Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Disappearing Green Party

With massive disruptions taking place across Canada in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, it may seem a little trite for me to sit down and write a critique of the Green Party - a party that I've been a member of for over 12 years now.  Surely there are better things that I could spend my time writing about.

And yet, it's because Canada is experiencing these disruptions that writing about the Green Party is prescient - or rather, writing about how the Green Party has figured out a way to absent itself from the national discussions which are taking place in government, in the mainstream media, on social media, and even at the Tim Horton's here right in downtown Sudbury.  


The Disappearing Green Party
For all intents and purposes, the Green Party has disappeared.  And not just with regards to the Wet'suwet'en - but on just about every major issue of our times.  OK, sure, Elizabeth May had something good to say about rejecting Teck a little while back (see: "Elizabeth May calls on the government to reject the Teck Frontier mine," Elizabeth May MP, January 27, 2020), and this piece on the soaring costs of the Trans Mountain pipeline was pretty good (see: "Elizabeth May asks, ‘At what cost, Canada?’ Elizabeth May MP, February 14, 2020 - and it's also available at the National Observer so long as you don't view more than 7 of their posts a month). and I know that Paul Manly and the Green Party apparatus have been busy tweeting about land defenders, pipelines, uhm, indigenous rights, pipelines, and I think pipelines.  So yes, people are busy.  But is anyone noticing?

I frequent the National Newswatch news aggregator website.  I don't always have a chance to read everything that's linked there, but I tend to get a good feel for what's making the news just by reading the headlines.  It's kind of like a barometer for figuring out what stories are important to the mainstream media.  It's fun to watch as stories I've been following through other media start to percolate in the MSM sometimes days or weeks after they've broke elsewhere. 

In the lead-up to the 2019 federal election, the Green Party was getting some serious (well, "serious" for the Green Party) coverage in the mainstream media.  News stories and columnists were taking the time to write about a good number of different things related to the Party, Elizabeth May, and provincial Green parties.  With two weeks to go in the election, though, coverage of the Green Party dried up.  It sputtered on and off again (mostly off) for another month or so.  And after Elizabeth May made it known that she was stepping down as leader of the Party, coverage just vanished.

The Elizabeth May Party

What good is a political party that no one is talking about?  Sure, the Green Party of Canada is going through a bit of a renewal at the moment.  And by "renewal" I mean I'm seeing and hearing about long-time committed Greens like myself either openly questioning whether they should continue on with the Party, or are just leaving, packing it in.  The 2019 election sure as hell left a pack of disillusioned members behind.  
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Greta Thunberg

For those keeping score, that would be the fourth general election now where the Party anticipated a serious breakthrough but failed to deliver.  Arguably, the electoral dynamics in 2019 were the best we've ever seen: a lacklustre Liberal Party trying to hold on to the reins of government; the NDP a sinking ship; and the Conservative Party doing all that it can to alienate what remains of the progressive political right.  With climate strikes going on around the globe, with Greta Thunberg telling centrist politicos that they weren't doing enough, and with the mainstream media talking up the Green Party in a way that it never has before, it should have been fairly easy to elect a handful of Greens to parliament.

But instead, we stunk out the joint.  We released policies that committed us to supporting new fossil fuel infrastructure - maybe as an attempt to get a few votes from Alberta (because seriously, there was no other reason for our refinery policy to ever have seen the light of day in an election - much less as part of a 20-step plan to fight climate change.  We welcomed former NDP candidates into the party, despite many of those candidates never having agreed to join the party (see: "Some former NDP candidates in N.B. say they weren’t part of exodus to Greens," Global News, September 5, 2019).  And then we got embroiled in a discussion about whether those candidates were racists.


Federal Leaders Trainwreck Debate
Elizabeth May just didn't seem to have fire in her belly the same way that she did in previous elections.  While she had a pretty good debate performance that no one saw at the Macleans National Leader's Debate, she still took a hit from the NDP's Jagmeet Singh, who rightly questioned why she would continue to trot out the idea of having SNC Lavalin pay for water systems on First Nations reserves.  Unfortunately, May was all but invisible in the horrendous nationally televised English-language trainwreck "debate". 

And it would have been nice had May maybe not brought up the fact that, as Leader of the Green Party, she doesn't actually have the authority to tell other Greens in her caucus what they can and can't bring forward as private members bills - so if someone ever wanted to limit a woman's right to choose, while May was clear she'd oppose that bill, as Leader she couldn't kill it.  That kind of nuance did not go over well with the mainstream media, and it gave the NDP ammunition to convincingly make stuff up about the Green Party's and May's commitment to women's issues.  

The Green Party Has Lost Its Way


That damn cup.
May can't take the fault for the Green Party's lacklustre performance in the last election.  Or at least Greens aren't going to blame her.  What most engaged Greens have been complaining to one another about for the past few months hasn't been May - it's about how the Party has lost its way.  This was exemplified in the election by the infamous coffee cup episode, where a backroom staffer fiddled with a photo of May holding - well, originally holding a coffee cup, but the cup was photoshopped out in favour of a reuseable mug.  Thing was, the coffee cup that got photoshopped out was actually a biodegradable cup (see: "Green Party Leader Photoshopped With Fake Reusable Cup and Straw," Vice News, September 24, 2019). 

So much for doing politics differently.

All in all, May and the Green Party spent a lot more time during the 2019 election explaining themselves to the media, rather than talking about the issues.  Granted, discussions about actual issues by all political parties were noticeably absent during the 2019 election.  But as Ronald Reagan once said about something or other, "If you're explaining, you're losing." When all of your media oxygen is taken up trying to convince the media that you're not a racist or anti-choice or that you don't go around photoshopping every picture you can get your hands on - well you're losing. And we lost. Big-time.
We sure did do it.

Or did we?  The Party initially tried to spin the fact that we elected 3 Green MP's as some sort of huge victory.  Either that didn't go over well with Greens like me who have been paying attention and were expecting a few more in the "win" column in 2019, or the disappearance of the Party and its growing irrelevancy since about mid-November led the spin-doctors to call it a day.  Clearly, 2019 was no victory for the party.

Leadership Contest


Alex Tyrrell in a canoe.
With May's departure as leader in early November, the "race" to replace her was on!  Almost immediately, Green Party of Quebec leader Alex Tyrrell announced that he was going to throw his hat in the ring  (well, actually he announced his intention to replace May even before May resigned - see: "Quebec's Green Party leader eyeing federal job if Elizabeth May steps down," CBC News, November 3, 2020).  For a few days in early November, Tyrrell got his name in the news. But since then there has been little but silence in the mainstream media about the Green leadership contest (even though Alex has now released what has to be standard gear for any national political party leadership aspirant - a photo of themselves alone in a canoe).

Now I know it might not be fair to contrast the Green Party's leadership contest with that of the Conservative Party - especially in terms of coverage given the two parties by the media.  But at the same time, I just can't help but notice that every day, a Conservative leadership candidate is making national headlines.  Sure, they're not always positive headlines.  And ok, so the Cons have 121 seats to our 3.  And they've got gobs of money.  And they've got former cabinet ministers vying for the top spot.  And - well, let's just say that they seem to have their act together, at least when it comes to the contest itself - even though Andrew Scheer stepped down as leader over a month after May resigned.  And Scheer has stayed on as interim leader, hogging some of those headlines (er, again, often not in a good way), whereas May has handed the reins of the Green Party over to interim leader Jo-Ann Roberts whom no one has ever heard of (at least not in the context of being the interim leader of the Green Party).

Today was the deadline for leadership contestants to clear the first hurdle of the Conservative Party's nomination process.  The Cons have been right eager to elect a new leader (and with Andrew Scheer staying at their helm until a new one is elected, who can blame them?).  But the Green Party has decided to take a more leisurely approach - I guess because we're not going to have to struggle with getting our new leader's name out there to the public before the next election.  Who knows.  Anyway, the same day that May stepped down, the Party announced that the leadership contest would take place in Charlottetown, on October 3, 2020 - 11 months away.

No bodies and Nobodies

Here's what I have to say about an 11 month leadership contest.  It's probably the right amount of time for the Green Party to pick a new leader - although I can see why the Conservatives decided to compress their contest into a much shorter timeframe given that we are in a minority government situation.  But the real think about the Green Party's 11 month leadership contest is that it isn't.  Isn't 11 months, I mean.  The Party only got around to releasing the Rules for the contest on February 3, 2020 - leaving just 8 months for contestants to campaign (see: "Green Party leadership race officially launches today in P.E.I." CBC News, February 3, 2020) and to raise the $50,000 entry fee.

That's right.  You want to be leader of the Green Party, you've got to pony up $50k.  Oh, not all at once, though.  There's a staggered submission process.


GPC Leadership Contest Rules - Section 11

Potential leadership contestants have until June 3rd to apply.  So we'll know in another few months exactly who has thrown their hat in the ring - just as the mainstream media is taking off for the summer.  Good luck to all of the leadership candidates getting their names out there to Party members via the mainstream media!

Ah, but who am I kidding?  The mainstream media wasn't going to be paying any attention to this leadership contest anyway.  Why would they waste their time reporting on the Green Party now when they haven't wasted their time reporting on the Green Party since the election?  At least people have heard of Elizabeth May - she still commands a bit of a media following, despite no longer leading the Party.  But - this is not to denigrate those who have currently expressed interest in the Green Party's leadership - why would the media write about any of the would-be leaders?  It's not like Green Party members have expressed any degree of excitement about them, so why should the media?

Especially since it's not clear that any of them are going to be able to raise the $50 grand needed to officially register as a candidate.  This might be the leadership contest where the only bodies anyone could find to run were nobodies.

Alternatives?

Could there be others waiting in the wings to announce their candidacy?  God, I hope so.  It's not that those who have signaled interest would make bad candidates, it's just that nobody's ever heard of them, and I fear that the Green Party is going to spend years in the wilderness trying to build up a little name recognition.  I get that the Green Party is not a leader-driven Party in the same way that the old-line parties are, but I will say that until the media figures out how to report on the Green Party (should they ever show any interest in doing so again), it's important that our leader at least be known by, oh, maybe 1% of 1% of Canadians.

If a big name doesn't step forward to lead our Party, I can't help but think that our Party is going to remain invisible throughout 2020 - and maybe into 2030.  And I don't know that I've got the appetite to stick around and build (rebuild?) the Party with the hopes that one day we might elect enough Greens to actually be able to influence something that's important to us.  

I've been of the opinion for some time now that the Green Party ought to seriously consider merging with the NDP, because our two parties are not actually all that far apart on the issues (see: "Is This All That Stands in the Way of NDP-Green Electoral Co-operation?" Sudbury Steve May, May 14, 2019). It had been my hope that at least one leadership contestant might grab ahold of that idea and run with it.  But no one is going to pay $50k to try to merge it with the New Democrats.

If a merger wasn't going to be a thing, I've expounded on the need to recruit a household name as leader (see: "Who Will Be The Next Leader of the Green Party?" Sudbury Steve May, November 5, 2019).  I offered up former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne - but I presume that she remains otherwise engaged.  I suggested maybe Rick Mercer or Pamela Anderson - but I suspect that they might have other things on the go, too (see: "OK Greens, Where Do We Go From Here?" Sudbury Steve May, November 13, 2019). 


Glen Murray on Twitter
Who Can Save Us?

So who does that leave?  I've been watching with interest the recent tweeting habits of Glen Murray, Ontario's former Minister of the Environment and the former Mayor of Winnipeg.  His tweets have stirred a slight flutter in my curiosity.  But I don't think we Greens can count on that former Ontario Liberal to ride in and try to save the day.  So who really does that leave?

In all seriousness, I'd like to offer up one final suggestion - even though I suspect the chances of her going for it are slim to none.  But she does have a seat in parliament, and she commands a degree of respect from the media.  

You know I'm talking about Elizabeth May.
  
Yes, Elizabeth May.

And why wouldn't I be?  Faced with what might be (yet even more) years in the political wilderness, and with a minority government situation that could send us to the polls on a moment's notice, why not turn back to May?  She certainly has the capacity to turn our party opaque from its present invisible status.

Think about it: if May ran, she would win.  You know it's true.  And that says a little something about the Green Party of Canada that some don't want to hear.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)




Saturday, February 22, 2020

Teck Decision Could be an Existential One for Canada’s Liberals

This month, Canada’s Liberal government is faced with what might be an existential decision. Vancouver-based mining giant Teck Resources needs federal cabinet’s approval for a new open-pit bitumen mine in Northern Alberta which is expected to generate 6 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually until the year 2067 (see: “Behind the headlines: 6 need-to-know facts about the Teck Frontier mine,” Jesse Firempong, Greenpeace Canada, February 3, 2020).  For Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, having campaigned twice now on getting serious about climate change, approval of Teck’s Frontier mine could lead to a caucus revolt (see: Teck Mine a ‘pretty easy no’, Liberal MPS tell Trudeau in raucous caucus meeting,” the Energy Mix, February 7, 2020).  With citizens from coast to coast to coast already protesting in the streets in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en, a federal decision to build yet more fossil fuel infrastructure on the basis of a questionable review process would certainly kill any last shred of climate legitimacy the Liberals might still be clinging to (see: Regardless of the decision, Teck Frontier proves the system is still broken,” Simon Dyer, the Globe and Mail, February 12, 2020).

Teck’s cheerleaders, like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and former Liberal Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi, are keen to point out that greenhouse gas emissions can be accommodated under Alberta’s 100 megatonne emissions cap, first put in place by former NDP Premier Rachel Notley (see: “Sohi solution can give Trudeau and Kenney the win-win on Frontier oilsands mine that Canada needs,” David Staples, the Edmonton Journal, January 31, 2020). However, Alberta’s cap on tar sands emissions has never been integrated into a coherent national plan to reduce emissions (see: Alberta's climate plan stands in the way of Canada's,” Gordon Laxer, the Edmonton Journal, December 3, 2015). After 5 years in power, the lack of a serious national plan to achieve even former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s weak and ineffectual emissions reduction target for 2030 is a national embarrassment (see: Trudeau set to break its promise to meet even Harper's weak carbon-emissions reduction target,” The Council of Canadians, March 29, 2017)

Alberta’s CO2 equivalent emissions are about 65 tonnes per capita, compared to the average for the remainder of Canada at just 15 tonnes (see: “Behind the headlines: 6 need-to-know facts about the Teck Frontier mine,” Jesse Firempong, Greenpeace Canada, February 3, 2020).  If Alberta’s tar sands emissions climb to 100 megatonnes, other provinces, like Ontario, will have to do more than their fair share in compensate (see: Alberta’s new carbon tax,” Andy Skuce, Skeptical Science, December 31, 2015).  The Frontier mine alone, if built, would become the 5th largest greenhouse gas emitter in the nation. With new mining ventures in northern Ontario needed to produce the mineral resources to power the green economy, what might our province have to give up in order to allow Alberta to keep pumping high-emissions energy for yesterday’s marketplace? 

However, if projects like the government-owned Trans Mountain bitumen pipeline are going to at least pretend to be economically viable, a higher level of extraction from an expanded tar sands is necessary.  Cost estimates for Trans Mountain have ballooned to $16 billion (see: “Elizabeth May asks, ‘At what cost, Canada?’” Elizabeth May MPP, February 14, 2020).  Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau might think it would be a shame to spend all of that money on a pipeline, but have nothing to fill it with. With the job-producing green economy taking off globally, how much taxpayer money is going to have to further subsidize Canada’s fossil fuel sector to keep up appearances of competitiveness?

The Frontier mine simply can’t proceed. The only sensible decision for the Liberals is to reject Teck, and to finally develop a truly national plan to do what’s necessary to begin tackling the climate emergency.  That plan will be based on serious emissions reduction targets and provide for realistic provincial carbon budgets. It must include plans for a just transition for fossil fuel workers.  It will end subsidies to the fossil fuel sector. And it will include a roadmap for a bold transition to the green economy, including winding down fossil fuel production over the next several decades (see: “A strong climate plan is key to Canada’s economic prosperity,” Pembina Institute, October 8, 2019).

It’s the sort of plan that the Liberals should have been working on over the last 5 years, after climate obstructionist Stephen Harper and the Conservatives were ousted by voters at the ballot box.  It’s what Trudeau promised Canadians while on the campaign trail – in 2015 and again in 2019. Liberals should keep in mind Canadian’s opinions on climate change have shifted massively over the past decade, with polls showing voters having little appetite for inaction.  The decision on Teck could very well be a defining moment for Canada’s Liberal government – and for the Liberal Party.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Originally published online and in print as, "May: Teck decision an existential one for Canada’s Liberals," at the Sudbury Star, Saturday February 22, 2020 - without hyperlinks.

Monday, January 27, 2020

No New Airport in Pickering In a Time of Climate Crisis

Could 2020 be the year that the federal government decides once and for all that building a new airport northeast of Toronto is simply not compatible with achieving Canada’s climate targets?  

The Pickering airport has long been a political football, punted down the road by every government of the day since it was first announced in 1972.  At that time, it was believed that a new international airport was needed to address capacity issues.  Farms, businesses and two whole villages were expropriated by the federal government in the early 1970s to make way for the airport’s grand opening, scheduled for 1979.  But over 45 years later, with air travel rates in the Greater Toronto Area never having lived up to expectations, those lands remain vacant (see: "Pickering airport? Time to hit reset,” International Airport Review, March 1, 2017).
  
In May, 2019, the aviation sector’s consultant, KPMG, submitted an assessment report to Transport Canada that many believe lays the groundwork for the federal government to greenlight the project (see: "New year sparks renewed interest in Pickering Airport,” the Oshawa Express, January 14, 2020).  However, just a month later, the House of Commons passed a motion declaring a national climate emergency (see: "House of Commons declares a climate emergency ahead of pipeline decision,” CBC News, June 18, 2019).  Constructing new aviation infrastructure like the Pickering Airport is seen by many as incompatible with achieving Canada’s long-term emissions reductions targets.

Air travel generally produces more greenhouse gas emissions per traveled kilometre than just about any other form of transportation.  And unlike road and rail transport, the technology doesn’t yet exist for wide-scale electrification.  While jet fuel efficiency has helped reduce net emission per flight, the incredible growth of air travel has seen emissions grow by over 80% since 1990 (see: "Air travel and climate change,” David Suzuki Foundation, October 5, 2017). Air travel now represent about 2.5% of all global emissions, thanks to cheap passenger fares and the rise of online shopping (see: "After decades in limbo, 2020 could be a critical year for the Pickering Airport,” CBC News, January 3, 2020).

A growing awareness of the out-sized impacts that air travel has on global climate has led to a phenomenon known as “flygskam” or “flight shaming”. Some European air carriers are citing this growing environmental awareness for a decline in domestic air travel rates (see: "Air travel is a huge contributor to climate change. A new global movement wants you to be ashamed to fly.” Vox, November 30, 2019).  As consumers continue to connect the dots between rising temperatures and air travel, where alternatives to flying are available, the trend toward ‘slow travel’ is expected to continue (see: "Canadian airlines feel the pressure of flight-shaming and the 'Greta effect',” CTV News, January 19, 2020).

As difficult as it is true, growth in the global aviation sector is simply not compatible with holding global heating to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius as Canada and almost every other nation in the world has committed to doing.  This commitment requires a complete rethink of how passengers and freight are going to move between locations, and how governments invest in transportation infrastructure.

This need to rethink transportation priorities provides our federal government with an exit strategy for the Pickering airport.  Land Over Landings, a local activist organization fighting to protect prime farmland and watersheds in Durham Region from unnecessary airport development, has been keen to point this out to local governments and Transport Canada.  They’ve been working at the local level with other citizens groups towards getting their regional government to acknowledge the climate crisis (see: "Durham’s Climate Change Emergency Declaration,” Land Over Landings, January 17, 2020), as so many others have already done, including Greater Sudbury’s.  

With polls showing a growing public awareness of the climate crisis among all Canadians, politicians and decision-makers at all levels of government would do well to listen to activist groups like Land Over Landings (see: "Durham Region taking action on climate change,” Durham RadioNews.com, December 9, 2019).

No one is suggesting that it would be prudent to close down Canada’s aviation sector. Vulnerable citizens, many of whom live in remote areas, rely on air travel.  With an historic lack of investment in other forms of lower-carbon transport, like bus and rail, alternatives to flying can be expensive or non-existent.  But with the climate crisis upon us, it’s unacceptable to invest in new infrastructure that locks us in to growing our emissions at a time when we must start shrinking them.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Originally published online and in print as, "May: No new airport in Pickering in a time of climate crisis," at the Sudbury Star, Saturday January 24, 2020 - without hyperlinks.