Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012 Crystal Ball Blog, Part 3: International Predictions

In Part 1 of my Crystal Ball gazing blog post, I took a look at domestic politics in Canada and made some not-so bold predictions. In Part 2, I discussed a few over-arching ideas related to the economy and democracy, and my predictions tended to be a little more trend-based. Now, in Part 3, I’ll return to making some specific international predictions for 2012.

The Biggest Stories

As 2011 draws to a close, all of the sounds of war are being heard off in the distance. Earlier this week, Iran threatened to block oil exports by closing the Stratis of Hormuz, the strategic waterway at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, if international sanctions were to be brought against Iran. The U.S. responded by insisting that the Straits would remain open. Public opinion in the United States (and elsewhere) has been mobilizing for war with Iran, based in part on a recently released United Nations report which indicates that Iran is increasing its capacity to build a nuclear bomb. The government of Israel, in particular, has put its people on high alert that war may be coming.

Earlier this month, the Iranians cyber attacked a U.S. drone overflying their territory, which led to the complete takeover of the drone, and its soft landing within Iran. The U.S. government continues to insist that the drone malfunctioned. President Obama was left with no option but to publicly ask the Iranians to return the U.S. spy drone. The Iranians did not respond positively to his overture.

The British embassy in Tehran was recently violated by protesters, and the UK turfed the Iranian ambassador to London as a result.

In late December, a U.S. Court found that Iran was behind the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, having financed Al Qaeda terrorists. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen (as it clearly conflicts with the U.S. government’s narrative as outlined in the 9/11 Commission Report, released in 2004), but almost certainly these findings could easily be used as a justification for war against Iran.

War in Iran

All in all, there’s not a whole lot of international goodwill towards Iran out there right now. Last year, I predicted that despite ominous signs of war with Iran, 2011 would bring nothing new. This year, I am predicting that we will see war with Iran, in the form of an American-led coalition of the willing, which will include the UK and several other NATO members (yes, Canada will be one of them), but initially not Israel or Turkey. Israel and Turkey, however, will almost certainly be drawn into the conflict, as Iran’s military assets will not be completely overwhelmed in a single American strike.

War fever will grip the United States in the coming months, and the war itself is almost certainly going to come before U.S. Republicans name their Presidential nominee. President Barack Obama stands to gain considerable political points by making war on Iran, especially at a time when his harshest critics remain unable to speak with a single voice. War with Iran will also change the channel on any bad news about the American economy, which will also be an advantage for Obama.

The war itself will probably last for about a month, and during that time we can expect to see massive U.S. air strikes on military targets, with attendant collateral damage. While the air force will reap the brunt of the credit for the success of these strikes, it will be CIA agents remotely operating unmanned drones who will do the lions share of the work. Marine-based cruise missiles will also rain down upon Iran, crippling its air defences. Co-ordinated cyber attacks (some of which may originate from Israel) will also throw the Iranian government into complete disarray during the opening days of the attack.

Commandos from U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq and Afghanistan, will seize control of key Iranian assets, particularly those which may lead to the discovery of the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Unlike with Iraq, the public will be shown proof positive that the Iranians were up to something, and that story will emerge within the first few weeks of the war.

Despite almost complete American air superiority, there will surely be Iranian retaliation, and it won’t be limited to American strategic assets. Expect the Iranians to target Israeli cities with their missiles. Saudi Arabia might also end up on the receiving end of an Iranian counter-attack. Depending on Turkey’s involvement in Syria (more on that later), it too may come under Iranian missile attack. The attacks themselves may not cause much physical damage, but the political damage may be appalling, especially if Israel decides to use its own military forces against Iran. Israeli involvement on the side of the Americans would certainly enrage muslims throughout the world, and especially in North Africa, where relations with the West are fragile, due to recent regime change.

The end-game for the Americans will be regime change in Iran. The U.S. has been working with Iran's democratic opposition for some time now, and replacing the beaten mullahs with a moderate government might prove easier to do in Iran than it did in Iraq, although it’s hard to determine how accepting of a new government Iranians will be after being bombed. Nevertheless, there has always existed a significant element within Iran which has opposed its hardline Islamic government. And the people of Iran are much more homogenous in terms of religion, language and culture than the people of Iraq, which might lead to less dissent in Iran.

Regime change alone, though, will not signal the end of the war, but it will be enough to give Barack Obama the Presidential victory at the end of the year. That another long and expensive occupation looms on the horizon will be lost on American voters, who have long relished the chance to finally get back at Iran after the hostage crisis of 1979.

One would presume that war with Iran, especially one which threatens shipping through the Straits of Hormuz, would bring higher oil prices, and could potentially lead to an economic crisis. While that is a possibility, confidence in middle eastern oil remains high, with Libyan oil production again coming back on stream, and with Saudi Arabia insisting that it can increase its own production to make up for what is lost from Iran. While there may be a modest spike in prices at the pump, a slumping international economy may be the best predictor of oil prices throughout 2012, which is to say that prices should remain relatively steady, and be largely unaffected by a short, sharp war.

The Rest of the Middle East

Syria is already in the midst of a civil war, although only a few have begun calling it that at the end of 2011. Nevertheless, that’s what it is. Expect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to continue to suppress protesters through the use of violence. Protesters will continue to hope for international intervention a la Libya, but the West will dither and offer only sanctions. The Arab League will fail to act, and the violent oppression will continue until the anti-government ring leaders are rounded up and the rebellion is brought to a bloody close. Democrats in Syria will not be celebrating any Tahrir Square-style victory at the close of 2012. Many will flee to Turkey to escape Assad's wrath.

There are a couple of wild cards in the Syrian conflict, though: Turkey and Iraq, and the Kurds. Let’s turn to Iraq for a moment.

Iraq and Turkey

With the official U.S. withdrawal of its military from Iraq, sectarian violence has returned. It seems unlikely that the government of Nouri al-Maliki will be able to hold his nation together. Already, Kurdistan has almost broken away into some form of semi-autonomous region beyond the control of Baghdad. As sunni battles shi’ite, Iraq is heading for some form of civil war.

As the Kurds continue to operate with impunity in Northern Iraq, we can expect to see further activity within those parts of Turkey where the Kurds have laid claim. Last year, Turkish forces traversed the Iraqi border, in pursuit of Kurdish armed militias, in late December Turkish war planes bombed Kurdish civilians in Iraq. It is quite likely that a disintegrating Iraq might prove too much for Turkey, and the military occupation of Iraq’s Kurdish north by Turkish forces may be the result.

Turkey may also be forced to intervene militarily in Syria, especially if the humanitarian crisis becomes too acute as a result of civil war. Don’t expect Turkey to take sides, though. But it may decide to occupy Syrian territory in order to protect Syrian citizens from Assad.

If war between the U.S. and Iran comes, and Turkish troops are occupying Iraqi Kurdistan or parts of Syria, expect NATO bases in Turkey to be on Iran’s list of targets.

All in all, 2012 is going to be a very violent year in the Middle East.

The United States of America

Politically, the biggest story of the year will be Barack Obama’s return to the White House for a second term. The second biggest story may very well be just who the heck the Republicans will nominate to lose to him.

Look, I’m not a big fan of Obama’s, and even if I were, I can’t ignore that he’s not the most popular politician in the United States at the moment. And it’s not that I see his popularity growing over the next 12 months (unless there is to be a war against Iran). It’s just that…those Republicans all seem so incredibly unelectable (including Mitt Romney) that Americans won’t have much choice but to return a lacklustre Obama.

If Donald Trump decides to make an independent, Ross Perrot-style run for the White House (which I predict he won’t), Obama’s triumph might prove to be one of the biggest in U.S. electoral history. Now, if New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg decides to make an Independent run for some reason, that would truly make things interesting. Again, though, I don’t expect that Bloomberg will run.

So, the big question is, who will the Republicans finally nominate to lose to Obama? My bet is that it will end up being Mitt Romney, who will be viewed as a bit of a compromise candidate for Republican stalwarts, but really he is the only one there who has even the remotest hope of going up against Obama. All of the other candidate suffer from one critical ailment or another, politically speaking.

I also expect the Democrats to make modest gains in the House of Reps and the Senate as well, but not enough to take back the House.

UK Coalition

The United Kingdom’s Coaltion government of Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats will crumble late in 2012, as Liberal-Democratic Leader Nick Clegg pulls the plug on an increasingly anti-European government. The Euro Crisis will end up leading to the demise of yet another government. An election to be held in 2013 will return the Conservatives with a majority government, and bring Labour back to the role of Official Opposition. The Liberal-Democrats under Clegg will find themselves in electoral free-fall, much as most junior coalition partner parties do.


Hamid Karzai’s government will be under threat from two fronts. The first will be from within, due to corruption, and the other will be from without and in the form of the Taliban. With U.S. and NATO troops beating a hasty retreat, Afghanistan will likely find itself back in the familiar territory of civil war. I expect Karzai to hang on to power throughout 2012, but the territory in which he can exert that power is likely to shrink.

North Korea

With the passing of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il, the keys to the kingdom have made their way to his son, Kim Jong-Un. At least that’s the story being peddled by Pyongyang. North Korea-watchers have almost unanimously concluded that it’s the military which will be holding North Korea together, with Kim as a figurehead, needed for propaganda, but not much else.

Interestingly, I suspect that as a result, Korea will be quiet over the next year, as shifting within the North’s power structure will prove to be the focus for the regime, rather than antagonizing its neighbours.


Last year, I predicted that Julia Gillard’s coalition government would crack and fall. That didn’t happen. So I’m extending that prediction over into 2012, and believe that the Labour-led coalition will fall and be replaced by…a Labour-led minority government which will seek to govern as if it had a majority, much as our minority governments seem to be doing here in Canada. The election will be a referendum on Labour’s carbon tax, which the people of Australia will vote to get rid of, but due to an out-dated first-past-the-post electoral system, they’ll end up keeping.


Despite growing pro-democracy rallies ahead of next year’s general election, Vladimir Putin and his United Russia Party will be returned with a very strong majority, and Putin will be the once and future President of Russia. Accusations of ballot-box stuffing and other forms of electoral corruption will be front and centre, leading to more protests. Expect the Russian authorities to begin a crackdown on pro-democracy organizers in the run-up to the election, and protesters will likely face violence at the hands of police after the election is held.

Keystone XL Pipeline

An interesting election issue will emerge in the United States, that being the Keystone XL pipeline, which President Barack Obama may end up having to cancel outright in the early part of 2012, due to a Republican rider introduced on a budget bill which calls for a final decision to be made on Keystone before the election.

You will recall that the Keystone XL pipeline, a project proposed by TransCanada to bring crude from the Alberta tar sands to refineries in Texas, required U.S. federal approval, which was expected to be made by Obama in the fall of 2011. Instead of making a decision, and after significant protests by environmentalists in Washington D.C., and landowners in Nebraska, Obama decided to put the pipeline on hold, until a new route through Nebraska away from the sensitive Ogallala aquifer could be found (and proven safe through a time-consuming environmental assessment process).

Environmentalists concerned about climate change hailed this non-decision as a significant victory. I believe that was an over-reaction on the part of climate crisis champions. Indeed, while Obama expressed environmental concerns with the pipeline, those concerns were not related to climate change. The political environment in the U.S. right now is not conducive to making decisions based on fighting climate change. By kicking a decision back to after 2012, Obama, if returned to office, would be able to approve Keystone XL and not worry about alienating environmental supporters before an election (simply by instead alienating them after the election).

But with the Republican rider included on a budget bill, Obama’s hand may be forced. I’ve read recently that the White House is trying to find some wiggle room around the rider, as I’m sure Obama wants to continue to postpone a decision until after the election. Having to kill Keystone now will provide Republican challengers with more ammunition that Obama favours the environment over jobs, and is therefore out of touch with voters.

However, I believe that if Obama can’t find a way to continue to postpone Keystone, he will almost certainly kill it. By killing it in January or February, it’s quite likely that the issue may be largely forgotten by the time of an election, especially if the election is fought on non-economic issues, which could happen with a little diversion as a result of a war with Iran, even with its attendant spike in oil prices. Better to risk Republican wrath on this issue than to have his environmental base abandon him before the election. Even though Obama is the only champion that environmentalists have right now in the U.S., it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that even a weak challenger could rise to oppose Obama in the upcoming election. It's been suggested that in 2000, Green Party Leader Ralph Nadar was credited with taking just enough votes away from Al Gore to sink his bid for presidency (which ignores the fact that Al Gore never "owned" those votes in the first place, but still, this scenario spooks Democrats. As an aside, one of my googlegangers, Arizona State Representative, Republican Steve May, was caught in a scandal in 2010 because he was helping homeless people register as Green Party candidates in the State election. Apparently, he did this in order to split the Democratic vote, and thus give himself better odds of winning. Admit it - you sometimes Google yourself too).

Obama will want to avoid a circumstance which could see a challenger emerge on his policy flank. So if Keystone has to die, it will die.

Climate Change

Interestingly, as I write this part of my blog about climate change, I note that I’m not going to say anything at all about the science of climate change, and instead I’m approaching climate change squarely from the point of view of public opinion. For me, the facts around climate change have long been well established; it’s the battle for public opinion which continues to be fought, in terms of public acceptance, but more importantly in terms of international action. Of course, local action is also important.

In 2012, we will continue to see public opinion on the issue of anthropogenic climate change build towards 2008 levels of acceptance, and indeed, public opinion polls at the end of 2012 may show the highest level of belief in climate change ever. The concept of climate change took a pretty big hit at the end of 2008, with co-ordinated efforts aimed to derailing climate talks in Copenhagen and reaching an agreement on the extension of the Kyoto Accord. The release of the so-called “ClimateGate” emails, and even more importantly, the spin afforded to their release in the right-wing mainstream media, along with a failure in Copenhagen, weakened the public’s resolve in accepting the science of climate change.

The campaign to subvert scientific fact continues to be waged at all levels today, and not just by those who are fighting against action in the interests of the corporate elites. Interestingly, libertarian elements have come to see combating the climate crisis as a way of further eroding rights and freedoms, especially in the United States, but as well in Canada. That’s largely because the two best ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (the establishment of a cap and trade emissions trading scheme, or a carbon tax) are seen as impediments to the small-government movement, and indeed are considered to be yet further mechanisms to enrich the elite 1% at the expense of the majority. This is especially so of cap and trade, which will rely on financial middlemen (“banksters”) for its implementation.

Others continue to view combating climate change as an excuse to redistribute the wealth of rich nations to poorer ones, ultimately leading to international welfare through some form of global governance structure (believed by some to be run either by the "freedom-hating" United Nations or the technocrats who represent the corporate elites).

The science of climate change will continue to be challenged by oil industry-sponsored junk scientists, but I think that 2012 may prove to be one of the last years where the science itself will form a significant public opinion battleground. With the release of the next IPCC Assessment report scheduled for 2013 or 2014, issues related to science will start to take a back-seat in the mainstream media, and increasingly the media will adopt a tone of junk-science quackery when it comes to individuals who question the science. We’ll start to see some of that in 2012.

However, a new front has emerged in the climate change struggle, and it’s going to be a trend to watch throughout 2012. Climate change deniers are beginning to shift gears away from disputing that climate change is happening, and even away from the notion that even if it is happening, it’s too expensive to do anything about. The latest attack is one straight from the heart, as increasingly we’ve seen personal attacks on the patriotism of environmentalists and other citizens concerned about climate change.

Indeed, if you follow Sun Media in Canada, the insinuation being made is if you don’t support the tar sands there’s something very un-Canadian about you. Indeed, Sun Media appears to be censoring the very term "tar sands" replacing it with "oil sands" even within the context of quotations used by environmentalists and politicians.

Domestic environmental organizations and individual environmentalists, such as Dr. David Suzuki, are increasingly under attack for having accepted donations from international environmental organizations, some of whom may be operating in countries with their own vested oil interests (such as Saudi Arabia) or (really interestingly) green economic interests, such as Germany or Denmark. The theory here is that if money is flowing to environmental organizations in Canada which want to slow down tar sands growth, this is actually a sinister purpose, whose ultimate goal is to undermine the Canadian resource economy so that other international oil interests in competition with Canada will be better positioned to profit, along with green industry start-ups (such as German wind farms). And therefore "foreign-influenced" environmentalism is anti-Canadian, and the national loyalty of all environmentalists must be called into question.

That the neo-liberals are able to make these arguments at all while ignoring the fact that it’s the same international corporate interests who are running the show in Saudi Arabia and who have invested heavily in alternative energy in Europe is to laugh. But this narrative will continue to have resonance in Canada and in the United States. If climate change denial (or at least taking action on climate change) can be equated with patriotism for one’s nation (presumably at the expense of the rest of the world), then there will be resonance in a nation which is becoming increasingly polarized between the neo-liberals and Everyone Else, and where accusations of “extremism” and “terrorism” are tossed around at highschool students and grandmothers participating in civil disobedience.

A Year of Transition

Yes, 2012 is going to prove to be a pretty dismal and dangerous year over all, as the final gasps of the 20th Century growth-centred economy finally start giving way to a period of transition known as the Long Emergency.

And the Dallas Stars will win the Stanley Cup!

(opinions expressed in this blog post are my own and should not be considered to be in keeping with those of the Green Party of Canada)

Friday, December 30, 2011

2012 Crystal Ball Blog, Part 2: Trends in Economy & Democracy

Let’s start off Part 2 of this blogpost with a discussion around the economy and democratic rights. You see, increasingly, people are making the connection between the economy and democracy, thanks in part to the global Occupy Movement. But even a cursory look at newspaper headlines throughout 2011 would lead anyone to conclude that there has to be some sort of connection between the two.

Something very telling happened in 2011, which has been overlooked by many as a potential trend. Back in the fall, Greek President George Papandreou returned from a summit with other European Union nations (most notably France and Germany, who have been driving the attempts to get the eurozone back on track) with a plan to implement austerity measures. Rather than making the determination to simply implement those measures, Papandreou decided that he would first take the austerity plan to the Greek people, and ask for a mandate to implement austerity.

That it then emerged into the realm of possibility that the Greek people would reject the austerity measures in favour of Plan B (even though there was, and still is, no Plan B) proved to be a wake-up call for France and Germany and others, who condemned Papandreou’s plebiscite as jeopardizing the entire eurozone. Papandreou was quickly made to fall into line with the technocratic powers that be, and reverse his decision on the plebiscite. He then resigned as Prime Minister. And the austerity deed was done, with no say from the Greek people.

In Italy, former President Silvio Berlusconi has been replaced by the “technocratic” government of Mario Monti. Monti had been appointed to the Senate by the President just a few days ahead of assuming Prime Ministerial powers, and naming his completely unelected cabinet. We now have the absurd situation in Italy of having a government which consists completely of political appointees, rather than elected officials. That this “technocratic” government has largely been praised as the last, best hope to get Italy back on track as a healthy member of the eurozone does not and can not change the fact that democracy in Italy has taken a back-seat to the interests of the bankers.

For who is really calling the shots in Europe right now? When a democratically elected Prime Minister is forced to resign after calling for a plebiscite to implement austerity measures, and when an entire country (and a G-8 country at that, with Europe's third larges economy) can be run by a completely unelected government, what is going on? And in whose interests are decisions really being made?

That’s the connection between the economy and democracy. That’s not to say that a return to a healthy economy must require technocratic decision making in preference to democratic decision making (although when you watch the U.S. Congress in “action”, the flaws of democratic decision making are clearly on display for all to see). In fact, it's far from clear that the technocrats have any clear idea about getting the economy back on track at all, as they are completely plugged into an economic model which requires growth in order to remain viable.

The global Occupy Movement would characterize the erosion of our democratic rights in this way: decisions are being made by the 1% for the 1%, often to the detriment of the 99%. This situation is like Tommy Douglas’ “Mouseland” on steroids, only no one elected these cats.

Promises of a return to democracy are, quite frankly, a load of bull, given that the technocrats will have transformed society without having had the benefit of any mandate from the people to do so.

But sure, that’s Italy and Greece. That’s not happening here in Canada. Well, that’s true, but it doesn’t have to happen here in Canada, because we have an electoral system in place in which it is very easy to allow minority interests to rule with impunity, and that’s exactly where we are at with the Harper regime at the end of 2011. Clearly, in 2011, Harper and his Conservatives, after winning a false majority government (with only 39% of the popular vote, and only a little over 20% of all electors), have embarked upon a war against our democratic processes, through acts of unilateralism. Expect this war on democracy to continue throughout 2012, and the tactics being employed (often with the use of public dollars) to promote the Harper Regime’s war will continue to smear the interests of democracy.

The U.S.

In Canada, our national motto is, “Peace, Order and Good Government”. Arguably, the Harper Regime has been able to deliver on the first two, and that seems to make a lot of people, well, if not happy, at least content. We Canadians tend not to give a lot of thought to what good government is all about, as long as peace and order are being delivered.

South of the border, though, average Americans spend quite a bit of time thinking about their own government, especially through the lens of the U.S. Constitution, a document which has achieved a very noteworthy status for most Americans. Most Americans are very proud of their Constitution, and they should be. For although it’s not a perfect document in my opinion, it seeks to create the circumstance for a way of life under the rule of law which is the envy of the world. That the United States of America has never quite achieved the potential set out in its Constitution is no matter, as it is always good to be able to have a continuing reason to strive for excellence.

Increasingly, however, Americans are waking up to the fact that their beloved Constitution is under attack by their own government. That this has been going on for decades, and on many fronts, may come as a surprise to some Americans, but the acceleration of these attacks after 9/11 in the name of “security” has been particularly noticeable, and frankly should trouble Americans.

In December 2011, the U.S. passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012. Although a National Defense Authorization Act is passed just about every year by Congress, the Act for 2012 contains some rather Orwellian provisions, which supporters (including President Barack Obama) have claimed are necessary in order to continue the “war” on terrorism. Specifically, this piece of legislation will allow U.S. citizens to be detained indefinitely by their government where they are suspected of engaging in terrorist activities. No charges need first be brought, and there is no right to access a lawyer, and no remedy for appeal. Americans travelling abroad, and those in the United States, are equally at risk.

This bill has raised a massive red flag for the American Civil Liberties Union, and other individuals and organizations who are concerned about the erosion of Constitutional rights.

The idea of being “innocent until proven guilty” used to have an important status in the United States. Thanks to the Republican and Democratic Parties who run the government of the United States, that’s no longer the case. And given the bipartisan support for this measure, there appears to be little that average Americans can do about it. When there are only two parties to choose from, and they are both in favour of the same thing, well, is there really a choice?

Of course, there are other political parties in the United States, but the U.S. electoral system heavily favours the monied interests of the existing parties.

Measures such as those now found in law through the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 have prompted many Americans to ask themselves, “If the government isn’t looking out for my interests, what choices do I have?”. Some have decided that demonstrations are the answer, and the Occupy Movement emerged as the best-known example of people-power in 2011. Others are seeking to change the system from within, through efforts such as the Tea Party, however, the Tea Party since day one has proven to be nothing but an astroturf campaign to break the back of government for the interests of the corporate elite. That many involved in the Tea Party still do not understand that they are working against their own economic interests does not change this fact. And that the Republican Party has now almost been completely taken over by corporate interests masquerading as a grassroots movement again illustrates the power which massive amounts of money bring to the political equation.

But there are other movements afoot which some would consider to be extreme. I expect to be hearing more about some of these other movements over the course of 2012, as trust in the government in the United States will continue to break down. Particularly, we’re going to become familiar with a couple of brands of “terrorists” which haven’t exactly been top of mind in recent years.


First, we will be hearing more from groups such as Anonymous, a hacker “organization” (actually anti-organization) which was been in the news a lot throughout 2011. Anonymous has already begun pooling its resources in efforts to engage in cyber warfare on corporatist interests, particularly those which speak out in favour of rights-reducing measures. And while I don’t expect Anonymous to be branded a terror organization in 2012, I do expect that the U.S. government, and governments around the world, are going to be paying close attention to Anonymous, along with the business community.

The Black Bloc and the Occupy Movement

The Black Bloc will also continue to make appearances throughout 2012, much to the chagrin of the largely peaceful Occupy Movement demonstrators. The Occupy Movement itself is incredibly open to being infiltrated by those with differing agendas. While the Occupy Movement largely enjoyed public support throughout 2011, as the desire to reclaim public spaces from the occupiers became paramount, the Movement continued to lose support. Violent incidents, despite often being initiated by the police, has also led to the erosion of public support for the Movement. I fully expect public support for Occupy to continue to erode throughout 2012, even though those in the Movement have vowed a return.

Occupy is at risk because it poses a direct threat to neo-liberal interests, which have been bent on reshaping the economy and democracy to be better equipped to address the interest of the corporate elites, which is, in short, the making of money. The very nature of the Occupy Movement is one of openness and transparency, and decisions are made on the basis of consensus. There are no true leaders. This leaves the Movement in an extremely vulnerable position when it comes to infiltration of other interests. In 2012, we’re going to see those other interests emerge in the form of violent anarchists intent on causing destruction to the symbols of corporate power. We’ve seen this before at G20 protests. Expect more of the same to occur with events initiated with peaceful intentions by the Occupy Movement. These demonstrations are sure to attract violent protesters. As a result, the Black Bloc may become next Al Qaeda.

And, as it has been demonstrated at G20 protests around the world, when it comes to the “Black Bloc”, not everything is always as it seems. Indeed, the police use tactics of infiltration and instigation in order to break-up protests, sometimes before they can begin. In Toronto, police successfully befriended and infiltrated those planning non-violent protests at the G20 summit, and it is only now coming out that it was the police infiltrators who were championing calls for violent activity. Of course, it’s easier to arrest protesters beforehand if there’s a perceived threat of violence. Many in leadership roles at the G20 protest in Toronto were rounded up by the police before the first international leaders ever touched down in Canada. Expect to see the same happen to the Occupy Movement.

In 2012, I predict that Occupy will once again become a word associated with militarism, and those engaging in the Movement will be branded anarcho-terrorists, mainly as a result of efforts already afoot to discredit what has largely been a peaceful form of civil disobedience. Efforts are already underway through the right-wing mainstream media to discredit the Movement. It is mainly due to the success that the Movement experienced at bringing the idea of income inequality to the front pages of our media (and making it front of mind in our politicians) that will ultimately doom the Movement to a tragic death in 2012.

Although I sincerely hope that I'm wrong about this, as I continue to believe that the Occupy Movement remains an excellent vehicle for awakening and arousing public opinion on matters of inequality and social justice. But the corporate elites must view it as a threat, and so they will do what they can to turn public opinion against the movement.

One last thing: there is emerging an alarming trend whereby governments are now discussing the need for protesters to pay for permits, police and security due to extra costs which are being generated by the protests. We may be faced with an absurd situation where protesters are forced to foot the bill for the security forces which pepper-spray them! So much for freedom of assembly!


The proliferation of armed militias in the United States has largely been under-reported, especially here in Canada, which has few equivalents to this tradition. Although there are a number of militias which do operate in Canada, and which make the news every now and then; in 2011, the Quebec separatist militia, “Milice patriotique quebecois” made headlines when someone in the media discovered that it existed. Photos of gun-toting separatists posted to Facebook caused quite a stir for 5 minutes one Tuesday morning, and the militia’s founder was forced to go on a bit of a public relations building exercise to stem the hysteria. Sure, CSIS has talked to the militia, and everyone agrees that no one is breaking any law. The militia is purely defensive in nature, of course. Just like the militias in the States.

But this begs the questions: in whose defense, and in defense against whom?

And the only answer that makes any sense is, in the interests of the militia members and their wider community, and in defense against the Government. Many who are members of these militias take the Constitution of the United States very seriously indeed, for it is within the U.S. Constitution that the right to bear arms is articulated. Many believe that the government has been trying to slowly erode that right, along with other rights in the Constitution, by passing laws in the name of security. While militias may share the concerns of Republican politicians regarding foreign terrorists and the need to preserve the American way of life and its values, many within the militias are finding themselves at odds with Republican legislators who are openly seeking to subvert the Constitution. (Add this as yet another reason of why the “left vs. right” political dichotomy has truly broken down). Truly, these armed militias are going to pose a bit of a problem for a government which wants to eliminate rights and freedoms.

They’ve been flying under the radar for some time now, and that’s largely because the militias themselves aren’t particularly keen to draw a lot of attention to themselves, and because the government doesn’t really know what to do with them. Since they haven’t been causing much trouble lately, well, it’s been best to pursue a policy of live and let live.

However, in 2012, with the economy expected to increasingly break down in the United States, and personal freedoms and liberties continuing to be under attack by legislators, including every Republican contender for the GOP nomination except for Ron Paul, we can expect some of these militias to become more active (or at least elements of these militias). It would not be beyond the realm of possibility that we may see a number of Oklahoma City-style bombings or other violent actions from truly fringe elements within these militias (or worse, a false flag operation by the government itself, in order to bolster President Obama’s re-election bid, just in case that war with Iran thing falls through).

Also look for the stirrings of successionist movements at the State level in the U.S., particularly in Texas, California and the other western sates.

Anonymous, Occupy, Black Bloc and Militias

You can see how the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 might come in handy for a government keen on incarcerating Americans expected of involvement in terrorism. If the Black Bloc becomes Al Qaeda in U.S. cities, operating within the Occupy Movement, well, it will be that much easier for the government to round up and detain the organizers behind the leadersless Movement when things start to turn violent. The same can be said for the militias and for Anonymous.

We will start to see the tip of the iceberg regarding “domestic terrorism” in 2012, as increasingly, those involved in peaceful and lawful demonstrations and organizations will become “terrorists” by virtue of professing anti-government stances. The real scary stuff, however, probably won’t happen for a few more years yet. But by the end of 2012, the plan to incarcerate citizens who hold anti-government views should become a lot more obvious, and even the mainstream media will start to cover the trend.

And if you think that Canada will be immune from this sort of lunacy, think again. We in Canada have never enjoyed the range of Constitutional protection from the state in the same way that Americans have, so our laws haven’t required the sorts of drastic overhauling that we’ve seen in the U.S. Here in Canada, we’ve already witnessed the massive detention of peaceful protesters on suspicion that they might become engaged in violent activity, through the kettling efforts of police at the G20 in Toronto. Still approximately 1000 others were arrested, some of whom were the victims of police violence; some for engaging in civil disobedience, or simply for being in a public place at the wrong time. In Canada, there’s always been a much finer line for rights. With the Harper Crime Bill sure to be adopted in 2012, and with super jails being built across Canada, we can certainly expect an uptick on the number of criminals, many of whom will be doing nothing different tomorrow than what they’ve been doing today, and some of whom are sure to be pro-democracy protesters.

The Economy

Many pundits are claiming that 2012 isn’t going to be the year of the global economic collapse, while the average citizen (who isn’t an economist), almost certainly expects it to be. I smile when I hear the pundits talk about the economy’s health and recovery, because I know that economists have to talk this way in order to create the idea of confidence in our economy. That this kind of talk is often successful in achieving the desired outcome, and thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, does not bother me In fact, I’d very much like the economy to remain healthy. I was born into a world with the understanding that economic growth is good for everyone, including me. I sincerely enjoyed believing in this reality, because it seemed so very real. But I know that economic growth can not be sustained, due to the depletion of non-renewable energy resources. Trust me, I’d rather stick my head in the sand and pretend that the sky isn’t falling, and go on about my merry way. But I can’t, and increasingly, neither can more and more citizens whose eyes are being opened.

However, I don’t think that we’re in for global economic collapse in 2012. I expect that the economy will slip back into recession, even here in Canada, but it will prove to be an incremental recession, and recovery will be predicted on the horizon. Only it won’t be on the horizon, and 2013 is going to prove to be a very bad year.

Author and futurist James Howard Kuntsler described this time as being the early stages of what he dubbed “The Long Emergency”, and I’ve come to think of the unfolding decade in this way. The Emergency isn’t going to get underway all at once, but as we’ve already found ourselves in the downward spirals leading to the Emergency, we’re not going to be able to climb out of it any time soon. So, it’s best to prepare for the future which we will find ourselves in, rather than yearning to return to a past which can no longer be. That we must change our governmental, economic and social institutions in order to meet the challenges of the Long Emergency is an evident truth. That there will be considerable resistance by the vested interests of the corporate elites to do so is also self-evident. 2012 will prove to be Year 2 of the struggle between the forces of the neo-liberal corporate elites and Everybody Else.

Left Wing vs. Right Wing

Already, the notions of “left wing” and “right wing” on some sort of linear political spectrum have already started to break down. Increasingly, throughout 2012, pundits and the media will begin to move away from the “left vs. right” political narrative. And I think that’s going to happen in the United States too.

If you don’t believe that left/right political narrative has started to break down, note the use of the terms “fascism” and “communism” to both describe the actions and policies of President Barack Obama by Republicans. Traditionally, we have placed the ideology of fascism on the far right of the political spectrum (and indeed, the Republican Party itself has certainly been attacked lately by pundits on the left, and also particularly by libertarians, as being “fascist”), while communists inhabited the far left end of the spectrum. When an understanding of concepts begins to break down, using those concepts as descriptors becomes increasingly irrelevant. If no one understands what you’re talking about, you can talk about anything, but it's not helpful.

But it’s more than that. The rise of libertarianism in its post 9/11 form on the one hand, and the rise of green politics have also challenged the left/right political dichotomy. For although pundits often place libertarians on the right side of the political spectrum, libertarians themselves are increasingly less likely to identify with the Republican or Conservative parties in the U.S. and Canada, due to those Party's continued support of big government and their desire to restrict personal freedoms and rights. Equally, pundits have been comfortable placing greens on the left of the spectrum, I think largely because there isn’t a very good understanding of green politics out there, but also because environmentalism is seen as requiring strong government regulation in order to work, and that’s generally been considered as the purview of social democratic parties (although it has been Conservatives in Canada and Republicans in the U.S. which have created the biggest deficits, so it's not at all clear which parties are truly the parties of "big government").

But this political narrative has started to break down, which means that a new narrative must emerge, in order to edify the pundits and the public. I believe that we’ll find ourselves in a bit of a transitionary phase for the next few years, although a good counter to the existing left/right narrative has already emerged, at least in one form: the “1%” vs. the “99%”. The problem with the 1% vs. the 99% as a political concept is that many have a hard time identifying with others in the mix on the 99% side of things. That being said, though, not everyone ever fully understood just where on the political spectrum they stood, which gave rise to terms such as “red tory” and “blue liberal”, and populist political parties like the Reform Party.

Nevertheless, I believe that the political narrative will begin to turn into one where the story is no longer “left” vs. “right” but “neo-liberal” vs. “Everyone Else”. That this narrative will prove to be cumbersome and somewhat unhelpful down the road is why I believe that it will be transitory. However, when you are reading political stories in the media in 2012, keep this changing lens in mind.

(continued in Part 3…)

(opinions expressed in this blog post are my own and should not be considered to be in keeping with those of the Green Party of Canada)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2012 Crystal Ball Blog, Part 1: Canadian Politics

Well, it's that time of year...time to dust off my crystal ball, and make some predictions about the upcoming year that I can write about again next December and discuss how poorly I did. Well, it's all fun and games for me, and I hope that you get a little something out of this as well.

Of course, every year, these blogposts get longer and longer, even though I have developed a reputation for being short, concise and succinct. I chalk it up to the fact that there's just so much going on in the world on which to write about. Anyway, this year, I'll be treating you to a series of 3 Crystal Ball Blogs. The first will be about the Canadian political scene. The second will be about some larger global trends, especially those related to the economy and democracy, with a bit of a focus on the United States. The 3rd post will return to making specific predictions on international events, which is almost always sure to generate a comment or two from my friends in Australia!

So, enjoy these posts.

Canadian Politics

The Canadian political scene will not be as dynamic during 2012 as it was in 2011. And that stands to reason as 2011 was a pretty explosive year, politically speaking. We had a federal election and a number of provincial elections, including a hotly contested one in Ontario, which proved to be more of a sleeper than anything else.

While Dalton McGuinty’s minority Liberal government should give us political junkies a little bit of action to watch, generally speaking the federal scene is going to settle down somewhat, into a “more of the same” situation, now that Stephen Harper’s regime has captured a majority of seats in the House. It seems that even though scandals come and go, the Conseratives aren’t affected, largely due to the media’s reduced attention-span (and to the fact that increasingly the mainstream media has shifted from reporting the news to making the news, and in a few cases, "making up" the news). That coupled with an opposition in transition will mean that Harper will have it pretty easy throughout 2012.

The NDP Leadership Race

One of the biggest stories on the federal political scene is sure to the NDP’s leadership race. Unlike pas Liberal races, NDP leadership contenders appear content to play nicely with one another. The format for the leadership decision-making process too lends itself to a degree of disinterest, as counting mail-in ballots doesn’t exactly make for gripping live television. But at least the NDP has moved to a "one member, one vote" format, getting rid of allowing Union supporters the right to cast ballots (if you're a party that doesn't believe that corporations are people, then frankly unions shouldn't be able to vote as if they were).

We can expect the NDP leadership contenders to come under greater scrutiny as time goes on, especially the four leading contenders (who are Brian Topp, Paul Dewar, Peggy Nash and Thomas Mulcair). Although the media is looking for which contender will emerge as the “next Jack Layton”, none of these leadership candidates is campaigning that way, which is smart in my opinion. But it does mean that the media will generally remain fairly negative about the contenders, particularly the unelected Brian Topp (who has none of the personality of Layton, but all of Layton’s killer backroom instincts) and Mulcair (who lacks Layton’s broad depth of support, having been affiliated with the Liberal Party not all that long ago).

Having said all of this, I expect that Peggy Nash will emerge as the next Leader of the NDP, specifically because NDP voters will come to view her as the closest of the leadership contenders to the Layton ideal, which is really want the grassroots wants. That Nash is also a very respected leader in her own right (which she will ably demonstrate in the next few months leading up to the leadership decision) will become obvious as well. And for my money, the NDP would also be best served by Nash (although as a Green partisan, I'm less than enthusiastic with Nash leading the NDP).

Not only is Nash a dynamic, fluently bilingual woman with a history of not backing down, she may be the only leadership contender able to shape and carry NDP policy in such a way that it will resonate both with the traditional NDP base, as well as former Liberal (and, let’s be honest – Green) voters. She will also do well in Quebec (well, better than the other contenders might, and I include Romeo Saganash and Mulcair in that mix). Nash’s appeal is going to become obvious to most everyone who is watching.

So while I will cross my fingers and hope that the NDP elect Topp as their Leader (who will certainly take the NDP back to third party status, as he is a ripe target for whithering Conservative attacks), I suspect that the NDP’s membership will instead choose a more principled leadership candidate in the form of Peggy Nash.

By-elections (Toronto-Danforth)

A federal by-election will be held in the riding of Toronto-Danforth in 2012. This was Jack Layton’s riding. The biggest question that I have is not which party is going to win the by-election (it will be the NDP, without question), but who the NDP will choose to represent them their. My prediction is it will be Toronto municipal Councillor, Mike Layton.

The Conservative Party of Canada

The Harper regime is going to have an easy ride, especially if the NDP make the foolish decision to elect Brian Topp as Leader. Without a seat in parliament, Topp will remain out-of-sight, out-of-mind to a degree; but the Conservatives will have a field-day pilloring this former Union leader. If Topp gets his party's leadership nod, it will leave the hapless Nycole Turmel helming the NDP in parliament, where she has been overshadowed significantly in the last session by Charlie Angus and David Christopherson (which has no doubt come as a relief to the Dippers).

The Harper regime will continue along its merry way with government by arrogance. A compliant media will largely continue to let the Conservatives get away with scandal after scandal, especially about spending. Debate in the House has already turned into the worst kept joke in Canada – expect more of it.

One would think that this kind of arrogance would lead towards more dissension. It won’t. With federal support of the NDP declining (which may be salvaged somewhat if Nash or Dewar become the Leader), and Liberal support on the rise under a dynamic Bob Rae, expect the opposition to remain divided, and the electorate to remain largely disinterested, just as it has been over scandals related to the Wheat Board; G20; Kyoto; Long Gun Registry data; Statistics Canada; environmental monitoring; scientist muzzling; Franke James defamation; F-35 fighter price-tag; the cost of new prisons; Attawapiskat; the omnibus crime bill fiasco; the recent health-care “deal” shoved down the throats of the provinces; invocation of closure to debates; dirty tricks rulings; illegal election financing; behind closed-doors border decisions; closed-door committee meetings; rights-removing internet legislation; Geneva Convention violations (this is getting depressing, so I’m moving on).

The Liberal Party of Canada

Under able interim-Leader Bob Rae, Liberal support will draw even with the NDP by the end of 2012. Rae will remain the darling of the media in the House, especially if an unelected Brian Topp becomes Leader of the NDP. There will be even more talk that the next Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada will be…Bob Rae.

The Bloc Quebecois

I usually don’t dabble in making predictions about Quebec, but I figure if I can go out on a limb and discuss the whacky world of the B.C. political scene, I might as well venture forth into the Quebec political quagmire. But only so far as it pertains to the federal scene.

I expect that former MP Daniel Paille, the new Leader of the Bloc, will succeed in any bid to regain a seat in the House during the next available Quebec by-election, no matter where it may be. I expect to see the Bloc’s polling figures continue their upward trend, as Quebeccers become increasingly despondent with a disinterested Conservative government. As a result, NDP support in Quebec will continue to drop, in preference to the Bloc.


The NDP had a very strange year in 2011. Although it experienced unprecedent success at the polls in the spring election, with the passing of its Leader, Jack Layton, the Party has become mired in issues related to leadership, and has begun to sag in the polls. A lengthy timeframe for the Leadership campaign, coupled with a staggeringly underwhelming performance by interim Leader Nycole Turmel, the NDP has left a lot of unanswered questions for 2012.

While a new Leader in the form of Peggy Nash or even Paul Dewar might breathe some life into this moribund party, expect national numbers for the NDP to continue their descent. But I don’t predict that the NDP will return to pre-2011 levels of support, even with Brian Topp as Leader. The NDP will remain a strong voice for Canada’s progressives throughout 2012. Beyond that, it’s hard to say much, pending the outcome of the Leadership race, which really is (despite my prediction) very difficult to call.

The Green Party of Canada

The Green Party of Canada was probably the biggest loser in the May 2011 election. Support for the Greens plummeted from almost 7% nationally to less than 4%. While the party elected its first-ever MP in the form of Party Leader Elizabeth May, the destruction of national support can not be understated. With only 1 second-place finish and 1 strong third place finish in all of Canada’s 308 ridings (of which the Greens only managed to field candidates for 304), the Green Party is going to be faced with having to do a lot of rebuilding over the next few years.

Recent polls have placed Green support at about 7%, which some see as a good news story. Certainly Elizabeth May’s strong showing in the House has been an asset to the Party, but a strong NDP remains a barrier to further Green Party entry into the House. This is because, like it or not, the Green Party continues to be perceived as a Party of the left, and because the NDP continues to be perceived as a party which champions the environment. Both of these misguided perceptions will continue uncorrected throughout 2012.

**Spoiler Alert** You heard this here first: Green Party Leader Elizabeth May will not be invited to participate in the next televised Leader’s debate. In a cynical attempt to keep both the Bloc and the Greens from participating in the debates, the NDP will push the Conservatives to limit debate participation to only those Leaders who represent political parties in the House (so just the Cons, Libs and NDP). I know this isn’t a 2012 prediction, but I’m making it with the hopes of waking some Greens up to the fact that we can not rely on May’s debating skills to rebuild the Party at the time of the next election, because she likely will not get the chance to have her “Layton moment”. Which means we have to start doing the hard work now.

About those Polls

This seems like as good a place as any for a quick note on polls, given the above reference to the Green Party’s polling having climbed back to 7%. Between elections, at least during the last several elections, the Green Party has traditionally polled much higher than the number of votes it tends to receive on election day. This may be because polls are designed to capture the opinions of all Canadians. Of course, not all Canadians vote, and that’s a really big problem for the Green Party, as Green Party supporters tend to significantly be found in younger age demographics. And since a higher percentage of young people tend to not vote, well, that leads to the difference between polls and results. It also works in favour of the Conservatives, although given the much larger levels of support for that Party throughout all age demographics, the bump in support which the Conservatives will receive between poll and election result will not be as pronounced (although it’s clearly there, as just about every pre-e-day poll under-predicted the Conservatives success in the May 2011 election).

The moral of this story is that as the health of our democratic institutions continues to decline, we will continue to observe that polls are becoming less trustworthy. This will continue until pollsters figure out a way to better present the specific opinions of those Canadians who will actually cast a ballot, weeding out respondents who merely think they might vote, maybe, if they feel like it.

And this should be a bit of a wake-up call for Greens who may believe that rising polling stats are indicative of a healthy Party.

Alberta's Provincial Election

There will be a provincial election in Alberta in 2012. It will see the Progressive Conservatives returned with a majority government, albeit one which is slightly reduced in size from their current majority. The election of Alison Redford to Leader of the Alberta PC’s was the best thing that the PC’s could have done for themselves. She is proving already to be a strong leader, and more importantly, is playing foil to the Wildrose’s Danielle Smith. Redford is in the process of reinvigorating and, to a lesser degree (but the media love this story) re-inventing the PC’s.

Expect Smith’s Wildrose to make additional gains in rural Alberta. But the biggest losses will come to Raj Sherman’s Liberal Party which, along with bearing the curse of the Liberal brand name, are already floundering for lack of policy direction under their new leader. Redford will handily gain more votes from Liberal voters than she will lose to the Alliance, although that may not play itself out in the seat count.

As for the Alberta Party, which was once considered the new flag-bearer of progressive politics in the province, forget about it. The AP will return zero MLA’s, and the progressive banner will be carried by the NDP, which will take one or two more seats than the 2 they currently hold (but will see their share of the popular vote increase as progressive voters look for a place to park their ballots).

And Alberta's newest party, the Evergreen Party, will barely register: in vote count, in the media, in voter recognition. And likely in candidates as well, as they're getting a very late start, having only just been recognized by Elections Alberta as a political party. With a spring election, no money in the bank, and zero brand recognition, the deck is completely stacked against the Evergreens (although I wish them well).

British Columbia's Provincial Election

With NDP Leader Adrian Dix’s popularity on the rise, and B.C. Liberal Premier Christy Clark’s own popularity waning, I expect that there will be no early election call in B.C. in 2012. An election doesn’t have to be held in the province until May of 2013, but there’s been a lot of speculation that British Columbians may end up going to the polls early, as the Liberals and NDP both have new leaders in place since the 2009 election.

If B.C. does go to the polls, I expect that the outcome will be an NDP minority government, with a very large contingent of Liberals. The B.C. Conservatives will not make significant in-roads, although the pundits will predict that they’re time has come (the latest polls shows the provincial Conservatives and Liberals tied at 23% support in B.C., with the NDP at 34%). The Conservatives may pick up a few strategic seats, but they run the risk of appearing to be unelectable, due to the extreme nature of party candidates and policy.

Despite polling at 15% at the end of December, 2011, the B.C. Green Party will see their previous levels of support evaporate to the NDP, and Greens will be shut out at the election, after another lacklusture performance by Leader Jane Sterk. Sterk stepped into a policy quagmire earlier this year when she dragged her party’s policy position away from the installation of time of use electricity meters (currently being installed by B.C. Hydro in an effort to combat climate change) in preference to a position which favours doing nothing with the meters until the science can unequivocally prove them to be safe, over concerns about electromagnetic radiation. CBC TV recently ran a story on this issue, and it made those who believe that smart meters are a health hazard look like ill-informed luddites. Sterk's position on smart meters will come back to haunt B.C. Greens at election time, but mostly Greens will be the victim of a strong NDP campaign.

Ontario & Quebec

There will be no elections in Ontario or Quebec in 2012. Dalton McGuinty’s minority government will continue on until 2013. Jean Charest’s Liberal government will continue to govern until 2013.

(Continued in Part 2...)

(opinions expressed in this blog post are my own and should not be considered to be in keeping with those of the Green Party of Canada)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 in the Rear-View Mirror: I Should Have Seen it Coming

It’s 2011, all over again. Sarah Palin has started to run away with the Republican Party’s nomination process, and the primaries are now seen as a mere formality. President Barack Obama is clinging to power in the United States, battling against elements of his own Party, led by former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. After a failed nuclear showdown with North Korea, Clinton has emerged as the odds-on favourite challenger to Obama for the Democrats’ 2012 nomination. With rising food and oil prices, and the global economy in turmoil at the end of 2011, the next U.S. President will be forced to lay out a viable policy for American’s new Cold War against China.

Closer to home, 2011 proved to be a one-two punch for Conservatives on the federal and Ontario provincial scene, as Stephen Harper’s party steamrolled to a victory which saw both the Liberals and the NDP lose seats to the new Big Blue Machine. Only the Bloc in Quebec managed to hold onto its centre of power. Resigning in disgrace on election night after losing his own seat, former Liberal Party Leader Michael Ignatieff has handed the reigns of power over to interim Leader Ralph Goodale, although it has been Bob Rae who has emerged as the real guiding light of the Liberal Party. In Ontario, Provincial PC Leader Tim Hudak ran a flawless campaign which gave him a convincing majority government at Queen’s Park, despite Sudbury returning Liberal Rick Bartolucci and New Democrat France Gelinas to provincial parliament.

And the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup on home ice, in 7 games over the Vancouver Canucks.

And that’s the way the year 2011 unfolded, according to my own Crystal Ball predictions, made almost a year ago today, in a three-part blog series.

Predicting the future is a mug’s game anyway, and I’ve never had the best track record. My predictions for 2011, though, were at a particularly low point, thanks in large part to the many significant stories which I did not, maybe even could not, have predicted, including the massive uprisings throughout the Middle East, and the worldwide Occupy Movement, which may have now spread to Russia in the guise of pro-democracy protests.

Throw in an earthquake and tsunami in Japan, a rising Orange Tide in Canada, and Michele Bachmann, and, well, even the boldest predictions can go out the window.

Canada’s Federal Election

I was, however, right on the money with a few predictions, including my call that we would have a spring federal election which would finally give Stephen Harper his coveted (yet false) majority government. Of course, I had been predicting an election about every 6 months since the fall of 2008, so I was bound to hit the nail on the head out of sheer tenacity at some point. I also did predict that Michael Ignatieff would lead the Liberals to their poorest showing ever, and resign in disgrace on election night after losing his own riding. Those were about the only federal election predictions I made which came true, however, as I also predicted that the NDP would lose seats, with modest gains made by the Bloc.

I based my predictions for the federal election on the idea that the election would be portrayed by the mainstream media not as a battle about two competing ideas of a vision for Canada, or even about policy. Instead, I predicted that the media narrative would depict the election as a battle between Harper and Ignatieff, with all other issues being sidelined. I termed this a “clash of personalities” and predicted that Ignatieff would become the easy casualty in such a clash. I still think that I was bang on the money with that prediction, except not even I could predict how quickly the media would tire of its own narrative, once a battered and bruised Ignatieff became someone to be pitied. The clash of personalities which I had predicted turned into watching an elephant squash a terrified mole each and every night on our television sets. A mole which couldn’t find the red door of escape, and instead banged up against a blue door which forbade entry. And that just doesn’t make for good TV.

Interestingly, what changed the media’s narrative had absolutely everything to do with the media itself, although few are acknowledging the important role which the media played in driving the counter-story to the narrative. Clearly, part way through the election, NDP Leader Jack Layton was elevated to a status he had not previously enjoyed, and which the media script could not handle. I still recall watching the media begin to scramble about 3 days after the televised English language debate, when the first polls out of Quebec began showing a significant rise in NDP support there. The media was flabbergasted, and at first, disbelieving. Well, who could have predicted this? I, at least, found myself in good company, missing as I did the 2011 Orange Crush.

Yet, the Orange Crush itself really was largely a Quebec phenomenon, which only led to modest changes in the rest of Canada. Of course, in some ridings (especially in the Greater Toronto Area), better-performing NDP candidates might have led to the election of Conservatives, but it’s not entirely clear that the Cons wouldn’t have been elected there anyway, even without a hyped-up NDP.

It wasn’t the strong NDP campaign in Quebec which led to its electoral success there. Indeed, pundits are taking away a completely different message from the NDP in Quebec, one which suggests that the days of the local campaign are largely over, except perhaps in specific ridings. No, it was Layton who bootstrapped the NDP’s Quebec candidates to himself, after appearances on the extremely popular tv talk show, Tout le Monde en Parle, as well as a convincing performance against Gilles Duceppe in the televised French language Leader’s debate.

Sure, Jack was just being Jack, and after 9 years on the federal political scene, he had become very good at being himself. Nevertheless, the stars became aligned for NDP success: national and Quebec-specific exposure as a singular alternative to Stephen Harper (and Gilles Duceppe) through the televised Leader’s debates and French language TV, at a time when the mainstream media’s own Harper vs. Ignatieff narrative was becoming uninteresting. Without this kind of exposure (or had Layton himself been challenged by another strong contender during the Leadership debates, such as the national Party Leader who was not invited by the media consortium to attend the debates), I have no doubt that the electoral outcome for the NDP would have been quite different.

Unfortunately, my prediction that the federal election outcome would be based on style instead of substance proved to be entirely accurate. The media’s attention span proved to be the shortest in my memory, and although policy announcement after policy announcement was rolled out by each political party, the duration for reporting on policy lasted roughly one day, and then the media moved on. The only stories which seemed to generate traction were, initially, the Liberal coalition story (until Ignatieff was finally able to convince the media that he really wouldn’t enter into a coalition with the NDP); the Conservative’s expulsion of young people from staged rallies, because they had Facebook friended politicians from other parties; and following the public opinion polls (which were more of a story than Jack Layton’s rise).

In fact, coverage of the polls dominated the entire election, at the expense of all else. This kind of coverage, which ultimately chooses a winner before any votes are cast, might well be the main culprit for Canada’s low voter turn out. If the polls say that your preferred candidate isn’t going to win, well, why bother take the time to vote? I predicted the worst voter turn-out of any election in Canadian history, and I got it wrong. It was only the second worst, at 61%.

When you consider the notion that only about 37% of voters aged 18-24 typically cast ballots in a federal election, is it any wonder that Canada’s political parties aren’t paying significant attention to the youth vote?

I’ll have a little more to say about trends in polling in my upcoming blogs about predictions for 2012.

Ontario Provincial Election

I continue to believe that I correctly called a majority Progressive Conservative Party victory correctly, as did most pundits at the beginning of the year. It’s not that we were ultimately proven wrong, it was that history simply didn’t unfold the way it was supposed to have. That Tim Hudak is not the current Premier of the Province of Ontario is simply a cosmic oversight, and one that is likely to be corrected in due course.

Which is not to suggest that credit isn’t due to Dalton McGuinty and his Liberals, even if just for hanging on to a minority government. At the outset of 2011, it was a foregone conclusion that the Liberals would be replaced here in Ontario. However, Hudak had a very difficult time connecting with voters, largely due in part to a disinterested media. Unlike with federal elections, it is still very difficult for provincial politicians to capture the media’s full attention, especially now that so much of our mainstream media has consolidated, and there is often little local coverage. And when you’re competing with national and international stories, the amount of space designated for provincial election coverage is nowhere anything like what we see for a federal election.

Hudak burst out of the gate by shooting himself and his party in the foot, with ambiguous comments about “foreigners” taking Canadian jobs. McGuinty took the highroad and we all watched as Hudak’s already-evaporating public opinion lead vanished before the damage control teams managed to pry the “foreigner” talking points out of the hands of all candidates (about a week later). By that time, the damage was done, and Hudak never recovered.

The NDP made modest gaines, with Andrea Horvath running a very lacklustre campaign, targeting voters who…well, who knows? The NDP was all over the map, policy-wise, in this past election, promising a little bit of everything to every one, which failed to connect significantly with voters. Fighting for space in the limited media narrative, Horvath found it mostly because she was a new face, a scrappy opponent, and because the NDP had recently gained popularity federally, due to Jack Layton’s rise to Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, and to his tragic and untimely death.

Horvath and Hudak did little to change voters minds during an underwhelming televised Leadership debate, which saw McGuinty and his hands out-perform the other candidates. Of course, there was another provincial party which was running candidates in each and every riding in Ontario, whose Leader was not invited by the broadcast consortium to attend the debate. More on that later.

Sudbury-Specific Electoral Predictions?

I predicted that the provincial election would see the return of MPP’s Rick Bartolucci and France Gelinas to Queens Park, which did happen (although I have to admit that, although I did not predict how close the race was here in Sudbury, it’s fair to say that I would have completely missed that, and instead have predicted that Bartolucci would have returned with a healthy, if somewhat reduced, margin, rather than just squeaking back in).

Federally, I predicted an easy victory for Nickel Belt’s MP Claude Gravelle, but I had Sudbury’s NDP MP Glenn Thibeault going down in defeat to Conservative Fred Slade, largely over Thibeault’s flip-flop on the gun registry. I received a lot of flack from friends for that bold prediction, which later proved to have missed the mark considerable, as Thibeault was returned with over half of the popular vote, a much wider margin than he was elected with for the first time in 2008. Interestingly, however, was despite a very lacklustre campaign in which Slade took a lot of heat for ducking local debates, Slade still managed to increase the Conservative’s popular vote in Sudbury over 2008 figures, and vault the Conservatives ahead of the Liberals in this riding. Liberal Carol Hartman’s campaign went as well as it could, I suppose, but she was impacted throughout by an incredibly lacklustre federal Liberal campaign.

So, I got 3 out of 4.

The Green Party of Canada

As I’m the CEO of the Sudbury Federal Green Party Association, I like to provide a little bit of focus on the Green Party in my end of year blogs. Last year, I predicted that Elizabeth May would not be invited to attend the televised Leader’s debates, and received a little bit of flack from my colleagues in the Party, who remained convinced that the Broadcast Consortium would have no choice but to invite her again, after her appearance in 2008. And it may have seemed to some that the Green Party’s entire national electoral strategy hinged on May’s participation in the debate. Interestingly, it didn’t, although I don’t believe that was apparent to many in the Party.

Clearly, there was a contingency plan in place for the time when May was told that she wouldn’t be welcome to participate in the debate. The Party would not be caught off-guard again in the same way that it was in 2008 when the Consortium came to the same conclusion to exclude a national Party leader. Of course, the circumstance in 2008 was actually different for the Greens than it was in 2011, as Blair Wilson had announced that it was his intention to sit in the House as a Green MP when parliament reconvened. Wilson never got that chance in 2008, as Stephen Harper broke his own fixed-date election law and pre-empted Wilson. That left some debate as to whether there was actually a Green MP in Ottawa or not, and it could have been that ambiguous circumstance which led the Consortium to conclude that despite leading a national political party which runs candidates in each and every riding across the nation, and despite receiving a per-vote federal subsidy, the Green Party should be kept from participating in the debate.

It was only after a significant public outcry which ultimately convinced Jack Layton to publicly change his mind and not oppose May’s inclusion in the 2008 debate that the Consortium relented. To this day, I can not forgive Jack Layton, who claimed to champion democratic values, for his continued opposition to allowing May to participate in the debates. That many grassroots members within his own Party stepped up and demanded May’s inclusion reflects well on his Party.

In 2011, when the writ was dropped, there were clearly no Green MP’s in the House, and the Broadcast Consortium quickly announced its decision to sideline May. That none of the other federal political party leaders (and the Bloc Quebecois, too, which isn’t even a national party) stood to oppose the Consortium’s decision was clearly a travesty for democracy in Canada. However, from a purely political point of view, it only made sense, as May’s presence would have led to additional national exposure for May and the Green Party, which would have at the very least made May look like a contender for the Saanich-Gulf Island seat she was challenging. That this sort of politics of opportunism which the other party’s played on does nothing but increase the level of cynicism and disrepute which politicians throughout this country have from the general public doesn’t appear to matter.

May went on to win a seat in Saanich-Gulf Islands (SGI), handily defeating Conservative cabinet minister Gary Lunn after running an aggressive campaign (May is a tireless campaigner). I predicted that Lunn was going to be returned, in part due to a strong challenge from Liberal Renee Heatherington. Heatherington’s campaign, of course, was hampered by a poor national campaign under Ignatieff. But let’s not kid ourselves here – approximately a half million dollars from Green Party coffers was poured into SGI both pre-writ and during the campaign. The riding was flooded with Green volunteers, some of whom slept in shifts because there was not enough room at the inns. All of this added to the fact that May herself is a star candidate, and that she and her message resonated with the voters in SGI, probably to a degree moreso than any other riding in the country (polling had been done earlier to show that SGI was likely the most "Green-friendly" riding in Canada).

And that was the Green Party’s national campaign strategy in a nutshell. And this was never a secret to anybody who had been paying attention to the Green Party. There’s even a term for this kind of strategy: a “beachhead”. It was successfully implemented by UK Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas, who won the Green’s first seat in the British parliament with an up-the-middle win in Brighton Pavillion in 2010. Rather than investing in a “rising tide” national strategy which would have seen strategic assets dispersed to many ridings during the federal election, the Green Party placed its eggs in one basket and hoped for a single positive outcome. While May’s participation in the televised Leader’s debate would have been helpful to her chances in SGI (and for candidates throughout the country), it wasn’t completely necessary.

May’s victory goes to show what a large, dedicated and well-funded political machine can do in terms of achieving electoral results. That it played out in only one riding for the Green Party is simply a matter of scale. If you look at the factors which contributed to the overall success of the Conservative Party, it is difficult to conclude that the only way to political success is to out-spend your opponents. That the Greens managed to do this in one riding out of 308 is, actually, a remarkable accomplishment for the Party, and one that I did not foresee occurring.

Now, with national exposure in Ottawa, May has been on the mainstream media’s radar a lot more often. In 2011, she was the lone voice who opposed the continuation of Canada’s bombing mission in Libya, much to the chagrin of those grassroots NDP supporters who clearly understood that Canada had chosen sides in a civil war. And recently, May has been on the frontline of opposition to Canada’s notice to withdraw from the Kyoto Accord.

That the federal Green Party saw its overall electoral support drop down to below less than 4% (from a high of 6.8% in 2008) may prove, in the long-run, to be less important for the Party’s overall success than having May in the House for 4 years. Personally, I think it will be, and that there will prove to be significant opportunities over the next few years for the Green Party to grow its support. The 2011 low support figures can be chalked up to May not being invited to the debate, along with a surging NDP.

But May must now ensure that she is invited to the next televised Leader’s debates, which means that she must stay on as Party Leader over the next 4 years. That the decision to attend these critical public debates remains in the hands of an unaccountable group of broadcasters who have their own vested interests means that the ultimate decision will not be up to May.

The Green Party of Ontario

My prediction regarding the Green Party of Ontario’s success, however, proved to bang-on. I had said that the Green Party of Ontario would perform poorly in the provincial election, and would not elect anybody.

But let’s examine what did happen to the GPO, which saw its share of the popular vote drop from 8% in 2007 down to less than 3% in 2011. What happened?

Well, again, unlike in other provincial jurisdictions, Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner was not invited to attend the televised Leader’s debate. Not being invited to attend the debate is a significant signal to voters that a Party really isn’t to be taken seriously. This was the second election, however, in which the Green Party ran candidates in each and every Ontario riding. The decision of the Consortium not to invite Schreiner remains a curious one, given that Greens participated in televised Leader’s debates this year in Manitoba, and earlier in PEI, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In Saskatchewan, the Green Party became that province’s third party.

Media, however, continues to take its cues from, well, itself. Not only did the provincial media giants choose to marginalize the Green Party of Ontario by not inviting Schreiner to the Leader’s debate, largely the GPO itself was completely marginalized from all pan-provincial conversations. Reading the editorials of the political pundits, and watching the TV news coverage, it was almost as if the Green Party didn’t exist (only to be rediscovered on election night when the results needed to be reported, and then, in some cases, wrongly identifying its candidates as “Independents”).

Only TV Ontario decided to give the Greens a bit of a break, by including Party candidates and pundits in news programs, where seats had traditionally only been reserved for the PC’s, Liberals and NDP. TV Ontario expressed that the time was right to include Greens in their programming, as the GPO offered unique opinions and expressions on issues important to Ontarians. Imagine!

However, the quality of GPO candidates and pundits left a little something to be desired at times. “Unsteady” seems to be a good choice of words to describe the performance of GPO candidates especially (the pundits, generally, fared a little better). Of course, keep in mind that it is far more difficult to look good when you have to perform in sound bites, when your Party doesn’t provide you with talking points, and when your whole rationale for becoming a candidate in the first place probably has a lot to do with wanting to do politics differently. So GPO candidates were forced to give a performance on TV which, in and of itself, was likely something which they were in opposition to.

However, some of the GPO’s amateur decisions related to TV Ontario simply can not be overlooked, including one near and dear to my own heart, which saw the GPO sending a candidate from Scarborough to attend a TV Ontario panel discussion on Northern Ontario. That decision, quite simply, blew my mind, and really did speak volumes about the political naiveté of the Party.

There appeared to be little in the way of an electoral strategy implemented by the Party, although clearly more resources were being expended in a few ridings in Southwestern Ontario. Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, where the Party did very well in 2007 under Shane Jolley, ended up nominating a different banner-carrier for the Party, and saw Jolley run as an independent, which was a blow to the Party, given that popular PC MPP Bill Murdoch had stepped aside. In fact, the Green Party of Ontario placed no candidates in second spot anywhere in the province, and had but 1 third place finish.

With a minority government in place now in Toronto, the GPO has its work cut out for it to remain relevant, given that there is likely going to be an election within the next couple of years.

International Scene

The U.S.

Internationally, I predicted that Sarah Palin would enter the GOP nomination race, and run away with it. I believe that Michele Bachmann’s entry might have derailed Palin. And that’s too bad for Palin, because the state of Republican contenders at the end of 2011, I continue to think that she might have done very well had she thrown her hat in the ring. That the world may be a safer place for her decision, well…if Bachmann or Perry end up taking the nomination, it may be hard to tell.


I actually didn’t predict war in Korea, but I was hedging my bets a little. You may recall that at the end of 2010, both North Korea and South Korea had become quite belligerent over the North’s shelling of a Southern military installation on an off-shore island. Now, at the end of 2011, North Korea is back in the news again, with the death of their Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il, and the rise to power of his untested son, Kim Jong-Un.


In Australia, I predicted that Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s coalition would fall. It hasn’t. In Britain, I predicted that Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition would continue to survive, despite being wracked by protests, which did happen (will it continue to survive, with the Conservative’s anti-Europeanism? I’ll weigh in with a prediction in my next post).

The Middle East (and environs)

I predicted the fall of the Zardari government in Pakistan, with the military stepping in and taking control. That hasn’t happened yet. In Iran, I predicted that despite rising tensions, nothing much would happen beyond rhetoric. And that’s largely played out.

What I didn’t predict or write about in any way was the growing unrest throughout the Middle East, led by protests in Tunisia and Egypt. Although I was aware of a growing sense of anti-government sentiment in some parts of the Middle East and North Africa (particularly in Yemen and South Sudan, which achieved its independence this year), I didn’t think that the sentiment would prove newsworthy. Boy, did I blow that one.

The Economy

I did predict unrest in Europe, as a result of the economy and austerity measures, particularly in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. But everyone was predicting that at the end of 2010, which only goes to show for how long now this crisis has been brewing. What I did not foresee was a global movement based rising out of North America, based on consensus decision-making and a desire to close the gap between the rich and poor, by drawing attention to issues of economic disparity through the occupation of public spaces.

Nuclear Power

And a nuclear meltdown in Japan? Forget about it. I’ve lived my life, up until this year, firmly entrenched in my belief that the nuclear power industry in first-world nations was one of the safest industries in the world. I’ve had to deal with seeing my own beliefs challenged and ultimately, come crashing down, as the disaster in Japan unfolded over weeks and months. What I have taken away from Fukushima is not just a significant degree of concern related to nuclear power generation, but my eyes have been opened to the extent which the nuclear power industry has gone to cover up environmentally damage, and not just in Japan.

Remember that when Fukushima was unfolding, there was no talk of a meltdown, and we were all being reassured by the nuclear industry and a compliant mainstream media that the disaster would be contained, and evacuees would be able to return home. Then, doses of radiation started showing up unexpectedly (and inexplicably) in places where no one had been looking for it. The evacuation was extended to a larger geographic area. Iodine pills were flying off the shelves by a population who were growing increasingly sceptical that they were getting the straight goods from their governments. Eventually, the government of Japan fell over its handling of Fukushima, but word has been very slow to leak into the mainstream media in North America over the true extent of the nature of devastation in Japan. It is not now largely known that 3 reactors at Fukushima have, in fact, experienced meltdowns.

The time has clearly come to say no to this dangerous and poisonous form of power generation. That Germany, Italy, Denmark and Japan all did so in the wake of Fukushima is to their credit. That we here in Canada and especially in Ontario continue to contemplate building new nuclear reactors shows, to me, a complete lack of foresight and visionary thinking on the part of our political leadership. Not only is nuclear power dangerous, it is also the most expensive form of commercial power ever to be generated, once all costs are factored into the equation. Not to mention the costs of cleaning up after a disaster like Chernobyl or Fukushima.

Hindsight is 20/20

So, that’s my 2011, now appearing in the rear-view mirror. I’ll share with you my predictions for 2012 over the next couple of blogposts. Hope you enjoy!

(opinions expressed in this blog post are my own and should not be considered to be in keeping with those of the Green Party of Canada)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Eat a Banana, Save the Planet!

Look, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Chiquita Bananas, after having long ago learned about human-rights repressing, anti-democratic business practices which their predecessor, the United Fruit Company, engaged in throughout Central America in the past century. So I find having to write about what’s been happening in the media today a little ironic. But at the same time, there’s actually a lot at stake, and since much of it is going on behind-the-scenes, I thought I’d take a few moments to share my own observations about bananas and their media-hyped impact on climate change.

For rest assured, despite Ezra Levant’s rant in Sun Media today (“Yes we have no bananas, you hypocrite”, the Sudbury Star, December 20, 2011), the issue at hand isn’t simply about bananas, or even Levant’s strange concept of “ethical oil” (on which he wrote the book – quite literally, he wrote the book “Ethical Oil” from which he now profits through shameless self-promotion of the term). Nor is it necessarily even about human rights – at least not in the way that Levant and others are portraying the matter.

Instead, what we’re seeing playing out in the media today has everything to do with Canada’s war on climate change action, and our government’s shameless shilling for the multinational oil industry. You see, the Harper regime came to the conclusion quite a while ago that fighting climate change for the good of Canadians and providing profit for Big Oil was mutually exclusive. Since then, they’ve gone out of their way to put the interests of their corporatist supporters ahead of those of Canadians. Indeed, with their recent decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Accord, the Harper regime has taken considerable pride in giving the finger to the entire world.

But this isn’t about Kyoto. This is about the Harper regime’s constant war on the interests of Canadians. By continuing their unmitigated acts of sabotage against the interests of average middle-class Canadians by accommodating at seemingly every opportunity the interests of the oil industry, Harper and his ilk are condemning both Canada and the world to the effects of runaway climate change. All of this is being done simply so the oil companies can make even more profit. There is no other reason which stands up to scrutiny.

Sun Media Goes Bananas

Now, if that sounds a little over-the-top to you, consider the humble banana. Levant and his cohorts at Sun Media seem to think that they’ve hit upon a really cheery holiday story which will warm the cockles of their neo-liberal supporters, some of whom, such as Jason Kenney, are ministers of the Canadian government. Levant has tweaked to the notion that Chiquita Brands has somehow made a decision to boycott Alberta’s oil. And in Levant’s world, that’s tantamount to treason against the State! Although which state, exactly, no one is sure (maybe it’s that North American Union which the neo-liberals are just waiting to spring on us all, without any consultation…kinda like yesterday’s health “deal” announcement. But that’s another story).

In response, Levant and Sun Media have called for a boycott of Chiquita bananas. To provide even more ammunition in support of a boycott, Levant points out that Chiquita was just fined back in 2007 for giving “protection money” to South American paramilitary organizations, some of which appear on the U.S.A’s list of known terrorist organizations. And Levant is right: that’s pretty bad. Of course, giving money to the government of Colombia, which continues to threaten and abuse the rights of its own people is also pretty bad. It’s all pretty messy in Colombia, no matter how you look at it. But, depending on who is doing the looking, the mess might not matter so much. And thanks to the Harper regime, Canada now has a free-trade deal with the human-rights repressing regime currently in charge of Colombia. Well, most of Colombia anyway. But that’s another story.

Now, here’s where things get interesting. A little further digging reveals that Chiquita Brands has not launched any kind of boycott against Alberta oil. What they have done is announce that they will try to use petroleum from non-dirty sources for transport fuel, in order to try to limit the effects of climate change, at least somewhat. This does mean that Chiquita will be trying to steer clear of oil produced from tar sands bitumen. And that’s what seems to have Levant’s so upset.

I guess Levant would feel a lot better if the humans-rights abusing, terrorist-sponsoring Chiquita Brands had instead decided to buy tar sands oil. I know that I would have felt better. I suppose that for Levant it’s best to do business with the devil than have the devil take his business elsewhere. But that’s another story.

Environmental Tariffs

There are actually a few things at stake here, and singling out Chiquita Brands for a boycott actually plays quite well as a media-hypable proxy for addressing the bigger issues. You see, right now the European Union is considering labelling Canadian heavy oil produced from tar sands bitumen as “harmful to the environment” (and therefore “dirty”) in comparison to oil derived from conventional sources. This means that importing tar sands oil into the EU will require the imposition of a surcharge (a.k.a. “a tariff”), which amounts to a financial penalty assessed against dirty oil producers.

And it also could stand as a precedent which ends up penalizing dirty Canadian industries. The State of California has just recently announced that it will support the EU’s labelling initiative as it pertains to tar sands oil. Presumably, that means that tar sands oil ending up in California may also be subject to a tariff.

And California…that’s the same U.S. state which has been in the news lately because it is part of the Western Climate Initiative (WCI). Recently, the Province of Quebec announced that it was moving forward with establishing a cap and trade emissions trading scheme under the auspices of the WCI. So, dirty Alberta oil could also receive a surcharge of sorts through a cap and trade program if it were to be imported to…Quebec.

What other provinces are also a part of the WCI? Why, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia. Together with Quebec, that means that over half of Canadians may one day end up paying more for dirty Alberta oil through some sort of surcharge levied through a cap and trade scheme.

Dirty Oil

Look, call it what you want, but the fact is that oil produced from tar sands bitumen produces significantly more greenhouse gases than oil derived from conventional sources (between 3 and 5 times as much). So, from the point of view of carbon pollution, the oil is dirtier, period, end of story. And we know that the historic build-up of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is what’s responsible for global warming and the Earth’s changing climate.

Interestingly, the Harper regime has probably done its corporatist oil-industry buddies no favours by pulling out of Kyoto. What Harper has accomplished is to hand the European Union the smoking gun it needs to affirm that Canadian tar sands oil really is dirty and therefore to subject it to a tariff at the time of import. And while its true that the EU imports hardly any dirty oil from Canada right now, it’s the precedent of the matter which is much more important.

And if the importation of dirty oil itself can be subject to a tariff, what about products produced exclusively from energy derived from dirty sources? Why not subject them to a tariff as well?

Climate Change and the Economy

EU nations, including the tar-sands supporting United Kingdom (with David Cameron’s government playing Harper’s proxy at the EU negotiations), have met their Kyoto greenhouse reduction commitments, and in many cases, have exceeded them. The governments of the European nations made the hard choices back in the late 1990s to take Kyoto seriously. It turns out that those choices weren’t really all that hard to make, as producing cleaner energy has actually led to job creation throughout the EU, and especially in nations such as Denmark and Germany, which (along with China) are now the go-to places for clean energy products and research and development. The EU nations accomplished all of this while still growing their economies. Their success story doesn’t at all mirror the Harper regime’s narrative which pits the choice of “jobs” against “the environment”. But that’s another story.

With the EU having done their heavy-lifting regarding climate change, Canada’s withdrawal from Kyoto has come as a bit of a slap in the face. That Canada’s withdrawal has come at the same time of an announcement to continue to expand the dirty-oil producing tar sands (coincidentally timed to take place during the Durban COP-17 climate change conference) will not be lost on the Europeans. With Canada’s declaration of war against those wishing to stave off the economy-crippling horrors of climate change, labelling tar sands oil as “dirty” now more than ever seems like an easy decision for the EU to make.

And make no mistake: the economies of most nations in the world face significant risk from a changing climate. That Canada, which has been pushing the completely misguided notions of “climate prosperity” and “ethical oil”, will also suffer from the upheaval of climate change seems to matter little to the Harper regime. Canada’s economy is integrated with the global economic village, and our economy is sure to be negatively impacted by economic upheaval throughout the globe. For the Harper regime, that average Canadians will suffer from global economic devastation isn’t nearly as important as the need to continue to enrich the Harper’s oil interest buddies and supporters.

And that’s what makes this all a human rights issue, and a moral issue. Is it moral for Canada, one of the world’s biggest per-capita polluters, to sabotage international efforts which seek to limit greenhouse gas emissions and which (hopefully) will lessen the social/physical/economic impacts of climate change? Is it ethical to put the corporatist interests of Big Oil ahead of the interests of just about everyone else on the planet? By declaring war on efforts to combat climate change, Canada’s government has made its decision. I’ll leave it to you to determine whether it was a moral one. I suspect that you know my own opinion.

Saving the Planet, One Banana at a Time!

Which brings us back to bananas and the boycott against Chiquita Brands for having the audacity to finally make an attempt at being a “good corporate citizen” (at least as far as climate change goes…which, by the way, will almost certainly impact Chiquita’s own bottom line, as they have invested heavily in agricultural activities in tropical areas of the world, which are sure to be some of those hardest hit by climate change…so Chiquita probably does have a vested interest in taking climate change action). If Chiquita can be made to bend on the concept of “dirty oil”, it will prove to be yet more ammunition in the fight against labelling at the EU, and (probably more importantly) by California (and potentially other WCI partners). And if the boycott works and leads to Chiquita backing down, woe be to any other business which decides that it’s going to try to implement a similar action in the name of “environmental responsibility”. Including those businesses which operate almost exclusively in California and which may not have a choice in the matter. Canadian boycotts of Californian businesses may yet prove to be the sort of political wedge issue which neo-liberal Republicans in California might use to gain control of the State and turn back the clock on dirty tar sands oil decisions. There is a long game being played here.

The banana may yet become a more compelling symbol in the fight against climate change than “350” or “2 degrees C”. Although the science would likely prove otherwise, I can certainly see the slogan, “Eat a banana, save the planet” catching on, at least for a little while, thanks to Sun Media.

(opinions expressed in this blog post are my own and should not be considered to be in keeping with those of the Green Party of Canada)