Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I’ve been away from the blogging for the past little while. Real life seems to have a way of intervening, and taking up many of my hours. So, today, in an effort to try to catch up on a few things, I’m going to deliver a bit of a smorgasboard of issues. In no particular order. And I use the word "smorgasboard" deliberately here, although I might have chosen "salad bar" instead. "Smorgasboard" is a tip-of-the-hat to my highschool music teacher, Mr. Darraugh, who used words in a way which were highly appropriate, if somewhat unexpected. Earn the Burn, baby!

Policy Resolutions for the Party Convention

So, the Green Party Convention is coming up (August 20-22, in Toronto). Early Bird registrations must be in by June 5th. I have to say, I like what the Party is doing, charging registration fees by Zone. I’m in the Zone closest to Toronto, so I get dinged with the biggest fee, but realistically, that’s ok, because I have a much shorter distance to travel, and far smaller travel costs than many others who will be heading to T.O. for the convention. I was a little surprised at the cost, not having attended past conventions, but I like the tax receipt. I’m looking forward to attending this year, and meeting many Greens face to face, most for the first time.

What I’m most looking forward to in the near future, though, is seeing all of the proposed Policy Resolutions up on the website. From what I’m hearing, there may be some very interesting resolutions proposed indeed. We Party Members need to use the time pre-convention to hash things out: identify our support for desirable resolutions, and try to have the problematic ones amended or outright kiboshed. I’ll certainly be hanging out on the Party’s website, adding my two-cents.

Some of the interesting ones I’ve been hearing about:

1) A Resolution from Federal Council proposing to change our by-laws to remove the requirement for a Leadership Contest, and replacing it with a leadership review 6-months after a federal election (I’ll be supporting that resolution, or a variation of it, because if we don’t change our by-laws, we’ll be obligated to have a leadership contest in the fall. I believe having a contest now, in advance of an anticipated federal election, is the very worse thing that we as a Party can do.

2) A Resolution from a nominated candidate on allowing elected MP’s to vote their conscience on certain issues, such as abortion and marijuana legislation (and presumably other issues, if added to a list). Right now, I don’t think I’ll be supporting that resolution, as I strongly believe that Greens, when elected, should vote in accordance with member-approved policy, unless there is some very good reason why they shouldn’t.

Coalition Talk

Seems like the pundits are speculating that talks are under-way between prominent Liberals and NDP-types (Chretien’s and Broadbent’s names are mentioned) in an effort to see whether or not some sort of deal might be reached to bring the two parties a little closer together in terms of how they approach the next election or the period shortly afterwards.

Although the folks over at
Rabble.ca are always up to the challenge, there’s no sense on speculating whether these talks might lead anywhere. I just can’t see the Liberals and NDP agreeing not to run candidates against each other anywhere, unlike the sort of talk Gillian Steward reports that Alberta Provincial Liberal Leader David Swann has been on about.

However, these talks might actually go somewhere, especially if Ignatieff’s poll numbers keep plummeting (I don’t think that they will...I mean, how low can they really go? Not much lower than they are currently. I have to figure that the numbers are scrapping the top of the Liberal core vote right about now, at around the 25% mark).

Many in the Green Party will be tempted to try to force our way into those talks (we certainly won’t be invited, as we have so very little offer either the Liberals or the NDP, and in fact, we pose more of a threat to either of them if it starts looking like we’re a "legitimate" party).

Mark Taylor has already given his
opinion on whether the Green Party would benefit from joining an NDP-Liberal Coalition. Here’s mine:

The Green Party has nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by agreeing to some sort of formal coalition with these two parties, especially if that agreement means that we don’t run candidates in certain ridings. I’ve always been a firm believer in the need to offer voters a true choice, and not just the "best of a bad lot" in an effort to get rid of a government. If we are serious about democracy, we need to be able to offer voters a Green choice, even if it’s just a paper candidate.

The policies of the NDP and the Liberals are not our policies; they are the tired policies of the brown economy, and although they’ve started to green themselves a little bit, both parties are still a long way from where they need to be. Simply put, Orange and Red don’t make Green.

And, from a practical side of things, if we were to bully our way into some sort of coalition, likely our condition for inclusion would be to have the NDP and Liberals back down their candidates in Saanich-Gulf Islands, so that our Leader would run virtually unopposed against the Conservatives. That...would be a minimum. And likely that would be the only riding offered to the Greens. Again, we bring so little to the table.

Where would that leave us, though? A whole federal election would slip by, and we’d be involved primarily in one riding. And what about our own issues? Would this bring us any closer to a carbon tax? Or proportional representation? I doubt it.

No, an NDP-Liberal coalition likely won’t materialize pre-election anyway. All bets are off, though, after an election is held, and if the balance of power could be shifted away from a hypothetical Conservative minority situation, I think that the NDP and Liberals would be foolish to continue to let Harper govern in that circumstance. And if we have a few Greens elected in the mix, well, that would certainly change things up a little bit. The problem would be, who would lead? Ignatieff and Layton would have just been "rejected" at the ballot box, having not formed a government (the same problem which the "Coalition" faced back in 2008 with lame-duck Dion at the helm). The Liberals aren’t even in a position to offer up a good second-choice (unlike Gordon Brown’s gambit in the U.K., resigning as Leader of the Labour Party in an attempt to entice Nick Clegg to join a coalition; Labour had a number of quality candidates waiting in the wings. The Liberals have...Bob Rae, who I like, but whom many Liberals really don’t like...and even fewer NDP like). Maybe Layton should lead, if the NDP does better than they did in 2008.

Ah, but there’s no use speculating, I think I said earlier. But it’s oh-so fun!

Deep Water Oil Drilling

With the ongoing environmental disaster occurring south of the border, I know that many Canadians are thinking about deep water drilling. I’m glad to see that the press in Canada has started to talk about what could happen here, and is concluding that, yes, such a disaster really could happen in Canadian waters and we need to be vigilant. They’re not swallowing the government line that our Regulations are so much better than the American’s (because the fact is, they aren’t, and if anything, they’re worse!).

Yes, it’s true that in the States, a lot of the media coverage seems to be focussed around BP’s techno-fixes or the finger-pointing game (which is much more interesting that watching oil float on the surface of the ocean). But the slick has started to make landfall now, and dead seabirds coated in tar do make for good TV, so we can expect a bit of a shift in U.S. coverage for a few days. I’m almost tempted to say that the fact that BP’s techno-fixes seem to keep failing looks good on them...but the environmental damage from the uncapped well is just too great for me not to want it to stop.

reported in Sun Media, a recent Leger poll about deepwater drilling suggests that a majority of Canadians are really very uncomfortable with drilling; 54% want drilling suspended until safety concerns can be addressed; another 24% want drilling stopped altogether. To me, that means that Canadians really are cognizant of the disaster going on in the Gulf, and are aware that the same can happen here. That level of awareness is encouraging. And some in the media have started drawing the connection between the environmental devastation taking place in the Gulf with that taking place in the tar sands. Good.

Neighbourhood Gardens

One of the things which has been occupying my time lately has been my involvement with a new community garden, which is going to be built this weekend in a municipal park close to my home. A lot of work has gone into this initiative, and I have to say that I’ve been overwhelmed with all of the positivity coming out of this. Donations are being made by community businesses, the City has been incredibly supportive, the local Councilor has been on-board since day one, and the media has started to cover the garden. All in all, it’s been just great so far.

I recall attending one of the first meetings where the Community Garden was discussed, and went home and talked to my wife about it. She told me that she would do something similar in our backyard, which has essentially been "wasted space" from her perspective (my dog, who spends most of his time out in the yard, was not consulted). Since we live in a mixed neighbourhood where there are good number of apartments, we figured that it would be easy enough to generate interest to have between 6 and 8 garden planters, which people in our neighbourhood could use to grow their own vegetables in. Our yard is entirely fenced in, thanks to the dog, and we’d be comfortable with people coming and going (and we suspect that the dog would too, if properly introduced up-front).

Little neighbourhood gardens on un-used private yards! What a great concept, we thought.

Boy, were we ever mistaken. Our plans haven’t progressed very far, as we seem to have run into two issues, one of which seems insurmountable, the other just expensive to deal with.

Turns out that we’re not zoned for this sort of use. I spoke with a guy from the City about this, and he explained it to me: if you’ve got a garden in your yard for your personal use, well that’s considered accessory to the primary use (which is a residence, ie. living in your house), so that’s all kosher. However, inviting people to come and use your yard for the purpose of gardening is not accessory to the primary use (because the people you’re inviting to your yard are not primary users of the property). He said that 6 to 8 planters might not seem like many, but potentially how many people would that be bringing into your yard at any given time? What might your neighbours think of that (we fully anticipated discussing the garden concept in advance with our neighbours anyway...but if we were someone else and just went ahead without saying anything to anyone, well, ya, I can kind of see that a neighbour might not take too kindly to the idea). And, what if our property were bigger, as many other properties with the same zoning in the City are? What about 20 planter boxes? What about 50?

Anyway, I can see that zoning is an issue. A minor variance would be the answer, although the guy at the City cautioned that their Committee of Adjustment isn’t big on granting variances for use (they’re better with setbacks). However, the option remains available, although potentially it would be expensive, being $600 just to make an application, and who knows how much more for other documents, and maybe an appeal to the OMB. Still, though, it might be doable, right?

Wrong. I also spoke with my insurance company. They advised me that if I were inviting people onto my property to engage in a hazardous activity (gardening), and I were sued, they would drop me like a hot potato, and I would never get home coverage again. If you think about it, they’re actually onto something too, because they are looking out for my interests. As much as it might be funny to think that gardening isn’t all that dangerous of an activity (when compared to trying to get around this City on a bike...but I anticipate myself), the fact is people do find new and inventive ways to hurt themselves all the time. For example, I’m not a gardener; I tried my hand at some weeding the other day at another Community Garden in the City, just to see what it’s all about. I almost took my toe off with the whatever it was I was using (some kind of shovel-like implement). So, if that were to happen on my property, someone might be thinking "lawsuit" and my insurance company would be asking me why I was foolish enough to invite someone to do that in my yard in the first place. And while I told my insurance company that really this isn’t all that different than having a friend come over to help me change a light bulb and fall off of a ladder and sue me, they remarked that I really shouldn’t be engaging in that sort of activity either, and that I should change my own lightbulbs.

Anyway, I see where they’re coming from, and I see why the City is concerned as well. But it’s still disappointing. We’ve created so many rules in our society, that sometimes doing a good thing can be a dumb idea. I remember when I was reading a few years back about two separate fires. In the first fire, a building just outside of a municipal boundary (literally on the other side of the road) was burning, and the volunteer fire department rushed to the scent and put out the fire, saving the pets stuck inside the building. One of the firefighters was slightly injured, and had to miss work. Because he was injured outside of the municipality, there was no insurance coverage for him. Had he died, it would have been too bad so sad. The moral of the story: don’t fight a fire when there’s no insurance. Having learned from this situation, another fire happened just outside of a municipal boundary; realizing this to be the case, although the volunteer fire fighters rushed to the scene, they elected to watch the house burn to the ground, and all of the homeowner’s contents were destroyed in the process (no lives were lost). They caught royal hell from area residents. Talk about "no win".

And that’s where I think my wife and I are at with the backyard garden: "no win". Well, maybe my dog will be the ultimate winner, because it looks like he’ll be able to lord over the backyard for another year yet.

Sudbury Cyclists Union

One of the other initiatives that I’ve been involved with lately has been helping with getting a new advocacy organization off of the ground here in Sudbury. A few of us have decided that it’s time that Sudbury had a Cyclists Union, to advocate for the needs of the cycling community. We’ve seen so many streets being resurfaced and expanded lately, many with the benefit of federal stimulus money, but the City hasn’t considered the needs of cyclists. In fact, I’ve heard that the City couldn’t add bike lanes to the federally-funded projects because they would have had to expand the roads outside of the original envelopes to do so, and thus would not have been eligible for funding (yet another "oversight" for stimulus spending). In some cases, the City has been calling for wider curb lanes to accommodate the possibility of cycling, but aside from a few kilometres of bike lanes painted on two roads about 5 years ago, there’s been nothing new for cyclists in this City.

I often ride my bike to work. When I do, I’m taking my life into my hands. Sudbury doesn’t have the greatest reputation when it comes to roads anyway (or drivers, for that matter). Try riding a bike on the roads here. Many don’t: they ride illegally on the sidewalk. And I can’t blame them. It’s damn scary to be a cyclist on the road.

Recently, Statistics Canada released a
report about greenhouse gases generated from personal vehicles. Per capita, the City of Greater Sudbury ranked as the second dirtiest city in all of Canada, behind only Kingston. Barrie clocked in at #3, although quite a ways back from Sudbury. Montreal was the best. Why was Sudbury so bad? Could be because of all of the SUV’s and pick-ups on the road here. But it also probably has something to do with the fact that if you want to get around town, likely you’re doing so in a personal vehicle of some sort, because forget about it if you’re a pedestrian or cyclist. Transit, also, leaves a lot to be desired, although apparently 1/3 of Sudburians who are within the age-range to own and operate a personal vehicle do not do so.

So, we’ll be moving ahead with the Sudbury Cyclists Union here locally. Not sure what it’s going to look like. We’re hoping to get a Steering Committee nominated at a meeting on June 24th. If you’re in Sudbury, look for us on Facebook ("Sudbury Cyclists Union), or come out to the presentation of the Sustainable Mobility Plan, developed by Rainbow Routes, on Wednesday June 16th (wear your helmet!). I...hope to be there too, but the last personal initiative that I’ve been involved with might impact my attendance.


Yes, my wife is due to give birth on June 16th. Just about everything that we’ve both been involved with these past couple of months have been in anticipation of this wonderful event. This is going to be our first child. So, needless to say, we’re both really excited about this. I’m hoping to take some time off of work when the baby is born. I suspect that some of the other things I’ve been involved with might have to be put on hold from my perspective as well, at least for a little while. Of course, if my constant availability on the home-front begins to grate on my wife’s nerves (a distinct possibility, or so I’m told), I may be looking to become more involved with some projects. I certainly continue to plan to attend the Convention in August.

And I think that brings things just about full circle for today. Hope you enjoyed the smorgasblog!


GreenSudbury said...

Steve. Your story of having a neighborhood garden on your own property and the predictable responses from the city are depressing and sad. I see why 'guerilla gardening and D.I.Y is gaining in popularity

Ken Summers said...

The Liberals and NDP are not going to have any kind of pre-election agreement for not running candidates in ridings.

Lots and lots of reasons, but why bother with them: read my lips, zero probability.

The talk will never die, but it has zero traction in either party, grassroots or at the top. [And if the top did somehow get an appetitie- where from I dont know- the grassroots would kill it.]

General talk of coalitions or other agreements should refer to other things. Least of should people be thinking of that general talk as interchangable with pre-election agreements.