Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Adding My Voice to the Growing International Call for a Boycott of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic & Paralympic Games

Vladimir Putin’s Russia has been making grim international headlines lately. Never the sort of bastion of freedom of expression which many in the West hoped it might become after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet “Evil Empire”, Russia nevertheless had taken some tentative steps in the direction of democratic discourse under its first President, Boris Yeltsin. However, since Yeltsin’s exit from office on New Year’s Eve 1999, Russia’s democrats have slowly stifled under the iron-fisted guidance of former KGB boss Putin. Putin’s repertoire of repression has consisted of vote-rigging, blackmail, interfering with journalism and the outright assassination of journalists and democrats who have maligned his police-state government.

Recent headlines have a lot to do with Russia’s domestic situation, and if this circumstance were one which effected only Russians, well, it would be bad enough and we should all still be talking about it. But, with the Winter Olympic Games and Paralympics scheduled to kick off early next year in the Black Sea-side town of Sochi, Russia’s domestic politics of oppression have come under international scrutiny. Specifically, Russia has recently passed a number of new laws which outlaw gay and “pro-gay” behaviour and propaganda.

After cracking heads at the St. Petersburg and Moscow Pride Parades earlier this summer, Russia’s police appear poised to arrest and detain Russians and foreigners whom are believed to be homosexuals or supporters of gay rights. Yes, this is the year 2013, and it’s more than 40 years after Stonewall. And it’s 65 years after the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s true that Russia isn’t the only (or even close to the worst) offender when it comes to gay rights, but with these recent changes, it’s clear that Russia is moving in the wrong direction.

There is no question that gay rights are human rights. Canada and other Western nations need to be doing far more to remind Russia, a member of the G-8, to be doing more to advance human rights issues, rather than taking steps backwards because of some deemed offence to Putin’s so-called masculinity posed by those who don’t walk a straight and narrow path.

The Olympics: More than "Sport"

When the Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games were awarded to Sochi by the International Olympic Commission (IOC), it was well-known that Russia had a number of rights-related issues. Yet, the IOC, no stranger to working with repressive regimes, having already awarded the 2008 Summer Games to Beijing, China, decided that it was Russia’s turn again. Russia previously hosted the disastrous 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, which were almost universally boycotted by Western nations, over Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. In retaliation, Russia and most other Eastern-Bloc countries boycotted the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. Many say that the days of international boycotts of the Olympics are thankfully over, and that the Olympics should never have been politicized by boycotts in the first place. The Olympics are, after all, first and foremost about sport. Right?

Well, yes and no. While clearly competition and sport lie at the heart of the modern Olympics, the Olympics have never truly been only about sport. While it may be that athletes and teams only compete against other athletes and teams, the fact of the matter is that by recognizing the country of origin of athletes to the point of flying national flags and playing national anthems while athletes stand astride the winner’s podium, it’s clear that there is a lot more than just simple “sport” playing itself out at the Olympics.

Boycotts aren’t new to the Olympics either. Many forget that most African nations boycotted the 1976 games here in Canada, over the IOC’s decision to allow New Zealand’s rugby team to participate in the Games, after New Zealand had played a match against apartheid South Africa. Further, it hasn’t been unusual for Olympians themselves to boycott the Games, or even certain matches. In boxing events, it’s not unusual to see athletes from Arab nations refuse to participate in matches with Israelis.

Clearly, there’s a lot more than sport going on at the Olympics.

And that’s a very important point which needs to be made, as Canada gets ready to send our athletes to Sochi in 2014. Our athletes have trained for years, and in some cases for the better part of their lives, working towards competing in the Olympic Games. For many, this will be their one and only shot at obtaining the holy grail of amateur athletics: an Olympic Gold Medal. Our athletes dream of having the honour of draping themselves in the Canadian flag after out-performing the very best from around the world. Indeed, the pride which they bring to Canada, simply by competing, is something which will stay with them for a lifetime.

The Politics of the Olympics

Growing calls for boycotting the Sochi Games seem to threaten to kibosh those dreams of our athletes. Many Canadians are disgusted that there are other Canadians who would dare stomp on those dreams, and pass over an opportunity for Canada to shine on the international stage. Some of the concerns being expressed by Canadians over a possible boycott are well-meaning. Certainly, at the time of writing this, no Canadian athlete that I’m aware of has suggested that maybe the Canadian Olympic Committee needs to rethink its decision to compete in these games.

And ultimately, it’s the Canadian Olympic Committee which gets to decide one way or the other. Of course, this Committee can be subject to significant political pressure, which at this time is being applied by elected officials who want the Committee to “stay the course” on Sochi. While Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird hasn’t said anything about boycotting Sochi, his office has issued a release expressing concern over recent developments. Opposition Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar doesn’t think Baird has done enough to address the situation in Russia; but Dewar has also been very clear that Canada should send our athletes to the Sochi Games. With the Government and Opposition on the same page over calls to boycott Sochi, no doubt the "stay the course" course becomes an easy one to follow.

While calls for a boycott continue to grow, they may never become loud enough to change the minds of Western politicians, most of whom appear to be singing from the same song sheet when it comes to the Olympics. The fact of the matter is that Western nations recognize the economic importance of the Olympic Games, and not just to host countries. Using Canada as an example, can you imagine the hit that our national broadcaster would take, broadcasting an Olympic Games without Canadian athletes in it? And what about all of those Canadian businesses which have stepped up to sponsor athletes, or to buy air time from broadcasters during the games? Back in the early 1980s, the Olympics weren’t such a big deal, business-speaking, as they are today. As a result, the West has tended to line up behind the Olympics and the IOC, and talk of boycotts for political reasons have largely fallen on deaf ears.

Some may suggest that’s largely as it should be. Again, the Olympics are really just about sport, right?

And again, no, that’s never really been the case. Consider for a moment the sheer amount of money which Canada spends on the Olympics. While spending has been down lately, and largely focussed on the athletes, coaches etc., look back on the recent Vancouver Winter Games in 2010. And reflect on the amount of money which went into two unsuccessful bids for the Games in Toronto. Taxpayers are on the hook for supporting the Olympics through government funding of athletes, infrastructure and the wining and dining of elite IOC delegates. While it’s true that not all funding sources for Canada’s Olympic participation are public, the fact of the matter is that as long as taxpayer dollars are going towards this endeavour, the public should have a say in whether or not we believe it continues to be a worthwhile expenditure.

Clearly, recent events in Russia have left many Canadians questioning whether or not the Sochi Games represent money well spent.

The Risk for Canadians

While the IOC has assured the global community that Russia’s crackdown on gays will not affect the athletes participating in the Games, it’s not at all clear that such a guarantee is worth the paper that it hasn’t even been printed on. Russia’s laws are universal and Russia has made it clear that they apply to anyone found within its jurisdiction suspected of being gay or pro-gay. That means that despite assurances, our athletes are vulnerable to being detained by Russian authorities. And for those of you who don’t think that Russia might not stoop to harassing or detaining foreign athletes in order to gain a competitive edge, clearly you’ve not been paying attention to the way in which Russia and former Soviet Union have prioritized a “winning is everything” attitude in sport.

And what of supporters and fans? Would I be at risk of detainment or arrest if I went to Sochi, based on the content of this blogpost? If you’ve ever attended a Pride Parade and posted pics of it on Facebook, you may be at risk of detainment for the perception of being pro-gay. While you’re likely not going to be specifically targeted by police for having done so due to a resource issues, what if you first end up under police scrutiny for other activity? I suspect that in the past there may have been one or two incidents of “drunken and disorderly” Canadians picked up by local police while attending the Olympics.

And beyond the threat that these new laws pose to athletes and sports fans, there is the more fundamental question of human rights – and specifically Russia’s continual flaunting of human rights. Let’s face it – Russia has just poked a stick in the eyes of the West with these blatantly homophobic legal changes and the persecution of gay people. The timing is certainly suspect. Has it been Russia’s plan all along to create division amongst Western nations in any form that it can? Putin and others have almost certainly turned on the TV set a few times and witnessed the uproars in France, the United States and elsewhere over gay rights issues.

To Boycott or Not to Boycott

With all of this in mind, the question remains: Should Canada boycott the Sochi Games? It’s terribly unfortunate that the IOC decided that Russia was a worthy nation to host the games in the first place. But the IOC remains convinced that the Olympics really are primarily about sport, despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Canada continues to support the IOC and the Olympic Games through our taxpayer-funded contributions which support amateur athletes and the Olympics. It’s because of the taxpayer subsidy that the voices of all Canadians need to be considered when asking the question whether a boycott should happen. I suspect that a nation enamoured with the Olympics, and which feels passionately about our athletes who carry our flag and bring pride to our country would opt not to boycott the Sochi Games. These opinions cannot be and should not be easily discounted or dismissed by others who believe that a boycott really is needed at this time.

Although I am one of those Canadians who enjoys watching the Olympic Games (with the TV on almost constantly, I’m a massive consumer of Olympic coverage), I have never been a huge supporter of the Olympics. While I believe that the pursuit of healthy competition through sport is a worthwhile endeavour, I can’t help but question the massive financial allocations which have been set aside by public and private purses across the world which are needed to make the modern Olympics a reality. I just can’t help but wonder whether the billions of dollars spent on the Olympics, which I believe to be about more than competition through sport, might not be better spent elsewhere.

And in the context of being “better spent elsewhere”, I believe that it’s incumbent upon Western nations, including Canada, to acknowledge the financial injection which we are making to Russia through our support of and participation in the Sochi Games. As Russia continues to prove to the world that it is willing to step back on human rights issues, our economic support of Russia and its actions needs to be questioned. The Olympic Games don’t represent some every-day financial transaction. Instead, they can be an economic privilege which a nation can take advantage of, bestowed on the host nation by an international body, of which Canada is a member and financial supporter of. When the connections are made between the money taken out of my wallet and the police in Russia who will detain people for being “pro-gay”, it’s clear to me that there is a right thing to do. That’s why I believe that Canada should choose to boycott the Sochi Winter Games and the Paralympic Winter Games.

The Moral Case for a Sochi Boycott

Let me be clear: my opinion is not one that is shared by my friends, my Party, or even my spouse. I also understand quite clearly that this opinion is probably not shared by the vast majority of Canadians, and I’m not suggesting that just because I feel that a boycott is “right” that I don’t understand why others might feel that it’s wrong, or feel that I am undervaluing their own perspective. I haven’t, however, come to this conclusion lightly, and I do understand the angst that a boycott would create amongst Canadians, along with the devastation which it would cause to many of our athletes and their families. I’ve weighed these considerations and I have come to the conclusion that to boycott of the Sochi Games would be a moral choice for Canada, and indeed all nations, to make given the recent anti-human rights behaviour of Russia. The choice to boycott would have a rock-solid foundation in a values system shared by a majority of Canadians, which has at its heart a respect for diversity and an unquenchable desire to support human rights.

If we truly believe that gay rights are human rights, I believe that we need to start taking stands against bullies – be they individuals or nation-states – which seek to impose their values on what is fundamentally an all-encompassing human rights matter. And that’s why I believe that Canada has a moral obligation in this circumstance to take a principled stand on the Sochi Games. Remember, a law which criminalizes being a homosexual or which makes supporting gays illegal is just as wrong as a law which criminalizes being a jew or which makes supporting feminism illegal.

Let’s send Vladimir Putin’s Russia a clear message that Canada stands up to bullies who believe that not all humans are created equally.

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

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Latest in the Adam Giambrone Scarborough-Guildwood Nomination Meeting Scandal

This is just a quick update for my readers who may have been following the Adam Giambrone Ontario NDP nomination contest “scandal” in the Scarborough-Guildwood riding. You may recall from my blog posted earlier this week that I essentially speculated that the “scandal” was a non-event from the perspective of the Ontario NDP having done anything wrong, and instead blamed Giambrone’s nomination on the NDP’s anti-democratic practice of enrolling members in both the federal and provincial political parties when they sign up.

Well, it looks like the former candidate for Scarborough-Guildwood, and the only other nomination contestant who faced off against Giambrone, Amarjeet Kaur Chhabra, may be taking her own party to court to make a determination that the nomination contest was invalid (see: “NDP fights for its soul in Scarborough civil war”, Martin Regg Cohn, the Toronto Star, July 18 2013). Chhabra’s concerns, shared by the Executive of the Scarborough-Guildwood riding association, have to do with 12 people who showed up at the nomination contest, claiming to be eligible to vote, but not appearing on the riding association’s list. I continue to be baffled as to why these 12 people were allowed to vote if the riding association and no one else present (including Party Secretary Diane Lawson) couldn’t locate their names on any list, but clearly the riding association had second thoughts after Giambrone took the nomination by a squeaker (allegedly by just 2 votes).

The riding association had asked the Ontario NDP headquarters to reveal what it knew about the 12 voters, but in a letter back to the riding association, Lawson said little more than the Party would deal with it after the election. That apparently didn’t go over very well with the riding association or Chhabra. Through her lawyer, Chhabra has now issued an ultimatum to the provincial Party – requiring a response by noon today (July 18 2013). If any response received by that time is deemed unsatisfactory, Chhabra’s lawyer communicated to the Party that Chhabra would seek an order invalidating the results of the original nomination meeting, requiring the NDP to hold another meeting.

Chhabra’s legal ultimatum may have put the NDP in a quandary in Scarborough-Guildwood, if it were successful. Judging by the lack of movement in the story today after the noon deadline, it seems that Chhabra’s case was not enough to convince a judge to quash the results of the nomination meeting. Further, Elections Ontario has already closed the official Nomination of Candidates – it closed at 2pm today. A quick check of Elections Ontario’s list of candidates reveals that Adam Giambrone continues to be identified as the NDP candidate for Scarborough-Guildwood. Given the official end to the nomination period just two hours after Chhabra’s ultimatum deadline, I’m not at all sure why Chhabra waited so long to make her demands of the Party.

Given the silence on this issue this evening, it’s not hard to imagine that someone in the Ontario NDP took Chhabra aside with her lawyer and laid out the reasons why the 12 voters were authorized to vote. Again, I suspect that this was not a usurpation of a democratic process, but more of an accounting error (and maybe “error” is too strong of a word; like it or not, the reality is that maintenance of an ever-changing membership list isn’t easy, especially when it must be done so on the sort of short notice that the NDP had when these by-elections were called for such a strange time of the year).

We may never know whether the 12 voters were eligible to vote or not – it may be that Party reps have convinced Chhabra to stay quiet for the good of the Party (although her actions so far in Scarborough-Guildwood have likely already impacted negatively on Giambrone’s chances for success – in by-elections where limited voter turn-out is expected, it’s important that the electoral machine run smoothly and get out all identified supporters on e-day. With Chhabra throwing a wrench into the gears, the NDP’s machine in Scarborough-Guildwood is running anything but smoothly, and many plugged in NDP supporters and members haven’t stepped up to help Giambrone and some have vowed not to vote for him. Those are exactly the people that a local campaign does not want to alienate during mid-summer by-election).

What’s the moral of the story here? While some might take home the message that Party Headquarters needs to do a better job of communicating with its riding associations, the fact is that the riding association itself allowed the vote to proceed without knowing whether the 12 voters in question met the Party’s own eligibility requirements. In absence of definitive evidence of eligibility, the riding association ought not to have let them cast their ballots. That the Party secretary was consulted is meaningless – if she couldn’t provide documentation conclusively proving eligibility, the riding association – charged with running the meeting – could have and should have prevented the 12 votes from being cast. That they’ve now backtracked and demanded answers from the Party HQ is meaningless. Do the job right the first time – it’s not hard. That’s my take-away from all of this.

***Update: The Torontoist is reported late yesterday afternoon (which I missed when I was writing last night's post) that Chhabra was forced to drop her legal proceedings, given the limited time available to her for success. As an aside, perhaps the NDP will be better served with the kind of political operator that Giambrone is, one who carefully manipulated the situation to his full advantage - and to the NDP's as well - as opposed to Chhabra, who showed very novice political instincts with a ham-fisted legal action against her own Party at the 12th hour. That being said, I understand that there remain those in the NDP who are more concerned about doing what's right than getting elected. To them I ask: Why are you still with the NDP?

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ontario’s New Energy Vision Misses the Mark on Climate Change

An interesting little program was brought to my attention earlier this evening as a result of tweet from someone whom I’ve only started following recently, but who seems to be on a very similar wavelength to me (if you’re interested, you may wish to follow @lurch5877 as well). The program is called “saveONenergy”, and it’s brought to you by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA). It’s a program designed to help power consumers conserve energy and save money, which is a great idea. But one of the primary motivating factors which the OPA is using to help promote conservation – the collection of Air Miles – speaks volumes about how disconnected from our global reality the creators of this program are. And the real shame is that it didn’t have to be this way.

saveONenergy

Quickly, the saveONenergy program offers power users three different ways to conserve energy. The first is quite interesting, I think: the Peaksaver Plus program will have your local energy provider install a display in your home which allows you to monitor and moderate use. Unfortunately, this program isn’t available across all of Ontario yet. The Heating & Cooling incentive rewards you for replacing inefficient heating and cooling devices with Energy Star-rated products. And the Fridge & Freezer Pick-Up Program offers the collection and disposal of older, energy inefficient refrigerators and freezers, which can be a help when you’ve bought a new product and aren’t sure how best to get rid of the old one.


Climate Change Missing from Ontario’s New “Vision” for Energy

Together, these modest initiatives can lead to real energy savings for consumers. In fact, many consumers have opted to replace older appliances with newer ones precisely because of the longer-term savings which newer appliances can offer. This is the sort of behaviour which is in keeping with the Government of Ontario’s New Energy Vision, which was announced earlier today. In this announcement, the Ontario Ministry of Energy specifically references the saveONenergy program as one of the ways consumers can go about conserving energy. The focus of the announcement is almost exclusively on how conservation can save consumers money, which is unquestionably a worthy pursuit. But something important seems to be lacking, I think. Some connection not made…

There’s no question that conserving energy in Ontario is going to help, if ever so modestly, in the global effort to combat the climate crisis. Yes, it’s unfortunate and appalling that the Government of Ontario once again failed to make the explicit connection between emissions reduction and combatting climate change (likely because this government seems keen on going out of its way not to acknowledge climate change – because to do so would be to invite a closer look at its record on the issue). How can the Province of Ontario in this day and age put together an entire strategy about energy, which highlights the need for conservation, without making a connection to climate change? It’s just unbelievable. But it emphasises the disconnect which apparently exists in this Province between energy production and climate change, as highlighted by the misguided “rewards” offered by the OPA’s saveONenergy program.

Air Miles?

When it comes to rewarding consumer behaviour which assists with energy conservation, well I’m all for it. But surely to goodness there must be a better way of rewarding Ontarians for doing their part on the conservation front than by offering them Air Miles, and making it easier for them to engage in one of the most carbon-intensive forms of transport humanity has ever invented?

Look, I know that the Air Miles program offers participants more options than simply having their collected Air Miles applied to the cost of air travel. However, with the historical basis for the program in air travel, and with its very name promoting ait travel, it’s difficult to decouple the Air Miles program from the idea that it’s not promoting flying.

Yet, that’s exactly what our governments should be trying to do as part of a wider effort to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change. The fact that we have an energy conservation program in Ontario which rewards consumers for reducing carbon emissions by allowing them to generate carbon emissions through less expensive air travel is perverse. It’s absolutely perverse. And to me it speaks volumes about how the ruling Liberals are so clearly disconnected from the reality of the world in which we are living.

I know that saveONenergy is just a very modest program, and only a tiny piece of the puzzle when it comes to conservation efforts. Yet a Ministry of the Government decided to trumpet this program today, by letting Ontarians know what a great idea it is to conserve energy to save money, while making it easier for them to pollute by making air travel more economically convenient. So, modest or not, this perversity speaks volumes about where the current Liberal government is coming from when it comes to climate change.
Simply put, they just aren’t taking the issue seriously.

Consistency Needed

If they were serious, surely to goodness the OPA might have found a better way to reward those who conserve energy. Even something as simple as offering transit passes and movie tickets probably would have been a better approach than offering cheaper air travel. And that’s if the OPA didn’t want to get innovative. Surely even a modest rewards program could have looked at offering consumers credits for units of energy conserved (money back on electricity bills for “negawatts”). That would have been a good incentive for consumers – and would have helped further reduce emissions.

You can’t compartmentalize energy conservation from emissions reduction the way that this government seems to want to do for political reasons. Today’s announcement was based on a document produced by the Ministry of Energy called “Conservation First: A renewed vision for energy conservation in Ontario”. Nowhere in the entire document is the term “climate change” ever used. We can’t continue to take two steps forward and one step back when it comes to emissions reduction – and to achieving a healthy and sustainable vision for our future. Yet for all that the Liberals have accomplished here in Ontario with their efforts to reduce emissions, to me it seems that when a program like this is championed by a Minister of the Crown, I can’t help but think that maybe emissions reduction in this province occurred completely by happenstance. Clearly, there can’t be any sort of comprehensive plan in place. Maybe we just got lucky.


Yes, the Liberal government began closing coal-fired generating plants. Yes, they enacted one of the greenest pieces of legislation in Canada, in the Green Energy and Economy Act. But even with those two emissions-reducing efforts, they’ve bungled comprehensively. Promises made to Ontarians by then-Premier Dalton McGuinty would have seen coal plants closed by 2007. It’s 2013 now and they haven’t all been shut down. And the Green Energy and Economy Act’s preference for big, multi-national renewable energy projects over locally-initiated bottom-up energy production, along with its removal of local consultation for new projects has made the term “green energy” almost unutterable in rural parts of the province (at least if vocalized in a positive frame). Indeed, the backlash to windfarms in particular has been huge, largely because local citizens concerns are rarely if ever addressed because of the feeling of citizen powerlessness created by the legislation.

Again, great ideas, but the implementation was terrible.

And don’t even get me started on Eco-Fees…

A Real Vision Includes a Real Plan

If the Ontario Liberals were at all serious about climate change, they would have acted by now on one of their 2006 election promises – to put a price on carbon through a Cap and Trade emissions trading scheme. Sure, Ontario has since become part of the Western Climate Initiative, but that effort seems to have fallen apart with the collapse of the Chicago Carbon Exchange. Good riddance to a bad idea, I say, as I’ve never personally been a big fan of Cap & Trade for pricing carbon. But even a badly implemented price on carbon emissions would be better than what this government has done – which is nothing.

There exists a number of ways to price carbon, and this Liberal government hasn’t explored any of them. In British Columbia, their Liberal government imposed a tax on carbon pollution with corresponding reductions to income taxes. In B.C.’s case, both the penalty and the reward have assisted in reducing emissions. A higher price on carbon-rich products has assisted with conservation efforts. And by allowing citizens to keep more of their hard-earned income, citizens now have a greater choice on how they spend their own money. Suddenly, those more expensive, energy efficient appliances and personal vehicles (which offer longer term savings) become more affordable. It’s a win-win. That’s what prioritizing a consistent approach through planning gets you.

And it begs the question why today’s announcement about a New Energy Vision for Ontario which emphasizes conservation fails to use carbon pricing as one of its tools to achieve a more comprehensive but necessary outcomes. Sure, we all agree that conservation makes sense from a money-saving standpoint. But what about tackling climate change? Why not a strategy that both saves consumers money and comprehensively addresses the climate crisis in a consistent and planned-for manner?

Disconnected Liberals

Of course, I think that I know the answer: It’s because the Ontario Liberal government just doesn’t get it. Rather than providing a comprehensive program for energy conservation and emissions reduction, what we get is a series of disconnected measures which, if they do ultimately reduce emissions, will do so only by luck. There’s no serious “vision” at all in this so-called New Energy Vision.

With 400 ppm of carbon dioxide now being measured in our atmosphere, and with global temperatures expect to transform our planet over the next couple of generations, we really can’t afford to dither much longer. We deserve much better than what our current Liberal government is delivering. But here in Ontario, the alternatives to the Liberals might prove to be even worse, should voters elect either a PC or an NDP government in the next election.

Which is why I believe that it’s time for voters to put their trust in a few Green candidates. Having even one Green in parliament, as Elizabeth May has shown federally, can have an impact. In the meantime, people like you and me are just going to have to tell our government to “smarten up” and hope that they start getting the message. However, after a decade in power with so little to show for their efforts, I’m not optimistic.

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

NDP's Anti-Democratic Practices - Not Corrupton - Probably to Blame for Giambrone Nomination

There’s been a bit of an interesting development in the provincial by-election taking place in Scarborough-Guildwood. It has nothing to do with the on-going subways vs. LRT debate, and everything to do with how former Toronto City Councillor Adam Giambrone, was able to claim the Ontario NDP’s nomination in the Scarborough-Guildwood riding. Full coverage of the controversy is being reported in the July 12 2013 online edition of the Torontoist (see: “NDP riding association questions eligibility of voters in Scarborough-Guildwood”, by Desmond Cole).

Say what you want about the Adam Giambrone – who ended up on top of the recent ONDP’s Scarborough-Guildwood nomination contest, even though he himself had recruited his opponent and former NDP riding candidate, Kaur Chhabra. A quick Google search of “Adam Giambrone” will acquaint readers with the scandal he created during a failed bid to become Toronto’s Mayor.

In this case, though, Giambrone is likely innocent of accusations which are being made about his bid to become candidate, although the public might never know the truth. In short, the local Scarborough-Guildwood ONDP riding association identified about a dozen voters at the Nomination Contest for which it did not have a record of, and whose names did not appear on the lists that the riding association had provided to nomination contestants prior to the contest.

When unknown individuals show up to cast ballots at a nomination contest, there’s usually a comprehensive verification process which the riding association undertakes at the door to confirm the legitimacy of voters before any ballots are cast. Riding associations may only have several dozen voters participating in a nomination contest (as was the case with Scarborough-Guildwood, where the Torontoist reports that there were only 32 voters, including the 12 not on the riding association’s list), so it’s important to make sure that everyone who shows up is eligible to vote. In the case of the Ontario NDP, apparently eligibility criteria include having a primary residence within the riding, and having been deemed to be a member of the association for more than 30 days. Both of these restrictions are not out of the ordinary with all political parties. They are put in place to help ensure that nomination contests aren’t “taken over” by outsiders who show up at the door to support an unknown candidate.

Having been unable to verify the 12 unknown voters, the Scarborough-Guildwood ONDP association appeared nevertheless to allow them all to participate in voting. The riding association claims that it did so in consultation with Darlene Lawson, the ONDP’s provincial secretary, who was present at the meeting. Darlene Lawson, in her reply back to the association, claims otherwise.

Whether or not the Provincial Secretary verified the validity of all 12 of the unknown voters who showed up to cast ballots, what seems remarkable to me is that the Scarborough-Guildwood riding association, who has the responsibility for running the nomination contest, would have let them vote without something in writing which confirmed their eligibility requirements. Normally, that “something in writing” would have been an updated copy of the membership list – something which the riding association should have sought from the Ontario NDP headquarters. Perhaps they did seek it and were just never provided with it. But given the presence of the Provincial Secretary at the nomination meeting, one would think that she would have had the most up-to-date list on her person, or at least stored on her laptop or device.

Anyway, Lawson’s response is more than a little telling. Lawson indicated to the riding association that membership lists are updated from time, for several reasons. First, she indicates that it’s “standard practice to update the membership database prior to a nomination meeting”, to identify renewing members, and members who have changed their address. She also indicates that the database may be updated to identify “federal members”. And that’s probably what this tempest in a teapot is all about.

You see, the NDP is unique amongst federal political parties, in that when you join it at the federal level, you also automatically join it at the provincial level (and vice versa). So you can never be a member of the Ontario NDP in good standing without also being a member of the federal NDP (except in Quebec, where there is no provincial party). While many NDP members realize that they belong to both political parties, there are also many who don’t realize this is the case.

It’s my understanding that the database referred to by Lawson is separate from the federal NDP membership database, but clearly they share information about members (they have to – because when you join one Party, you automatically join the other). Given this reality, and given the very tight timeframe in which the Scarborough-Guildwood nomination contest was held (just 3 days), it would not be unusual to discover that additional members were eligible to vote because they had joined the federal party. And as part of the updating process, the names of these members were communicated to the provincial party, and likely they were contacted by the Party and asked to come out to the nomination contest.

So, sure, I can understand why the Scarborough-Guildwood riding association was scratching its collective head about these 12 unknown voters, but there is likely a pretty simple and straightforward explanation here. And as much as I would enjoy nothing more than to suggest that the NDP didn’t follow its own processes so that their golden boy Giambrone could run in the by-election, I have to say that doesn’t appear to be the case. Lawson’s unwillingness to air her Party’s dirty laundry in the media also makes sense – but if you read between the lines, it’s pretty easy to see that there doesn’t appear to be a story here at all.

At least not about the by-election.

But what about the ethics of the NDP, which requires that its members be members of both federal and provincial parties? For a political party which claims to champion the little guy, the dictatorial qualities of the NDP seems to be out of place. Why, for example, should voters in PEI who might support the NDP federally be forced to support a political party which has no chance of achieving electoral success, when there may very well be a decent local Progressive Conservative or Liberal running in an election? Essentially, this policy of Canada’s New Democratic Parties takes away the ability of voters to assess their own local circumstances, and instead requires that they be subservient to party politics. Really, it’s about choice and freedom vs. partisan game playing.

In short, this practice is odious and anti-democratic. But its all within the NDP’s rules, and it probably led to disgraced former Toronto City Councillor Adam Giambrone walking away with his party’s nomination in Scarborough-Guildwood.

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

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Time to Get Ready for the Future - My Personal Decision

I don’t often blog about items of a more personal nature, but today is an exception. Over the past several months, I’ve had the pleasure of taking some time off of work to spend with my family. In February, our third child, Brian, came into the world, joining his sisters Veronica (age 3) and Alice (age 1). This recent time spent with my family was unquestionably some of the best time of my life.

It wasn’t just my job which I took time off from, however. With three children 3 and under, I found myself pretty busy, helping my wife Sarah doing whatever needed to be done. As a result, I also took some steps back from many of the activities which I’ve been involved with in my community. I had also neglected my blog as well.

With my break now over, I’ve returned to work, and have started to re-engage with colleagues in my office, and with my friends throughout the community. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how I can best manage my own personal scarce resources – the biggest being time – trying to balance the needs of my family with my community interests. I’m still not quite sure how successful I’m going to be, but one thing has become apparent to me over the past few months: I must do more for my community. And I need to do a better job than I’ve done.

The Future

This may seem like an unusual way of trying to balance family life with personal interests. But really, what’s motivating me are those very same three children who are there to greet me when I come home from work. For instance, I can’t help but think about my oldest daughter, Veronica, who being born in 2010, may live to see the turn of the next century. Almost certainly my grandchildren, should there be any, will be alive during the first part of the 2100’s. I can’t help but think of what kind of community, and what kind of world, my children and grandchildren might inherit. That’s why I need to do my part – and do it better than I’ve been doing.

I have great faith that the world is going to start to change for the better at some point. My sincere worry, though, is that the change will arrive on its own terms, and not those of humanity’s choosing. I firmly believe, though, that the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us will start to reverse over the next 90 years, and that fossil fuel energy sources will begin the lengthy process of being phased out, maybe even starting within the next two decades. If we are to have any sort of bright future, at the very least we must begin tackling the issues of the inequality of wealth and the climate crisis.

The Coming Transition

That being said, I fear that our current hyper-capitalist system is about to smash into a hard wall of economic reality – that perpetual growth which our system relies on can’t be sustained. Already we are seeing the system strain under its own weight, with austerity having become the current “fix” to provoke growth. In a world where resource inputs are only getting more expensive over time, it only makes sense to look for other areas of savings to offset higher input prices. Growth, after all, is the end goal of our hyper-capitalist system. To facilitate growth in the face of increasing resource inputs, it is essential to lower corporate taxes, and to lower employee wages and benefit premiums. That’s what the austerity agenda is about. The theory is that this agenda leads to growth (which it may in the short term, but even that’s a question mark). In practice, we’ve seen how it has played out (and will continue to play out): with significant impoverishment for the majority of humanity and the continued concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority.

The austerity agenda simply isn’t sustainable over the long term. I believe that it will prove itself to be unsustainable over the next two decades. The damage that it will inflict on humanity and development within that timeframe, however, will be colossal. Only when decision-makers can no longer tolerate the implementation of the agenda will moves be made to counteract the hyper-capitalist austerity agenda. These moves will take the form of significant reforms to the global economy.

The “getting there”, though, is likely to be horrible. Perhaps even bloody. It’s not likely that decision-makers will wake up one morning and say to themselves, “Wow, we’ve been doing it all wrong for the past 30 years. We’ve got to change for the sake of the future of humanity.” More likely will be scenarios where the original decision makers are themselves replaced by new decision makers, by a ballot box process or otherwise. But the hyper-capitalist players behind our current crop of decision makers will do what they can to keep those current decision makers in power for as long as possible.

Of course I favour a ballot box process as the instigator for reform, but I’m not na├»ve enough to think that it’s going to happen that way throughout the world. What I can’t do is influence to any significant degree events which may or may not happen in places like China, Africa or South America. What I can do is to try to help out in my own little corner of the world. To help lay the groundwork for the coming transition to a low-carbon marketplace economy, and to assist with the coming transition.

A Capitalist Reformation

For change is inevitable. What I would like, for me, my family and community, is change on our own terms. Not to have change thrust upon us from outside sources (especially not in the form of war, famine or disaster). Better, I think, to plan for the low-carbon future, and to bring about an economic system which is truly sustainable.

Look, I’m not talking here about a revolution. More of a reformation, really. The current culprit in our economic system isn’t capitalism itself – it’s the immoral way in which capitalism is being practiced. It is possible, I think, to have a capitalist economy which does not have greed at its heart. Instead of the pursuit of personal wealth, a marketplace capitalist system which emphasizes community development, social justice and sustainability could arise from our current hyper-capitalist system.

And I think it will, because the alternatives are simply too grim to contemplate: a world of polarized inequality and servitude, where the rich literally own the poor, and democracy has become an endangered species. I don’t think we as a global society could tolerate such a world, even though that appears to be the very path we are currently on today. I believe, though, that the forces of globalization will almost assuredly prevent this dark world from arising. I have faith that the masses of humanity are already hard at work to build the brighter future that I believe in.

Making Decisions

Writing about “faith”, “belief”, “morality” and my expectations for the future has really taken me out of my comfort zone today. Nevertheless, I think it’s important for my readers to have a better idea of where I’m coming from. You see, with all of this in mind, I’ve come to the conclusion that if I really want to start laying the groundwork in my community for the arrival of a brighter future, there are certain things that I’m going to have to do. And they all have to do with this notion of decision making.

I firmly believe that if one doesn’t like the decisions being made by decision makers, it may be that the decision makers can be influenced in such a way as to make different decisions. This approach can take time and effort, but sometimes it’s the best approach to take. It’s also easiest to undertake at more local levels. As an example, look to the conversion of Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, from urban sprawl advocate to opponent over her years in office.

In my own City, I’ve seen the (often maddeningly slow) shift in the attitudes and decisions of local municipal councillors. Issues which weren’t being talked about in my community, such as enhancing water quality and promoting active transportation, are now routinely discussed during council and committee meetings. Of course, there has been a public backlash of sorts, albeit one which I think is limited to certain right-wing elements in my community. The pace of change may be too slow for my liking, but I can’t deny that progressive change has started to happen in Greater Sudbury.

Party Politics – A Hindrance to Good Public Policy

However, the same can’t be said for the provincial and national levels of government. And I think this has a lot to do with Party politics. In a party-based political system, often doing what’s in the Party’s interest takes precedence over doing what’s right. Parties, for a number of reasons, have to continually play to their base, or risk losing valuable support and power. Since a Party’s base is always going to be fairly resistant to change (barring some catastrophe), the Party system tends to thwart innovation and trump the implementation of good public policy.

In such a political system, the power of influence is minimized (except when it is in the hands of a small few who control the Party’s purse strings). When the public seriously starts to demand change, it is often much easier to choose a new political party than it is to play the longer game of trying to influence the one in power. Of course, with our archaic electoral system in place, the will of voters demanding change can easily be (and frequently is) distorted at the ballot box.

Although I am not an admirer of the Party-based political system as it exists today in Canada, since I crave change, I find that I must do what I can within the existing system to promote change. That’s why I chose a number of years ago to become a member of the Green Party of Canada, because I believed then as I do now that the Green Party comes closest to sharing my values, and to sharing a vision for that bright and sustainable future which I believe will come about. Having taken a long and hard look at the other 3 old line national political parties, I continue to see how they will fail to champion the transition to a low-carbon economy, and in the specific case of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party, how they will continue to offer significant resistance to the transition through their support of a hyper-capitalist austerity agenda.

The Failure of the Old Line Parties

I’m certain that I’ve offered more comprehensive views regarding my opinions of the other parties elsewhere on my blogsite, and I’m pretty sure that I will restate them again before too long, so I won’t go into any further detail here regarding how I’ve arrived at these conclusions. But there is one thing that I would like to say, in part to address some of the questions which have been raised by members of my community over the past year or so, and that has to do with why I tend to be so very hard on the NDP. First, I have to recognize that my criticisms of the NDP have become more prevalent over the years, so I agree with my detractors that it seems that I have become more anti-NDP. But the truth is actually otherwise. I think that my personal axe-grinding with the NDP has more to do with my belief that the NDP should be an ally in the way forward towards a low carbon economy. But the reality of the NDP continues to be quite different, as the NDP seems to want to pursue power for its own sake, and not simply to build a better future. To implement this power-seizing agenda, the NDP has become what it purports to hate – an anti-democratic movement which uses all of the tools of partisan politics to further its own cause. That the NDP, if it were ever to obtain power, might do some good for Canada, I have no doubt. But the NDP has no vision for the future, other than perhaps a modified status quo; the NDP does not appear to understand the coming changes and the need to plan for them. So if I am hard on the NDP, it is because I have expected more from that Party, and have continually been let down by them. But I continue to hope that the NDP might yet change.

I have no such hopes for the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party.

Which is not to say that I have no hopes for conservatives and liberals. In fact, I believe that the transition to a bright, sustainable marketplace economy in preference to a hyper-capitalist austerity agenda will benefit liberals and conservatives both. In fact, I know that there are many out there with a conservative bent who are already laying the groundwork for a low carbon future through their personal declarations of war on waste in any form. And I know that liberals are talking about market-based approaches to slow the growing wealth inequality gap. That neither the Conservative or Liberal Party seems particularly concerned with taking action on the climate crisis or market reform is testament to how out of touch those political parties have become with their supporters. And it’s also testament to the idea that leader-driven popularity contests which we call election campaigns are no place for the discussion of serious issues, as one former Prime Minister has suggested. When Kim Campbell made her observation, though, she was talking about that particular time between when the write was dropped and when voting ceased. Today, however, political parties are in permanent campaign mode – which makes every day an inopportune time to discuss real issues, as you may have noticed.

Building on Success - The Green Party in Northeastern Ontario

The Green Party, too, has its flaws – I’ll readily admit that. Again, it’s not easy for someone who is opposed to the entire notion of Party politics to belong to a political party. But as far as political parties go, the Green Party isn’t much of one, in my opinion – but in a good way. It’s because I continue to see the international Green Party movement as being a force for change globally, and the Green Party of Canada continuing to influence events in my country, that I have decided that I need to devote greater efforts to my Party.

In Northern Ontario, the Green Party historically hasn’t experienced much success (albeit we’re on par with the Green Party’s record throughout most of the nation, so I don’t view the past as a unique problem going forward).

In Greater Sudbury, we have been lucky to have a few dedicated Greens around over the past five or six years to keep the Party afloat, and to provide the party with some exposure between elections. The community definitely knows that we’re here, especially in the Sudbury riding, where our Electoral District Association is healthy and growing in vibrancy. Since 2007, when I joined the Green Party, I’ve seen a number of great candidates stand for election federally and provincially. Fred Twilley, a good friend of mine, carried our banner in the last federal election in 2011. Later that year, Pat Rogerson emerged as a force during the provincial election, surprising the media and stunning her political opponents. And now, Greens have nominated Laurentian University student Casey Lalonde to run for the party when the next provincial election is called. Lalonde, founder of the Young Greens Association at Laurentian, is a deep thinker and fearless speaker, as well as a sincere democrat who believes more in getting people out to vote – for anyone – rather than to simply vote for her.

It’s been a bit of a different story in Nickel Belt, where Greens have tended to form a more loose association, generally ralling around the Party’s candidate at election time. And we’ve had some great candidates in Nickel Belt. In 2011, Christine Guillot-Proulx led the charge federally, taking over from Fred Twilley. Guillot-Proulx was able to get voters starting to think about what a vote for the Green Party might mean. Stephanie-Lyn Russell carried the banner for the provincial Greens, following up on Guillot-Proulx’s successes. Clearly, the Green Party has been asserting itself in this corner of Northern Ontario for some time now.

Recipes for Greater Success

But much more work needs to be done. It’s no secret that despite the quality and caliber of our candidates, the other three parties perform much better than the Green Party does in Sudbury and Nickel Belt. Largely, this has to do with the historic health and vibrancy of their political machines, which consist of dozens of financial supporters and volunteers, which may swell into the hundreds at election time. But make no mistake, the campaigns of the three old line parties are not completely financed with local money, nor are they always led by local people. Sudbury in particular has been an “in play” riding for all three of the old line parties over the last few elections, and will be again in the next election. We can expect all 3 old line national political organizations to once again pour their money and volunteer resources into an attempt to capture this riding. We can expect all 3 parties to spend close to the maximum of their spending limits.

In the past, we Greens have run modest campaigns, largely financed by a small number of local donors, and assisted by a few dozen grassroots volunteers. In fact, in the past two federal elections, we actually raised more money during the campaign than was spent, largely because candidates wisely adhered to a realistic election budget. Our candidates finished in fourth place, behind all three of the old line parties, but we have never measured our own success based on where we finished. The fact is that our Party has continued to gather momentum in Sudbury and Nickel Belt, and will continue to seriously challenge political opponents in these ridings in the future.

That’s not just me talking out of my hat, by the way. Again, it’s something that I seriously believe in. Even if we Greens do nothing locally to promote our Party or prepare for the next election, I have faith that the values on which our parties are based, along with the charisma of our federal leader, Elizabeth May, and provincial leader, Mike Schreiner, will move the party forward here in Sudbury and Nickel Belt. However, prudence suggests that if you want to get elected – I mean really want to get elected – there are certain things that have to be done in advance of an election campaign. And they all have to do with organizing and raising money. Sure, you might end up getting elected without either of those things (or even without campaigning, as several New Democrat MP’s from Quebec found out in 2011), but it probably won’t.

So although we local Greens have been doing good things here in Sudbury and in the Nickel Belt between elections, I think it’s time that we start doing more. Elsewhere in Canada, Greens are getting elected (MLA Andrew Weaver in B.C.) and have fought strong campaigns (Donald Galloway in Victoria; Christ Turner in Calgary Centre), coming within a hair of winning. In Guelph, Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner has been actively laying the groundwork for a successful campaign, and getting involved in significant community issues. And just this past week, Deputy Leader of the Green Party of Canada, and former NHL star Georges Laraque made the entry into the soon-to-be-called by-election in the Bourassa riding in north Montreal.

Laying the Groundwork for Change

Now, it’s true that all of the campaigns I listed above were waged (and will be waged) differently than any local campaign in Sudbury or the Nickel Belt during a general election. Simply put, it’s more than likely that we here in Northeastern Ontario will be on our own in the next election, and can expect only modest assistance from national and provincial parties in the election after that. But that alone should not be a deterrence to running a healthy and vibrant campaign, especially for an organization which prides itself on being grassroots. What we need is greater organization, money, time and attention.

The good news is that with some hard work, not only can we possibly enjoy greater successes, leading to real and necessary change – but we can have some fun while we’re doing it. Although I’m not a particular fan of the Party-based political system, there are some aspects of it which I quite enjoy. The feelings of camaraderie and community which a Party can build and instill (not to mention the opportunities for participating in heated policy debates) are great ways to meet new people who are probably passionate about some of the same things you’re passionate about.

And since I am passionate about leaving behind a suitable planet on which my children and grandchildren can prosper, I can and will do more to facilitate change and help shape the transition to a low carbon marketplace economy in the best way that I know how: through political change. To that end, if you live in the Sudbury, Nickel Belt or Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing ridings, and you’re on my list, you might very well be hearing from me again in the near future. I resolve to be fearless and thick-skinned, and I will ask of you. If you share my vision of the future, I sincerely hope that you’ll join me on the path to a brighter, more sustainable future for Northeastern Ontario, for Canada, and for our planet.

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

Monday, July 8, 2013

Laraque's Bourassa By-Election Gambit a Real Game Changer

The entry of Green Party of Canada’s Deputy Leader Georges Laraque into the Bourassa riding by-election is an absolute game changer, not just for the Montreal-area riding, but for the entirety of the Canadian political scene. Initially, the on-the-ground impacts in Bourassa will throw both the Liberal and NDP campaigns into a tizzy, as neither of the old-line parties saw Laraque’s entry coming (and really, if they had been paying attention, they would have). Media pundits across Canada had written the Green Party out of the by-election narrative, even before Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called the by-election.

Former Liberal MP Denis Coderre’s resigned in May to run for Mayor of Montreal. Harper has some time before he must call the by-election - time enough to enjoy watching four opposition parties beat one another up in Bourassa. Political pundits are saying that the Conservatives have already conceded that they will not be in contention in this race, so the conventional wisdom out there suggests that Harper will wait to make the call so that the opposition parties can inflict maximum damage on one another. But game-changing Laraque might end up forcing Harper to put the by-election wheels in motion earlier than he would otherwise have wanted.

Bourassa – What’s in Play
Bloc Leader Daniel Paille, currently without a seat in Ottawa, has previously announced that he will not be seeking election in Bourassa, which suggests that the Bloc doesn’t think that it can win there. Instead, Paille will look for a more suitable riding should the opportunity arise, or wait for the 2015 general election. With the Bloc polling behind the Liberals and NDP in Quebec, Paille can’t risk being cast as a loser, hence his avoidance of Bourassa.

With the Conservatives and Bloc out of contention, pundits have painted Bourassa as a proxy struggle between Quebec-based leaders Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party and Thomas Mulcair of the NDP. Bourassa has long been a Liberal stronghold, but in 2011, the NDP challenger, Julie Demers, came within 8% of knocking off Coderre. Coderre’s popularity, rather than the Liberal brand, has been credited with staving off the NDP’s Orange Crush in Bourassa. Coderre was a locally popular MP, who made real connections with voters in the multi-ethnic, blue-collar riding of Bourassa. Canada’s largest Haitian community is partly located in the Bourassa riding, with Haitian-Canadians making up about 20% of the electorate. Traditionally, this community has largely voted Liberal.

For more on the history and composition of the Bourassa riding, I strongly suggest taking a quick visit to this Blunt Objects Blog post: “A look at Bourassa”.

Georges Laraque
Georges Laraque has deep ties with the City of Montreal. His parents had emigrated from Haiti to Montreal, where his mother worked as a nurse and his father as an engineer. Laraque played a lot of different sports as a child, but it was his talent in the game of hockey which eventually propelled him to international fame. Laraque was drafted by the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers in 1995, for which he played for until 2007. A leader on the ice, Laraque’s role was largely that of enforcer, but I certainly remember him scoring more than a few key goals. Eventually, his career in the NHL took him to Phoenix and back to his home town of Montreal, where he played for the Canadiens before retiring in 2010.

Laraque has always had a life outside of hockey. Recently, he has been very involved in efforts to help bring relief to the people of Haiti after the earthquake which ravaged that nation in 2010. Laraque has also been involved in public education campaigns around shaken baby syndrome. As a vegan, Laraque has also been vocal about animal rights issues. In August, 2010, Laraque was named male Deputy Leader of the Green Party of Canada, and since that time he has had an opportunity to mature in that role.

Given Georges Laraque’s long association with the City of Montreal, and his status as Deputy Leader of the Green Party, and that the riding of Bourassa has a high concentration of Haitian voters and hockey fans, it has been apparent to me since before Denis Coderre announced his resignation that Laraque would be a great candidate for the Greens to field in Bourassa. Today’s announcement suggests that at least a few others must have thought the same thing, including Laraque himself. What astounds me is that political pundits in the mainstream media, along with the braintrusts behind the Liberal and NDP by-election campaigns, failed to see Laraque coming. Of course, the same could be said of many on the receiving end of one of Laraque’s crushing body checks from his days in the NHL.

The Liberals and the NDP will both try to write off Laraque as being a political neophyte, running only on his national popularity. This will be a mistake. For while its true that Georges Laraque has no political experience and has never campaigned for an elected position, voters won’t be fooled into thinking that a lack of political credentials should hold any candidate back. Indeed, given the performance of many long-standing politicians, a lack of personal history in the political arena will likely be viewed as refreshing by many voters.

And make no mistake – although Laraque may only be considered a “minor celebrity” by some – and a bit of niche celebrity from the world of hockey at that – his accomplishment both on and off the ice speak for themselves. Laraque has also amassed almost 300,000 followers on Twitter – an accomplishment that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau probably wishes he could brag about.

And Laraque’s own rich life experiences have certainly helped shape his political perspective. Laraque, as Deputy Leader, has been a great fit for the Green Party of Canada, given the significant overlap in values. Unquestionably, Laraque, always an optimist, will run a positive campaign, despite the NDP and Liberal smear-jobs which are sure to come his way.

Georges Laraque and the Green Party’s Vision, Values
Being recognizable by the electorate isn’t going to win Laraque the vote, however. Laraque must make connections with voters in Bourassa based on those very same values he and his Party share. By offering North Montreal voters an opportunity to make a real difference on the national political scene by electing Canada’s second Green MP (and the first from Quebec), Laraque may have a bit of a natural advantage over the Liberals and NDP, whose hypothetical MP will be but one more bleating sheep in their partisan fold.

Further, the Green Party has really begun appealing to voters across Canada by offering a different vision than the old line parties. In fact, the Green Party’s vision of Canada has long been on offer to voters; what’s changed is the Party’s ability to communicate this vision, thanks to strong national voices such as Elizabeth May’s (MP, Saanich-Gulf Islands), Chris Turner (2012 by-election candidate for Calgary Centre – 25% of the vote) and Donald Galloway (2012 by-election candidate for Victoria, finishing second with 34% of the vote). The recent election Andrew Weaver of the Green Party of British Columbia also shows that voters have really started to tune into the different approach to politics on offer by Canada’s Green parties.

By offering voters a completely positive vision about the future, and the role that elected representatives from outside of the political norm can play in Ottawa, Georges Laraque, the Green Party’s candidate for Bourassa will undoubtedly find resonance with voters in North Montreal. Although pundits loudly claim that positive campaigning can’t win an election (and point to the recent dirty but successful re-election campaign of the B.C. Liberals), the fact is that by-elections are quite different from general elections, and electing an individual from a smaller political party to help punch above its weight, makes more sense, especially when weighed against the notion of simply electing yet one more Liberal or New Democratic MP.

Bourassa By-Election Suddenly a Threat to the Conservative Party
A big question which remains unanswered, however, has to do with timing. Typically, in by-elections where the Conservative Party is deemed to have little chance for success, Stephen Harper has held off on dropping the writ until the last minute, likely because he relishes seeing the opposition parties beat one another up during the pre-writ period. From the Conservative Party’s point of view, this tactic has made the most sense, and as a result, pundits have predicted that Harper is unlikely to call for a by-election in Bourassa and Toronto Centre (vacant as a result of Liberal MP Bob Rae’s recent resignation, and certainly not a bastion of strength for the Conservative Party) until the last minute, likely after Quebec municipal elections have occurred in November (the latest date required by law in which a by-election in Bourassa must be held is December 23, 2013, according to Pundit’s Guide).

That being said, I think that today’s announcement might just lead to an earlier by-election call. Here’s my reasoning. Polling continues to suggest that many disaffected Conservative Party supporters, especially those who self-identify as “Red Tories”, are more likely to vote Green than for the Liberals and NDP, if they are looking for a party to park their votes with, even temporarily. With Conservative support having sunk to about 30% from its 2011 election day high of 40%, the shrewd Conservative machine no doubt realizes that the Green Party poses a clear and present danger to its future chances of success, even if only in a small way at this time.

This analysis runs counter to what many of Canada’s political pundits might think, especially those on the right of the political spectrum. The Green Party has been long portrayed as being a “left wing” party, incorrectly so in my opinion. In fact, when talking about the policies of the Green Party of Canada, the whole notion of a “left-centre-right” political spectrum really breaks down. Given that pundits and parliamentarians are both reluctant to abandon the left-right spectrum narrative, there’s no doubt that pinning the Greens down on it can be difficult. Voters, however, who care less about left vs. right than they do about right vs. wrong, are more apt to tune out the pundits and vote for the better set of policies or candidate.

The Green Party’s recent emergence as a serious electoral player, with a victory in Saanich-Gulf Islands (formerly held by a Conservative Party cabinet member), a strong second place in Victoria (nipping at the heels of the NDP in one of their left-coast fortress ridings) and a strong and vigorous campaign in the Conservative heartland of downtown Calgary, only goes to reinforce that the Green Party of Canada poses a more significant threat to the Conservative Party than it does to the Liberals or the NDP. After all, from where did those voters in Saanich, Victoria and Calgary come from? An analysis shows that at least in two of those three ridings, the Green vote was pulled mostly from Conservative voters, and in the third, from both the Conservatives and the NDP.

Indeed, it seems that Harper and the Conservatives have long known that the rise of the Green Party would pose a threat to their long term electoral success. Many have speculated that Harper’s early call for a general election in 2008 happened because of his concerns about the Green Party. Harper ostensibly broke his own fixed election date law to call a general election, pre-empting a by-election in Guelph in which the Green Party was polling ahead of the other parties, and pre-empting a session of parliament which would have seen Canada’s first Green Member of Parliament, Blair Wilson, take a seat in the House of Commons (Wilson had joined the Greens on the weekend which the general election was called, after having sat as an Independent; he was originally elected as a Liberal). An election win in Guelph, and a sitting MP would assuredly have raised the Green Party’s national profile, and would have allowed Green Party Leader Elizabeth May to participate in the televised Leader’s debates (recall too that the Conservative Party, then-NDP Leader Jack Layton, and the Broadcast Consortium originally conspired to exclude May from the 2008 Leadership debates, because the Green Party had no “sitting” member in the House; it was only after a public outcry that the Consortium relented, and allowed May to participate. In 2011, the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP all conspired to keep May out of the debates, despite the Green Party having fielded candidates across Canada).

An early by-election call in Bourassa should definitely be interpreted as a sign of Stephen Harper’s fear of all things Green, including Georges Laraque and the Green Party of Canada. If Harper holds out until the fall to drop the writ, it may have something to do with his more recent obsession to make Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau look foolish, as it would give Greens in Montreal some valuable time to do some pre-writ campaigning, as it is now clear that a formidable foe to Trudeau and the Liberals has arisen in Bourassa in the form of Georges Laraque.

Tom Mulcair and the NDP : Biggest Losers
Ultimately, the biggest loser in today’s announcement is bound to be Tom Mulcair and the NDP. The NDP’s ground game in Quebec, while improving, is still nowhere near on par with the Liberals, especially in Bourassa. Simply put, the NDP really has no idea who, exactly, the voters which elected so many NDP MP’s to office in Quebec in 2011 are. Lists of voters and supporters are incomplete, and the NDP’s Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) initiative on e-day, which is so very strong in other parts of Canada including here in Sudbury), can’t possibly compete with the Liberals in Bourassa or throughout most of Quebec.

Further, the NDP’s likely candidate in the by-election is Julie Demers, who may have significant roots in the community, but is far from a household name in the riding. In a straight-up fight between the as-yet-to-be-named Liberal candidate and Demers, Bourassa might have proven a toss-up between the Liberals and the NDP this time around. The NDP strategy so far has been to bank on the notion of turning former Coderre supporters to their candidate. Now, however, the NDP are going to have to go back to the drawing board to figure out a way to take on one of the strongest (literally!) Green candidates the Party has ever fielded, in a riding which seems almost built to showcase his strengths. That means that the NDP is going to have to find someone with a much bigger name than Julie Demers in a “go big or go home” Hail Mary attempt to stave off disaster.

For disaster it would be for Mulcair not to elect an NDP member in Bourassa. Not that one extra NDP MP is going to make any difference to Mulcair’s future electoral success. But remember that Bourassa has already shaped up to be a proxy war between Mulcair and Trudeau – a microcosm of the 2015 Battle of Quebec. If NDP support ultimately collapses, it doesn’t matter which candidate emerges on top – if the NDP doesn’t win, the national news story is going to be that Thomas Mulcair can’t hold it together in Quebec, the NDP’s power base. And if Mulcair can’t hold Quebec, what might all of those would-be voters in suburban Ontario (whom Mulcair must woo if he has any hope of forming government) think about casting ballots for a party perceived by the public to be in decline?

No, Mulcair needs to pick up either Bourassa or Toronto Centre from the Liberals (both would be best for the NDP, obviously, but Bourassa really is the key).

Losing Bourassa to Justin Trudeau and the Liberals will be bad enough for Mulcair. But what if the NDP loses the riding to the upstart Green Party? Sure, Mulcair would likely benefit in the short-term, by spinning such a defeat as a one-off thing, common in by-elections which have little impact on the composition of parliament. But Mulcair and the NDP, - who are reluctant to even mention the Green Party’s name in public, for fear of legitimizing its existence - know full well that a Green Party victory in Montreal will have a significant impact on their own electoral success in 2015.

Not only will Mulcair fear that another viable political party has emerged as a champion of the environment and social justice, to challenge the NDP on that flank, the national spotlight which might have been his will instead shine brightest on Elizabeth May. And Greens, thick on the ground in coastal British Columbia, will almost certainly threaten NDP seats in that province in 2015 – seats which Mulcair can’t afford to lose. And in Ontario, the potential for 3-way vote splits in numerous ridings which the NDP views as being “in play” in 2015, will only increase uncertainty and risk to his Party.

Liberal Risks
The Liberals, too, might end up regretting overtures made to their Party by Elizabeth May to come to some sort of agreement about co-operation. Already, the Liberals (wrongly) blame the Greens for sabotaging their chance to steal a seat from the Conservatives in Calgary Centre (whereas we Greens rightly blame the Liberals and a late-election rogue poll from a polling firm with strong Liberal connections for preventing Chris Turner from stealing the seat). Sure, we played nice in Labrador, but that was an exceptional circumstance. I know that the Liberals and their bought and paid for media pundits expected the Greens to go belly-up in Bourassa as well, given our lack of electoral bench strength in Quebec. But looking at the specifics of Bourassa, how could they ignore the presence of Georges Laraque on the Green Party’s roster?

A Liberal loss in Bourassa will reflect poorly on their newly crowned Leader Justin Trudeau. However, Trudeau’s own personal popularity might not be as severely impacted across Canada by such a loss. Certainly, the Liberals would prefer to lose to Laraque and the Greens than to the NDP, particularly if the NDP runs a nobody candidate like Demers. That way, the loss could be spun as a one-time thing, due to the presence of a celebrity candidate. But if Laraque’s presence in the by-election allows the NDP to come up the middle, Trudeau and the Liberals are going to have a hard time spinning how they still have electoral momentum in Quebec (and specifically on the island of Montreal). Trudeau, I’m sure, would have preferred a straight-up battle between the Liberals and the NDP, in a riding the Liberals have pretty much owned for decades.

Play of the Game
The only thing which appears to be certain right now is that Georges Laraque’s announcement today that he’ll be asking voters to cast their ballot for him as the Green Party’s representative in Bourassa has completely changed the game – both in that by-election and on Canada’s national political scene. And that’s just the sort of gutsy and principled play that I’ve come to expect from Georges Laraque and the Green Party.

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