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)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bad News Out of Quebec for the Green Party of Canada

Uh-oh. There's bad news for the Green Party of Canada coming out of Quebec today. It looks like Jean-Francois Larose, MP for the Quebec riding of Repetigny, has quit the New Democrats and will join together with Bloc Quebecois-turned-Independent MP Jean-Francois Fortin (Haute-Gasp├ęsie—La Mitis—Matane—Matap├ędia) to create a new Quebec-only political party to be known as “Forces et Democratie” (see: "Fourth Quebec MP quits federal NDP to form newparty with ex-Bloc MP”, the Canadian Press, October 21, 2014).


On the surface, this story probably has little resonance with most Greens. The Quebec ridings in question aren't likely to be in play for our Party in 2015, and if anything, should the new Party start to catch on a little bit, the effect it might have in Quebec might simply be to fracture the vote even further, which, generally speaking, could be a good thing for Greens, if we had the ability to seize on that opportunity in Quebec (which I don't see at the moment, but that's subject to change based on the candidates that the Party recruits). No, this story seems to be more of an indictment of the New Democrats (who can't seem to keep their caucus from shrinking) and the Bloc (is that Party still around?). And while the story may be that, the fact of the matter is that this is very bad news for the Green Party of Canada.


After two Bloc MP's quit their Party earlier this year over a lack of confidence in their new Leader Mario Beaulieu, I wrote about “Whata Bloc Collapse Might Mean for the Green Party of Canada” (Sudbury Steve, August 25, 2014), and took the position that a BQ Party in decline could pose a threat to the Green Party for a very singular reason. I worked through (what I thought at the time to be) a number of permutations, twisting myself up like a pretzel to demonstrate the risk. What I didn't want to write about was the very scenario which appears to be happening today – the rise of a brand new regional political party with sitting Members of Parliament.

Thwarting Democracy: The Money Game


When Forces et Democratie officially registers itself as a political party, both Jean-Francois's will be able to start collecting money from supporters for a re-election bid next year. As an Independent, Fortin couldn't actually receive political contributions (which can only be made to a political party or a division of a political party, such as an Electoral District Association). As an MP about to lose a nomination contest in Repitiginy (if the CP article is to be believed), Larose would have had to run either under the banner of another party, or as an Independent – and if the latter, he would have found himself in the same situation as Fortin: unable to raise (and spend) money until the writ is dropped next year. Given this circumstance, is it any wonder that these two have come together to form a new Party?


And so Forces et Democratie appears to be the off-spring of two uninspiring MP's who aspire to be re-elected – and Canada's archaic anti-democratic election laws which favour organized political parties over individual, independent representation.


To me, what's surprising is that this move took as long as it did, at least for Fortin. Maybe the two Jean-Francois's will be joined by the other two dissident Bloc MP's, Marie Mourani (kicked out of the Bloc caucus over her disagreement with the PQ's Charter of Values) and Andre Bellevance (who left the Bloc shortly after Fortin). It seems that the two sitting Bloc MP's, Louis Plamondon and (former NDP-turned Bloc MP) Claude Patry will continue to sit in the House as BQ Members of Parliament.


It remains to be seen if the Forces et Democratie Party will ever be a serious political entity, or whether it's been created simply to fuel the electoral ambitions of the two Jean-Francois's. What surprises me, however, is the fact that Independents hadn't already come together to create a new Party – even if one in name only – simply to help with re-election bids. I've often wondered whether an “Independent Party” could have legs as a money-raising operation centred on local electoral districts. Its creation could be a paper exercise – no fuss and bother about policy or holding national conventions. Just a meeting of the minds of Independents in ridings across the nation, with a nominal Leader appointed to fulfil Elections Canada requirements. EDAs could be created to raise and spend money to further the re-election chances of sitting Independent MP's and maybe some others who aspire to challenge the Party system.


Anyway, maybe that's kind of what we're seeing today, only regionally-based.

Composition of the House


So, how does this affect the Green Party of Canada at all? Well, I'll finally spell out why the creation of an obscure regional political party with uninspiring MP's is a massive threat to the Green Party of Canada's electoral chances in 2015. At some point in the near future, when Fortin and Larose get their act together and make the FED Party (sorry, guys, that's probably not the best acronym for your new enterprise, given your “Quebec” focus – but it is what it is) a reality, here's what the composition of the House will look like in terms of political parties:


We'll have the Conservative Party, the NDP, and the Liberals – all of which have “official” party standing in the House, because they've elected MP's above and beyond the 12 MP threshold for official party status.


Then, there will be the Green Party (2 MP's), the Bloc Quebeois (2 MP's) and Forces et Democratie (2 MP's) – all three will be recognized as political parties in the House, although they will not have “official” party standing.


Finally, there will be a few Independent MP's (Mourani, Bellevance and Brent Rathgeberger) and one Independent-Conservative MP (I think he calls himself) in Dean Del Mastro.


Televised Leaders Debates

Fast-forward to next year. The Prime Minister asks the Governor-General to dissolve parliament. The writ is dropped, and the race is on. All of Canada's political parties are jockeying for position. A critical test of leadership appears on the horizon in the form of the televised leader's debates, one in each of Canada's official languages. All of the political party leaders are invited by the Broadcast Consortium....


Oh wait. No their not. Just Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau.


But what about historical precedent? In the past, every political party which had an MP sitting in the House at the time of its dissolution (including those whom had not been formally recognized by the House) has been invited to attend the leaders debates. At times, this has meant that as many as 5 registered party leaders have sparred with another. Most recently, 5 leaders appeared on stage together in 2008, when Stephen Harper faced off against Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, the NDP's Jack Layton, the BQ's Gilles Duceppe and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. Late last century, Liberal and NDP leaders went head-to-head with the Bloc, and the leaders of the Progressive Conservative and Reform parties.


Many have been critical of this approach, claiming that the number of leaders on stage makes for bad television, and is a disservice to our democracy in that inevitably it's pretty much impossible that one or more of the leaders will never be Prime Minister (the Bloc has only ever run candidates in Quebec, and the Green Party only elected its first MP in 2011).


To my knowledge, Canada has never seen 6 party leaders share the same stage. But if the Broadcast Consortium is going to decide whom to invite based on historical precedent, that's what Canada will get in 2015 when the FED joins the fray.


So, we'll have the leaders of four truly national party sharing the same stage with a tiny rump-regional Bloc Quebecois's Mario Beaulieu, an un-elected leader, and whomever the FED decides to identify as Leader (and if the two Jean-Francois's are serious about re-election, it's almost going to have to be one of them, in order to gain a level of national exposure for their fledgeling initiative). Four truly national political figures sharing the stage with two leaders most of Canada has never heard of and who lead parties which most Canadians can't vote for? Can you imagine?


I can't. Simply put, it's not going to happen. The Broadcast Consortium is in all likelihood going to abandon precedent and establish some new criteria for inviting leaders to the debate. And just what do you think that criteria is going to include? With three political parties of 2 members each, the Consortium will establish a higher threshold for participation. Canada will get to hear from Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau, the leaders of “official” parties in the House – and that'll be it.

As I wrote back in August, the presence of a depleted BQ Party at least gave me some hope that May would be invited to the debates. But the presence of two tiny Quebec-focused regional parties is pretty much going to be the nail in the coffin for her participation – unless of course Greens can somehow make a case that May should be there because the Party is running candidates in all ridings, and at least theoretically (but really just more mathematically) the possibility exists that the Greens could form government and May could become Prime Minister.


It's a stretch. The presence of candidates in all ridings has never been a criteria for participation. We Greens ran candidates across the nation in 2006 and 2011, and our leaders weren't heard from. In the past, the Bloc and Reform parties have participated even though not all Canadians could cast their ballots for candidates from those parties.


Democracy Denied

While the Bloc and the FED might kick up a fuss, not many are going to care about their absence from the televised debates. Indeed, the Liberals and the NDP would be pleased to have the Bloc shut out of any opportunity to grow its vote in Quebec. And honestly, can you imagine Tom Mulcair consenting to share the same stage as Jean-Francois Larose after he crossed the floor? Sorry, but it's not going to happen.


If Forces et Democratie can't participate in the leaders debate, the Bloc will be absent as well. And if the Bloc is absent, there's really no compelling reason for the consortium to invite the Greens.


And if Elizabeth May is once again denied the opportunity to speak directly to Canadian voters, there stands a very real chance that the Green Party's electoral ambitions will likely amount to little, again. The national exposure of May in the leader's debate is political manna for our upstart party. While we Greens may win a few ridings, the chance to really turn some heads in 2015 will be denied us because an unelected and unaccountable Broadcast Consortium failed (again) to invite our leader to participate in the televised debates. And because the Liberals and the NDP will have (once again) went along with this anti-democratic decision – putting their own partisanship above what's good for Canada and what's good for democracy. Just as the Liberals and the NDP did in 2011 when May was left out of the debates.


And that's why today's news about two obscure Members of Parliament in Quebec is bad news for the Green Party of Canada.

(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 9, 2014

Thanks to Government Policies which Subsidize Fossil Fuels, Canada is Short of Options Other Than Resource Extraction to Maintain its Comfy Lifestyle

I started reading this column from the Edmonton Journal’s Gary Lamphier this evening (“Lamphier: Canada is short of options other than resource extraction to maintain its comfy lifestyle”, Gary Lamphier, the Edmonton Journal, October 9, 2014), and after a few paragraphs, it became clear to me that it needed a few edits in order to make any sense.  Lamphier's piece seems to be based on the notion that our lifestyle isn't threatened in any way by climate change, exacerbated by Canada's continued fossil fuel extraction-based economy, and in fact our quality of life can only be sustained by more extraction - a completely absurd notion.

With that in mind, here is my edited version of the column.

Lamphier & May: Thanks to government policies which subsidize fossil fuels, Canada is short of options other than resource extraction to maintain its comfy lifestyle

EDMONTON & SUDBURY - Canadians want it all, and we want it now. Just don’t ask us to help pay for it.

Like whiny toddlers, too many Canadians live in a fantasy world of self-entitlement, where our comfy 21st century lifestyle can be taken for granted. Well, it can’t, and unless those attitudes change, we’re in for a shock.

Like it or not, Canada is built on resource wealth. That’s our competitive advantage. It still is, no matter how much fawning coverage marginal sectors like movie production and video games attract.

Yet many Canadians are now fickle if not openly hostile toward further development of the very resources that made this country one of the wealthiest on the planet.

Even worse better, many Canadian political leaders (including British Columbia Premier Christy Clark) have failed are starting to recognize that the world is changing fast, requiring them to modify their views accordingly.

After making wild-eyed promises about erasing B.C.’s debt and creating a vast prosperity fund built on a world-class coastal liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry, Clark is beginning to realize that now fighting to keep one of the sector’s key players — Malaysia’s Petronas — from bailing out entirely. she may lack the social license to expensively develop LNG in her province, committing British Columbia to becoming a world leader in carbon pollution and ensuring that Canada and the world blows through our Copenhagen commitments of holding the line of warming at 2 degrees Celsius.

My guess is she’ll succeed continue to accede to the will of major fossil fuel corporations intent on putting profit before the plight of the world’s people — but only if she slashes continues to ignore British Columbians who are calling for her to end proposed taxpayer subsidies for LNG income tax from the proposed seven per cent to perhaps four or five per cent.

Even then, If she does listen to the people, Petronas may simply try to bypass the province and its perennially toxic maturing political culture by shipping natural gas by pipeline from its fields in northeast B.C. to a proposed new LNG terminal in Oregon, gambling on the assumption that Oregonians don’t understand the massive global risks from the climate crisis and the need to safely sequester carbon in the ground – and that’s a bet that I wouldn’t want to take.

Time will tell. But so far, there is little growing evidence to suggest that Clark understands that B.C., Canada and the world doesn’t needs Petronas a whole lot more than Petronas needs B.C. The world will soon be awash in have to soon give up its addiction to fossil fuels like LNG, and B.C. is well behind the curve. or else risk a meltdown of the global economy thanks to climate change.

As for the antipathy that many Canadians now show toward the oilsands tarsands, new oil diluted bitumen pipelines and the fracking (natural gas fracturing) revolution, that’s another head-scratcher no-brainer.

Perhaps they buy the green lobby’s spin, understand the severity of the crisis we are facing, and believe based on scientific evidence acknowledge that Canada must end its addiction to greenhouse gas generating fossil fuels and can become a world leader in burgeoning fields like wind and solar power, both of which require hefty a level playing field and the end of governmental interventions in the market place in the form of public subsidies to fossil fuels be economic.

Under the Conservative federal government, forget it. Germany and China, both manufacturing heavyweights, staked out that turf long ago. We’ll continue to be forced to import their technology, but they will manufacture it, keeping the jobs that go with it, until Canadians call for an end to crippling investor state provisions in so-called “free trade” agreements, and institute meaningful border adjustments on high-carbon goods after we finally put a price on carbon pollution here at home.

By permitting outsourcing of our high-tech manufacturing base through a race to the bottom, smartphones? made by Waterloo-based BlackBerry is are now a pipsqueak in a market dominated by behemoths like Apple and Samsung, thanks in part to global trade rules which favour corporate profit over employing local people.

Auto manufacturing? Ontario used to produce more vehicles than any jurisdiction in North America. It’s on the rebound now, but automation has fundamentally changed the business.

It will never again generate the number of solid middle-class jobs it once did. Those days are gone – and we now are positioned to look towards the fastest growing global economic sector in the form of the renewable energy economy for transitioning job creation.

Biotech? Alternative energy? These are still niche industries in Canada. Few players have ever made a profit, thanks to the government heavily intervening in the so-called “free market” by heavily subsidizing fossil fuels, and many are on virtual life support, limping from one financing to the next.

Even in a relatively successful sector like software, Canada’s top players — firms like Open Text and Constellation Software — are mice compared to U.S. goliaths like Microsoft and Google. Mice tend to get eaten, especially when the government refuses to intervene on behalf of Canadians and provide some form of protection to our important commercial enterprises from ravenous multi-national corporate cats.

So again, that leaves us with resources, where Canada remains a key global player. The oilsands tar sands still currently rank as one of the few sources of future production growth in a world that still consumes some an unsustainable 90 million barrels of oil per day. Moving forward into the future with the knowledge and understanding that most of the tar sands deposits must be safely sequestered in the ground to avoid warming beyond 2 degrees Celsius, it is incumbent on Canada to do far more to wean ourselves off of our fossil fuels addiction.

(Please note that the above text was not used with Gary Lamphier's permission.  It was used for the purpose of what I consider to be "political satire".  However, should I receive communication from Mr. Lanthier or his employers with regards to my unauthorized use of this text as a basis for my blogpost, I will gladly remove this post as I can't help but acknowledge that the majority of this text is not my own.  On a day when it has come to light that our Conservative government is trying to secretly change our laws to allow political parties to use materials produced by the media for partisan political purposes and without compensation - something I am gravely opposed to - I feel that it would be incumbent upon me to remove this post, even though my blog is not an official Green Party blog, and that the purpose of this post is primarily satirical and not partisan in the sense of favouring one political party above all others.  Should Mr. Lamphier or officials from the Edmonton Journal review this post, I hope that they understand the satirical nature of this post, and in the interests of free speech, do not request its removal)

(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, September 29, 2014

Time for NDP's Claude Gravelle to Turn Off the Lights

Since relocating to the Val Caron over a year ago, I’ve been bothered by a sight that I see almost every evening when I travel up MR 80 either on foot, bike or in the car. Up the road from where I live, our NDP Member of Parliament, Claude Gravelle, has a constituency office. In front of this office is a large orange sign, advertising the office location. Throughout the evening and well into the night on every single occasion that I’ve passed it by, this sign is lit – despite the office not being open to the public during these evening / early morning hours.

This past weekend, the federal NDP held its Northern Ontario Council Meeting. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was in town, and both Sudbury NDP MP Glenn Thibeault and Nickel Belt NDP MP Claude Gravelle were nominated by members to carry their party’s banner in the 2015 election. The centre of focus of this sizable NDP gathering was a downtown Sudbury hotel – quite far from Val Caron – maybe a 20 minute drive away.

Yet the sign in front of Claude Gravelle’s constituency office was brightly lit, as seen in this photograph taken around 9 PM.

Why is it that I’m getting upset over a sign? Well, here’s a copy of a letter that I wrote to Mr. Gravelle almost three months ago about his sign. It pretty well sums up my concerns about the sign – and also alludes to broader concerns that I have about the NDP’s ability to take the issue of climate change seriously (more on that below).

In short, although the NDP wants to be seen as the only party capable of wearing a progressive mantle in the upcoming election, the NDP as a Party has far to go in earning the progressive moniker.

At this time, I’ve not received a response from Mr. Gravelle or his staff. Here’s my letter:

Claude Gravelle, MP
2945 Highway 69 North, Suite 203
Val Caron ON
P3N 1N3

July 9, 2014

Re: Leadership on Climate Change, Energy Efficiency – Your Val Caron Constituency Office’s Sign

Dear Mr. Gravelle,

I am a resident of Val Caron, and I have noticed that the sign in front of your constituency office is often lit up throughout the night, during times when your office is not open to the public. I have observed your sign alight on weekends and holidays. As a citizen of Canada, and as one of your constituents, I ask that you consider the need to have an energy-consuming sign turned on during times when your office is not open.

I note that, according to documents you’ve published on your website, your combined office expenses for leases, insurance and utilities for the year 2011-12 (the only year posted there) totalled over $29,000. Likely these expenditures on offices are similar to that of other years for which you’ve been serving the public. Funding is provided to you by the Government of Canada to maintain constituency offices for the necessary work that you do.

Given that public funds are being used to maintain your offices, I believe that it is incumbent upon you and your staff to ensure that value is being achieved at all times, and that opportunities to reduce and eliminate waste are explored comprehensively, and reviewed over time. To that end, I sincerely hope that you will put an end to your practice of using electricity to light your office sign during times when your office is not open to the public.

While I understand that the costs of electricity use for your sign may not be a significant percentage of funds spent in terms of your overall annual office budget, the fact is that every little bit of savings helps, especially when it comes to using tax dollars wisely. As there can be no need for a lit sign when your office is closed, it seems appropriate to save money and switch the sign off.

Further, our elected officials ought to be doing what they can to be real leaders in promoting energy efficiency, particularly now that the perils of the climate crisis have become so very apparent. A sign lit by electricity belonging to a publicly elected official’s office, turned on even at times when the office is closed, could be interpreted as a profligate use of energy.

To that end, I urge you to please consider conserving public dollars and energy. Could you please turn off your constituency office’s sign when your office is not in use?

Thank you for considering this request.

Steve May
Val Caron ON
Email: sudbury_steve@hotmail.com


Look, turning out the lights is a pretty small issue in the grand scheme of things. But to me, it’s the little actions (or lack thereof) which starts to speak volumes about how the NDP remains disengaged on climate change. If they were serious at all about wanting to do what’s right for the planet, each and every MP would make sure that the lights are turned off when they’ve left the building.

If the NDP gets the little things wrong, what about some of the bigger things? In Sudbury, the NDP’s critic for Consumer Affairs, has been pushing a campaign to make driving more attractive, under the guise of ending gasoline price gouging. On his website, Thibeault remarks that “Over the past six years, the price of gas in Sudbury has shot up from an average of just over $1.00/litre to now over $1.40/litre. And there appears to be no end in sight.” (as per this website)

Well, no kidding, Glenn. What’s been driving the hikes to gasoline prices sure isn’t collusion or gouging on the part of the oil industry – it’s the fact that we are running into resource limits for inexpensive energy, and that we are increasingly deriving more of our fossil energy from non-traditional sources, including deep water sources, fracking and the tar sands. These non-traditional sources of energy are more expensive to access – and with a growing demand in places like China and India (nations to which we’ve outsourced much of our industrial plant), we here in Canada can only expect prices to continue to climb.

But the NDP doesn’t seem to get this. Thibeault would rather point to the simplistic argument of price gouging than to the realistic fact of resource limitations. And the NDP’s response to this situation has typically been to try to keep gasoline prices as low as possible (sometimes by outright capping gasoline prices) – a policy which would give a significant benefit to the rich in our nation (who drive a heck of a lot more than the poor do), while continuing to raise greenhouse gas emission levels. In short, the NDP just doesn’t have a clue about what needs to be done to help in the fight against climate change.

To wit, the NDP has taken a position on the East-West dilbit pipeline known as “Energy East” – a pipeline which will create significant capacity to transport diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to a tidewater port for export (see, “Mulcair sticks with pipeline policy as report challenges Energy East”, the Globe & Mail, February 6, 2014). The NDP also has reversed itself on opposition to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, which would see an existing pipeline twinned to carry diluents in one direction and dilbit in the other (see, “The Economic Case Against the Tar Sands, Part 2: Tom Mulcair’s Disastrous Kinder Morgan Reversal Opens the Door for the Green Party”, Sudbury Steve May, December 26, 2013). Both of these pipeline projects will facilitate the expansion of the tar sands enterprise – they will lock in future emissions of greenhouse gases, and continue to wed Canada to an unsustainable and economically dangerous fossil fuel resource future.

All of this is happening at a time when the world is finally waking up to the calamity of the climate crisis which is staring us in the face. But rather than embrace proven policies which will lead to real emissions reduction (such as a carbon tax), the NDP wants to leverage tar sands investment to power the renewable energy revolution in Canada. Friends – that’s just not going to work. As long as the tar sands are pumping out more and more oil, Canada’s renewable sector is going to be at risk – even with a price on pollution as envisioned by the NDP in the form of a cap and trade system.

Oh, and about that cap and trade system that the NDP wants to use to price carbon? Why on earth the NDP remains married to this policy I just don’t know. Cap and trade has been a proven failure throughout the world, with carbon markets collapsing, and offset trading negatively impacting indigenous peoples who lose access to lands which have become “carbon sinks”. If you set out to create a policy for reducing emissions which enriches bankers and big business at the expense of common people in the most opaque manner possible, you would arrive at Cap and Trade before too long. Yet that’s where the NDP wants to go.

I realize that we’ve moved a ways from flipping the switch to turn out the lights on a sign to critiquing cap and trade and pipeline policies – but the fact of the matter is all of these signs point to the NDP’s limited grasp of climate change, and what we need to do if we are going to have any hope at all of holding warming at 2 degrees Celsius.

In 2015, a much better option for Sudbury and Nickel Belt would be to say goodbye to Glenn Thibeault and Claude Gravelle and his ever-lit sign. Only the Green Party has a serious plan to shift Canada back into a leadership role on the climate crisis, both domestically and on the international stage. The NDP continues to prove that it is not a progressive party, and that it is little better than the Liberals or the Conservatives with is pro-tar sands growth policies.

If Claude Gravelle won’t turn out his lights by himself, perhaps Nickel Belt voters will do the job for him in 2015.

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

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Diverting Organic Waste – There’s Money on Your Plate

The following post is dedicated to my wife Sarah, who has been an inspiration to me over the years. The idea for this topic is hers. Thank you, Sarah!

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It’s time to give that uneaten food on our plates some consideration before chucking it in the trash can. That unwanted broccoli and those picked-over chicken bones shouldn’t be thought of as garbage any longer. It’s better to view our organic waste as money - something that none of us are likely to scrape into the trash!

On the flip side of that coin, our organic waste can also be thought of us as climate changing greenhouse gases just waiting to be released into the atmosphere, should they wind up in the wrong waste disposal receptacle.

In the past decade, many of Ontario’s municipalities have implemented organic waste diversion programs, where food waste and other organics are collected separately from garbage and recyclables. In Greater Sudbury, through the Green Cart program, organics are collected curbside, turned into valuable compost, and made available to City residents. By diverting organics, the City is able to extend the lifespan of our landfill sites, saving taxpayers’ money.

Organics make up about 30% of Canadian household waste. According to a report from the World Bank (“What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management”, Daniel Hoornweg & Prinaz Bhada-Tata, the World Bank, March 2012), urban residents on average produce about 2.6 pounds of organic waste per day, with volumes projected to rise by 70% over the next decade. Clearly, there are significant opportunities for converting organics into compost, a commodity which is only going to increase in value.

In North America, top soil is being lost about ten times faster than it’s being replaced. With food prices already rising due to resource depletion and climate change, backyard and community gardening is gaining in popularity as a food source. Compost from organics can help return nutrients to depleted soils.

However, unlike popular programs for recycling paper and plastics, participation rates for organic waste diversion remain fairly low. In a report from July, 2014, Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner estimated the provincial diversion rate of residential organics to be between just 26-27% (see:
Looking for Leadership: the Costs of Climate Inaction”, Gord Miller, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, July 2014).

In Greater Sudbury, the City’s Auditor General recently noted that only about 20% of households were participating in the Green Cart program. The Auditor-General’s report identified that savings of a little over $2 million annually could be achieved by moving to bi-weekly garbage collection, while maintaining the weekly pick-up of recyclables and organics (see: “Audit Report – Environmental Services Waste Collection Contracts”, Brian Bigger, Auditor General, City of Greater Sudbury, June 27, 2014). Along with fewer pick-ups, reducing the City’s curbside bag limit would likely lead to a higher utilization rate of Green Carts, saving taxpayers money.

Diverting organics from landfills doesn’t just make sense economically, it’s also a very practical way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas about 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, is a by-product of decaying organic waste. Ontario’s waste sector is responsible for about 7.5 megatonnes of emissions annually, which is about 14% of total provincial emissions. With a growing population, these numbers are expected to rise unless sincere efforts are made at diverting organic waste.

Diverting organic wastes from ending up in our landfills should become just as commonplace for households as the now routine sorting of paper and plastics into blue boxes has become. Making this relatively simple lifestyle change will help save our communities money through reducing the need for curbside pick-ups and by extending the useable life of our landfill sites. Pitching organics into Green Carts ultimately contributes to the creation of valuable compost for community-based agricultural initiatives. Diverting methane-producing organics from landfills helps in the fight against climate change.

The next time you’re scraping unwanted food from your plates, give a thought to how you might better be able to save money for yourself and for your neighbours. If you don’t already have a Green Cart, call the City at 3-1-1 to see if you can get one.

(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, September 20, 2014 as "May: Diverting organic waste: There's money on your plate"