Monday, June 20, 2011

May Right on Libya; NDP Fails Canadians Concerned About Civilian Casualties

“I deeply desire the removal of Colonel Gadhafi, but not by military means in what appears to be a civil war in which Canada has taken sides.” – Elizabeth May, Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands, in a speech to Parliament, June 14 2011.

“…there is no greater way to strengthen the resolve of a civilian people than aerial bombardment.” – Elizabeth May, Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands, in a speech to Parliament, June 14 2011.

Something must be very wrong in the world when Elizabeth May and Peter Worthington find themselves on the same side of an issue. Last week, during the so-called debate in the House of Commons, regarding extending the Canadian NATO-led mission in Libya, every one of our elected members of parliament voted in favour of extension, except for Green Party leader Elizabeth May. The text of her speech to the House shows that she did not arrive at this point simply to gain media exposure, as some have suggested. Instead, it’s clear that May’s position on Libya is principled, courageous and based on the values of the Green Party.

This morning, upon opening my copy of the Sudbury Star, what should surprise my eyes but an editorial written by ultra-right-wing Sun Media pundit, Peter Worthington, whose columns I generally skip because they make me feel sick. This one, though, “Air strikes on Libya must stop”, clearly caught me off-guard. Why is Worthington against continuing the war in Libya? Turns out he’s mostly uncomfortable with who these “rebels” are that NATO is supporting. Which is a valid concern.

I’d have thought that some of this might have been discussed in Ottawa during a “debate”, especially since the floor was opened up last week to do so. It was no surprise to me that the Liberals and Conservatives were on-side with carrying the mission forward, even after acknowledging that there have been subtle changes in the way that the mission is now being sold. At the time that United Nations Resolution 1973 was passed (thanks to Russia and China abstaining), the Canadian public was told that our armed forces would be involved in the time-limited protection of Libyan rebels, through NATO air support.

Remember back then, it looked for sure that the rebel stronghold of Benghazi was about to fall, and with it, the dreams of a Ghadafi-free Libya. As soon as NATO bombs started to fall, though, the momentum began to shift again, and forces loyal to Ghadafi were put on the defensive. As in World War II, fighting went back and forth along the narrow coastal strip between Tripoli and Benghazi, with NATO intervention again carrying the fight westward along the bottom of the Gulf of Sirte, towards Tripoli.

But the air mission was left more than vaguely defined. What does it mean to support the rebels? In Canada we were told that our air support was being committed to prevent civilian deaths, and this made sense to a Canadian public eager to see the end of Ghadafi at the hands of his own countrymen. We didn’t want another Rwanda on our hands after all.

Pretty soon, though, NATO aircraft were bombing targets in Tripoli. Were they trying to create the circumstance for regime change, by targeting Ghadafi himself? Probably. But the end result has been to place to civilians in Tripoli in danger of ending up as “collateral damage” (read: dead) from NATO airplanes whose mission was to protect the lives of civilians. In other words, which might have better be spoken by a character in a George Orwell novel, NATO is protecting civilian lives by killing civilians.

That may sound harsh, and it is. Certainly it’s not, never has been, nor will it ever be, part of NATO’s mission to target civilians in Libya. But, civilians are still dying at the hands of NATO fighter-bombers. Some will say that these deaths are a small price to pay to have avoided a larger massacre, and to that I say…it still didn’t have to be that way. A more rigorous interpretation of Resolution 1973 would not have led to the circumstance where NATO has become the air support wing of Libya’s rebel movement.

May was right about this: Libya is in the midst of a civil war, and Canada has chosen sides. Worthington was also right: we know that Ghadafi is a very bad man, but how much do we know about the rebels whom we are supporting? They say that they are fighting in the interests of democracy, but what does that really mean?

Whatever it is that you might think is going on now in Libya (and most Canadians, frankly, aren’t thinking too much about Libya right now), it’s not the same mission that we were sold back pre-election, when the bombing began.

In the United States, they’re having a real debate about “mission creep”, with House Republicans threatening to, well, I don’t know, do something to Obama, who has apparently exceeded his Executive ability to wage war in a time-limited fashion (to me, it looks like the only thing the Republicans can do, other than to smear Obama in the media would be to vote to impeach the President…and I think that we’ll start to hear more about this over the summer). At least in the States they’re talking about Libya.

Here in Canada, it’s all about duck and cover when it comes to the Conservatives, Liberals and the NDP. Those parties, who didn’t have much of a conversation about the original mission before the bombs began to fall, have decided that they don’t really want to talk about its extension now, either, despite acknowledging that circumstances seem to have changed.

I had actually believed that the NDP, with their new-found numbers in parliament, and having in the past professed to be a bit of a moral conscience regarding Canada’s use of our armed forces abroad, would have acknowledged that we’ve inadvertently blundered into a war whose ultimate goal must be regime change, which in this case is only tantamount to killing off Colonel Ghadafi by dumping several tonnes of high explosive on his head.

Indeed, the NDP’s Deputy Leader, Thomas Mulcair, appeared to be a critical voice for caution in the lead-up to Canada deploying our CF-18’s to Italy, to begin the civilian-saving bombardment. Mulcair’s voice was noticeably absent from the media in the recent run-up to the vote to extend the mission. Indeed, the entire NDP caucus was AWOL on this issue. Even at the NDP convention this past weekend, Party appartatchiks were able to remove a motion about Libya from the agenda, so as to avoid a potentially problematic discussion, given that all of the newly elected NDP MP’s voted to extend the mission with barely a peep.

Those involved in Canada’s peace movement must be left scratching their heads about the NDP, and questioning whether this new populist NDP remains committed to principles of peace and non-violence. Look, I understand, there are times when it is necessary to fight a just war, but I sincerely question whether what Canada and NATO are now doing in Libya in the name of “protecting civilians” is the sort of just war that we should be getting involved in. If Libya, why not Syria (or Yemen or Bahrain, for that matter)?

Just last night, NATO acknowledged that it may have caused a “number of civilian casualties” in a botched raid on Tripoli. Apparently, they were after a missile site. Whatever. The smartest of smart bombs, when dropped in a populated area, are likely to create collateral damage. When these things blow up, even when they hit their targets, the explosions are likely to impact adjacent, often non-military targets. That’s why bombing cities tends to kill civilians.

Canadians were told that our air force would be attacking tanks, or lines of armed marching soldiers under Ghadafi’s control. Or maybe attacking artillery or
airplanes on the ground, or mobile missile launchers. That’s the kind of support that Canadians thought we would be lending to the rebels, fighting for their lives in Benghazi, back when Resolution 1973 was adopted by the UN. Instead, we’re now bombing the largest city in Libya.

While Canadians remain largely disengaged to what’s going on (to the glee of the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP, no doubt), the mainstream media has started to address this issue with a little more passion than I’ve seen out of it lately. I don’t think that this issue is going to go away, despite what the vast majority of MP’s in the House of Commons (all except for 1) might hope for.

Public opinion in Canada has a habit of shaping military outcomes. Look at what happened when Canadians failed to get behind Canada’s participation in the U.S.-initiated Iraq War. This time, though, unless the NDP does another of their infamous flip-flops, it doesn’t appear that there will be anyone within government to champion a peaceful end to the unexpected Canadian participation in Libya’s civil war.

But with what I expect to be an increasing number of mainstream stories, such as the one appearing in today’s Sudbury Star regarding 70% of survey respondents disagreeing with a “majority” (read: every one but one) of parliamentarians decision to continue the mission in Libya, I do fully expect the NDP to reverse their position, after “considerable discussion and review”. Certainly, the NDP’s unequivocal support of the Libyan mission has caused some significant strain within that Party. With the broader public looking around now for leadership on this issue, and finding none (other than Elizabeth May, who represents a thinly-stretched caucus of one), the NDP having already cast their votes to extend, will now find it easier to oppose the mission.

If Jack Layton and the NDP decide to do a 180 and change their minds on Libya, of course it won’t make any difference in terms of actual outcomes. However, opposition to extending the mission at the time of last week’s vote wouldn’t have changed anything either, now that the Conservatives have a majority. A change of heart now, though, might better position the NDP to reap a political advantage, one which they’ve inexplicably abandoned to May and the Greens.

Gaining this political advantage is the reason why I expect to start seeing a change of heart in the NDP. We’ll start seeing NDP members of parliament claim that they didn’t understand the full extent of NATO’s involvement in causing civilian casualties. Perhaps they’ll even claim that they’ve been misled by the Conservatives. Slowly, at first, and then all at once, the NDP will shift themselves away from supporting the government’s position, and pretend, once again, to be champions of a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Perhaps I’ll prove to be wrong about this, but I just don’t think so. You see, the NDP, like most political parties, including the Green Party, is guided by its values when it comes to making decisions. One of the values of the NDP which is sure to come to the forefront in any shift in position is the value of being on the right side of public opinion. As public opinion now begins to shift away from support for NATO’s bombing, the NDP will surely follow suit.

The Green Party, too, has a number of values which guide decision making. These values are enshrined in the Party’s Constitution, and are considered unassailable by the Party’s membership. In absence of specific policy direction, the Green Party can always rely on these Values to guide decision making. One of those values clearly informed Elizabeth May’s decision to become the lone dissenter in last week’s vote, the value here being the pursuit of peace and non-violence. This doesn’t mean that the Party is pacifistic in nature; indeed, May in her speech to parliament, pointed out how sometimes war can still be reconciled with such a value.

May is showing Canada that Greens really are all about a different kind of decision making: decisions will be based on values, and not simply which way the winds of public opinion seem to be blowing at any given time. As the NDP seems to be moving to fill the void left by the Liberals, and to come to terms with its sudden, jack-in-the-box like Quebec caucus, some NDP supporters must be scratching their heads, wondering just where the NDP is going to end up. They must be wondering whether the NDP can be trusted to ever do what’s right when doing what’s politically expedient seems to be more tantalizing.

Throughout the summer, I believe that an increasing number of Canadians are going to start to realize that Elizabeth May and the Greens were right about Canada’s mission in Libya. It will be interesting to see what will happen when public opinion turns against the almost unanimous will of our elected officials. Can public opinion help bring about a more peaceful resolution to the Libyan civil war? I doubt it, especially now that NATO seems to be stepping up its attacks on Ghadafi’s strongholds in Tripoli, likely in an effort to kill him, rendering public opinion for support moot.

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

By Special Request: My Favourite Canadian Beers

A mysterious request came in from a mysterious man: “Hey all. I’m looking to compile a little information (for reasons I won’t go into) about your tastes in beer. Your identities will never be revealed to anyone about this…it’s sort of a little project I’m working on. Basically what I’m asking you to do is to compile for me a short list of your favourite beers (either microbrewed or mass marketed big names) from Canada. Who makes them, and why you enjoy them. I appreciate your time on this. Just send me a private message with your picks and thoughts. Much appreciated.” –Robert Andrew McTaggart.

Now, this Robert Andrew McTaggert guy purports to be one of my Facebook friends. His name even appears to be tagged in a number of pics that I’ve uploaded to Facebook over the years…private pics of mine taken at the IPA. If you don’t know what the IPA is, I can’t tell you. Anyway, there are tags of this Robert Andrew McTaggert fellow attached to my uploaded photos. All seem to be centred on my IPA friend Fox.

Which leads me to ask: just how much do I really know about Fox? I recall one IPA, in Kitchener, where I showed up early. I had asked the park attendant which site we were on, and she in return asked me whose name the reservation might have been in. I said that it was in Fox’s name. She didn’t have a Fox on her list. I was dumbfounded. Turns out the reservation was in some guy McTaggert’s name. That was about 12 years ago now I think. Hmmm…maybe I don’t know this Fox fellow very well either.

But…what can I say? I was intrigued by the notion that someone was reaching out to me, as an expert in my field, wanting my opinion. Admittedly, I don’t think I know the individual, and his query left a lot of room for utilizing my opinion for his own nefarious purposes. He won’t go into his reasons for asking me, which makes me a little nervous, but at least he’s willing to protect my privacy.

However, if I’m going to put the kind of effort into this project that this dude wants me to, I’m just going to have to share my thoughts with the world. After all, Canadian Beer is near and dear to my heart.

So, I think it’s appropriate that I should share my opinions with the world. And if this interferes with McTaggert’s nefarious plans, so be it. I don’t even know the guy anyway…I think. And what has done with Fox!?!?!

Sure, this blog of mine is one that you’ve probably grown accustomed to reading for my political opinions. But note the disclaimer at the top of the blog: “(Mainly) political musings by Sudbury Steve….” So this particular musing-o-mine is one which won’t fall into the “mainly” category. So, as it was put to me about my earlier by-law infraction, if you’ve got a problem with that, suck it up, buttercup.

Anyway, without further preamble, to satisfy this McTaggert guy, here is a list of my favourite Canadian brews. Do with this knowledge what you will, McTaggert! Just make sure Fox is present at the next IPA (if you don’t know what it is, I can’t tell you).

Old Favourites

Kawartha Lakes Raspberry Wheat
click on “Kawartha Lakes Brewery” and then “Raspberry Wheat”

What can’t I say about this Ontario classic? The Kawartha Lakes Brewery was founded in 1995, and I’ve been drinking their flagship Raspberry Wheat pretty much since day 1. I was introduced to KLB by my good friend, Mr. Tulli (who also knows a thing or two about beers, and has the innate ability of sniffing out new quality products), at an IPA or pre-IPA IPA back in the ‘90s (sorry...I can't tell you).

I understand that Kawartha Lakes Brewery has since been bought out by Toronto’s Amsterdam Brewery, but the beer is still being brewed and bottled at the Peterborough facility. KLB is likely in good hands with Amsterdam, as Amsterdam has always been devoted to brewing excellent beer in small batches. Interestingly, one of my favourite Amsterdam brews is also a raspberry infused beer. But the difference between KLB’s Raspberry Wheat and Amsterdam’s Framboise are night and day.

First, here’s a bit of my own bias: I tend to enjoy light-bodied beers over fuller bodied ones. That’s not to say that I’m big on the corn-brewed megaswill on offer from the North American biggies. It’s just to suggest that although I’m certainly not going to turn my nose up at the dark roast malted products (especially on a cold winter night, sitting outside in parka, gloves and ski mask), I find that I tend to fall back on those beers which are lighter, but which still have a lot of flavour.

KLB’s Raspberry Wheat for me is one of the three best beers being brewed in Ontario right now. Wheat beers are always going to be lighter, but they tend to have less interesting characteristics, generally speaking. That’s why brewers seem to want to add things like coriander and orange peels to them (and I’m ok with that…no Bavarian Purity Act mentality here). KLB decided to infuse their wheat beer with raspberries, but not to the point of over-kill. So while the beer has some excellent raspberry flavour, it doesn’t overwhelm. It’s a perfect balance between wheat and raspberry – and it’s light, and absolutely drinkable.

The only criticism that I have about this beer (other than its lack of availability in Northern Ontario) is that it may not pairs as well with food as other beers, generally speaking. But that’s true of most beers which have “outside the box” flavours. Anyway, I’m the type of beer drinker who really prefers to eat my food without a Coke or a Pepsi or a glass of milk. I enjoy drinking beer on its own, for its own merits. As I heard recently (and concurred with), one beer is too many, and two isn’t enough.

Cameron’s Auburn Ale

Also in my top 3 Ontario beers. Cameron’s Brewing Company started off in Etobicoke, and has since relocated to a larger facility in the Greater Toronto Area. Their products, though, are generally available at the Beer Store, even in Sudbury, so I am often able to obtain this remarkable craft brew.

I think I was first introduced to this one at the Fort York Festival of Beers way back when (things are a little hazy, the further back in the past I have to go to recall specifics like dates and things…especially when beer is involved).

What I enjoy about Cameron’s Auburn, besides the incredible colour and aroma, is it’s drinkability. It’s a complicated beer without being too complex. It hints at darkness, but remains light and drinkable. I don’t know if it’s the hop or the malt (or the interaction between the two, most likely), but the beer goes down smoothly with a LOT of flavour. It makes me smile and think of flowers. It also pairs very well with food.

Cameron’s also has a cream ale which is excellent (although perhaps only a short notch lower than Muskoka Lake’s Cottage Brewery’s cream ale, which is in my opinion, the best example of an Ontario microbrewed cream ale). As for the other Cameron’s products, I’m not as big a fan. I’ll pick the Auburn Ale just about every time.

Unibroue Blanche de Chambly

A witbier, brewed by Unibroue (possibly the worst-named brewery in Canada…I can’t help but think of a bunch of hairy guys hanging out in a brewery, with a single long eyebrow running from ear to ear…which isn’t exactly something that I want to be thinking about ever, much less when I’m trying to enjoy a beer). This Quebec brewer makes a lot of important Canadian microbrews, including La Fin du Monde and Maudite! I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Belgian-inspired brewery, even if I’m not the biggest fan of most of their products (although, along with Blanche de Chambly, I’ve been known to enjoy the occasional Ephemeral and of course, Trois Pistoles, which has just about the best beer-bottle label I’ve come across!)

Blanche de Chambly is a complex beer, no doubt. And it’s not an all-purpose patio product, either. For me, it’s more of a sipping with posing-sophisticat friends sort of beer, even if that is just sitting on lawn chairs on the porch, watching the traffic go by. This beer has the ability to elevate any social gathering. And it’s not just the foil top or the beautiful label.

I normally enjoy beer straight from the bottle (and I know that by admitting this, I will have lost a lot of stature in the beer-snobbery crowd…in my defence, I’ve got nothing against beer served in the right glass, other than I just hate doing the dishes…and I guess I could justify this as an environmental thing…why dirty up a good glass for a phosphatic rinsing, when pouring straight from bottle to stomach is a more “green” practice?), but this is a beer which can justifiably be poured into a beautiful glass. Not only can you then appreciate the beautiful colour, cloudiness and head, but you’ve elevated the social gathering too, no matter if it’s just you and the boys in two-day old shorts and blue cooler. Keep the bottle handy, though (labels OUT), and you might get confused with a government-sponsored cultural event by passersby.

But beyond the look, this beer tastes great! Coriander and orange peel, sure. Some cloves to boot. But again, it’s all about balance. For me, Hoegarden doesn’t go far enough, while some imitators of the Celis White phenom simply go too far (like over-hopping an India Pale Ale). Blanche de Chambly has flavours which compliment perfectly with one another. And you feel important when you drink it.

Tracks Brewpub – Old Mill

Despite my feelings about bottled beer, I have to tell you that I always prefer draught to a bottle. Always. It’s just that I don’t have the kegs hooked up on the front porch, and transporting them to the IPA has proven to be cost-prohibitive (Tulli looked into this at one time). Plus, a kegger on the beer table just wouldn’t have the same effect.

Summer and beer go together very well for me, although I acknowledge that there are often other times when mass consumption is appropriate (and here I’m thinking St. Patrick’s Day, New Year’s Eve and, well, frankly any time you can find a free day following a beer drinking campaign, in order to have time to recover from the hangover).

Now, although they call me “Sudbury Steve”, I guess I’ll always be a Brampton boy at heart, given that I spent my formative years growing up in splendid suburbia. At the tale end of those formative years, I was introduced to a Brampton tradition, known as Tracks Brewpub.

The City has tried to close this landmark down on several occasions (ok, not wilfully, but with all of the construction and road rearranging which has gone on in front of Track’s location on Union Street –is that even still a real street? It’s seemed like the City hasn’t been exactly helpful). I mean, I’m not even sure how to get to Tracks any more. Problem with Brampton is that it’s not very walkable, and for a neighbourhood pub to thrive, it helps to have parking. Tracks, however, is the type of pub that you’d want to walk to, if for no other reason than it makes sense to leave the car at home, because after you’ve tried one Old Mill, you’re going to want another couple.

Hopefully, all of that new condo development will lead to a downtown renaissance for Tracks, because the pub itself certainly deserves it. Too many landmark Brampton pubs have fallen victim to chain-restaurantism. Let’s take a moment to remember and lament the loss of some other Brampton classics: The Hare and the Hound (where I fell in love with Newcastle); the Puck and Ball (“who’s paying for this Dom Perignon?” “YOU ARE!!!”); and of course, the pub in the bottom of the library slash Civic Centre, Bramalea Place…where I received some advice from my friend Aaron Silbermann, fresh back from a trip to Liverpool, which stayed with me for the rest of my life (and which I continue to aspire to live up to). When we baseball-cap wearing high-school grads not yet off to First Year University guys, sipping on our Molson Dry and Labbatt’s Blues gathered at Bramalea Place across from the City Centre started making fun of Aaron for his audacity to order a dark-coloured draft from a foreign country (which turned out to be a Double Diamond) from the barkeep, he turned to us with the sort of mischievous twinkle in his eye that Aaron was wont to get, and said those two words which changed my life: “Try it”. And then he offered his glass for all to sip.

Since then, I’ve tried to spread the gospel of good beer to all who will listen. I’ve had some success, but have experienced considerable setbacks too. My wife, for example, continues to cling to Coors Light (at least she, a born and bred Northerner, doesn’t put salt into it). Aaron’s words remain my inspiration, however, and I will continue along my quest for good beer, no matter where it takes me.

As with most things in life, the quest for good beer has taken me away from Brampton. But Tracks Old Mill remains my Brampton anchor. If it’s possible for a beer to be “sweet”, Old Mill is that beer. This is the kind of beer which is very difficult to have only one of, especially if you make the mistake of going out onto the back patio, which is a little oasis in the midst of construction-crazy downtown Brampton. Try an Old Mill with Tracks fries, too, which are excellent. Rich in colour, Old Mill is possibly one of the most drinkable beers that I’ve found on my life-long journey to “try it”.

Old Credit Pale Pilsner

And now we come to a very important and completely underappreciated beer. Old Credit Pale Pilsner is one of those beers which takes time to enjoy. It does so for a couple of reasons. First off, they only sell it in 750 ml bottles, so this beer take some commitment to get through. The payoff, though, is worth it, even if I do recommend going sharesies on the big bottle. You see, this is an Ontario-brewed beer that wants to be COLD.

The beer also takes time because it’s ice-brewed, using a unique brewing process pioneered in North America by the Old Credit brewery. I know, I know: you think “ice brewed” and you can’t get the picture of the Labatt Ice euro-trash guy from those ads 15 years ago out of your head (the guy who had a bit part in “Die Hard” and who met his own tragic end a few years later…I’m sure the story must be available on wikipedia). Anyway, you think “ice beer” and you think sweet, sickly syrup which nobody really wants to drink ever.

Put those thoughts away, and do as I say: Visit the Old Credit Brewery in Port Credit, Mississauga. Upon arrival, you’ll likely be told that you have to take a tour of the brewery, because these guys are so damn proud of their beer, there’s no way that you’ll get away with your box of beer without them showing you exactly what goes into making it. Their secret ingredient is a wicked one: time. This beer takes about three times as long to make as a regular beer, and if you think about it, time in the world of beer really is money. While they’re storing their beer for three times as long as others do, that’s three times fewer beers which they could be brewing. But time does wonders for this beer.

If Old Mill goes down easily, Old Credit Pale Pilsner can be enjoyed with almost zero effort. It’s light on the tongue, but it’s packed with freshness. I don’t know how else to describe the beer: it’s simply the freshest tasting beer that you’re ever going to have. Sure, there are additives or preservatives, but a lot of beers are being made au natural like that. So what makes Old Credit different? It’s the ice brewing. And it’s the cold…

But this beer takes time. And that’s also its weakness. Too often I’ve purchased a sub-par Old Credit from the Brampton Liquor Store (it’s only available in limited LCBOs…check the internet for a location near you). That “no additive or preservative” thing can kinda hurt this beer…I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a skunk, but the quality hasn’t always been there at the LCBO. Which is another reason why I strongly recommend a visit to the Old Credit brewery (which also happens to be located in one of the most beautiful areas of Mississuaga).

When you’re drinking this fine product, share it. Sure, it’s great from the bottle, but maybe split that big boy with a friend. The reason: unless you guzzle it, you’re likely to experience a temperature loss during consumption. The beer will change its flavours when it starts to warm up. Don’t misunderstand me: a fresh Old Credit will still taste excellent and be good to the last drop…but there’s something about the COLD that makes this beer one of the top 3 Ontario beers, in my opinion. If you share with a friend, you’ll finish the bottle sooner, and then can grab another cold one without experiencing the temperature loss.

Old Credit also makes a crazy good Amber Ale, which you should also stock up on if you’re going to visit the brewery.


Mill Street Tankhouse Ale

Mill Street brewery has made quite a splash since it opened its brewpub in the heart of Toronto’s distillery district. In some ways, Mill Street was responsible for bootstrapping this historic part of the City into the trendy part of town that it now is. I have a tremendous amount of respect for this brewery – and not just their beers, either, but also because of their investment in neighbourhood and community and an urban vision that I share. I know, that’s pretty heavy reasoning for liking a beer, but I fully believe that perceptions can effect taste.

But…that’s not the case with Tankhouse Ale. Mill Street was on the cutting edge of a trend to bring overly-hopped beers to the public. When Tankhouse initially came out, I couldn’t believe that it was a Canadian beer, although beneath the abundant hops, there remained a traditional Canadian flavour and feel. It was just that no Canadian brewers were hopping their beers like this (although I actually think that the first Canadian crazy-hopped beer that I had was from the Scotch Irish Brewing Company, again at the Fort York Festival of Beer, back in the late ‘90s – Sergeant Majour India Pale Ale).

Since Tankhouse has come out, I’ve had many more beers with even more hoppiness. I think, though, that Tankhouse remains a favourite of mine because, for me at least, it has the right balance between hoppiness and malt. It feels great going down (especially straight from the painted bottle, slimmer in your grasp than a traditional beer bottle, so your mind kind of instinctively knows that this is something a little different).

Mill Street also brews some other great and interesting beers (although I wish that they would stop using those damn clear bottles for their Organic beer…too often those are skunky by the time they make it up to Sudbury, or so it seems; anyway, I’ve stopped trying with them).

Wellington County Arkell Bitter

What can I say about Wellington County Brewery? I just love it. This is a brewery that has never lost sight of itself. It’s been around for a while now, but it still continues to consistently produce a number of products which are head and shoulders above the rest of what’s out there.

Wellington has been around from the days when Upper Canada brewery was making its incredible Rebellion Ale, only to be bought out by one of the big boys, and now essentially isn’t worth drinking. Wellington was there when Creemore Springs was the toast of the Toronto urban hip (and me, too, because I was never numbered amongst the urban hip, even though I had more than a few Creemore in my University years). Creemore Springs has also gone the megaswill route, despite its lame attempts to continue to sell itself as something “different”. And Guelph rival Sleemans…well, Sleemans was never like Upper Canada, Creemore or Wellington.

Wellington County Ale is as fine an ale as you’re ever going to drink, and it certainly defines this classy brewery’s product line. For me, though, the stand out product amongst a series of beers which should all be considered stand-outs, is the Arkell Best Bitter. This is the best bitter being brewed in Canada, in my opinion, and even straight from the bottle, it will beat a Boddington’s on tap at a scenic outdoor patio overlooking the Thames in some English new town. I know that’s pretty bold, but you have to try this beer to get it.

The bitter style of beer is an absolute classic, and one which I’ve been known to enjoy. Unlike Old Credit, though, this one shouldn’t be consumed in the cold, which is why it makes a good summer beer, as it can be savoured from the cooler, even as it warms up in the heat. Arkell is better than the best bitter: it’s simply heavenly.

Brick Brewing Company – Formosa Springs Draft

And speaking of Upper Canada and Creemore…whatever happened to the excellent beer being brewed by Brick Brewery in Kitchener? They used to make some truly exciting beers, along with some truly uninspired choices (does anyone remember Pacific Lager?). Brick used to brag that it was Canada’s first microbrewery…but now it’s firmly on the megaswill side of the ledger (unless someone can correct my assumption…but they’re brewing Laker, right?).

Anyway, Formosa Springs Brewery was probably one of the first little breweries to be snapped up by a larger little brewery. Brick bought this brewery, located in Formosa, Ontario (in Huron County, I believe) a long while ago, ostensibly for access to some of the cleanest and purest water available in this province.

While the quality of Formosa Springs might have declined somewhat, there’s still something about this class Canadian-style lager which compels me to pick it up once in a while, as a favoured old stand-by. It must be something in the water. This isn’t a remarkable beer, but if your buddies are having a night out which might otherwise be spent with a case of megaswill (although that’s not saying much for your buddies, I know), think of reaching for Formosa Springs instead. One last good thing about Formosa Springs: you can get it here in Sudbury.

Northern Breweries Red Maple (deceased)

I feel kind of bad about doing this, but since I was asked about my favourite Ontario-brewed beers, I felt that I would be remiss in not including this classic beer on my list – even though the brewery which made it, just down the road from my house, has been sadly out of business for the past 5 years now. Truly, Northern Breweries Red Maple, a once-loved product, is deceased. And I will never enjoy its beauty again. *Sigh*.

Now, Northern Breweries had been around for about 100 years before it went completely belly-up. There used to be breweries in Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins, as well as Sudbury. Their flagship brand, Northern Ale, was, well, not all that good, in my opinion. And their Superior Lager was one of the worst beers I’ve ever tasted. But they had a few other decent products, including Eidelweiss, and before closing its doors, they were brewing a few beers under license, notably for Manitoba’s Aggasiz breweries. It helped that I could pick up a six-pack of fresh beer walking on the way home from work.

They also had a crazy Soviet-style labelled beer, called “Big Ram” which was quite tasty, but deeply incongruous from a marketing perspective.

But for complexity and enjoyability, Red Maple was where it was at. This beer came out at a time when breweries were starting to put sweet things into beer – remember the honey lager craze? Well, Northern decided to try making a beer with a hint of famous St. Joseph Island maple syrup. And unlike other maple beers (Upper Canada’s comes to mind), Northern got the balance of this beer just perfect.

It helped, too, that they put it in a beautifully labelled bottle, and focussed on a southern Ontario market (given that Northerners seemed to enjoy their less-complicated Northern Ale and Superior Lager…eeesh!). This beer was really putting Northern Breweries on the map until…until it was taken off the map.

Yes, truly I miss this wonderful beer, and regret that I will never be able to purchase 6 of these on the way home from work again. But the beer’s memory remains alive in the dreams of beer-drinkers like myself, and of course on the internet, where its webpage is apparently still alive and well. Bizarre.

New Best Friends

Nickel Brook Green Apple Pilsner

I’ve had the pleasure of sampling this new offering a few times now, although regrettably, sometimes I’ve had to opt for cans. Nevertheless, this light-flavoured beer has enough apple taste that it shines through like the full moon on a cloud striated evening (ok, no more attempts at poetry for me). A lot of apple ales, though, frankly don’t deliver with the apple. This one does, but it’s not over-powering. Here, the apple ripens in harmony with the beer (ok, one last failed attempt).

Lake of Bays Pale Ale

A great offering from this aggressive young brewery, the flagship Pale Ale has become one of my new number one favourites (yes, I’m allowed to have more than one number one). It’s got the right level of hoppiness, and a clean finish. It’s very drinkable (although more of an indoor beer, I believe, than an outdoor, if that makes any sense). And if you can get it on tap, so much the better.

Drinking this Pale Ale made me want to try the other offerings of this wanna-be “northern” brewery (sorry, but Muskoka just isn’t Northern Ontario, although it is kind a purdy…). To that end, I’ve tried both the Mocha Porter and the new Rousse. And my advice is…stick with the Pale Ale. Sorry, boys from Lake o’Bays, but your other two offerings are just not…very good at all. Complicated, for sure, but filling out a tax form is complicated, so we can’t really compare complexity with quality in all circumstances.

But do give the Pale Ale a go.

Brick Brewing - Red Baron Lime

And finally…I’m sure you’re saying “WTF” here…well, let me explain. Red Baron Lime is NOT a good beer…but, on a boiling hot day, when the sun is pelting down on you, crack open one of these (in the *shudder* clear bottle), and down it…maybe even in one, big gulp. Lime beer really took off from a marketing perspective last year, thanks to the treacly-sweet Bud Lime. Red Baron Lime, though, doesn’t have that same level of sweetness; in fact, it’s a little sour, but that makes it all right.

From a quality perspective, I’m sure this beer isn’t up on anyone’s list. But…if you’re looking for something to enjoy on a really hot day, give this one a try. I know that I will be picking up a six sometime soon. Even my Coors Light-loving wife likes this one, although I’m sure that I’ll get to enjoy the whole 6 myself. Maybe after I tackle mowing the lawn for the second and last time this summer.

Honourable Mentions

McAuslan Apricot Wheat (St. Ambroise Brewery, Montreal, Quebec)

Fort Garry Pale Ale (Fort Gary Brewery, Winnipeg, Manitoba)

Robinsons Black Cherry Ale (no longer available, as Robinsons’ Brewery in Mississauga, Ontario, has been out of business for a while now)

Hockley Valley Dark (Hockley Valley Brewing Company, Hockley Valley, Ontario)

Elora Irish Ale (Trafalgar Brewing Company, Oakville, Ontario; formerly from the Elora Brewing Company, Elora, Ontario; best enjoyed overlooking the gorge!)

Ringberry Ale (Granite Brewery, Toronto, Ontario – enjoy it on tap at the Granite Brewery brew pub on Mount Pleasant, south of Eglinton)

So, there you go. Thank you, Robert Andrew McTaggert, whoever you are, for giving me a reason to share these thoughts of mine with one and all. All of these beers are yours...except Europa. Attempt no drinking there. Use them wisely; use them in Peace.

I hope you enjoy. I’m going down to crack open my last Sergeant Major (in a stubby no less) left over from IPA (if you don't know what it is, I can't tell...oh, we've been over this enough already!), and perhaps enjoy it on the front porch.

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

Creating a Culture of Cycling in Greater Sudbury

I'm not at all surprised that the Greater Sudbury Police have issued a release reminding cyclists that they are not to be on the sidewalks (see: "No bikes on sidewalks, police say", The Sudbury Star online, Monday June 20th, 2011)

It seems to me, and the police too, that there are more cyclists on our sidewalks than we've had in a long while. Could the price of gasoline hovering around the $1.30 mark have anything to do with it? Certainly, bicycles don't belong on the sidewalks, as the opportunities for conflict with pedestrians are significant.

However, we still have a ways to go in this community to create a culture of cycling. For too many cyclists in Sudbury, the choice is often to ride illegally on a sidewalk, or risk life and limb travelling on the City's streets. Despite cyclists being required to share the road with motorists, we've a ways to go yet when it comes to equal recognition of the rights of cyclists to use our City's streets. No doubt the comments which will be appended to this blog post will illustrate my point.

Tonight, several groups will be appearing in front of the City's budget committee, asking that a portion of the City's roads budget be used to assist with building the sort of cycling infrastructure necessary in our community so that all cyclists from the age of 8 to the age of 80 will feel safe travelling where they are supposed to be, which is on our City's streets and on designated trails.

We know that not all City streets can accomodate new infrastructure, but a surprising number of streets are able to do so at little cost (sometimes it's just a matter of repainting lines). For example, the City took out an under-utilized centre turning lane on Howey Drive, and used this free space to create designated lanes for cyclists. Right now, Howey and Bancroft represent the way forward in this community.

But it all starts with a different way of thinking: our roads aren't just for cars. They are places where the public and private realms come together, to be shared by motorists, cyclists and transit users, all of which have their own unique needs. No longer can all of our streets be expected to accomodate only one form of transportation user to the detriment of others.

Things are changing - perhaps not as fast as many would like them to, but certainly things are moving ahead in our city. With even higher gas prices inevitably headed our way, it's imperative that we continue planning for and building the kind of City which we will need for the future we are going to have. And that's a City where a culture of conservation exists, and where motorists and cyclists both safely share the road, for the betterment of our community.

(this post was originally posted at UR Sudbury: Creating a Culture of Cycling in Our Community; comments are welcome at either location)

(opininions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with thsoe of the Green Party of Canada)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reassessing Municipal By-laws and Practices: "Unsightly" May Be "Environmentally Friendly"

I received a registered letter in the mail today, from the City of Greater Sudbury. It wasn’t in fact a letter; it was a “Notice of Non-Conformity”, issued by a municipal by-law enforcement officer. Apparently, we’ve been contravening a municipal by-law for a while now, and the City wants us to do something about it. And if we don’t take action, the City will – and charge us back.

You know what? I understand that’s the way things work. The City has its facts right; there was a contravention. And I’m actually pretty ok with that. It doesn’t hurt, too, that the contravention was taken care of earlier this week, so my wife and I don’t really have to worry about this. But this Notice really got me thinking about whether the City’s by-law continues to make sense in this day and age.

You see, we hadn’t mowed our lawn for some time, and the grass had grown quite high. Certainly higher than the apparent 20 centimetre limit the City has established as the maximum height for grass to grow. You see, I really don’t like mowing the lawn; and this time around, the extension cord had decided to quit, so I had to find an opportunity to buy a new one and….well, you see, I really just don’t like mowing the lawn.

Nevertheless, the lawn got mowed last week, but not apparently before by-law enforcement had been around to note the contravention. Again, I know that the City is just doing its job here.

The by-law that we contravened (ok, that I contravened…I can’t blame my wife, the lawn is my responsibility), by-law 2009-101, pertains to yard clearing and vacant lots. It talks a lot about the need to remove refuse from yards and lots, for health and safety reasons, along with ensuring that “unsightly conditions” do not occur.

OK…health and safety I can understand. Rusting abandoned vehicles loitering around a front yard might be the kind of hazard that really needs to be removed, given that children like to play and don’t understand the concept of invisible property lines acting as trespass barriers.

But what about this notion of “unsightly”? I mean…one person’s “unsightly condition” is another person’s paradise. That being said, I certainly didn’t think that my lawn looked like paradise…I’m sure that I thought of a few stronger terms to describe it than “unsightly”. But why did I feel that way? Maybe it’s because I’ve grown accustomed to seeing nice, green, manicured lawns in my neighbourhood (with the exception of the one in front of my own house), and I’ve come to accept this as “normal”.

But maybe it’s my perception which is out of line here. Let’s think about this a little more. The City demands that I cut my lawn when the grass exceeds 20 cm…so I go and plug in the mower, using energy to trim the grass. I guess I could use a more traditional, carbon neutral mower, but since I hate cutting the grass anyway, I just want it to end as quickly as possible. It’s my experience that most homeowners in this City have either electric or gas-powered mowers.

So, here I am, cutting my lawn to meet the 20 cm height restriction. I guess I’ll have to do this again later this summer…a few more times, in fact.

Yet, what harm is long grass on the front lawn really doing to my community? Sure, maybe it’s upsetting to my neighbours to have to look at (and certainly it was beginning to weigh heavy on my own conscience), but those issues are really related to perception, and not to any physical harm or danger. I don’t know…maybe tall grass attracts snakes. Actually, a few more snakes around wouldn’t be a bad idea, if they helped reduce the field mouse population.

So, by not mowing my lawn, I’m not actually causing any harm. Oh, I guess weeds might take root and send their seeds to the wind, infesting other lawns in my neighbourhood. As if mine is the only lawn with weeds (actually, the weed situation on my own lawn isn’t as noticeable as on some, as the low-lying devils paint brush has pretty much crowded out the dandelions).

What’s wrong with having a naturalized lawn in the first place? Especially when the alternative is to use energy to cut the grass? Haven’t I just written a couple of blogposts about the need to create a culture of conservation, which starts with taking a close and hard look at wasteful energy-intensive practices?

Now look…naturalized lawns make me nervous…certainly my own front lawn did. I guess I’d much rather see a nice manicured lawn, or perhaps what my neighbours a couple of doors down have down: they’ve turned their front lawn into a food garden, with nice raised beds. It’s great to walk by and see the tomatoes and whatever else (that I’m too dim-witted to recognize) growing. I know tomatoes (well, when they start to form on the vine anyway), and they look pretty in the garden. Tall grass like I had on my lawn…not so much. Not all that pretty.

But there’s a lot of things which aren’t particularly pretty in my neighbourhood. The collection of grocery store buggies on the front lawn down the road comes to mind. And then there’s the raised sewer grates in the road, which are a lot of fun when you’re biking.

And what about the constant flow of pedestrian traffic in front of our home? Now, I’m not complaining that people are walking…or even that they’re walking on the street, because our side of the road doesn’t have a sidewalk. When I first moved into the neighbourhood, it used to seem kind of unusual to me that people wouldn’t cross the road to walk on the sidewalk, but then I quickly learned that there had been a sidewalk on our side of the road, up until the City had the bright idea to come along and tear it up, in order to reduce winter maintenance costs.

You know, some city’s require land owners to shovel the sidewalks in front of their homes. Not here in Sudbury, where we get the Cadillac treatment…or at least those remaining homeowners which have sidewalks in front of their homes get that kind of treatment. In a world where energy prices continue to rise, and our population is aging, we can expect to have more pedestrians in our community. I’m not sure that it makes any sense to actually reduce the locations where sidewalks are found…certainly removing the sidewalk seems to have had a negligible impact on the amount of foot traffic on our side of the road.

In comparison to pulling up sidewalks in an aging city, forcing pedestrians to walk on the road itself, keeping the grass on your lawn at a height greater than 20 centimetres really is small potatoes. Or tomatoes, if you prefer.

In some communities, clotheslines were considered unsightly…even though they perform a carbon-neutral clothes-drying function. Municipalities with by-laws on the books banning clotheslines began repealing those by-laws because…they really didn’t make any sense. The use of aesthetics as a rationale for prohibiting environmentally friendly practices is really poorly thought out. Just because something looks bad doesn’t mean that we should outright prohibit it.

My City, though, like most cities, hasn’t yet come to terms with a number of problematic practices which we frankly have to get a handle on if we are to be serious about creating a culture of conservation (although clotheslines have always been ok here). This by-law which prevents naturalized lawns is but one archaic relic which, in my opinion, needs to be abandoned, no matter how nervous long grass might make me feel.

Take these issues, for examples:

Currently, if you are driving your car and you come to a level rail crossing (of which you’re likely to do in Sudbury if you drive your car at all). When the train comes, there is no requirement that you turn your engine off. Sure, some people do, but most simply leave their cars idling, burning gasoline but not getting anywhere. Needlessly adding to our community’s carbon emissions.

There is a movement afoot here to encourage our Council to pass an anti-idling by-law. Why it’s taking a public initiative to move this issue forward is beyond me. In today’s economic environment, it only makes sense to limit needless idling. So do it already, pass the by-law. And to those who think that idling is a personal choice, I’ll only go so far as to suggest that it, like smoking, may be a choice, and I don’t want to choke on your second-hand emissions. Unlike smoking, though, you can’t very well take your car into your home and idle it there in privacy to your hearts content (well, you can I guess…but you’ll probably only just do it the one time). Your needless carbon emissions are polluting my atmosphere. Cut it out already.

Or, how about this one, which is also lawn-related: phosphorus in our fertilizers. Phosphorus is a popular chemical in fertilizers. It helps things grow. Nevermind that most lawns don’t really need phosphorus for good growth (especially naturalized lawns!), fertilizers with P remain popular.

But the problem with phosphorus in fertilizers is that after you apply it to your lawn, a good rain is likely to wash it away…and into your local storm sewer (even if the grate is raised). Once in the storm sewer, here in Sudbury, it ends up in one of our many lakes. In many cases, the lake might be a drinking source for the community, like Ramsey Lake.

Now, phosphorus makes things grow. Too much P in the water (snicker) and you get something called blue-green algae, which produces a toxin. Blue-green algae tends to prevent people from accessing safe drinking water. It’s a health hazard.

So, if most lawns don’t really need phosphorus to begin with, and if fertilizer run-off from lawns contributes to the growth of blue-green algae in lakes, including our drinking water sources…why on this blue-green Earth do we continue to tolerate the application of phosphorus fertilizers on lawns? Maybe it’s time to end this practice.

Here in Sudbury, the good news is that there’s a local effort underway to convince our Council to ban the application of phosphorus fertilizers. But again…it just makes sense…let’s just do it.

I mean, the province banned pesticide-laden lawn care products for health and safety reasons, showing us that these kinds of things can happen when they’re in the public interest. Pesticides and chemicals from lawns also used to get into our drinking water sources. Applying them to our lawns are activities that we just don’t need to be doing any more: we know better now that these practices are dangerous, perhaps not individually, but certainly cumulatively.

Which brings me to another issue…if we know that chemicals are problematic when they get into our water, what about all of the people who continue to wash their cars in their driveways? Their phosphate-laden run-off goes directly into the storm sewer….into our water. Commercial car washes are required to recycle their dirty water…but not the casual residential car washer.

The time has come to end this practice. Not only is it selfish, it looks bad. I cringe when I see people engaging in this kind of activity. It’s potentially more offensive than two-foot high grass on a front lawn, because it’s something that we should know better than to do now. If you really want to wash your car, take it to a location where you’re not going to pollute my water.

To my knowledge, we don’t yet have a local effort underway in the City to address this issue (but maybe it’s only a matter of time). Surely, though, the City is quite capable of figuring out that residential car washing is a dangerous practice which needs correction.

At the end of the day, sidewalk removal, idling cars, phosphorus lawn fertilizers, and shameful driveway car washing are all more egregious than allowing your grass to grow more than 20 cm. The time has come to take a close look at what it is we want to achieve in our communities, and whether the practices we have in place are helping us to get there.

Making the Shift Towards a Culture of Conservation

I’m going to start off today’s blogpost in a similar manner to the way in which I began the last one, although I will be taking this post in a different direction. In my last post, I discussed how moving forward to create a culture of conservation would better position Canadians to address change on our terms – rather than reacting to the impacts of change. That post looked at inevitable change from a national and international perspective. In today’s post, I want to look at what it means to approach change at a local level.

We know that two important issues have been emerging over the past several decades, and that they are going to inform events and impact lives throughout the remainder of the 21st Century. The first issue has to do with the way in which greenhouse gas emissions from industrial processes are warming our planet. The second relates to the first: the era of inexpensive fossil fuel energy is over, and adapting to this circumstance is now more necessary than ever. How we adapt to this circumstance will greatly impact the extent of the global climate crisis.

For successful adaptation, we must begin to create a culture of conservation. That means that we must begin to use less energy in our lives. Given that the energy trends in western societies over the past several hundred years have always gone up, and never down, it appears that we may have our work cut out for us to reverse this trend. The truth is, though, that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Over the past hundred years, we’ve increased the complexity of our society by moving away from regional and national trade to trade which has become globalized. That this circumstance has occurred has largely been because of two reasons: the pursuit of ever-increasing profits has been the motivator, and the existence of inexpensive fossil fuel energy, particularly oil, has been the enabler. In many cases, jobs which were once performed locally in communities have relocated to areas where labour and/or capital costs are less expensive.

Other jobs have been replaced by mechanization. For example, instead of a dozen farmhands labouring to bring in the harvest, a single farmer on a tractor can now do that work, and perhaps in a fraction of the time. In a very real sense, oil has replaced much manual labour.

Free trade agreements have exacerbated this situation, and we’ve seen a hollowing out of our manufacturing sector as a result. Our resource sector, however, remains very strong – in part because you can’t physically relocate resources to other parts of the globe.

Our industrial and transportation sectors rely heavily on fossil fuel use, and are therefore somewhat vulnerable to risk as a result of rising energy prices. Energy prices will not be coming down again in any significant way, as international competition and a lack of new production to replace depleted sites will ensure that oil prices continue to trend upward – at least until prices rise high enough to throw the global economy back into recession. Then, with more people out of work and fewer industrial demands, prices might drop until the economy picks up again.

This hasn’t happened in the past, as new production always came online to replace production lost to depleted resources. Now, what new production is coming online isn’t enough to replace what’s been lost, and it’s largely from sources which have much higher production costs which need to be recouped.

When pollution pricing is added to the price of fossil fuel energy (and I believe that pollution pricing will be a reality for all Canadians in the very near future), we can expect even higher energy prices. Indeed, energy consumers will be paying an amount closer to the value of the product being consumed than ever before. Given that we’ve been subsidizing fossil fuel energy for our entire industrial history, by allowing climate changing atmospheric pollution without cost to emitters, many believe that it’s high time that we started paying the real costs of energy.

So, until we experience some kind of technological breakthrough, and develop the comprehensive infrastructure needed to deploy the new technology to our industrial and transportation sectors (and frankly, the development of a new tech isn’t on the horizon right now), we can expect to experience increasing energy and gasoline prices. To adapt, we’ll have a couple of options: pay more, or use less. For many, paying more simply isn’t an option at all, because family and business budgets are already tight.

The using less option, however undesirable it might be to some, is likely the more sustainable and realistic choice for a vast majority of Canadians. Conserving energy needs to become engrained in all decision-making processes: governments, businesses, industries, families, individuals: all will need to start making smarter energy consumption choices, or be prepared to pay much more for energy use.

There’s a lot of opportunity for a culture of conservation to take root in Canada. Canadians are currently energy hogs. The OECD reports that Canada is 27th out of 29 member nations when it comes to energy consumption per capita: we burn 6.19 tonnes of oil-equivalent per person every year. This rate is almost double the OECD average of 3.18 tonnes. Only sparsely populated and cold Iceland and, perhaps somewhat inexplicably, Luxembourg, consume more oil-equivalent units per person each year.

It seems obvious that a cold, northern nation is likely to require more energy than for a nation located in the mid-latitudes. Also, given that Canada’s population is quite spread out, it would seem to make sense that our energy requirements for transportation would be significantly greater than for more compact nations. Neither of these points, though, forgives Canadians of the fact that we’ve built our communities and transportation infrastructure to be much more energy-intensive than they need to be.

Rail travel for individuals and freight has remained popular in Europe, even though it has largely disappeared in Canada. Even in the United States, rail has started making a tentative comeback. Rail travel, of course, is much less energy intensive than the use of personal automobiles and trucks. Rail produces fewer emissions. All in all, rail will prove to be a much more sensible choice for moving people and goods in the future.

Yet, with this knowledge in mind, Canada has done very little on a national scale to encourage the reintroduction of rail. Some provincial governments, such as Ontario and Manitoba, are working with municipal counterparts to develop freight and passenger capacity, but these efforts have been long in coming, and can really only be considered to have minor impacts.

With regards to heating costs, Canadians have tended to prefer living arrangements which are also energy intensive. The single-family dwelling has been a mainstay for Canadian families. As a result, more and more land has been used to build energy-inefficient subdivisions, further and further away from the employment centres where subdivision inhabitants work. Our subdivisions have by necessity become largely dependent on cars for personal transportation.

Houses have gotten bigger over time, even though households have gotten smaller. Larger houses require more heating (and electricity for cooling). The home building industry hasn’t exactly prioritized energy efficiency in building design up until recently (and goodness knows, there is still a way to go in promoting “green” buildings). Further, homes are often not built to take advantage of natural lighting, heating and cooling sources.

Although Canada’s larger cities have begun to experience a boom in denser development forms, such as apartments (condominiums), the car-dependent energy-inefficient suburbs around Canada’s large and small cities continue to expand with few impediments.

If we know that energy prices are going to continue to rise, and as a result we will need to conserve the energy which we use, how can it be that Canadians have not demanded energy-efficient options from our governments? Indeed, why is it that Canadians continue to subsidize the energy-intensive lifestyles of our richest members, at the expense of investing in energy efficient options?

What do I mean by subsidizing energy-intensive lifestyles? Well, let’s start with looking at personal transportation. I think that we’re all in agreement that driving an automobile to and from work generally uses more energy and creates more greenhouse gas emissions than public transit, walking or cycling. Indeed, transit, walking and cycling are much more energy efficient modes of transportation, along with being more economical choices.

For many Canadians, though, the option of taking a bus or train to work, or walking or cycling simply isn’t an option at all, due to a lack of transit service, or the distance which must be travelled. In part, this is because many Canadians have chosen to live in energy-inefficient subdivisions, located long distances away from their jobs. These low-density subdivisions don’t generate enough riders to make public transit a viable option, so transit services are either not present, or serve only a handful of residents.

As a result, many kilometres of often-winding roads must be maintained for the use of cars which burn gasoline. In part, property taxes are used to maintain roads, but it’s not unusual for local cities to ask higher levels of government to assist with infrastructure repair and maintenance (especially for larger projects, such as bridge repair or new highway creation). Provincial and federal governments transfer revenue which they’ve received in the form of taxes. Ultimately, road maintenance is paid for through a variety of different sources; it can be said, however, that those who directly benefit are paying only a small portion of the overall costs (despite what might appear to be high property taxes levied by municipalities). And that’s a subsidy.

Yet, property values in many of these subdivisions are amongst the highest in their communities. Indeed, with high property values, many homes are priced beyond what is affordable to a significant number of Canadians. Yet all of us pay for road maintenance, including those who will never drive personal autos on those roads.

So, even in this basic scenario, into which I’ve not even factored health and environmental costs from carbon-polluting personal vehicles, it becomes clear that we’ve been subsidizing energy-inefficient suburban development.

We could have made different choices regarding the use of public money. We might have chosen instead to invest in public transit, or the creation of smaller, more affordable housing units in denser neighbourhoods. So what motivated us to make the decisions we made? Why have we chosen suburban, car-dependent living over more sustainable, less energy-intensive options? Largely, those decisions were made because of the availability of inexpensive fossil fuel energy. At a time when personal vehicle ownership was the norm, it was easier to justify the subsidy given to affluent suburbs.

But, those days are gone now. We’re living in a different reality. Surely, we’re going to be making different choices regarding what we spend our public dollars on. Right?

Well…yes and no. Clearly, some things have started to change. There is an increasing awareness amongst decision-makers that the public’s needs are changing. The condominium building spree which we’ve seen in Toronto, for example, is evidence of this change in attitude.

However, in many cases, vested interests continue to rule. Again, going back to Toronto as an example, although condominium towers have been going up like there’s no tomorrow, what we haven’t seen emerge is an investment in public transit. Well, rather, we have seen commitments for more transit infrastructure, in significant part being made by a senior level of government. But due to squabbling about priorities and funding, the gap between transit need and transit reality in Toronto continues to widen.

There’s a lot that we could be doing to get serious about building the kinds of communities which we need for the future that we’re going to inhabit. It all has to start with acknowledging that the days of inexpensive fossil fuel energy are at an end, and that to address the climate crisis, we need to create a culture of conservation. From there, we need to take a hard look at the things we’ve been funding, and determine whether they continue to be deserving of public subsidies.

In the past, our priorities have been on building infrastructure for cars, and on creating energy-intensive subdivisions for people to live. In the future, we must be more cognizant of full costs, including the costs to our health and environment from energy-intensive transportation and land uses. We must critically assess whether it continues to make sense to build more roads and highways for a future where there will be fewer people who can afford personal vehicle ownership. A better use of public funds would be to invest in rail, transit, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

(Opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Creating a Culture of Conservation

Two important issues have been emerging over the past several decades which are going to inform the events of this century. The first has to do with the way in which greenhouse gas emissions from industrial processes are warming our planet, and the change that global warming will bring to our climate. The second relates to the first: the era of inexpensive fossil fuel energy is over, and adapting to this changed circumstance is necessary. How we adapt to the end of inexpensive fossil fuel energy will greatly impact the extent of the global climate crisis.

Together, the issues of climate change and the end of inexpensive energy mean that we need to begin to think about ways of decarbonising our society. Indeed, we should have begun moving in this direction years ago, but other forces have been at work which have impeded action towards a low-carbon future. While these forces continue to have an impact on action (a lack of political will; a well-funded climate change denial industry; over-stating global oil reserves for economic gain), an increasing number of Canadians are beginning to realize that the path forward leads to moving away from our addiction to fossil fuels.

The issues facing us are undeniable. Where there is still considerable debate is found with regards to what the best actions are to address these issues. For me, it’s important that proposals for action meet the goal of moving us towards creating the culture of conservation which our society must build if we are going to stave off the more significant anticipated impacts of a changing climate, while simultaneously promoting social justice.

National governments appear largely content to follow a “do nothing” approach, leaving actions to communities or individuals. Often times, political decision makers believe that government interference in markets will lead to economic destabilization, but they fail to understand that the costs of pollution are not currently being paid for by industrial polluters. Therefore, in our current economic system, we are subsidizing industrial pollution through personal income and property taxes, which go towards paying healthcare bills and for the costs of environmental clean-ups, while giving the polluters a free ride.

As with free speech, there must be limits placed on industrial processes which are socially irresponsible. Just as shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre is socially unacceptable, so too should be processes which contribute to atmospheric pollution and which increase the costs of health care.

Decision-makers at all levels of government are currently grappling with how best to move forward with the knowledge that climate change is happening, and human industrial processes are responsible. As well, we are seeing energy prices continue to rise, and we are feeling the impacts, not only when we go to fill up our cars or pay our home heating bills, but also at the grocery store, due to the increased costs of transporting food.

Decision-makers, however, are reluctant to propose initiatives which are too bold, and subject to public resistance. Given that we elect our decision-makers for only short periods of time, ideas which are proposed at all levels of government tend to call for incremental action at best. Oftentimes, policy which is proposed that may be popular, will take us backwards, instead of moving us to the low-carbon future which we must start to create.

A lack of action, or action which moves us backwards, is a sure recipe for economic instability. If we are to continue to invest in extracting increasingly expensive fossil fuels from the depths of our oceans, or convert bitumen from the tar sands into fuel for our economy, we can expect a few outcomes: Fuel prices will continue to climb until tempered by a job-killing recession, and greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise, surpassing 450 parts per million of CO2 in our atmosphere, where we run the risk of triggering runaway climate change associated with tipping points where warming is above 2 degrees Celsius.

Think about what that might mean for humanity. And then, what it might mean for you and your family.

In a warming world, increasing food scarcity is a certainty. We’ve already begun seeing the impacts of high food prices, which in part have been responsible for the political instability and uprisings we’ve been seeing in the Middle East and North Africa. Food scarcity will continue to contribute to governmental instability, particularly in the tropical and sub-tropical regions which contain a large portion of the world’s population. That instability, however, has the potential to spill over into the industrialized North, particularly on the periphery. What happens in North Africa is sure to impact the political situation in Southern Europe.

What happens in Mexico and Central America is also sure to impact the United States and Canada.

Even without climate change, the increasing price of oil will impact food availability throughout the world. We here in the northern part of North America may be better insulated from food-related turmoil than other regions of the globe, but we still may be impacted by political instability elsewhere, especially since so many of our industrial and consumer goods are imported from abroad.

The high price of oil is sure to have an impact on our transportation sector. For too long we’ve neglected needed investments in public transit and sustainable transportation infrastructure. We can’t afford to keep doing so any longer. However, if we don’t take action, we can expect to see an increasing disparity between those who can afford to drive their motorized vehicles, and the rest of us for whom personal automobile ownership simply isn’t an option, due to cost.

Certainly, Canadians will be driving a lot less in the future. While some will be able to afford the price of gas, we can expect that the middle class will continue to shrink, especially in the face of economic recessions brought on by high energy prices and global political instability.

The increasing level of economic disparity between the rich and the poor means that fewer and fewer Canadians will be able to influence decision-makers, as there is a proven correlation between wealth and political influence. Therefore, we can expect to see decision-makers increasingly make decisions which benefit their engaged supporters, at the expense of an increasing number of disenfranchised citizens. This process has been underway in Canada for quite some time, and is in part responsible for the lack of action and leadership taken towards moving us forward to a low-carbon economy. It has been exacerbated by a political system in this country which does not recognize all votes cast in elections as an expression of the political will of Canadians.

The result of actions not taken to decarbonize our economy will mean that we can expect many more Canadians to be living in poverty, and that a majority of us will experience a declining quality of life. We’ll also become less engaged with our governments, leaving decision-makers with a free hand to make decisions with the interests of the wealthy elite in mind. The outcomes of this circumstance will be either the continued repression of an increasing number of Canadians, or political instability in our own nation. And by political instability, I am not simply referring to peaceful civil disobedience. Think more along the lines of the sorts of violent demonstrations we’ve been seeing on YouTube from places like Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Greece, Spain and Libya. Or something worse than that.

If you believe that violent political instability can’t happen in Canada, I’d ask you to strongly reconsider. Instability and demonstration has happened consistently in nations where oppression has occurred. Where there is a perception created that governments are not acting with the bests interests of their citizens, we have witnessed either repression through fear and force (as we’ve seen in numerous police states) or we have witnessed rebellion. Given these two options, it’s no wonder that “forward thinking” governments will grant themselves additional police powers to stave off unrest. Canada did so during the FLQ crisis in the 1970s, through the implementation of the War Measures Act. Other democratic nations have, in the past, taken similar actions to quell dissent.

In Canada, our governments have already started down the road to protecting themselves from future expected political actions. Laws have been passed at the federal and provincial levels throughout Canada which have had the effect of curtailing the civil rights of Canadians, often done in the name of “public security” based on a perceived external threat (such as the so-called “war on terrorism” or the “war on drugs”). We’ve witnessed our government’s abuse of civil liberties at the G20 conference in Toronto, where police powers were used to detain protesters without charges (or where charges were later, inexplicably dropped), while politicians looked the other way instead of taking leadership.

Surely, though, such actions taken by governments are done so with the best interests of Canadians? Well, with an increasing number of disenfranchised Canadians living in poverty, in the future, whose interests will such governmental actions be taken in?

If you lost your job tomorrow, due to a global recession brought on by rising energy prices, might your interests also be changed?

Our governments understand that we are headed towards a future where we can expect the gap between the rich and poor to continue growing, and that we’ll be living with the attendant political instability such a growing gap brings. While significant planning has gone into addressing expected future security issues (including the building of massive new jails to house more criminalized citizens), our governments have done very little to address the root causes of disparity, namely moving us towards creating a culture of conservation and a low-carbon future. Why is this?

Why have our governments been negligent in making decisions which don’t lead towards increasing economic disparity and runaway climate change? In part, governments have been reluctant to take the first steps on their own, fearing negative economic consequences from a global trading partners. For example, even the tentative steps towards increasing the opportunities for renewable energy production taken by the government of Ontario through the Green Energy Act have been challenged by global trading partners, including Japan, based on the notion that the legislation gives preferential treatment. Ultimately, any move towards removing the subsidies on fossil fuels that we have built into our economic system is open for challenge on the world stage. How did we get here?

In a nutshell, we’re here because so much of the world’s wealth is controlled by several hundred multi-national corporations whose priorities are likely very different from yours and mine. Even the best-intentioned governments (of which we have very few to speak of, globally) are forced to comply with treaties, agreements, rules and regulations which govern trade in a way which benefits the so-called “free” market over the individual, especially when it comes to pollution.

Governments, however, could still act boldly, if they chose to. However, our governments are reluctant to offer much more than incremental change, or they fear that they will suffer the wrath of voters at the ballot box. Change, even where it can end up benefiting society, is never an easy process. People are largely comfortable with the status quo, even though the status quo shifts slightly over years, and decades, or more jarringly due to sudden change. It’s unlikely that most individuals remain in a static location in their lives; jobs are lost, marriages are entered into, and then out of; children are born, and move away; family members age, and their needs change. In fact the only certain thing about life is that we’re going to experience change throughout it. But that doesn’t ever make change easy.

As a result, our governments like to suggest incremental change as an option. Sometimes these incremental changes move us towards the culture of conservation we need to thrive; other times, they take us backward. Sometimes, when policies are proposed to move us forward, the end result will in fact be to move us in the wrong direction. Populist politicians like the idea of giving people want they want, but sometimes doing so takes us in the wrong direction.

For example, recently there has been talk about the need to remove certain taxes from home heating bills, and to cap the price of gasoline at the pumps. Both policy initiatives likely sound good to people concerned about rising prices, but neither will do anything to address the root causes of rising energy prices. In fact, over time, these policies will actually move us backwards and away from creating that culture of conservation we need for our future, because it means that we will need to find other resources to pay for these energy subsidies.

Taxes are probably one of the most powerful tools that our governments have to shape both economic and social policy, short of legislating activities. For example, cigarette smoking is a dangerous and costly indulgence for many Canadians, and smokers require the expenditure of additional health care costs by governments. While governments have the power to outlaw the purchase of cigarettes, and could do so for both health and economic reasons, they’ve chosen not to. Instead, we’ve seen governments take an incremental approach to phase out cigarette smoking, through public education on the dangers of smoking, by limiting the locations in which smokers can light up, and through the imposition of taxes on cigarettes, which have led to the purchase of fewer cigarettes by Canadians over time. In the case of cigarettes, taxes have played an important role in shaping social policy, while providing much-needed revenues for governments.

Right now, similar discussions are happening around carbon pollution. Greenhouse gas emissions are recognized as a health, environmental and national security issue. Since there are other options available which create fewer or no emissions for some industrial processes, if our governments put a price on carbon pollution emissions, surely we would begin to experience a reduction in emissions. It may not happen right away, however, as we currently do not have the infrastructure in place to switch from coal, oil, and natural gas to clean, renewable alternatives. However, with higher prices associated with the use of fossil fuels, the investments in renewable infrastructure will surely follow. Further, rather than over-using energy, which a majority of Canadians do now, we can expect to see our overall per-person energy use decline due to conservation.

The notion of energy conservation and carbon pricing scares a lot of people, though, because at first it seems that we’re likely going to have to make some lifestyle changes. We find ourselves in the position that smokers found themselves in, faced with rising prices and social stigmas, many smokers have changed their ways, and have either quit altogether, or they smoke less (with many choosing not to smoke in their homes and cars, for fear of passing on to their children the negative health impacts associated with second-hand smoking).

Smokers, however, now also have a better understanding that if they continue to smoke, or smoke as much as they did before, they run a significantly greater risk of experiencing negative health impacts. Canadians, too, have become increasingly aware that the same is true of our fossil-fueled society, and that if we continue along the path we’re on now, we are running the significant risk of economic, social and environmental upheaval.

Either Canadians begin to change our carbon-intense lifestyles on our own terms, or else we run the risk of having them changed for us, through, for example, paying more for personal transportation, food, or experiencing recessionary job loss or social and political upheaval.

To avoid economic and political destablization as best as we can at this late time, we must now aggressively pursue public policy initiatives which move us towards creating a culture of conservation. We must begin the process of decarbonising our economy, and building the infrastructure (physical and social) which will better allow us to live in a low-carbon future. Much of that work will need to occur locally, but it must be led by supra-regional governments (in the case of Canada, that means both our national and provincial levels of government), given the limited taxation powers which currently exist at the municipal level. Indeed, the very relationship which our municipalities have with senior levels of government would also benefit from significant change, so that municipalities experience a greater deal of flexibility to implement options and solutions which work best in their own local context. However, even should the governmental relationship be overhauled, the federal and provincial levels of government in Canada will continue to need to show leadership in creating a culture of conservation.

We should have begun this process decades ago, even at a time when we didn’t have the best understanding of specific climate change impacts, or exactly when oil would peak. We’ve known for a while now that these days were coming, but instead of weaning ourselves off of fossil fuel use, our global economies have continued to embrace it at the expense of just about every other energy source, even with our knowledge that continued use would lead towards both rising prices and global temperatures.

But we’re here now. And we can’t afford to lose any more time. There is no more time to fool around with tackling these two issues. Populist political opportunism must stop. Our news media should become engaged in discussions about climate change and the end of inexpensive energy in a meaningful way. While journalists cope with the twin pressures of a 24-hour news cycle and a lack of resources, this should not mean that they can continue to fail in asking important and difficult questions of our politicians. As the gatherers and disseminators of information, our media has a significant role to play in educating Canadians about energy use, climate change, and public policy proposals.

Voters, too, should not continue to reward politicians who will not take action to address climate change and energy issues, as a majority of Canadians stand to be negatively impacted by these issues. While the super-rich might weather the storm, the rest of us face change on terms which are not our own, if a course of inaction continues to be pursued. Further, voters must be wary of populist forces which disguise regressive public policy proposals through the use of spin and deceit. This form of political “greenwashing” needs to be called out by responsible Canadians at all levels, including and especially in the news media.

Together, we have the ability to create change on our own terms, but as with any change, it’s not going to be easy. The alternative, however, is change on terms which aren’t our own. Either way, the status quo will change, and the lifestyles of a majority of Canadians will change with it. If we Canadians act in the interests of our families and communities, and take into consideration the needs of our grandchildren and their children, we will surely be able to decarbonize economy, and create a culture of conservation. If we act instead in the interests of the rich multi-national corporations, and focus instead on greed and the creation of wealth for a tiny minority of individuals, we will surely suffer the negative consequences.

(Opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Stop Harper: The G8 Legacy Fund, Dishonesty, and the Danger of Conservative Values-Based Patriotism

Today, a series of long-awaited Reports were made to Parliament by now former Auditor-General Sheila Fraser. One of those reports, alluded to during the federal election campaign as a result of a draft version of the report being leaked, is making headlines across the nation today. The Report on G-8 spending in then Minister of Industry Tony Clement’s riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka suggests that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government misled parliament by slipping the $50 million so-called “Legacy Fund” slush-fund into a larger $83 million bill to relieve border congestion, despite there being no international border anywhere in the riding. The Report goes on to identify that the usual methods of oversight were not employed for the use of the $50 million slush fund in this one riding, nor were the usual strings attached, which required other levels of government (Provincial, regional and municipal) to chip in their fair share.

Dishonesty

For anyone who was following this issue during the election, the release of the A-G’s report today really comes as no surprise. The furious denial of the current Harper regime that they in anyway misled parliament, and that all of the spending in the riding was warranted and necessary, also really comes as no surprise.

What’s galling, though, is the level of dishonesty which this government will go to in order to justify whatever it is they’re doing or have done. Whether it’s $50 million in spending decisions made by the Minister in consultation with a municipal mayor and resort owner, or whether it’s $15 billion in unsourced spending on fighter jets which may double by the time the jets are delivered, or whether it’s cutting off funding to a humans rights organization by altering documents produced by staff to change a funding recommendation (and then completely misleading parliament about the alteration), we’ve seen far too much in the way of dishonesty from the Conservative government.

Now, you may say, “But Steve, all governments are dishonest, especially when it comes to spending which benefits their buddies.” And you may point to the Liberal Sponsorship scandal as a prime example of the level of dishonesty and cover-up which Canadians appear to have come to expect from our governments. Why should the Conservatives be any different? Why hold them to a higher standard?

I don’t believe that the Conservatives should be held to a higher standard. The Liberals were just as bad as the Conservatives; of course, Prime Minister Paul Martin at least called for a public enquiry into the Sponsorship scandal, and reaped the whirlwind at the ballot box in the next election. The Conservatives have not been similarly punished; in truth, they've been rewarded for their serial dishonesty with a much stronger mandate to govern, despite an historic contempt of parliament ruling.

In truth, all of these spending scandals have caused the trust which Canadians put into their government to plummet over the years. As a result, these scandals have led to increasing the democratic deficit within the nation, as more Canadians turn away from voting and other forms of political engagement. And who can blame them? Who would willingly want to be associated with “those guys”, unless you’re someone who is eager to figure out a way to get your own share of the goodies being handed out.

Of course, a lack of political engagement on the part of the public means that we can expect to see even more dishonesty. If fewer Canadians are paying attention to what's going on, what's to stop the current government from doing pretty much whatever it wants to do?

In part, that's why we are in the midst of a democratic crisis in this nation.

Slush-Fund Mentality

One thing that I found interesting was an argument being used mainly be Conservative pundits and commenters during the last election that certain ridings needed to elect Conservative MP's so that they would benefit by getting more of the goodies being handed out like candy by a Conservative government. What might have inspired a public outcry a few decades ago (the idea that our government is really only there to support those which support it, or to woo those living in marginal ridings, and not actually for all Canadians equally), barely even registers today. In fact, many voters probably bought into the notion that it’s better to be on the “winning” side, else their geographic locales will experience a form of economic punishment.

No doubt there are Conservative pundits writing in their blogs today that the Conservatives did nothing wrong by rewarding the voters of Parry Sound-Muskoka for their continued loyalty, and that other ridings now in the hands of the Liberals, NDP, Bloc and Greens should smarten up and vote for Conservatives next time out, or else risk losing even more access to funding (or worse, risk losing existing funding).

Certainly, when you look at what transpired in Parry Sound-Muskoka, it’s hard not to feel that way.

Shrug it Off

What’s troubling for me today, though, is something which again doesn’t come as a surprise: that the Conservative Party will simply shrug off the A-G’s Report on the Legacy Fund. They’ll disagree, they’ll insist that it’s being made into a political football, pointing to the posturing of the Opposition NDP and whatever polysyllabic righteous indignation emerges from Bob Rae’s mouth as proof. You see, they know that Canadians will have forgotten all about this in 4 years, which is the next time we’ll be going to the polls. This is really no big deal from their perspective.

In fact, the Conservatives might be enjoying all of the close scrutiny of the A-G’s Report on the G-8 slush fund. There were 6 other Reports released by the A-G today which won’t receive anywhere near the coverage of the $50 million slush fund Report. One of those reports in particular should be considered a monumental and on-going embarrassment to our current government, to the detriment of all Canadians. The A-G’s Report on the status of On-Reserve Housing which shows that the gap between housing needs and housing outcomes continues to grow, to our collective shame. It’s doubtful that it will receive the kind of media and public attention that this continuing historic injustice deserves.

Values-Based Patriotism as Partisan Political Tool

The dishonesty of the current government is going to impact us in many ways over the next four years. Brigitte DePape, the courageous Senate Page who decided that it was more important to be civilly disobedient than to retain an excellent job, had it right when she wrote “Stop Harper” on an octagonal red sign. DePape claimed that despite Harper’s say-so, the values of the Conservative Party are not Canada’s values. She pointed to the 60% of Canadians who voted for a party other than the Conservatives in the last election as part of her proof. She indicated that another 40% of voting-age Canadians chose not to cast ballots at all.

But even DePape didn’t capture the full range of Canadians who do not share the values of the Conservative Party, as she neglected to mention that there are also some very politically engaged youths under the age of 18 who could not vote. And finally, she failed to identify that many of the voters who cast their ballots for Conservative candidates might not actually share the values of the Party, for whatever reason. Sometimes these voters have been misled by Conservative candidates, spokespeople and the media. We know that Conservatives have been dishonest about numerous things; we would be na├»ve to think that their dishonesty didn’t contribute to their vote totals in the last election. And perhaps some voters simply bought into the “slush fund mentality”, thinking that their ridings would benefit by having an MP in government.

Yes, many Canadians do share the values of the Conservative Party. But it’s purely partisan patriotic rhetoric to believe that those values are universally shared amongst Canadians. DePape seems to understand where this kind of dishonest rhetoric leads. It’s almost as if Harper is saying you’re not really Canadian if you don’t hold Conservative values. With a majority of ridings in Quebec having for the first time elected NDP MP’s to the house, you can see how this kind of dishonest values-based rhetoric could be very dangerous for Canada.

The Conservatives continue to practice the politics of division, though, and that’s not going to change any time soon. They’ll continue to inject their version of patriotism into debates, and we can expect that their brand of values-based patriotism will become an even more important tool to implement the future government agenda. Those who disagree with government decisions to slash and cut spending (primarily on social programs) or to lower taxes for the rich will increasingly be seen as being “un-Canadian”. Being something less than a true Canadian will, of course, lead to the increasing marginalization of voices which disagree with the Harper government. It’s dishonest and it’s wrong, and it must be stopped, as the Harper government really is a threat to the well-being of a majority of Canadian families, and to our future generations.

I hope to write more about the perils of so-called “Conservative values” in a future blog, which will include a look at how economic austerity measures which benefit the richest amongst us will be forced on the majority of us as part of our “patriotic duty”.

(Opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)