again, though, if the recent provincial election taught candidates anything, it’s that fear sells. Can Rodriguez or Dupuis take on the role of Kathleen Wynne (at least the role she played in the last two weeks of the provincial election campaign), and sell themselves as the anti-Melanson? Can they strike enough fear into the hearts of voters that Melanson’s anti-family slash-and-burn bully approach to municipal leadership will put the entire community at risk?

Melanson certainly likes to fuel that fire, and a like a leopard who can’t change his spots, no matter how often Melanson says that he’s a “consensus builder” his my-way-or-the-highway bull-headed bullying approach to getting want he wants seems to come out (see, “Dan Melanson willing to’butt heads’ with Sudbury council”, CBC, April 9, 2014). In that respect, there should be a lot for Rodriguez and Dupuis to work with, should they start finding their campaigns faltering on the message of "hope".

Melanson: A Cold, Uncaring and Diminished Sudbury

But being up against a candidate who will likely spend over $100,000 to become our next Mayor, who has turned into a media darling, and who has the benefit of a pretty serious campaign machine – well, it’s not going to be easy. Progressive forces in our City ought to take note: while it’s true that the Mayor is just one person on Council, Melanson and other small-minded core-services candidates backed by the GSTA machine are a clear and present threat to our quality of life. Rather than marching boldly into the 21st Century, Melanson wants to take Greater Sudbury back to the 1950s – and maybe even further back than that – to a time where property owners looked after themselves and didn’t give a hoot about community infrastructure which they couldn’t touch, like roads and sewer pipes. If you couldn’t afford to put your kids in hockey, too bad – the response was “get a job” (usually followed the flip of a middle finger).

Melanson’s “vision” of a cold, uncaring and diminished Sudbury is exactly the sort of landscape which progressives have to come together to oppose. An “every man for himself” attitude to municipal governance isn’t what our community needs to collectively face the numerous challenges of the 21st Century. An anti-family, pro-rich trickle-down economic platform would kill many of the worthy community-building initiatives underway in this City, including those related to transit and alternative transportation, enhancing the downtowns of Sudbury and our outlying communities, and enhanced citizen engagement in public processes.

Melanson may be the frontrunner, and he may have a lot going for him over the next several months. He’s going to try to pull the wool over the eyes of citizens (whom he constantly refers to by the belittling term as “taxpayers”). Are Greater Sudburians going to buy what he’s selling? We might end up doing just that unless an invigorated and truly progressive candidate steps up to the plate to oppose him and his small-government tea party.

After all, we’ve already bought it once before.

(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, June 6, 2014

Prideful Boasts of Non-Participation from Eligible Voters a Troubling Trend for Ontario, Canada

(originally published online as a comment to “Sudbury voters interested in P.C. message: Peroni”, published by the Sudbury Star, June 6, 2014). I’ve decided to publish this comment on my blog, because the issue I’ve discussed is one which is vitally important to me – and one which I continually worry about)

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Thank you, Paula Peroni, for talking about a bit of a disturbing trend which has vocally emerged during this election campaign. We’ve known for a long while that fewer voters are casting their ballots, but what has emerged recently is that an increasing number of citizens are proudly proclaiming that they’ve opted out of our electoral system altogether, almost as if the voting has become a bit of a shameful act – or at the very least, non-participation has become a prideful one.

It’s a very troubling trend, and one that is going to prove hard to reverse moving forward. There are options available, however – but first, those whom we elect have to acknowledge that something has gone terribly wrong with our electoral system. And that’s certainly something that we haven’t been hearing about from any of the old-line parties during this election, despite the numerous media pieces on how the latest polls are now reporting results based on those deemed “likely” to vote. It’s clear that we’ve got a problem – why aren’t the PC’s, Liberals and NDP talking about a solution?

Some of the problem has to do with the idea that political parties and candidates simply aren’t discussing the issues which are important to voters. As political parties have moved to narrow-cast their messages, trading big-picture visionary ideas for retail buffet politics and PR, it’s no wonder that citizens feel that the parties aren’t speaking to them – because they’re not. They’re speaking largely to their base, trying to motivate that base to get out and vote. In our current electoral system, we can elect a majority government with just a small minority of votes. Canada did just that in 2011 when the Conservative Party came to power with a “strong, stable majority” of just 22% of the vote from all eligible voters. In Ontario, our current Liberal government received a mandate of less than 19% from eligible voters.

Paula Peroni suggests that part of the problem is also that many voters believe that they’re votes don’t really count. The reality is, she’s right – most votes don’t count. If you vote PC in Sudbury, your vote doesn’t matter – it’s not going to elect anybody. If you vote NDP in Nipissing, the same is true. In our first-past-the-post winner-take-all electoral system, we dis-incent public participation.

What if we had an electoral system in which every vote really did count? What if you knew, before going into the polling station, that your vote really would make a difference? Would that be something more likely to incent you to vote?

That’s what an electoral system of proportional representation would do – make every vote count. Make your vote matter, even if you don’t pick the winner. Most democracies use this form of election process – certainly, the political parties running in the Ontario election use this process themselves to elect their own leaders. Why, then, has it been left to the Green Party alone to be talking about making this change to our electoral system to better restore health to our ailing democratic processes? Where are the other parties on this?

We can’t continue to ignore this. We believe that by electing governments, the people have consented to give elected officials the right to govern. But can this remain the case when far too many of us are opting out of the process – and in doing so, proclaiming the legitimacy of non-participation? When people feel that they have not consented to be governed, what then? There may be general toleration for a while, but don’t count on its continuation.

When our governments (and those seeking to govern us) behave in anti-democratic ways, we ought not be surprised when the general population begins to lose faith in democracy. Canada is heading down a dangerous road. If we value democracy – and I believe that most of us profess to, including the vast majority of those who will not cast their ballots on Thursday – if we truly value democracy, we need to seriously look into how to make it work better for people. Because it’s pretty clear that it’s not working very well right now.

Good for Sudbury PC candidate Paula Peroni to bring this up in her interview with the Star.

(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)