Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Conservative Party of Canada is a “Real and Present” Danger to Canada’s Economic Health by Ignoring the Climate Crisis

First off, I'd like to start this post with an apology.  I'm sorry that this is going to be a very lengthy post, and the fact is, I'm liable to lose many of my readers part way through.  I'm encouraging you, however, to hang in there with me, because this is one of the more important posts that I've written in a while now.  Which isn't to suggest that I don't think my other material is "important" - but the fact is, I usually write "off the cuff" posts.  This one, though, has taken over a week to compose, in part because I've been mulling over the subject material, and in part because I think my message here is quite important, especially for those who consider themselves "progressive conservatives".  Anyway, again, I'm sorry about the length.

Conservative Conversation about Conservation

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Sudbury Conservative Electoral District Association’s first Sir John A. MacDonald Conversations event at the Holiday Inn. The Sudbury Conservatives had invited Manitoba MP Robert (Bob) Sopuck (Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette) to speak on the subject of “Conservative Environmentalism in the 21st Century”. That evening was intended to be the first in a series of “conversations” hosted by the Sudbury Conservative EDA, and if decisions to hold future events are influenced by the success of that evening, it’s fair to say that Sudbury can expect to hear more such conversations.

I’ve not written about this evening until now, because it’s taken me some time to digest and reconcile what I heard and experienced that night with what I have come to understand of the Conservative Party, and in particular, their anti-democratic and bullying techniques, and with their seeming contempt for all things “environmental”. That night, with only a few small exceptions, MP Sopuck stowed the negative rhetoric, and gave a thoughtful presentation on what environmentalism means to him – and made a forceful case to those present that Conservatives need to start thinking along similar lines.

As a known member of the Green Party, it seemed to me that the volunteers with the Conservative EDA went out of their way to make me feel welcome and comfortable attending their event (although I suppose it’s possible that they’re really just friendly people), which had been advertised as being open for any and all with an interest in the topic. Donations were being accepted by the Friends of Lake Laurentian (and Mark Signoretti of the Friends gave an excellent presentation on the great work that Sudbury residents are doing to improve the health of Lake Laurentian, one of the City’s 300 lakes). The EDA certainly knew how to host an event, with a great finger-food buffet, tea, coffee and a cash bar.

The attendees appeared to be composed entirely of Conservative Party members or supporters, but there may have been some in the room who were non-aligned. Fred Slade, the CEO of the Sudbury Conservative EDA, and past-candidate in the 2011 federal election, acknowledged that there was a fundraiser taking place that seem evening for the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance, and it could be that some community members were faced with a difficult choice (I had sent my regrets to the GSWA about attending their fundraiser – and I’ll certainly continue to do all that I can to support that important community organization). Slade also indicated that the media had been invited to attend, but there did not appear to be any media present. In my opinion, that was very unfortunate, given that Robert Sopuck is a visiting member of parliament, and an MP’s visit to our City remains a newsworthy item.

Robert Sopuck, MP

Bob Sopuck has been described as a “right-wing environmentalist”, and seems to wear the term as a badge of honour. He has been, at one time or another, the Environmental Advisor to former Manitoba Premier Gary Filmon; a member of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, an ultra-right-wing think tank associated with climate change deniers such as Tim Ball; and, a member of the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy, an independent public policy advisory organization to the federal government which was killed off earlier this year by the Harper Conservatives, allegedly for continuing to offer advice which the government didn’t want to hear (see: “John Baird happily admits that Tories didn’t like axed environmental watchdog’s advice”, Josh Visser, the National Post, May 14, 2012). A partial biography for Sopuck is available on Wikipedia.

Conservative Environmentalism and the Mainstream

Sopuck’s presentation focused on the notion of “conservative environmentalism” (my term, and note the use of the lower-case “c”), which he (interestingly, in my opinion) contrasted to what he believed to be more “mainstream” environmentalism. Critiquing the mainstream for waging campaigns based on emotion rather than facts, he chastised the “left” for failing to do the math, and urged “conservatives” to focus on fixing and doing things which can be quantified. He suggested that the mainstream focussed too much on energy conservation (which he noted was an important issue, but not the only issue), and for being too urban-oriented, rather than tackling “real” issues related to air, land and water.

I found it interesting that Sopuck began to characterize “mainstream” environmentalists as being on the left side of the political spectrum. Perhaps that’s because I’m inhabiting a different reality than the one which Sopuck is stuck in. Being a Conservative MP, I suppose it’s difficult for him to look at the world through anything other than the left/right lens of old line partisanship. I instead inhabit a post-partisan reality, and although I have often characterized myself as a “Green partisan”, most often I have done so ironically (as the notion of partisanship within the Green Party is something which most Greens instinctively rebel from). Instead of viewing the world through a left/right lens, I can’t help but look at my world from the lens of right/wrong.

That Old Left vs. Right Political Spectrum Thing

So, I found myself somewhat uncomfortable with Sopuck’s notion that mainstream environmentalists inhabit the “left” of the political spectrum, in part because I consider myself to be an environmentalist whose ideas and opinions tend to fall within what I would characterize as the “mainstream”. And I do not consider myself to be on the “left” (or on the “right” for that matter). So, this notion that environmentalists must be associated with one or the other side of an antiquated political spectrum was a little disturbing for me, and was outside of my own personal experiences. But I suppose I understand well enough where Sopuck was coming from, given his own perspectives.

What I did agree with Sopuck on was his criticism of some (not all) environmental campaigns which seek to treat “nature” as a “museum”. This notion seemed to resonate a little more with the audience in Sudbury, which might be expected, given Sudbury’s historic association with extractive resource industries. While I believe that it is important to set aside and preserve some natural areas, I can’t help but acknowledge the importance of resource-based development, and the need to recognize that a balance between sustainable development and conservation must be found.

Sopuck was also critical of the mainstream environmental movement’s emphasis on process over product, and reliance on regulation and laws over the notion of providing individuals and corporations with incentives to conserve (I would be remiss if I did not report that Sopuck was speaking only about those circumstances when laws and regulations did not provide measurable outcomes; Sopuck certainly acknowledged the importance of regulation and law when it made sense as a tool to achieve desired outcomes). Sopuck also indicated that he thought the notion of “green jobs” was little more than “leftist misdirection” (my term for summarizing my understanding of his thoughts), and indicated that he believed that “every job should be a green job” (his words this time) and that all jobs should be carried out in as environmentally responsible manner as possible.

I remember thinking “Wow” when I heard this last little bit. Are there large-C Conservatives out there who really think this? Of course, Sopuck broke the mystification with a follow-up comment about the (now discredited) Spanish study on jobs lost vs. green jobs created, oft-cited by Conservatives as reasons to kill investment in renewable energy technology.

Hmmm…there’s that notion of energy coming up again, I thought at the time, in a slightly different context. Maybe I should pay a little more attention to what Sopuck says, or doesn’t say, but energy conservation and renewables.

Policy for Small-c Conservative Environmentalists?

After this critique of left-wing “mainstream” environmentalism, Sopuck schooled those in attendance with principles of conservative environmental policy-making. Along with the need to focus on measurable results, conservative environmental policy must be based on truly “unbiased” science (whatever that means), and emphasize property rights and incentives over focusing on a regime of regulatory compliance.

OK, sure, there’s nothing too strange there. It always makes sense to measure results, and I’ve too often seen the wrong set of tools employed to address significant environmental policy issues. I’ve also sometimes detected a lack of understanding around the issue of property rights and public takings without compensation when proposals to limit rights are being discussed. While I doubt very much that I am on the same page as Sopuck is with regards to the rights of property owners, I can’t help but acknowledge that these rights must not be ignored when looking for solutions to complex problems (although they ought not necessarily be considered paramount, either, especially when there are clear competing rights – think of a factory which emits pollutants and how those pollutants might impact the public commons – air, land and water).

Celebrating the Creation of Wealth in the Absence of Sustainable Practices

What might be considered a little more controversial was Sopuck’s insistence that “conservative environmentalists” celebrate the creation of wealth as a “wellspring of environmental improvement”. On the surface, wealth-creation and environmentalism going hand-in-hand might sound heretical to some environmentalists, because the creation of wealth has often led to environmental degradation. Really, there’s no denying that. But Sopuck’s point was that rich countries are much better positioned than poor countries to address environmental issues. And, really, there’s little denying that’s the case, especially when you look at what richer nations have accomplished over the past few decades. I don’t need to look further than out of my own window to acknowledge this fact: would Sudbury’s transition from moonscape to a city of lakes and forests have been possible in the context of an impoverished economy? I really don’t think so.

Of course, the presupposition here is that business and industry find themselves on one side of the equation, while the environment is on the other side – that the two are in constant competition. This is a typical neo-liberal misunderstanding of the real world, in my opinion, but it is one based on our recent past experiences: the creation of wealth leads to degradation, but if enough wealth is created, we can improve our circumstances. What this point of view fails to understand, however, is that truly sustainable economic development need not tread too heavily on the natural environment, especially now at the end of the Oil Age. We collectively know better than to foul our own nests, and we have the resources at hand to transition our wasteful economy into something much more sustainable.

The thing is, I think that Sopuck understood this. Certainly, he urged that we embrace new technologies as potential solutions to some environmental problems, and he even urged those in attendance to stop thinking of the environment and the economy as two discrete systems. But it wasn’t clear to me that Sopuck truly understood the need for development which is sustainable over the long-term. Instead, he seemed to me that he was advocating for continuing to do things largely as we have done them in the Oil Age, and to look to a set of tools which can be used to better our lot.

Why wouldn’t Sopuck urge other conservative environmentalists to embrace the concept of sustainable development, especially if he is already convinced that the environment and economy aren’t separate and competing realms? Might this have something to do with energy issues, on which he appeared to be so reluctant to speak of?

Conservative Environmentalism in the 21st Century - The Great Omission

Before I go further, I find that I now need to skip to the end of Mr. Sopuck’s presentation, and offer the one single observation which I could not help but take away from the generally good and positive things he had to say. Honestly, while there were clearly a few things that I did not agree with Sopuck on, I was impressed to discover the significant overlap of issues which Sopuck presented with my own environmental concerns. Clearly, the “right-wing” environmentalist and the “post-partisan” environmentalist found a lot on which they could agree. And I told Sopuck as much after the presentation.

But what I could not help taking away from the evening’s event was what was left unsaid by Mr. Sopuck. In fact, I found it completely baffling.

How could any “environmentalist” give a presentation on environmentalism in the 21st Century and fail to ever once mention or acknowledge the biggest economic and environmental crisis facing humanity: anthropogenic climate change?

Of course, the “conservative environmentalist”, if I understand this idea as espoused by Sopuck, can’t acknowledge the climate crisis for the reality that it is, because the “conservative environmentalist” continues to inhabit a left/right political reality which, in my opinion (and in the opinion of many others), is out-dated and no longer serves a purpose, and which actually exacerbates the anticipated impacts of a warming planet. 

Climate Change - What to Do?

See, to acknowledge that climate change is happening and that we must do something about it leads to the notion that we must either a) mitigate the circumstances which are contributing to the crisis; or, b) adapt to the circumstances which we will find ourselves in; or, c) do both.

So here’s the problem for “conservatives environmentalists”. If mitigation is pursued as a solution (or part of the solution), than we find ourselves in a situation where we must end our reliance on greenhouse gas producing fossil fuels. That would be both difficult and undesirable. Further, conservatives tend to take a go-slow approach to change, and that’s just not effective when it comes to the climate crisis. So “conservative environmentalists” are poorly positioned to embrace mitigation as a solution.

How about adaptation? Well, perhaps “conservative environmentalists” fare a little better with the idea that we can adapt to a changing climate. As Sopuck mentioned, we will need to embrace new technologies, and generate wealth in order to implement whatever scheme is necessary. Of course, that approach leads to considerable problems, such as (by way of example) the following scenario: Drought is occurring on the praries, as groundwater resources are depleted and glacial-fed rivers are drying up because of warming. No problem. If Canada is rich enough, why not build a dam across James Bay, create a massive freshwater lake, and divert water back through rivers and aqueducts for crops in Saskatchewan. If we create enough wealth, we can afford to engage in these sorts of schemes.

Choosing Continued Resource Exploitation Over Sustainable Development

Back up for a moment though. How will we create this wealth? Largely through continued exploitation of non-renewable fossil resources, including new sources coming online in the high arctic. So we embrace solutions for the impacts of climate change which first require us to exacerbate climate change impacts – all so that we can afford to implement the solutions in the first place. Sure, it might make some sense, but not much.

Yet, that’s exactly the road that Canada is on right now, and the one which “conservative environmentalists” are being encouraged to remain on. Sopuck’s reluctance to speak seriously about energy conservation, and the immediate need to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels and embrace renewables, is in keeping with this mindset. And frankly the mindset is one which ignores the perils of a changing climate. And by “peril” I clearly mean to include the significant and overwhelming risk which climate change poses to the health of our economy.

The Economic Threat of Climate Change

Conservatives know this. Study after study has shown that a warming world will create new challenges to the creation of wealth. Adapting to our circumstances, while necessary, will likely not leave us better off tomorrow than we are today. In fact, climate change is a real problem for those concerned about the need for continued economic growth.

So if both mitigation and adaptation are poor choices for “conservative environmentalists”, where does that leave them? Well, to me it seems it leaves them right where Bob Sopuck’s presentation took them: ignoring the reality of the climate crisis, and instead focusing on resolving more modest, “winnable” environmental issues – those associated with air, land and water. But not with carbon.

Left-wing Conspiracies

It was interesting to hear some of the concerns raised by audience members at the conclusion of Mr. Sopuck’s presentation. A few in particular were concerned about the impression of Canada abroad, when Canada continued to win “fossil” awards at international gatherings. Sopuck was asked for this thoughts on this issue, and his response was rather telling. He insisted this was because there is a left-wing conspiracy to discredit conservative governments, and making them look bad on the international stage is a part of that conspiracy.

Again, there was no mention of how the need for reducing our carbon emissions might have played into the circumstance which led to the questions. In fact, when Sopuck was challenged with a point of view offered by one of the audience members that global warming itself seemed to be a part of that left-wing conspiracy rather than scientific fact, Sopuck’s response was a simple “no comment” (a direct quote).

Look, I’m not going to deny that the political left and the political right don’t sometimes do things to undermine each other. In fact, it’s all too often apparent. Do left-wing activists want to make right-wing governments look bad? Sure they do. And the same is true in opposite situations. But what I’ve got a problem with is when scientific facts themselves fall victim to this political warfare. I understand that many on the right do not accept global warming as a scientific fact – but that the world is warming is not altered by their lack of acceptance.

Let me be clear about this: I was presented with no evidence that evening which suggested to me that MP Bob Sopuck did not believe in the scientifically-proven case that the world is warming and human industrial society is responsible for it. Sopuck never denied climate change as fact. Instead, he chose to ignore the topic completely, and urged other “conservatives” to do the same; not by extension, but by the very presentation he gave which 1) ignored the issue, and 2) urged conservatives to undertake actions which will exacerbate global warming.

A Dead-End Approach to Environment & Economy

Frankly, I’m not at all sure that’s a message which small-c conservatives want to hear, even if it is one which large-C Conservatives espouse daily in Parliament and to the media. Look no further than the “job-killing carbon tax” message coming out of the mouths of myriad Conservatives, including Bob Sopuck’s That a carbon tax is being hailed as the best tool we have available right now to actually reduce carbon emissions seems to be lost on the Conservative Party. It’s not just Greens like myself who are championing a carbon tax. Leaders in the oil industry, the mining industry, corporate CEO’s and right-wing Republican politicians (a few, anyway) are talking about putting a price on carbon through a direct tax. In Canada, it’s very unfortunate, in my opinion, that the two largest parties in the House today (the Conservatives and the NDP) fail to understand that a carbon tax makes sense as an economic tool. The NDP, at least, understand the need for some sort of tool. Conservatives? Clearly, not so much.

But the real problem is Large-C Conservatives want small-c conservatives to buy into their dangerous economic plan. By ignoring the economic realities of climate change, Conservatives are actually advocating for real reductions to economic growth, global GDP, and the take-home pay of the middle class. Indeed, the threats to our economy from runaway global warming cannot be understated.

Real Conservative Values Demand a More Robust Form of Environmentalism

Of course, those threats, once realized, will impact the richest Canadians much less than they will impact the rest of us. Since the Conservative Party of Canada has become the operational arm of the 1%, it really doesn’t need to concern itself with the other 99% - unless it’s trying to buy their votes, or frustrate them from being able to vote. In my experience, most conservatives are not members of the economic elite, are not a part of the 1%. They are people who may have well-paying jobs, but are carrying household debt, and are just trying to make ends meet and save a little for the future. They are the middle class, and they are concerned about jobs and economic issues.

Which is why “conservative environmentalists” must be concerned about climate change, regardless of what large-C Conservatives would have them believe. If climate change is the “real and present danger” Environment Minister (and Conservative) Peter Kent recently described it as, than why for the love of God are Conservatives so determined to make the economic impacts of a changing climate worse in the long-term, all in the name of short-term gain?

Look, small c-conservatives have children too. As much as the Conservative Party seems to like to think that people are inherently selfish and will put their own good ahead of the good of others, including that of their own offspring, I can’t help but believe that notion isn’t in keeping with reality. It’s certainly not been my experience. Of course, I’m biased, and perhaps I’m simply equating my own circumstance with those of my neighbours. I did, after all, choose to become politically engaged over long-term concerns about the sort of planet that I would be leaving to my children. This was before I even had children.

Real and Present Dangers to Canada

So, when I left the Sudbury Conservative EDA event a few weeks ago, I had all of these thoughts percolating around in my mind. I was struck by the common ground I discovered existed between myself and Robert Sopuck. I was optimistic that some of Sopuck’s messaging might stay with those audience members in attendance, because a lot of it was very good. I was saddened, and a little angry, that Sopuck would fail to mention the climate crisis at all in his presentation.

And, more than ever before, I was left with the impression that Canada faces another “real and present danger” to our well-being. And that is the Conservative Party of Canada. That Party’s wilful ignorance of climate change poses a direct threat to our nation’s economy, and that threat cannot be tolerated by those of us concerned about Canada's future economic health. Further, the Conservative Party has proved successful in convincing a significant minority of Canadians that the exact opposite is true – that the threat to our economy is taking action to reduce climate change impacts.  It's actually the reverse which is true.

Climate Change and Economic Health: CPC Favours Corporate Values Over Conservative Values

The Conservative Party of Canada does not speak for true conservatives. Who, then, is it speaking for?

I was pleased to discover that I had a lot in common with attendees of the event, including my fellow Sudbury residents, and with MP Bob Sopuck. Clearly, the problem with the Party is not one of conservative values – at least not the values of individual members. Rather, the problem is clearly with the corporate values of the Conservative Party, and the long-term economic threat those values pose to virtually all Canadians, including many individual Party members.

Although I agreed with much of what MP Sopuck had to say, I could not ignore his omission of the climate crisis from his presentation, and his refusal to engage the audience on this issue. I enjoyed my lengthy conversation with MP Sopuck following his presentation, during which I myself did not bring up the issue of climate change either. Rather, I chose to focus on the apparent common ground which clearly exists between greens and conservatives (and Greens and Conservatives, for that matter). It is important, I believe, to highlight that which brings us together. But it’s also important to establish that which divides us, especially when the division is largely an artificial one, created by corporate interests at the expense of individual rights and values.

Truly progressive conservatives understand that the maintenance of Canada's economic health over the long term requires a robust response to the threats and anticipated impacts of climate change.  Environmentalist and economists both - whatever side of the outdated political spectrum they choose to self-identify with - can no longer deny that both mitigation and adaptation strategies must be pursued, else we will almost certainly experience significant economic damage in the coming years. 

Anyone claiming to be an "environmentalist" or an "economist" who continues to insist that we ignore the economic and environmental impacts of climate change is, frankly, neither.  I'm sorry to have come to the conclusion that the brand of environmentalism preached by the likable Bob Sopuck is, in reality, extremely dangerous to the long-term economic health of our nation.  Note that Sopuck's "conservative environmentalist" isn't an exercise in "greenwashing".  Instead, it's an idea which has clearly not been thought through, and poses significant risk to the very creation of wealth which Sopuck and a majority of Canadians want to see continue.  For real economic progress, we simply can't ignore the things we must do to stave off the worst impacts of a warming world.

Progressive Conservatives

As an aside, tonight I am glad to see that there are some conservative voters in Canada who are clearly demonstrating their understanding of this situation. The Calgary Centre by-election takes place next Monday, and polls are indicating that Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt has been bleeding support to Green candidate Chris Turner, while the Liberal (who is an environmentalist, but belongs to a political party almost equally beholden to the same corporate values as the Conservatives are) has stagnated. I have long believed that true progressive conservatives should be casting their ballots for the Green Party – and that they would, if the Green Party could ever get its message out. Well, in Calgary Centre, Turner and his team have been doing an incredible job of getting the word out. And, well, we’ll see what happens come Monday.

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Green Chris Turner has All of the Momentum in Calgary Centre By-Election

There’s big news out of Calgary today. It seems that the media narrative of a relatively smooth by-election victory for Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt has come face-to-face with the reality of an electorate out looking for change. Since Crockatt’s selection by the Conservative Party to carry the banner in Calgary Centre, the media has opined that, although a polarizing figure (“more Wildrose than PC”), Crockatt should nevertheless have a fairly easy ride to become Calgary’s newest-and-bluest MP.

Enter Chris Turner and the Green Party.

Turner is representative of the young, hip, professional, urban (and urbane) Calgary Centre. Author of the Governor-General literary award-nominated The Geography of Hope: A Tour of the World We Need, Turner embodies what Calgary Centre has become, and where it is going. Turner offers a compelling vision for Calgary voters, and promises to be a welcome voice for change. Reportedly, Turner has garnered the support of many of those involved in Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s successful campaign, which saw Nenshi build momentum during the municipal election campaign in 2010, coming out of virtually nowhere to capture the imagination (and votes) of Calgarians.

Chris Turner seems to be on the same track, if the latest results of a Forum Research poll are to be believed. Certainly, Calgary’s local media (and the national media) have started to pay attention to the turning tide in Calgary Centre over the past week or so. The Forum poll, however, leaves little doubt: Crockatt’s support is tumbling, Liberal Harvey Locke’s campaigned has stalled, and Turner has all of the momentum. With only two weeks to go in the campaign, momentum means everything.

Turning the Tide

Let’s look at those Forum Research numbers, and compare them to a poll taken by Forum at the outset of the by-election campaign. Forum is reporting Conservative Crockatt at 32%, down significantly from her high of 48% at the start of the campaign. In second place is Liberal Locke, with 30%, which is barely an improvement over the 28% assigned to him by the earlier poll. Green Chris Turner, meanwhile, has shot up to 23%, from a starting level of just 11%. Since the beginning of the campaign, Turner’s support has more than doubled, while his main competitors have tumbled and stalled.

The NDP’s Dan Meades is now polling at 12%, up from 8% in October. While it’s fair to say that some have turned to the NDP as their progressive choice for Calgary Centre, clearly Meades is going to be an “also-ran” in this campaign. That being said, his rise in support is important, because it likely means that a good fraction of that 4%, if not most of the 12%, is in play for the Greens and Liberals. Voters, recognizing that their preferred candidate just doesn’t have a prayer at winning, often turn to their second choice when it comes to casting ballots. As a Green Party supporter, I know a thing or two about this! We can expect to see Meades’ support begin to collapse, to the benefit of both Turner and Locke. The question is, who will benefit more?


There are other forces at play in the Calgary Centre by-election which might have some influence on the eventual outcome. A crowdsourcing group known as 1CalgaryCentre has been advocating strategic voting in the riding, and has offered to throw its support behind a “progressive” candidate of its member’s choosing. Right now, that means either Turner, Locke, or Meades. Given that Locke earlier dissed a 1CalgaryCentre event in favour of campaigning with Marc Garneau (as reported here in Pundits Guide), there’s a good chance that 1CalgaryCentre may end up endorsing the candidate who has demonstrated commitment to his community, and who has all of the momentum. And that is Chris Turner of the Green Party.

It’s now known whether 1CalgaryCentre will ultimately have a significant influence on the by-election outcome or not, however, there are a few things to consider which suggests that it may actually play a role in deciding. First, by-election voter turn-out is historically lower than during general elections. This means that a higher proportion of voters tend to be more motivated, and are often affiliated with (or tend to historically support) one Party or candidate. This would seem to play into Crockatt’s hands, as Calgary Centre has long been a bastion of conservative parties.

But it’s that very issue which is driving voters like those behind 1CalgaryCentre: for too long the riding has been held by a conservative (it was previously held by Conservative MP Lee Richardson, who stepped down to take a job with Alberta Premier Alison Redford, which led to this by-election). While there is likely a degree of opposition-party affiliated on the ground which the Liberals and the NDP can count on (their “base” ), clearly there is a heightened degree of voter mobility in Calgary Centre – those voters dissatisfied with the historic conservative outcomes, who are looking for a progressive alternative.

That becomes clear when you look at just how well Chris Turner’s campaign has been performing, based on the recent Forum Research poll. In the 2011 general election, the Green candidate polled less than 10%, finishing third with about half of the votes of the Liberal. Well, that’s not likely to be the outcome of this by-election, not if the trend holds up for Turner.

So, with an expected smaller number of voters, and a higher percentage of motivated and mobile voters, an endorsement from 1CalgaryCentre might actually have an impact in the by-election. Even without 1CalgaryCentre’s participation, however, clearly voters who are looking to stop Crockatt can be expected to turn to the candidate with the greatest expectation of winning. Right now, that appears to be Chris Turner, who has all of the momentum heading into the final two weeks of the campaign.

Voters might also be thinking that they can have a greater impact on the national political scene than simply returning another Liberal to Ottawa. Indeed, sending a Green to Parliament Hill will effectively double the Green Party’s caucus, and give Green Party Leader Elizabeth May a welcome partner in the House of Commons. By doing this, the message Calgary Centre would send the rest of Canada would not be ignored by pundits. In short, voters in Calgary Centre can cast ballots which have a real impact on our national political scene. Those opportunities don’t come around very often.

NDP Supporters Going Green

What comes next for the Green and Liberal campaigns will be to figure out a way to reach out to mobile NDP voters. Campaigns with good organizations on the ground can really have an impact in this area, and by all accounts, both the Greens and the Liberals have well-run teams in place. At this point in the campaign, phone and foot canvassing will have identified supporters. Canvassing should also have identified known or suspected supporters of other parties. Now, it’ll be incumbent on Green and Liberal campaigns to contact NDP supporters and make the case that since the NDP doesn’t have a hope of winning, it’s time to turn to one of the two other parties.

Here again, the Green case is more persuasive, for several reasons.

First, the Liberals are a known quantity, and a real competitor for the NDP at the national level. Indeed, since the 2011 federal election, the Liberals have actually picked up a seat from the NDP (Quebec MP Lise St-Denis defected to the Liberals shortly after Jack Layton’s death, saying that Quebeckers voted for Layton, not the NDP). With heir-apparent Justin Trudeau ready to be anointed by the Liberals, Tom Mulcair and the NDP are going to face some significant competition for media oxygen (and at the ballot box) from the Liberal Party. And this is especially true in Quebec, where the Liberals have continued to poll well and, together with a re-emergent Bloc, have begun to eat into NDP gains in that province.

Clearly, a revitalized and media-friend Liberal Party poses significantly more threat to the NDP than does a Green Party with a caucus of two. No matter how much the NDP wants to guard its environmental flank, the fact is that the Liberals will continue to be the more dangerous Party for the NDP. Which is why an upset Liberal victory in the Conservative stronghold of Calgary Centre, even before Trudeau is appointed Leader, will prove to be a much more difficult narrative for the NDP to counter. With a Green victory, the NDP can chalk it up to voter dissatisfaction as expressed through the safety valve of a by-election, and nothing more.

Second, Liberal candidate Harvey Locke is doing himself and his Party no favours in Calgary Centre. Locke has taken to condemning Chris Turner and the Green Party for engaging in “American, Republican-style attack ads” against him. Seriously (see: “Barbs fly as federal leaders pitch in for Calgary Centre byelection battle”, the Calgary Herald, November 14 2012). Rhetoric like that is, frankly, unbelievable, and shows a pretty significant disconnect with reality. Given that Liberals know a heck of a lot about financing vote-suppressing negative attack ads, Locke has gone completely over the top with his moronic observation. Locke isn’t winning any points with Calgarians who can see through this sort of intelligence-insulting nonsense.

By all accounts, Turner is running a vigorous and inspired campaign, where he is actually engaging Calgarians through non-traditional means. And I’m not just talking about his significant use of social media here. Turner has been described as using “guerrilla” campaign tactics, including jumping on public transit to shake hands and give impromptu speeches. Turner has even found time to contribute to Atlantic Cities with today’s publication of “For pedestrians, cities have become the wilderness”.

Locke and his Liberals continue to engage in much more traditional campaigning (some would say “old school”), including slinking around the provincial Progressive Conservative’s general meeting, and hanging out at hospitality suites in an attempt to lure “red tory” voters. And while it’s true that many red tories are jumping ship to distance themselves from the ultra-right-wing Conservative Joan Crockatt, it’s also likely that those red tories are finding that Turner is a good place to park their vote in the by-election.

Principles, Policy and Values: Know What You’re Voting For

After all, the Green Party actually has a very well-developed policy document which easily doubles as a campaign platform in-between general elections. It’s called Vision Green, and, updated periodically, it’s been available to the public at the Green Party’s website for years.

In contrast, the chameleon-like Liberal Party, although well-branded, really doesn’t stand for much of anything other than a vague set of “liberal” values. Until the next Leader is elected, it’s not at all clear what the Liberals, exactly, stand for. They’re asking voters in Calgary Centre to vote for a largely unknown quantity, with the hopes of having things sorted out sometime after a Leader is elected, and hopefully before the next general election.

Case in point. If you’re a voter in Calgary Centre concerned about ending marijuana prohibition, are you going to take Justin Trudeau’s recent musings about decriminalization, maybe legalization, as a guide for your vote, even though the Liberals have historically done nothing to end prohibition? Or are you going to turn to Page 83 of Vision Green, “Ending the War on Drugs”, and see that Green Party MP’s will vote to end prohibition and legalize marijuana?

Spinning the Polls

It’s true that the Forum Research poll is just one poll, and is really just a snapshot in time of those polled, and polls have been wrong before. We can’t trust polls, right? We’re hearing a lot of that today, not surprisingly, from pundits from all three old-line parties. The Conservatives, clearly, don’t like the poll because it shows significant slippage for their candidate. The NDP don’t like the poll because they’ve been trying to make the case that they’re the true opposition to the Conservatives, when clearly the poll shows they’ll end up being also-rans. And the Liberals, which the poll shows in second place, don’t like the poll because it also shows that they’ve done little at improving their support in the first half of the campaign. So it’s in the interests of those three parties to downplay and discredit this poll. And that’s exactly what they’ve all been doing.

Of course, they’re trying to spin the poll to their advantage (or, more precisely, spin the poll so that it has the least amount of negative impact on their respective campaigns). The numbers, though, tell the real story, spin-free.

Of course, I’m a Green partisan, and this poll clearly is positive for the Greens, so I know there’s going to be a certain amount of spin and bias coming from my Party as well. This is the kind of poll which fires up the base (hey, I’ve already been hit up for money today, and invited to Calgary to attend "Turning Point", with Elizabeth May, David Suzuki, and Jay Ingram & the Scrutineers). But stand back and look at the numbers, and contrast them to October’s numbers at the start of the by-election.

Spin or no spin, it’s very clear that the momentum in Calgary Centre is with Chris Turner and the Green Party. Progressive Calgarians who really want to make a difference at the national level, rather than electing yet another Alberta backbencher, would do well to cast their ballots for Turner on November 26th.

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

World Turned Upside Down? The Politics of Carbon Pricing

What’s a Green to make out of the rumours coming out of Washington that President Barack Obama may consider including a carbon tax as part of the mechanism which the U.S. will use to back away from the looming “Fiscal Cliff”? The U.K.’s Guardian reports that former Vice President Al Gore will be calling on Obama to do just that (see: “Al Gore calls on Obama to ‘act boldly’ on climate change”, November 13 2012), and that some conservatives in the U.S. have also been eyeing a carbon tax as a tool to generate revenue and lower wage-based taxes for income earners.

Greens should be pretty darn excited about this news, right? Even those of us, such as myself, who doesn’t think Obama has any kind of mandate from the people who just elected him to take this kind of ‘bold’ action, given that he pretty much failed to mutter the words “climate change” or “global warming” throughout the recent election campaign. Of course, a carbon tax is more than just a tool to reign in greenhouse gas emissions – it’s also a revenue generator for governments, and when coupled with a shift to other kinds of taxes, could also lead to tax cuts for taxpayers. And these tax cuts could be targeted towards the middle class, rather than the top 1%. Hmmm…I do recall Obama talking about those sorts of tax tools during the recent campaign. Perhaps he does have a mandate to consider a carbon tax after all.

Anyway, there’s no denying that U.S. actions to limit greenhouse gas production can only be a good thing for the United States, Canada and the world. The fact is that we have for far too long been ignoring the need to move away from non-renewable fossil fuels and towards energy conservation and a greater emphasis on renewables. A carbon tax, even a modest one, will be a good first step for the U.S., but more importantly, it will finally show the world that its largest national economic engine is finally getting serious about the crisis which we are in.

So clearly, if Obama does opt to push for a carbon tax (and if he finds willing partners in Congress), Greens in Canada should be very satisfied with the outcome. Right?

Well…yes, for sure – but what about the risks?

Recall that Stephen Harper has long insisted that Canada can’t go alone into the brave new world of carbon pricing, and it was the defeat of the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill in the U.S. Congress that ultimately proved to be the deciding factor for the Conservative Party of Canada to abandon its plan to pursue cap and trade (or, as the Conservatives are calling it now, “a job killing carbon tax”). With Waxman-Markey dead in Congress, Obama had little choice but to go the Regulation route to reduce emissions, and although the Conservatives have been woefully slow on action in this department, they too have a plan to regulate large sectoral emitters, such as the coal and oil sectors.

But if Obama decided to tax carbon, wouldn’t the Conservatives follow suit? Yes, sure, there’s the “job killing” rhetoric to backtrack from, but keep in mind that Harper has been very clear and consistent about following America’s lead on this issue. And with the opportunity to slew-foot both Tom Mulcair’s NDP and an emergent Liberal Party which just might want to champion (again) a carbon tax, could Harper resist?

Former Reform Party Leader Preston Manning (and current think-tank-thinker) has, in the past, strongly suggested that the Conservative Party “own” the issue of the environment. Although clearly the current version of the Conservatives under Stephen Harper have made the environment a back-seat issue to resource exploitation, perhaps the imposition of a carbon tax, even when done “against their will and better judgement”, might be the sort of green cred the Cons desperately need to win back voters. Or to at least neutralize the issue of the environment, preventing their opposition from owning it.

Sure, there’ll still be issues related to pipelines, water quality, species at risk, and the end of science. The NDP, Liberals and Greens will certainly be able to make a case that the Conservatives aren’t the right environmental custodians which Canada needs in the 21st Century. But every time an opposition MP pops up to flay the Cons about an environmental issue, the Conservative talking point is sure to include “We are the Party which finally got serious about combatting climate change and imposed a tax on carbon pollution.” The “Carbon Tax” talking point will prove to be a much better neutralizer than the “job killing carbon tax” one they’re using now, because Cons will actually be able to say (finally) that they’re doing something about the issue.

I suspect that Conservatives might find it a relief to take on the opposition NDP over strictly economic issues, and put aside these emerging (and to their point of view) side issues related to the environment. A Conservative Party which embraces, even reluctantly, a U.S. led plan to tax carbon, would certainly end the debate about carbon pricing once and for all. And it would be done in such a way that it could be more easily sold to their own base. “Hey, look, we did what we could, but if the Yanks are doing it, well, we had to go along. Plus, those CEO guys and the oil industry, and even our pet Sun Media preferred a straight tax to a cap and trade scheme, so…here we are.”

In this world turned upside down, with the Conservative Party of Canada becoming the champion of a carbon tax, where would that leave the opposition parties? A more important question for me – where it would it leave my Green Party? Although the Green Party, which is a party built on shared values, would remain relevant to its base, and to many Canadians who have come to view it as an alternative to the old line parties, it can’t be denied that one of the major issues of the Green Party will have been largely neutralized. Sure, we’ll continue to push for our form of carbon sequestration, and be the champions of democracy. But, let’s face it, one of the significant factors which made our Party “different” from the old line parties will have been taken away from us.

Sure, we Greens like to say that we’re all in favour of other parties adopting our good ideas, and if the Conservatives decided to impose a carbon tax, I believe that Green MP’s would vote for it, even if the price per tonne was modest. But looking down the road, the Party may have lost one of its significant reasons for being. That’s not to say that the Green Party doesn’t have other policy options which clearly define us in a different way from the other mainstream parties, but the fact is that we’ve been the go-to Party for climate change and environmental issues. Should those issues be neutralized, how well will we, a fourth party (5th in Quebec) be able to “sell” our other issues to the media, and to a larger Canadian electorate. With but a few exceptions, we’ve not exactly been doing a great job with getting our message out on most other issues to this date. I guess we could fall back on the legalization of marijuana, and continue to rail against unnecessary pipelines (although I would think that if the U.S. Congress were to ever go for a carbon tax, Keystone XL would have to be put back on the table by Obama), ending the seal hunt, providing a guaranteed annual income to those living in poverty; that sort of thing.

But with the wind stolen from our sails by a pre-emptive Conservative strike on the carbon tax front, I’m not certain that the Green Party will prove nimble enough to recover. Publicly differentiating ourselves from the NDP and Liberals, which has been difficult enough even with environmental and climate change politics in play, may become downright impossible in a world of limited media oxygen.

In a world turned upside down, Greens will need to pay close attention to the writing on the wall, or else the Party might just be over.

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Consulting about Nuclear Waste in Communities along Transport Routes

My letter to the editor of the Sudbury Star was published in yesterday's paper (November 6/12).  The letter expresses concern about the Nuclear Waste Management Organization's site selection process for a long-term repository for high-level nuclear waste.

The timing of publication is pretty good, given that Indpendent Member of Parliament Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay-Superior North) will be in Sudbury on Monday, November 12th, to hear from residents about their concerns related to the potential transport of spent fuel bundles through our community.  Sudbury is Hyer's 3rd stop out of 4 (Oshawa, Parry Sound and Sault Ste. Marie are the others).  It's great that MP's from areas which may be impacted are beginning to express interest.  And I must include Sudbury's own Glenn Thibeault on that list, as I know for a fact that Thibeault is well briefed and very engaged on this matter.

Here's the original text of my letter:


After more than 40 years of producing energy through the process of nuclear fission, Canada has accumulated 2 million used fuel bundles, which have been sitting in temporary storage sites throughout the nation. Throughout the decades which Canadians have benefitted from what has appeared to be low-cost nuclear energy, we’ve been ignoring a dirty secret: that there is no plan in place for the safe, long-term storage of the very worst form of high-level nuclear waste.

Today, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), an industry-led group tasked by the federal government with finding a safe and secure long-term storage solution, estimates that a storage facility may cost as much as $24 billion. The cost of storage has never been built into the price of nuclear energy generation. This cost, which we’ve ignored, is sure to be one which our children will be on the hook to pay, even long after nuclear plants such as Quebec’s Gentilly have closed down. So much for the notion of “cheap nuclear energy”.

Beyond the $24 billion estimated by the nuclear industry, there will be additional costs related to transporting high level nuclear materials to which ever site is selected for a long-term repository. We here in Greater Sudbury should be concerned with the cost of transporting nuclear waste, and not just in the abstract. With several communities in Northern Ontario being considered as potential host sites by the NWMO (including Elliot Lake, Wawa and Schreiber), it’s clear that the major road and rail transport routes for nuclear waste go right through our City.

Despite communities along transport routes having a vested interest in the NWMO’s site selection process, the NWMO continues to follow a “cart before the horse” process sanctioned by the federal government. Instead of assessing sites for their environmental feasibility, long term safety, and examining issues related to the transport of radioactive materials, the NWMO will first select a willing community to host the storage facility. Only then will the NWMO figure out where the facility can physically locate within the community. Finally, the NWMO may do some consultation with communities along transport routes, but by that time the site will have already been selected, and there will be no going back. Clearly, transport issues, along with proper environmental assessments, are playing second-fiddle to the NWMO’s desire to find that host community.

With CP and CN rail lines crossing our City, and with the Trans-Canada highway bisecting our municipality, Greater Sudburians might wish to pay closer attention to the NWMO’s site selection process, as it is quite possible that the very worst form of nuclear waste could one day be shipped through our community. While the NWMO believes that it will be able to engineer suitable storage containers for trains and trucks, we all know that accidents happen.

When we’re dealing with radioactive materials which, if exposed to our air, soil and water, could render parts of our City uninhabitable for tens of thousands of years, Greater Sudburians are right to question whether the risks are worth the potential cost. These questions are starting to be asked throughout Canada in communities along potential transport routes. Our federal government must not take its cues solely from the nuclear industry. We all have a stake in locating a future storage facility for our decades-old dirty secret. We owe it to our children to get this right, given that we have enjoyed the benefits of nuclear power for decades by paying only a fraction of the real costs.